Photo by: Poiema Lee
I look up at the mountain towering over me its jagged edge like teeth waiting to take a bite out of me like it did my dad.
Almost a year ago he’d been standing where I am now facing this same mountain. I hadn’t been here then, but I had three years before when he’d first found it. He’d been hiking through the woods searching for his next conquest when we’d come across it. I’d sat on a rock watching him just look at it, memorizing every detail, every possible hand and foothold. My dad liked to take his time with a mountain get a feel for it. He’d come back time and again just to better understand it before he’d even think about climbing. “It’s about trust,” he’d say. “It’s got to learn to trust you just as much as you have to learn to trust it.”
For as long as I could remember my dad had climbed mountains. By the time I was five, I knew the name of every piece of equipment and could hook myself up without his help. He didn’t take me for my first climb until I was seven though and the mountain was basically a glorified hill. He’d made me climb it again and again until I could do it by myself. He’d watched my last time and then came up after me. We’d taken a picture together on the top of the cliff and hung it on the fridge when we got home. It was still there all these years later. My mom said it was still her favourite picture of us. Our fridge is a collage of pictures. A sort of timeline of my life. My mom didn’t like her picture taken, so it was just me and my dad. Now that he is gone, it’s a kind of homage to him. Every time I passed by the fridge, I take tap one of the pictures of him and send out a prayer. I tighten my harness one last time and try to clear my mind. My dad always told me to try and clear my head completely before a climb. It should just be me and the mountain. He always used to say that mountain climbing was an intimate relationship between man and nature. Getting distracted was the first step to falling. I think that was the most shocking thing about my dad’s death. How he’d died. He was anal about every single detail that went into it. It was like an art form to him. No one knew how exactly it happened, but his rope snapped and he’d fallen breaking his back. He’d lain on the ground in pieces before two hikers found him. He might have lived if a broken rib hadn’t pierced his lung causing him to fixate before the paramedics got there. I was just glad he didn’t died alone.
I take a deep breath and begin to climb. Starting to count backwards from thirty like my dad taught me, I push every stray thought and feeling away with each number. I don’t stop when I get to one; instead, I keep counting my world narrowing to the numbers in my head and the feeling of the rock under my hands and feet. When I get to the top, the sun is beating down on me. I gasp pulling myself over the edge of the cliff, rocks biting into my skin. Sweat pours down my back, and I wipe it from my eyes as I fall onto my back. The grass is cool under my hot skin a reminder that I’ll have a sunburn later. I don’t have to check my pack to know I forgot my sunscreen. I always do. That’s why my dad and I always made such a good team. We always remembered what the other forgot. He always in need of band aides, which I had an abundance of now. Sitting up, I pull my knees to my chest looking out over the mountain tops refusing to look at the ground. I don’t want to see the place where my dad had lain. The wind blows the scent of pine in my direction, and I am covered with a faint mist from the nearby waterfall. I wonder if he had seen this view before he’d died. If he had felt what I did now. The hikers hadn’t known if his gear broke on the way up or down. Sitting here now, I hoped it had been on the way down. I am loading my gear into the jeep when I hear a little girls’ laugh. I turn to see a father with his daughter standing by the trail. If I didn’t look too hard at then, I could see my dad and myself in them. The hooting of an owl causes me to turn my head back towards the mountain its range stretching out across the horizon rising higher and higher against the sunset. I realize then that my father might be dead, but he isn’t gone. He lives in the mountains and in me.