It was a baptism of sorts, but instead of washing away sin, it washed away years of sadness and fear and a sense of utter exhaustion that had accumulated in the swell of seemingly endless fights. Truth be told, there probably was some sin mixed in there, too. There always seems to be more than enough sin to go around.
It had been a long and hot morning hiking trails and climbing to the top of Enchanted Rock, a granite dome in the middle of Texas’ scrubby Hill Country. A friend and I, both freshly divorced and with about a year of single parenting under our belts, headed out for the only kind of summer vacation we could afford—two days of modified camping approximately one tank of gas from home. Scrambling up the face of Enchanted Rock was a cheap and local substitute for what we really wanted to do, hike the Grand Canyon and celebrate afterwards on the Vegas Strip. Yet, there was something about a rock called “Enchanted” that sent us roaring down I-35 on through the Lake Whitney area, stopping for snow cones that we promptly laced with enough alcohol to give our little escape that Vegas-feel.
The Indians believed that Enchanted Rock held magical powers. The cracking and popping that rings out as the sun sets in the summertime was said to be the voice of spirits calling forth to restore the souls of the dead. That myth became a siren call for two middle-aged women looking to be reborn.
The rock itself is not that intimidating, but the curvature of the stone, rising out from cracked earth and needle-sharp bushes, means that climbers spend about an hour pushing their bodies up an angle we would have drawn with the help of a compass in ninth grade Geometry class. Everywhere we looked, fellow hikers were bent almost in half, forming a humble bow to the force of gravity that pulled us back toward the thick underbrush below. Once on top, we tore off our boots and stretched out like a couple of lizards bathing in the sun. We embraced the heat rising off the stone as it penetrated into the depths of our tired bones. At some point a cloud passed overhead and sprinkled us with its gentle refreshment. We locked arms on the steepest part of the way down, laughing and bracing ourselves against pitching forward and tumbling all the way to Mexico.
A few winding miles away, we set up our next camp on the Perdanales River. A slow and gentle ribbon covered by a canopy of thick brush, it was the perfect contrast to the hot and dry rock where we’d spent the morning. The first order of the afternoon was to unlace the crusty, dusty hiking boots and dangle our feet in the chilly water. The shock of that cold river was pure pain. We were out of shape and, having just climbed an entire “mountain,” our calf muscles were screaming like the donkeys we could hear braying from some ranch in the distance. But after a few minutes the cold pushed away the tightness, and we ran our toes over the slimy rocks to work out the kinks and cramps.
And that’s were the little country baptism took place. We stayed there, feet dangling, for a long, long time knowing that the water would eventually wash it all away. The stress of a contentious divorce, the worry about keeping a roof over our heads and Captain Crunch on the breakfast table, the fear about what fresh hell was lurking around the next corner and concern about all those statistics predicting our daughters of divorce would be incarcerated, drug-addicted and pregnant by 14 finally started to loosen their grip and float away like leaves in the current. We talked a lot and cried a little and promised we’d leave the past hurts and fears at the river’s edge. There was nothing left to do but sleep.
With two camping chairs, a cooler and a backpack, we somehow created a nest where we both slept so deeply, it almost took a kiss from some Hill Country Prince Charming to wake us up. Late into the afternoon, when the sharp rays of the Texas sun had softened, we woke to find that the families that had been perched along side us had packed up their coolers and floaties and gone back home.
Soon we decamped, filled up the gas tank and headed back to our busy lives and uncertain futures. But the load was lighter now. Having scrubbed the tarnish off our feet with the help of river rocks and sandy shoreline, we declared it a new start, a fresh beginning a christening of a lovely life to come.