When I think of Dad, I think of horse poo
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
When I was a little kid, between the ages of 3 and 5, I was terribly afraid of horse poop. A pile of pooey apples would stop me in the middle of a wide trail in the woods. There would be no going around the stuff, even if it wasn’t steaming. As far as I could see, for a long time, the only solution was for my dad to pick me up and place me on the other side of the stinky obstacle. I’d stepped in dog doo plenty of times, but for some reason horse dung seemed scary. Yet I even knew how to ride a horse and did so often. Whatever my fear was, my mom and dad didn’t give up, and I remember my father standing at my side, always there to help me face my fear.
When I was a little older, Dad would take me fishing at a pond that was near our house, at the end of a dirt road surrounded by small ranches. A resident gray goose I called “Graybie” was king of the roost there, presiding over a group of ducks that tooled around the pond. Sometimes I would be fishing and Graybie would run at me, hissing and threatening to bite. I remember squealing in fear at least once. Then Dad leaped onto the scene and swatted the pesky bird with his 9-foot fly rod, sending it on a hasty retreat to the water. It was a perfect demonstration of how I could handle that problem for myself in the future.
By the time I was 15, I was the one saving our butts in the mountains, though I was also the one who got us into the situations. When I started rock climbing at age 12, I was spending summers with Dad near Boulder, and I pretty much forced him into the sport as well.
At the beginning of our climbing days together, I think he went along feeling he could provide a watchful eye to my exploits. However, as I learned and became more advanced, he relied on me to teach him and thus relied on my judgment as well.
It’s hard for me to imagine many dads who would literally trust their teenage sons with their lives. My dad did, and even in moments when he shouldn’t have.
For instance, when I was 15, I insisted we attempt the Diamond of Longs Peak in a storm. Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s most famous 14,000-foot peaks, and the Diamond is a 900-foot wall of pink granite that sits entirely above 13,000 feet on Longs’ northeast face. The wall was even illegal for climbers to attempt until 1960.
But there we were, Dad and I, going up the involved approach and onto the Diamond in wet conditions with one 50-meter rope. Since I hadn’t ever had to retreat from a climb before, I was confident everything would work out just fine with 150 feet of rope.
Of course, the clouds and sleet swarmed over us once we were halfway up and we had to rappel. I rappelled first and soon found myself dangling on the ends of the rope, looking at a blank wall and wondering what I was going to anchor myself to. I found an old piece of yellow webbing tied around a constriction in a small crack. I clipped into it and called “Off rappel!” Dad came down and clipped into it. Then we pulled our rope from above and threaded it through the stale webbing as well for another rappel.
Obviously, we made it out that day, but the memory has awakened me in the middle of the night years later as I contemplate how easily that webbing could have torn on the edge of the jagged little crack – holding a combined 350-some pounds – and sent us hurtling backward to the talus almost 1,000 feet below. My dad even went back to the Diamond with me three more times … and the second time we were mildly electrocuted by lightning, though that was a freak storm and not our fault. The point is, Dad has always been there for me.
I laughed at myself out loud when I was hiking alone on a trail in Yosemite National Park about two years ago. I’d been traveling alone for many days and went for a walk in the woods when I caught myself pausing at a massive heap of horse dung that totally covered the trail to Mirror Lake. Apparently, after everything I’ve been through, I was still hesitant to step in the crap. Dad wasn’t there to carry me through, but I thought of him and waded in. The stuff was dry but it was thick and mushy under foot, and fat, black flies buzzed around it in the hot day. Not long after crossing the moat of poo, it came to mind how there are some stinky things in life that can’t be avoided and how many of those things, really, are just heaps of horse apples.
Derek Franz is also glad his dad taught him how to pick out a good pair of boots. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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