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Within Our Reach

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 18, 2014

From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1954 –

Within Our Reach

By Donna Day

The boy, emerging from the flow of sleep, lay quietly in his bed on the back porch. With intense loneliness, he contemplated the tremendous and moving quietness of awakening. Could one awaken and continue dreaming? The slow consciousness of his surroundings took shape out of shadow. That first light brought the sudden realization that tomorrow they would go to the crater. No, not tomorrow. Today! Lifting himself abruptly, he started to climb out of bed. There were so many wonderful things to see and think about.

Suddenly his mother stood in the kitchen doorway looking upward. Out of the glowing east, spears of sunlight illuminated her face and put a glitter in her pale hair. She shook out her apron as if it were sun crumbs she was scattering.

Quickly the boy was out of bed to inquire fervently if his mother remembered the promised visit to the crater.

Could she forget when a pair of wide, inquiring eyes looked at her?

The boy dressed quickly in the circle of the warmth made by the kitchen range. The bacon sputtered and the eggs bounced in the bubbling water.

After breakfast he carried their lunch to the car. When, at last, he was in the car, he could not sit still. His heart knew a strange soaring. he had waited all summer for this trip to the crater. Adventure lay down the long, straight autumn road.

The wheels of the car stirred and rattled the brown leaves, and they scattered down the road behind them as noisily as rustlers on a midnight ride. A sagebrush plain appeared as the road ran level and unbroken to the base of the distant mountain. Then the land swept upward to the lift of the crater’s shoulder. The crater was not as big as the boy had anticipated.

The mother parked the car at the base of the mountain, and the two started the climb up the steep side. It was a desolate slope, warm and dusty. Coarse cinder ash sucked at their feet. The pea-sized lava fragments were pierced by scrub brush and rough salt grasses.

Their breath came in short gasps, with the sensation that the world was slipping back, while they were standing still. But, at last, they reached the first level, where an old road wound around through the red and gray rocks. The boy and his mother sat down to rest. It was changed air they breathed, ancient and aromatic.

Shortly the boy stood up and studied the magic-shaped cone that towered above them. The crest seemed to have risen a little toward the sky like an elevated, dancing platform. The boy gazed up with an awe that is only for those who are young. The whole marvelous mystery of creation came rushing down to meet him, and then, he was off up the old road that curved around toward the heart of the crater.

The mother rose and followed, humbly, the golden and jubilant life of childhood.

A few minutes more and the winding road on the crater’s flank ended. Then, gully by gully, fold by fold, over the fire-red rock they advanced, pathless, toward the top. The ancient volcanic stream spilled down the sides in rude, limitless convolutions. Their feet crunched and slipped, the sliding rocks flung handfuls of lost echoes down through the ragged crater edges. Light from above, refracted, stung their eyes, and flooded the jutting rocks with a thousand colors.

They finally stood on the top, on the edge of the highest cone, and surveyed the gaping chasm below. Two smaller craters overlapped the western side.

The boy flung himself on his stomach, staring transfixed, hs mouth open a little, his tousled head tilted on one side. His hazel eyes, lost in wonder, were never still. A dye made of sunshine and afternoon stirred his hair to creamed gold and coppered his skin.

Those were moments of breathless silence while the crater yielded up its peculiar, savage kind of beauty that whipped and sharpened the imagination. Then the mother heard the boy’s fast, indrawn breath. The boy was regarding the scene with both curiosity and consternation. his eyes were squinting, now, with intensity of purpose, his wide forehead puckered. His mother knew he had started that momentous journey from which no child returns the same.

She lay down beside the boy on the hard flowing rock. The top of the crater lay baking in the fire of the October sun. She could feel her skin broiling a little in the heat. It was not an invisible thing. She could see the heat dancing and waving like a veil. But the heat was as nothing, for the mother sat with her son in a magnificent frame, surrounded by the silent beginning, and received into the enduring past. Centuries and centuries of time pressed against them, each distorted convolution of cold lava became a chapter of history compiled through the ages. Eons of rain and wind had beaten a chiseled the crater. The fiery birth of creation lay sleeping all about them. The desolate and violent country was part of their homeland and their heritage, stretching from the base of the cones to the dark lines of mountains on the horizon. Cloud shadows passed above the timeless wilderness, followed by sunlight that crept across the land.

The boy and his mother watched quietly for a long time and knew the communion of silence, which was the strong binder of their affection. Finally, the boy stood up with restlessness, stretched himself with one sharp movement. Then he opened his arms wide, taking in all the crater, the whole earth, the everlasting heavens, in a great embrace. His face was pleased, warm. For a moment the face turned toward the mother was the face of a young child before a lighted Christmas tree. His mother reached up and took his hand in hers. He playfully tugged her to her feet.

Across a lazy spot where salt grass and rabbit brush crowded each other in the shallow soil, then down into the wide mouth, they threaded their way. Down scaly outcroppings the boy picked a path, with his mother’s slender shadow behind, down steps cut in the immemorial past. It was a wonderful thing to go plunging down, digging heels in, the sensation of falling, yet not falling, stiffening the knees and digging the heels in, the sheer joy of descent.

Time had tamed the giant volcano with its spectacular eruptions. Strange shapes, which marked its death agonies, crowded the wide pit. against the blue steep of the sky, terrifying crags overhung the rim; the black angular rocks, sheared and smoky, clung about the walls. stealing through a gap between two towering stones, the mother and the boy entered the crater, shadowed from the afternoon glow by the southern pinnacles. Concealed in the mottled shadow, they mounted a dais of weird, grotesque stones and climbed the precipices with their eyes, up and up to the gaping hole cut by the ancient lava flow.

It was like standing in a great amphitheater with a ragged hole in its side, tremendous, dark, leached by a thousand storms, brimming with reflected lights. The fragile, transparent blue of the sky deepened above until the color could reach no further intensity. it broke off suddenly into a bank of clouds. to the mother, it was like being alone in the vast universe, but to the boy, it was part of the eternal earth, something he had always known, like the slow awakening on an autumn morning.

It was one of the perfect days of life snatched from the confusion of living, a day of pleasure that nothing could corrode, nor time remove, a part of the precious heritage of childhood – and of motherhood.

The hour, the height and depth … everything had sharpened their appetites. They would be famished by the time they reached the car.

The mother watched the boy for a moment longer, then she slowly followed him up, up toward the slanting light.



2 Comments »

  1. What a beautiflly poetic piece. I particularly loved this line: “A dye made of sunshine and afternoon stirred his hair to creamed gold and coppered his skin.”

    Comment by Sharee — August 19, 2014 @ 8:54 am

  2. It really is more a poem than a story, isn’t it. Written in a format that would fit well in many science fiction anthologies actually.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — August 20, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

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