Top of the World…?

The weather was cool and crisp. A cold front would move through in a few hours. But, on this cool and sunny February day, I had my eye on conquest. For the past two years, I have promised my youngest that we would climb a mountain. For the past four years, I have promised my oldest we would scale an even larger mountain. Yet, these promises went unfulfilled. I attribute many reasons as to why. Largely though, I kept putting it off because of the discomfort I would have to endure. After all, I am not in the best physical shape. I kept telling myself that I need to master the leisurely stroll before attempting a vertical climb. Unfortunately, my desire to be “physically fit” never eclipsed my desire to be well rooted (and well rounded).

Time continues to tick by, always moving forward, never pausing to allow us time to practice. In all facets of human existence, we are allowed an opportunity to practice, hone our skills, and learn before tackling test or “doing it for real”. The concept of practice so pervades our understanding of the world that most professions are simply described as “practice” whether it is the “practice” of law or the “practice” of medicine. Unfortunately, the fiction we created as a species –allowing ourselves the ability to practice before actually being tested–has numbed us to the reality that the mere act of living is the test. Do-overs, skill checkpoints, dry runs, and the like do not exist in the natural world. This engineered fiction of “practice” has lulled us into believing that “tomorrow is only a day away.” So, we choose to live life in the comfort we created, paying little homage to the notion that tomorrow is not promised.

Here, on the eve of being a parent for a decade (my oldest will soon turn 10), I realized that I am out of time. Soon my oldest will be too involved in his life and too cool to simply “hang out” with Dad. My youngest will soon follow. But, before his mindset changes, I am going to keep my promise. We will conquer a mountain.

At the Trail Head of the New Horizon Trail at Quartz Mountain State Park

We are blessed to live so close to mountains. Quartz Mountain State Park, part of the Wichita Mountain Range, dominates the southern plains of Oklahoma. Though not as towering as the Rockies, these mountains historically provided a landmark for weary travelers and shelter for numerous tribes. After buying a park pass, we parked at the trailhead and began our slow, zigzag up the rock face. Neither child wanted to wear a jacket. They complained about it being too warm for the climb. They were right. The sun beat down on us and no breeze blew. Despite the temperature only being in the upper 40’s, we all turned red-faced and sweat formed at our brows. Over half way up, we found a small cave out of the sun. Here, we drank our water and rested to finish the climb to the top. My pulse was pounding, my knee ached, my sciatic pain teamed up with my herniated disc to send pain singles to my brain, and my lungs labored for air. I looked at my two red-faced children. Both were sucking down water and catching their breath. Resting in this little cave, I asked if they were ready to go back. Both refused (much to my chagrin). So, we pushed forward.

A cave just G’s Size
Red-faced C savoring his water
Our view from our shady spot

The climbing got steeper as we moved up. I had to give each kid a boost before lumbering over tall rocky outcroppings. Eventually, we gazed ahead, up the mountain, and saw more “blue” than mountain. The sky was opening up. We soon reached the top.

We made it and we are all smiles!
C and G gazing over the terrain
A view from the top

We stayed at the top for awhile, reflecting on our conquest. We identified nearby towns we could see. The cool breeze hit us and both boys were glad I insisted on jackets. We shared more water and discussed the majesty surrounding us. It was soon time to start climbing down. The boys saw a cave from the top and wanted to explore it. So, we found a game trail and followed it to a cave both boys could fit in.

We continued our trek down, following a deer trail. Along the trail, we found lots of tracks, deer scrapes, walking sticks, animal beds, droppings, and many, many cacti. We had to stop every 10 yards so that I could pull thorns and needles from the children’s shoes and clothes. Despite my urging to step over or around the cacti, both children insisted to going through cacti. The trek down was leisurely as we went through wooded areas and over grassy slopes. The sun hid behind clouds and the north wind sent shivers through all three of us. Now, the kids were thanking me for insisting on jackets.

Above us, birds began to circle. We started to watch them. At first, I thought they were buzzards that normally dominate the skies around the mountains. But, upon closer inspection, they were bald eagles. The boys were beyond excited while I tried my best to take a picture.

We finally saw one — a bald eagle

We finally dropped off the mountain and walked around the road to the truck. As we walked, I reminded them of our scavenger hunt. I told the children that while hiking, we were going to look for (1) an insect; (2) a lizard; (3) a mammal; (4) a bird; (5) a cactus; (6) a tree; (7) a flower; (8) a boulder; and (9) a cave. As we worked through the list, we concluded we found everything on our checklist but a mammal and a lizard.

So, did we go to the top of the world? Well, in a sense, yes. After all, my hike to the top of that small mountain was done out of love for my children. And, as the Carpenters once sang…

I’m on top of the world lookin’ down on creation
and the only explanation I can find
is the love that I’ve found, ever since you’ve been around
your love’s put me at the top of the world.

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