McAbee: Touched by a ski monk
The other night, I walked out of a local establishment known for making a big deal out of St. Patrick’s Day and noticed a young man in his 20s who was in weeble-wobble mode. He stumbled to some nearby steps and mumbled to no one in particular. I asked him if he was all right. He responded by mentioning the particular mix of legal and illegal substances that he had consumed that evening.
Not surprisingly, his eyes had been reduced to two slits barely open wide enough to let in a March moonbeam.
“This is the best night of my life,” he said as he slumped against the retaining wall. I left him to his euphoria and bliss and walked away humming a familiar Gordon Lightfoot song in the cool cool night.
“Sometimes I think it’s a sin when I feel like I’m winning but I’m losing again.”
Walking down the street, I thought of the kid, for that is what he really was, and how at his age, I made some idiotic choices, however amusing they seemed at the time. It made me think of the lifestyles available to young people in “Colorado’s Playground.”
As I turned up the road to make the final approach to my house, a man and a donkey sauntered along side of me. Strapped to the mule were a pick, pan, shovel and bedroll. Bells on the saddlebags kept the timing of its steps. The man wore snowshoes from another era. He shouldered a bag that seemed to contain mail.
“Mind if we accompany you for a while?” the man asked.
“That’d be fine,” I replied.
“My name is Dyer and this here is Skeeter.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Jeff.”
“Jeff, you look like something is troubling you.”
“It’s just that it seems there are a lot of young and not-so-young people that spend a lot of time drunk, high, stoned, wired, boomin’ or rollin’. And it seems that its prevalence makes it easy to get caught up into a cycle of partying when you move here. At first glance very few alternatives exist for the single young man or woman.”
“Yep, the saloons are full in a mining town.”
“It’s not the good times that get me down, but when I listen to my friends during daylight hours, I hear of debt and suicide, broken marriages, single moms and deadbeat dads, abuse, unemployment, bankruptcy and dissatisfaction. It’s tough and it doesn’t seem to fit in with the beautiful setting.”
“I see what you mean.” Dyer fingered a cross that hung around his neck. “The mountains have long been considered holy places. Did you know that in many cultures God is said to live amidst the mountain peaks? Greek authors told of a polytheocracy that lived on Mount Olympus. Jehovah is said to live on Mount Zion. And consider the world’s monasteries, monks live an aesthetic lifestyle at the higher elevations from the Himalayas to the Troodos Mountains on the island of Cyprus.”
“Are some kind of preacher or something? I mean, are you saying that Summit County is a holy place? Cause, I haven’t seen many temples and monks around here.”
“You sure about that? Perhaps God is too big to be contained within the walls of a monastery. Perhaps a monk can be anyone who believes the best sermon is lived and not preached. Like your friend Theobold.”
“How do you know my …” my voice trailed off. Perhaps this old postman/miner/monsignor had a point. These mountains do inspire a healthier lifestyle after all. Maybe the way Theobold lives represents a small percentage of the population that we can call ski monks.
Theobold doesn’t have a girlfriend. He is fond of women, but I have never seen him romantically engaged in any way, not here. I suspect he’s no virgin but he’s living through a stretch of celibacy that would bring a married man to his knees.
He rises before dawn every morning to stretch, read holy scriptures, the snow report and the avalanche forecast. He prays for snow and safe passage in the backcountry.
His diet consists only of foods that can be harvested or killed. He eats them as near their natural state as possible. Occasionally, I hear him speak of “fasting” or “cleansing” times during which he drinks only water with lemon or some sort of green smoothie with who-knows-what in it. With skin that glows and barely any body fat, he takes the whole “body is a temple” thing further than most.
He can climb and ski half of the Tenmile Range in the time it takes to play a round of golf. Through discipline and a commitment to excellence, he is a master in the art of living. His play is his work and his work is his play. He leaves it up to us to decide which is which because to him he is always doing both.
Theobold is respected by his friends and loved by children. He’s kind, generous and dependable, wise and humble.
“We need more like him,” the man said.
“What’s the deal with the donkey?”
“I am an itinerant,” said the man in the snowshoes.
“Hmmm.” I looked back toward the Tenmile Range. The full moon lit up the mountains like a bumpy compact fluorescent bulb. I turned to asked him whether a ski monk would score any spiritual brownie points by giving up good clean living for lent. You know, to keep it balanced.
I saw a shooting star but Dyer and the donkey had vanished.
Jeff McAbee lives in Breckenridge. He’s a campus supervisor at Summit High School.
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