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Rite of passage: Titus, tornadoes and timberline

I love to hike. But my fascination with this activity didn’t start until I reached my 60s. It began when I was training for my climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. For two years, I hiked up mountains, hills and every place I could find to prepare for that journey.

After successfully making that challenging climb, I have kept on hiking. In fact, hiking has become the go-to activity for Titus the Honorable and me. I am not sure which my oldest grandson loves most: hiking or stopping for snacks. He and I could finish a hike sooner if we didn’t have to stop so often to eat a snack, take a drink or explore every bug on our pathway, every hole in the ground and every fallen tree.

Of course, Titus has a reason to share about why each tree has fallen. “Poppy, see that tree lying on the ground?”

“Yes, Titus, I see that tree.”

“Do you know what caused the tree to fall that way?”

At this moment, I decide not to go into the hundreds of different things that can cause a tree to fall. I will just go along with his 5-year-old thinking. “No, tell me why.”

And then I get the same one-word answer I have received for every fallen tree we have ever passed: “Tornado.” Yes, according to Titus the Honorable, every tree that has ever fallen in a forest has done so because of the winds of a tornado.

He does have a point, though. If you’ve been born and raised in Oklahoma, that’s what you come to believe quite naturally. After every nearby tornado, the media reports on the devastation. The scene is always the same: A reporter stands, microphone in hand, reporting live, and behind the reporter is what? Yes, that’s right: a tree that has fallen on a house or a car, across power lines or is blocking a road. So, it’s no wonder that on our hikes, Titus blames every fallen tree on a tornado’s destructive power.

I wouldn’t trade these days for anything in the world; our hikes together are some of the best times and conversations Titus and I have. There’s something unique about being out there away from everyone and everything. There, it’s just the two of us and God.

One of these days, I want to take Titus to climb a mountain, possibly one of the 14,000-footers they have in Colorado. I have not yet hiked with him above the invisible line called the timberline, an imaginary boundary above which trees will not grow. At this elevation, there is not enough air, heat or water to keep trees alive. When you start out hiking at the lower elevation, you are often hiking in a lush forest with trees that tower high above your head. A brook usually runs nearby, and a tranquility sets in as you put one foot in front of the other.

If you continue to hike up the mountain, the terrain begins to shift and change. The trees thin, and the terrain becomes less hospitable. All you can see ahead of you are rocks and boulders.

As you approach 10,000-plus feet in elevation, you pass the timberline. Leaving the protection of the forest, you are now fully exposed to the elements. The wind, the sun, the rain and snow are hitting you full force.

This is the most difficult part of the hike, as you are expending more energy to navigate your way up with less oxygen, a bad combination. Here, you begin to doubt yourself and have a strong desire to head back down to the safety of the trees. But you must purpose in your heart to keep going, knowing the rewards are just over the horizon. Those who persevere will get to stand on the summit, enjoying the expansiveness of God’s creation—a perspective only a few will get to experience. There won’t be a crowd when you get to the top. Only those who rise above the timberline, endure the elements and traverse the rocks will receive the rewards.

Titus, hiking is so much the way it is in life. If you want what God has for you, you must risk leaving the secure and step into the unknown. We have a spiritual term for it, “faith.” It was by faith Abraham, Noah Sarah and David all achieved God’s purposes, and this only came about because of their faith. The toughest but most rewarding trail you will ever walk in this life is the one by faith. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7, NASB).

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

View more articles by Walker Moore.

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