When I was in my later teenage years, my Father and I were hiking to a cliff to go rock climbing. Mid-hike I randomly stopped on top of a rock on the edge of a talus slope to remove my shirt where, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted danger. Right on the other side of the rock and directly below me was a rather large rattlesnake. I called to my Dad, who was slightly further down the trail, to inform him of my find and was greeted back with doubt. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like “I have been coming up here for years and have never seen a rattlesnake, are you sure it doesn’t just look like one?”
Soon he was standing next to me confirming that it was indeed a rattlesnake. “Shouldn’t we leave it alone?” I asked.
At this point in the story I need to make a confession. I don’t particularly like dangerous and/or poisonous creatures. In fact, they downright scare me. This list includes, but is not limited to certain spiders, sharks, zombies, and, of course, rattlesnakes. My Father, on the other hand, had different fears. When he was young he and his brother found a tire full of poisonous snakes and one by one he reached in, pulled them out, and put them on the ground where my uncle would shoot them with his BB gun. They took the dead snakes home and posed for the camera. That picture makes me laugh every time I see it.
Back to the story. “Shouldn’t we leave it alone?” I asked. He didn’t respond with words, but by tossing small rocks and getting a stick to prod and poke the serpent. I guess if I could turn his actions into words, they would say “You’re a rattlesnake, so rattle,” and rattle it did. “You have fangs, so bite this stick,” and bite the stick it did. And last but not least “I am bigger than you so go away,” and go away it did.
I don’t really remember the next couple of moments, but I am sure he smiled in triumph. What I do remember is my reaction. We were headed towards a climb that would require us to finish crossing the talus slope and using the logic that where there was one, there were many, I was able to talk my Dad into going to a different climb in a slightly different part of the canyon. We hiked for another 15 minutes or so before we reached our new destination. There was only one more obstacle. The rock wall with our goal was vertically just a few feet above us; but to reach the base of it where we would set up the belay, we would have to climb about ten feet up a crack to reach a ledge that marked the spot. The climbing to the ledge was easy and we decided that I would go first. A few moments later one of my hands was on top of the ledge, then my other hand. I pulled my head above my line of sight and right in front of me, all coiled up, was another rattlesnake. Not thinking about gravity, I pushed back from the wall and let go of the rock. My Father, fortunately, was spotting me and directed my fall rather well.
“What happened?” he asked. I told him my story and of my desire to leave the canyon at once. He just chuckled and said we could go…after I climbed back up to the ledge and took a picture of the snake, which I grudgingly did.
The rest of the story entails us saying a prayer together, asking for the almighty to protect us from harm as we descended down the mountain. This may or may not have been my idea, as my dad wasn’t nearly as scared as me, but in any case, we prayed. The interesting thing that I generally point out as purpose for this story is that to hike from our car to where we were took us about half an hour and hiking down should only have taken us fifteen minutes, but it took an hour. It took so long because we poked under every rock with sticks before we stepped off of it and threw rocks in front of us all the way down the trail in hopes that if danger was present we would hear the too familiar buzzing sound as a warning not to proceed.
One might say, “If you asked God for protection, and you believed in his power, why were you so careful?”
To this I say that before invoking the protection that I believe Heaven can provide, it is only right that I do everything in my ability to avoid the danger in the first place.
This story happened quite a few years ago and unfortunately my Father has since passed on. I only tell it in attempt to point out that if, for some reason, the first snake we encountered wasn’t there and we continued on our way with our originally intended plans. And if the day turned out exactly like we had hoped it would when we left our house that morning., we would have had fun, got some exercise, and left with a smile. But truth be told, I would not remember anything about that day. Most of my favorite memories of someone that I consider to be the greatest man I ever knew, come from the times that things didn’t go according to plan, times when I was scared, hurt, or in danger but turned out fine. Some of my favorite memories of life are from the things that made me realize how fragile I am. These are the moments that make our lives memorable, and the things we look back on and smile.
If you are reading this, and you feel like your life is in one of those times right now, when nothing is turning out the way you expected it to, don’t sweat it. Take off your shoes and socks and go walk around barefoot in the grass or snow and smile. Someday you just may look back and be grateful that things didn’t turn out the way that you planned.
What follows in this book are some of my stories and the lessons I learned through them. May you enjoy them as much as I have learned to.