We were young then. On a hot summer afternoon, three of us enthusiastically scrambled to the top of the cliff after we had worked our way through a series of large crevices and broken boulders that capped a steep hillside adjacent to the roadway below. Back then you could camp overnight on the Ridge— or so at least we had thought. I was energetic with pride to be leading the adventure for my two friends, one of whom was a far more experienced backpacker than I was. It was one of his packs that I wore bouncing on my shoulders, thinking that the activity required willful bursts of muscular discomfort as opposed to a steady resolve buckled in about the waist. The route had been introduced to me by a previous outing with another friend whose parent’s land we now parked on for easy access to the cliffs. The effort required to the top was intense, but once there, the twilight view was truly spectacular, even though it remained in constant contact with the everyday world below. Because we had departed so late in the afternoon, we engaged a rapid transformation from the ordinary. Very soon the clear summer night rewarded our effort and further transported us into an exotic, but comfortable kind of magic— though of course this was the era during which we often carried an additional array of heady pleasures to enhance the already potent experience. Many times that night I soaked up praise for having introduced my friends to the glorious spot. It all went perfectly that evening, even overnight, until— until a lazy awakening the next morning brought with it a matter-of-fact question from my suspicious, but seemingly pleased connoisseur friend. “Ok Carver, which way to the water source?” Immediately embarrassed by the novice mistake that was exposed, I simply shrugged my shoulders in full abandonment to ignorance. We each had only enough water for the main journey, and perhaps a bit extra for indulgent usage during a careless night. There was not enough, however, for our trek back to the car, let alone furthering our adventure through much of the next day, as was our plan. Despite the social humility, I still had yet to feel the seriousness of the basic oversight regarding my lack of preparation. I certainly felt the fool for having recommended the spot without a nearby water source, but that was all that I felt. After lingering to size up the seriousness of my ineptitude, my friend decided that he would sniff out a water source somewhere, rather than cut our adventure short and head off the mountain with our tail between our legs. Gathering up our gear along with our growing sense of thirst, we headed further along the ridgeline to seek a depression that might lead us into one of the valleys between the ridge that was opposite to our own.
Maps were not widely utilized in those days, and of course, this was many years before smartphones with access to GPS satellites. The day grew hot and the hours grew long in the combustible dry air. Eventually my friend led us to a locale that sustained taller trees and dispatched a refreshing breeze as it dipped into a saddle in the ridge, but still the ground remained depressingly hot and dry. As the hours began to pile up and we became noticeably irritable, I felt myself on the receiving end of an increase in the frequency of dirty looks, some of them stolen and caught in the act of displeasure, particularly from our third companion— even though I sensed that he too did not have the slightest idea where to navigate us for relief. He was off the hook, however, because he felt himself merely along for the ride— my ride, it appeared— for I was now captain of a ship run aground. I gladly gave in to the full-on mutiny, however, because our fate was in the hands of my friend’s dowsing instincts. I had seen him make a fire in the pouring rain, but his camp outs were usually planned near a water source, so I was not yet certain of his water-divining talents. As the hours passed, the heat intensified rapidly with the afternoon sun overhead. In time, all we could think about was water— entirely and exclusively— water. It was alarming how readily thirst intensified into a sheer fixation at the time. Nothing else mattered, not any of life’s other impending requirements, and certainly not the previous night’s magic. No longer was it simply my pride at stake, instead, the three of us began to exhibit the first signs of dehydration. It was clear that we had traveled beyond the point of debating the risks of contamination should we discover a compromised water source nearby, for the environment turned its sculptured beauty into an oppressive landscape of rugged distress. Through it all, however, my friend never lost faith in the logic of his instincts, for he knew that we were not that far from some water source. Eventually we followed him, bumbling and exhausted, through a tight cluster of hardy bushes that snagged our ankles to trip us into a tiny oasis of ferns and grasses on the slope of a non-descript hill. The local air began to emit a slight aroma of muddy soil even though there were no wet spots on the ground to confirm the apparition. It was then that my friend turned himself into a dog. He sniffed the air with ears perked as his head turned to and fro near ground level to sample the subtlest of signals. The other two of us simply watched, and then slowly, carefully, expectantly followed. And yes, there it was— hidden in the gathering grass and moss, and underneath a fortunate arrangement of silent rocks— a tiny spring was bubbling pure water from the shadowy recesses between the coveting rocks.