In the spring, when Christine announced that we were going on a horse pack trip into the mountains, I should have been suspect. She is not to be trusted. But her smile is a bit too disarming for me, thus I am always trying to catch up.
She was well aware of my love of horses. I had spoken often how in a perfect world we would have a half-dozen adopted mustangs to take into the mountains on big-game hunting trips or to follow the setters in the high country. Or just to see the country; there is no better view of the world than from the back of a horse.
But, I know my obsessive-compulsive behavior well enough that I had to treat horses like I do skeet shooting. After the first time I shot skeet I knew I had to stay away from it or I would become addicted. My life would be in shambles and I would end up sitting on a bucket on a street corner with a cardboard sign that said, "Will work for clay pigeons."
Lacking appreciable self-restraint for things I fall in love with and cannot afford, my best course is to steer clear of them.
I said to the smile, "What's the deal with this trip? It's kind of out of nowhere."
"It's your birthday present," she said.
"My birthday is months away."
"The way you are fretting over turning 60, I figure you might be dead by then."
That's the trouble with having a partner who knows what you're thinking, even when you don't.
Christine said, "Since you turned 59, it's been bothering you. The fire in your eyes has turned to a smolder." Damn her.
I've never much cared about birthdays except when I turned 16, making me eligible for a driver's license.
Turning 30 was a bit daunting. I hadn't accomplished much and wasn't sure what I was going to be when/if I grew up.
The prospect of turning 60 was heavy on my mind and I couldn't pin down why.
It wasn't health, although given my disdain for a "healthy" lifestyle, the folks who promote such things would suggest I should go ahead and die. I eat lots of red meat, a lot of it wild. Breakfast to me means bacon, eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee. Seeing folks eat the "continental" breakfast in motels makes me wonder why they bother.
I've been a smoker all my life. I am fairly certain I won the over-50 smokers class the last time I ran Mount Marathon.
I went for one of those checkups that you're supposed to do every year, and I never do, just to see how bad it was. The doctor told me I should shut up about getting old and be glad I had the test results of a 30-year-old.
Bad hearing is my only remarkable old-age issue. It's been bad for a long time, from shooting in the days when ear protection wasn't considered necessary. I'm going to get hearing aids soon. Not to eliminate the "What?" I often ask in conversations, although I suspect those I associate with will appreciate it, but because of the marmots.
The sound of marmots, or "whistle pigs" as we call them, is a favorite when we follow the setters into the high country. I can't hear them anymore, not even from 30 feet away. Christine has to tell me when they are talking. Maybe I'll just wear the hearing aids in the mountains.
So it wasn't health, and it wasn't not making a significant contribution to society. You do the best you can, and lamenting that you haven't changed the world isn't a productive use of time.
Guilt might be part of it. Do you ever wonder how you can be so fortunate while others are not, and think, this cannot continue, there will be some penance to pay?
I've never had money, wasn't smart enough to make a lot of it and was never willing to stop living long enough to save it. But I live in the prettiest place on the planet, where I can hunt and fish in storybook settings, I have Christine as a partner, and I get to write about it. By any way I measure it, my life is pretty damn good, and I wonder if I've earned it.
So off we went, riding horses up a winding trail through the boreal forest and into the subalpine, glorious in summer plumage of wildflowers. The smell of horse and saddle leather complimenting the magnificence of mountain meadows.
It wasn't long before the monotonous drone of combustion engines and rubber rolling on asphalt vanished. Gone was the regular beep from a cellphone announcing the latest deal from Amazon. All the reasons we go to the mountains, only now our senses are rewarded from the best seat to see nature's
amphitheater. We could be the same cowboy riding through the mountains in 1890; for me, that had to be the best of times for the human spirit.
Late that night, after an embracing rain storm, Christine and I walked to where the horses were picketed to give them carrot and apple treats and tell them goodnight.
Stormy, my horse for the trip, was nuzzling my face with her muzzle, the softest feeling known to man, when Christine looked into my eyes and said with a bright smile, "It's back."
"What's back?" I asked.
"The fire. I haven't seen your eyes that bright since Winchester pointed his first ptarmigan."
Settled in our sleeping bags for the night, she said, "We are getting mustangs."
"We can't afford mustangs."
"Yeah, well, you're the guy who has been telling me since we met that the only thing that keeps folks from pursuing dreams is lack of want to, and we want to."
"What if we get mustangs and I die?" I replied.
I think she had been waiting to drop our favorite Robert Duvall line from "Lonesome Dove" on me when, with a big smile, she said, "You never get the point, Woodrow. It ain't dying I'm talking about, it's living!"
That's what it's like to have a partner who knows you better than you know yourself. Maybe turning 60 in a few days won't be so bad after all.
Steve Meyer of Soldotna is a lifelong Alaskan and an avid shooter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.