Lake Cumberland cliff-climbing

They say memory of childhood events sharpens with age. I hope that’s the case for me, because there are a lot of stories from back then that I’d like to tell, but I don’t have enough detail to flesh them out over more than a few paragraphs.

Right now I’m thinking of the time Dad took us kids to his Uncle Lewis’ place on Lake Cumberland, and we climbed a cliff. I actually wrote about it once, for my Advanced Writing class back at UK I believe, but I don’t think any copies of that story exist anymore.

We were down on the beach, probably looking for fossils, arrowheads or driftwood–the beach there was pretty much all rock, though there were places that had sand. Beyond the flatter area near the water there was a rough incline of slate and limestone and shale (I think), stone that broke easily and therefore had a few layers of half inch thick, roughly round rocks piled on its surface.

There was a trail, of course; that was how we’d gotten down to the beach. But Dad knew that Uncle Lewis’ place was atop that ridge, and he decided he wanted to climb it.

That meant that all three of us kids had to climb it too.

I was the oldest, but I was also scared. If we slipped from the cliff, we’d tumble back down onto nothing but rocks. Our dog, Misho, a beautiful Belgian Malanois who was smarter than Lassie, was with us, and obviously he couldn’t climb the cliff. I knew he could find his way back by himself, but I said “What about Misho?” anyway, in the hopes that Dad would give up on climbing the cliff.

“He’ll meet us up top,” or something like that, was Dad’s only response. I considered going with Misho…but I was a very obedient child. In my gut I knew that climbing the cliff was the wrong thing to do, but here was my father telling me to do it.

So I gazed longingly after Misho as he bounded off towards the woods, and then I did as Dad said.

He had us climb up ahead of him, so he could help us along. This was good, because there was hardly anything to hold onto, and the flat rocks kept slipping underfoot. Every now and then a scrawny plant clung to the cliffside, but for the most part there was nothing but stone. Often as we climbed Dad would prop his hand under our feet or bottoms to give us leverage. I to this day am not sure what he was holding onto.

I don’t remember much about the climb. I know that it took a long time, and that it was difficult, and that I kept imagining tumbling down the hill and smashing down onto the rocks below and wishing that the water was closer so it might cushion the fall a little. And I remember a particularly long, ratty weed that I grabbed onto near the top; the cliff was much steeper at that point, and this weed helped me get up past the rocks and into the forested area near the top of the incline. Once I was there it was easy to climb through the woods the rest of the way to Uncle Lewis’. In fact, AJ and I got through that part so quickly that we then had to wait quite some time for Ben and Dad to catch up, and I paced around Uncle Lewis’ front yard terrified that they’d fallen.

That is really all I can remember. I don’t remember if Misho was there when we got to the top or if he showed up later; I don’t remember where Uncle Lewis was during all this; I don’t remember much from when Dad and Ben finally arrived, other than my intense relief.

Confounding my Lake Cumberland memories is the fact that I used to have a lot of dreams that took place there, including a very vivid falling dream. I have a memory of actually sliding down a cliff face atop those loose rocks, all the way to the bottom, and that may have actually happened, but I can’t be sure that it wasn’t just another dream.

I hope someday I’m able to see the events of my childhood in greater detail.