I know where he’s been. The damp stains on his t-shirt and the look on his face say so much. It may have been strenuous because he looks exhausted, but I can tell he liked it. I would, too.
I can see by the way his body moves when he walks that it was long and arduous for him. That look in his eye conveys the wonder he felt and the satisfaction it gave him.
I know he was in a darkened place filled with scintillating smells. He likely heard some pounding against wood. I bet he felt every curve, maybe touching the hard places and breathing in the scent of the soft ones.
I wonder if he took off from work to go there, and if he’s done that a lot or was this the first time? Did he worry about being seen? Did he know how good it was going to be?
I know what it’s like, so I know he was sheltered by the green canopy that covers the trail as the broken pavement makes way for insistent plants to push through. If he looked up he probably saw indigo buntings as he neared the crest of the climb, their chirping melodic whistle reaching his ears. He may have heard the flute-like song of wood thrush.
The woodpeckers, after tapping purposefully up in the trees, were likely finding sap or grubs for breakfast. Although he couldn’t see the campground hidden behind the trees and moss-covered boulders, the sweet, pungent scent of bacon wafted down from there. If he was lucky, he heard a lone rooster greet the morning with a cock-a-doodle-doo.
Since it has been raining pretty hard the past few days he may have heard running water on the side of the mountain and looked over to see it forming rivulets down to a fresh stream from the runoff. He might have had to climb over a tree fallen across the trail, its roots loosened in the rain-soaked earth.
He might have ventured off the main trail to a path around the side of the mountain. Goats and deer could have met him as he made his way gingerly over rocks and roots.
When he got to the top he probably sat on the stone wall at the overlook. He may have seen misty fog nestle between the cleavage of the other peaks in these foothills of the Appalachians. I hope he noticed the warblers and chickadees and cardinals singing to their friends in neighboring trees.
He possibly paused at the overlook a few minutes to breathe nature’s glory in full view before starting back down the trail. The birds now would be settling in for the day, more quiet than on the walk up. The trees and boulders look a little different from this side, and he may have noticed some squirrels at play or a large colorful wild mushroom he hadn’t seen going up. As he neared the bottom he likely started to hear cars a quarter mile or so before emerging from the trail, back to the everyday bustle of life, and drivers going by like me.
Courtney Hill Gulbro lives in the foothills of the Appalachians in North Alabama. She has returned to creative writing after a career as a counselor and counselor educator.
Photo by the author of the overlook at the top of the trail in the essay, Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama, USA