Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Friends in High Places

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
-Winston Churchill

I was nine when my family and myself motored to the west side of Ireland for a camping trip. At some point in time it was decided that we would all climb Croagh Patrick, the area's mountain that peaked at 2,510 feet. Used in ancient Ireland as a place of religious pilgrimage but in more recent times mostly for the pleasure of hiking, this was an adventure to be savoured.
As we tramped upward, I heard little stories about people climbing the mountain in their bare feet, staying for days on the top in solitude. I saw people passing us by on bicycles, wheeling precariously along the broken rim. The drop was an unquestionably hazardous one and as we ascended, spiralling along the mountain's worn path and leaving the safety of the ground below us, it became ever more treacherous.
Mater was not and never would aspire to be a mountain climber and so our pace was gentle. It was so relaxed, in fact, that as the hours wore on we began to recognise the faces of people coming down of those who had passed us going up: we presumed that they had escalated to the tip of the mountain and come halfway down again before we had plodded very far.
Such a velocity would not suit a child for very long and I decided to run ahead a little, around a curve, in order to better cope with Mater's snail-like velocity and surrender to my independent spirit.
I suddenly found that the previously level path was now sloping at a frightening angle, and indeed sloping quite in the wrong direction- that is, toward the open void below.
I felt exactly as though I were sliding, inch by inch, to the abyss and it seemed to me that I was on a conveyor belt, about to be propelled into blue-sky emptiness. I panicked. I began to cry, and I took hold of the nearest rock, threw my arms around its solid mass and hoped that it too would not start to crawl toward the lip of the mountain. It felt just as though the rock were the only dependable thing in sight.
I had raced ahead a considerable distance and so I sat wrapped around the rock for what felt like hours, crying until a lone hiker paused to see if I was all right. The gentleman was very concerned and kind; he listened to my woes, to my insistence that we would slide off the side of the mountain. He stayed with me until the rest of my party arrived, whereupon I could be convinced to release my grip on the stone.
I stayed by Mater's side for the remainder of the day, even when my cousin and my brother opted to strive for the summit.
I wanted very much to try but the last two hundred feet consisted of nothing but loose stones and tumbling soil- the path had long since vanished, and hands, knees and a steady grip were required tools for the last stretch of the journey.
Mater and I did not reach the highest point of the mountain. Perhaps a combination of not wishing to abandon her, and having had a fearful experience made me grateful I had got that far in one piece.
I think about it: we could be kind to a stranger on a mountain side and never become wise to the extent of our assistance: I will not easily forget the fellow who helped to ease my worry and who took the time to make a difference both in my day and in the years beyond.

*We will be celebrating the 4th of July weekend in Maine with our friends, and normal service should be resumed on Monday, presuming that we do not meet, like last time, a traffic jam, or decide to live in Maine permanently for the sausage bread. Have a wonderful weekend.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Permanent life in Maine.... oh, that's a sweet thought!

Barb said...

What a terrific tale ... my heart was in my mouth, beating quickly as I scrolled down reading this eventful tale. I was scared for you as you clung to the rock, crying for your mater.

Glad someone came along to help you and we can enjoy the results of his kindness by way of your wonderful writings each day. B

polona said...

there are kind souls eerywhere if we care t look... you are leaving us with another enchanting story.
enjoy the holiday, will be looking forward to your return :)

Anonymous said...

I really need to hear even more about this sausage is it made? But I loved this post and it actually reminded me of a sort of similar experience I had forgotten about entirely, so this blog post feels very sweet and a bit coming-of-age. Enjoy your fourth of july!

tangobaby said...

You have had quite a share of helpful strangers throughout your life, haven't you? That is wonderful.

Please do eat some sausage bread again and take lots of photos for those of us who don't get any. :-(

Happy holiday weekend! Drive safely.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Pamela, it is sweet, isn't it? :) Who knows what will happen.

Barb, I'm glad you got caught up in it- I did retelling it. I really felt in danger though I probably wasn't.

Polona, you're right, we just have to watch for them. Kind people are out there.

Courtney, I've been promising everybody here that I'd get the recipe- I'll come back, not with empty promises, but with the whole recipe. I hope!

Tangobaby, you are right- I didn't even realise I'd written two back to back, but it's so true. I do seem to meet them often whether they're helping me with luggage or saving my life on a mountain ;)

Pappy said...

By Jove, I think she's done it again. My anchor holds and grips the solid rock. Stories of folks who go above and beyond the minimum call of duty are inspiring. Thanks for sharing yours. Have a wonderful weekend in Maine. Pappy

Unknown said...

I've been too distracted in my own world lately to properly comment (or even to read) all your heartfelt entries. Still, it's a pleasure to peek in and glimpse the thoughts, or to sit long over breakfast and catch up with the whole lot.
Maine is a great place to be.

Pauline said...

You can always take a lesson away from every encounter - so glad you share them here

Bring extra sausage bread, please!

Jaime said... and your sausage bread.

I've missed you and your lovely stories while I was away. This one is no exception. You writing provokes such wonderful imagery. I can just see you wrapped around that rock, scared for your life.

Have a great weekend in Maine, you lucky bug!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Texican, I'm glad you liked it- it's true, I was so appreciative of a stranger's help. I'll never forget him.
I love the phase "by Jove." I hear it so rarely!

Kip, I'm just glad you come by whenever you can, it's much appreciated, and that you enjoy reading my stories.

Pauline, thanks for your words. I didn't get sausage bread this time. But... I did get the recipe. Which in the long run is the next best thing ;)

Jaime, welcome back! You were missed here. I love to be called a "lucky bug" :) -makes me feel good. Thanks!

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