A boy and a man both climb Mount Baldy
“The Child is father of the Man”—Wordsworth
My favorite day in nature happened twice on the same mountain. As a Boy Scout, I was the only boy in our troop in Dallas to be sent to Philmont Scout Ranch. My early years of reading had fueled my passion for history and the wilderness, and though I had gained some camping experience in scouts already, this was the camping trip that would give me my finest and favorite day in nature.
The Philmont experience took our Dallas busload of young campers on a two-week trek through the Philmont Scout Ranch. We hiked a total seventy-two miles through various terrains. Passing other hiking groups struggling with their uncooperative burros, we were glad we chose to carry our gear in. I tried to observe everything I could—tracks of animals, trail signs, the types of trees and while many boys kept their tired eyes on their tired feet, I kept looking ahead for the various birds and wildlife I knew lived on the Philmont Ranch.
The high point of our trip (pardon the pun) was climbing Mount Baldy, the third highest mountain in New Mexico. It was not an easy climb, even for athletically inclined teenage boys. We followed the switchbacks, stopping every so often to catch our breath. We finally snaked our way to the rocky bald top.
At the top, the misty, cold, and stiff wind greeted us. The panoramic view was amazing. Our guide pointed out the five states we were looking down on. Bighorn sheep approached us and ate trail mix from our hand. On the summit, I picked a few small delicate flowers, intending to dry them and keep all my life as a reminder of this mountain experience.
Laurel Bleadon-Maffei said, “I found my heart upon a mountain I did not know I could climb, and I wonder how many other pieces of myself are secreted away in places I judge I cannot go.” I think I found and touched, or the mountain I climbed found and touched, secret places in me that I didn’t know were there.
I said in my introduction that my favorite day happened twice on the same mountain. When I was forty, I climbed Mount Baldy again. In 1990, I decided it was time to reinvent myself. I floundered with selling jobs for a while, but I got a real break when I was offered a scholarship at Abilene Christian University. I knew it was time to reinvent myself. One of the classes I elected to take was backpacking. The final part of this course was a week’s camping trip in the mountains of New Mexico, close to, but not on the Philmont Scout Ranch. We walked fifty-two miles in our trek.
One day of that trip was devoted to climbing Mount Baldy. Once again, I followed the switchbacks up that mountain, stopping every so often to catch my breath in the thinning mountain air. The stiff, misty cold wind increased as we climbed. At the summit, our class shared a canned Dr. Pepper and took our group photos. Once again, I looked at the five states about me. Once again, I fed gorp (trail mix) to the Bighorn sheep that greeted us near the summit. I don’t know the life expectancy of such sheep, but perhaps they were the same herd, or perhaps descendants of the ones I had seen as a teen. Once again, I picked the same type of small delicate mountain flower. The one I had picked as a teen had vanished somehow somewhere in my wild teenage years, and I vowed that I would not lose this one.
Now, many years after that last climb of Mount Baldy, in the window of my mind I can still see that mountain, the teenage boy who struggled to its summit and the forty-year-old man on a search to reinvent himself yet once again. Both the first and second flowers I picked on that mountain are lost to me, but that day, that day in two parts, will never be lost.