I recall the camp up on Ram Creek and him taking me in to see Gene the cook. I got cheese and apple pie to go with my tea. I sat beside him on the cook shack bench with my six-year-old legs dangling off in space but feeling very much like one of the lumberjacks. And later that night, after supper, he took me down to Marmalade Creek for a soak in the natural hot springs that bubbled out of the limestone rock. He had an agenda—to baptize me early into the religious mystique of the Rocky Mountains.
And there was the North Fork of White River, just above Colin Creek, a small tributary that bore his name. I was 10 and we were fishing the river. He spied a big hole on the far side. He hoisted me up onto his shoulders like a circus rider and sloshed into the river torrents. Somehow we made it to the other side and he made sure it was my line that went in first. When I hauled in a five-pound cutthroat trout, I thought he would burst. I was hooked on mountain river fishing for life. That was just one part in his discipling me as a man for the mountains.
There were many more parts to my catechesis in which he had a direct hand. Like the time he loaded me into a tiny box-like contraption suspended on cables and we went swooping across the river. I think I dampened my pants due to its speed and height above the water. That cable crossing was the main link in the pack trail up to Maiyuk Creek pass. It had been part of his “road” as a young man when he was a trapper and forest ranger and he wanted me to know it. And there was the time he pounded his little 1950 Willys Jeep pickup over 10 miles of raw fireguard so we could be the first ones to get a punt in to fish Monroe Lake. It was a hair-raising experience as the fireguard was suspended in many places high above the valley and was barely wide enough to accept the little truck’s wheels. Many a boulder was sent crashing down the scree slopes as we bounced our way in to the lake.
He died when I was just 13; the same year John Kennedy was shot. For me his death was the more byzantine and for years it tied me up in knots. He was the boss of the lumber camp that was my home. He was very important to every person who depended on the sawmill for their livelihood. But for me he was like a second grandpa, and a kind of rabbi of the way of the mountains. He never got to witness my confirmation, my graduation from college in forestry, but I always sort of sensed his pleasure in my caring for the bush in my first career.
I have his old rifle now, my one physical memento of him and his many lessons. It was the one he used on trouble bears when they would raid the old meat house at the Ram Creek camp. Every time I take it out it reminds me of him and his special clan. It reminds me of all the times we went out for trout. It reminds me of his many mountain lessons. More than all of that, it reminds me of the incredible worth of an old man. And thereby hangs the tale.
It strikes me that most every boy needs an old man— someone to take him in hand and mentor him in a way that a parent sometimes won’t or perhaps can’t. Most girls I expect need a similar well-aged non-familial same-sex mentor, too. The odd thing is that in this day and age there seem to be all kinds of willing boys and girls, but not many willing old men or old women. In this day and age, the job of being someone’s old person is increasingly falling to the baby boomer. This exposes a challenge. In my opinion, typically we baby boomers have a chronic fear of old age along with a strong reluctance to act our age. The result is that we seem to be consumed with constantly questing for the illusive fountain of youth or running on a treadmill to escape the dreaded condition of old-fartism. The result is seemingly little time or energy left for being someone’s old person and I sense, even less of an appetite for the job.
Given the baby boomer’s dogged determination to escape getting or being old, it seems rather paradoxical that our faith holds up old age to be a virtue. The Bible views old age to be a blessing from God to the individual and the faith community. Old age is seen as a gift for a virtuous life and part of God’s purpose in life (Deuteronomy 5:33; Genesis 25:8). The aged are held up as a resource with valuable gifts to be shared with the community. The elderly are the dreamers for discovering exciting ways forward for the community (Joel 2:28). Wisdom is seen as an attribute of the aged godly person (Proverbs 3:13-16; 9:10-11). Offering wise counsel is seen as a duty of the elderly (Joel 1:2-3; Deuteronomy 32:7; Titus 2:3-5). The aged are to function as a moral compass for the community (Titus 2:2-3). In response to this, the elderly are to enjoy honour and respect in the community (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:1-2).
The Bible profoundly values old age and the elderly. In my own experience, nowhere is the value of an elderly person appreciated more than in the heart and life of a child being mentored. So, being one of those baby boomers who have burst upon the dole of old age and who have ample time on hand, I find all of this both encouraging and challenging. An exciting ministry awaits me in the life of a child. And as I take it up, I know
I will discover the incredible worth of an old man