On our way back from Glacier my folks and I decided to stop at Kootenai Falls, a nice little road side spot outside of Libby, Montana. The falls themselves are a short hike from the highway, and the feature is more about width than height. Had I been in charge of naming them I probably would have gone with Kootenai Rapids, but perhaps that’s why I’m not in charge. The main viewing area for the falls is from a large, open slab of rock. It made my acrophobic mother terribly nervous to have my father and I standing in the open without guardrails or clear paths.
“I think we’re supposed to watch them from back here,” she yelled to us from her stable position on the trail.
After taking in the view and beginning our walk back, we came across a fork in the path that lead to a rope bridge over the river. We stopped for a moment and my dad looked over to the bridge with longing. My mom looked at him.
“How long do you think it will take us to walk there?” she asked, with a tone that implied, “because we don’t have time and should be getting on the road.”
“We don’t have to go if we don’t want to,” Dad replied, looking back at the bridge and shrugging.
“You want to go to the bridge, don’t you?” my mom and I said simultaneously. Dad laughed and we started walking.
The bridge itself was suspended from the top of a tall and sturdy flight of stairs. “Oh boy” my mom sighed as she looked up at the stairs. I told her she could stay right there, she didn’t have to go with us. By the time I finished my sentence Dad was already at the top of the stairs.
I walked out to the center of the bridge with my father. It was swinging in a way that would make you nervous even if heights didn’t bother you. The drop was a long way down to cold, dangerous water. After enjoying the view for a minute, Dad and I turned to see my mom at the top of the stairs. Her arms were tensed up and her grip was solid on both handrails. She placed a single foot on the bridge and Dad and I froze. The bridge swung with every shift of weight, and we wanted to keep it still for her. She was staring straight down at the planks and moving very slowly. At ten feet she looked up at us with a nervous smile.
“I’m on the bridge!” she announced proudly.
“Nice job, hon,” Dad said, congratulating her with a smile.
That was quite enough for my mother, who immediately turned back and shuffled her way to the stairs. Dad and I joined her on solid ground, and she looked like she’d just jumped off a cliff she was so jittery. We walked back to the cars and got back on the road to Washington.
I’ve said before that I don’t like it when people call me brave for having gone on my trip. I don’t think you’re brave by virtue of doing that which would scare others. It’s true that on my trip I did a number of things that scared me, though most didn’t compare with how much it scared my mom to walk out onto that bridge. Bravery isn’t how far you get, it’s how hard it was to get there.