It was right before Christmas. My husband, Dan, and a buddy of his, Mike, had gone to a canyon near our home in Southern California to see if the vegetation, scorched by fires a few months earlier, was growing back. Dan and Mike were both members of the California Native Plant Society. They were real "plant hounds", always exploring the nearby canyons and hills to see what kind of plants they could find and photograph.
That day, after Mike left, Dan decided to do a little "solo research" by hiking up into Laguna Canyon, a more remote section of the area that was not often explored. He had walked into the canyon a few miles, gotten some pictures and was starting to make his way back to his truck, when he stepped on a water-soaked patch ground that gave way. He fell thirty-five feet down the rough slope, hitting a number of trees, before he landed on a ledge. He could tell right away that something was terribly wrong with his left leg. It lied across his other leg at an "impossible angle."
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Stunned by the fall, it took Dan a little while to realize that he was too crippled to walk. Then, Dan knew he was in serious trouble. Night would fall soon and not a soul knew where he was. He had to get to a main trail or he might die out there before anyone could find him. He braced the broken leg against the other leg and resting his weight on his hands, he began inching his way down the canyon.
Making slow and painful progress, Dan often stopped to rest and call for help. The only response was the eerie sound of his own voice echoing off the walls of the canyon. As the sun set, the temperature began to drop. It was cold in the hills at night and Dan knew that if he stopped for too long, he would probably lose consciousness. It was increasingly hard to move, but Dan forced himself after each pause to keep hauling his sore body forward on his aching hands. He continued this awful journey for another twelve hours.
Finally, his strength and determination gave out. He was utterly exhausted and couldn't move another inch. Although it seemed futile, he summoned up a last burst of strength and shouted for help.
He was astounded when he heard a voice return his call. A real voice, not another mocking and empty echo. It was Dan's stepson and my son, Jeb. He and I were out with the police and the paramedics searching for Dan.
Earlier, when Dan didn't come home, I got worried and called Mike.
At first, Mike tried to find Dan himself and he drove from canyon to canyon looking for Dan's truck. When he couldn’t find Dan, he called the police and reported Dan as missing.
I'd kept calm and strong until the moment Jeb said he'd heard Dan's voice.
Then, I dissolved into tears, finally feeling the fear and dread I'd been pushing aside for hours. It took over two hours for the rescue team to bring Daniel down the ravine. The paramedics trundled him away on a stretcher and when I got to see him at the hospital, my tears started flowing anew. The thought of how close I came to losing this wonderful man undid me. It was only when I felt Dan's arms around me that I finally stopped sobbing. As I sat next to his hospital bed, my eyes fastened to the face I had been so afraid I would never see again. Dan told me his story.
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Immediately after his slide down the canyon and once he realized the seriousness of his predicament, Dan said that he thought of me and how much he would miss me if he didn't make it back. As he lay at the bottom of the rough cliff, he groped around until he found a suitable rock. Using the rock, which was sharply pointed, he managed to carve a message to me on a large rock near where he lay. If the worst should happen, he hoped I would eventually see the rock and know that I will always be with him close to his heart.
I started weeping all over again. I knew how deeply I loved my husband, but I was unprepared for the depth of his love for me.
For somewhere deep in the wooded hills of Laguna
Canyon, there is a large rock with a heart carved
on its side.
By Elizabeth Songster
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