Roger Marolt: Forget The Fountain of Youth, drink from a mountain stream
Life is shorter than I thought. The kids are grown. The “new” house has become a receptacle of family artifacts. A few weeks ago a falling cottonwood almost flattened the garage, one of many things that don’t happen in a young man’s life. Time flies when you are post-midlife crisis. It is the way things sway as the winds of time blow, reminding us we are but leaves turning yellow on the big family tree.
In the blink of an eye my journey on this planet is about two-thirds over. What is yet to come may be like a wink at a baby in a carriage pushed by its mother briskly enough to meet an exercise goal in a day too hectic to consider a yoga sesh. Maybe tomorrow.
It’s not a curse. It’s a blessing. A life passing quickly is a sign we are seeing what we need to see and hanging with good people. It’s not necessarily true that only the good die young, it just feels that way if you live right.
What I know now is that I must triage my desires down to an important few. I wish I realized this was the best strategy all along. Did I really have to be so meticulous raking the yard? What again was the point in keeping track of the miles I rode my bike each summer? How many of the zillions of things I worried about actually happened and, of the few that did, how many turned out as bad as imagined?
I remember when trekking through mountain ranges was my identity. The feeling that I carried everything I needed on my back was fresh, raw, unprocessed, the richest nourishment for growing a soul. I tread lightly and moved briskly. It was a rush, empowerment perfected. All I needed out there was food, water and basic shelter. The views were great, but were secondary to what boiling life down to its basic elements afforded peace of mind.
Now I see that life is like a backpack. In my youth, I bought the big one with lots of compartments. The top section expanded to fit more in. There were loops sewn on the outside to tie things to and netting to shove water bottles and power bars into where they would be handy when I didn’t feel like stopping for a minute to catch my breath.
Like most, I got the kind with well-padded, sturdy shoulder straps. There was a wide belt to shift more weight onto my hips. There were all kinds of adjustments to balance the load so I could carry more. You pay extra for these features. But, it’s worth it out on the trail, at least that’s what the salesperson told me.
Then I filled that backpack with a 30-degree-below-zero sleeping bag. I got a stove that could boil two pots at once. I had a headlamp and an extra battery. My clothing was waterproof, breathable and tough. I got a good knife, reliable compass and water purifier. You should have seen the boots! You may as well get it all. It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. That’s really what they said.
What I know now is that time is the incredible fabric that life’s backpack is made from. It is elastic and expandable. We can shove more stuff into it than we should. We can fill it until the seams strain and the stitching begins to resemble the bared teeth of a ravenous wolf hungry for our sanity.
Then the load gets heavy and we weary. We lower our heads and steel our resolve. Our focus turns to just moving our feet and away from beauty around us. With every step the destination seems farther instead of closer. The mind begins to consider shadowy camping spots barely out of sight of the parking lot rather than gorgeous ones up where the sun rises early and sets late. In the end we pitch our tent behind a rock on uneven ground because we are exhausted.
So, my advice to the young if they would take it: Travel light, throw the maps away, drink from the streams, improvise instead of accumulate. In short, don’t pack a load that slows you down and wears you out. There is not as much daylight left as you believe and there is so much you have to see. Bring along those you love. Life is great, if you let it lead.
Roger Marolt loves cresting a mountain pass and being blown away by what lies on the other side. Email at email@example.com.
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