Make no covenant with a dubious universe
On The Road In Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona.
An admitted “emigrant” bandying about "Californication" sounds a tad sanctimonious, if not downright hypocritical. After all, I "fornicated" Colorado back in '76. Aren’t we all “emigrants” at some point in our genealogic linage? In my defense, at least I didn't try to impose Springfield, Mo.'s Ozark mores on my new found home. On the contrary, I was running away from them…the deep-fried funnel-cake food mentality, impenetrable jungle landscape and a sprawling cityscape that began gobbling neighboring Mayberrys like Tic Tacs. I had to leave before I became one of them…certainly before I had children who most assuredly would be cursed with hillbilly drawl speech impediments.
One sunless, gloomy day, my daddy’s wandering genes got the best of me. I quit my treadmill job, loaded a box of eight-track tapes and record albums into the cab of an old six-banger three-speed-on-the-column GMC pickup and departed Missouri's insect plagued malaise in a cheap oil haze of blue exhaust. A 19-foot trailer “home" fish-tailed “goodbye,” while “Jimmy’s” chrome gleamed orange in a Kansas prairie sunset. The conflicted pilot was excited as hell and scared poo-less…all in the same foul breath of stockyard air. Grossly underpowered and overloaded, Jimmy made the snowy Continental Divide and Monarch Pass by the skin of my coffee stained teeth.
Thus began a quest for a “new beginning,” spurred by one of Life's bigger questions. I wanted to know why my 61-year-old physical specimen of a dad, a Godly man if there ever was one, had just dropped dead from a heart attack a few weeks shy of his retirement dream?
Looking for answers to questions that have no answers can lead to too many empty beer bottles come morning (read mourning)…a kid, trying to make sense out of the chaos of loss. Asking "why" gives rise to more questions, which begets more thirst. Climbers have a saying, "The Mountain doesn't care…" It took wisdom-building decades for this man-child to finally accept the frowny-face postscript: “Nor does The Universe.”
Montrose was a sparsely populated Western Slope town in Colorado’s Centennial year, about as undiscovered and far from “Springfield” as one could get. It had only one stoplight and a handful of residents... all trying to scratch out a living from the hind-tit of poor dirt farmers and cowboy ranchers. Sodbusters, sheep-men and cattlemen who liked to start their day swapping stories over coffee at the Co-op Feed Store. Real people.
I got one of only two jobs advertised in the paper and set about working and recreating in a glorious sea of unspoiled BLM and National Forest lands…a far cry from Missouri’s privatized woods with their “Keep Out” signs. Colorado was similar in many respects to rural Arizona where I grew up...unpopulated, wide open, mountainous…just colder and snowier.
I took up long distance running in an effort curb a growing fondness for the effects of beer and to better cope with nagging sadness and anger left over from the sudden loss of my father. I soon discovered that there was neither enough miles in the county, nor endurance in my legs, for that. Only time can fill holes in hearts; miles and beer serve only to distract, fatigue and postpone.
Nowadays I return to Arizona in wintertime for its lush Sonoran Desert bounty and temperate climate. Chiricahua is near where I lived in the mid ‘50s…a time of Rockwellian innocence that I sorely miss. It reminds me of Dad, Mom and sister, Sally Jo...all long deceased. Sally Jo was beautiful. Nine years my senior, she would take me on overnight horseback rides into the mountains…campfires, rattlesnakes and coyotes howling through the night. We swam in ranch water tanks, filled by windmills, creaking in the breeze. Sweet Sally Jo passed in her mid 20s. Why?
If one digs deep, peels back layers of heartache and loss, they might realize how past experience affects choices made the rest of their lives…some for better, but generally for worse. Letting negative experiences guide life’s choices is tantamount to letting taste buds guide food choices…life-shortening, life-limiting, life-altering junk food for the soul. I ended up running from Missouri (a good thing) and walking away from a solid career at age 49 (time will tell). I wasn’t about to entrust my retirement dreams to The Universe.
Time changes us…again, for better and for worse. It smoothes rough edges on the inside while deepening wrinkles on the outside. Arizona's indescribable landscapes and precious family memories are both smooth and rough. It’s part of what makes me tick…the frame of reference I have been given to base choices upon, like it or not.
It’s Dad’s birthday today; I suppose that’s what spawned this nostalgic letter. He would have been 99. To remember is to honor; to forget is but loss upon loss.
Mark Johnson is a restless soul who lives in Ouray, Colorado with his wife, Bobbie. He is happiest when exploring the West's nooks and crannies, hiking, climbing and mountain biking. He authors two "wanderlust" based blogs: www.Artfulrvadventures.com and www.Boxcanyonblog.com.