It is the Christmas break of his senior year of high school. He is 18 years old. He is on his way to pick up his buddy and it’s early enough that there are only a few tire tracks through the 6 inches of fresh snow. The storm blew off in the early morning and it is frigid cold, the snow squeaking under the tires as he drives. Despite the cold and the early hour he is in a particularly good mood, excited for the prospects of the morning. You see, there aren’t many things he’d rather be doing – he’s off on a hunting adventure.
He pulls over and his friend opens the back door to place his gun in the backseat before getting into the front seat. His friend shoots a 12-gauge because he likes the extra power and the slightly bigger shot pattern, but the boy prefers his 20-gauge semi-automatic shotgun because it’s lighter and easier to handle. He likes the way the 20-gauge feels in his hands as he’s able to balance, swing and shoot with ease. He is a very good shot. He’s been hunting with a shotgun since he was 12 years old.
It’s a short drive as Totten Lake is only a few miles out of Cortez, out amongst the sagebrush and pinion of the foothills. He parks above the lake facing toward their destination. They can see the lake in front of them but not the cove on the far side where they’re headed. Before them is a steep embankment down to the lake and then a small ridge. On the other side is the cove where they hope the ducks will be huddled down in the cold, about a mile and a half away.
The boys grab their guns and work their way slowly down the steep hillside, weaving through the pinion trees. At the bottom they walk the shoreline up to the inlet and up a ways further to where the creek narrows and they can find a place to cross. Then they’re off, trudging through the snow-covered sagebrush and jackrabbit trails, and then climbing the ridge and finally peeking over to the back cove of Totten Lake. The back cove is completely frozen over but the middle of the lake is still open water. And the ducks are right where they thought they’d be, huddled on the bank at the edge of the lake. And there are a lot of them, hundreds, at least three flocks, judging by the different sized dots that they see in the distance. Holy Cow! Big, big eyes on the boys. It’s hard to contain their excitement.
Everything is in their favor. A breeze is blowing in their face, the snow will further muffle the sound and the ducks won’t want to fly into the cold. Okay, here’s the plan. We’ll walk around and down the ridge away from the lake and then circle back, and the last 200 yards or so we’ll scramble up in an army crawl on our knees and elbows. The brush and willows along the lake provide enough cover even in winter to hide our approach. We should be able to get within 25 yards.
Side-by-side lying in the snow with their heads down the boys remove the gloves from their right hand and then rise in unison, flicking off the safety as they bring up their guns ready to fire. Ducks fill the horizon. A flurry of wings – ducks, and more ducks – nothing but ducks. Aim and fire, aim and fire, aim and fire. Three shots each. Ten ducks down. Jubilation!
But there is a dilemma. One of the ducks must’ve been a headshot because it managed to fly about 100 yards out onto the lake before it died, and fell, onto the ice. The boy knows that it’s a silly risk, that the ice is thin. Yet, he cannot bear the thought of leaving the duck to go to waste. So treading carefully, he begins to walk up the cove of ice, the ice getting thinner the closer he gets to the open water on the main body of the lake. He’s about 10 feet away from the duck when the ice begins to crack from his feet extending outward. He watches in shock as the cracks extend outward in all directions to about 10 feet until he plunges through the ice into the frigid water. Fortunately the water only comes up to his shoulders. He tries to reach up and pull himself up onto the ice, but the ice is too thin and it breaks with each attempt. And the bank is so far away it may as well be on the other side of the world. The boy knows about hypothermia. He knows that he doesn’t have much time before his limbs will go numb and he will be unable to move. Adrenaline flows through him and with a wild urgency he jumps up and cracks his shins against the ice. Again and again he jumps to crack his shins against the ice, breaking a trail through the ice until he is far enough into the shallower water that he can roll over onto the ice – and run. He runs to his buddy and tells him to grab the guns and the ducks and follow and he keeps running up and over the ridge and through the sagebrush and leaping over the inlet and scrambling up the steep hillside to the car and he starts the car and he strips down to pants and T-shirt and socks and he cranks the heater and he races the car around and around the parking lot to warm the engine faster until his buddy arrives – and he’s alive! He is overcome with an immense sense of relief.
He is alive but he is blue coming through the front door and his mother is alarmed and urging a hot bath, and the bath stings – O the pins and needles his body is on fire – and as the numbness leaves his gouged and bloody shins the pain sears and sizzles in his brain. The bruises will eventually surface – the full-length of his shins a black and blue that will fade after a few weeks to yellow-green. The scabs will sting until they become a maddening itch. The scars on his shins will slowly fade away in about 25 years.
This is one of my favorite stories. After telling it numerous times over the years it became a humorous tale of a fool and hero who compromised and saved his own life. Putting it down on paper and paying attention to detail placed me into the heart of the memory, into the moment. I had forgotten how traumatic this experience truly was. It also brought back my state of mind during this period of my life. I was at that stage when you’re expected to choose what it is you want to do for the rest of your life. I did not know, and the pressure of this seemed overwhelming. And first love had recently come and gone like a big bang implosion that rocked me to my very core. It’s so easy for a man (boy) to tuck his heart away because the pain is too much to contain.
My name is Roy Lamont High, though I’ve mostly been called Monte since I was a baby. I was born on August 2, 1963. I was born in Cambridge, Nebraska, because Indianola didn’t have a hospital. Mom and Dad were married four years earlier – Mom was 16, Dad 21. Mom finished her final year of high school after they were married. 2 ½ years after I was born my brother Kyle followed. (14 years after that my brother Anthony came along – an unexpected blessing!) The family moved from Indianola to Pierre, South Dakota, when I was three years old, when Dad got a job working for the Bureau of Reclamation. We moved – a lot – whenever a project finished up or Dad got a promotion. Very small towns (under 1000 population) in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota – Indianola, O’Neill, Pierre, Harvey, Fessenden, Underwood – and then slightly larger small towns of Sioux Falls, SD, Yuma, Arizona and finally to Cortez, Colorado for my senior year of high school.
I practically came out of the womb playing sports. I reveled in sport – the immediacy brought me wholly into the present moment. (Mom gifted me the love of dance, but dancing was not valued in the world of boys. Dancing was a secret love.) I played mostly football, basketball and baseball, yet also track and golf and swimming – I loved the water. Dad coached our Little League teams. When it was time for dinner Mom would often find my brother Kyle and I running around with a bunch of boys chasing a ball, in the backyard, or on the driveway, or a vacant lot or the middle of the street. We roamed the outskirts of town with our BB guns and I particularly liked swimming (and jumping off the bridge) in the canal where we were forbidden to swim because it was too dangerous.
This question was put to me several years back: if you had a time machine that could take you back to October 10, 1983 – to that day when you were driving down a small winding highway between Dolores and Cortez, would you put on your blinker and pull your little Audi Fox sports car over to the side of the road before that last fateful curve in the road? My answer is no, I would not. Unless I could keep all of the knowledge and “selfness” that I gained from the experience. I am who I am and I am a beautiful man. Yes I am.
I was driving at dusk when five horses ran out onto the highway in front of me. Two of the horses collided with my vehicle, collapsing the roof down on top of me – trapping me within. It would take chainsaws to cut and a big winch called the “jaws of life” to pry me out. But I was paralyzed from the neck down, without bodily sensation or movement – trapped within, without a special machine to get me out. The paramedics carried me to the ambulance on a gurney.
I could give you all of the unnerving details, but today the story is requesting to be told more purely through poetry. The horses, escaped from captivity, unfenced, running wild and free. Exhilarated, stretched out and running headlong into the great pasture in the sky. The Jaws of Life reach down to spare my life. The celestial pallbearers lift me up and carry me down the road to meet the Teacher, on a sacred path of rebirth.
The Teacher encourages me to seek truth. The Teacher encourages me to feel pain. Be still. Be still and know that I am God. Take a journey within. Adventure inward, open your heart and discover what you need, what you need, what you need to be happy. And don’t allow your wanting to get in the way.
I am a beautiful man. I have a beautiful wife – my lover and besty life companion, wonder woman Elizabeth. I have the nourishing UUCGV community and all of my wonderfully peculiar friends. I have the wonder of the world – a sense of wonder. I am happy, and I am living a beautiful life.
My life flows on... in endless song...
PS – I was planning on revealing that the end to all of the previous newsletter articles – “Life goes on... in endless song...” – is referring to hymn number 108 in the gray hymnal. After looking up the hymn I discovered that I’ve been printing it wrong all this time. It is not “life goes on; it is life flows on. My regret runs deeper than the simple mistake because “flows” fits my theme much better than “goes”. My favorite line of verse from the hymn “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” is “through the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing”. Yes indeed my friends, “how can I keep from singing”?
Roy Lamont High, the Earl of Monte