At the top of the trail that moves up along the abandoned quarry out at Camp Horizon, Mark and I pause—briefly—before heading right back down the way we came. This hike is not so much about enjoying nature as it is the first five miles of a two-month preparation for a twenty-mile hike at the Grand Canyon in late October. Lord willing.
We step from stone to stone, ledge to ledge, sometimes following the edge and sometimes walking in the small ditch formed by heavy storms. Tall grass and weeds fill the narrow border between the trail and trees. I see a bit of a black blur and Mark calmly exclaims with genuine delight, “Ah, there’s one of those!”
He probes the grass gently with his hiking stick and a very healthy looking tarantula emerges from the thick grass. It is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these critters without cage or glass between us. The effect is very much what I would have predicted. I stay several feet away, watching the thing as if it could spit venom or throw darts. In Mark’s company, I assess a five-inch leg-span. Had I been alone, I’m sure I would have to double that estimate.
I ask Mark, “So, what do those things feed on? Small bunnies and such?”
He laughs and adds to the menu, “Puppies and small dogs.” I think he may have added more factual information but by then I was focused on picking my way down the trail (away from the tarantula) so as to minimize the impact on my left knee which was giving hints of coming soreness.
Soon after we get back to the river road, a very small snake moves quickly from the center of the wide trail over toward the grass. Mark tries to gently pin it with the end of his hiking stick but missed a bit. Ebbing light and its rapid movement precluded identification, though I thought the color suggested copperhead. “Right color,” Mark concurred, “Kind of small and skinny, though.” Whatever it was, we leave it to its own choosings and continue our way back toward home.
A red ball sunset bleeds through the sycamore and cottonwoods along the river as we turn up the wide path leading back up the bluff. There is a particular beauty in the dying of the day, something in the way the colors change. The shadows are softer even as the darkness begins to deepen. Sometimes the night comes when there is still more trail ahead of us and sometimes the climb comes when we are already tired and sore.
We press on, knowing there is rest ahead, but we must finish the climb before we can find that place of gentle comfort. We know, too, that the morrow will bring more miles to travel, more discoveries to be made. Even in the blessing of shade we know that we are being made ready for the next part of our journey, even though we may not know quite where that will lead us.
Aware of danger and open to delight, we keep our eyes open and step forward in the faith and grace that has brought us safe this far.