Roger Marolt: The genie in a bottle of Jim Beam looks like Uncle Steve
It glimmered and caught my eye. I could have walked the same steps a hundred times and missed it each one. It was a smooth piece of glass, and I knelt to have a closer look. I brushed dirt from around it and unearthed a bottle. Most of it was covered with about 4 inches of soil. After exhuming it from its grave, I discovered the magical genie once inside was Jim Beam. It looked sort of interesting and kind of old, so I put it in my pack for closer examination back home.
I was walking down Burnt Mountain with my son and his girlfriend. It was a wedding Saturday for some close friends, and we decided to get a little extra out of it before it was time to get dressed and celebrate them. We wanted to beat the predicted heavy monsoonal thundershowers so we set out up Long Shot ski run at Snowmass sometime after the sun kissed the top of the mountain, but still before the thick dew had dripped and dried from the waist-deep grass and wildflowers that we haven’t seen the likes of for a few summers, at least.
Anyway, getting back to the dirty, old bottle — I felt a little silly about carrying it down the mountain, but I was curious and, if nothing else, I was removing some trash that another visitor to the forest long ago had left to degrade over the next few centuries.
At home we made some sandwiches and, as my hiking companions ate and relaxed in the backyard, I ate and Googled. It turns out the bottle is only kind of old. It was made in 1965, according to the code of numbers molded into the bottom of it. From experience, I know surviving 56 years is not nothing, especially if you can manage it without so much as a scratch or chip, even more so if you spent most of that time outside in the elements at an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet, on the side of a mountain, being slowly buried in the dirt you sat in.
I started speculating what was going on near the top of Burnt Mountain in 1965. Not much, I figured. I am pretty sure there wasn’t anyone skiing and, if there was, it was likely much lower down, crossing Government Trail on cross-country touring skis.
I found the bottle a few yards below a ditch that runs, maybe remarkably, depending on your perspective and knowledge of ditch purposes, from a spring near the top of Elk Camp across Burnt Mountain and eventually spreading out down through the grassy pastures in the Owl Creek area. My great uncle, Steve, once owned a nice little spread in that area where he summered cattle, grew a little alfalfa and enjoyed getting away from town with my great aunt, Polly, to a little cabin they built in the aspen woods by a beautiful pond.
I figure somebody, either on foot or maybe horseback, may have been up there checking the ditch for blockage or breeches. It might make sense that they had packed a bottle of hooch and snacks along with the necessary tools for the job. Maybe Uncle Steve?
I also remembered my great uncle and aunt telling stories around camp fires up at their cabin, about all the adventures they had hiking up and around Burnt Mountain just for recreation’s sake. To the formative version of myself, that and walking on the moon seemed to be things of equal standing in the hierarchy of adventures. In retrospect, those relatives may have been at least as hearty as any space traveler but only having available to them more earthly opportunities to explore.
My great uncle was a character shaped by raw practicality. He rolled his own cigarettes and sat on his haunches because his overalls where usually dirty and there was no sense in messing up a chair. When his cigarette burned down, he tapped the ash into his rolled up pant cuffs. As I recalled this, images flooded back. I remember he loved his bourbon. I needed to confirm what I knew. I texted my brothers: “Did Uncle Steve drink Jim Beam?”
“Mornin’, noon, and night,” came the reply.
I wrapped my hand around the smooth sides of the bottle and wondered: Could it have been Uncle Steve’s? By circumstantial evidence, motive and opportunity have been established, but that’s not proof. No matter, it’s pretty darn cool that it very well could have been.
Roger Marolt misses the good ‘ol people more than the good ‘ol days, although he realizes you couldn’t have one without the other. Email at email@example.com.
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The events of our lives we toast in beloved restaurants are the same events we recall over and over again in all different times and places. They never die.