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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Soaring Ascent Up Mount Abram...because it's there and because we still can and because we still remember the way

"Stories are compasses...we navigate by them, build our sanctuaries and prisons out of them. To be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra..." The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit writes that sometimes we get stuck in our "stories," and that "change" is the "ambulance" of rescue. This both bothers me and gives me hope. Routine, as readers of the BCB already know from previous "sermons on the mount," is in my view a  "sinking ship." When stationary, I tread the waters of routine like most other folks...waiting for some "lifeboat" to come along and rescue me from self-appointed (or is it hereditary?) restlessness. My pastime? since I can no longer hike/bike/run all-day every-day, is to tell stories. 

In The Faraway NearbySolnit tells her story. Part of it resonates as oh-so-familiar, and picked the scab from an old wound, one I thought had healed.   

In the first chapter Solnit writes about being gifted three large boxes of apricots, and the accompanying feeling of abundance that came with such a bountiful windfall. So as to let them breathe, she had laid them out on her bedroom floor. She recalled their pungent fragrance, how it filled the air and the sensation of soft fuzz against fingertips as she held them up to her window's dappled sunlight. So golden, with blushes of red. 

Solnit used this simple apricot story to illustrate how short the time between wonderful and burdensome can be. But the apricots were ripened at different rates of time, so she procrastinated—which led to culling as some began to rot—while others were not yet ready for canning. 

Solnit went on to analogize this story to the one of losing her mother to Alzheimer's: That vast pile of apricots included underripe, ripening, and rotting. The range of stories I can tell about my mother include some of each.

Solnit's story reminded me of one of my own, a "prison" of sorts and something I seldom share in detail. I was moved at the remarkable similarity between our two stories. Listen, as she describes the agonizing frustration of being her mother's caretaker throughout the progression Alzheimers. It serves as a reminder to enjoy each moment, to waste not one minute of our two most valuable resources, time and health, for the end of all our stories lie beyond our control...  

Two summers before the apricots, my mother had begun to get confused, to get lost, to lock herself out of her own house, to have serial emergencies that (called) for rescues. She always hid her troubles from (my brothers)...the audience for her best self...while I was stationed backstage where things were messier. One day I asked her why she always called me and not them. "Well, you're the girl," she said, then added, "and you're just sitting around the house all day doing nothing..."  That was one way to describe the life of a writer."

She lost her car, and I went over and drove her around until we found it; she lost her purse and I turned her house upside down...it showed up on the seat of a chair pushed into a desk days after we had given up; she lost her keys or her wallet, and we came over and unlocked the door with our keys and made more keys and left one with her nearby friend, and hid one on the premises, and then a replacement, and then one after that...I was constantly on edge, waiting for the next crisis.

We kept trying to prop her up at (her) home. I put a hook behind the front door to hang her purse on so she'd know where it was, but she wouldn't use it and took my proposal to reduce her nine purses to one badly; she liked the big red luggage tag I put on the key to the front door...till she lost it, (along with) a series of successors.  

She cursed me the day I borrowed her address book (to) make a large copy bound in red with a ribbon on it to tether to furniture or dangle out of piles. That copy got lost too, but not as often, and I had another copy to backup the backup when she still read and phoned.

Because she couldn't learn how to punch in the time on modern microwave keypads, I found an old dial-operated one like the one she'd burned out by setting it to heat something for hours instead of minutes. I found a pretty chain for her eyeglasses, and then another one, and (then) helped her get more pairs of glasses...She was convinced that, rather than her losing things, others were stealing them—irons, purses, keys, laundry, money—and she lost more things by hiding them from these fictitious characters...imagination, filled with thieves and prowlers.

We took her to doctors who treated us like delinquents for letting her live alone, though we were trying to change the situation. They offered prescriptions but no advice on how to get her to take a pill twice a day when she didn't know what day it was and what she'd done ten minutes ago. I tried a wall calendar with baggies containing the day's prescriptions stapled to each day, but she never looked at the calendar. That was an era of patching and bailing a sinking boat.

Finally, at the beginning of the apricot summer, we moved her to a charming independent living senior apartment complex...and things began to fall apart in earnest...We'd pried her loose from...familiar routines and layouts. When we packed up her home I found fruit decomposing in dark cupboards, a trivet for hot dishes in her sock drawer...wads of bills cached in all kinds of hiding places...

The new place was just a studio apartment and justified simplifying her possessions down to essentials. She saw this as taking her things...She never got a new map into her head, never learned the way to the grocery store half a block away...or the layout of the building or even her own apartment. She just couldn't.

We arrived at a new level of crisis that required one of us to be with her during all waking hours. Then hired aids to supplement us until we could move her a residential care facility with a bucolic name (where she) was supposed to be fully cared for and safe. They misled us about their capability to cope and took a lot of money that (was never) returned.

She became a geriatric delinquent, prone to lashing out and running away... They say that Alzheimers mimics childhood in reverse...I thought of my mother as a book coming apart, pages drifting away, phrases blurring, letters falling off, the paper returning to pure white...a book disappearing from the back because the newest memories faded first and nothing was being added.

To me, and some of you, this is a painfully familiar scenario...the care and feeding of a parent as they regress toward infancy. Only those who live it can understand it, and I thought Rebecca Solnit explained it with more grace and restraint than I ever could.

We were slapped by cold and wind as we stepped from Petroleous Rex. Second thoughts went unspoken, neither Bobbie nor I wanting to show the fresh cracks of weakness in our facade of being tough mountain folk. 

I put on every article of clothing I had, and it still wasn't enough. Oh well, the climb will warm us up. 

Bobbie had a great day, moving machine-like up a rather steep, rocky, daunting couloir, completely absent of snow as opposed to the same time last year when it was full. We reached a saddle on the ridge line after 45 minutes on what always feels like a ladder. From there we more or less follow the ridge to Abrams' nearly 13,000 foot summit.  

The Red Mountain massif is always show-stopping gorgeous,! Almost makes the surrounding mountains seem mundane...

Oh the wind! Make it stop...

After running the ridge, there is one last steep slope to conquer. It's a grind, but the summit teases...

Barely visible, nestled in the gap, is Lovely Ouray as taken from the true summit of Abram

The best view of Ouray is from the north point, so we hike on to get a better peek at townies going about their business.

The strained faces of wind...

The homeward bound ridge run

Peaks left to right...Redcliff, Coxcomb, Wetterhorn and Uncompaghre...all summited except for Coxcomb :(

Lovely Ouray, from the summit of Mount Abram...
Peace out...
Now go take a hike!
mark and bobbie...Geezers at play.


  1. How timely that you should post a portion of Rebecca Solnit's book The Faraway Nearby. We're dealing with a all-too-familiar Altzheimers situation with a in-law parent. Rebecca's circumstance is an accurate description of what we and a large segment of the population are dealing with.

  2. Alzheimer's must be such a terrifying experience. I imagine even more so for loved ones than the person regressing, who can't quite conceptualize what is happening to them. I do know I'd rather lose just about any of my senses or physical capacities, rather than my memories. What a beautiful place to process, though.

    1. Perhaps the only "blessing," that the victim, eventually, becomes unconscious to their disease. But the sadness and frustration during the "aware" period is excruciating....

  3. She has to be one of my favorite writers of all time. I can't remember if its this book or A Field Guide where she talks about the "skeletal elegance" of the desert. I still think about that line every time I'm in a desert.

    How much elevation gain in this hike?!

    1. Solnit certainly can paint beautiful photos with words...especially when it comes to outdoor subjects. But I was so taken by her accuracy and wordsmith handling of this topic that I just had to "borrow" it to share. She certainly nailed it...
      We hike Abram from about timberline, so I'm guessing it's a couple thousand feet of elevation gain...albeit mostly ladder-like. You can do it :) I hope you show up here someday, preferably during wildflower season (typically July). Cheers, friend. Mark

  4. This post goes well with Mark Knopfler's album "Privateering"; it's a melancholic happy arrangement of great songs to listen to while absorbing your wonderful photos and thoughts, particularly the song "Bluebird".
    Ed is right on, a large segment of us are dealing with dementia. My folks began deteriorating ten years ago, slowing becoming a battle of wills and paranoia and new unexpected behavioral problems. I knew the only thing that got them through each day was ROUTINE! Without routine, they were empty and lost. Doing nothing for them, changing nothing, was actually the best solution at the time, path of least frustration for all of us. My sister and I decided to wait until their routines were abandoned, things like making a grocery store list (they began buying only day-old cakes and cookies on sale and becoming clueless about meat and veggies). That's when we moved them into an $8,200 p/mth memory-care facility which thank God is a good one. There's a tsunami of dementia not far behind us and most families probably won't be financially or emotionally able to cope. Scary future eh?

    1. Bobbie and I arrived on a surprise visit to my mom's house in Cottonwood, Arizona, to find her living on peanut butter...

    2. And I always find that music enhances the emotion of stories...Good choice.

  5. Just last week as I was visiting my mom at her memory care facility, we were looking at pictures of her last trip to Ouray 9 years ago. She still smiles when she sees pictures of the wildflowers!

    1. Looking forward to seeing you guys next month. I hope the monsoons kick in soon to water the wildflowers tho...

    2. Wish we could send you some of our rain, ­čśŐ. Pretty soggy around here and Mississippi is rising back to flood stage.

  6. I am envious of your summer hiking vistas!

  7. Looks like you didn't forget that special day after all :)
    Love those views from Abrams Mountain as well as the views from in & around Crested Butte.
    Heat wave hitting N. Calif so we are hunkered down inside for a good portion of the day but they don't last long around here anyway.
    Well I guess the Fire Hose fights on Main street are up next and that big new swimming pool at the hot springs sure looks inviting to us this day....just don't have the guts to disrobe in public anymore :)
    Stay Thirsty my Friends.

  8. Thank you, as always, for the lovely photos! And for the mention of this author and book. We are caretaking for a parent with Alzheimer's and every word resonates.


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