Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the report of Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
— Second Samuel 4:4
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your bed and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.
— John 5:5-9
I am losing my ability to walk. It is an inevitable progression with osteo genesis imperfecta. Currently walking even short distances is like walking with razor blades implanted in my knees. That is why the decision to hike the four miles across the face of Mt. Rainer was a foolish one.
Myrtle Falls – 0.25 miles
Family tradition held that my two first broken legs happened before age one by banging my legs against the side of the crib. My mother often delighted in telling me what a good baby I was and that I looked so cute with both my legs in traction suspended in the air. I often wondered how they knew that I had broken my legs and did not simply have colic or was just cranky. Evidently my doctor, Dr. Ross, had looked into my eyes and noticed the grayish tint where there should have been white. It was a sign of the brittle bone disease. Dr. Ross was my doctor through early childhood. He was a heavy smoker who took his life by sitting in his car and filling it with exhaust fumes.
Another question that has gone unanswered from my childhood is: If my legs were so fragile, at what point and how did I learn to walk?
Paradise Inn on Mt. Rainer is a beautiful lodge. Our room was so quaint and rustic and the trip from Seattle had been one damn gorgeous waterfall after another. At bedtime I took a twelve-hour pain pill in anticipation that Bob might ask me to go hiking.
In the morning I asked him to pull my legs. It is a temporary relief for the pain that I wake up with. (An intimate and strange request, but he was a good sport and did it.) It was a gorgeous crisp morning and we were on the trail by 8:00 am. I had purchased Merrill hiking boots for the trip and they felt so natural and comfortable. Our destination was Myrtle Falls a quarter mile hike up a lovely paved path. On the way to falls we saw a deer grazing in the distance. At Myrtle Falls was a log bridge and a path leading down to a viewpoint. The pain pill and leg pulling had done wonders and my walk to the falls had been pain-free, so when Bob asked if I would like to do the rest of the hike, I agreed. He showed me the map and explained that it would be about a four to five mile hike. The mapmakers had marked it “strenuous.” The beauty of the day and my desire to be with Bob rather than back at the lodge reading a book caused me to respond, “I think I can do that if we take it slow.” The farthest I had ever hiked before had been two miles.
Golden Trail – 1.0 miles
Grade school had been a series of wheelchairs and crutches, and as I recall periods of time in which walking did not seem to be a problem. My best recollection is that I often used just one crutch as an aid in walking. I recall standing in the playground of the Riveria grade school having been angered by a bully. I took the single crutch and began to swing it around my head in the fashion of young David the shepherd boy facing Goliath. I released it in my Goliath’s direction, but fortunately it did not hit him and kill him so I could not chop off his head and march around the playground. The crutch-throwing incident did give me new standing among the children of the playground. Do not anger young David.
The Golden Trail was a more serious trail than the one to Myrtle Falls. When Bob and I decided to make the entire trek, it meant that he would have to hike back to the lodge and get his backpack, bottled water, and our lunch. It meant that I would begin the one-mile Golden Trail on my own. In a way, I was glad that I would be hiking for a bit on my own. Bob was older than me, but he was energetic and youthful in his stride. I was self-conscious about my limp.
The Golden Trail lived up to its name that morning. In the distance I could see waterfalls and green fields. I could see wildflowers that edged the trail. I became somewhat concerned when the trail steepened and became a series of steps rather than a sloping trail. I developed method of pushing on one knee to raise myself. But more significantly, I was still walking pretty much pain free.
Bob eventually caught up. I had finished the easier part of the Golden Trail. As we continued up I was now required to ford small streams and walk through some small patches of snow. Remarkably, we encountered few people on our trek up the mountainside.
Golden Trail became much more challenging toward the higher elevations. It became a series of switchbacks that would eventually hook us up to Skyline Trail. Reaching Skyline Trail became somewhat of a small triumph and our efforts were rewarded with some spectacular views. At one point you could see Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens. At one point Bob and I began twirling around like Julie Andrews and singing, “The hills are alive … ” I think I am gayer than Bob.
Skyline Trail – 0.57 Miles
One of the difficulties I faced early on was the fact that my right leg was growing at a much more rapid rate than my left leg. The difference became alarming at one point and a decision had to be made as to whether to retard the growth of the right leg in order to allow the left leg to catch up.
I remember my father sitting beside my bed at night explaining how fortunate we were that the operation would be done at the Shriners Hospital in Portland. He prepared me several nights in a row that it might require that I be by myself for significant periods because they would not be allowed to visit me. These were odd conversations and I felt more like my father was preparing me to be set up for adoption rather than surgery.
As it turned out we were not eligible for the surgery to be done by Shriners‚ Hospital and the surgery was done at the University Hospital. My doctor was Dr. Chinnard, who went on to become an expert on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and wrote a book about them from a medical perspective.
The surgery was complete and to this day there are two large scars on each side of my right knee where the surgery occurred. The surgery was only partly successful and I would be required to wear a lift on the shoe on my left leg.
All my shoes were Hush Puppies because they had lightweight crepe soles.
Skyline Trail was not too challenging, I was still walking mostly pain-free. But there was now a certain dread that had been raised by Bob. We would have to make the decision as to whether to walk across a nearly half-mile of snow or take the longer and higher route that would bypass the snow. In the distance we could see ants walking across the snowfield. We encountered a hiking couple who had just come from that direction. They advised us to take the higher road and avoid the snow trail. Then we encountered a battalion of mountain climbing students. These were strong and hardy people, carrying backpacks the size of Volkswagen Beetles. I was particularly smitten with one the trainees whose legs were so thick and muscular. The thought crossed my mind of feigning a twisted ankle and needing to have him carry me down the mountain in his arms. But as I thought about crossing the ice field, I realized that a twisted ankle or worse may happen anyway.
Snow Trail – 0.32 Miles
By early high school I was required to wear a leg brace. It was made of steel and leather. There were a series of belts and straps, but the most significant feature of the brace was its locking knee mechanism. When put in a locked position it would make a loud snap noise and the hold my knee in place and my leg perfectly straight.
This brace was an instrument of torture. The points where the metal bits made contact with the skin were rubbed raw. The brace when locked held me knee in an unnaturally stiff position. Wearing the brace was one thing, but to add insult to injury I was required to walk with one crutch. Walking with two crutches meant you were recovering from something. Walking stiff legged with one crutch meant you were a cripple.
The small solace in any of that at the time was that of the end of the day. I would set on the edge of the bed and pop the knee lock. And then one by one I would loosen the straps and disengage my leg from its prison of steel and leather. There was no pleasure that equaled my leg on parole.
When we came to point where Skyline and the snow trail intersected I decided that cutting off any extra distance was very important. The climbing trainees had created a rather obvious path and their presence in the distance was vaguely comforting.
Bob tried to instruct me on walking in snow. “Dig your heel and then press with the sole.” The thing that Bob did not fully realize was that simply the act of walking itself had become a major effort. I could not follow the prescribed pattern; instead I simply tried to walk in his footprints. This worked quite well because the ground on the snow trail was relatively level all the way to Panorama Point.
Halfway along the snow trail I asked Bob for a drink of water. I took our water bottle, which was now only half full and took a measured swig. I replaced the cap and put it back in Bob’s backpack. A few steps later Bob complained of feeling a wetness. I opened is pack to discover I had not replaced the tap tightly and had put the bottle in upside down. The remainder of our limited water supply was now gone.
Panorama Point – Elevation 6800 feet
My father and I hiked more often than you might think given my physical limitations.
Reaching Panorama Point was exhilarating! I had survived the snow trail without incident. Only twice had I fallen and they were minor falls that only made my hands freeze to burning by contact with the snow.
Bob scouted a place in which to sit and eat our lunch. I shuffled to our spot and sat down. We now had a view of the entire world. Satan stopped by and said, “All of this can be yours if you but worship me.” Actually Satan did not appear. only other hikers. They took this summit worth a grain of salt. They had carried squalling children or video equipment up the mountain. It was only an hour out of their itinerary. It had taken me three and a half hours to make this vista. Satan, worship me and I’ll give you a bite of my ham sandwich.
Bob was gracious and did not mention the fact that I had poured our remaining water into his backpack. We were blessed that on Monday I had sliced an entire fresh pineapple and we had put the chunks and pieces into baggies. I have never tasted anything as exquisite as that fresh pineapple. We squeezed any remaining juice out of the baggy and moistened our lips!
The luxury of an extended break and rations had to end. We were only halfway there. We now had to make he descent. I stood to stretch my legs only to discover to my horror that the twelve-hour pain medication I had taken the previous evening had expired. And worse, my knee could no longer bear my weight without buckling.
Skyline Trail South along Glacier Vista – 0.50 Miles
I cannot recollect my true age when my father came up with the mandate for my mother and I. To the best of my knowledge I was about 13 or 14. For a brief time period I had been kept out of school and a county paid tutor came to give me my school instruction. This was hard on my father who had made every effort to keep me in the mainstream. He had hired a black man named Hosea to carry me up the three flights of steps to my third grade classroom. He had had face-to-face confrontations with teachers who thought I posed too great a risk. So the brief time I spent with a tutor seemed like an exotic adventure and was a treat.
My father, by far, spent the most time with me. He took me and my friends camping. He formed a Science Club and Bible Club and a Mystery Club all in an effort to keep me entertained and with my peers. His biggest desire was that I would be a part of the grades school baseball team if only as scorekeeper or mascot. He bought me an expensive gizmo that would keep track of runs and errors and such. He had gone too far and it was only painful for me to keep track of the ability of boys my age to run bases.
Back to edict. Once my father had a plan there was no point in trying to dissuade him. His plan for my mother and me now consisted of my mother “walking me” every day after school. Every day we were to increase the distance traveled.
The starting point was our woodshed/garage. That first day I stood behind the metal walker and walked to two houses. Exhausted I returned. The next day I walked two houses, and returned. Eventually I walked to the end of the block. Fortunately on that segment of the block there were no kids my age, only old women who loved gardening. My pilgrimage then became a part of their day: weeding, watering, watching David walk. They offered sincere encouragement and I was not foolish enough to discard it.
Over a period of time I turned the corner. Ash was going to be a very long street. Our block was a country block not a city block. Another obstacle was that on this block lived the McGraw boys and near the end of it lived Debbie Botting. I would not only have to walk past their houses in a gray metal walker but I would have to do so with my mother in tow.
Was it a matter of days or weeks that I took in going full circle around that block? Certainly weeks. Maybe weeks that became a year, or least the better part of a year.
In that walk around the block I became a part of people’s lives. My mother knew all their names; I just remember the smiles and encouraging words. And I remember how proud I felt when I had gone the entire distance. My world had grown. I had traveled that route previously on bicycle and with friends. But in this learning to walk again at thirteen I had seen a new heaven and a new earth, as can only happen when walking.
I had convinced myself going up the eastside of Mt. Rainer that going down the west side would be easier. I was so seriously wrong. Walking down a mountain is much harder. And now it was nearly impossible. My knee was giving out unexpectedly and when I encountered stones steps I could only go down each step if I bore weight on Bob’s shoulder. This was dangerous because he was wearing a backpack and my bearing down often ended up in nearly pushing him over.
The first half-mile of the trip down took us past Nisqually Glacier. Going up the mountain I had oohed and ahhed at each miraculous vista. I had grinned at the marmoset and chuckled at the sage hen and her five chicks. Bob tried to get me to appreciate the beauty of the majestic glacier on our right and our near perfect view of the peak of the mountain. At this point, however, I could only concentrate on one thing: taking one step. That is literally all I could do. I could take one step and make sure that my knee did not buckle or take one step and hope that I did not end up pushing us both over the edge of the precipitous trail.
The trail along Glacier Vista meant crossing another ice field. It was July, but near the top of the mountain there were still three ice fields which I had to cross. The earlier snow trail seemed trivial in comparison to the next one I encountered. This snowfield was steep and very slippery. I could no long match my footsteps with Bob’s. There was no way I could dig in my heel. I was struggling simply to stay upright. Near the end of the second snow-covered trail I gave up. I knew that if I continued I would fall and break my leg or arm. Even a twisted ankle would have been a disaster. So forsaking all pride I sat and slid down the remainder of the snow back to the dry trail. It was numbingly cold and even worse I felt humiliated in front of Bob. In the course down the mountain I had to resort to that twice.
Skyline Trail to the end of the trail – 1.00 Mile
Shortly after college I broke my leg yet again. In the dark I had stepped off a four-foot platform while trying to repair some malfunctioning slide projectors. As a result that fracture, it was necessary to use a cane during recovery. I don’t remember where I got the cane. It was a natural twig cane, one piece of wood with a natural handle.
One of the problems I would have with the cane was losing it. Since I did not always need it, I was constantly walking away without it. But, overall, it had become a natural extension of my body.
I met Dennis in 1974 in Nampa, Idaho. We were both in a play at church. After an evening rehearsal, I flagged Dennis down and asked if he had a minute to talk. I explained that I had just moved to town and had not developed any friendships. It is the only time I simply came out and asked someone if they wanted to be my friend.
It was not an effort for either of us to be friends. We were both bright, creative people with a sense of humor. One of our bonds was Dennis’ love of puppetry. The church hired us to work summers in their children’s outreach ministry. Dennis was a natural performer and I worked on scripts and program ideas.
One summer we had taken our show on the road and had traveled down the Oregon coast. One day the group had taken the van to the beach for a day off. Because I had problems misplacing my cane in the van, I developed the habit of keeping the cane in clips above the door.
Dennis had given my cane a name, “Mr. Cane.”
That day at the beach Dennis raced back to the van and got my cane for me. But instead of giving to me, he raced past me and hollered as he raised my cane above his head, “It’s time to get rid of Mr. Cane.” He ran out knee deep into the surf and planted my cane in the sand.
He came back and smiled as he stood next to me. We stood in silence and watched the waves wash over this small wooden, upright stick. We walked back to the van leaving it behind. I choose to believe that if you went to that beach, even today, you would find a small natural cane stuck in the sand.
How did Dennis know it was time? And isn’t such an intuitive connection with another person an unbreakable bond?
My only regret in coming out is that Dennis chose Jesus over me.
The last mile down the mountain was not what I expected. I had expected we would eventually encounter gently sloping dirt trails. Instead, it was a steep decline and the trail was a series of stone steps. These stone steps were not an evenly crafted staircase with a hand railing that met the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These stepping-stones were wildly uneven, some narrow, some wide, some tilted, while others were more dangerous than no step at all. And there were a thousand of them … a thousand stone steps went down that mountain.
Bob had a tense expression on his otherwise placid face. I could tell he was thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”
“What are you thinking, Bob?” I asked.
“What would happen if you fell and broke your leg,” he replied.
There was a point in coming down the mountain that I wanted to give up. I knew I was in serious trouble. The trail was too demanding and I had no reserve of strength upon which to draw. But giving up was impractical. It wasn’t like a bad game of checkers I could just quit. They would not bring in a life-flight helicopter for a quitter. My father could not hire the black man, Hosea to carry me back to the lodge.
I turned the rest of the trip into a game. “I can make it three more steps and that’s all.” I would go down three steps and rest. “I can make it to that tree.” I would walk to the tree and then stop.
Each time I went down a step I had to have Bob’s help in some way; my hand on his shoulder or an uplifted hand from him. I had to have something to lean on in order to release my knee and take the step. He was a good friend down that mountain. He did not begrudge me my needs or become solicitous. He simply did what needed to be done to get me from stone to stone … stone to tree … tree to dirt path.
Even when the lodge was in sight, reserve did not rise within me. The last quarter mile was still a game of “I can make to the …” There were no longer stone steps but my legs were refusing to work. In order to make the last final bit of the trail I had to lean on Bob continually. There was no choice and he seemed to understand.
There were three small wooden steps at the end of the trail that emptied us on the parking lot of Paradise Lodge. Once in the parking lot, Bob left me and went to the truck. I walked like a drunk into the lodge and sat down on the couch in front the huge stone fireplace. I wanted to cry, partly out of pain and partly out of the realization that I had done the impossible. But I was too tired to cry … it seemed a waste of energy.
Next to the stone fireplace was a giant grandfather clock that was built when the lodge was built. 1913? The clock was made out of logs and tower up close to the ceiling. I was curious as to what time it was. We had begun the hike at 8:00 AM. When I looked at the face of the grandfather clock it was 4:00 PM, exactly. The hike had taken us eight hours.
Bob entered the lodge and handed me a can of pop as if we had just returned from a stroll across the street.
“Nice day for a walk wasn’t it,” he said.
The Three Steps at 7027 N Boston
Because I am a former preacher, I have not ended this where a good writer would end it. I feel forced to hit you over the head with a series of platitudes.
Life is a series of steps.
You can only take them one step at a time.
Lean heavily on those willing to allow you to lean.
And when you can take no further steps, stop, rest and walk on.
Or at least get on your butt and slide!