I help him make a peanut butter sandwich. He brings me the heavy jar cradled with both hands, he’s tall for one year to go before reaching double digits in age. We don’t cut the sandwich in half, at some point of half famished he’ll eat it in one go, he puts it and a small bag of oatmeal cookies into a green canvas nap sack. He asks for treats for the dogs; three treats but he figures the two older dogs will turn back when the trail gets steep.
“They always do,” he said.
“Isn’t he kind of young to be going by himself?” Friends questioned when my youngest boy had his first little trek.
“Mom can I climb the mountain?” From the barn the back pasture drops away and then gradually begins to climb, the grass becoming lost in ferns as tall as a man. Just in case any of the horses decided they were a mountain goat we fenced off the back where the mountain’s foot makes the ground rise sharply. It was hard digging in rocky ground nearest the mountain and the barn to sink the fence posts, but the majority is lush grass in soil like butter where the posts sunk easily.
Acquiring the land was a dream come true and we’ve explored. My husband and I took both our boys, any of the willing dogs, and starting out with us but never finishing, an orange tabby cat I had for years and brought with me to my marriage. The cat was geriatric when last year I watched it follow my husband to do some work in the bottom field. That was the last of my old cat. I like to think he just laid down in the trees to die.
After climbing through the barbed wire fencing I say to my husband, “We really should put a gate back here.”
“Just another gate to be left open,” he says.
We weave our way around and over a tumble of large boulders dropped here by glaciers millions of years ago.
The boys have an easier time of it being small enough to get under the limbs of trees. But they have to work on climbing over the backs of the downed ones lying in tangles on top of one another.
Then it gets steep. We grab onto branches and trunks of trees using roots and rocks as foot holds. The ground is damp and soft with ancient beds of fallen leaves. The dogs work their way along finding deer trails, their tongues lolling and tails wagging, licking our faces as they’ve managed to climb above us.
I never worry about my boys. They’re young. Their cheeks are little rosy apples.
I tell my friends, “It’s like a rite of passage, lessons learned while climbing the mountain. He’s Huckelberry Finn on an adventure.”
“I heard this was up here.” We gather beside my husband. Three walls to a four foot square cement water cistern are embedded in the side of the mountain. At the bottom of the exposed wall is a pipe that’s obviously plugged. The cistern is full of water and a trickle flows over the top down the side coated in dark green moss.
My oldest boy grabs a long branch and begins poking into the black depths. “The bottom’s all soft and full of gunk. The whole thing isn’t very deep, maybe three feet.”
“Hey Dad do you think we can get this working if we dig it out?”
I help my little boy put on his nap sack. “See you Mom!” The screen door slams.
All three of the dogs fall in behind him. Two of them move a little stiffly but by the wag of their tails it seems they are going to give this little adventure their best shot.
I stand at the kitchen window. He goes through the barn and comes out the other side dragging a shovel.
Looks like work on the cistern is getting started today.