Perched on a basalt bluff, I peered down at the Kootenai River, hundreds of feet below.
Eli Sackett (my dog) and I had picked our way down the bluff and crossed the Burlington Northern tracks. Running ahead, Eli quickly finds the dim game trail, just to the right of the old apple tree. The tree, possibly a survivor of a forgotten homestead, still bears sweet fruit.
Our family has a name for that ancient game trail. We call it "The Trail Of Treachery" because it is rugged, difficult and dangerous to traverse.
The angle is steep, averaging a 30-degree slope down to the river. Scree covers much of the trail and I've frequently slipped, sliding down the slope nearly out of control -- using my walking stick as a last-chance brake.
I walk the trail very carefully, loving where it leads, but having no desire to break my neck as I navigate around rocky outcroppings, gnarled stumps and half-hidden roots. The degree of angle holds out to within 40 feet of the riverbank, and at the end I always feel like I'm being poured out of a large bucket -- filled with pebbles and stones -- onto the bank.
At the river's edge, Eli and I find ourselves in a different world. Off to the west, a narrow strip of green grass along the water is completely blanketed by white daisies. To the east, where the raw face of the cliff rises, we hear the soft chirps of nesting ospreys, their occasional sharp cries reminding me of a whistling tea kettle.
The river rushes by with a swift grace and a distinct melody to the listening ear. And on a good day, I may even lure a hungry trout out of that green water, flashing a rainbow at the end of my line -- and incomparably delicious when cooked over an open fire.
Each time I negotiate The Trail of Treachery, strangely enough, I think of Jesus.
His trail, toward the end, was as treacherous as they come -- its angle made steep by disloyalty, abandonment and betrayal. Beneath his feet, the way was slippery with double-dealing, deception, and the verbal traps set by those who hated him. But Jesus kept his eyes on the goal. At the end of trail, he knew it was worth it all.
But even as he was being poured out at the end, his life, death and resurrection created a music and melody for the listening ear and open heart. It is a message that shakes the very mountains with its power.