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Today is January 23, 2018

Outdoors

A strange encounter of great benefit

A strange encounter of great benefit

Snow progresses downslope with each passing day, above. High passes can be brutal when cold winds howl. But they are grand locales for contemplation. Photo: Tony Kinton

It seems I was much younger that day an aging interloper walked up uninvited. I guessed him 70, give or take a year or two either side. He sported a ragged felt hat pulled low, no doubt boxing in a balding head. Grey sideburns and a half-moon rim of bushy hair stood in stark contrast to what I concluded was likely underneath that old hat. Chin whiskers were, like that rim and those sideburns, grey.

“What are you thinking?” His voice was kind enough, but the last thing I wanted was some stranger coming to my quiet spot and quizzing me about my thoughts. “Do you have troubles?”

He was an incessant sort and determined to draw me into his mysterious aura.

“I suppose everyone has troubles from time to time.” I was shocked at my response, but even more shocked that I had spoken at all.

I immediately found myself thinking that I should have simply ignored his probing and told him soundly that I was content being alone and thinking what I was thinking, and that I would be much obliged if he would simply drift off down the trail and leave me to my mental ramblings.

“I can’t see that as being much of your concern,” I offered, feeling bothered by such a curt rebuttal. He smiled, a curious wrinkle of time and compassion twisting those unruly whiskers. I tried but failed to remove my eyes from his.

“Well, I guess that’s true, at least the part about troubles,” he noted. “Troubles are a part of everyone’s life. We can’t do much about some of them, like those associated with losing through death those we love or our own aging. Things like that are just a part of living. But those troubles we create through our own behavior we can do something about, and what we can do is guard against creating them in the first place. You ever think about it that way?”

My mind began to whirl, engulfed in this insightful serendipity.   

“Oh, I don’t suppose I have. But you said part of what I said was true. What part was not true?” He had my curiosity stirred.

“That part about it being of no concern to me. Maybe it’s not, but I can tell you for certain that I am concerned. I’m concerned about folks like you, for I was like you at one time. Young, full of spunk, lots of unfulfilled dreams. But most of all full of troubles and the questions surrounding those troubles. So it may not be any of my business, but it is my concern. I’d like to offer my assistance.” He stopped talking.

“I thank you, but I don’t feel up to listening to your advice or seeking your assistance.” That’s what I said, but down deep there was nothing I wanted more. This old man had my attention.

“Now don’t go putting too much weight in how you feel, especially about listening or seeking. Feelings are generally not too reliable.” He again paused.

“Maybe not, but I don’t feel….”

“Go to the mountains.” He interrupted my attempt at ending this disturbing line of conversation.

“The mountains?” I couldn’t avoid the question.

“Yes, but not just any mountains. Go to those that possess a raw ambiance, those rugged mountains of the West. And while we’re at this going thing, make it Montana or Wyoming. Big mountains. Mountains that are wild and unforgiving, even foreboding. Be careful and don’t take foolish chances, but go to the big mountains.

“Why?” Again I questioned, not really expecting or even wanting a viable answer.

“To face and deal with your questions,” he said.

“And what do you suggest I do when I get to those mountains you speak of so fondly?” I asked.

He proffered that curious smile again, rubbing his stubbled chin all the while.

“Watch that first snow of autumn come to the High Country. Embrace it. Let it transform your very core. Notice how it creeps downward from the peaks as days go by. See it fluff up on the spruce and hemlock, transforming each into a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

“And go upward to the high passes where winds buffet and blast and chill. But don’t cover your face and turn your back on the gusts. Rather, face them. Look them in the eyes. It will be painful, but it will be rewarding. And listen to the moans of those gusts. Listening is too often neglected in this world, so listen intently. Their cries are not unlike the pangs of living, but they can be endured and you made stronger.”

Suddenly, he was gone. I stood, startled. This time, however, I noticed a pronounced stiffness in my knees and an unfamiliar chill on my head. Had I in this meeting been the young participant gathering unsought advice or the aging teacher imparting that advice? Could it be I had been both? A strange and beneficial encounter this was.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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