Late spring snow so high in the mountains
The source of life affirming rivers
Running through peaks and valleys below
Simple life service spirit inside
Future foundations solidified
Everlasting days and helpless nights
Come alive rise climb discovering
New horizons to reach in her eyes
Into the wild world of wrong choices
The essay below, Manitou Springs, is from Oceans in Disguise, April of 2021. The poem above, 27. is about much more than Manitou, of course, but it is connected, and it made me think about these blogs and connecting. All of Oceans, like Horizons, was meant to connect, not upset. Open attempts to express feelings. And my failure to connect ultimately proves that writing, my writing, poetry, art, books, music, memories, hopes, dreams, wishes, fantasies are all just words, just words straining to describe indescribable abstractions, feelings and ideas, true love, but just sad, stupid, simple and oh so forgettable, irrelevant, impotent words that in the end, if they are even read, fail to find any depth, evoke any emotion or reaction (except rebuke, revulsion, rejection), fail to sink into that ocean, rise to that horizon or touch that heart I so desperately wish to reach. Like the notebooks and stories and letters buried in boxes in closets, these blogs are just words, mostly ignored and occasionally disliked, by the language art lover the words are inspired by and intended for; book lovers, blog writers, singers, writers and language teachers, I’m writing to connect with you, two years on Oceans and Horizons, and it’s all for nothing. Cold, hard indifference to their creation, devotion, even mere existence. They may as well be written on the inside of a prison door. Locked away. Ignored. Forgotten. Worthless. None of it has meant a damn thing, it seems. I thought it mattered, believed that door would open, unlocked and opened from both sides inspired, desired, through the arts of love, shared love of arts, and deeply connected hearts. I was sadly mistaken. My words, my devotion, my desire, which I believe to be sacred, romantic, special and true, (but I suppose I’m mistaken there, too, perhaps you have other works of art created for you), have failed to reach your heart. Probably don’t reach your eyes. I don’t know if you even read them. I don’t want to know because I’m not sure which is worse, that you have gone so far away that you don’t read or that you do read, but remain unmoved by the words. Either way, it’s heartbreaking. So, here’s Manitou, not about you, but for you, which I thought of when writing 27,which, like 9 and 18, is not about you, either, really, although you are in everything now, but written with the deep real hope that a word lover like you, who once wished to share our love of art through the art of love, with me(!) , remember me(?), might appreciate. Just words, but so much more, no? No. But next week 36….and then… Life goes on.
To paraphrase the lyrics to Neil Young’s Helpless, there is a town in Colorado, at the foot of Pikes Peak, called Manitou Springs. Dream, comfort, memories to spare. And in my mind, I still need a place to go. More than ever, I need a place to go. And while I won’t say ALL my changes were there, because I have certainly changed alot since I lived there, it’s true that the changes that happened there and the memories of Manitou are still with me. It’s like that old saying, “you can take the boy out of Manitou, but you can’t take Manitou out of the boy.”
When I was at Stonehill College, (the finest undergraduate institution in south eastern Massachussetts), I worked at the Mainspring House homeless shelter, in Brockton, for about three years. That experience significantly changed what I thought I wanted to do when I graduated. When I did graduate, I was accepted into a volunteer service program called the Holy Cross Associates, based at the University of Notre Dame, near Chicago. I went there for an orientation week, and met the six other volunteers that I’d be living with in Manitou. We all had different placements, and mine was in a resitdential school for children who had been removed from their home by social services because of abuse, neglect and all those horrible things. HCA has four pillars, Service, Community, Simple Living and Spirtuality. I lived all of this and so much more in Manitou. https://catholicvolunteernetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DomesticBrochure-HCA.pdf
After a 30 hour bus ride from Notre Dame to Colorado Springs, we were greeted by our advisor, Tom Stella, who drove us to Manitou. It was already night, maybe 10 o´clock, so we couldn’t see anything on that drive, but I remember the red rock walls along our drive on Rte. 24. Tom Stella became a mentor and true spiritual advisor, and he continues to be to this day. https://tomstella.org/
When we arrived at our house, at 315 Pawnee Ave. We had scrambled eggs, and went to bed, exhausted after 30 hours on a Greyhound bus. The next morning…I can still remember that moment…when I walked out the front door to look around, right there in front and way way up, was mountains. The “foothills” of Pikes Peak, right out our front door. With the two other guys in the group, Matt and Tom, I walked up the steep hill of Pawnee Ave. as it turned into a dirt road, and then found a sign for a trail called the Intemann Trail. We followed it up and around the mountain, amazed by the wildflowers and views down into the town. And then we saw a deer. A deer so tame and unaccustomed to humans that it didn’t run away. It just stood there, two metres away, staring and then even following us. I still can remember that sense of wonder I felt at this new world I had found.
Soon enough, it became quite a scramble up the face of this small mountain. Gripping and climbing up, pulling each other up over the ridge, and then a bit further to the top. My father liked to hike and would bring my sister and I on walks in the woods all around Rhode Island. And each summer for five or six years, we would go to New Hampshire to camp and climb Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in New England. It was a four hour slog through mud and mosquitos and then over a big pile of boulders, usually in the fog or rain. That was my mountain climbing experience…a big pile of boulders. NOW, I’m less than 12 hours in Colorado, only about 40 minutes from my bed, and I’m clinging to a sheer red rock face, scrambling up, looking for hand and toe holds, because if I fall, it’s quite likely I won’t get back up. THIS is mountain climbing.
We get to the top, and amazingly, there is a small, cement foundation for a building. We were confused, but so elated by the climb and the views and the fact that it was right outside our front door. On the other side of the summit, looking west, I saw Pikes Peak for the first time. It was love at first sight. It was August, and there was snow on the top. It was my first view of a real mountain. When we got back home, I walked out the BACK door of the house, and was stunned by the views of the Garden of the Gods in the distance. I couldn’t believe the natural beauty of this place. I had never seen things like this before. I’ve just remembered seeing a humming bird outside my window.
That evening we went into Manitou Springs. Manitou was founded as a health resort and spa destination going back to the turn of the 20th century. It was the kind of place the wealthy would visit for “restorative” purposes, or maybe a doctor recommended the mountain air and natural spring waters to help their recovery from tuberculosis or some such affliction. There had been cowboys and Indians here as well. Further west from Manitou is Ute Pass, leading to a plateau at the base of Pikes Peak where the Ute Indians had lived and farmed and hunted for centuries. Manitou is a Native American word.
We soon found out that the mountain we climbed is called Red Mountain, and there had been a small building on the summit that was rumoured to have been a “speakeasy” during Prohibition. An “incline”, something like a train/elevator had been constructed on the western side of the mountain. Another much bigger incline had been built on Mt. Manitou, at the head of Manitou Ave, as a tourist attraction which had been abandoned, but the track, or as some people called it, the “scar” was still on the mountain, and was a steep, very steep shortcut on the trail up Pikes Peak, Barr Trail. We learned all this from local residents of Manitou, primarily, Kurt, the bartender at the Keg Lounge, who invited us to try a “lunchbox”, which he claimed to have invented himself. Half a mug of beer, half orange juice, and you drop in a shot glass of amaretto and drink it down. Simple living meant we only had 50$ a month to spend. Thanks to Kurt, and other friends at the Keg, we could enjoy ourselves a bit.
Though we were told to acclimate to the altitude, (Manitou sits at about 2,000m above sea level), Tom and I wanted to climb Pikes Peak as soon as possible. The Barr Trail is about 12 or 13 miles to the summit. We hiked to Barr Camp and spent the night, then hiked the rest the next day. Pikes Peak is about 14,000ft. or 4,302m. I had heard of Pikes Peak before, of course. Pikes Peak became famous during the various “Gold Rushes” in U.S. history, as Americans migrated west in search of fortune, with “Pikes Peak or Bust” as a rallying cry. I couldn’t believe I was actully climbing it. I’ve lost track of how many times I ended up climbing Pikes, but the first time is always the best.
I spent the next 8 years climbing mountains. There are about 50 peaks in the U.S., not counting Alaska, that are over 14,000 ft., and I have climbed 42 of them, including Mt. Ranier in Washington, and, the tallest, Mt. Whitney in California. I spent alot of time in the mountains, and it all started in those first two weeks in Manitou. The weekend after climbing Pikes Peak, Tom and I decided to camp on top of Red Mountain. The next morning we woke up to see the town full of people. We had no idea what was going on, but could see and even hear all the commotion. It was a race, we figured out. But then, as we watched from above, we could see the runners heading up Barr Trail. I remember saying, “Are they running up Pikes fucking Peak?” They were. The Pikes Peak Marathon, calling itself America’s Greatest Challenge, almost 8,000 feet, 2,500m, of elevation gain in 21 km from start in Manitou up to the summit, and then turn around and come down. We spent the morning downtown, waiting for the runners to finish. Needless to say, it makes other marathons look silly. I started training immediately, and am proud to say that I am a 2 time finisher of the Pikes Peak Ascent (just run up…a half marathon), AND a 3 time finisher of the Pikes Peak Marathon.
I ran, mountain biked, snowshoed, skied and drove up and down Pikes Peak and so so many other mountains, and trails around all of Colorado. The mountain spirit. After that HCA year, I did another year of volunteer service, this time in Berkely, California, working with the homeless again. I missed Colorado. I ended up going to law school in Denver for three years, spending as much time as possible in the mountains. Getting high. And, finally, when I graduated law school, I finally got a job as a teacher, which was what I thought I’d be doing when I graduated Stonehill. I got a job in Colorado Springs. I found a house on Pawnee Ave., across from the library, which I loved, and moved there with my sister and a classmate from law school named Brent. Brent immediatly hit it off with our neighbor’s daughter and they STILL live on Pawnee Ave. with their two boys. I visited in 2006. That’s the last time I was in Manitou, but Manitou is still in me. Dream comfort memories to spare. In my mind, I still need a place to go. All my changes were there.
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