‘To labor and to wait’
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
The thing about getting older is that there is less time to waste.
In my younger days, I spent sunny afternoons in my stepmom’s hammock. I stared up through the high branches of the big oak tree. Green leaves flittered in the breeze like frogs swimming in a cool pond of blue sky on a hot day. The great arms of the oak spread out above me and I imagined how I could climb so high if I wanted to.
Instead, I dozed off and dreamed of granite summits higher than any treetop. A couple years earlier, I had my first rock climbing lessons. As I snoozed in the shade at age 12, climbing was everything I thought about.
Once a week, my dad took me out for a climbing day. I lived with him in Longmont every summer, so we usually went someplace in the Flatirons or Rocky Mountain National Park.
Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain was my favorite. Milky domes of fine granite overlooked an alpine meadow and the Diamond of Longs Peak to the south. I never wanted to leave (until a lightning storm came along, anyway). The skyline of snow and rock tickled ideas like wind over grass.
(Morning trivia: Lumpy Ridge can be seen from the Stanley Hotel and is in a scene of “The Shining.”)
There were so many climbs to do, I couldn’t stop dreaming of all the adventures to come. I read the guidebooks cover to cover and then all over again. I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come back around.
Meanwhile, my dad was busy trying to instill a work ethic in me. He was remodeling the house and enlisted my help at $4.25 an hour. If I didn’t work hard enough I wouldn’t earn a climbing day. I rarely worked as hard as he wanted me to, but I always did just enough to earn a day on the rock, and every paycheck was spent on climbing gear.
After finishing a day’s work, I would lie in the hammock, dreaming of the great heights I would reach in the years ahead. I remembered the sweet smell of the pines and crisp tundra from the week before, and longed to pierce that experience a little deeper each week. The rest of my life seemed as far away as the leaves atop the oak tree.
College came and went, along with my first real job and the freedom of a bachelor’s life. For years I climbed three or four days a week. It was almost all that mattered. The lifestyle grew lonely, though, and climbing eventually seemed less important.
Now, I’m back to climbing once a week and I’m a little tormented. Part of me is dying while the other part is growing.
An innocence struggles to live in my belief. It is a belief that tomorrow will be better than today. As I’ve aged, however, life has only gotten harder.
I think I learned my dad’s lesson, just well enough: I will never have enough fun. Who can? But if I can be tough enough to grow up, perhaps I’ll still manage to have some fun along the way.
In a grown-up life, you simply have less to dream about than a fresh child. So work is what you do. Each day, our bark grows a little thicker and our branches a bit longer. We all grow up, but what does each of us grow toward?
Rock climbing has taught me a lot, but it doesn’t have as much to teach me now as it did before. At some point it becomes little more than a pleasant distraction, which can only take me so high.
My childhood is done, and one day, my life will be, too. The only option is to grow. The only question is what to work toward.
I’m working to keep that innocence alive.
“Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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