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Raptor Peak

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(3/2016) Ernie opened his eyes slowly and stared up at the white, popcorn ceiling above him. He took in a deep breath and let it out, coughing unintentionally with the expansion of his lungs.

"Youíre up?" Ellen whispered from the other side of the bed.

"Iím surprised too," Ernie responded. He rolled onto his side and tried to make out the features of her face as she rested there peacefully. It always took Ernie a moment to realize that he needed to grab his glasses from the nightstand if he wanted to see anything besides fuzzy blobs. He reached over and placed the bifocals onto the familiar place upon his nose. His view became clearer and he grunted with a mixture of gratitude and frustration.

Ernie looked at his wife of 48 years. Her long brown hair had turned short and white with age and her perfect skin had become wrinkled over time. Ellen opened her eyes and looked at him. He couldnít help but grin at her. "Whatís got you all smiley?" she said with a giggle.

"Remember when mama first introduced us? I remember you standing in my kitchen, wearing bright red panty hose. I thought, Ďno way.í I thought you must have been crazy to make that bold of a fashion statement. But then you turned around and I saw your perfectly combed hair and your beautiful face. You smiled at me and I knew, I knew youíd be my wife."

Ellen rolled her eyes, "Youíve always been a charmer," she said with a smile.

Ernie had done many things in his lifetime. He had started his bucket list long ago when the doctors first found the cancer a couple years back and had been work-ing on checking things off of it since. There wasnít much more left that he wanted to see or do.

He had a good life. He thought back to his childhood. His parents had ten children: seven boys and three girls. Ernie fell somewhere in the middle. They didnít have much money growing up but they did have a lot of love. They spent the days playing outside in the valleys, running up and down the mountains and watching the raptors circle overhead. He remembered how his legs would feel the next day, sore from all the sprinting trying to keep up with his older siblings and the elevation of the mountains. That was back when they had lived in Pennsylvania. Ernie hadnít done much of that since they moved to Western Maryland when he was 15 years old and part of him missed the outdoors.

The Sunday wore on. Ellen sat in her chair and read a romance novel in the sunlight while Ernie watched some show he had never heard of on TV.

"Iím not sure if we have anything to eat for dinner," Ellen mentioned, "Maybe you could drive to the store and pick up a few things for us?" Ernie sighed, content with his cozy chair. "That is, if you want to eat," Ellen threatened.

"Fine! Fine!" Ernie responded. He clicked the power button on the remote and worked to gain momentum to get out of his chair. His second try was successful. He gave Ellen a kiss on the head and said, "Iíll go right now before I use all my en-ergy doing something else."

Ernie got into the car and pulled out of the driveway. The handicap tag hung from the rearview mirror. He drove through the mountain, towards the grocery store. He arrived and picked up the few things Ellen had written down on a notecard for him. Ellenís beautiful cursive reminded him of the notes she used to send him when they lived apart. He wasnít sure how he had gotten so lucky.

He checked out the items efficiently and walked back to his car. It was a beautiful day. It was still technically winter and there were random snow piles scat-tered across the grass and parking lot, but today felt truly like spring. It was the warmest it had been in a while and the sky had no clouds in sight.

Back in the car, Ernie began to drive home, going the long way through the valley. He came to a place clustered with cars. People walked around going in every direction. They were taking advantage of the beautiful day by going hiking on one of the many trails. Ernie continued on. When he got to a sign that said "Raptor Peak," he slowed down, and without a second thought, he parked the car in a parking lot near the head of the trail. He sat in his car for a minute contemplating whether or not he should take on this journey. Going to Raptor Peak was something he had wanted to do since he moved to the area more than 40 years ago. He had never got-ten the chance. He wasnít sure if he could make it now, in his aging and increasingly fragile stage, but he realized that today was the youngest he was ever going to be for the rest of his life. So he got out of the car and bent down to tie his sneakers a little tighter.

The brown sign at the start of the trail said one mile. He had just started but he was convinced it had already felt like at least two. He traveled slowly, with age and caution, but with determination. He ground beneath his feet squished with the dampness of the melting snow. Ernie maneuver around the rocks and trees, follow-ing the blazes placed every so often. He came to a stream that ran through the trail and down the mountain. He stopped to listen to it. Taking in the peacefulness of the sound of the trickling water and the beauty of it as the sun glistened across the sur-face. He continued on, stopping every few yards to take a moment to rest.

A group of girls came walking down the trail opposite him. "Am I almost there yet?" Ernie asked as his chest expanded and fell quickly.

"You have a little more ways to go, but youíll know youíre there when you see the orange peel on the ground," a young girl in the group responded.

Ernie continued on. He thought about turning back but he had made it this far so he couldnít give up now. He hoped that Ellen wasnít worrying about him. He hadnít even brought his cellphone to let her know where he was. The trail wove through the trees; their exposed roots submerged, trying to trip even the best hik-ers. Upward he went, the incline felt endless. Finally he came to a flat portion and stopped to rest by leaning against a tree.

"Maybe this was a bad idea," he thought to himself. His legs were already sore like those days he used to run through the valley. "Maybe I should turn around now," he questioned internally. He took another deep breath trying to slow his heart rate and then looked at the ground beside him. "An orange peel!" he exclaimed out loud.

Ernie turned and saw the mountains and the valley laid out in front of him. The sun was beginning to set on one side of the hills that cast a shadow around all the land in front of it. The houses were scattered out like tiny dots across the land and beef cows covered patches of grass like carpenter ants.

"Iíve made it," Ernie said to himself feeling accomplished. "I am so blessed. Ellen wonít believe what I did today. She is going to be so proud," he thought to him-self as he realized the beauty of the view he had been waiting to see his whole life. Ernie stood from the top of Raptor Peak and watched as a hawk swirled with the wind.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen