Today's post is brought to you by Mt. Cook (or Aoraki, for the Maori name), the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218 feet. And, since it's Friday, it's a bit of Flash Fiction. I tried to keep it a little shorter than usual, but didn't manage by much--936 words instead of 1000.
The Grey TrailI never wanted to go there. She was obsessed with New Zealand, and after thoroughly exploring all the areas used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings, she fixated on Mt. Cook. South Island. The end of the world, if you ask me, but she loved it and visited several times.
I didn’t go with her on any of her trips, but this time I had no choice. This time, she couldn’t go without me. I was doing it for love, for that one last thing I could do for the one I’d loved and who had driven me crazy for forty years. I was prepared to hate it, and to feel like a virtuous martyr the entire time I was fulfilling her final request.
I wasn’t prepared to be knocked over by the beauty of the place. Mind, that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t want to have to walk for miles through it, even if I could. But somehow even though I’d seen all the photos—she’d brought home millions from her trips, and I’d dutifully admired them all, even thought the scenery was very nice—I had never imagined the impact the place could have on me in person. That made it a bit awkward, in a funny way. How can you feel awkward around someone who is present only as a pile of lumpy ashes in a tin can?
Emotions don’t have to make sense. If I have learned nothing else in 65 years, 40 of them spent living with a woman with whom I shared almost no interests—how did we pull that off, anyway?—it is that emotions have their own logic. Or maybe it isn’t logic. Maybe it’s exactly the opposite of logic and reason. Anyway, we did it, and I was going to leave her ashes where she wanted them if it killed me.
Of course, the first thing that nearly killed me was the whole business of driving. Why some places think it makes sense to drive on the left side of the road, I don’t know. Nor was I quick to adapt. Maybe I could have in my younger days, but you know what they say about old dogs. It required all my attention to drive. From my first glimpse of Mt. Cook, from the south side of Lake Tekapo, where there was a gorgeous stone church overlooking the turquoise waters, I had trouble pulling my eyes from the scenery back to the road. When I began the long drive up the side of Lake Pukaki toward the mountain, I repeatedly found myself in the wrong lane. Fortunately it was early, and traffic was light. Still, I was relieved to arrive at last at the motel at the end of the road.
It was too early to check in, and too late to begin the hike that was my sole reason for being there. Instead, I wandered a short distance up a path to a viewpoint, and just sat there and looked. I tried to imagine what she had felt all those times she had come here. She had wanted to climb the peak. Had wanted—I might as well be blunt—to die on the mountain and leave her body there for the birds. That hadn’t been an option, so this was the next best thing. I would cart those ashes as far up the mountain as I could go, and commit a small act of pollution by dropping them onto a glacier.
Studying the trail map at my viewpoint, I realized that it was not going to be easy to do that. I traced the dashed blue lines and realized they wouldn’t take me onto the ice. Only the grey trails went clear to the glaciers—until I realized those grey lines were the rivers, not trails. I wondered how she would feel if the best I could do was to drop her ashes into the roiled, silty river that ran from the glacier down to the lake.
I thought about the grey trail that was the river, which flowed to a lake blue almost beyond comprehension. Yes, she would like that. She always did like transformations and mystical transmogrification. Becoming part of the glacial silt that created the distinct lake color would have felt right to her. It’s what would happen even if I did put her on the glacier.
I sat and watched the mountain and the river until my stomach reminded me that lunchtime was long past, then went and checked into my room.
That grey trail fascinated and horrified me, and I could hear the roar of the river even in my sleep. Rather, I could hear it in my room, sleeping or waking. A glacial river tumbling from mountain to valley appeared to be a noisy as well as uncontainable thing.
Was this one trail we could hike together?
In the morning, tired from my restless night, I forced myself to rise early and go to the restaurant for breakfast. I ordered a large and tasty selection of my favorites, with no concern for health. It wouldn’t be bacon that would kill me, I told myself.
Back in my room, well fed and at peace, I packed my daypack. Water, a jacket, a few granola bars, and the tin can. I began the painstaking process of putting on the braces that allowed my knees to function, as much as they would. Just to reach the swing bridge over the river would push my limits.
I had all day. I could take the grey trail back down.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015
I apologize for the quality of today's photos. I scanned them from slides shot in 1996, and our slide scanner is, shall we say, inadequate. I did my best to fix them.
|The Church of the Good Shepherd and Lake Tekapo.|
|Mt. Cook and the top end of Lake Pukaki|
|Mt. Cook from somewhere near the end of the road.|
|The start of the Grey Trail.|