The afternoon drifted into the ravine like a cat on little fog feet. Yeah, I know, the Sandburg metaphor is reversed. However, the storm soon followed on the sharp claws of a ravening wolf.
Lightning glinted like steely teeth visible in the wind-whipped mouths of darkening clouds. My English lit teacher says I’m good at figurative language.
It was time to dive for shelter, and I had no idea where to find even an overhang in the rocky walls beside me. I was in for a soaking or worse if the swollen stream I had followed became a raging flood. Mom and Dad had always told me not to follow the mini-canyons during spring rains. They didn’t want their only daughter washed away past Copperhead Corner and on down to Goblin Hollow.
Gotta get up higher.
I clapped my hands over my ears to lessen the bone-splitting explosions of thunder.
That’s when I saw a faint light glimmering through the trees atop the bluff. A cabin? I should be so blessed! Scrambling and clawing my way up a narrow cleft, I managed to reach the top just as the evil sky unleashed sharp needles with unexpected fury.
Where was the light? Naked branches whipped and threatened like skeletal arms reaching out to tear me apart. That’s another thing my teacher notes. I have a very active imagination. No time for turning it loose in this place. I could scare myself out of a church pew if I didn’t curb it, and this wild night lent itself to wild thoughts.
Turning in a circle and shielding my eyes from the intense downpour, I glimpsed the light once more and started for it.
“Who’s there?” a male voice answered my desperate knock.
“Emily Rose. I need to get out of this storm.”
The cabin door creaked open slowly to a room gratefully warmed by orange flames leaping in a huge stone fireplace which appeared to cover an entire wall.
Blue eyes twinkled as warmly as the fire with a hint of amusement beneath bushy white brows. He wore a plaid shirt under faded overalls, and his plump cheeks made me think of my grandfather. “Well, what are you waiting for? Git yourself in here Miss Emily Rose. You look like a drowned rabbit.”
He stepped aside, and I hurried to extend my freezing hands toward the crackling orange flickers.
“Thank you, Sir,” I managed between chattering teeth. “I’m very grateful.”
“Sir? Name’s Grant. Here, let’s put this around you.” He draped a heavy blanket over my shaking shoulders, then turned toward an old-fashioned cast-iron cookstove where a black kettle steamed away. After pouring a dark brew into a mug, he returned and offered it to me.
I sipped the hot brew, a tea of some sort, without wondering if my rescuer was a serial killer ready to poison me. Such evil is far more real today than witches waiting to trap innocent Hansels and Gretels who wander into the forest. Yet, something about Mr. Grant’s merry blue eyes inspired instant trust. Besides, it was him or the storm-lashed night. I felt safe enough here with him for the moment.
Grant pulled up a wooden rocking chair and motioned for me to sit. He sat opposite me on a rough-hewn bench.
“Now young lady, you wanna tell me what you’re doing out in weather like this?”
I nodded. Might as well tell him the truth. “I’m running away from home.”
He didn’t appear surprised. He didn’t answer me right away or try to talk me out of it like I would have expected from any adult. I supposed he could see I’d made up my mind.
Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I glanced around the cabin looking for a landline whereby a call to my parents might be made. There was none.
Good. I don’t want them to know where I am.
“I knew a young feller who ran away once,” Grant finally chuckled. “Had the time of his life. He joined up with the circus train, and let me tell you that was some harrrrrd work. You ever carry water to a thirsty elephant?”
I shook my head. Run away and join the circus, huh? Wasn’t that every little boy’s dream back in the 1920 and 30s? From the looks of his craggy face, Grant may actually be one of those boys.
“Course the girls like you didn’t do the heavy work. They boiled the beans, scrambled the eggs for the crew and kept the performers’ costumes washed and repaired. Say, can you handle a needle and thread?” He fingered a missing button on his shirt.
I shook my head again. “Me sew? My mom buys all my clothes.”
A knowing look passed over those blue eyes momentarily.
“Oh, I know what you’re doing. Trying to make me appreciate my parents. Well Mr. Grant, I already do appreciate them most of the time. But not now.”
Grant leaned back on his bench against the rustic log wall, pulled out a pocket knife and began to whittle. Soon enough, I could see the wood taking the shape of a horse. Dad and Mom had surprised me with a horse as a gift for my tenth birthday. The most precious gift of my life! My mind raced ahead thinking of all the reasons why I didn’t want to go home again. They did love me. But how could they do this to me? To each other?
Divorce was not a word in our family's vocabulary. They always said so whenever we joined in a group hug. I trusted them!
Now I’d never trust them again! Love was supposed to be forever. Not just a temporary stop on the road to other things.
I glanced at his blue eyes, expecting him to be studying me. He continued expertly fashioning the little horse.
“I guess you want to know where I’m headed,” I volunteered.
Actually, I had no idea where I might go. Just away from the two people I love most in the world.
“Nobody can hurt you much unless you love them,” Grant muttered as if he’d read my thoughts. “I expect you love your mom and dad and they love you. Just look at those nice hiking boots you’re wearing. But those blue jeans with holes ripped in them? Did you do that climbing the rocks?”
I almost laughed. People his age wouldn’t understand that I paid good money for jeans with holes ripped across the legs.
“No, Sir.” I didn’t try to explain.
“Do your parents beat you?”
“Well, I can see they disappointed you. I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine to be caught in those ripped denims. But course if you could handle a needle and thread. . .”
“They’re getting a divorce. And they said they would never do that. Not in our family. How could they . . .”? I choked back a sob. My heart felt like one gigantic purple bruise ready to burst open.
Grant nodded. “I see. That’s a big one. More disappointing than having to wear those ragged clothes.” After a brief silence he added,
“Reckon they might not go through with it? Seein' as how they might lose you?”
He spoke what I had been hoping for without even realizing it.
“Emily Rose, you might force them into making a choice that they would later regret. But I want you to know, Love never fails. People do. There’s only One who walked the earth and never failed. The Man, Jesus.”
“I used to trust Him. Now I’m not so sure. I've been praying so hard this divorce wouldn’t happen.”
“Tell you what. You talk to the Lord about trust. He knows how to deal with that. The rain has let up. I’m going to show you a shortcut that leads through the woods to your back door. You’ll be home before the moon rises.”
Grant lit an old-fashioned lantern and opened the cabin door. He walked with me for what seemed only a moment, and I was astonished to see the backside of the house. I thought I had traveled miles from it.
When I turned to thank him, wondering how he knew where I lived, he had simply vanished into the trees.
“Emily! Oh, darling, we were so worried about you!” Mom ran to meet me and Dad grabbed me in a bear hug. I saw that they were both rain-soaked and their muddied hiking boots sat by the door. “Walter Evans said he had spotted you miles down Canyon Creek when the storm hit. We’ve been looking for hours. How did you get home so quickly?”
I tried to explain about Grant and the cabin. They looked at me with wonder. “There was an old log cabin on the Canyon Creek ridge, but it burnt down years ago. No one has lived in that area for years.” Dad insisted he would know since he has hunted deer in that area all his life.
“Besides, it’s miles from here. You couldn’t have walked it all that way in the time you have gone missing.”
While they fussed over me to get into dry clothes and eat some hot soup, I noticed they were stopping to hug each other. Hugs that looked to me like there were other emotions than mere relief.
The mystery of that night is seared into my memory along with Grant’s words, “Love never fails.” My parents worked out their problems. They still have their “moments,” but their marriage is as solid as the Rock they have chosen to build their lives on.
Oh yes, we drove the four-wheeler up on Canyon Creek Ridge the next day. There miles and miles from home, where I had been so sure the cabin stood, we found a burnt-out and blackened ruin. The stone fireplace still stood. The very one where I had warmed my freezing hands.
And lying beside it on top of a pile of dead leaves, I found the wood carving of the horse.
My active imagination? I don’t think so.
Thank You, God. Thanks an awful lot.