Previously blogged May 17, 2005
Saturday a recently acquired friend and I revisited one of the sites I spent a lot of time puzzling over during the search for the lost gold mine. The place was the focus of the ’98 search and a good many years prior to that. Sometimes it amazes me how many times I climbed and unclimbed the west face of that mountain, always finding something new and puzzling. I spent most of a month camped at the top, friends coming in for a week or so, then heading back to their lives elsewhere without finding what we were looking for, but finding enough adventure, fellowship and mountain air for a while and remember as one of the good times.This was Jim’s first time up there. We went in mainly to look at a rock pillar that’s peeling away from a cliff face.
It’s a formation that fascinated a man I’ve come to know awfully well by his work; a man I never met, but whom I followed around that mountain puzzling over what he did, how he did it and why he did it. A man who lived and died 150 years ago, roughly. A man who knew a gamble when he saw one, went into a canyon spang in the middle of Apache country at a time when the best he could hope for if he was a quick death, or if his luck was bad, hanging upside down over a slow fire.
I’ve been wearing the arrowhead that almost certainly killed him hanging from a leather thong around my neck for a decade or more. The ruin a few charred logs high, a long-tom sluice he carved with an axe out of a three-foot diameter log, a 400 pound rock he chiseled down to use as an arrastra and a hundred or so signs and symbols he made on rocks, along with his various diggings are all that’s left to tell what kind of man he was.
A gambler, he was, gambling on being caught by Apaches, gambling a broken leg in a place where such a thing was sure death. A man who believed in himself so thoroughly that in that setting that he pecked away at the base of a 50 ton pillar of rock trying to get at what was underneath until it gives a man the fantods even today to walk beneath it.
One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating as I watched Orion chasing the Pleiades across the night sky to the background music of wind in the treetops is the thought of how a man of that sort would feel about a world where low-level risk-taking is a criminal offense.
A time when edging the nose of a vehicle onto the pavement without fastening the seat belt probably won’t get you hurt, but it will almost certainly get you a conversation with an armed pair of mirror sunglasses. A time when risk is defined in how many years it might take you to get cancer from whatever you’re eating or smoking. When excessive gambling is betting the grocery money at the blackjack table.
I wonder if he’d have played a wheel, or just picked a few numbers that suited him and bought a hundred tickets with the same six numbers on them, going for broke on something he believed in, the way he did in life.
One of the ways we define who and what we are includes what we’re willing to give up to travel around the sun a few more times. That guy on the mountain wasn’t inclined to give up much.