With a singular goal in mind, I climbed the trail steadily to my newly discovered secluded spot. It was a wonderful little cave with plenty of room to stand and walk about, but not so deep that it was inhabited by other creatures. The elevation and slight grade to the earth insured a dry floor. I imagined a fire could easily be started against the far wall that would radiate heat and light throughout the moderately enclosed space. I had only had a chance to visit twice before in order to insure the location’s secrecy. My last five attempts to stop by the location were thwarted by other visitors to the area, and I wasn’t willing to risk my secret with the chance that the general public would destroy my solitude.
I was anxious and excited to get up the last steep incline. Having packed well and light for this trip, I wanted to spend the weekend and made sure I was prepared. I wanted no distractions, no interruption and not a soul to disturb my self prescribed isolation. The large sharp holly growing across the entrance was my assurance that this location was undetected and inhospitable. I slipped on my heavy leather gloves and bent back the dense branches barring the entrance. Facing the rock wall I slid past the thorny leaves taking the brunt of the scrapes to my back and pack.
Once inside I breathed a sigh, releasing the tension I had built. Looking out through the filtered light I pulled off my sack and began setting about building a fire. I had a prepared earlier by storing wood on my previous visits so I wouldn’t need to trek back and forth upon arrival. My affinity for an open fire was palpable. I knew that the key to a good flame was oxygen and ventilation so I was anxious to see if I would have any trouble.
Seeing the flame and more importantly feeling the warmth spread to the earth and rock gave me a primordial soothing feeling that not only settled in my bones but into my soul. It was in this moment that my senses spread and heightened. The sudden darkness and shift in atmosphere was palpable. The established flame even waivered before it charged on. I turned to the cave’s entrance and peered through the bramble down to the grounds below. Wandering about alone I saw a lone child of maybe 10 or 11 looking back and forth as if lost. My chest tightened at the familiar emotion. I paused waiting to see what would happen, expecting a worried parent to rush up any moment but as the seconds ticked by my tension rose.
The lightening strike took us both off guard. He jumped and I braced. Both of us were shaken but I was safe and he was not. I grabbed my gloves and jumped out of the cave to quickly take the path to his side. With tears streaming down his face he froze when he saw me. I reached out my hand and without hesitation he took it. I dragged him back up to the safety of the cave peering suspiciously up at the sky. The cloud break was audible as the water let go all at once. Having only witnessed this event once before i stopped and looked up. The boy equally as curious gazed upward and then saw what was coming. He yanked on my hand half a second before we were pummeled by the cold drenching downpour.
Just feet from the entrance I took those last few steps and stopped. The child tried to look up at me confused but the large drops prevented him from making eye contact. I let go of his hand and grabbed the bush putting just enough space for him to slide in unscathed. Getting a bit more scraped up this time I slid in behind him both of us breathing heavily and moderately soaked. He immediately approached the fire and settled in. I stood there waiting for the words but not a moment later I turned to see another distressed hiker. She was soaked and shivering and knowing I had the fire to return to I again left the warmth to pursue my next rescue.
“Over here!” I yelled but the volume of the thunder and rain left her deaf to my call. I carefully decended this time trying not to slip on the quickly deterioriating path. Waving my arms she spotted me, turned and sprinted in my direction as I waved her toward me. I turned as she reached me and pointed to our destination. We helped eachother over the terrain but reach the cave unscathed. Glancing back I saw another hiker had caught sight of us and was now halfway up the trail. Sighing I waved the man up as I pulled the branches open for the woman. He looked worn and weary as he approached as if he’d been running since the rain broke and my heart opened with compassion. We made eye contact and I pulled a bit harder so he could ease into the cave without too many scrapes. Tired and soaked everyone eased up to the fire and sank to the floor in exahustion. I leaned heavily into the rock wall closing my eyes.
The voices of the three individuals were soft and weary. Each of them was explaining their situation. The boy, who lived close by just outside the park, was out on a scouting project and was caught too far from his house when the storm approached. Frozen with fear he knew he had to find a safe place but panicked when the lightning struck so close. He said he couldn’t move until I had shown up and dragged him inside. The woman was parked several miles away and had just come into the woods for a day hike. She was dressed too light and shivered as she explained how she had tried running to a heavy tree but felt like she was going in circles until I came along and pulled her to safety. The man explained that he had been hiking for days but had felt fortunate once he saw me wave him up as he saw her slip out of sight.
It was then that I felt them all turn to look at me wondering at my story. I felt ashamed at my selfishness for solitude and desire for isolation. The last thing any of these people needed was to feel guilt over my trivial needs, so I simply remained mute. The woman rose and approached me, inspecting the tears in my clothing and skin guiding me closer to the light. The boy began riffling through my pack and I stiffened at his personal intrusion but quickly eased as he intuitively handed the small First Aid kit to the woman then reached for my canteen. The man was the most deteriorated and took the first pull on the bottle drinking thirstily then handed it to the woman. She drank a bit and urged me to rehydrate. I looked to the boy who stared at me worriedly. Closer to the light the concern on their faces was more evident. I sighed and deflated and with that gesture she embraced me wholly and whispered “Thank you.”