We had left at 7 AM and now my husband and I, both thirty-something, were resting up in the Indian Gardens, the oasis midway between the southern rim of the Grand Canyon and its bottom. Wistfully, we looked at the distant Colorado River that had carved this deep gorge eons ago. Regretfully we did not have the two days it takes to complete the round trip all the way down and had to go back up. Our descent had been effortless, still many faster-walking hikers and teams of mules had passed us—we were never that swift. It was 10 AM and the sun was hot and high.
Suddenly a poorly equipped “old” man appeared. He wore loafers and carried a bottle of Coke. “Where are you going?” we asked. “To the bottom,” he said. “I am seventy and they said that I was too old to rent a mule. Damn it, I have wanted to go to the bottom all my life. I’ll just walk.” By then a group of hikers surrounded this Methusaleh and tried to dissuade him from what was considered a risky undertaking. He would not listen and continued walking.” I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Old geezers should stay home.”
Last summer my husband and I decided to return once more to Monhegan, a small rocky island off the coast of Maine, and one of my favorite places in the world. It measures about one mile by two, but that small space accommodates spectacular cliffs against which the ocean clashes with unabated vigor. Much of the land is covered with a dense forest—the Cathedral Woods. Elsewhere there are minuscule rocky beaches, a lighthouse, a cemetery with weathered stones I once considered being buried in. The island is honeycombed by stony, root-encumbered dirt trails over which I used to skip with ease. No longer. The walk to Whitehead, which used to take me twenty minutes, now took an hour, and Blackhead was near impossible. Suddenly Methusaleh popped into my mind. Now that I am more than his age, I understand him well. Like him I persist, but from the looks I received from those that I encountered on the trails I knew that they thought I should have stayed at the inn, rocking in a chair.
As I struggle, Pete Seeger’s voice echoes in my head:
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap,
A time to kill, a time to heal,
A time to laugh, a time to weep…”
…and yes, perhaps for me it is “time to stay home.” I’ll start tomorrow…but today I shall don my sneakers, take my walking sticks, two Tylenols and climb up Beech Hill near my summer home in Maine. It is only such a small mountain! Perhaps I’ll make it, perhaps not. Who cares if I make a fool of myself. I wonder…whatever did happen to Methusaleh?
*A biblical character who is said to have lived 969 years