It’s 31 miles, but it’s a mostly familiar drive. It’s along the route I take to the monastery, a landscape of red barns, cornfields close-cropped for the winter season, and woods that fill steep hillsides. I passed the turn-off to the small mountain where I used to ski and snowboard with my kids. I passed the little white church where I attended the funeral for my friend Ornithologist Guy. Then I followed the emotionless voice of my GPS to the foster home where Biker Boy lives now.
“I used to come out this way as a teenager,” I told Biker Boy, after he’d gotten into my car and buckled his seat belt. Ski resorts used to make money in the summer by running cement chutes down the sides of the mountain. We’d pay money to ride the chairlift up and then careen down the mountain in these wheeled carts that went crazy fast. I suspect lawsuits are what put an end to the alpine slide: people were always getting hurt.
“But it was fun,” I told Biker Boy. “You would have loved it.”
He grinned. “I know! And I wouldn’t have minded getting hurt.”
Even though it’s November, the sunlight shining down on the hills made for a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. Biker Boy’s newest foster mother — who seemed pleasant and grandmotherly — said he didn’t need to be home until 4:30 pm so we had the whole afternoon to spend outside. We stopped at the little convenience store in the center of town to buy fruit and chocolate. Snacks are a necessary part of any hike I take.
“Look!” Biker Boy said in a whisper as we pulled into the parking lot. The pick-up truck next to us had a dead deer strapped to the back. We walked up to it slowly, and Biker Boy reached out to touch a dangling hoof. “It’s the first weekend of hunting season,” I told him. Another pick-up truck pulled up: this one had antlers lashed to the grill in front.
Our next stop was a place that I’ve hiked many times before. The trail includes a long boardwalk that winds through a boggy area and then eventually out along a lake. Biker Boy kept pointing out things – the green moss that appeared like magic after the summer foliage fell away, the woodpecker holes on dead tree, and a half-submerged log that looked like an alligator, although of course it wasn’t.
We found a bench in the sun and ate some of the fruit and all of the chocolate, and then Biker Boy told me about his week. I’d had a long talk with his therapist, whom I really liked. “I think you can trust Therapist,” I told him. “She reminds me of my daughter.”
He considered that. “Yeah, she is like her. But I still don’t know her very well.”
“And Dark-haired Caseworker? I like him too,” I said. “You have a whole bunch of people looking out for you.”
“I know,” he said. He leaned his head against me. “But still ….”
But still. He doesn’t know what his future holds, and neither do I. The foster home where he’s staying now will not be permanent.
After walking around the boardwalk, we drove to another nearby trail that runs along a creek. It wasn’t long before Biker Boy had found a stick and was poking in the water, splashing and turning rocks over. I found a tree that had fallen over the water and showed off my mad balance beam skills: Biker Boy was suitably impressed.
“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” I asked him as we hiked along the trail. He nodded and took my hand. “You always find beautiful places.”
As we neared the end of the trail, the water noise got louder and louder. Finally, we rounded a bend and saw it – water crashing down from a steep cliff. “A waterfall!” yelled Biker Boy. “I LOVE waterfalls!”
It’s a small waterfall: the stream cascades over a lip of rock and then falls about eighty feet over boulders to the floor of the forest. What’s fun is that you can climb part of the way up. Biker Boy took the lead, scrambling over wet rocks, grabbing tree trunks to steady himself. I could hear him muttering to himself, “Come, on, Biker Boy. You can do it.”
Our goal was a little ledge, part way up, right where the spray formed a rainbow. Biker Boy got there first and he walked right into the spray, with a fine disregard for his sneakers or clothing. “You’re standing in the rainbow,” I yelled to him.
He waved me over. “Put away your camera – it’ll get wet!” I shoved the camera into my bag and joined him in the spray from the waterfall.
There was no one else around, so we both yelled and jumped up and down. Our voices echoed off the overhanging cliffs, barely noticeable beneath the sound of crashing water.
“We’re standing in a rainbow!” Biker Boy yelled. “We made it!”
We stayed until the rocks were in deep shade and drove back to the foster home, with Biker Boy taking charge of the GPS. “You just put in an address? And you can find it?” he said, fascinated.
I nodded. “Yep. That’s how I found you today."
“Anywhere? You can find me anywhere?” he repeated.
“Yep,” I said. “Just about anywhere.” He put the GPS back on the windshield, satisfied, and then we drove back through the winding hills to his foster home.