Today I broke the stove. We breakfasted on cold stuffs before the 4,000-foot ascent of Donoho Peak. Before our trip, I had lauded the whisperlite for its reliability. Knowing there were very few ways to break it, I had insisted we use it and not my boyfriend’s fancier, lightweight cooking gear. And then it wasn’t working well, so I took it apart and cleaned it out and cranked down the gas valve too tight and stripped it. Unusable. And so we suffer cold coffee, and now I’m questioning everything I know.
One time when I was young, I tried to banish everything from my room that could hurt me. Panicked, I realized that all of my possessions could be turned to weapons. My clothes all instruments for choking, my books for paper cuts, my collection of pretty rocks all capable of trauma. I emerged from my room that day feeling like I could never be completely safe. Not in this world. And so I retreat to the mountains, where sensible front-country folk see what we do as dangerous. But at least the danger is mostly out of our control.
We hike Donoho easily enough up to where the grade steepens and the granite protrudes from the gravelly surface. There, my man picks the right-hand slide path. It’s what some errant mountain guides on the ice told us was a good way to go. I go up the gut because it looks like the best way to me. I don’t insist he follow because I was wrong about the stove and I could be wrong about this route too.
I scramble up easily enough, but then I hear the unmistakable crashing of rock on rock to my right and I look to see my man clutching a boulder, huddled beneath it as skull-sized crushers rain down around him.
And I watch and I pray. For there is no way that I can save him. There is only cliff between us now. I can only watch. And as the rocks fly, I feel responsible. I am the one who should have insisted he follow my lead. But unsure of myself, I settled to let him take this other way. And when it's your job to lead people into the wilderness, the whole world is your room full of dangerous things.
And I am chanting, “Strong arms, strong legs, strong mind.” I am sending him all of my strength and all of my luck and I am praying to every God I’ve ever loved to keep him safe. Because the danger is fully out of my control.
And praise be to Jesus. To Gaia and Buddha and Pan. This man emerges from the rockfall unscathed, barely shaken. He walks the ridge up to me and we high-five as though everything is fine. We summit the peak and together find the easy path down.
We skree back to camp where I construct a hearth of stone. We cook our dinner over a fire like humans have done since first striking flint. And I can control this.