Another Birthday


I woke depressed. Put a bit of Bailey’s in my morning tea…thought about crawling back into bed with a bad case of the blues but pulled on my snow pants and boots instead. Early morning hike uphill in old snow; I followed previous boot tracks, searched for sun, purpose, and answers. Sun up. Soul down. A gamut of emotions wadded like a mess of yarn the cat played with. Thoughts of time…how strangely elusive and yet evasive time can be. Just a few seconds can change everything. A few years can pass in a blink and a couple deep breaths.Two years ago today, I was climbing ice with three of my favorite people down in Cody, Wyoming. We’d really whooped it up with friends the previous night, celebrating ice and life. Our spirited group danced crazy and wild in the spinning dots of a disco ball at Cassie’s, the big cowboy bar. I got carded twice…not bad for the eve of my 40th birthday. The skinny bright-eyed bartender with dyed hair, wicked tight jeans, and a red lipstick grin pointed me out to every lady who came in, “Would you believe she is 40 years old?!!” The women looked me over in good natured disbelief. One woman commented that ice climbing must be “good for the skin.” I laughed and remarked that hanging off frozen waterfalls in a biting cold winter wind is a recipe for chapped lips and ruby-red numb frozen cheeks. Must say, it’s hard to imagine it could be good for the skin. A tall cowboy bought our festive whirlwind gang a round of kamikaze shots. We left the bar at closing time, piled (was it seven?) bodies into Joe’s little car. I had the most room in the driver’s seat. Good tunes blared; Joe drummed on the dashboard as if he were on a stage powered by an admiring crowd of thousands. No one wanted to call it a night, so I took them for a ride. First I aimed for the hills above town. Stars and bluffs with town lights below, then back downtown to spin cookies in the cemetery before a jaunt down the highway into the big well-lit tunnel near the river in the canyon. Someone, (I think it was Brian) was trying to climb out the sunroof to "surf." Everyone yanked him down while I kept my hands on the wheel and the car steady. Plans to poach a hot tub at the fancy hotel were hatched but smashed when a cop pulled us over sometime before 4 a.m. and asked me to “walk the line.” My friends watched intently from inside the car, dark eyes visible through a pile of limbs. Grins lost. Music off. I passed the test but puked the following morning at the trailhead after the curvy drive up the canyon to climb a couple hundred feet of ice. What a perfect birthday. Today, life has the acute weight of transition…grief for endings; fear of new beginnings, and a bit of confusion along with the anticipation and excitement that skip hand-in-hand with the unknown. As dawn light hit the horizon my feet slipped from one old crisp boot track into another. I was keenly aware of my ability to hike. Six months ago, a few seconds and one loose rock changed the life of my dear friend LizAnn forever. She can no longer hike, or climb, or feel anything from mid-chest down. Joe and Leslie, who shared the same rope with me on my birthday ice climb two years ago, had been with LizAnn that fateful afternoon. A few days ago (Sunday), the four of us shared drinks, laughs, and other emotions while soaking at a natural hot springs in the same valley where LizAnn broke her spine. Leslie was visiting from Jackson. I took her up Pine Creek where we climbed a 180 foot frozen waterfall before meeting the others at the hot springs. On our way to the springs, we drove past the intersection where the incident command center had been set up for the rescue. Leslie and I spent countless anxious hours there, the memories so vivid it could have been last week instead of six months ago, yet lifetimes have been lived during the emotional and physical healing journey with LizAnn. Sunday was also the first time LizAnn had seen Mt Cowen since the accident which occurred in a steep gully on their descent after summiting the impressive peak. Chico had been a favorite hot spot for LizAnn, we soaked there often after adventures. The pool is not overly handicapped accessible; we lifted her in and out of the chair into the pool. Once in the water lounging with a drink in her hand, LizAnn appeared like the rest of us; a vivacious lively little thing laughing in the steam. The intricate web woven tight by tragedy was enriched and deepened by love, compassion and our common propensity for passion. Living fully. More thoughts of time, of seconds and years occupied my mind and teased my heart earlier today…but my mood has lifted, and my time to ramble run out. I’ve some celebrating to do!