My “pat” answer when people ask why I left a career in teaching eighth graders is that “I wanted a change of scenery.” Actually, the truth is that my doctor advised me to find a less stressful environment. Most middle school teachers suffer from some sort of post-traumatic stress. I’ve seen battle hardened drill sergeants try to substitute teach a middle school class, and by the end of the day, they were cowering in a corner, sucking their thumb, and calling for mommy! So I threw my chalk out the window, and came to live with you fine folks in Real County. I still try to avoid eighth graders, and Sam Rylander, my partner in guest services, graciously handles any job-related activity that involves too much communication with campers around the age of 13. I have finally reached an even keel with no noticeable adverse side effects. Which is why I found it odd, in my guarded state of mind, that I came to my senses and found myself dangling from a cliff, 50 feet above the river! There have been a lot of rumors regarding this incident, and I thought I’d share it and set the record straight.
I got an emergency radio call from the Echo Valley campsite, and was informed that some campers had spotted a wild lamb that was trapped on the cliffs across the river from the dining hall. I headed over to investigate the situation, and found that, sure enough, an aouad lamb had become separated from its mother, and had wandered into a crevice where it couldn’t climb out. I could also see and hear the lamb’s mother who was desperately bawling below the old roadside park on Hwy. 83, and about a hundred feet above her trapped baby. A few of our operations staff, who had heard the radio chatter, and had come over to offer their help, judged the lamb to be less than two weeks old. After surveying the situation, it was determined that one of us was going to have to cross the river, climb up to the lamb, catch it, and lift it up over a precipice where it could then return to its mother, and that I should be careful when climbing over the wet slippery spots!
If you have ever sat on the porch of the Echo Valley Ranch House, casually sipping a cup of “joe,” and wondered how difficult it would be to climb the bluffs across the river, you can stop wondering. I would liken the experience to assaulting the face of K2 in the Himalayas, where one out of three climbers don’t come back! It’s hard to ignore that statistic, especially when I could hear one of the operations staff ask if they had the phone number for Critical Air! They yelled out, telling me that the water was only a couple of feet deep, and if I lost my hold on the cliff, l should land “belly buster” in the water so as not to hit the bedrock too hard. I doubted the sincerity of this wisdom, however, because the three of them were laughing so hard that Juan Ortiz almost fell off the tailgate of his truck. As I climbed, I began to contemplate some serious questions. It’s amazing how clearly a man can think when he is clinging to a bluff in raw terror. Here is a brief summary of those thoughts:
Why am I here? Is this not the perfect example of the human race interfering with natural selection and the law of survival of the fittest? Am I about to prove the counterpart of that law? Isn’t the aoudad sheep population too high anyway? Who hired Rudy, Noe, and Juan!?
As I got close to the lamb it became unnerved and decided to move, covering the area that had taken me 10 minutes to climb in about 3 seconds. As the distance between us closed rapidly, I heard Rudy, Noe, Juan, and a bunch of eighth graders shouting at me to get ready! It quickly became obvious that the sure-footed little beast was unaware of my presence, but when it got close enough for me to grab it, I found that the only part of my body that wasn’t occupied in clinging to the cliff was my tongue! I could tell that the lamb was more than a little surprised to find a 250-pound man sticking his tongue out at him, and instead of turning back, it jumped over me, and took the path of least resistance down to our canoe. When Rudy asked why I didn’t grab it, I suppressed the urge to cross the river and remove his arms!
As it turned out, the lamb had cornered itself in a bowl formed by the cliff, and short of stealing my canoe, it was once again trapped. After another unsuccessful but entertaining attempt at vertical shepherding, I finally cornered the little sucker down at the water’s edge.
It worked, and as I rescued the lamb from drowning and paddled my canoe back I was greeted by a mass of cheering eighth graders. I must admit that I was humbled by their esteem as they rushed toward me in an obvious gesture of praise for a hero! It turned out, however, that they only wanted to pet the lamb.
“What’s the matter with your face?” a girl asked.
“It’s a facial tic! What does it look like?” I replied.
Eventually, I released the lamb at the roadside park where it returned safely to its mother. As mother and lamb were reunited, I was reminded of a verse from the prophet Isaiah who wrote:
“All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:6)