Carpe Diem

Carpe diem is defined as living for the moment and enjoying the present. It’s Latin for “seize the day.” I’ve lived in cool, colorful Colorado now for over 32 years. The state is full of carpe diem people. Or, I should say the mountainous portions of the state are full of “seize the day” people. Unless you’ve just come out of a long coma or you’ve recently moved back to earth from the backside of the moon, the name Aron Ralston should definitely ring a bell. Aron is the 27-year-old mountaineer from Aspen, Colorado who went hiking in Canyonlands National Park just south of Moab, Utah and due to circumstances, had to cut off his right arm just above the wrist with a very dull pocketknife. The surgeons who cleaned him up a bit later humorously said it’s a good thing he’d decided not to become a doctor: His surgery skills left a little to be desired. While negotiating the walls of a very deep, very narrow canyon, an 800-pound boulder shifted just a tiny bit and pinned Aron’s right hand against the canyon wall. Aron had tested the boulder . . . but it moved anyway. After being pinned for five days (he ran out of water the third day), Aron decided if he were going to live he’d have to cut off his right arm. In order to do this he had to first break the two arm bones just above his wrist. This would then make it easier to sever his arm. After accomplishing this feat he repelled down the cliff he was hanging from and walked 6 miles back to the area where his truck was parked. Four miles into the hike back to his truck he met a couple of hikers who gave him water and re bandaged his wound. They escorted him the remaining two miles where a helicopter eventually took him to a hospital in Moab and then on to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado. Aron left Aspen on a one-day turn around hike, rock-climbing excursion. He went alone. This is not a strange phenomenon for the folks who live out here in the Rocky Mountain West. When members of the national press were interviewing people from this part of the world, the press were astounded that no one thought Aron’s decision to go alone was foolish. Hard as the press tried they could hardly find anyone that agreed with them. That’s because “it’s different” out here. A great many of the people who’ve relocated “out west” still posses the same genes that fueled Manifest Destiny lo those many years ago. And believe me, lots of these people have jumped into this lifestyle with all four feet. In a nutshell these people take risks. They not only take risks they seek risks: They seize the day. They opt for more of a wilderness experience than one would find in more populated areas. They don’t mind not having neighbors. They’re in the mountains because of fewer people, fresh air, wind in their hair, clear skies, etc. Plus, they like being alone. They like solitude. Once on a five-day backpacking trek, being alone afforded me one of the grandest experiences of my life. In August 1991, I was backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico and was approaching an outcropping of rocks right at timberline (12,000′ elevation). I kept thinking those rocks look a bit different. However, I kept following the trail that was leading me right toward the interesting formation. Upon arriving at the top I discovered these were not rocks at all but Rocky Mountain big horn sheep. They never moved. I walked right through a herd of seven of these magnificent animals. I even had to remove my backpack and put on my rain gear and they still didn’t move. I was not more than 15 feet away from the nearest sheep. I was honored to have experienced such a thing as well as being extremely pleased that they were not afraid or wary of me. That’s kind of like it must have been back in the old days. That night I camped in a beautiful basin and liked it so much I spent the next day and night there. Being in a truly solitary situation is an experience I would recommend anyone. You quickly learn how insignificant you really are in this big beautiful world. I’ve just finished reading The Holy Road by Michael Blake. It’s the second book in a trilogy. The first book was Dances with Wolves. FYI: The holy road was the name given the transcontinental railroad by the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapapho, etc. This railroad divided the vast American buffalo herd, which of course began the demise of the Native Peoples of America. The epilogue of The Holy Road is an interview in which Blake relayed an interesting bit of data relating to captives: both white and Native American. “But yes, there were a lot of captives. My Kiowa friend tells me they have a special name for the descendants of white captives. If you look at the records, after a year or so, the whites normally didn’t try to escape anymore. The Indians captured by the whites never stopped trying to escape. In fact, the white captives who were taken back often tried to return to the tribe who’d captured them. There’s a hint of something there. Their lives were primitive and brutal but something worked.” The mountain people are a lot like this quote from Michael Blake. As I’ve mentioned they’re different. They’re very independent. It was right for them to move here. Most men have mustaches and beards and both sexes have long hair. But, they’re mountain people and mountain people have been in these mountains now for almost 200 years. Some would tag them as hippies but the hippies have all gone back home to take over their family’s bank in Minneapolis or Boston. They were just tourists passing through. Just so you won’t think Aron Ralston’s story is unique here’s another event that happened awhile back. Ten years ago there was a man from Fort Collins, Colorado who was fishing alone at a high mountain lake up close to Rocky Mountain National Park and got caught in a sudden snowstorm. His left leg became pinned by a boulder as he was vacating the storm. He eventually had to cut off his own left leg at the knee, crawl down to his car and drive himself to the emergency room. This event never made the national news to the extent Aron’s story did. But, nevertheless’it happened and to those of us who’ve chosen to live here, it’s not all that hard to understand. Thought for the day: “Everyday I beat my own previous record for number of consecutive days I’ve stayed alive.” Mickey Smith lives on the edge at the 7,160 foot elevation mark on Fruitland Mesa in west central Colorado and believes that liking one’s own company is not all that bad of an idea.

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