The day carried no hint of the ordeal to come or the vital lesson it would teach. Winding up the asphalt road to Mt. Lemmon just outside of Tucson, Arizona, my sister and I drew deep breaths of pine-scented air Gold leaves still clung to white-barked aspens. We could sense the faint tremor of life still left in the quivering leaves.
Each time we took this trip to the top of the mountain the cares of the workaday world in the city below fell away with each turn of the wheels. Sedentary and plodding all week, our spirits soared free in the crisp air of early fall. For us the mountain had a magic of its own. Like a stored tonic it silently imparts energy to all who walk on its pine-needled floor or watch sunlight silver the long needles of tall Ponderosa pines.
Before today the mountain had always been an old friend, benign and healing. There was no sign in the patterns of dappled sunlight on the familiar road that it would soon be a great teacher of one of the most important lessons I ever learned.
The scent of wood ashes lingered from last night's fire in the living room of our friends' cabin. We laughed. We visited. We ate a simple, wholesome meal, enriched by good company and the sense of freedom the mountain always brought. Then came our favorite time when each person did his or her own thing. Some settled down to read or play cards. One or two curled up for a restful nap, wrapped in the fragrant air outside open windows.
I decided to take a walk to my favorite lookout point. At the sound of the word "walk" every muscle in my two dachshunds went on alert.
So off we went.
I'd walked this way many times before. The narrow trail led to a jutting promentory of gray rock with a magnificent view of the undulating mountains and forested valley below. It was a perfect spot for reflection, for dreaming, or for just stretching out on the rough weathered granite to silently absorb the healing sights and sounds of nature. The dogs, ancient hunting instincts sharp, roamed ahead, noses quivering; their sturdy short legs covering an amazing amount of ground.
I'm not sure how I lost the trail. It happened so quickly. One minute I knew exactly where I was --- and the next, the trees, the canyons all looked alike. All I did was turn off the trail ever so slightly to descend toward the sound of running water so the pups could have a cold drink.
That's all. So simple.
Still I didn't panic. After all, I wasn't out in some deserted wilderness. Many summer cabins dot the side of the mountain. I'd gone down to reach the stream. Therefore, all I had to do was go back up to hit the trail.
But it didn't work that way. Suddenly there were several trails, all meandering off though the trees, winding deer paths that turned back on themselves or ended abruptly. If I could just get higher I'd be able to see my lookout point.
Slowly I climbed, loose soil, mulch-like, slipped out from under my feet. At first I simply could not believe I was really lost. I hadn't gone that far off the trail. (Old timers just nod at this point.) My city body panted its rebellion.
It is hard to convey what the next hours were like. I wandered up and down canyons, seeking some point of reference, some familiar landmark. Now following the creek, now wading in the cold water, slipping and sliding down steep rocks, even some I had to help the dogs over, while an overcast sky deepened and a drizzling rain began. My body chilled in my damp clothing.
Most of all I remember the mounting panic, something I'd never experienced before. Stories of people lost in the wild places of Arizona came back to haunt me. The natives have a healthy respect for the desert and the mountains, but here I was, the tenderest of Tenderfeet, stumbling around. I who couldn't even make it out of the Brownies and into Girl Scouts! The thought that it would be impossible for a helicopter to spot me in the thick growth of trees kept me moving. Surely, I couldn't actually be lost! Surely just over the next rise I'd see somebody --- anybody! Another human form that could laonically point in some direction and say, "Oh, yeah, just follow that path and you'll hit the main trail back to the road."
But not one human voice joined the sound of rustling leaves and pine branches tossed by the blowing wind and rain.
My muttered prayers increased their desperate pleading.
I'm no stranger to normal human fears. But this was different. This was rapidly turning into fear so overwhelming that it smothered reason and the ability to think. When I stopped to catch my breath, I could hear my laboring heart pounding. I could actually see it thudding against my blouse. My sloppy joe sweather was ripped and wet through. My thin summer slacks were stained from frequent falls. My tennis shoes pushed painfully against my toes on downhill treks.
I don't know how long I stumbled around, falling, rising again, slipping, sliding, crawling, until at one point I tripped over a log I did not see through my tears of fright. Over and over I rolled, feeling sharp rocks poke my bruised flesh, hearing loose stones rattle down around me.
When I finally came to a stop I was at the bottom of a steep canyon, one of many I had so laboriously climbed, and which now rose ominously above me.
Something inside of me broke. I could not contain my desperation any longer. I sobbed out my fear and pain, face pressed on moist earth. The dogs dropped down panting beside me, confused by my emotion.
I had been praying continuously, pleading for help, both silently and out loud. But now, suddenly, from somewhere deep inside I felt a surge of power and I "heard" words, intense and clear: "Realize your mind is your Father's mind as you will receive it. Accept it and it shall be so."
I reacted instantly to the intensity, pounding the wet earth, shouting over and over: "My Father's mind is my mind and I will get out! I will! I will!
Exhausted, dirt-stained, tear-streaked, I shouted defiance to my circumstances! And it worked! Dear God, it worked! When all the tearful pleading had only left me stumbling around in circles, fear mounting.
Panic was gone. Quiet determination flooded through me, a force stronger than my aching muscles, my labored breathing and pounding heart. I got up painfully, ignoring a twinge in my right ankle. I didn't have time for a sprained anything! Night would come early because of the darkened sky, and nights were cold on this mountain once the sun's warmth was gone.
I did not know which way to go. I still could not tell what ground I'd covered. But I put one foot in front of the other, and when my foot bumped against a downed tree, weathered gray and smooth, there was a flash in my mind. I've been over this same tree before! I must go the other way!
I was numb. But the overpowering fear was gone as if it had been wiped away by an unseen hand. It was even hard to remember the intensity of the fear that had engulfed me only moments ago.
I took to the path beside the creek. After how long I do not know, wonder of wonders I heard human voices up ahead. Two boys splashing in the shallow creek stared at the sight of me. When I asked directions they pointed to a faint grassy trail that led me to the picnic area and the road. Now I knew where I was.
But I could not make it up the hill to the Lodge for help; my legs began trembling uncontrollably. With rescue in sight, they gave up. And when a small dachshund rushed out from a roadside cabin and circled in stiff-legged appraisal of my two, I asked the man on the porch for a ride back to the cabin of my friends. I had been gone almost five hours, adding miles by my up and down search for a high place.
I slept that night as if I'd never wake up, but wake I did to muscles screaming their protest of what had been demanded of them. They continued their painful complaints for a good ten days afterward.
I still have clippings I collected about rescue efforts for people lost on the mountain. One professor rescued by Park Rangers required four days in the hospital to recover, but this forty-some female was back on the job in three days. A little slow getting around, but there. Those who saw me after this kept shaking their heads, including the Emergncy Room doctor who gave me a muscle relaxer and treated the numerous scratches and bruises I'd acquired. After all it was physically impossible for a woman my age, lacking muscle tone, etc., etc., etc., to do what I did.
But --- I did it! I did it because our Father's mind is our mind if we accept it, which can give us resources we are unaware of until we are tested. Until in desperation we claim the Spirit within as I did, face down on the damp earth of a mountain that challenged my faith to the limit.
I have reached other points in my life when the way was unknown. When fear threatened to paralyze reason. When I felt lost in a maze of confusion and painful human experiences. Then that day on the mountain comes back to me with a clarity that defies description, and I know the resources placed within each one of us.
We just have to claim our Gift and keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking care of the immediate moment. We do not journey alone. We will make it through whatever challenge confronts us.
For nothing is impossible when His mind is in charge.
Copyright (c) 2008 Anne Forrest Elmore