’Tis the season, and it seems we escaped without a stampeding herd of mouthbreathers trampling each other to death at Wal-Mart.

The truth of the world, of course, is that gifts come in all forms and the greatest ones have nothing to do with purchasing power.

For those who don’t know, the disgusting Wal-Mart episode really happened last year, on the aptly named “Black Friday.” Such an utterly grotesque display, on so many levels, of what the holiday spirit has too often come to mean. If someone had come up with that in a movie, we’d all be like, “No way, that’ll never happen – sure we’re materialistic but it’s not that bad.

Perhaps the recession has given us something beyond the lowest-price-guarantee frenzy, and maybe – I know, call me an optimist – we’re finally coming to appreciate things that matter more than the size of your house, how your car looks, and the façade that really showing those you love that you love them has anything to do with what you buy.

I’m grateful for my new niece. I’m grateful that our country, the wealthiest in the history of the world, and empowered with such great minds that we surely can – if we want to – find reasonable compromises, is finally moving away from our barbaric prioritization of profits over people’s health. As I sit here and look out the window of my little cabin and see the fresh snow sparkling in the sunlight, and think about where I’m going to ski tour this afternoon, I’m most grateful for the simple gifts. The clear sky, the mountains, good health, and the quest for true happiness.

Late summer, our first time climbing together again, Jenna and I climbed the Sky Route on Twin Owls.

Looking back on the year, the late spring and summer dominate my feelings and thoughts. I just skimmed some of my journal entries from this summer, and saw one that hit me. It came from a time of recovery, but a time where I still fell to pieces regularly. My fiancé was out of the hospital and seemed likely to recover (which she has) from a horrific brain disease that nearly took her. When we lived in the hospital for nearly a month, friends and relatives visited in droves, their kindness bringing me to tears. On one of those visits, as I walked a close friend to his car, he told me that Jonny and Micah and Wade were missing. Jonny was one of my best friends. He described the scenario and I knew they were gone. I wandered the hospital campus, trembling and gutted and returned to our room to continue to focus on everything that was happening with Jenna’s treatment.

Sometimes, too, we need to care for ourselves. The cliché is, in fact, true that you need to care for yourself so you can be strong for others. It’s just damn hard to do sometimes, even brutal. In that time of recovery – early recovery, because recovery is an eternal process, as far as I can tell – by the time I’d gotten home to my cabin in Estes and canceled my China trip, the mountains pulled at my heart in a way that, hard though it is to describe, felt like love, like an offer to help fill some of what had been stripped away and lost. On a late afternoon in July, my first day alone in a long time and the first day in more than a month that I hadn’t yet broken down, I grabbed my rock shoes and hydration pack and started running. I started at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, heading for Spearhead. Wind bristled leaves along the trail, the stream bubbled, Mills Lake glistened, and gorgeous alpine flowers sprouted from rocks as my heart pounded blood through my veins and I breathed another form of life again, legs and lungs searing and finally feeling like something more than an empty shell. Johnny Cash played through my headphones as the rock disappeared below me and I climbed farther into the sky. On the summit, as the sun dipped low and alpenglow washed the undersides of racing clouds, for fifteen minutes I danced.

The simplest gifts are always the best.

6 thoughts on “Gifts

  1. Good words, shack brother.
    By the way, my name’s Patrick. I’m thankful for all of the strange connections and distant friends that I’ve stumbled into this year, especially the wise-asses with wisdom like yourself. Merry Christmas.

  2. right-on, SBPatrick — great to have e-stumbled into the likes of you guys as well. brings back such great memories of my own shack days, love it. keep living the good life, and happy new year!

  3. Mighty:

    Indeed of great gifts, my favourite girl in the world gave BD Cobras this Christmas. She got a trip cross the ditch for her first alpine summit – zer Footstool.

    I also scored 3 great posters of Cerro Torre. Man I go hard looking at that giant penis. You’ve been up there, and wrote Fantasyland – a brilliant article. YOU’VE CLIMBED CERRO TORRE KELLY! THAT THING IS JUST………..SIMPLY SO AWESOME.

    Speaking of awesome – Walter Bonatti. The guy climbed in good style. Lived large, and married one of the hottest women in Italy. He set the standard.

    So here’s to great gifts. Cerro Torre. And to the relationship some us are fortunate to have with that special beautiful girl(or guy), keeping us loved, sharing her(his) warmth.

    Merry Christmas and a hairy New Year from Ozstraylia,


  4. Hmm…just read this, clicked here from your loopy-in-the-head, droopy-in-the-leg post. You’re a pretty insightful fellow, my friend. Sending wishes for a complete recovery and many, many wags from B.A.R.K. (Brad, Arnie, Red….you get the idea.)

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