“The day of “always starts with “the night before…”
Settle in, as this one might be a tad long…
Charlie, Max and I had planned to camp on Owl Creek Pass the night before, and maybe even get cleaned up in the creek. We were three days out, and I was in full Lazarus mode, as in “I stunketh”. But it was not to be, as a huge storm rolled in and the temps plummeted; an icy mountain stream sounds appealing at 91°, but 46°? Not so much.
So we drove into Montrose, only to find every motel that was dog-friendly to be totally booked. On a side note, we have found more times than not that “dog-friendly” translates as “yeah, your dog can stay, but you are going to pay a totally stupid amount for the privilege”.
Too late to go back to Owl Creek Pass, we tried Ridgway State Park; again, booked solid. But there were SHOWERS! As the gate was open but attendant long gone, I snagged a hot freebie. We then fled the scene of the crime to find a place to sleep in the back of the car.
The back of a Hyundai Kona SUV is not the ideal sleeping area for a 59 year old man and two rowdy dogs, but as it was pushing midnight, we didn’t care. Charlie wadded up next to my head, and MacDuff behind my knees before I could get myself situated, and in that claustrophobic condition is how I was compelled to spend the night.
Dawn broke to find the storm had passed . We headed over to Gateway only to be beguiled to cross Last Dollar Road towards Telluride instead. Last Dollar is a beautiful but rugged dirt road, much more suited to 4wd vehicles than a 2wd Kona with limited ground clearance, but you only live once.
But shortly after we left the asphalt, tragedy struck. A marmot darted from the underbrush directly beneath my tires, and I heard the sickening crunch in my gut. Anyone who knows me knows that I consider a marmot as my spirit animal, and I was crushed to see it’s unmoving body in my rear view mirror.
Remember this marmot, as he comes back into the story.
We eventually made it to a truly spectacular overlook high above Telluride. Not a soul was there, so the Charles and Duff were in the full flounce mode that can only be truly enjoyed far from civilization and at high altitude. I even got the mandolin out and was chonking away at “Arkansas Traveler”, when a truck pulled up. Realizing that this might look more than a little self-indulgent, I hurriedly stashed the mando back in the SUV.
What a great bunch of guys they turned out to be, a father and two grown sons out of Texas. Their trip to Colorado had a dual purpose: one, they were picking up the youngest son’s fiancee down in Cortez for the trip back to Texas, and two, they were at this particular spot to spread the wife and mother’s cremains.
Whoa, now. Hard reset.
As we talked, I found out that her name was Lee, that she had recently passed from cancer, and this spot was one of her favorites. I offered to record the ceremony on one of their phones so they could all take part. Or not, leaving them to their purpose if they wanted privacy. I didn’t want to intrude, but if I can help, I will.
The father jumped at the offer, and we were soon scoping out the perfect place due to light, the direction of the wind, and so on. This was when two Karen’s and their insignificant others showed up in their respective high-dollar SUVs. As they disembarked, they also unloaded a large dog on leash.
I guess you know what happened next: Charlie and Duff saw a new buddy and went over to say howdy and engage in a bit of spirited butt-sniffing.
On the sliding Scale of Karens, with 1: being a totally chill person like long time follower of this page Karen Brooks to 10, of the “I want to see the manager!” variety, this particular species of the Bleached Blonde Kolorado Karen was a solid 11. Maybe she was upset because her dog’s retractable leash got tangled up in her eight spindly legs, causing her to go skittering about demanding “put your dogs on a leash, SIR!” And it wasn’t so much what she said, but how she said it. It was literally dripping with passive-aggressive venom.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up, but I am happy to say that I initially kept my chill. Even though that we were many miles out in the back country and wasn’t about to put my dogs on a leash, I do realize that an advancing Charlie can be a bit intimidating. So there I was, apologizing profusely and telling her repeatedly that I would put my dogs in the Kona. I think that she mistook my conciliatory posturing as a sign of capitulation, but was not the case; I just wanted to de-esculate the situation.
So, I put the dogs in the car, and all was well with the world, until Macduff jumped out of the open window and scampered off after his new friend. Duff is about as imposing as Benji, but that didn’t matter to Karen; she actually shrieked at me this time: “I TOLD YOU TO PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH!!!”.
I am not passive, but I can be aggressive. Before I could stop myself, the words erupted like verbal diarrhea: “WELL, I’M TELLING YOU TO SHUT YOUR MOUTH! ” I will neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have added some additional dialogue, as
I truly don’t remember. But it was enough to shock everyone, including me, into stunned silence. Yikes, I thought; there’s four of them, one of me, and I do not cut the most imposing figure at 5’6″, wearing short britches and a pair of flip flops. But the gauntlet had been thrown, and if that meant go time, so be it.
But it didn’t. I was embarrassed by my tirade, and the foursome turned and walked away. Then I remembered the Texans that had witnessed the entire fiasco; this episode had surely dampened the spirit of the occasion.
The oldest son: where did you say you were from?
The father: well, you talk like you’re from Texas.
As the atmosphere was now distinctly uncomfortable, we figured it wouldn’t be long until we had the place to ourselves again; we would wait. And that’s how it happened, the other party soon stalking back to their vehicle while giving me the stinky side-eye; this time I kept my trap shut.
Besides, when you score a touchdown, you don’t want to give up yards on the kick off because of an excessive celebration penalty.
After a bit of banter to regain the right vibe, the father said that it was time. I recorded the three men taking turns spreading the cremains, the west wind swirling them across the valley to the east and home toward Texas. Then the dad said just a few words, and that was that.
Being a preacher’s kid for so long, I’ve been involved in so many funerals over the years that I should have “professional pall bearer” listed on my resume. But I have never witnessed a service in a church or funeral home setting that could compare to what I felt on that backcountry mountain top.
This kind of event will cause a shift in your paradigms. As we parted ways with the Texans and the dogs and I headed back towards civilization, I could not quit thinking about that marmot that I had hit earlier. It was an unavoidable accident, but it still felt wrong to just leave him laying in the middle of the dirt road. As a bit of conscience balm, I resolved to at least move him to a more suitable spot if he was still there when we got back.
But he wasn’t; he was gone. I’m sure some other critter, maybe a coyote or fox, had happened upon his remains and the circle of life continues. As I poked around looking for any tracks, I noticed what I initially thought was a wooden cross on the side of the road. Except that it wasn’t a cross, but two seemingly randomly placed pieces of dead fall, pure white aspen branches against the greenery of the mountain sage.
And that was enough for me.
We be of one blood, ye and I.