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I survived and thrived with the Duck Hill Mountain climb....

The weather was close to perfection on the day of the 2019 Duck Hill Mountain Climb. A beautiful blue sky and a welcoming breeze added to the excitement as would-be climbers gathered at the old school building. Some, like myself, were first-timers. Many were well-seasoned participants. Our fearless leaders, Larry and Nanette Laster, had worked hard clearing and marking the trails in advance, keeping Facebook(check out Annual Duck Hill Mountain Climb) correspondence informative and current, and organizing three climbs in an effort to keep the numbers manageable. It was evident this climb was not the Laster siblings’ first rodeo as they rallied the troops and reminded us we were walking on private property and that our footprints should be the only item left behind.

The carpool plan from the school to the trail head was designed to minimize the number of cars that would ultimately pull onto a narrow, rutted dirt road before passing through a cattle gate to then park in a pasture. There was only a couple of hitches in the plan. First, a “dummy” lock was on the gate, an apparatus impressive enough to fool a whole slew of us dummies into climbing over the gate or through the barbed-wire. The second hitch was this: I had only driven Nanette over to the trailhead for the 9:30 climb so I could scope out the lay-of-the-land for several of us who hoped to climb at 12:30. However, when you are at the head of a line of cars pulled in almost-bumper-to-bumper on a very narrow road, there is simply no getting out. I joined the first climb, certain I heard Arnold Dyre laughing out loud as I got started.

I spent a little time questioning the idea of a second climb at 12:30. By the time it was all said and done, I loved every minute of the first “bunny” assent and figured I could do the second one. People handed me pictures of my brother from the 2017 gathering. Another handed me a photo of my father. Kind and welcoming words were plentiful. Connections were growing amidst laughter and treasured reminiscing. The sense of belonging was strong. Something else was also hitting me pretty strong: Those crazy folks that had chosen to climb the steep side of the mountain all looked extremely fit. Those who had looked a bit worn by the effort, later, quickly decided to head back down the easier trail.

The dash to get back to Grenada, retrieve the folks joining me for the 12:30 climb, and then making it to Duck Hill for the second time was indeed on the mad side. Soon, however, the sight of dear friends helped to turn the second trip into sheer adventure. This time I had donned a back pack loaded with wine and all the disposable cups I could rob from my sister’s bathroom. I was determined to give a toast in my brother’s honor once we all gathered at the top. New connections were again forming amid the laughter and long-term camaraderie as we made our way upward. I had a brief scare at one point in the assent as looked back to see my dear friend Toni Harris, leaning against a tree, but still able to utter, “Mary Jo, you do know I am only here because of you.” Giving her a few seconds to vent as she gave me the “evil eye, she did manage to add, “It’s a good thing I love you more than my luggage!”

The second view from the top was even more spectacular as I took time to savor the view of the surrounding countryside off in the distance, the land of my roots.

As we placed the wine bottles on the uppermost rock, poured and passed until all could raise their “glass” in the toast of honor to my brother, all seemed right in the world. However, it seemed Arnold needed one last laugh for the day. Before I really knew what was about to do, I was making my way down the steep side of Duck Hill Mountain with Larry Laster, Sandra Howell and her extremely agile grandson. As we slipped, slid, and held on to any nearby tree we could find, I am certain I heard my brother’s familiar laughter once again.

Larry Laster started with this empty stump and worked some sentimental magic...

Then I spotted Larry motioning me toward the stump where my brother had his last rest on Duck Hill Mountain in 2017. It was my understanding he had needed to stop to adjust his pantyhose.

Great plans are already in the works for next year’s adventure. GOT CLIMB? Sure hope so. See you in 2020.

Mary Jo Dyre

February 7, 2019

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