Capulin Volcano, New Mexico

 

There was a decent path up to the crater, but there were sections where the trail dropped away, washed out by the winter rains. He held her hand securely through those places so she wouldn’t slip on the loose gravel—and because he liked holding her hand. It felt so small and warm and familiar there in his.

“How much higher?” Her voice sounded strained. Perhaps he needed to slow down more.

“Not much.” The path became shallower, and then suddenly vanished altogether from in front of them. They’d reached the rim of the crater. “So, what do you think? Isn’t it grand?” he asked, looking down at her expectantly. It came as a total shock that she was white‑faced and frozen in place, staring with glassy eyes down the steep grass‑covered sides. “Kat?”

She didn’t answer, just stood there on the lip, swaying.

Swaying that close to the edge was not good, Jon decided. Carefully, he turned her around and, with his arms about her guided her away from the rim. When he judged they were far enough away for safety, he shook her a little. “Come on, Kat. Wake up.”

She blinked, pupils too wide and dark, before catching sight of the view from their vantage point, the view that he loved, with the whole plain stretched out before him tiny‑like. Kat obviously did not appreciate it; with a little whimper she collapsed against him.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded, trying to get her to look up at him. She only buried her face deeper in his shirt and stayed like that, body quivering. If he’d not been so worried about her, he would have enjoyed holding her that closely.

Instead he waited anxiously until she finally pulled away and stood on her own, though unsteadily. While keeping her eyes carefully averted, she said, “I . . . I don’t do well with heights.”

“Don’t do well? That’s a bit of an understatement.”

“Did I . . . did I freeze up?” At his nod, her mouth twisted. “I do hate it when that happens. It’s like my mind is asleep; I have no memory of what I do or say. Typically I find out after the fact that I just stopped moving and started screaming.”

“No screaming this time,” he reassured her. “Do you know why you do it?”

She shook her head. “No. There’s absolutely no logical reason for it. I’ve never had a bad experience with heights, not that I can remember anyway. I was five the first time this particular phobia showed up.”

Her head dropped down. Quietly, she said, “I’m so sorry, Jonathan. I should have said something when I first realized we were climbing. I just didn’t want to . . . I mean, I was hoping it wouldn’t be quite so high and that having you here would give me the courage to handle it for once. I guess not.” She sounded very near tears, but then her voice steadied. “A dormant volcano is indeed very fascinating, and I do appreciate you wanting to share it with me. You said you come up here every time you come by? I don’t want to keep you from that. If you want to stay and look around for a while, that’s fine.” With a wan little smile she gave him a push. “Go on. I think I can find the way back down on my own.”

With that she turned and started down the trail, looking only at the path directly in front of her feet.

Jon stood there watching her go, torn. He took a single step back toward the crater, but hesitated again. She said go ahead. She’ll be fine . . .

Something told him otherwise.

–from The Slow Trail Home

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