While on my Lenten retreat, I took the opportunity to hike to Hidden in the Hollow falls, which is (the brochure told me) the largest falls west of the Alleghanies and east of the Rockies. The brochure also said that the trail was 1.6 miles to the falls and largely downward in direction, and then 1.6 miles back the same way you went. The brochure also said that the incline was such that the trail was also not for “young children and the elderly.”
In hindsight, I might have been one of the elderly they were talking about.
To set the scene, it had snowed in northern Arkansas much as it had throughout Kansas, but now with the temperatures in the 50’s, much of that snow was now melting, and running down the convenient incline of the trail like its own stream. As I walked down I was thankful for my large, waterproof boots but also mindful that, as a person hiking alone, I could possibly stumble and fall down the mountain, where I would then become the subject of some future docudrama where I end up sawing my own arm off or being eaten by a bear. In what was a truly mixed blessing, I was both comforted and disturbed by the number of young couples bounding down the trail who could, in a pinch, call 911 to come assist the elderly man crawling down the trail at a snail’s pace.
It is also worth mentioning that, at the onset of this hike, I was seeing snow everywhere and thus had worn several layers to keep me warm, but could not help but notice how lightly dressed everyone else seemed to be.
As the downward descent went on for over an hour, I became acutely aware that for every step I took on this trail, I would have to walk that step back. Often I considered just going back to my orange Jeep at the fount of the trailhead, but pride and stubbornness drove me on.
I would love to say that the view of the falls was worth it, but out of a commitment to be honest with my parish, I can not. It was impressive, despite the fact that the tiny trickle of water had almost completely frozen over, even in that temperature. But I saw the falls, took the inevitable picture, and then began the long, arduous process of claiming back up the mountain the way I came, the sweatshirt and coat I wore on the trip now feeling like the weight of a small child in my arms. While I had been anxious of being eaten by a bear on the way down, I was convinced that the more likely scenario was that I would have a cardiac episode on the way up and become the subject of a local news report entitled something like “Totally unprepared and out of shape priest is airlifted by helicopter out of canyon” with two college students, both wearing tank tops, being quoted as saying, “I have no idea why this elderly man thought this was a good idea.”
You may not be able to imagine the joy I felt when I returned back to the parking lot of the trailhead. All I wanted to do was to sit, breathe, and call my daughter Maura, who I knew had experienced a very difficult day.
Even as I was slowly, every so slowly climbing back up the mountain I did ask myself, “if this is a sermon illustration, or a story to tell in the newsletter?” And truthfully, it is.
In Lent, we often set upon ourselves the idea that this season is about undergoing some massive undertaking with the goal of achieving some monumental opus. But really, it is about getting back. Back to the person we know we are. Back to the person we are meant to be. Back to what really matters. Back to the parking lot, the familiar Jeep, and making a call to the people who need us. It is about being able to go home, spiritually speaking, to the place that feels like who we are.
Make no mistake though, I bought a shirt from the local park store to commemorate my hike, just to remind me that I had gotten to the falls, but more importantly, I had made it back.
Yours in Christ,