And when they loom large
Decades ago-back in the ’60’s and ’70’s-I was quite the outdoorsman. Technical rock climbing. Big game hunter. Fly fishing. Winter camping. Fourteeners. Backpacking and mountain biking. The Colorado Trail, which I regret to say, I never completed.
For a host of reasons, primarily age and normal wear and tear, that’s all come to an end: this getting old stuff isn’t for sissies. But it was fun while it lasted. And, looking back on it, I was fortunate to get out in one piece.
One of the guys I did a lot of those adventures with was Henry Gibb. Always upbeat, a dark bushy beard, a Vermont backwoods transplant, Henry was indefatigable. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep up with him.
One winter, we decided to ski into 14,421 foot Mount Harvard, spend a night at the base, and climb the peak the next day. Hardly anything about the trip was short of crazy. A night in a ramshackled mining cabin that did nothing to keep out either the snow or bitter cold. Henry breaking trail up the steep side of the valley at the crack of dawn, trying our best to warm up after a long night shivering in our sleeping bags. Despite the lodge pole pines that grew thick as grass, at one point the snow slumped, giving off a resounding “whoomp,” making us uncomfortably aware that an avalanche was not beyond the realm of possibility. And which, if it had run, would have ground us up and spit us out. Not to be found ’til spring-if then.
Nonetheless, we made the summit before noon on what turned out to be a blue bird day. Need I add that we had the place to ourselves on back in those days?
To save the planet
Henry had, on occasion, what I considered eccentric views.
“You know,” Henry began as we drove south along the frigid waters of the Arkansas River in my used, ’65 VW Bug, “I’ve been thinking how much better it would be if we were all a lot smaller. Say, six inches tall.”
“Interesting idea,” I replied, eye brows raised, looking over briefly while still trying to keep us from plunging into the river. “But, how would that make things better?” Knowing Henry, I expected it had something to do with the environment. But this one was a puzzler.
“Well,” he answered, “think of how much less we would need in terms of natural resources. The water. The air. The steel and copper. Everything.”
“True,” I said, “but it’s pretty hard to see how that’s going to happen.”
A prophet without honor
But wouldn’t you know, Henry pretty much nailed it. At least in Hollywood.
During one of the apparently interminable legs of my flight to Greece last spring I was desperate for any sort of diversion. I managed to stumble on the movie Downsizing with Matt Damon. And what to my wondering eyes did I see but that Henry’s wild idea has been translated onto the silver screen. Not that the film made any money. Or that it got great reviews. But nonetheless, the film’s premise was exactly what Henry suggested: shrink humans to clean up the environment.
And, who knows, perhaps Henry will someday nail it in the real world. Stranger things, I suppose, have happened.
The ties that no longer bind
It’s been years-no, decades-since I’ve been in touch with Henry. I miss those hair brained adventures. And not just for the adrenaline jolt. But for the camaraderie that those experiences engendered.
I feel largely at fault for the rupture. It was, I’m sure, politics. And probably, to some extent, it was my bipolar illness talking. At times we had angry disagreements. About what specific issues? Who knows? And who cares? But I leaned right. And Henry leaned left. And the ties that bound us first frayed. And then broke.
And so, Henry, where ever you are, here’s My Grown Up Christmas List for you:
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list
(With, of course, a tip ‘o the hat to Amy Grant.)