The girls and I walk every night, and two nights ago we were climbing a hill on our regular 35-minute route when we spotted an older man coming toward us. He was walking in the middle of the road, wearing an undershirt and jeans hiked up past his waist, and carrying a windbreaker. His gait was very uneven, and he was leaning so far to his right that it looked like he was in danger of toppling that direction.
“Am I going the wrong way?” he asked, and I heard Erin take in a breath.
“I don’t think so,” I said, assuming he was lost. I was about to ask him where he had come from and where he was going, but he spoke first.
“Well, all you girls seem to be going the other way,” he quipped. I wasn’t sure if that was a sense of humor, or dementia. We all began to worry. Erin thought he might have wandered off from wherever he was staying. It was time for us to make our turn anyway, so we eventually caught back up with him.
“Oh there you are,” he said. I decided to make small talk in order to find out if he was lost.
“Where are you from?” I asked the standard Colorado vacation question. My dad loves this question and is always thrilled when the answer is “Oklahoma.” So he would have been really excited to hear the man tell us that he was from Tulsa. I’m terrible with names – asking them and remembering them. I did neither (of course one always precipitates the other), but here is what we learned about the man as we walked down the hill with him: he is at least 85 years old since he told us he had lived in Tulsa that long; is a WWII veteran; has degrees from Will Rogers High School, the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma University; and spends every summer here in the mountains. We also learned that he’s not as feeble as he looked. His condo was about a half mile away from where we were walking (farther than ours), and he met us coming from what Kyle and I refer to as Hell Hill.
I felt humbled all evening. Will I be walking the hills around Pagosa Springs when I’m 85 years old? I sure hope so. It won’t even matter to me if I have hearing aids in both ears, walk like Igor, and wear special shoes. As long as I can make it up the hill, keep my sense of humor, and make it back down again. By then, I might even have ditched the pepper spray and my fear of bears. This man looked anything but worried about wildlife or his body giving out on him. He was taking in the mountain air and continuing to live life with a smile on his face. I’m inspired.