“There are three hundred steps,” said the woman at the counter. “It is a bit challenging but not too hard.”
My mind wandered back to the previous hour when my husband and I had stood on the edge of a cliff, gazing down two hundred feet into the swirling whirlpool below. The smooth, flat stones at the edge of the Niagara river had caught my eye. Grafitti littered the face of the smooth rocks which bordered the waters below.
“What lunatic could have climbed down this cliff face and sprayed their names on those rocks? And how would you ever get down there anyway?”
My husband, contemplating the swirling waters below, said, “There’s a path. Look.” I just shook my head. Nuts. Loons.
An hour later, I found myself facing the bored employee of the Niagara Gorge Museum.
“There are three paths that go down. One starts just outside the museum here.”
Curiosity is said to have killed the cat, but I paid no heed. I have always been one to investigate new things. I nudged my husband. “Let’s just go look at it. Just see what it’s like.”
“Ok,” he agreed with good grace. Three eighths of a mile later we looked at the beginning of the path marker.
“Oh, let’s just go a little way,” I said. Two hours later, I found myself staring up two hundred feet into a dizzying heighth of trees and sky. My head whirled and I had to focus once more on the uneven stone stairs that I was descending. Stairs that had a varying height of six inches to twenty-four inches. Stairs that threatened to throw you into the gorge below because they were pitched at just that angle. Stairs that at times had me grabbing the sleeve of my husband’s jacket for support as I lowered myself down uneven broken stones that littered the path between the three hundred stairs and climbed the huge rocks that blocked the path in the other areas.
Three hundred steps! I think not! Maybe three hundred steps and three thousand boulders, two hundred small hills and the various rubble strewn sections of path that required one to pass very close to the sheer cliff face that had no railing. None of this path could be considered easy at all. After two hours of climbing, knees shaking from the exertion of the climb, and sweat pouring down my wind chilled face, we came to a section of cliff that looked like something on Mt. Everest. Huge boulders blocked the path as far as the eye could see. But I could see the river below and we were only about thirty feet from the river’s surface.
Unfortunately, we were short on time that day, as we had to head home. After a reconnaissance mission across the rock face before us, my husband returned with the sad news. It would be too time consuming for today.
Later, at a restaurant on the Canadian side of the river, I happened to mention to the waitress that we had climbed down the Niagara Gorge, exhausted but proud of how far we had managed to make it toward our goal.
She smiled and asked, “Oh, at Niagara at the Glen?” We blinked in surprise.
In her best French Canadian accent she explained. “Oh, it’s on this side of the river. There is a nice set of metal stairs…”.
“Metal stairs!” I exploded in exasperation.
“Wait,” she said, “It gets better. Then there is this nice wide portage path that the Indians used to use. You can go right down and touch the river.”
My husband looked at me and growled, “Write it down for next time.”
The three hundred steps taught me something that day, but what? Was it that it is rewarding to do things the hard way? I did feel as if I had achieved something in almost conquering that entire challenge. And then again, it is more likely they were saying, “Stop and ask first. There might be an easier and better way that gets you to the same goal.” Could it be that I need to put this to work in my life? If I ask first, could God have a better way than the rocky path down the sheer cliff that I see before me in my next challenge? Like they teach you in kindergarten. Stop, Look and Listen.