Time is like a river that flows past us, like children who quickly grow up and leave as a current journeys toward the sea. Enjoy Chapter Twelve of my book, Fire and Ice:
Despite the obvious risks and warnings, I would let Jessica drive our little Saturn car to Forest Falls, so she could practice for her driver’s license, and we could walk together there. We would roll the windows down and let the air sweep up our hair and laughter. We whisked by desert plains that rose slowly toward the mountains. Cactus, sand, and golden hills gave way to sharp green cliffs and oak trees, and then a gorge filled with marbled granite that had swept down on torrents from the summit. To our right, the river (I will call it Selah’s River), cut into the mountain’s lower walls. Willow trees clustered around the cold, clear pools between the rocks, and people sometimes parked beside the road and climbed down to wade or swim there.
But we passed on. I turned to look at Jessica. Sunlight danced upon her lower lip. The birthmark on her cheek looked pink today, not burgundy. Her short black hair, cut in layers like feathers, graced her head like wings. The sudden, startled blue sparkled in her irises as she realized her speed had crept up to eighty, and she had only a learner’s permit. She wiped an annoying strand of hair from her right eye with one small, white hand, then returned the hand to the other on the steering wheel as her right foot eased off the gas petal.
And I thought, how transitory are our lives with children. Jessica, I remember when you were a newborn, at Christmastime, strapped to a carry pouch upon my chest. Your light blue eyes, that startling color beneath wisps of reddish hair, opened wide and silent to the world as you stared at colored lights upon the houses we walked past.
The highway arched left toward Mount San Gorgonio, but Jessica took the right turn toward Forest Falls. We crossed the river on a white stone bridge that bore a warning of flash floods. Not long ago, a sudden mountain storm sent waves of mud and rock and water through this narrow valley caught between the mountains, flooding homes and business, destroying roads, and killing people.
Jessica slowed down as we hit the narrow road that wound up toward the wooden mountain town with its quaint fire station, restaurant, and cabins. The river, to our left side, had widened across a gorge, and suddenly we saw Forest Falls cascading down the mountainside in splintered waves of white–sharp against the boughs of pine trees and houses that whipped past between us as we drove. I leaned back to see, but a turn in the road hid the waterfall as we swept upward toward the riverbank.
“Ooooh!” Jessie screamed as we went up (too fast), then down a sudden rise. She would have turned the music on (too loud), but our radio and CD player were broken (ours was a black ghetto car with tinted windows).
We drove (slowly) through the campground, then turned up the last lick of road to the edge of wilderness. Jess parked behind a large, gray rock and put the car in gear.
“How did I do?” she asked me.
“You are not afraid to go fast on the mountain highway,” I replied.
“Well, there aren’t many cops up here!” she exclaimed.
I am glad my girl is happy for the moment. Too much trauma has weighed on her young shoulders. Too much disappointment after the divorce.
She scampered toward the riverbank, and I followed slowly, taking in the whole wide depths and heights of Selah’s Mountain Gate. Sometimes words can fall so short, and that is when I take a photograph.
I stepped between small rocks and boulders, my blue American hiking boots well worn from trips to Canada and New Zealand. I lifted my old Olympus digital camera and caught the river.
The river cascaded over rocks beneath my feet, little waterfalls that slipped past rounded silver pebbles and mixed with sunlight. The water, blue as the sky above it, fell into pools that bubbled and danced, rippling, slipping ever past me as each individual drop of water, mix of oxygen and hydrogen, connected there like time. The river to my right swept upward toward the Summit. Its water, pulled by gravity, had not yet reached me. It is the future, I realize. The river at my feet that splashes audibly, a low roar that echoes between the mountain walls, is ever flowing in that one spot, yet always different atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, different drops of water. It is the present. The river to my left, that journeys down through desert, plains, and cities–to the Pacific Ocean–is the past.
A song by Stephen Curtis Chapman filled my mind:
“When love takes you in, everything changes;
a new life begins with the beat of a heart,
and this love will never let you go;
there is nothing that can make it lose its hold.
And like the rain that falls into the sea,
in a moment,
what has been
in what will be.”
Jessica had bent down and was playing in the river. She slid her hands and elbows under the surface, giggling as the cool liquid slipped over her skin that had been too warm in the valley where she came to live with me.
And, suddenly, I wanted to set my camera on the rock, sit down, remove my hiking boots, and dangle my feet into the water. I wanted to camp there by riverbanks and see how Mountain Gate lit up in moonlight. How the white rock, engrained with strands of silver, must glow beneath the moon! I wanted to feel the night wind–that blows down from the summit of 12,000 feet–on my weary face. I wanted to follow Summit’s Trail along the river’s upper banks, around the cliff-shrouded bend I could not see, past forest and precipice to alpine meadows and the glacier that lives upon the very top. Like Selah, my fantasy slave girl, I wanted to leave the desert for the Summit.
Why could we not rent a cabin here at Selah’s Falls? Engrave our names on wood and hang them by the door? Why could I not find a job, after over a year of searching? No substitute teaching jobs for K-12, no worthwhile Online enterprises, no part-time college classes. Even the university in Redlands, where we walked at night together, was–ironically–closed to me. I almost wept when applying for a job there, as I sat in a little wooden chair of the Creative Writing Department. The secretary noticed the stray moisture at the bottom of my eyes and handed me a tissue.
“Perhaps you should go teach English in China,” she suggested. “They need English teachers in lands where English is not already spoken.”
And leave? Leave all of this? And Jessica and Jonathan whom I just found again?
Oh, why are there no answers here? I asked the stark, cold mountain walls around me. And, if I am Selah, where is my Micah? Why is he not here to walk with me? Oh, I would rather die–yes, die–then stay a prisoner there in Regan’s Keep, in Redlands, where I place my hand upon the gate that only shuts behind me.
Jessica and I might have stayed the night at Forest Falls, had we more coins with us than for a cup of iced tea at the restaurant. But we promised to return the car by 6:00, then get up early and drive Jessica up the mountain for her last few weeks of high school. The desert valley called us back to it, and we would follow the road down, speeding past country homes and their rows of mailboxes along the highway. Our names were not painted–neatly, in red letters–on a single one of them.
Read the rest of the story in my book Fire and Ice.