Isaac is entertaining himself again as I scurry to load the dishwasher, the washer, the dryer, then stop to smile at a fussing Abby. Finally, Isaac demands my attention.

“Mom, I’m brother shark and you are Mommy shark, squeal if you see the danger.”

I sigh. “Ok.” It is hard not to groan. I squeal instead as I hoist the trash bag over the lip of the trash can and tie it shut.

“What is it? What danger do you see?”

“Oh, a big group of fishing boats, they are looking for sharks. Quick, swim to the bottom of the coral reef!”

“Ok. Mom, do you see any more danger, do you see any more danger? Squeal if you see any danger, okay?”

“Isaac, we are going on a hike,” I decide. I can only endure so much of the squealing shark game and the day is beautiful. I desperately want a clean house but I know that I may well exhaust myself cleaning and end the day with a crying baby, a frustrated child, and more mess than we started with, the remnants of Isaac entertaining himself.

We pack quickly, trying to keep the momentum of our good idea going so we can get out of the house before Abby needs to eat again. I put a few wipes in a plastic bag, a diaper, a clean onesie, a lunch, water. Everything goes into Isaac’s small airplane backpack. We’re ready to go. Isaac begs to bring our aging, shedding, smelly dog. I agree so we snap on his leash and stumble down our steep hill to the car. There is no mention of sharks. Hallelujah.

Abby slobbers and smiles and smiles at her brother and chews on her shirt. Isaac looks out the window and the dog breaths hot and heavy in the too small space. Fortunately, our ride is short and we tumble from the car into fresh air and sunshine, Isaac snapping the leash on the dog and running for the trail before I’ve even lifted Abby from her car seat.

As we set off down the trail I breathe a sigh of relief. Just me and the kids and green grass and trees, blue sky. God. Peace. It doesn’t matter if Isaac shouts or runs and the too many tasks on my to-do list are forgotten. The stress of trying to contain children inside, to live up to civilized standards is gone.

Red ant hills line either side of the trail, encouraging a quick pace or consequences. Isaac sets the pace naturally quick enough though that the ankle biters are unlikely to attack. He is running on the far edge of my range of sight, then rounding a corner. He waits for me, crouched in a cache of ferns. “They are so, so beautiful,” he enthuses. Yes. He stomps through a puddle, spots a deer track, sights a squirrel. Laughs.

We come to a creek. Isaac splashes across then wade up and down it, now a tornado chasing vehicle, collecting storm data while I feed his sister, then change her on the forest floor. She smiles at the waving trees above us, drools down her shirt. A couple hikes past us and I feel a bit embarrassed, hunched over my partly clothed baby, lying on the forest floor. She is happy at least.

Finally, the gnats and mosquitoes chase us from the creek and we take the turn that will lead us up to the mountain. I’m sweating and Abby bobs against my chest. Isaac runs ahead, stopping occasionally to collect a rock or examine a snail. He is always ahead of me and I wonder, when did he begin to lead the way? He is only five and he bounces along the skinny trail like an athlete, I bumbling behind. There was a day I coaxed him along, carried him.

The wind plays through the treetops like ocean song. The trail is littered with rocks, then lined with moss. Orkney Springs is far below us on one side, the other side, West Virginia and sing-song Stoney Creek.

After a sweaty hour, we see the mountaintop tower with a white cross rising from its top, touching treetops. It was Isaac’s goal all along but I had been unsure we would make it so far. Isaac gallops for the stairs. I plod behind him. Up to the swaying tower, we go, though it makes me nervous. The stairs are steep and there are large gaps in the railings, large enough for a child to slip through. I stay close at his heels. I think about forbidding the tower climb but I don’t want to instill fear in him. He is already a fairly cautious child (though energetic).

We eat lunch amid the treetops, butterflies swooping by, birds soaring the air currents, three mountain ranges in view. I hold Abby with one hand and our dog’s leash with the other. I hold Isaac from the edge with my voice. I’m a bit jittery up so high. Isaac plays at the base of the large white cross. He jams his sandwich in his mouth, purple jelly streaks across his cheeks as he talks about tornadoes and heaven and so many things my mind goes numb.

If a tornado came by, this is where I would hide, Isaac says. I think about lecturing him, telling him to crouch in a ditch, away from trees. But there are no ditches nearby, nothing but trees. “Hmm,  I’m not sure,” I say.

But close to the cross amidst the trees strike me as a pretty great place to be. In the tornadoes of life I’d like to be worshipping at the foot of His cross rather than cowering in a ditch, I think.

“This reminds me of Jesus dying for me, more than anything, more than you mom,” Isaac says. I am happy not to have to preach. I am happy for the silence.

Mountain sanctuary.