Friday, April 24, 2015

The Valley

live in South Dakota. I grew up in Colorado. In both places it is normal for it to be both cold, windy and at times snowy.

When I was growing up there was no such thing as a snow day. In fact the mere idea of staying home because school was cancelled because of poor road conditions was so far from consideration that when we moved to the panhandle of TX in 1986 I was both floored and overjoyed a light dusting of snow could shut down not only the school system but the entire town.

But that was in my youth and in a time when you were expected as a person to persevere and overcome all of the obstacles mother nature threw at you.

Today's world is much different from my youth. Gone for the most part are truck stop dinners and family owned grocery stores.

On most street corners you will find strip malls full of store front modern conveniences. Lost to the sands of time are locally owned and operated eateries and merchandise stores. Greasy spoons have been replaced with brick and mortar restaurants. 2 for 1 beer bucket specials and flashy multi page menus covered in glossy hard covered book covers. Dinner and lunch items come with plates filled with enough food to feed a family of 6.

Large retail chain outlet stores have taken the place of family owned stores. The profits carted away in 18 wheel dump truck leaving in its wake economic fatigue and despair.

This is not to say that it's all bad, but in my youth going to sears roebuck for school clothes were for the rich and entitled. Growing up in the Grand Mesa Valley a dollar was not meant to be squandered.

The hard top adobe dessert a constant reminder that weakness and a lack of fortitude would not only grind you down to the nub. Both feed on your bones.

In the early 80's Exxon Valdez pulled up states in the dead of night and left in its wake broken dreams and unemployment that would rival the great depression.

The high adobe desert of my youth was a hard and unforgiving blight on the American dream. Growing up we came to understand the value of hard work and the internal fortitude of perusing goals until we ran them to the ground. But it would not be until much later in life I would understand  the tough economic times that valley posed on its inhabitants.

My youth was spent on the hard top adobe dessert or at the corner park playing tackle football with my friends. We rode our bikes in packs all over town. Dirt trails and bike jumps were our playgrounds. The best toy we had was our imagination.

And while my parents fought and struggled with the realities of the times. My brother and I grew up oblivious. Happy in the fact our home was warm and our needs were met. The hard scrabble hard top adobe dessert would not only not break us, but hardened our resolve and inner fortitude. The play is hard taking no prisoners life style my friends and I lived by would serve us well later on.

The Grand Mesa Valley is surrounded on 3 sides by towering monolithic mountain tops. The adobe bookcliffs stand high and naked of vegetation to the north. West of our valley stands the grand daddy of my youth. The Grand Mesa mountains served our family as a second home in the form of campgrounds. Surrounded by sky high evergreen trees, rocks and boulders. The ground covered in leafy green plants and dirt colored scrub brush. I can still hear the stillness and feel the wind. Feeling like those mountains that surrounded us were a living and breathing being. Watching and waiting. Looking for the respect it deserved.

Often my Dad would load us up in a Scout II International its faded body an ugly urine like yellow. It's hard top was a burnt orange. A persistent squeak coming from the left rear. My father always swore was not there. The undercarriage was hard and unyielding. Its shocks were so stiff that after long drives your kidneys would ache as if they had been rabbit punched by the heavy weight champ himself.

Going to mountains in that Scout was like a vacation. A 1970's version of a modern day Humvee. My father always drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on the stick shift. His feet and hands comely working the gears. When we took that scout off road there was always a sense of adventure close at hand. Its 4 wheels, climbing and digging forces its will upon the ground. We moved along until the road became too rough for 2 wheel drive.

My father would work the gears down until were stopped. And then the moment would arrive the time we all waited for on these outings. I can still see him looking out at the road ahead his mind working out the route. He sits for a moment his eyes hooded by dark sunglasses my fathers ball cap sitting high on his forehead. And with quiet deliberation he's outside walking to the front. Bending over he turns the drivers side hub in. His body unbending and with determination, he moves to the passenger side and turns in that hub in.

He stands tall and turning with deliberation he climbs back in the drivers side. Wheel in one hand and the stick in the other my father and the scout become one. Its yellowed body, giving way to his commands. Steady and strong we march on.

Jostled from side to side the wheels moving with purpose the low end torque clawing and scratching away until the hard packed ground and deep mud give way. And when the hard road was conquered, he would stop and with pride he'd get out and turn the hubs out. Another road conquered our adventure over that same scout would deliver us back home safe and secure.

To the south the Colorado National Monument stands tall. Watching over the valley that lives in its shadow. It's red dirt and coke oven monuments are just as tall and hard and foreboding as they were when they were created. But for me and the kids I grew up with they were weekend playgrounds.

Holding our BB guns across our handle bars we would ride across the river. Once we crossed over my childhood best friend Scott and I would leave the blacktop and ride our bikes across the adobe flat top desert. We'd ride and climb 500 feet across scrub brush and across the hard abode clay. And when we reached the base of those high and imposing rocks we'd leave our bikes at the base and rock climb till we got high enough and we could climb no further.

Moving until we found a cave or an overhang that would protect us from the elements. Our backpacks filled with jerky and bread. War time canteens secured around our waists from army web belts.

At night we would build small campfires, its heat keeping us warm. In the morning we would rise early and explore the rocks and the surrounding canyons. Running and gunning. In our minds, we were soldiers fighting the good fight.

When the sun started to make its afternoon decent Scott and I would pack up and start the ride back home.

I miss those times and wish my kids could do the same. But it's a new world and gone are those days when children were free to roam and play. Where their energies and imaginations are fueled by their youth.

Someday when we are free of the fear of letting go and letting children find themselves, maybe then they can go back to a time when the mountains and rock climbing aren't filled with bogey men and evil.

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