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Reflections November 2017

One More Story...

A Bridge Too Far Gone

By Bill Vossler

The peak was forgotten when a slab of black clouds blotted out the sun. As though driven by the sizzling zigzags of white-hot lightning, a phalanx of wind laden with a slanting sheet of cold rain struck us, followed instantly by terrifying cannonades of thunder.

The summer day was clear when my cousin Tim and I set out to climb a mountain in the Pryor chain in Montana. A few wispy clouds fluffed atop one of the ranges further back. We parked his pickup next to a 20-foot-wide stream, climbed down the steep bank and pushed two large bottles of 7-Up deep into the bank in the cold water at the edge of the low, sluggish rill. We crossed the small, rickety wooden bridge toward the rising heights to begin our slanting ascent.

As we climbed – walked easily at first, really – up the foothill, we caught up with each other’s lives since we’d seen each other last, 10 years earlier at age 13, before Tim’s family moved to Billings.

Because I am a child of the great drift plains, from time to time I had to stop, mesmerized by the towering pillars of rock that continued to appear as we moved up one foothill, then another and another. Then the unfamiliar plant life – lupine, Wyoming big sagebrush, arrowleaf balsamroot, and yucca, which Tim identified for me.

While climbing we heard the occasional deep grumble of thunder far away, but thought nothing of it. About four hours later we breasted another rise, and Tim said, breathing hard,
“There – there’s the top. The last one.” Three hundred feet of bare rock, much more sheer and challenging than we’d climbed so far.

The peak was forgotten when a slab of black clouds blotted out the sun. As though driven by the sizzling zigzags of white-hot lightning, a phalanx of wind laden with a slanting sheet of cold rain struck us, followed instantly by terrifying cannonades of thunder. The booming multiplied, echoing off the rocky crags. We spotted an overhang, and wet and shivering, rode out the storm, crackles of lightning feet away, the sharp smell of ozone, the rain running in torrents.

When it stopped we stepped out and one glance at the peak and its glistening wet, slippery rock stopped us. Too dangerous. Disappointed, we headed back. We found a stream we no longer recognized, a raging torrent boiling at the filled banks. Simultaneously we said, “Where’s the bridge?” It was gone. A few broken wooden posts remained.

“We have to swim,” I said, gulping.

“I guess,” Tim said, tossing a stick into the racing current. It jetted away at super speed.

“Maybe if we took a running jump?” I said.

Tim shook his head. But what were our choices? Cell phones weren't invented yet.

We‘d been gone at least eight hours. The shadows of the mountain were creeping toward us. Tim’s pickup, only 40 feet away, mocked us, as though to say, “Have a nice cold night over there!“

With nothing nearby to help us, we strode downstream. Around a bend we spotted a downed dead tree. The shadows deepened as we raced towards it, laying on the ground in the midst of others.

We had hope. We’d make our own bridge!

We hefted a log and pushed it over the rushing water toward the other bank. But it was too heavy. And unwieldy. The far end dropped into the water, and the tree was snatched out of our puny hands – like a stick grabbed by an angry giant. We gazed at each other, knowing the result if we had swum across.

We held tighter to the second one, so the rough bark tore up our palms as it was ripped away.

Only one more appeared long enough. It had a large crook at the end. We nodded to each other. One more shot.

We held the crook upward as we grunted the tree across the breach. Gasping, our muscles quivering, we turned the crook downward. The end settled on the other bank. We dropped our end.

“It worked!” Tim said triumphantly.

I sat on the makeshift bridge as Tim scampered across on all fours. I followed.

Safe on the other side, we took deep breaths and shook each other’s hand. As we walked to the pickup, Tim looked back and said, “I don’t suppose there’s any of that 7-Up left, huh?”

 

A Life columnist for the St. Cloud Times, Bill Vossler produces four daily Facebook photos, as well as discussing everything from gondola rides to foggy trees. One of the Writer-in-Residence’s ebooks is Polishing Your Prose: How to Write Better, along with 15 others.


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