An autumn’s view from Abajo Peak
Oct 14, 2009 | 10640 views | 0 0 comments | 1454 1454 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Where did summer go? How could we already be into autumn, that lovely but most melancholy season of the year?

Time just isn’t what it used to be.

A few weeks ago, I stepped outside at 3 a.m. and saw, in the eastern sky, the constellation Orion, rising again after a four month absence. It is a portent of shorter days and long nights and cold weather.

For better or worse, my life is steeped in tradition and hopeless sentimentality, and the fall always aggravates that condition.

Everything I do triggers some distant memory and almost every date on the calendar is an “anniversary,” a commemoration of some event that is utterly meaningless to anyone but me...

I remember when and where I drank my first Dr. Pepper.

I own a small jewelry box that belonged to my grandfather that was given to me after he died. Decades later, it still contains the same piece of Dentyne gum that he put there a few days before he passed away.

When Bill Benge died three years ago, he’d just given me a pot of his famous shrimp remoulade... I still can’t bring myself to finish what remains in my freezer.

A 1963 Volvo that I bought in 1981 and which was, for years, my only mode of transportation, still resides in my back yard. It is slowly rotting into the ground and has become home to living entities I normally set traps for.

But I can’t seem to part with the old car. It’s a familiar and needed component of my comfort view shed.

I save gasoline receipts from 1973 and I have a champagne bottle cap that a girl who I was hopelessly and secretly in love with stuck on my thumb at a college dance.

I seem to remember almost everything. My life is full of mementoes and memories and yet I will be damned if I can ever recall where I put my car keys or my reading glasses....

And every summer I make the hike to the summit of my favorite mountain. I scribble an addendum to the cluster of notes I have hidden in a film can, 17 paces from the register box, eat my artichoke hearts and Dr. Pepper, linger a while to absorb the view, then walk back to the pass.

I’ve made 24 trips to the top since that first hike on September 3,1985, with a friend who died just four months later. This year I returned, exactly 24 years to the hour. It hasn’t changed much from year to year. Even my lungs and legs functioned almost as well as they did so long ago, for which I am most grateful.

Though a few of my friends know the destination of my annual pilgrimage, I can guarantee’s NOT Abajo Peak.

I visited that summit last month as well, though the experience is not quite the same.

No walking is required; a two wheel drive gravel road hugs the flanks of the Blue Mountains, just west of Monticello, winds around the base of South Peak and finally approaches the summit from the west side.

And the view is partially obstructed by a stunning array of radio and tv towers, microwave dishes, concrete bunker buildings and an assorted selection of warning signs that tell the “peak bagger” of this particular mountain to not touch anything.

The view is still spectacular, but very different from my anonymous summit, where even at night, it’s almost impossible to see signs of civilization.

Besides the communications jungle, the land below Abajo Peak is more developed. I can see Monticello, of course, though to its credit, has changed very little. I credit its timeless nature to the complete absence of bars, brew pubs and bike shops and that its biggest tourist attraction is the Mormon mini-temple.

To the east the land is agricultural, looking north I can spot some of the new SITLA residential developments, and at night, I can see the glow of Cortez, Colorado and even Moab 55 miles to the north.

But for me, within this panorama is where most of my life has played out. For years, my Abajo Peak view was my dream and my ultimate destination, a place I obsessed over from the distant green trenches of Louisville, Kentucky.

It’s down there where most of the people I have called friends lived. Or still do. From my old pals Ed Abbey and Ken Sleight, to newfound kindred spirits like Gary Dunow and my friend, the “one-and-only” Gene Schafer, and my pal Bill Boyle, who can still type faster with one hand than I can with two (How DOES he do that???)

It was where I met my future ex-wife! It’s where my beloved dogs lived out their lives chasing jackrabbits and ground squirrels on public lands (in violation of federal regulations) and where they died old and happy. And it’s where my cats were born and where they now, in ancient age, sleep and eat and live a life most of us can only envy.

This is where I have lived and worked and played and grieved and wandered and watched, and where I became hopelessly lost and found, again and again.

Down there is my life. And somewhere, from another peak, is yours as well. Wherever the future takes us, we will all have our memories. From this vista, on a crisp autumn afternoon, they seem particularly clear.

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at
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