Jeffrey Tillery

Old Man and the Trail

At the trail-head I check my pack
Stretch my creaking knees and back
A little water and a snack
I usually hike alone

But today I have companions
Who are young and fast and strong
They are unacquainted with
The path we've set upon

Step by step, familiar trek
My old lungs heave
My steaming breath
The early morning redwood forest

Eight miles to go on this ascent
The grade exceeds fifteen percent
Young men in front will not relent
Neither will the mountain

The next three hours are always hard
The journey is its own reward
Primeval weald stands the old guard
And the lush fern-fringe path

If my old parts cooperate
And legs can keep a steady gait
The youngsters will not have to wait
Because I'll be right behind them

Youth and pride ahead of me
They're starting to increase their speed
Force of will, spur the old steed
And still they're widening their lead

But the day is young

I cross the stream from rock to rock
A distant sound, woodpeckers knock
Scale the bank and then unlock
A second wind inside

My heart is pounding in my ears
Around the bend they disappear
An instant change in atmosphere
And I remember why I'm here

I'm not here to win a race
I have the trail to myself and
Settle into a steady pace
That I can keep all day

Spry in the jumble of fallen giants
And those yet standing
In rugged defiance
Of elements and age

In their shade, a metaphor, an
Ageless truth I can't ignore, that
Each one of them will surely fall
And yield their sun to the saplings

So I too with roots and branches
Navigate my circumstances
Ever reaching for the sun
Someday to rest, but not today

They're on a switchback
Up the face and in my mind
I mark the place so
I'll know it when I get there

I start the stopwatch
On my wrist and stop it
when I reach that spot
And frown that I'm so far behind

'Wear him out'
Must be the plan
Bragging rights
Beat the old man

And at the peak they'll beat their chests
So I give the mountain all my best
If they think this is a contest
They'll have to work for it

A gallop start
Shot from a gun
But that's not how this mountains won
Not today

On the trail ahead of me
Stopped, bent
With hands upon their knees
sweat dripping off their chins

Young men, a grimace on each face
As I step past them at my pace
I would have lost, were this the race
Vindication and four more miles to the top

The forest cool, my skin is warm
My shirt is damp
My shoes well-worn and
We are ghost in the misty silence

Hawks call down from the canopy
As we push through
Mossy stumps and trees like
lumbering squirrel and deer

Deeper, darker, steeper yet
Brown pillars rise, how close they get
To the skies so blue, from the
Thick green carpet of clover

Our little band is now in line
old man in front, young men behind
They'll get their second wind in time
And disappear again

Alone with just whats on my back
Ascending on the single track
The knotted gnome, the hunters shack
I've named these rocks and trees

Ahead of me they've reached the crest
It's almost time for a short rest
They both had to do their best
To beat me to the top

My knees feel fine
I've caught my breath
We reached the top
I'm not near death

In silence we soak-in the view
Celebratory can of chew
Shake pebbles out of both my shoes
and take a sip of water

It's time to take the return trail
We drop into the wooded swale
My feet are sore but they won't fail
Not sure about my ankles

The path follows the mountain stream
Mist from a waterfall like steam
Although I'm tired I feel redeemed
Thank God it's all downhill

Submitted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Edited: Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Topic of this poem: aging

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Comments about this poem (Old Man and the Trail by Jeffrey Tillery )

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  • Rookie - 41 Points Tania Montgomery (9/21/2014 4:59:00 PM)

    I feel exhausted! What a trail and what a well wholesome poem you've written.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the journey with you; now I need a chocolate cake and cocoa! (Report) Reply

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