The Fearless Climber

By Michael M. Barrick

Before Sarah and I moved back to my native state of West Virginia in the middle of 2013, we lived in another place that we consider “Almost Heaven” – a cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a few miles south of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The cabin and the 57 acres it sits on offered the desperately needed sabbatical I required after a stressful life season.

It offered a time in a place that is the definition of peace. I helped my uncle and others build the cabin on the edge of Cold Creek, at the end of a hollow. I spent many days hiking up to the high peaks in the neighboring Pisgah Forest.

Cold Creek

Cold Creek

I valued the time alone, but also enjoyed visits by a friend of 40 years. We would sit outside enjoying the sunshine or moonshine – and sometimes both. We allowed the days to linger. We would take the occasional hike. But we never gathered up the gumption to tackle the ridge nearest to the cabin, as it is nearly straight up and full of rhododendron that are as formidable as they are beautiful.

That all changed one day when I was watching our granddaughter, Atleigh. She was a mere four-years-old at the time. The three of us were sitting along the side of the cabin, basking in the sun, listening to the creek. As we sat there, I did what friends often do – I offered a challenge. “Rick,” I said, “you feel like climbing that mountain?”

Before he could say “No,” or I could back out, Atleigh jumped out of her chair, turned to us both and declared, “I’m a climber! Are you?”

The Fearless Climber

The Fearless Climber

Now that was the ultimate challenge. So, without another moment of thought, we were climbing. I barely kept up with her and Rick was falling behind. He hesitated. Atleigh would have nothing of it. “Come on Ricky!” she exclaimed. “You can do it!” Inspired, he persevered. In time we reached the peak.

What awaited us was a panoramic, 360-degree view. To the north was Grandfather’s Mountain. To the south, the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. To the east and west, saddleback ridges. Rick found an old path and disappeared into the woods. Atleigh and I found a rock. She sat on my lap, her long legs hanging over mine, her head rested against my shoulder.

The little fearless climber that I cradled with my arms had taught two old men a valuable lesson – never, ever lose your sense of adventure. If you do, you will deprive yourself of unspeakable joy.

© Michael Barrick, 2014. This essay aired on “Inside Appalachia,” a program of West Virginia Public Radio. “Inside Appalachia” is heard on West Virginia Public Radio at 6 a.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday; it can be heard on numerous partner stations throughout Appalachia. Listen to it here..

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