Slow dew drummed the doorstep like the dying of a beating heart.
“I’m not going.”
“The timing isn’t right.”
“Conditions are as good as they get.”
“Would you go, up there, with him?”
Etched from time and hardened by weathers, the Ranger’s face complimented him. Though the debate had sputtered along for some time, the Ranger’s voice remained deep, smooth and calm. “I have. Something like that takes two. Quit’n on short notice aren’t ya.”
“Nope,” said the wide-eyed young man. “I don’t think he can do it. Do you think he can do it?” The second man was short, stocky and carried a bit of a college-boy’s belly. “Told him I’d meet him here this morning but I never said I’d go.” His brown eyes flashed as he rubbed his light-brown hair but his eyes remained downcast because they could not meet the Ranger’s gaze.
The Ranger listened and after sorting what he heard said, “He’s counting on you. Something like that takes two. Two working like one. Haven’t I seen you training together?” The Ranger squinted hard at the young man before him.
The young man brushed the toe of a shoe with the sole of the other. “Sure, we’ve been training together. I never said I’d go. I said I’d be here this morning and we’d see. You don’t think I’m scared do ya.”
The old man looked long at the younger. “Chan, there’s always plenty of afraid.” He tipped his hat back then frowned and smiled simultaneously using different ends. “But if’n a man wants the mountains, he has to pay the mountain price…Come on and help me open up. Be lots of folks through here today. Supposed to be three or four days of fine weather.” The Ranger spoke at the young man. “Good climbing weather.”
“Will he be mad?” Chan placed his hands in his pockets. “Mad about me not going?”
“Here, hold these reports while I open this lock. I can never get this damn door open.” The Ranger waited for the hands to come up then gave over the papers. “I’ve tried fixing it so the door swings easier and the lock’s easier to get to then the dern weather blows right on around, and the lock gets water inside n’freezes up. Damn doors never swing the way ya want em.” He opened the lock and the door then remembered. “Put those reports there on top of the cabinet.” The Ranger swung the door wide and entered. “Wouldn’t you be mad if things were reversed? He’s wanted to finish that route since he failed at it. Have a seat.” The Ranger gestured.
Chan followed and descended to the chair in the corner of the room but kept the papers in his lap. His hat was on straight. Relaxing his arms behind his head, he watched the Ranger, who prowled across the room, using long strides with head and neck bent forward as if he were about to walk across the country, but now the intention was to unlock each of the four cabin windows from the inside. The Ranger ended his route at the threshold where countless lugged soles had passed.
The Ranger knitted his brow, glanced at Chan, eyed the small pool of dew at the doorstep then progressed out to the porch proper where the view was one of distinct layers, green giving way to gray then to brilliant white.
The white at the head of the valley was White’s Mountain, named after a prospector, who ventured up the valley searching for riches and whose faded black and white tintype hung in the tiny ranger cabin. In the ancient photo, bucket in hand, prospector White smiled alongside a nameless mule. Soon after the photo was developed, White departed with his dream but never returned from his search as if the mountain swallowed him whole, mule and all.
The Ranger turned from his tranquil view to stare through the open door to the young man in the corner. “Will Brian be here soon?” he asked.
“He said first light and its light. Maybe he isn’t coming. Maybe he doesn’t want to come.”
“Chan, you know he will be here and put them papers where I said. Do you think you own the place?” The Ranger turned his back and waited.
Chan placed the papers on top of the cabinet, straightened them and joined the Ranger on the porch before the mountain. “Would you climb with him? I know you were his teacher but would you climb with him now?”
“I’d climb with him and have. There’s nothing wrong with him. He certainly isn’t lazy like some.”
“Well the guy maybe killed one climbing partner and just maybe another. He’s been injured real bad and couldn’t walk for a long time.” Chan waited for the return but nothing then took a deep breath and said, “About three months ago, he comes over to my place and asks if I want to do some climbing. I’m always looking for someone to go with so I say, ‘sure’ and we start climbing together. I don’t know what he once was but he isn’t smooth anymore. He is strong all right and not a bad guy to be around but he just isn’t smooth.” Chan glanced up at the Ranger. “He is so quiet sometimes it’s spooky.”
“There’s nothing wrong with quiet. Maybe more should practice it.”
“You’re on his side.”
“Chan, first off I don’t believe in sides I believe in the middle. It makes life a whole lot easier. Maybe more should practice it.” His voice was calm and even, fatherly. “Sure, Brian’s had his problems, and he’s gone through a lot trying to get over them. His life has given a lot of folks around here plenty to talk about.” The Ranger squared his hat. “That’s the way it is and nothing can change what has happened…I’m sure he wishes he could reach back and do over.” The Ranger’s voice flowed like a deep pool in a wide river.
“There was that business on that big mountain in the Himalayas. Come on now. What do you think? Tell me.” Chan’s voice rose and almost squeaked; he brushed at the moist wooden planking with a hesitant toe and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
The Ranger said, “I wasn’t there. I can’t say. He did what he had to do.”
Chan said, “I don’t want him to do what he has to do to me. I don’t like the way this feels. He’s trying to prove something or ready for suicide.”
Dhaulagiri is one of the highest mountains in the world. Positioned in a remote Asian country, the mountain shadows the world’s deepest river valley. In Tibetan, Dhaulagiri translates to the rock that stands alone.
They say that when moisture falls on the Himalayas, it descends by weight and warmth to the sea only to return to the mountains via the monsoon. Life is a mountain that stands over us, filling our perspective much as a child at its mother’s knee or the eager student before the wise teacher. Existence waits with great patience for that instant when our hopeful soul locks onto and accepts the immensity of being. From that moment, we go forward, go around or go back but no matter the path, fate has found direction.
Red beret bouncing, the older climber jogged down the trail and was soon far ahead and out of sight but today Brian didn’t care about first or time or training because the gentle mountain air seemed different. Around the last bend in the trail, he noticed a woman sunning herself on a hard gray boulder, a glacial erratic.
The red beret had bounced passed without slowing or hesitation, but Brian slowed and stopped.
The woman casually turned from her position. “Hello.”
“Excuse me miss, but is there a beach near here?”
“No and there isn’t any peace and quiet either.”
“I’ve never seen anyone bagging rays up here. Only people you ever see up here are climbers, sometimes picnickers. Trail’s too steep for most.”
“I didn’t think it was that bad.” She glanced down the now empty trail and then at the man. “Was it tough for you?” Her hair was long and blonde. The shiny-blue swimwear she wore accentuated her pink lips and bright-blue eyes.
Brian rubbed his eyes. “No. I mean I come up here all the time.” Though he was not moving, he tripped. “I’m a climber.”
She studied him and then coy. “I thought you were a surfer.”
“No, there isn’t any surf around here, long way to the ocean. Lake can get some big waves on it if it gets windy.”
Brian paused and thought for a moment. “You’re giving me a hard time aren’t you?”
“Am I? What makes you think that?” The woman fluffed her hair.
“Sorry.” He stepped forward, and the motion soothed his voice. “Can I start over? My name is Brian, Brian Scott.” The moment created confidence. “What’s yours?”
“Kathryn,” said the woman on the rock.