The Wildflower Incident

Greg Stobbs N8GAS

Dave and I were well on our way.

Up we had hoofed some sixty stone steps from the floor of Glen Helen to a landing, half the distance we would need to climb to get back to our car. Among Glen Helen hikers, that landing is famous. Years ago some thoughtful architect had designed the steps under our feet to include this landing, this convenient resting platform, as a place to “view” the scenery below before climbing the remaining sixty steps to the top.

Naturally, being weary and frankly somewhat out of shape, we decided without speaking a word that a “view” of the scenery below was certainly in order. So we paused there, in a state of blissful repose, gazing down upon the landscape below before resuming our climb. In truth, we were both panting through our teeth, totally out of breath, but wishing to hide that fact from the lady in red who was already standing on the landing presumably doing the same thing.

I saw the lady in red before we reached the landing, but I could not tell her age until we landed. By my estimation she was my senior by at least five years. Distance and diffuse woodland lighting tends to obscure lines of age, but when I turned to offer her a polite, “hello,” I could see that she was no spring chicken. I promptly turned to look at the scenery below so that she could not see me panting.

Ah, the bliss. How lovely the shrubbery looks in the Glen below. Standing on the landing, looking back down on those sixty steps already climbed, I was privately thanking the architect and dreading the next sixty steps to come.

Turning to look at the path ahead, I noticed for the first time a group of about four, overweight middle aged hikers, with boots, and hiking sticks, and binoculars, who prior to our arrival, had also been savoring the landing view. But upon advice of their hiking tour leader they had elected to venture out across the side of the hill, through knee-high weeds, around the apron of the hill, rather than confront the ascent head on up those remaining sixty steps.

I must admit, I’ve taken that apron route myself once or twice. Usually in the winter, when the remaining sixty steps are ice-covered and dangerous beyond all reason.

But these old gents had no fear of slipping on ice. It was ninety degrees and ninety percent humidity on that particular day. Frankly their biggest risk was being attacked by a swarm of opportunistic mosquitoes, or perhaps a brush with poison ivy.

Dave and I, still in blissful repose, and still far from ready to begin our climb, found ourselves suddenly wrenched from our blissful state by words from the lady in red that I can best liken to my hated fifth-grade school teacher:

“Excuuuse me.”

“Excuuuse me.”

“Eh?” I said still panting. “Are you looking for the nearest bathroom or something?” But we were not the object of her “excuuuse me” focus.

“Excuuuse me,” she said again to the four gents. “Why are you going that way. You’ll trample all the wild flowers.”

Trust me, I was there. There were no flowers to be seen. It was mid-July and everything was overgrown, green, knee-high weeds. Like Vietnam. No doubt in the Spring, some three months before there had been wild flowers where these gents were now standing. But in mid-July we are talking major weeds. Weeds with swarms of mosquitoes.

Dave and I looked at each other. Instinctively, both of us knew without saying a word. “We have to get the hell out of here.” The lady in red is going to make a scene, ruin our karma, castrate those poor guys where they stand, and probably take photos of the entire incident to publish in the Glen Helen Gazette along with a caption reading, “Dayton men deface Glen.”

We wanted no part of that. So we bolted.

While I privately agreed that people should stick to the trails, so as to preserve the landscape for others, and while I also knew that those four gents were basically pussies who couldn’t bring themselves to climb like men out of the Glen up those remaining sixty steps, I wanted no part of the unpleasantness that was about to explode.

We both hoofed it up the remaining sixty steps with grim determination as if out lives depended on it. Amazingly, neither of us was out of breath when we landed. I guess the adrenalin jolt caused by “Excuuuse me” put our bodies in some superhuman survival state. People lift cars from trapped victims under the influence of adrenalin. So lifting ourselves the remaining sixty steps out of the Glen was no problem at all.

Now that it’s over and I’m writing about it, I sort of wish we had stuck around to hear the dialogue between the lady in red and those four gents. They didn’t change their course, I want you to know. So I can well imagine what must have transpired.

“Look you old bitch. There aren’t any wild flowers here. And even if there were, who made you Queen of the Quonset? We are Naturalists from Wright State University, here to study the habitat of the opaka root. Leave us the hell alone.”

Although we didn’t stay to take sides, Dave had already figured out which side he was on. Offering his commentary, as if annotating a New Yorker cartoon, he said so only I could hear, “Look. We’re doing a community service here, Lady. These wild flowers need to be clear cut periodically to allow the young shoots to sprout.”

Perhaps the lady in red and the four gents resolved their differences to everyone’s satisfaction, for as nearly as I could tell, the four gents continued across the apron of the hill undeterred by wild flowers. Perhaps the lady in red was implored to join company. The opaka root, after all, makes indeed a fascinating study. But I rather suspect in next fall’s edition of the Glen Helen Gazette, will appear a letter to the editor, from our lady in red, captioned “Wild Flowers Vanquished. Dayton Men Deface Glen.

Thankfully, Dave and I escaped, unnoticed. If we visit the Glen again I vow it will be in the throes of winter, when the option to take the apron detour is viable and the opaka root and wild flowers are safely hibernating under the ice below.

As for the lady in red? Undoubtedly she’s still lurking around somewhere in the Glen. Hikers beware.