“We didn’t go up the mountain”

MT. DESERT, Maine — The thing is, we didn’t go up the mountain. 

Earlier in the week my family did ascend Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point on America’s eastern seaboard. At 1,530 feet, it isn’t even Maine’s most imposing peak. But the rarity of a mountain rising straight above the sea is something to behold. 

Even if you can’t behold it. The day we drove to the top, the fog was already rolling in, just after lunchtime. 

The friendly park ranger didn’t even mention it as he checked our reservation. (The mountain road is the one place in Acadia National Park that requires a reservation.) Standing in his guardhouse, he could still see more than 30 feet in front of him as he wished us a pleasant drive. 

Things changed quickly. First, we couldn’t see beyond the next bend; soon we had little warning there was a bend. Before making the summit, we were enveloped by cloud.

We laughed it off, took silly pictures of one another as shadowy lumps. It was destined for family lore, but then we managed another reservation a few days later. 

The thing is, we didn’t go up the mountain. 

The appointed afternoon arrived but we had time to kill before 3:30. We played mini golf, visited nearby Bar Harbor for ice cream. A brief rain shower rolled through. Darker clouds loomed, the kind that produce lightning, not fog. 

I pulled up the reservation on my phone. I blinked, then looked again. It was for 3:00, not 3:30. 

We were at least 10 minutes away, with two minutes to go. We considered trying to talk our way in, but the thunderheads above sapped our resolve.

All of which is how we came to be in the right place at the right time. 

On the way back to our rental home the rain stopped, so we decided to check out the shore of Echo Lake. Making quick work of the trail, we returned to the parking lot to find two tired, slightly disoriented people. 

“Do you know if the bus stops at the golf course?” asked a man with a hiking stick who looked to be a few years into retirement. 

“Our car is down there, but we can’t hike back to it because part of the trail is closed,” his wife explained. 

I suggested instead that we drive them to their car. They were reluctant to inconvenience us, but we assured them it was on our way. 

As we drove, the man asked where we were from. He laughed when we said Atlanta; they lived in Roswell.

We started playing 20 questions. They’d retired three years ago and passed their roofing company to their children. 

The company name rang a bell for my wife. “Is this your number?” she asked, pointing to her phone’s contacts; they had repaired our roof 13 years earlier. The woman’s photo even showed up in the contact. 

We all wondered at the odds of meeting someone so far from home and having their number in your phone. We visited awhile, then said our goodbyes. 

But as we drove on, I couldn’t shake the notion that we shouldn’t have even been there. We were supposed to be on Cadillac Mountain. 

The thing is, we didn’t go up the mountain. 

“Coincidence” doesn’t cover it. But what meaning could there be? 

Maybe something would have happened to one of them — a heart attack, or an accident — if  we hadn’t given them a ride. But this was not an isolated spot. Surely someone else would have offered help.  

Could it be as simple as being reminded of how small and interwoven our world is, at a time when all kinds of social forces seem to be pulling us apart? 

Maybe there is no “why,” just a marvelous God-wink for its own sake.

We may never know. In the meantime, I wouldn’t blame you for not believing this story. I’d scarcely believe it myself if I hadn’t been there. 

But my wife has the other lady’s phone number, just in case.

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