Facing the Challenges of Crossing the stream was a grim reminder that my physical abilities were fading.


Sometimes, when writing a book, there are scenes we want to keep in, but they have nothing to do with the actual plot. Publishers call these scenes our darlings and say, “You have to cut your darlings from the manuscript.” These are called outtakes. Here’s an outtake from the unpublished novel The Wandering Place.

How do I know my youth is all spent? 

My get-up-and-go has got up and went! 

But, in spite of it all, I’m able to grin 

And think of the places my getup has been!

by an unknown poet


     Every Saturday morning, Rick and I visited his parents in the Alzheimer’s unit of the nursing home, watching them fade with each passing week. Rick’s dad was stuck at a job he’d retired from thirty years earlier. Why can’t dementia allow you to get stranded on vacation or a cruise instead of the most frustrating part of your job?

     In recent years, I regretted that Rick and I lacked the time and fun money to take another cruise in the Caribbean or hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. What if my husband becomes too old for snorkeling, island adventures, or exploring canyons?

     One Saturday afternoon in October, we set out on a hike through the woods behind our favorite campground. My sister Wendy and I had visited this place frequently in our childhood and teen years, so it was familiar ground. But we hiked further into the woods than ever before, and the trail blazes came to an end. We were left searching for the path, standing in an open but straggly field of weeds.  

     Our trail leader forged ahead. “I think if we cross this stream, we’ll come back out on the trail,” Rick announced.  

     My kid sister Wendy and I had grown up playing in creeks, or “cricks,” if you’re from rural Pennsylvania. This should be easy. Except I was wearing my new $90 hiking boots and thick insulated socks. But how treacherous could it be to plod the length of a flag pole across water-polished pebbles through a slowly rolling stream? Carrying heavy boots and a backpack that perfectly matched my khaki utility pants and moisture-wicking, wrinkle-free trekking shirt? Early in the season, before teenagers in water shoes had scraped away the slippery green scum from the jagged stones. 

     I walk five miles a day – it’s about that far from my classroom to the faculty lounge – I’m in great shape. This shouldn’t be difficult.   

     Rick was across before I’d gotten my second boot off.  

     Kenny, my nephew, being nearly a teenager, showed no concern for expensive footwear and stomped over the rocks, stopping to splash his mother, and arrived safely ashore with soggy feet.  

     Wendy stepped into the stream and slid sideways, waving her arms across the water like a jumbo jet trying to reach America.  

     After my first step down from the knee-high bank, I searched for flat stones on the little river bed. I didn’t find any silky smooth pebbles there. How could feet with such hardened callouses be tender? I tried to wade across slowly but couldn’t linger for even a moment on the painful stones. Balancing on one foot in knee-deep water was also a problem. I’d once imagined myself a graceful athlete like Nadia Comaneci on the balance beam. Reality nipped another dream into oblivion.

     Wendy and I yelped and moaned our way halfway across before crying out for rescue.  

     Rick, being practically minded, was moving boulders the size of snare drums to build a bridge for us. Did he really think I could leap the three-foot gap from stone to stone? He’d only bridged a portion of the gap when the boots began to slip from my fingers.  

     Wendy was tottering uncomfortably from one foot to the other.  

     We turned instead to the kid. “Kenny, help!” Giggling at our pathetic athletischism, Kenny’s steady traction and Rick’s wobbling rocks allowed us to reach the other side, sore-footed, wet in the wrong places, but exhilarated at having survived. 

     Rick was wrong about the trail.  

     We crossed that same winding stream three more times before locating another trail marker. On the last crossing, I wore the boots, hoping they had at least $20 worth of waterproofing. 

     Our trek through the streams was a grim reminder that my physical abilities were fading. I lacked balance, flexibility, and the rugged endurance I loved to read about in my books about pioneers, mountain climbers, and arctic explorers. 

     I could barely cross a little creek. 

     Now, I had to concede that my retirement-aged husband wasn’t the one most likely to grab a deck chair and watch the action from the bow of the ship. I was. 

(Author’s note – I’d like to tell you this story is fictional, but “Rick,” “Kenny,” and “Wendy” would say otherwise.

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