Fortress Cheaha

She reached down to pick up a piece of the limestone-alabaster-quarts, whatever it was, that littered the ground and pushed its way up through the dark soil of this mountain. I bet this mountain is made of this rock, she thought, as she gazed at the jagged cliffs nearby. With that thought, she could see how their green-gray was a weathered white. No telling how old they were; the things this mountain must have seen. It was Mount Cheaha, the highest point in the state of Alabama. It had always felt different from the rest of the state to her. High and airy, like some kind of castle highland in Europe. She sucked in the deep clear air. It felt good to be here.
Fingering the rock, she said to her cousin, Quintin, who stood a few paces from her, “wouldn’t it be cool if I found an arrowhead?” They were exploring a trail they had not hiked before in the years their family had been making the annual trip to celebrate their grandparent’s anniversary. She reexamined the rock she held. It gleamed brightly in the midday sun. that sun had burned away all of the fog from earlier that morning.
As they continued to explore the new trail, Quintin, told her of his desire to one day hike parts the Appalachian Trail. “It would be a good thing to do before I settle down in life,” he said philosophically. She grinned. He was but six months younger than herself and he had always felt more like a brother to her than a cousin.  His thoughts reminded her of a Native American Tradition-she had no idea which one- where a tribe had sent their young men and women into the wilderness for a moon before they could return to their tribe to live as adult warriors. She wondered at what the equivalent would look like in today’s society.
“we’re pretty much adults you know,” she said as she looked ahead at the trail that sloped slightly upward. Quintin laughed at that. At 22, most would already consider them adults as he pointed out. Although she smiled at that, the thought was kind of sobering for her. She wished she could just be like Peter Pan sometimes and live forever as a kid. But life wasn’t like that. It was like this path they were walking down that wove through the mountainside.  You didn’t know where it was going to go. Wind, rain and feet would change it; regardless, it would wind onward. You could try to stay in place or go backwards, but that’s not how it worked. Life was a journey.
After a time, they paused where the path lead through a section of overhanging tree limbs that made an arch and shaded the path quite nicely.  Quintin took out his ukulele and started strumming the chords for Vance Joy’s, “Riptide.” Suzannah noticed a stream that ran over the path a few yards ahead and she stepped over to it, intending to take some of the rocks she held to her other cousin, Juliannah, who liked pretty things. Her long-haired younger cousin liked to draw beautiful horses and maidens. Somehow, the shiny rocks Suzannah held reminded her of princesses and jewels. She thought it would be nice to bring a smile to her cousin’s face.

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As she neared the stream, she caught her reflection in it. A slight young woman with light hair and high cheek bones stared back at her. Although this girl looked young, she had a weathered look to her with wrinkles already starting to form on her forehead and around the edges of her eyes. Suzannah paused for a moment, saluted the young woman, then thrust her rocks into that puddle, shattering the likeness. Interesting thing, self-perception.
She cleaned her rocks and then packed them away as Quintin made music, then they journeyed onward.

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Suzannah lept from the tree. She landed in a crouch on the rocks, then she walked off the shock of the impact. after she and Quintin had returned to their neighboring Chalets and had lunch with their family, she had found a tree and scaled it to look out at the surrounding mountainside. One can only do so much in a tree however.

As she walked, she listened to an audio book with her mobile. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. She enjoyed listening to how the family stuck together during hard times, weathering storms. She found herself missing the familiar sound of padding feet ahead of her and the tension of a leash about her waist. When she didn’t have Wolf with her, she almost felt lost.
She spotted her brother up ahead and quietly changed her pace in order to keep him in sight. He was often alone. Not just this weekend, but generally always he kept to himself. Undaunted, she trekked along behind him down a familiar trail, Pulpit Rock. Her brother glanced over his shoulder but didn’t seem to mind that she was following. At least he didn’t show it. She stepped nimbly over rocks and roots, the narrative of her audio book keeping her company.
When she reached the overlook for which the trail was named, she branched off from following her brother and stepped up to one of the cliff’s edges and looked out. The rock was named well, someone could step up and address the whole world with a spectacular sermon from this height. She lost herself in looking out.
After a bit, she turned and found her brother sitting nearby, inspecting the messages on his mobile. He had probably come out her to get a sliver of service. He stood up as she sauntered over. At almost 17, her brother stood tall at over six feet. He was broad shouldered and had a tendency to grunt. Like all of her family, there was a hardness about him, Thinking on that as she watched him, she hoped that one day they would all figure out how to put their different hardnesses like rocks together and make a stone fortress that could weather the storms that the journey of life brought with it.
She stood near him for a second, as she deposited her mobile and earbuds into her pack.  She could always feel him. She didn’t know how to explain it other than that. She could feel underneath his impassive face, and somehow gauge what he was thinking, even if he didn’t respond to anything. She liked that about Elijah. “The sun is going to set soon,” She said. “Are you going to watch the sunset with us at the waterfall?” she spoke of an agreed upon meeting place by the cousins and any who wished to join then in watching the sunset.  He shrugged, not regarding her straight on, then he broke off and started striding into the woods, not making for any particular trail. She scampered after him as he held aside branches for her to follow.
Even before she followed, she knew what he was doing. Instead of heading back down the trail they had come and striking out on another to the waterfall cliffs, he was just going to cut straight across the side of the mountain. She liked hearing his thoughts.  She knew there was a trail from the top of the waterfall that headed to a lake shimmering below. They soon hit that trail as they cut across.
Her brother looked up at the overhanging cliffs. Instead of heading back up the trail to the top like she thought he would, he started climbing up the cliff itself to reach the top. She shrugged and climbed after him, seeking roots and rock clefts for hand and foot holds.
As she climbed, she appreciated the litheness of her athlete’s body pulling together and contracting perfectly to propel her upwards. It hadn’t been too long after all. At some points, she couldn’t reach a handhold where Elijah had because he was much taller than herself, however,  he always turned to help her find an alternate route or give her a hand.
Sooner than she would have thought, they made it to the top. She stood, breathless, near the waterfall itself and found her cousins atop a nearby rock face awaiting the coming of the setting sun. She moved over to join them. Elijah continued climbing.

“The chords are easy,” Tymothie said, showing her the correct frets to press her fingers down on. They sat on a cliff face at Pulpit Rock, the sun warming up the glistening rocks they sat on. Her bespectacled cousin was a week younger than Elijah. He was showing her some chords on Quintin’s ukulele. “It’s easy,” he said, grinning. Quintin chimed his agreement from a nearby perch. She tried the progression he had shown her. “Keep doing that!” Tymothie said and he soon jumped in with his guitar and they were soon playing Matt Redmonds, “Ten Thousand Reasons.” Quintin joined in singing. Other hikers sat listening quietly. Oh to worship on the side of a mountain. It was Sunday after all.

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“And this is Orion’s belt!” Christeonnah exclaimed excitedly. “You have no idea how awesome this is!!!” She gripped Suzannah’s arm excitedly. Christeonnah was two years younger than herself and strong-hearted young woman she was. They had driven to the observatory built during the Great Depression of the 1930s at the very top of the mountain. They were examining stars. Suzannah smiled as her cousin flipped through her star book excitedly. She glanced upwards and the stars bore down on her. This was the highest point of the state after all, she reminded herself. Looking at those stars reminded her of seeing them out west, past the Rockies in New Mexico, and then again in the Great Smokies away from civilization. Who knew that such treasures lay so near but yet so unseen in everyday life.

She found herself walking again. As always, she used no light, moving along the road. She turned up the path and headed to the light that split the darkness. Stepping over stones and then up steps she opened the door and the flood of light and laughter washed over Suzannah as she stepped into the warmth of family and fortress.

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