What’s Over the Next Hill?

“Daddy, what’s over that hill?”

“What do you think you’ll see?” Dad chuckled. He must have been humored at my numerous questions. He continued, “If you sit still for a minute, we’ll be on that hill, then we’ll both find out.” Dad knew but wanted the view to be a surprise.

From my earliest memories at almost 3-years old, I’ve always wondered: What’s around the corner? What’s in the box? How did the mountain get there? What’s fire made out of? What’s over the next hill? I’ve always had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I still do.

That was a special trip for me. I was 5 years old, and seldom had the privilege of spending time with dad and mom by myself. Eventually, I had five sisters and four brothers, and this trip would be the first of three trips where I was the only one dad and mom took with them.

Mom was taking a nap in the front seat of the Hudson Hornet, my four sisters (two older and two younger) were left with elders in the church, and I was leaning over the front seat looking with eyes wide open. I had never seen mountains and valleys like this. Seat belts hadn’t been invented yet, but we never had a problem.

There were no freeways where we lived in 1951, and our highways allowed us to travel at the break-neck speed of 55 miles per hour. However, some of these mountain roads allowed only 35-45 mph. Our destination was about 400 miles away, and we left home long before daylight.

As we approached the crest of the hill, dad asked, “Eugene, do you know where we’re going?”

“Yes, we’re goin’ campin’.”

“That’s right. But do you remember where mother said we’re going?”

While I was trying to remember that hard word, we reached the top of the hill. Dad pulled over to the side of the road.

“Ooooohhhhh Daddy! Someone broke that mountain in half!” I was stunned to see half a mountain standing on the side of the valley.

Dad already had his camera in hand and was opening the door. “Son, that broken mountain is called ‘Half-Dome’ and this is called Yosemite Na… Eugene? Where are you?”

Dad found me hiding inside the car, not wanting to get out. I was scared spitless of heights, and when I saw the valley floor WAY DOWN THERE, I panicked. But peeking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off that broken mountain.

“Okay, Eugene. Would you get out of the car if I hold your hand?”

I shook my head, “Hu-uh.”

When mom said, “Daddy will let you look through his binoculars if you get out of the car,” I agreed to hold daddy’s hand and get out.

That was my introduction to Yosemite National Park.

We drove down into the canyon and dad took me on a few short hikes. I enjoyed playing in the heavy mist of Bridal Veil Falls, then helping dad set up camp. I don’t remember how much of a help I was, but it was fun being with daddy and mommy.

My favorite part was watching the fire fall down the face of Glacier Point. The park ranger gave a talk each evening, and an entertainment group sang as others prepared a roaring fire on top of Glacier Point. Then at 9:00 PM, the ranger hollered, “Let the fire fall!”

Several men then pushed the burning material over the edge with bulldozers, and a river of glowing embers fell more than a half mile (some 3,000) feet to the valley floor. Little boys never forget things like that. (The final “fire-fall” was on January 25, 1968.)

The question of “what’s over the next hill” has never left me. I might see an elk, a river, a glowing sunset, the wide expanse of the ocean, or another mountain. I never tire of it. And I am blessed with a wife who shares the same adventurous spirit.

We’ve been in every state of the Union and have driven over many hills. But there is one “hill” I cannot experience yet, and I can only imagine what the other side looks like. I’ll go over that hill after I take my last breath here on earth and enter heaven. I’m not in a hurry to get there, but God, dad, and mom are waiting for me, and I won’t be afraid of that height. Who knows: God might have thousands of hills over there for me to experience.

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