Life is Grand, Yet Underneath . . .

My love for Colorado grew with every hike I took along the trails through her mountains. I took one flight back to Ohio for Christmas and afterward had nightmares about being stuck there, unable to return to the west, to the mountains I had learned to love. To that amazing cerulean blue sky, the clear air, the wind in the pines, the open spaces where nothing is heard but the call of a jay or hawk. One summer I spent every weekend hiking in the mountains, nearly every weekend backpacking.

Camp high in the Rocky Mountains below a snowfield at treelike.
Camp in Rocky Mountains

In 1972 saw John Denver in concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater; these were Rocky Mountain High years. I felt that song in my bones and sang it with friends around a campfire high in the Rockies. It may sound corny now, but the words were true. I started smoking pot while in Colorado, and there is nothing like it a mile high, or higher in the mountains with good friends after a long day’s hike. Or in the desert.

I discovered Utah desert and canyon country these years, too, and was with dear friends on a backpack in Arches National Monument in August during the Perseids Meteor Shower. Not a one of us knew the meteor shower was happening that night. I don’t recall who first left the camp fire to look at the stars. We were all pretty high . . . and . . . Hey Chicken Little, the sky is falling! What a trip! That clear desert air, our camp fire lighting up Dark Angel monument and the falling meteors. What a memory.

Plus the magic of New Mexico. We tripped Utah and New Mexico for early spring and late fall when the mountains were socked in with snow. “We” included my husband at the time, who was game for all this hiking and backpacking, but I don’t think he loved it as I did. He had a bad back, a wound from Viet Nam, which made it difficult to sleep on the ground, but, as I said, he was game. Backpacks in those days were not as comfortable as they are now, and I had constant bruises around my hips from the belt. 

Me and my backpack hiking along the Rio Grande River through dried willows toward Alamo Canyon in the background
Hiking along the Rio Grande River toward Alamo Canyon in the background.

Bandelier was our New Mexico haven. Think of a spread hand, pine-covered highlands the palm, canyons between the fingers, the Rio Grande River runs across the tips of the fingers, and you have Bandelier. I have hiked along the river and into the tips of the canyons as well as across the middle of the canyons and into the bottoms of three of them. I have also approached the canyons from the palm. In the last five years a good deal of Bandelier has been burned in fires. The beautiful southern-most canyon, Frijoles, has water and a waterfall year round.  

The next canyon also had a spring and water if one knew where to find it. I camped there years ago with a good friend and listened to the echoing call of a mourning dove in the early evening across the head of the canyon.

Our camp site among the pines in Alamo Canyon
Camp in Alamo Canyon

In the third canyon over is Painted Cave with numerous pictographs. Hopefully, they are still there and haven’t been ruined like so many others.

To get to New Mexico, one must pass by southern Colorado, and that’s where my favorite Colorado mountains reside—the San Juans. Someone labeled them the Switzerland of America. They are younger, wetter, and steeper than the Rockies. This means these mountains are more difficult to hike, but the rewards are greater: more waterfalls, streams, wildflowers, steeper, closer peaks, grander vistas. Plus, more four-wheel drive trails because these mountains were full of silver and the miners left roads in the most unbelievable places. You can rent jeeps locally, and we also had good friends who loaned us their Toyota Land Cruiser that outdid the jeeps we met on the worst trails. Sorry, jeep lovers, but that’s the truth.

The problem with a four-wheel drive is often it will get you further than you should go. My hubby, Clem, being the passenger, kept at me, “Go, go, go,” and up, up, up, we went through the trees on this terrible rocky trail that got smaller and smaller and steeper and steeper till I couldn’t see past the front hood . . . “Go, go, go,” I finally had the sense to stop. Thank, God, because “go” had us perched on the edge of a ten-foot cliff! 

I don’t care for going into nowhere, thank you.

So, the Cruiser would get us to trailheads even farther into the mountains. But so would the narrow gauge railway.

You could get a special ticket to Silverton, ride the boxcar, get off halfway and take a trail to one of the fourteeners. We did this with another couple and it rained the entire hike up the canyon. Most exciting, you could hear   rock slides and boulders falling in the rain on the other, steeper side of the creek but couldn’t see them through the trees. We finally reached the upper canyon where it opened into a valley and pitched our tents (still raining). How fine and cozy to heat up hot ramen on our little stove and cuddle into a warm, dry sleeping bag with the sound of the rain popping on the rain fly above us. Later, after it stopped, a critter ran over the top of our tent. There’s nothing so cozy as sleeping out in the fresh air in a warm, fluffy, bag. We carried extra padding to sleep on—it’s worth the additional weight.

Our friends hiked out the next morning. They were younger than us but couldn’t handle the weather; though it had stopped raining. The sun came out and we hiked to the top of the pass and watched clouds pass by the peaks. Seemed like nobody in the world but the two of us and a few critters—whistling pikas and marmots mostly. Take deep breaths. Glorious.

The next day we hiked out and caught the train to Silverton where we stayed in the old hotel, had a shower and a cooked meal in a restaurant. Gee, life is hard. Another Colorado memory to savor.

These years gave me many opportunities for risk-taking, for facing my fears. I recall one in particular, a leap from one low boulder to another higher one, where—if I fell a broken leg would be the least I could expect. “Don’t think about it too long or you’ll lose your nerve; just do it.” I did, and the ensuing high was tremendous. The three fellows I was with seemed to think nothing of the rock climb, but the other woman with us was left behind at that point. This was typical for me—having to “keep up with the boys.” Also, never letting show how sometimes difficult it was doing so.

Climbing at Red Rocks Amphitheater was eventually closed, for too many people were injured doing so. It is a shame how people are allowed to sue for everything in this country. We need to be responsible for our own actions and not expect others to be responsible for us.

In the main, these were good, exploratory years, but getting married had been a mistake. Clem was a good guy, but he was not the man for me. I was depressed and the migraines were worse, but it was years before I admitted to myself why I was so unhappy. 

We bought an old house in town to refurbish. I sewed clothes, grew a garden, canned tomatoes, cooked, painted, smoked more pot.  

Clem and I at our little fire below one lonely tree with our blue tent under the full moon at White Sands, New Mexico.
Clem and I camping in the full moon at White Sands, New Mexico.d

We moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, hoping a change of scenery might help. My folks visited us along with my Uncle George and Aunt Betty. I recall clearly when they were at our house and Dad, once again, made one of his usual cutting remarks to my mom. I stood in the doorway, heart beating furiously, and let it happen. In my house. How many times since I wish I would have said something. In my mind I’ve gone over and over what I would have said if I could. But I did not. He still had such a hold over me.

Some time later, months? I don’t recall. A phone call from him. His voice, low, soft. “Will you forgive me?” Nothing else, not about what. I could say nothing. But I felt pressure, pressure to forgive. Maybe I said, “Mmm,” but I don’t recall.

We were still in New Mexico when I received a call from Ohio telling me Dad had died from a heart attack. 

I flew back to Ohio to help Mom bury him and face the relatives.  

Step Through Your Fear

 A person’s entire life can change because of one decision. Because a good friend says the right thing to you at the right time, and gives you a little push when you need it. But it’s up to you to take the risk. To step forward and step into what life presents you “take the bull by the horns.” Live or not live.

I had sworn I would live, so when I was presented the choice I stepped through my fear. That fear is nothing compared to what so many face, when you think of young men and women going to war or those children and others in Syria and Africa and elsewhere. But it’s those little fears we all face nearly every day that are so easy to deny, to skip over, that bring us down, decision by decision.

My sophomore year I became good friends with my two roommates.

We rented the second floor room of a three-story grey house on Sherman Street across East Main from Hilltop Drive. They were opposites in many ways, but alike in their open friendliness and sincerity. Lovely, petite, dark-haired Susan was a wealthy sorority WASP from Pittsburgh; Sue was a hefty Jewish girl from New Jersey. Sue’s education depended on a loan and a grant like mine. We three got along famously. Though we were not in a dorm, we were guarded over by a “house mother,” half of a young married couple who lived downstairs and made sure all house dwellers followed house rules. 

Kent State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

For a short while I dated a young friend of the couple, but he was very much a fraternity type, and we had little in common. I went out with another young man who was much the same. Being an education major and dressing rather conservatively in the typical A-line skirt of the times, I appeared different than I was—a hippie at heart—when few were known as such.

I worked part-time in the campus library and babysat for English Professor Leeds. Both children were pale blond, Phoebe ten and Coby nearly eight, if I recall correctly. Both were highly intelligent and precocious and we were reading and discussing Lord of the Rings. One night Professor Leeds came home late and let them stay up to meet his guest, the beat poet and author of Howl, Allen Ginsberg. I was thrilled to meet him, too.

Allen Ginsberg

When I returned to my room that night I thought, This is why I left home. This is why I am here.  

Meeting someone like Ginsberg was why I ate baby food for nourishment because I couldn’t afford much else. Sometimes I fixed Mom’s recipe for slumgullion because it was protein and cheap. Or splurged on a fifty-cent Burger King from next door. I loved peanut butter on toast—even better with lettuce on top. We had a useful little kitchen on the first floor with cupboards and a couple refrigerators with our food labeled inside.

I don’t recall who came up with the idea first, but we three roomies decided to go to New York City for spring break.

Sue’s aunt had an apartment in Brooklyn we could stay in for free, and Sue had never actually seen the usual tourist sites in the city, even though she lived in New Jersey. Susan invited me to stay with her overnight in Pittsburgh on our way east. How I saved for this trip, and what a trip it was.

Imagine me, who had only been outside Ohio once with the high school band, on my way to New York City with a girlfriend. In Pittsburgh her dad took us to lunch at some fancy sports club containing huge windows, white tablecloths, and high ceilings of which I don’t recall the name. What remains in my mind is the couple with two children that sat across the enormous room from us speaking French and drinking wine, the two children with impeccable manners and also drinking what appeared to be wine.

In New York, we rode the subway into the city early every morning and home late every night. We had a grand time discovering different ethnic places to eat, and wore our feet out wandering the art museums. A young Chinese fellow sent us to a Chinese restaurant where we pointed to the menu for our food as no one spoke English—it was delicious! We attended a Broadway play one afternoon and that night ate at the Four Seasons, where the waiter was exceptionally nice to three young girls from the midwest. I have never experienced such impeccable service before or since.

We eventually made our way to the top of the Empire State Building. Those tiny cars and people far below; they weren’t real. Like ants scittering about. One could almost step out and squish them beneath your feet.

We sampled Nathan’s hot dogs and Carvel ice cream at Coney Island. I was so pleasantly exhausted at night not even the distant sirens kept me awake.

I loved New York.

I never thought of myself as a writer and never kept a journal. I was too full of the experience to write about it.

Then back to Ohio and studying for the final quarter before summer.

In order to see a play for free I volunteered to design and draw their posters. Wish I could recall the play’s name. Sue told me all about the student who played the lead. “You have to see him. He’s fantastic!” She and her best friend had seen him in the lead in several other plays. To her sorrow, he was never rehearsing the few times I showed up with posters, or vice versa. I don’t recall why, but I missed the show the night it played—a night biology lab, or I had to work.

Then came strike night—when everyone showed up to strike the set and party at someone’s house—three or four miles up the highway and I had no way to get there. 

“This is your chance,” Sue said. “You’ve been complaining about not meeting anyone interesting.”

“But I have no ride, no way to get there.”

“You have two feet.”

“It’s all that way back late at night in the dark. By myself.”

“Get a ride with someone. If you don’t do this, I don’t want to hear any more complaining.”

She was right, and I knew it.

Lordy, I was scared, but I walked along the highway to the house address and walked in. Didn’t know a soul. It wasn’t as though I had worked with these folks on the show. I had done the posters, a sole job. They didn’t know me. I think I walked around with a ginger ale, or something. I’ve never been into beer. I listened in on a few conversations, but had no idea what they were talking about. I felt so out of place. I began to think maybe I should finish my drink and leave when someone came up behind me and said, “Hi,” and, “You look about as bored with this nonsense as I am.”

“You are?”

“It’s the same old, same old, every time. Everybody talks about something they aren’t and nobody talks about anything real. Or about what they really think or feel. What about you?”

I couldn’t believe it. Almost exactly what I had said to the last guy I had gone out with and he had thought I was crazy.

“I try to be. Like now. I don’t belong here. I’m sick of pretense and acting like everyone else wants me to be. I want to be how I really am, down inside.”

He held out his hand. “I’m Bruce and I’m so glad to meet you.”

That was the beginning. He made drinks for me of mixed something, which I surreptitiously poured into nearby plants (I hope they survived). We stayed up for hours talking, talking until we couldn’t stay awake talking any longer and fell asleep together on the living room floor.

Late morning he drove me back to the grey house where Sue practically jumped up and down in glee.

“That’s him, that’s him! That’s the guy, that’s Bruce T! Tell me everything! 

Did this really happen to me? I’m somehow, maybe, involved with a Kent actor who is Sue’s heart throb? I needed a shower and decent sleep in my own bed before I could think straight, but I’m afraid I never did think awfully straight for some time concerning Bruce T. 

He was my first love and I learned a lot with him. There is only one part of our relationship I truly regret.