New heights

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I’ll admit it.

I’m not good with heights.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I’m petrified of them, but climbing to wide open heights doesn’t exactly top my list of favorite activities.

When I learned we’d be climbing the 100 stairs of the fire tower at Forest Glen Preserve this last weekend, I knew I’d have to harden my constitution. After all, as scout leaders we encourage our boys to step out of their comfort zone and grow. I’d need to do the same.

I started my ascent at the back of the line of scouts and leaders, watching the boys scamper up the stairs, fearless mountain goats eager for the summit. A fellow leader, an engineer by day, took one of the metal tower supports in his hand and gave it a little shake that said, “Just checking.” Not exactly comfort to my unease.

One step at a time, I made my way up. I wanted to see the full expanse of the 1,800 acre forest preserve and would have to rise above the tree canopy. I stopped about half way up, listened to the clamor of the scouts at the top, and contemplated the direction of my next step.

Up?

Or down?

I looked up and saw my son coming back down the stairs already, having reached the top with the first group up the stairs. Passing by, he nonchalantly said, “Hey Dad, there’s a message for you at the top.” He flashed a sly grin to his friend and continued past me.

His tease-wrapped challenge was all I needed to decide. Up it would be. I wrapped around the remaining flights, dodging around those descending the narrow stairs.

As I rounded the last landing, I saw the message indelibly scribed in the metal girder.

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“You made it fatass. Congrats!”

I laughed at the message left by a long-gone visitor, and my son’s emerging wit that unknowingly dissolved my fear into elation as I reached the viewing platform.

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I looked across the Vermilion River valley into Indiana, where the early color ash and sassafras splashed red and yellow across the undulating green of the forest. Despite a couple of moments of readjusting my balance near the edge, my focus was on the beauty of the landscape and the joyous awe in the boys’ faces. One of the scouts, who’d never seen such an expanse of trees before, said he wanted to build a house right there on the top of the platform so he could see it all the time.

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As I finished shooting some photos, my son emerged from the stairs having completed his second trip to the top. I went to him, leaned over and thanked him for the message.

Someday, perhaps he’ll read this story and understand how he helped his dad reach new heights.

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