Fierce Beauty

Kim Meeder

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Fierce Beauty by Kim Meeder (Multnomah).

Chapter 1

The Fracture
One True Anchor

How had it come to this?

I was in no man’s land—literally a place where no human being should be. Step by foolish step, my pride had brought me to this bitter, frozen end. Though the terrain was intensely beautiful, all that waited for me here was my own death.

At more than 14,000 feet, I dangled motionless above an infinite void. I clung with a white-knuckled grip to the only device that could save me, my ice ax. Hanging from a near-vertical sheet of ice only yards below a mountain summit, I was surrounded by a silent world of white. The expanse around me no longer concealed the fact that this could be the exquisite location where my life would end. Frayed thoughts twisted around the clutter of all my what-ifs. Finally the noisy and confused voices within my mind stilled. All that remained of my broken ability to reason circled in my head like a lost boomerang, proclaiming with each weak pass the same whispered message:

How did it come to this?

One of the highlights of my life occurred when I was five years old. Seared like a brand on my soul, the memory of that moment feels me with heat even now. Earlier on that long-ago day, with all the determination and strength that a little heart could muster, I’d gripped the back pockets of my dad’s 501 jeans. Like a human mule, he’d patiently towed his youngest daughter up her first mountain. At 10,457 feet, requiring a round trip of less than five miles, Mount Lassen’s small volcanic summit is not much of a challenge for those who frequent the high places. But for a young girl, reaching its peak was a triumph of love and wonder.

While my dad and I sat shielded by a rock wall, I snuggled close to him for warmth. The wind seemed to resent the vertical detour demanded by this small volcano and screamed all around us. My hair whipped around my face in a frenzied mass of black knots. With nothing above us but sky, I huddled in awe, captivated by the wonder that swept down and away like a living, undulating quilt of unthinkable beauty. Distinct from anything forged by the hands of men, this exquisite mantle continued beyond human sight in a decadent tapestry. Great forests appeared as deep folds of green and rushed down to embrace a myriad of sapphire lakes. Caught up in Creation’s never-ending flow, green eventually gave way to amber as forests poured into vast plains of golden grass.

The rapid compression of air moving over the volcano’s peak created cloud spindles. The white wisps appeared before our eyes, danced wildly across the summit, and disappeared just as swiftly. I was certain my dad and I were the only two people on earth who saw them. Like translucent sprites they tumbled and rolled in captivating shapes. Through exuberant eyes I watched them call me to join in their frolic. They seemed to play from the beginning of their brief lives right up to their last twisting moments. Spiraling down into threadlike strands of white, they waved one last good-bye before dissipating forever into a heavenly ocean of blue.

That moment with my dad on Lassen ignited in my heart a deep and passionate love for the mountains. There was an indescribable, fierce power in these high places—and also incredible wonder and beauty. I was hooked.

Later, more favor poured into my life when my dad was hired as a weekend downhill ski instructor on the lower flanks of northern California’s Mount Shasta. At 14,162 feet, Shasta isn’t the highest peak in the lower forty-eight states. But most agree that by sheer mass, it’s one of the biggest. Shasta’s base-to-summit rise of nearly ten thousand feet is second only to Mount Rainier and Mount Whitney in the contiguous United States. As an active, stand-alone volcano, Shasta dominates the horizon for more than one hundred miles in every direction.

Often I joined my dad in this impressive setting. I vividly recall one day hanging between his lanky legs as he held me under my arms. I stood on tiny wooden skis fastened with cable bindings to huge boots. “Ready, Kimbo?” my dad asked with the enthusiasm of a parent gifting his child with something he loves.

Together, we perched on the crest of what my youthful perspective saw as a daring precipice. With the pure, unshakable faith of a child, I looked at my dad’s slender thighs and saw the trunks of two strong oaks. His grasp was firm enough to convince me that as long as I was locked in his protective embrace, we could ski through any peril. Had I glanced up, I’m sure I would’ve seen his superhero cape wafting majestically behind him. I braced myself by pressing mittened hands on the inside of each of his thighs. Like a pint-size copilot, I bobbed my head and said, “Okay, Daddy.” We pushed off into a serpentine world of white, the beginning of many glorious weekends filled with father-daughter adventures.

That string of shared activities ended, however, much too soon. I was nine years old when the inconceivable happened. Divorce was tearing our family apart. My dad sought help in many professional directions, but, tragically, the help he so desperately needed was not to be found. One day a friend of my father’s picked up my sisters and me from school and took us to our grandparents’ house. No one spoke. During that drive I knew something catastrophic had happened. At my grandparents’  house a distraught woman tried to comfort me in her arms. She kept repeating, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so deeply sorry.” Finally she blurted out, “Your father has just murdered your mother and killed himself.”

My first thought was that she was a liar. She had to be a liar because what she said simply could not be true.

I tore away and burst out the house’s back door. I ran and ran through a small orchard until I fell, facedown, in the powdery, dry earth. I heard screaming and realized it was coming from me.

 “Jesus, help me!” I cried. “Help me!”

And then, He did.

I didn’t really know who Jesus was. I’d been to church only a few times in my life. Yet in that moment of despair, I somehow knew He was the only safe direction I could turn and if I didn’t, I would die.

What I understand now is how on that terrible day the Lord of all Creation came and knelt in the dirt beside a breaking child. He reached down and took the small hand that reached up to Him…and He has never let go.

Only through His grace did I begin picking up the pieces of my shattered life. My sisters and I moved in with my grandparents and started attending church. In the years that followed, I learned that Jesus was my Redeemer and my shelter. Despite the grief and despair I faced, I always found comfort in Him.

Another of my refuges was the mountains. Once I began driving, I set about climbing every horizon—no matter where that horizon was. In these wind-chiseled cathedrals of stone, my heart felt truly free. The subtle, mighty voice of breezes murmuring through ancient, high-altitude forests perpetually called me to come and rest within their boughs of peace. Heavy sorrows and burdens felt too weighty to follow me to these wild places. The farther I hiked, the farther behind I left my pain. I sensed that all the tragedies that gripped my heart were not strong enough to chase me into thin air. I scaled many of the peaks surrounding California’s Redding basin. Once my husband, Troy, and I moved to Central Oregon, I climbed most of that skyline as well. The one glaring omission from my ascensions was Mount Shasta. Believing it would be too painful, I purposed in my heart never to go back.


Excerpted from Fierce Beauty by Kim Meeder Copyright © 2011 by Kim Meeder.

Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.