the true stories
The Great Spirit knows what we need before we do. All that is required is patience to see the Hand at work. This story is but one small example out of many. Adolescence is a difficult time for people. My own view is that it is the same the world over and through all time. Older cultures have rituals in place to aid and mark the passage of the young person into adulthood. The modern world has garbled this up beyond all recognition. Children are now expected to be adults before their time and adults are encouraged to remain childlike forever. This story starts in Texas and winds up on a mountaintop in British Columbia. I found one of my many teachers when I was working as a letter carrier.
When I was going through my passage into the realm of adulthood, I was living in Texas. My country was at war. Most of the boys in my Oak Forest neighborhood were on average six years older than me and I watched them get drafted to serve in Vietnam. Many of the guys who made it alive through their “tour of duty” came home with heroin addictions. Certain boys from certain families didn't have to go. The same methods of brainwashing the public in a country which is being used as cannon fodder were employed in the Sixties as they were in the Boer War and all the others.
For my part, I did not believe in killing people who were not threatening my life directly or that of a loved one or friend. I knew the propaganda was just that. During the “Cold War” the flow of “secret information” from the West to the enemy in the East was proceeding unabated and was aided and abetted at every turn. The whole affair was stage managed by bankers and other Internationalists for the furtherance of very old agendas of control.
The left wing and the right wing flap away but it is the head of the bird that they are joined to which should be watched. The public where I lived was kept in constant tension and fear of the Communist threat. From this fear, taxes were levied in unprecedented amounts to fund research and development of new bombs and planes to counter those of the enemy. In reality, which I saw first hand when I came to Canada was that the enemy couldn't feed itself and thus was sold our Alberta and Saskatchewan wheat at attractive prices.
The horrific weapons they possessed were handed to them one micro-fiche at a time. There were men who regularly visited the Iron Curtain and even kept apartments there when it was forbidden to travel to these countries for anyone else. It just wasn't publicized and their academic and business credentials made them untouchable at any rate.
Much the same tactics were used when it was decided to put into practice a next step in the old agenda. That of building up China to be the world's manufacturer. On the outside it appears they have lifted themselves out of the dark ages when in fact they have been given purposeful advantages of every kind to ensure their success. For a time. Their people will see when it is too late that they have been played like a fish by little men in bow ties.
Back in Texas, I being an adolescent philosopher began to ponder on war in earnest. My graduation from high school was looming closer and I had no plans for attending university, so if the war was still on in three years time, I would be in Country. I tried to come up with a solution that I could live with.
The solution of going to jail was not for me. No one should volunteer to go into a cage. I wasn't a member of a recognized “conscientious objector” religion though I was a Christian to put it in general terms. I knew that deep inside, none of the guys wanted to go who had already gone. It was surreal to watch them being patted on the back by their parents at going away parties and told the usual tripe about being a man and making their fathers proud who had served in WWII and Korea.
My own mother was a Dalton Trumbo fan and had arguments with the other ladies about the dubious honor of serving in the current war. This was a very unpopular view to take. I cheered her but this going against the mainstream didn't fix my problem either. I also suspected that Johnny Got His Gun was a propaganda piece designed to help usher in a perfect utopian socialists control grid. A world where nice men looked after people from conception in a test-tube to recycling at death.
Most parents were quite happy for their sons to go kill in a jungle 15,000 miles away from their backyard. Just like the parents today who are happy for their boys to kick in doors in the Middle-East and blow away the inhabitants. This in itself was unsettling to me at fourteen years old. I took up smoking near this time as I pondered these things. I
wondered how many soldiers would be willing to fight and die protecting their actual homes and families from an actual invasion. I wondered if the Commandment about “Tho Shalt Not Kill” had been altered from a possible original “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” Obviously, there were situations in which a person may be given no other option than to kill another in order to preserve their own life or that of their spouse or other loved one. God couldn't have overlooked this.
I wound up being moved to Canada before I would have been drafted. While this was not the reason my family moved, it was a relief of sorts. I felt a bond with all the poor guys from my streets who had to go. I felt a bond with those who did not return and those who returned as cash machines for pushers.
In some piece of boy still stubbornly hanging on inside myself, I felt a misplaced guilt that I had been spared. I carried this pretty far beneath the surface at a place where I didn't let myself think about too much. Yet it was there like a wrinkle on my Texas soul. It was illogical, destructive and had more than a little Cherokee behind it.
Many moons later I had been working as a letter carrier and raising a family. I was paying lawyers and I was paying landlords and I was paying child support. I saw a new guy at my postal station who people said was a real mountain climber. I had always wanted to do that. One day the fellow stopped me on my route and hailed me over to his beat-up faded red Toyota. He asked me if he could give it to me as he had heard I was without wheels. At this point we hadn't been formerly introduced. I thanked him and declined his offer on the grounds that I couldn't even afford the brake job that was imminent for that car.
That is how I met Al. He had been climbing mountains since he was about seventeen he told me. At work we began to chat when we had time. I wanted to ask him if he would teach me to climb mountains. One day I brought some photos of some places I had “hiked” to and asked the maestro if he would take me along on a “real” climb and he asked me who had taken a particular picture that I had handed him. I told him I had taken it.
“Mike, you idiot, that is Mt. Matier Glacier. A “real” mountain. So is this other picture. I know all these mountains. You have already climbed some mountains.”
I was flabbergasted. The pictures I had shown him were from places where I had stopped my car without any previous planning or equipment and went for a little walk uphill to relieve some stress and sniff around the woods. I counted none of it as official mountain climbing.
After many weeks and months with nothing more said I received an invitation to accompany my new friend and his wife and one of their close friends to climb the Black Tusk. It is the core of an extinct volcano whose softer rock has worn away over the years and left a column of black friable stone thrusting 7700 feet skywards. I was elated. A “real” mountain at last and in the company of a real mountain climber.
The golden morning came and I met Al and his wife at their townhouse. We drove the hour or so to the base of the hill in Garibaldi Park and met the other friend, a farmer from the valley. It was a magical day. One of the things that happens when people climb mountains is that all the crap in a persons system, be it physical, mental or otherwise is cast into the furnace to provide energy to continue. As we ascended, all the toxins in my body and blood worked their way out in sweat. The mental toxins came next and though subtle, they popped up in all of us present.
Al had some Daddy issues as I had and though we didn't chatter, we did talk in spurts as this was the first time we ever did something together and outside of the work floor we hardly knew each other. One of the emotional burps that I belched up at about 6000 feet was quite a surprise to me. I realized that I felt guilty for not having gone to serve in Vietnam as many of the boys in my Houston and Baton Rouge neighborhoods had.
We talked about it as we huffed up the grade. Al had something similar that he had made peace with and before we got to the part where we were stepping in fine volcanic dust and slipping backwards two feet for every foot of gain, I let this guilt come to the surface in my conscious thoughts where it had to fend for itself against rationality instead of festering like a bag of shrimp shells in a garbage can.
At the near top was the exposed column. It was very cold up there and the crack we had to negotiate was notorious for falling rock. I got the honor of going second. I only remember that I reckoned that any one can do anything with proper training and equipment, attitude and desire. Although I am terrified of man-made heights, I have no fear of God-made heights. I scampered up like a squirrel. The others joined me and I got to go down first after our brief rest on top in the howling ice on top.
I was a few hundred feet down the crack and had veered way off onto what I would call the apron of the mountain. If I could have seen where I was in the mist, I would have frozen in panic. Al saw what I had done and in the most casual of tones suggested that I traverse a wee bit to the left. I happily and immediately complied as I was being watched by three real mountain climbers and didn't want to look like a fool.
When the party was a hundred feet below where I had been when corrected, Al stopped and showed me what he had meant. It was a horribly exposed bulge that would have dropped me a couple of thousand feet if I'd gone a few yards further. I made several mental notes. We went to a pub in Squamish after the climb and as we watched some local loggers playing pool, Al asked if I didn't feel superior to those mouth-breathers and suggested that I go start a fight with one as he probably deserved it anyway.
I didn't know if it was a test of my character or a prescription for my own well-being from one who knew some of my trials first-hand. I used to live in Squamish and was on home turf in a way. I could see no reason to lay a finger on someone who hadn't wronged me in any way and I said so to my group. They quaffed their beers and we left in good spirits.
Al told me later that of all his work friends, his wife had liked my company best. I was very honored to accompany Al several more times. After several more trips with my teacher, I struck out alone and climbed all the mountains in the Lynn Watershed in North Vancouver. I took my own sons and my wife when she was still frisky enough to do it. I have taken sisters and nephews as well. One local mountain here is Grouse Mountain. It is a ski mountain and has a tram from the base to the chalet at the top where one may take ski-lifts to the actual peaks.
It is around 3000 feet tall and over the years it became a popular training exercise to hike up underneath the tram, getting a great workout at the same time as saving cash on the ticket. In the old days, anyone who did this “Grouse Grind” was given a free ride down. I used to do this on my way to climb some of the peaks in the watershed beyond such as Goat Mountain, Little Goat Mountain and Crown Mountain.
One day I was just topping the last few yards onto the shelf of land that houses the chalet and it was the height of tourist season. I wormed my way through the crowd to line up my ascent of Grouse off to the side of the lift and then head off north-west to climb Crown. It was an easy go from the chalet to Grouse Peak and once there I usually stopped to sip from my thermos and get attuned for the coming climb.
A big man and his little wife walked up to me holding hands. They had just gotten off the lift and were getting ready to take pictures of the peak. I was pulling on my first layer as I had come up the Grind shirtless so as not to ruin my clothes with sweat. The man was about mid-fifties and as soon as he spoke I knew he was from either Texas or Oklahoma. He was weathered, neatly shaved and if you'd have hit him with a mop handle it would have snapped in two.
“Son, I been watching you and I want to know how you got up here.”
“I climbed up, Sir. From the bottom of the tram. Now I'm heading for that mountain over there.”
I pointed out Crown Mountain and the camel-shaped rock next to it
“Son,” he said looking me straight in the eye and talking very slow and purposeful, “ I am a Drill Instructor for the US Marines and I want to tell you that you would have made a damn good Marine.”
I thanked him for the kind words and we shook hands. His wife snapped a photo and I was off. That piece of misplaced guilt that had been buried in my psyche, then unearthed on my first climb with Al to become a little Devil on my shoulder had just had its ass thoroughly kicked by a Southern Drill Sergeant. It couldn't have happened in a more perfect place, the message couldn't have been delivered by a more perfect messenger and I have never been nagged by that silliness since that day.
Guys who climb together don't always nor do they usually socialize together. They may not even keep in touch between climbs yet they trust their lives to each other in the bush. My teacher Al had a daughter and moved to a different station. I never saw him again and heard through the grapevine that his wife had passed away. As far as I know he is still active in search and rescue. I know he has seen the Hand at work in his own life. I know that he does what he must. I know that the sight of his head-light coming through the mist has been a blessed life changing event for some poor souls lost in the rocks and trees. Al, I know that you would have made a damn good Marine. God bless you brother and teacher. There is a mountain in my heart and you and your daughter are sitting on top of it smiling.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.