The switchbacks are dusty. Her eyes are bloodshot, the broken capillaries shooting flames. Her skin is starting to burn. Maybe it’s just the sun, friend and foe, or maybe it’s a tear from within. Can a person burn from the inside out?

She climbs and climbs, passing through gradients of plants – the grasslands, the tall frothy fennel greens laughing at me, witnessing my struggle, offering me nothing. The desert scrub, the creosote bushes with their impenetrable leaves, letting nothing out either, no sustenance for me. And, the hot air upwelling the sagebrush scent, but not holding it long enough for her to take it in, enjoy anything.

She trips, her ankle catching on a sharp rock, a rock that’s been there for years, maybe even millennia, much longer than her, than all of us.

It tumbles down the side of the mountain, gathering speed as it goes, like a sparking comet, setting off a torrent of other rocks in its wake, all going down, gravity pulling them to the valley.

How’s the saying go? The tougher the climb, the bigger the reward? She wants to meet them at the top of the mountain? She wants to see them again – Erin, Sarah, Shannon, GG, Heather, Valeria, Cherie. She wants to embrace them, to be held by them. There will be others, but they won’t be there yet. They still have time.

The last turn of the trail, a razor-sharp curve, treacherous for even a seasoned hiker, a traveler who thinks she’s sure-footed and doesn’t even need to look down at the path to check herself.

Then, the plateau, an expansive empty tabletop, a wind-whipped wasteland.

Where are they?

They’re all supposed to be here, to let me know they are ok, blossoming even, that they place beyond exists and is worth the climb too.

The sagebrush scent wakes up her nostrils, her soul. It doesn’t float away this time.

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