We started the three-hour drive early. I had only gotten my license a month before, and this was the longest I’d ever driven. The first two hours were easy. Then the roads got smaller, until we were driving on a winding dirt road filled with potholes and loose rocks and rattling washboard stretches. Finally we were at the trailhead, loading up my backpack with both water bottles. I had volunteered to carry everything. My legs were having trouble getting into any kind of rhythm, and I kept knocking the toes of my boots on rocks. But I felt proud when she asked me to slow down a little.The trail started to climb. I wanted to stop in the shade and have some water, but I didn’t want to be the one to ask. Neither did she. We had that in common. Finally, she asked for her water bottle. I drank slowly so we could rest for a moment in the dappled shade. We didn’t say much, just a few words about how hot it was and how we hoped we were getting close to the top. She was tough, and I was trying to grow up to be tough too. My head pounded with each step, and I tried not to look up at how high the trail climbed. She was silent, but every time I turned she wasn’t far behind.
We crested a ridge, at last, and the valley lay before us. Below us were bright green meadows and slopes stitched together with clear-running streams. That’s what I imagined Eden might have looked like, filled with life and beauty and a little bit of violence. I saw a marmot sunning itself on a rock. It raised its head and cried out at me, eyes squinting and jaws open wide, showing teeth.
I walked past a boulder, and there were two mountain goats staring back at me. The first was young, hornless, half-jumping on gangly legs. It was white and fluffy, and walked jerkily toward me. Its mother studied me more carefully. She had two wickedly sharp black horns, and her fur was shaggier, matted and brown near her underbelly. Her eyes were black and still. She took a few steps toward me and herded the young one back. My mother warned me too, and I backed away slowly.
Seeing her climbing up the last section of rocks before the lake, I somehow knew that this would be the last time we did something like this together. I wanted her to see the lake first, and she did. She stopped at the top of the boulder pile and waited for me. A breeze was riffling the surface of the lake, breaking the mirror sheen I’d seen in photos. But the real lake had its own wild, rough-edged beauty.
The water was gray, reflecting the mountain behind it and the sky above it. I walked along the shoreline. She stayed behind, sipping from her water bottle. I picked my way along the rocks, stumbling when they shifted underfoot. A few times she looked like she was saying something, but if she was I couldn’t hear it. I waved to her, but she was looking somewhere else. I let my hand drop and walked back to her. We sat quietly for a moment. Then we got up and she led the way back to the car.