Compañeros

This was our cat Poco’s fourteenth Christmas. I checked and this makes him somewhere around 72 in human years. Not so old, I thought, but the recent years haven’t been kind to him. Arthritis holds him back in many ways from being the active guy he was. But you don’t need good hips to be a good companion, and when he joins me on the futon in the early morning hours as I type these things we are both ageless. When no one is asking us to leap over hedges or scramble over tall fences we are as we have always been.

I have an affection for the word “companion.” It means someone or something that you spend time with or travel with. In general it exists in the same universe as the word “friendship.” To some, friendship implies mutual obligations. If that is true, companionship is the easier pair of shoes to wear. You just hang out together because you like to do so.

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There was a repeated phrase in the historical novel Lord Grizzly, by Frederick Manfred, that has stuck with me in the fifty years that have passed since I first read the book. It is the story of Hugh Glass, a mountain man who was savaged by a grizzly while on a wilderness trek. When the two men he was traveling with found him, they thought him a dead man, and left him behind. He did not die, however, but dragged himself forward on an epic journey to seek vengeance against the two people he believed to have abandoned him. The phrase he kept repeating in his mind was: Oh, them haunt compañeros. Basically, Oh, what poor companions.

As I look back, I can see times where I was both a good and an indifferent companion to others. Maybe even a haunt one a time or two. There is room for a lot of improvement.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Grandson Ethan and his friend Sian spent Sunday night with us on their trip back home after a visit to Durango. Nasty weather in the mountains (heavy snow, limited visibility, icy roads, and wind gusts up to 80 mph) had driven them to us. (It’s an ill wind that blows no good … and all that.) To avoid the passes they had first driven west from Durango and then up through eastern Utah. It made the trip way longer, but safer.

They still had to get to Steamboat Springs from here, and weather in that direction wasn’t much more attractive. More drifting snow and ice. All of this activity around us and not a flake on the ground here in the Grand Valley.

Colorado is really two states – one below 7000-8000 feet and the other one above that. Trouble is, you often have to drive through both of them to get anywhere. Our home is at 5900 feet, and it is no accident that we live here, rather than at those more picturesque altitudes. Choosing where to put down our roots nearly eight years ago involved considering a lot of things. Since we moved to be closer to Robin’s kids and their offspring, being somewhere central to them was our premier criterion. After that it was cost of living, real estate climate, nearness to recreation, and finally – weather patterns.

For instance we were exploring the town of Gunnison which seemed charming and a really good place for us until we learned that through some meteorologic/topographical quirk it was consistently the coldest town in the entire state. Scratch Gunnison, we thought to ourselves. No way. It might seem that we made the wimpier choice, but whenever we choose to experience something other than our moderate climate here in Paradise, we don’t have to go very far. In minutes we can be as miserable as we want to be.

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Colorado’s first avalanche death of the season occurred this past weekend. It occurred in the Front Range, not far from Fort Collins. A backcountry skier was completely buried, and even though his locator beacon was working and his companion dug him out as quickly as possible … it wasn’t quick enough. Chasing those “I am the only one in the world and I have all this to myself” moments has its hazards. The avalanche casualty lists each year are not all composed of only the ignorant and incautious. Even very knowledgeable and careful people perish this way. It seems impossible to get the risks down to zero.

I will never be buried in an avalanche. Let it be a comfort to you knowing that you are never going to have to come into the wilderness to find my frozen corpus. My personal physician, Dr. Amarilla Quarterpounder, has put it quite bluntly: “Unless you are more foolish than I think you are, and you are already at nine on a scale of ten, in wintertime Colorado you should never go near anywhere whose name begins or ends with the letters b.a.c.k.c.o.u.n.t.r.y. If you do, please do not call me as I am not professionally available to nitwits of that degree.”

I trust her judgement in this and plan to follow her advice to the letter.

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Some people have sports heroes … I don’t . I have photography heroes. One man has occupied my personal top spot for decades now, and that is Jim Brandenburg. He takes the kind of pictures that you can stand in front of and marvel, both at content and technique. He took today’s header photograph of the Boundary Waters, for instance. If you turn loose the romance monster in your soul you can look at it and feel the call and wish for spring, a paddle, and a good boat gliding under you.

There are big and little adventures possible in this place called the “BW.” I have had some of both and treasure them all equally.

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