It was a beautiful morning, still cool before the temperatures ascended toward the skies. As I had been shut up inside working too long I longed for feet on earth, wind in face and sun on head. As I walked the trail I stepped past the jumping frogs near the river bank. When the perfect shaded bench invited me to join it for a while I did not hesitate; I plunked down right there with my book. Breathe in, breathe out, notice where you are, watch the water and its creatures, let the thoughts of the author sit on the bench beside you.
As I approached my resting place I had noticed the mouth of a cave. Its dark mouth yawned at me and I thought of all those who had seen the same cave hundreds, thousands of years before me: railroad workers and before them the steamboat passengers and before them the trappers and before them the Osage Indians. It was about twenty feet above ground level.
For some reason it wouldn’t let me go. When I came to a chapter break I stood, examined the various possible paths through the brush to get to the base, chose one and walked. Recent rains made the approach a bit muddy but no matter. I slowly picked my way up the bluff side, book still in hand. Holding a book, by the way, was not helpful. I put it down to retrieve on the return trip.
The return trip, as it turned out, came much sooner than expected. When I was perhaps half-way up the grade became much steeper and the rocks even slicker. I looked down at my sandals. Inside them my feet moved and shifted. The soles had been worn smooth by my walking in them. These were terrible shoes for climbing. When I put them on this morning I didn’t expect they would need to.
What’s worse, the body that used to take direction fairly well from the brain connected to it has, as of these later years, become fairly disobedient. Also consider that like most other bigger guys I sport a higher center of gravity and you get the picture. With the right gear this might have been a pretty good idea – twenty years ago with an entirely different body.
At that moment I glanced down at my escape path. If I dared to climb on, which was clearly not wise, how would I get back down? Poorly, that’s how. If going up is precarious, coming down is worse. It was then I heard the laughter.
Dave McGee and his friends are climbers. I mean, they climb cliffs that cause mere mortals to quake. The harder and more challenging the better. They are like lizards, scampering up these walls day and night for hours at a time. It was his chuckle I heard first. Really, Tim, this is some big challenge? But then my mind jumped to the Biblical allusion of God’s laughter, that we make these big plans and the heavens roar.
Fortunately I picked my way back down and suffered not much more than an industrial strength coating of Missouri clay on my hands, bottom of my shorts and the book jacket. All things considered that’s not bad.
As I walked back in the same sandals that failed me and the same body that would no longer obey its brain, I thought about the cave. I still want to go, explore, peek inside and see if Kilroy was there. I don’t know that I will. Truth be told there are thousands of other places I will never explore either. The world is too big and life is too short. But maybe my descendents will. If so, I hope they bring better shoes.