August 31, 2006
It’s 10:30 p.m. You’re settled into a cabin, 20 miles from town. A fire is crackling in the stove; embers send a warm glow across the floor, through the bedroom door, and over your down comforter. All said, you’ve finished off a couple of bottles of wine, a few games of hearts, some excellent conversation with a few good friends, and one of the nicest evenings of the summer.Did I mention that it’s snowing outside, and it’s only August? Or, that there are eight kids, three of them your own, settled down and dreaming quietly upstairs in the loft? Your tired dog is nestled quietly and faithfully at the foot of the bed. You are cuddled up next to the person you always dreamed of spending a night like this with, and wonder: If you wrote it all down, would it read like a fairy tale?Instead of continuing in the moment, you pick up a pencil and pad, and write about it, knowing that it won’t come out any better than a photograph of a sunset. You realize that you started too soon, and the good thing is not enough to fill an entire column with, so you pause. Then you recall that the cabin is at 11,400 feet above sea level and the somnambulistic journey you are about to embark on will be a rough one:You’ll rest fitfully. You will experience weird dreams all night long. It will be a repeating cycle of traipsing outside to pee and then hurrying to fall asleep before nature’s next call.Under the best circumstances, you will contract a splitting headache by the middle of the night. But, this is your first night at the higher altitude. It’s always worst on the first night as your body struggles to acclimate.This triggers your recollection of the first time you came here. It was a Fourth of July party, years ago. You hadn’t planned on spending the night, but one bottle of wine led to another and pretty soon the hideously rough Jeep road seemed a little too smooth and wide to attempt driving on.The next thing you knew, you were plopping your dried-up contacts into a glass of well water and brushing your teeth with your finger while sucking on a Tic Tac, laughing about it with the best former girlfriend you ever had who ended up to be your present wife.Then there was the time you came up when the kids were small. They couldn’t get used to the thin air, either. You tried to get them in bed early. “Just five more minutes, Dad.” You sighed. One more of those pleas would have put you over the top. Letting them stay up and get tired didn’t work. They woke you up eight times that night, never sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a stretch.But, while nighttime plays tricks everywhere, a glorious daybreak always arrives up here. This morning the peaks and trees are glazed with snow. The brilliant sun is turning the frost on the windows into a bright, silvery sensation harmful to the eyes, yet pleasing to the soul. You get up early to prompt breakfast along so the others will wake to the smell of bacon and eggs frying and cowboy coffee brewing.Life is straightforward up here. You eat. You try to sleep. Your time is spent furthering relationships with family and friends. This effect of high altitude is kind. Life is as simple as it appears. Living is not its own distraction.After a leisurely breakfast that threatened and then obliterated lunch, everybody heads out for a hike. Your son climbs a small rise as everyone else rests. “Come on, Dad!” You climb up to meet him, but he’s already on the move, upward. You look back and the others are heading down, heeding the call of the warm deck back at the cabins.After awhile you suggest joining them. Your son is now in the throes of summit fever. “Just another five minutes, Dad,” he pleads. You sigh. One more of these might land you on the top.At the summit, the breath you couldn’t catch on the way up is taken away. The lack of air pressure draws emotion to the surface. You hug your son and can’t help believing that if everyone in the world could be standing here, seeing what you are seeing, feeling what you’re feeling, there would never be another war…. Just one more weird, high-altitude dream.Roger Marolt wonders if all of life’s pleasures aren’t simple. He’s contemplating this complexity at email@example.com.
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