Because of Noah
When newborn Noah Hunter was diagnosed with a sick heart, many wonderful things happened.
In December 2006, two weeks after Chris and Stephanie Hunter learned Noah's insides were juicy, and that their baby would have to be cracked open, my wife asked me what I wanted for my 40th birthday, which was then six months away, on the first of June. I told her I wanted to fly from Richmond, Virginia, where we live, to Colorado.
"You want to spend your 40th in Denver?"—where I was born and raised. In other words: with your mom and dad instead of your wife?
"Not Denver. Colorado."
Dana looked at me for a moment. "OK...?"
"I want to fly out to Colorado by myself and camp in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, outside of Buena Vista. And climb Mt. Princeton."
I might as well have announced that I intended to have Miley Cyrus' visage tattooed across my chest. Dana had never before heard me express an interest in hiking, much less hiking in Colorado. I was surprised at the way my answer to her question had just popped out, fully formed.
Another reflexive answer, another mystified stare from my wife. It was a loaded thing to have said, given that Dana is an Episcopal priest, and that church is the very structure—geographical, temporal, psychological—of our life together. In our home, "church" is a very specific word, which means that I couldn't have used it in a generic or flippant way even if I'd wanted to.
"I don't quite know what I mean by that," I told her. "I just know that I mean it."
But I did know. Sort of. The fact is that, in the last three years, Colorado has begun to exert a gravitational pull on me that is as powerful as it is out of the blue. And yes, it's Colorado, not Denver; the place, not the people. (Though my folks are in Denver, I haven't retained any of my childhood friendships—mostly the result of my having left Denver for an East Coast boarding school in the 10th grade.) It's a force that works at the level of dreams, that presents me with images that feel like imperatives. I mean this literally. Early in the fall of 2006, several months before Dana asked me about my big four-oh, I began daydreaming and night dreaming about that great monarch, Mt. Princeton. Occasionally, then frequently, then urgently. I began Google-imaging every angle of the mountain I could find, which is how I discovered 14ers.com, the marvel of a site founded in 2000 by climber and Breckenridge resident Bill Middlebrook. (Even nonclimbers will find the seamless 360-degree summit vistas deeply nourishing.)
I tried to explain to my wife that I'd been having visions.
"Do you remember that scene in Close Encounters where Richard Dreyfuss begins feverishly constructing a mound of trash in his home for reasons he can't fathom?"
Yes, she did.
"And it's only at the end that he realizes that he's been building a model of Devils Tower in Wyoming? And that forces beyond human reckoning have summoned him there?"
"My thing with Mt. Princeton is like that."
An ambiguous nod.