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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Chapter 23 - "God's playground"

Our first stop as we headed into the rocky crags was an lookout site that overlooked an elk reserve. We perched up on that knoll for about 20 minutes looking for those colossal creatures. The closest we got to a visual was a distant sighting through binoculars. They were herded on the side of a mountain grazing on the sprouting spring grass. With that, we hopped into the truck and made our way toward the gorge.

On our way we were passing deer like they were swamp mosquitoes; they were everywhere you turned. Crossing in front of us, playing in the cedars, drinking from mountain streams, grouping up in open fields, it was insane. I’m sorry to admit that by the time we got into the mountains, I was all but immune to their existence. Like rats in the Big Apple or dung beetles on a dairy farm. They would about feed out of your hand.

It took about 30 more minutes before we actually pulled up along side the actual mountain range. It’s hard to put into words how gargantuan the Rockies really are. They are different that any eastern mountain ranges like the Pocono’s or the Adirondack’s or the Smokey’s. Put it this way, it’s the difference between catching a sunfish in a pond and hooking into a King Salmon on a Great Lake. It’s the difference between writing loves notes in Kindergarten and exchanging your first French kiss with a woman. You can’t compare the two. And sitting in their towering shadow, I felt infinitesimal. Their immense beauty swallowed me whole.

We slowed down as the road became narrow, almost one way. There were old cabins frozen still after a long winter’s hibernation. It was still early enough that tourists and locals had not begun to visit this location which can only be described as enchanting. We had it all to ourselves. Streams were rushing with melted ice from the peaks. Evergreens were sending off a pungent aroma. The Sun River was glowing aqua green…almost as if someone had pumped green dye into it and shined underwater spotlights up through it from the rocky bottom. It was just like the pictures in National Geographic. Only so much more expansive and magical.

We came to a stop at the river’s edge and decided to park off to the side of the road and hike up to the base of the dam. Water was shooting out from the bottom of the thick cement wall holding back a reservoir of melted snow. I imagine the pressure of the water shooting out would kill you should you drop your 175 frame in front of it. It made a fire hydrant look like a man with weak stream difficulty. It was as forceful as I’ve ever seen water shooting sideways. It didn’t start bending downward until after about 40 feet. Hydro-power is spectacular up close.

We climbed across rocks toward the man-made barrier exploring like little boys in a ditch looking for frogs. Deer were our playmates. God was the consummate playmate, though. He was smiling and laughing. I could hear him in my head. I could see him with my heart. I could feel him with my soul. There is nothing like playing with God in the wild wonders of His creation. He’s in His element. I’m on His turf. His sweet spot. His comfort zone. His skill set. His bread and butter.

And I was loving every minute of it. Have you ever been to God’s playground?

Chapter 22 - "long underpanties"

We decided to journey beyond the foothills into the mountains to see if we could spot some elk, mountain sheep, or bear. It’s funny how the really wild animals only live in the rustic and rugged terrain of the Rockies. They don’t roam in the tame flatlands where the deer and the antelope play. They make their home where homes cannot be built. They find their comfort in discomfort. They are most alive where the risk of imminent death looms large and hovers like a brooding demon poised to pounce on the soul of its unsuspecting victim. These animals live where man only dares visit. This is what magnetizes a man like me and sucks me out of same ‘ole, standard, stationary living into the dicey deep of danger. Something feral instead sterile. Something wild instead of mild.

As we retraced our tracks back into town, I felt my heart surging in my chest cavity. Heaving and hyperventilating. My nostrils were flaring. My fingers where tapping the arm rest. My eyes were darting erratically trying to take in the virgin landscape. Part of me still couldn’t believe we were finally here and that we were beyond the alleged to the actual. No more talking about. No more hoping for. It was time to step out of the flight simulator and into the cockpit of the F-16. Out of the data into the drama. Out of the statistics into the story. I could feel the right of passage from knowing about into knowing. The difference is visceral.

We rolled into town mid afternoon and hit the General Store again. Due to the inclement weather, I needed long johns, thermal skivvies, elongated under-panties so to speak. I’ve grow up in the snow belt all my life, so nasty conditions have never bothered me much, but something was telling me that my running sneakers and a pair of Old Navy jeans weren’t going to cut it when the wind howled down through the valleys like the violent force of air being blown through a straw. I’d heard of the unannounced shift in weather patterns in the mountains and the casualties caused by egotistical ignorance. So wearing fairy pants under my slacks was not a mountain I was going to die on that particular day.

As we opened the thick, old door to the store, bells rang to alert the employees of our arrival. Doug walked over to the checkout counter and asked the owner whether they had any long johns. He smirked and shook his head while squinting his left eye. You could tell he was almost sure they had sold out during the worst of the winter months. They were starting to stock late spring and summer clothing. He humored us by taking us to the place where they typically were hanging in all their glory. Sure enough, the rack was vacant. I found myself starting to wonder about a Plan B. Just then, the unthinkable occurred.

“I think I’ve got some upstairs in my dresser drawer that you could borrow.” I wasn’t sure if I was hearing this or if my mind was making this up due to an overwhelming sleep deficiency. Did this 70+ year old man just offer to let me “borrow” his long underwear? “They are a little worn out, but they will do the trick.” Did he just say they are a little worn out? Who offers their underwear to perfect strangers wanting to take a hike into the mountains? I couldn’t help but think of my wife’s response to this offer if she were standing by my side in that moment. It would go something like this… “There isn’t a snowball’s chance in H-E-double hockey sticks that you’re slithering your lanky legs into someone else’s used, worn out, long underpants and planning on sleeping next to me for the next six months!!” This only made the desire to actually accept the offer more titillating. Without a second thought I said, “If you don’t mind I’m cool with that.” And with that he went up to his apartment above the store and found a top-and-bottom set of thermals. Minutes later he threw them down on the counter and said, “They have some holes in them, but it’s the best I got.” I nabbed them off the counter and moments later we were heading west toward the dam that fed the Sun River.

We stopped off the side of the road as we moved out of civilization and I slipped on the threadbare long johns. I was imagining this old man’s scaly and crusty legs occupying the same space only days prior to my leg’s alien occupation. The thought honesty did make me dry heave once, but I overcame that reflex in time.

I have to admit, they were soft and warm.