Recently I took a six mile hike
Up six thousand feet of mountain
Past flowers in bloom, white across the trail
Winding streams and waterfalls
Spilling over cliff faces into beds of
Deep green moss thriving in the shade
During a particular tumultuous political time

East step took me higher, tugging on my knees
And calves, the perpetual pounding heart,
Slow but steady, taking long looks at
Lush forested landscapes kissed by clouds
On the vistas to my left, soaking in the memory
Gripping cable in the rock for footing
The opportunity to catch a little breath
Glad to have no cell service

Soon, I was passed, by a male park ranger, 
With a backpack and gun, walking briskly
Unaffected, heading to the top, with the manner of
A gentry on a stroll, up the steps he went
Stones, steps, and stones, increasing every bend
The blood, sweat, and tears of CCC teams
Heroes long since deceased.  
Damn, I thought, there are more steps ahead

Next came the gray-haired lady with flowers
On her sweatshirt, passing me both ways
From the overhanging cave to the inspiration point,
Giving little helpful hints as if teaching me
How to bake the best cookies or macramé a quilt
It was the same hiking pack she had in college
She told me with a smile, lips untouched by sweat as
The spring in her steps carried her spryly down the switchback

Several couples followed and whether 25 or 80, it was always
A man with deep, etched eyes and baseball cap, on the other side of
Overweight, panting and leaning on his walking stick, still smiling
Clearly gassed, because he would’ve been passed by his companion
Were it not for good manners and decorum. (I thought about the vote.)
His wife or girlfriend would lightly step in front and behind, as if
In a field of yellow daisies, with a touch of make-up and lipstick
Unmussed by the dust, hair tied back and bobbing on the back of
Her pressed white blouse, perfume carried by the wind into my reddened face
Damn, I thought there are more steps ahead.

And finally, the families, with the matron keeping it together,
One child or two and husband on track, pulling snacks
Out of one bag, water bottles from another, 
Patting him on the back, patting her on the back, and always
Pressing on, used to the struggle, the long view, the realization that
Sometimes if you hold back a little, you actually get their first    
As long as you can deal with a little pain, see a little sunshine and realize
Childbirth, sacrifice, hurting, recovering, living and dying are what
Makes the world a beautiful place.  
I sat on my rock in admiration, got a blast of reception, listened, and thought,
This is why we need more women in the Senate

Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. My first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of mine have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.