I was totally exhausted from a hike in Sedona with her former hiking club, the Westerners. The day started at Posse Grounds Park, where I had a choice of three hikes of varying difficulty. Since I belonged to a hiking club at home, and I was younger than most of the people gathered there, I picked the hike up Steamboat Rock. I hadn’t packed my hiking poles, and that turned out to be good, since I found myself scrambling up smooth slopes of red rock to get to the top of the boat portion of the rock. The smokestack loomed above, a sheer rock face.
“It wasn’t there any more,” I answered. “The hike leader said the Forest Service removed it because there were too many accidents.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she sympathized. “I used to love the view from the top.”
Now I knew what kind of hiking and climbing my parents had done in their late seventies.
All that hiking as well as daily lap swimming served my mother well. A car accident ended her hiking days when she was 77, but she proved all the doctors wrong and learned to walk again. During her 80s, she traveled by train across the Canadian Rockies, on an African safari and cruise to South America, by bus along the Lewis and Clark Trail, and to New Zealand and Switzerland. She still lives independently in her home beneath Coffee Pot Rock. If I did believe in Sedona Vortex energy, I’d swear it’s keeping her a lot younger than 90.
She has always brought a lot of energy to her life. She grew up on a farm near Mendon, Illinois during the Depression but set her sights on more education and a wider world. She used a home economics scholarship to the University of Illinois to become a dietician, which involved catching up on all the math and chemistry she didn’t get in her local high school. At twenty one she moved to San Francisco for a dietetic internship at Stanford Hospital and celebrated the end of the war there. While she was working in her first job at the University of Chicago, she met a young medical student and married him three months later. With him she lived in Portland, Maine; Cleveland; Shawnee, Oklahoma; Billings, Montana, and finally Sedona. They traveled the world together, all over Europe and Central America and even to China when tourism first opened there. Today the girl who grew up with no electricity corresponds with her grandchildren on Facebook.
Life at 90 has many challenges, including the loss of many friends and relatives. This past month has been one of the hardest, as her middle daughter passed away at 60 from melanoma. Patricia and the rest of the family worried that this death would be the last straw for my mother, that she would at last go into a depression and decline. But yesterday she told me that she had dreamed about climbing a mountain, and that every time she thought she was at the top another slope appeared; there was always more climbing to do.
“I think the dream means that you just keep climbing,” I said. “It would be easy to turn around and go downhill, but you never do that.”
Today she is off to her yoga class. I’m staying home to rest.