You’re not going up to the bluffs again, are you?
She raises her eyebrows.
I remember that she can’t see me nod. Her macular degeneration has already stolen her gardening, her driving, her books, even the well loved faces of friends and family. I must pay attention or I will inadvertently rob her even more of the subtleties of facial expression, of body language.
Yes, but I’ll be careful and I’ll call you when I’m down.
I will (and I do).
The Skaha Bluffs may be one of Penticton’s best kept secrets – not from climbers of course but from people who think that the bluffs are just for climbers. In fact, they are an immense array of jaw-dropping trails from which climbers can climb, but on which hikers can hike, on which families with small children can explore brave new worlds, conjure brave exploits, and on which wounded souls can begin to heal.
Everywhere that I turn I can point my camera, frame the shot, and then stand amazed at what a genius photographer I have become. Of course, it is not me at all. It is the trees growing where no tree ever had business growing, it is the eagles appearing over cliff tops hundreds of feet above, it is the canyons draped with moss, the fields of ragged, skin piercing boulders, and the special, flat-topped massif that I decide to call Aslan’s Table.
C.S. Lewis has been with me on this journey. His thoughts on grief, on walking through valleys in which we have no idea what is around the next bend – they have been my constant companion. They have been with me in the bright light of day, in wind swept valleys, on fog-shrouded heights when I could see mere meters, even on desperate walks through silent city streets in the dark of night.
If spirits long departed can hear us, C.S. Lewis and I were indeed becoming well known to each other. The woman had left. My mother would be going soon. Returning to my career was an unanswered question – depending only in part on when my mom would go. Those three kept my steps weighty and slow, and still one more thorn kept appearing to frustrate and infuriate me, but it is best left for another day, maybe even another life.
There is no easy path and yet it is worth every step. Every time I arrive, I know that I have accomplished something. I have tried one more time. I have cast aside my demons and I have refused to lie down. I will breathe. My valley will not end here.
On the mountain, Aslan’s Table lives by another name but this is what I chose for my secret place. In truth, it is not secret at all as it lives beside a well-known climb. Pitons, carabiners, ropes, and sweaty bodies dot the near vertical granite face virtually every dry day of the year, but to my weary soul, this spot became Aslan’s Table, a place that spoke to me of sacrifice, of service, and of profound humility.
The great revelation of the rock was that there is no easy way to get there. Every approach is uphill, or uphill and then down a cliff. Every path is over boulders, over gravel, across thick, slick moss, or even through a smaller valley strewn with jagged, gigantic remnants of mountains broken down.
As with the rough, ragged approaches to the rock, there is no easy way through Mom’s valley, not for her, not for me. And even though our journey will soon end, and in spite of the enormous loads I am carrying these many months, I will not yield, not yet. I will not stop. I will find Aslan’s Table again and again, as often as my battered soul requires. I will climb to the rock or I will find it in my dreams. I will not let my valley end here.