The Boy lay on his back, two soft banks of cushion beneath him, a micron of woven nylon between his face and the stars. He listened to the wind that moved the big trees, wrapping the peaks and bathing the valleys of the Sangre de Cristos, wind that rumbled through evergreen boughs, stubby pinyon and swaying ponderosa. He listened to it wash stony riverbeds, dance across lakes of
stinging sand and
hardened snow, tumble like a river in the night.
Quietly, around him in the darkness, he heard the intermittent snores and muffled coughs of the rest of the expedition, a baker’s dozen intrepid souls who’d come to hike and camp, to test themselves against what the last days of New Mexico’s winter might bring.
There were steady, competent boys his own age. There were men raising them, their jobs mostly done, men who may have been athletic enough when they were his age, who’d since backfilled the balance with savvy and determination. Grit replaced grace long ago.
The Boy thought of the day that ended where he lay, one spent wading through snow hip deep to some. Here they’d stood atop the crust, there they’d plunged through. Always they took another step, consulted the map, sipped water, crunched granola, stepped again. Always the Boy lifted his knee as high as he could, leaned as little as possible, stepped atop covered lumps, pulled himself along by cedar limbs that showered their snow at a touch.
He knew where they were, how many miles back of beyond, how high and far from home. He knew it had been hard, and he knew there’d be more hard to come. But he knew also he had done it, could do it, and the knowledge gave him peace with his pause. The days ahead and the days behind were even. The balance would swing their way. Besides, the only way out was through.
Late at night, listening to the mountain sigh, the Boy thought he knew the bigger purpose of what they were doing. Though a challenge, their mission was not heroic. No great, haunting question awaited their passage through the hills. Still, the passage was building a storehouse for future answers.
The footprints they’d left in what had been unbroken winter gouged a well of confidence at the fall of each boot. The empty holes held resolve the members could use, were using. At its heart, he thought, perseverance is simple, really. In the end, it just comes down to not quitting.
Comparing an accomplishment behind to a challenge ahead, knowing since he’d done that he could do this, was encouragement that goes a long way.
Which was good. Because they still had a long way to go.