8: The Kindness of Strangers

8: The Kindness of Strangers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

The Kindness of Strangers

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

~Tennessee Williams

My husband and I are avid rock-art fans. We are fascinated by the art of the Native Americans who chiseled, pecked or incised on rocks to produce images that depict the spirituality, daily life, travels, and other facets of their culture. I got hooked on this form of artistic expression the first time my husband took me west not long after we were married, and it has been a mutual passion of ours for many years.

Recently, we were in Mesa Verde National Park in south Colorado and wanted to see what petroglyphs (the name given to this art form) were found in that park. After much frustration, we found that only one site within the park was open to visitors, and that was on a two-and-a-half-mile trail, aptly named Petroglyph Point Trail, near the museum of the park. Now, two and a half miles didn’t sound like a very long hike. We are both in our seventies and fairly fit, and we can pretty easily do two and a half miles if the hike is not too strenuous. I suppose I must have really wanted to do this hike because I was only halfway listening when the ranger said that the hike was pretty strenuous, and it was steep and rocky over most of the first mile and a quarter. After all, I had my hiking boots. Surely, I could do this!

Another thing she said was that if we could negotiate the stairs, we would find that the last mile and a quarter or so would be on level ground and extremely easy. I realize now I minimized that “if.”

On the appointed morning, we got up fresh and rested, ready to go on our petroglyph hike. First, we would have a good protein-filled breakfast. We waited for a café near the trail to open at 9:00 a.m. This was our first mistake. Turns out that café did not serve breakfast. We rushed four miles back to a place that did serve breakfast, but we had already lost a few good morning hours waiting for the other place to open. It would be nearly ten before we could get on the trail. In June, every minute of early-morning coolness counts.

Sure enough, when we did get started, it was beginning to get warm. We headed out for our big adventure. The first quarter-mile of the trail was not too bad although it was pretty much downhill all the way. Then it became treacherous. The trail twisted and turned between huge boulders. I grabbed onto trees, rocks, and anything I could to find a handhold to steady me. Gordon, my husband, was watching my every step as well as his own.

The sheer drop-off below us was awe-inspiring. One misstep and we could be plummeting over the edge. Nevertheless, younger hikers were passing us by with nary a worry.

Sometimes Gordon walked ahead of me, and sometimes he thought it best to follow me. He was always close by, and I did appreciate him. He held my hand often when he thought I might need the extra support, and it was definitely needed. I was embarrassed that I needed help. A couple of years earlier, I was in better shape, but now I had serious back problems and three joint replacements.

The park had placed a couple of rangers at strategic places on the trail to check on hikers and make sure everyone was okay. That was reassuring. They were both encouraging, making us feel that we could indeed make it to the end.

A little before we got to the petroglyph panel, we met up with a man who looked vaguely familiar. After speaking with him briefly, we realized we had encountered him the day before on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation at a fry-bread stand. This man, his wife and her sister, who were Hopi Indians, were also having bread. As we visited with him, he said that he would see us at the petroglyphs, and we thought no more about it.

The man passed and we continued on the trail to the stairs we had been told about. But we found our Hopi friends there waiting for us! They wanted to help us up those challenging stairs! It turned out that I would never have made it up those stairs without their help.

After we got to the top of the mesa, they continued to watch out for us. If we lagged behind on the trail, we would find them waiting for us to make sure we were all right. They acted as our guardian angels the rest of the way back to the museum. It was hot, and we were out of water. I think we would have survived, but I was in bad shape, and they realized it. After the hike, one of the women rushed to her car and brought back a container of Gatorade for me.

It was such an eye-opening experience to know that people wanted to help us. They demonstrated their brotherhood and faith to us by simply befriending us.

~Carol Nash Smith

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