Couple years ago, I was watching something on television and the state motto of West Virginia was mentioned.
I grabbed a pad and pencil and jotted it down.
“Montani Semper Liberi,” I wrote down. The next day, I found a scrap of oak out in my workshop, fired up my router, and carved those words into the wood. Then I painted the inset letters dark green, stained the piece of oak, and routed a nice edge on it.
Two weeks later, I screwed it onto a joist above the front door of the cabin a friend and I built way up in the mountains of Southern Wyoming, where I’ve been spending my summers for the last four decades.
Translation: “Mountaineers (are) always free.”
Any day now, I’ll get word that the snow at 9,800 feet along the front range of the Rocky Mountains has melted from a winter high of as much as 120 inches – a roof-busting 10 feet – to something far less. Then one day soon, after some 80-degree days here in town, an email will arrive that someone has broken through the drifts, cleared the downed trees, and arrived at our little community of cabins.
Soon after that, I’ll make my way up the rough Forest Service road to open the cabin for my 40th summer.
For me, it’s like Christmas.
Could I really have been coming to this beautiful place, where you can just about touch the Milky Way most summer nights, for 40 years? Could two guys, old college roommates, build a cabin out of nothing more than downed trees, sweat, and beer-fed determination?
Most amazing, could 40 years have gone by? I was 30 when I bought the acre of land from an old rancher. That would make me, wait for it, 70 years old. Too old to be doing much more than tending the fire at a cabin way up in the mountains. Way too old to do it all over again.
Seventy is an age when you’ve already lost some folks along the way – the boss who once advised me to “first do what’s right, then worry about the money.” Parents. The close friend, an artist, who made a living turning stunning bowls out of exotic wood. Guys I worked with. The husband of a friend, a judge, who got cancer and died way too soon, leaving this message: “Don’t wait to pursue your dreams. It’s later than you think.”
And we have close friends dealing with all kinds of ailments, ranging from the merely aggravating to the truly life threatening.
My wife and I have been lucky. She had two cancer scares in 2018 – one turned out to be benign, the other excised, radiated and watched closely. She had a knee replaced. With me, it has all been mechanical repairs – a torn quad, two mangled rotator cuffs, and something called a triple laminectomy and fusion. (That last one was a lot of fun, let me tell you.) But none of it stood in the way of doing the things we really wanted to do. And for me, that included making my way up the mountain every June.
There is, however, the feeling – at 70 years of age – judging by the experiences of those our age, that a life-threatening shoe could drop at any time. Better enjoy ourselves now. Better spend some of the money we’ve been holding on to. Better smell the ocean one more time. Better breathe the mountain air. Better smell those lilac bushes.
They say God doesn’t throw anything at you that you can’t handle, and I’m pretty sure that’s why grand children were invented. Just about the time a guy could get pretty negative about aches and pains, and what lies ahead, along comes a grand daughter who says, “Love you! Mean it!” Who loves to make cookies with her Grandpa. And her brand new little sister, who looks with absolute wonder at every new thing around her.
Shoes will drop, we all know.
Someday soon I’ll show my grand daughters the cabin Gramps and his old college friend built way up in the mountains.
And there will be two brand new little mountaineers…
Dave Simpson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org