phones are useless here. The “new normal,”
Granddad called it.
Call it “a plan falling apart,” thanks to
me. Me minus Granddad’s flair for spotting
wildlife equaled one clueless fourteen-year-old
city kid stuck like a fly to duct tape on this
hilltop at twilight. Thick clouds engulfed me,
blocking out both the setting sun above and
Granddad’s cabin far below. I shivered. This
August mountain afternoon had suddenly
become more like a winter day in Wisconsin.
The sooner I was down, the better. It’d take
one treacherous hour. Maybe.
The radio crackled. “Alec? Unexpected
summer snow, two hours away, tops.” Then,
“I can call the Taylors.”
I stamped my booted feet to warm them.
Mentioning his nearest neighbors meant
that Granddad accepted he couldn’t help me
himself. Determined to return to these moun-
tains, Granddad had renewed his summer
lease of the Taylor cabin as soon as the roads
were clear of snow. Kind and understand-
ing, the Taylors drove him up to the isolated
cabin with supplies before heading farther
on to work their seasonal mining claim.
Before roads closed in September, they’d take
Granddad down to his winter home. They
shouldn’t need to come now for me.
“I’m OK,” I radioed. “But it’s way foggy.
You know this hill. What’s the fast track?”
I released the talk button and had a head-
slapping moment. “Fast” is usually the wrong
word to use with artists like Granddad.
Sure enough. From the radio boomed the
voice respected by art directors and publishing
houses everywhere. “Not fast—intentional!
Orient yourself, Alec.”
Orienting. The way Granddad aligned
landscape features with compass direction on
every hike we’d taken since I turned eight.
Orienting clearly-defined problems and solu-
tions was how Granddad lived. And now
sight-impaired, how he continued sketching—
straight pins and lengths of string guiding his
fingers as he divided storyboard space into
foreground and horizon, carefully defining
smaller areas for proportion and balance.
“OK, Granddad, orienting. Nugget
Creek’s far right. It flows down past your
cabin, but the creek’s side of the hill might
get slippery in whiteout.” I peered through
the fog soup, hoping to spot the creek. Nope.
This wouldn’t be easy. “The hill’s center,
where I saw the bear rub, is all killer cliff. Not
a safe way down now, either.” The clouds had
grown darker, more ominous. “So, I’ll travel
midway between creek and cliff, straight
down. Huckleberry bushes up top, then big
trees and boulders, right?”
“Right. Remember: things we fear are sel-
dom as bad as we expect.” His voice reassured
me. “Headlamp on, Alec. It’ll be dark soon.
Straight course, creek to your right.” And
Granddad signed off.
With the radio clipped to my belt, head-
lamp snugged around my forehead and
switched on, I muddled about, wasting pre-
cious minutes until I located the berry-bush
fringe. Man, downhill hiking’s tough on
knees and balance! Hidden boulders bruised
my shins, bushes tripped me up. I descended