The following is a continuation of a story started in The Gate is Small (Pt. 1). I encourage you to read it first.
I made my way across the bridge with growing confidence that the path I walked was a good one. I thought about the man so afraid of the height of the bridge that he forgot about the builder of bridges! All who hiked this mountain knew he was as trustworthy a builder as they come.
Dismounting the bridge on the other side I continued my hike along the trail. It wound around the mountainside, along a ridge for some time and then turned into little more than a goats path. It rested on the precipice of a steep cliff on the right hand side, and a steep rise on the left. I clutched at the wall-like rock on the left as I inched my way around the mountainside. More than once my foot slipped off the narrow path and I came close to plummeting down the cliff to who knows where! I knew I would not be happy if that happened, and yet it occupied my mind more than any other thought.
Just when I had gone so far as to long for a break, the path took a turn toward the mountain and widened a bit. There was a small clearing with trees and a large rock, big enough to sit on, was wedged into a crack in the mountainside. On this rock sat a small woman who looked exhausted beyond words. She gasped for breath, and gulped water out of a large glass jug with a gold handle and a gold spigot plugged into its side. Her backpack rested next to the rock and it looked about three times larger than mine.
Leaning against the pack was a banjo and draped all over the outside of the pack were knick-knacks and comforts that had no business on an arduous hike like this one. Peeking out of the top flap was the faucet of a kitchen sink.
I cordially introduced myself and waited for her to respond between breaths.
“Mag! Short for Magpie,” she finally said.
“It is indeed a pleasure to meet a fellow traveller, Mag. I have wondered how many noticed that small gate off the broader path.”
“I know! Isn’t a wonderful little secret we stumbled upon?” She began talking quickly. “I could hardly believe such a beautifully wrought little gate was so ill used and little opened. It screeched like a howler monkey when I pushed it open, so I would guess that it hadn’t been opened for years and years before me, of course I could be wrong about that. And did you see those huge footprints in the soft soil behind the gate? I wonder who left those!”
I was amazed that she could talk so quickly and so much with so little breath available to her.
I sensed I wouldn’t get much time to respond meaningfully, so I merely uttered the two syllables, “Indeed.” My hunch was correct as she began another burst of words.
“I wonder how much more of this narrow path winds around the mountainside. I barely made it this far with all of my things! I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably have to return to the broader path if this one doesn’t widen up soon. There simply isn’t room for me to continue hiking down this trail and bring along everything I need to! But no, I’ll manage. I’m sure if I keep at it I’ll make it to the end with everything I need.”
“Is that your banjo?” I asked.
“Of course, of course. Music is a gift you know. I couldn’t leave behind such a wonderful gift as music. Whatever do people do who can’t enjoy music? I don’t know where I’d be without my banjo,” she said.
“Probably further along the path,” I said. She didn’t seem to hear my slightly sarcastic remark because she had already begun speaking again.
“The makers of this trail really should have considered the needs of the travellers when they built it! It’s so small and the rocks are so close as you hike that at any moment you might fall, or your pack might get caught on a low hanging tree branch, or you could have your water jug knocked out of your hands, or shatter and then what would you do for refreshment?”
I reached down to the canteen hanging around my own neck. “I could offer you my canteen and then you wouldn’t have to carry such a large jug. I’ve got an extra bottle in my pack I can use. Actually, I would guess that many of the things on your pack could be left behind if the trail demanded it.”
“Oh no. I couldn’t do that. Besides, if you can find one thing in here that isn’t necessary I’d be quite surprised. I’m an excellent packer.” She opened her pack to let me peer inside. “Everything in my backpack serves a purpose. I need it all to stay prepared for what may come further down the path, as well as stay comfortable on the journey.”
“Didn’t you get the packing list for hiking on this mountain? It didn’t include a banjo.”
“That was a suggested packing guide. I’m sure the people who wrote that list didn’t know what my particular needs would be. I have everything they told me to bring, I just had to include a few extra things.”
“I’ve gotten by just fine with their suggestions. I got the impression they knew what they were talking about. You know, sometimes hiking the more narrow and arduous paths involves leaving some things behind. I’m sure you would get by without that jewelry box, make-up kit, or portable TV. You don’t need those on a hike like this,” I said.
“But those times when I must be presentable will come about, and I’m sure that I’ll enjoy watching a show during a break along the path. How can I be expected to maintain a certain quality of life without a few modern comforts?”
“Yes but this path will surely get tougher and—”
“I appreciate the advice, but I believe you’re just a little too zealous in your way of hiking this path. I’m sure I’ll make it the rest of the way with everything I need,” she said curtly. It seemed to be the end of the discussion.
“Well if you insist. Would you like some help up? I’ll bet we could make it around the next few bends before it’s time to take another break.”
“Oh no, no. You go on. I’ve got a few more things to do here before I’ll be ready to continue down the path. My pack is pretty heavy, you know. It may take me a little longer to recover at rest stops than you, and I wouldn’t want to slow you down either. I would feel so guilty if you were stuck waiting on me at every curve. No. You should continue ahead and maybe I’ll see you further down the path!” She seemed so chipper, but all I could think was that she didn’t have to have such a heavy pack if she would just give up a few things.
Her mind seemed made up, however, so we said our goodbyes and I continued around the bend and out of sight. The path narrowed again along another precipice, this time so narrow that a rope was bolted to the mountainside on the left to hold on as I walked. I knew that Magpie wouldn’t get past that rope without sacrificing at least her banjo so she could hold the rope, and I ponder this sad truth as I edged along the path.
This story is continued in The Gate is Small (Pt. 3).