Tall cedars and spindly aspens struggle to penetrate the decomposed granite, what thin soil remains forms a small irregular meadow of tough grass elk graze upon. This place isn’t much, ten acres of peace and quiet connected to civilization by about four miles or so of chert locals call a road. USGS says it’s a mule track once used by miners searching for gold and what not. I’m lucky, I have a small year round stream just off my southern border. The water is clean but cold and freezes up in the late autumn, doesn’t thaw until late April. I built a small cabin from stone and logs, curtsey of the Forest Service. All that was some years back before the county took an interest pushing building code and property taxes up here. The inspectors want me to tear it down but according to county laws it’s grandfathered, so they quit bothering me about it. This is high country, about 8,000 feet, away from what so many now call civilization. Winters are hard up here, they’re suppose to be, keeps the tourist and gawkers out and the suburbanites at bay.
There was a time when I was like the rest of humanity putting in my time, my daily struggle for existence and hoping for some happiness. Some are much better at competing for success and happiness than I ever was and many seem to barely scrape along like automobiles dragging a loose muffler. They make a lot of noise then fall off due to fatigue. Well, that was me at an early age, I fell off and saw no sense in being welded back on. It’s a long story, but then everyone has a long story, just ask them. Now many of the old Greeks and Romans believed in fate. Some people call it the luck of the draw in life but that’s not exactly how it goes. No, fate is that thing in your life that guides your choices either for the good or the bad experiences. A man who reaches a height over six and a half feet has a fate of most likely being a basketball player. I mean how could he not be one? He’ll play the game in high school and maybe in college but seldom in the professional arena. No, he’ll find a way to do something else with his life but everyone knows he once played basketball, so his choices will be to find the good in his life. A few don’t, they waste their lives trying to be what they can’t, always denying the choices to find the good in life.
All through my childhood and into my teens about half the kids I knew had some idea of what they wanted to be when they grew up. A few like my older brother knew by the time he was twelve exactly what he wanted to be in life, an electrical engineer. Some of the kids faced the prospect of growing up taking what ever employment was available, others looked toward college to give them an answer. I wanted to be almost everything. Fireman, policeman, soldier, sailor, almost everything looked interesting and fun. Once in secondary school I thought about being a chemist because I saw a movie where the young rule breaking chemist was the antihero (antiheroes were big stuff in my teenage days). We lived in a world of possibilities where time seemed unlimited. Hey, I could be a doctor or a lawyer or even a high school teacher. But then the day comes when fate intervenes and hands you your draft notice, Uncle Sam has made the decision for you and more young men like you. Well with a little luck I could be sent to Germany for a couple of years like a few others I knew. But it was 1965. a fateful year with many more to follow.
After basic, which was no worse than an extended football camp with three a day practice periods in the hot and humid summer it was off to AIT or advanced infantry training. Long marches that increased in length every day by five miles for a six day period. At least we had Sunday off to attend to our blistered feet. The end of training brought our assignments and about half the company was headed for Vietnam. I was being sent to a G2 school or intelligence training. Pretty lucky, I thought, maybe they will teach me cartography. Instead I was taught basic interrogation techniques and shipped off to Vietnam two weeks later. Like a few others who had attended that school for no-good-niks I found myself in a base camp and on loan to any firebase in need of my services. No time to thank my lucky stars as I discovered that being ‘on loan’ meant replacing an injured platoon member and going out on area sweeps and fire missions. It also meant that all my equipment were hand-me-downs borrowed from the company and may not be in the best of condition. My intelligence company farmed me out to no less than eight fire bases where I was always a stranger, never a member. The story of my life up to that point, always the outsider, the warm body as I was called then. But it must have been a charmed life for in any ambush or firefight others around were hit, wounded and maybe died. As the sports announcer would say at the end of the game, “No hit, no runs, no errors, no man left on base.” My year in hell ended soon enough and after a trip to Texas, home of Fort Hood which is a large sprawling base full of sand and fleas and scorpions and snakes I found myself looking for work.
Sorry Son, there’s a recession and we ain’t hiring. Well, there’s always hope, I might catch on somewhere. So like Jed Clampet I loaded up the Greyhound Bus and headed for California. San Francisco was the place to be, or so everyone told me. It took a while but I finally hired on with the Phone Company as a cable splicer. Not exactly what I had in mind as a child or teenager. But fate is the great teacher in life and so I learned about craftsmanship, about the quality of one’s work, and the respect other men give you where you work is outstanding. That is one of the great guiding principles in life and many never learn such a valuable lesson. On the other hand craftsmanship never really pertains to human interaction. We never think of loving another human being as a work of quality craftsmanship for if we did there we be no divorce, no unhappy marriages, and no disappointed children and parents. It seems so easy to succeed in one’s business life or profession than it is to succeed in one’s personal life. Perhaps it’s that thing we call control over our environment and the people within it that appears to be so difficult to achieve.
So I married a woman who had a few mental problems, not that these issues showed in the beginning. Well, maybe I ignored some of the warning signs like a drunk driver blowing through stop signs and red lights. Borderline personality, what a wonderful rubric of problems. You know if I want to cut a two by four to a certain length I can mark it with my ruler and cut that piece of wood with a good saw to within one sixteenth of an inch, or one thirty-second of an inch if I’m really good. But how does one measure mental illness with any accuracy? The professionals can’t tell you and us laypeople have no measuring stick that will even come close to the mark. Sixteen years of hell and she took everything I owned save my spirit, my freedom. Fate is a guide if nothing else and so I found myself in Colorado living out of my pick up truck with a camper shell and buying a piece of land long before the prices skyrocketed. Like so many experiences in my life, I learned to pick up the pieces and get on with living as best as I could. When all else fails get a job in construction, it’s honest work and you can gain entry to other areas of endeavor. I learned some plumbing skills, some electrician skills, and even masonry skills. then I caught on to welding and started to accumulating money in the sock. I build my cabin in a plain basic style as if I was a pioneer settling the land. I rented a small cottage locally on the Front Range, I remade my life if you like. I spent a lot of time in the city library and then in the college library as I worked towards a degree. Call it a bit of useless pride for I would never use that degree in any sort of professional way. We learn to pay for our vanity as it were and it did cost me both time and money.
Then one day she walked into my life. Well, what can I say, we are all fools for love, the honey pot catches the flies. Not that she didn’t have problems, god knows I had my own. But these imperfections weren’t the sort that drains your soul and your life essence. We have been growing old together and my cabin has expanded, albeit illegally. Still no running water (but we do have a basic sewage system, unapproved of course) nor electric power. Generators work well enough in the evenings and battery storage is good for most low wattage appliances. Lately we’ve added a few solar cells and a wind powered generator. We call it basic engineering of life’s needs. And don’t forget wood, the forest service still allows the cutting of timber, a good renewable energy source. Fate has finally pushed me in the right direction. As for my new love, my helpmate in life, don’t ask me why I love her, I have no answer.