The traveler had finally met his match. The hill was proving to be a formidable opponent as he fought his way up the trail. He was beat and losing control of his muscles. His sandals slipped over loose rocks and dirt and he stumbled. Little coughs of dust to arose from his clothes. He was caked with the stuff. He reeked from effort. Sweat dripped and stung his eyes. Grunting raggedly, hope was flooding out of him like an open tap.
The hill hadn’t looked so formidable standing at the bottom. Now it seemed it would rob him of what precious little he had left to give. Simply put, he underestimated either the hill, himself, or both. He paused a moment, shielded his eyes against the sun and mentally measured how many more steps he needed to summon. It looked like it was going to be about 3 too many. His legs were on fire. But he’d come too far and too long to quit now. If he could just reach the top. He sucked in a breath and jabbed his walking stick into the baked dust, pulling his body back into action. Every fiber moaned in protest but the shady relief waiting under the oaks at the top spurred him on. They waved leafy arms at him, beckoning a like cool mistresses knowing his misery. If he could only reach there.
Drowning in his exhaustion, ruminations floated across his mind like the clouds of dust following at his feet. He’d been traveling years on this trail. When he began, he was a young man full of aspirations and dreams. He had no idea where the trail would lead and he didn’t care. It was just laid out before him like an extended hand and he couldn’t resist its invitation. Something, out there, beckoned to his very core. Now, with each agonizing step an endless tide of doubts rolled through his head: What am I doing here? Where am I going? What will I do when I arrive? What do I hope to gain? Will it ever end?
In all fairness, he thought, this trail hadn’t disappointed him. He had witnessed sights few of his years would ever see. Sunrises and sunsets. Storms and gales. Feasts and famine. And everything in between. But it was taking its toll on him. His feet ached. His bones ached. His heart ached. His mind ached. Still the trail went on and on as if it was hell-bent on outrunning him. His greatest hope now was reaching the top and finding the end in sight. The thought brought on another tidal wave of sickening exhaustion. It was almost enough to bowl him over.
Focusing all his attention on his feet and their wretched progress his mind fell silent. Not a thought stirred. The tidal wave had washed them all away. Nothing at all whispered to him to but the shuffle and grind of sole and stick on earth. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Every stone stared up at him with a cold indifference defying him not to stumble again. He kicked one in an exasperated puff and watched it roll on ahead.
“Yeah, run you little bastard,” he wheezed through his clenched teeth.
Suddenly it disappeared. He blinked. He blinked again. It had rolled over the horizon. He looked around bewildered. He was at the top.
Relief poured over him like cold water but it was short-lived. He gazed dolefully over the plain. The end of the trail he had so hoped for, so banked on, was nowhere to be seen. Like a brown ribbon dropped carelessly over the landscape it led only to another hill. And then another. And another. Something like a hot rock dropped in his stomach. He began to tremble. His legs buckled, threatening at last to betray him.
In what he was sure would be his last coherent moment, his eyes found a lush pillow of grass under the nearest oak. It seemed to reach out to him with promise from every blade. Dropping like a man who’d been shot through, he plunged face first into the greenness. The sweet scent rushed into his nostrils and exploded in his mind. The coolness of the grass was so delicious he was tempted to take a bite.
“Like the old goat you are,” he chuckled, rolling to his back.
He laid there for how long he knew not. It didn’t matter anymore. The sun flirted down, coyly twinkling between the leaves, mesmerizing his spent brain. The soft grass gave succor to his aching body and the hilltop breeze caressed his brow. He melted into the moment with such totality it overwhelmed him into blindness. Then, in the moment of utter surrender, realization came like a sigh. He understood.
“I am all this and all this is me,” he breathed.
He began to laugh.