After a hedonistic Easter breakfast last Sunday, one that started and ended with chocolate, we took a hike on the mountain trails of my childhood. The mountain stands directly behind my old high school. It used to woo me from the windows of my geometry class. Defenseless to its wiles, I had a habit of slipping out in the middle of the school day for clandestine meetings with nature, and finding myself high on a rock overlooking the town by three o’clock. Then I inevitably found myself in the principal’s office the next morning.
Anyway, Isla started to flag about two thirds of the way up the trail. She had spent all her energy playing “tag, you’re it!” with her long-suffering Aunt Nancy. After dispensing the last of the colored, boiled eggs I had in my pocket, I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out the oldest, most tired trick in the book.
“Isla, we’re almost to Pride Rock. You can’t stop now because Simba and Nala might be waiting for you.”
Her eyes got big. “The real Pride Rock?” she asked.
“Well the only one we have in Vermont,” I fibbed. “I’m proud of it anyway. And if we’re lucky, we might see some lions.”
Her pace quickened. Her step lightened. She was talking to herself. Smiling.
“Essie,” she called up to her sister. “Mommy says we’re going to Pride Rock. Maybe we’ll see Mufasa as well. And Scar. And what about Pumba, the wart hog.”
“Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase…” she sang to herself as she clambered up the last steep climb that’s strewn with rocks and roots and vertical enough to require putting your hands down in certain sections. (I used to sprint this section when I was in training. I’m dreaming I might some day sprint it again.)
Esther stopped in front of us to scratch in the dirt with a stick.
“Isla look! I think I can see lion tracks,” she said when Isla caught up with her. “Look, can’t you see the pad prints and the claw tracks in the dirt?”
“Wow!” Isla said, her reflecting every bit of life’s crazy potential. “Are they really here?”
“Phew,” I thought. She hasn’t outgrown the magic of the Lion King, and that means we can still manipulate her with our lies. But I’m not sure she believes them so much as she wills herself to believe them. She wants to believe the world is a magic place. And the hardwood forest we were in was magical in so many ways, why not pretend it held all the wonders of an African savannah.
We reached the top and walked out onto the grassy, and rocky, overlook that looks down at the pond below and draws your eyes across the valley all the way into to Massachusetts.
“Nala,” Isla called. “Simba. Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you.”
“Maybe they’re in a cave somewhere,” she said.
“Maybe,” I answered. “Maybe.”
Isla sustained the fantasy of lions, tigers and bears for the rest of the hike. At one point, when Esther ran down the trail far ahead of us, Isla became convinced that the lions had eaten Esther. Even so, she wasn’t angry at the lions because,
“That’s what lions have to do when they get hungry.”
I imagine, considering the amount of time Esther and Isla spend at each other’s throats lately, a part of her might even fantasize about having her bossy big sister be eaten by lions. But, as the youngest of my family, I might be projecting.
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