I have a great memory. Well, long term memory, anyway. Short term… eh. It’s going, for sure. So far, B and I just laugh about it. It might get more serious down the pike, but let’s laugh about it while we can.
I was watching an episode of Yellowstone the other night. No Beth Dutton drama, just a guy walking through some tall grasses next to a beautiful river, and my memory flashed… I’ve done that! I’ve been that guy… a hundred, a thousand times! I walked through countless tall grasses next to Montana’s beautiful rivers and streams, fishing with my folks, my friends, by myself. And then I realized something… I know I enjoyed fishing in Montana for what? 22 years, off and on, take off six years for college back East. It was mostly with my folks, but even after they were gone and I retired, I fished those same rivers and streams alone, and enjoyed it almost as much. The problem was that I could remember 5, maybe 6 different times, but I couldn’t remember them all…not even close!
You see, fishing is one of those activities that takes your mind off everything else and forces you to concentrate on it, if you’re going to have any success at it. Part of the beauty of fishing is this: if you like it, it’s fun and it becomes a great way to spend some time… especially when you need a little time to yourself.
My folks and I were way beyond needing time to ourselves. We fished for multiple reasons – because we loved eating the Montana trout, because we always enjoyed our time on the rivers together, because we got into occasional adventures, because the experience always renewed our love of the country, our connection with nature, and for that precious time spent together.
My problem then, was not remembering the details of a few of those oh, so bright times. Rather, it was realizing how many times we had fished together, enjoyed those endless days, because it was all the other days I couldn’t remember.
If one lives into their seventies, life is long… I mean really long. Sure, we always say, “Life is short, live it to the max.” And a lot of us do. But life isn’t that short, it just seems so because memories can’t recall all the days, the weeks, the months… they simply slide by and slip from our memories. Only the special occasions, the ones that pop out to us, remain. That, to a 70+ person, seems to be too short. Sure seems too short to me, but it isn’t. All I have to do is ask my body if life has been too short, and it actually laughs at me.
Anyway, my next question for me was, “Am I going to stress because I can’t remember all my good times?” Good god no! What, then? I thought about it, and tried to find where the quality of my memory might lie… what it does that makes me feel good about it, why I should cherish what I can remember rather than the countless days and nights that I can’t? And the answer came instantly… because what I can remember has detail that carries so much emotion, I can almost get lost in it sometimes.
For me anyway, it turns out that it’s the details that are important… not how many memories. For instance, some of the memories I hold so dear are rooted in that special feeling of belonging there, of being in the right place at the right time… of being an integral part of whatever was going on at that moment. There’s a little magic in that moment, too… partly because it’s fairly rare, doesn’t happen often.
In those rare “right place at the right time” moments, I almost always stopped to ask, “Why can’t life always be like this? Why can’t I always feel like this?” If one could, it would be incredibly addicting. But then I guess we would soon begin taking it for granted, and it wouldn’t be special, magic any more. So there we are… probably best to keep it rare, and memorable.
I remember most of my “right place at the right time” moments. Matter of fact, I have some pictures of them, how lucky is that? Will I share a few of them with you? Hell, my ego demands it. Most of my rare, magic moments involved music, naturally… as music has always been my love, my passion. But there were a couple of those times I didn’t see coming, and for me they were beyond memorable.
The three I want to share with you were somewhat unique, two were outdoors, in Montana. There is so much to tell about each of them, but I’m going to keep them brief, hard as it’s going to be.
1. Conducting the brass and string sections of the London Philharmonic back in 1985. The thrill of a lifetime, a recording session in London at the Music Centre, recording my music! They played it so beautifully and expressively, I just stopped conducting at one point and took it all in. They were playing music from my mind and heart, and a huge intangible cycle was being completed right before my eyes and ears! I got totally lost in this wonderful reproduction of my own musical mind. Goose bumps, wet eyes and so much gratitude for finding myself in this life, this moment!
2. On a rafting trip down the Yellowstone River with friends 14 years ago. Two of my friends were painters, and in the early afternoon we paddled over to the bank, got out and had our lunch. They decided to paint the scene while we were parked, so I wandered off into a large field of wild grass beyond the river. About 100 yards in I ran across some matted grasses which looked to be the size of an elk. I looked at it, and the surrounding field, a quiet breeze shuffling the tall grass. On a whim, I lay down in the same place the elk had been, stretched out and looked up at the sky. The sun was warm, sneaking in and out of the clouds. The grasses, smelling so fresh and clean, were rustling and I could barely hear the river now. I began to understand why the elk would bed down here. I closed my eyes and slowly began to feel like the elk. That feeling turned into being one with the earth and all of nature! I lay there, letting it all in and almost floating. In that divine peace I fell asleep for almost an hour. When I got up and walked back to my friends, they wondered where I’d been, I could only say I’d taken a nap in the grass.
3. Snowmobiling with some pals 12 years ago in the Gravelly Range of SW Montana. Ten miles South of my hometown of Virginia City is a beautiful mountain called, of all things, Baldy Mountain. There are probably a dozen Baldy Mountains in Montana alone, but my Old Baldy is very special. Just South and behind the mountain itself is a basin that looks a lot like a crater. I’d never seen it, never flown over it, had only seen it on a map. But now, deep into winter, we were able to access the inside of Old Baldy on our sleds. We drifted up through a drainage called Arasta Creek, through some fairly thick timber, and there it was… Circue Lake!
Circue Lake, (probably because it forms a near perfect circle) was frozen over, with a foot of snow on it. We rode all over it, so flat and smooth. The other guys were just having fun, roaring across the lake, twisting, turning, up on one ski. But I felt something, something different, something important about the place. I finally stopped at the edge and just looked at the whole scene. Everyone else stopped and took a breather, too. For me, there was a kind of magic rising up from the lake bed to the surrounding mountain. I felt it, strong, almost insistent, whispering that I was in a special place, a special time. The more I gave into the feeling, the more I embraced it and welcomed it, the stronger it became. I got off my sled and asked the guys if I could have a few minutes.
I walked out on the lake, now feeling like I had stumbled into the center of the universe. I was glowing inside, with a sense of peace one might feel when finally coming home from a long difficult journey. I sat down in the snow on the lake and thanked the spirits for finally bringing me to this place, and to this time. I had found my center of the earth, and it was magical!
“Take me to the land, where I was dealt my hand” God damn… I love Montana so much. She’s in my heart, in my blood, so strong in my memory she takes over my vision, my sense of smell, my very being. And yet she’s content with kicking me out… again. She kicked me out, let me go, way back years ago, turned me loose to chase my dreams, my dreams that had not a damn thing to do with Montana except the strength and beauty of life on this earth that she somehow planted in me. My early life in Montana had inspired me to do as well as I did in the larger world. To not pay homage to my upbringing in Montana would be like trying to convince someone that you had no mother… that you birthed yourself and are totally responsible for who and what you are.
My parents and Montana – whoever, whatever I am, I owe all to you. You molded me into whatever this is that I am, and whatever that is, I’m eternally grateful to you.