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Saturday, January 21, 2012


by Kathleen Patton

            The view to the west was always my favorite; a softly dimpled blanket of green during the summer that faded into the purple and blue haze of Rip Van Winkle country. Sitting on that side of Slide Mountain, it’s easy to imagine falling asleep for years, wrapped in the warmth of the sun and the cool touch of the mountain breeze. There is a nook that is carved from a boulder placed right before the mountain heaves up cliff-like and finishes its journey at the peak of the range. I liked to stop there and sit in the perfectly shaped indention and look out across the emerald colored foliage below. Everything breathed easier there.
            Growing up, I could see Slide Mountain from my gable bedroom during the months when the maple and apple trees just outside stood leafless and dead. It rose up starkly from the softly sloping and rolling mountains and held its notched peak thousands of feet above the others. When I was old enough for the long hikes to its crest, my dad would bring me to the massive base and we would make our way to the top, choosing the trail that had the marker I fancied that particular day—some days the more modern wooden ones, other days the old, worn down stone ones that were so weathered we could barely read them. It was on one of these excursions that I discovered the boulder that has found me coiled in its arms many times over the years.
            I was always at peace there. I would sit, cradled above the world, listening to the orchestra of birds, and breathe. The air was filled with a glacier-like chill, but carried the smells and sounds of summer—dew-soaked ferns, leaves from past autumns deteriorating under more recent layers, water gurgling up from underground, squirrels rampaging through the treetops. During the colder months, the smell of wood smoke mixed with the scents and, sometimes, a single spiral of gray, heated air rose through the woods around it.
The last time I trudged to my rock was almost four years ago. It was May, just after graduation. The leaves at the base of the mountain were still young—adolescent-looking, just as I was. I took the stone-marked trail that day.

Trail to

Someone named A. Ford had scratched in an illegible message underneath the neatly engraved directions. I smiled at the familiar graffiti and placed a pebble on top of the marker, letting it teeter on top of the pile of similar stones before whistling to my dog and heading to the winding “trail” up the mountain.
“C’mon, Black Jack. Quit chasing the squirrels.”
Something that sounded like a herd of bison resonated as my two-year-old, gangly-legged lab mix tumbled up the trail, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. He knew where we were going. I had started taking him on hikes after he turned a year old, and this one was our favorite. He darted up the trail ahead of me, knowing the turns and twists of the mountain. I brought a map and a compass, but buried them at the bottom of my pack, knowing I wouldn’t need either.
            I was going up to celebrate—my own private party that consisted of Black Jack and the mountain I had watched through my window. When I reached it, I sat quietly in my niche and looked out over the trees. I smiled triumphantly.
The pack I had brought for my day trip was light, containing only a light lunch, three bottles of water to replenish the canteen on my belt, a flashlight, a collapsible water bowl for Black Jack, matches, and, under the map, an official looking letter that I had held on to for two years. I pulled it out, along with the matches.
My parents started homeschooling me in third grade due to my health. When I was well enough to go back to school, I decided not to. I felt that I was learning faster at home. When I was sixteen, I wrote the superintendent of the local high school a letter, requesting her to go over the transcripts that we had been required to send to her over the years, and grant me a letter of equivalency to take the place of a high school diploma. Several weeks later, I received a short, curt letter back from her. She refused, stating that it was impossible for a sixteen-year-old, homeschooled student to have the same level of education as one of her seniors.
Sitting at in my alcove, I unfolded the letter and lit a match. A week before, I had graduated with an Associate’s Degree and high honors from S.U.N.Y. Sullivan, as well as received my G.E.D. through earning more than twenty-four credit hours. I was eighteen.
I smiled smugly as I watched the paper burn.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington had accepted my application, and I was leaving in two months. There were, in my mind, big things ahead in the glamorous city of Wilmington, North Carolina.
At the time, I could not see beyond the years that I would spend earning my Bachelor’s Degree and privately thumbing my nose at the people who said I couldn’t. Graduation found me quickly, and life after college enveloped me in the discovery—and rediscovery—of real life, with its darker bits, but especially its bright ones. I still remember that day on my favorite mountain, but not as the day I stuck it to the system. I remember it as the day I shifted into the next phase of my life, and watched the last one drift away with the paper ashes.

Kathleen Patton grew up in rural New York nestled in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. She earned her BFA in Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington, and currently lives in Florida. Kathleen draws her inspirations from the mountains she grew up in and her experiences as a military dependent and sister during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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