Twenty minutes pass as I work my way to the floor of the hollow. The last third of the slope is thick with mountain laurel and wild azalea, and I am forced to move through the hedge slowly. The ground is slick from the water that seeps out of the hillside here, and the laurel branches are tangled and stiff. The waxy evergreen leaves block my view of the ground, and I fight to keep my balance as I grab and push through the living wall. This place is an explosion of beauty in the spring. White flowers in stark contrast to the lush green of the leaves. It is one of God’s little paintings that nobody will see.
I hear the rush of the creek as I reach the bottom. I take a few minutes to work my way along the base of the cliff to visit the source. I have three hours until sunset, and I’m in no hurry. I want to see this place again. Something in me needs to see it, or at least that’s what I tell myself. A lifetime has gone by since we discovered it as teenagers.
I guess I’m looking for the comfort of an old memory here. Maybe I’m trying to summon up some sort of courage. One thing’s for sure. I know that this will be the last time I ever lay eyes on this spot, so I want to linger here a moment.
The creek that originates here and flows through the hollow comes out of the base of the cliff. Water drips down the slope around it, but there is a definite point of origin, a cleft in solid rock where the water pours out into a kind of hollowed-out rock basin before it forms the channel that will enlarge and become the creek. The water is cold and crystal clear, so cold that it hurts my teeth as I take a drink from the pool. I sit for a moment, calming my mind to the hypnotic sound of the water pouring into the pool.
If you were to try to find this place on a topographic map, the creek wouldn’t be depicted. Not even a thin blue line to mark its entry from the subterranean depths to sunlight. Even further down the hollow, down where he is waiting, the creek is wide enough that you can’t jump cross without getting your boots wet, but even there the cartographers didn’t bother to give it a name.
We have always called it “Meribah.”
Actually Lee named it Meribah the day we found it. Even at seventeen, the boy knew his Bible. He had to explain it to me, take a moment to tell the old story from Exodus.
It seemed that Moses and the children of Israel had wandered the desert for nearly 40 years. All that time, they moved from waterhole to waterhole, eating what God provided, living from day-to-day. The waterholes had gotten few and far between towards the end of the journey, and they complained to Moses. They were always complaining.
“We’re hungry Moses.”
“We’re thirsty Moses.”
“Do something, Moses. We’re dying here.”
Old Moses asked God for help, and God told him what to do. Go over there and hit that rock with your staff, and I’ll send water straight out of it. It will be another miracle you can show the people. Another proof of how great I AM.
And that’s what Moses did.
But he didn’t do it exactly the way God commanded. God said to hit the rock once, but Moses swung his magic stick twice. I reckon he was probably just sick and tired of all that constant moaning and complaining. I would have been. Probably about 39 years before he was.
The water gushed out of solid rock, and the complainers drank and were momentarily satisfied.
But Moses, old faithful Moses who had put up with all that whiny crap for so long, who had dotted all his I’s and crossed all his T’s and did every little thing God had asked him to do for all those sunrises and sunsets — old Moses messed up by not doing exactly what God said. Because he hit the rock twice instead of once, God told him that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the land they’d been promised for so long.
The moaners and complainers get to go, but you’re out, old faithful servant. Sorry.
When Lee told me the story, I remember thinking that Moses got a bum deal. I still think that today.
Lee didn’t think so. He thought that Moses should have done what God told him to do. He said that God is not in the compromise business. No variance allowed.
I wonder if he feels that way now.
I don’t think it matters much what either of us think. God is God. He runs his business like He wants, and as far as I know, He ain’t asked for my opinion.
I re-shoulder my pack. Time to move on.