I was dusting some items in our home the other day. If you find that unusual, you should see the amount of dust that can accumulate in a house that was empty for almost six months. We weren’t even here. So, where did it come from? And, it’s not that we keep an unclean home. I can’t tell you how many boxes of Swiffer Sweeper we have been through. (I can’t tell you how much we recommend this state-of-the-art product!)
That’s another story.
I ran my finger along the top of one the most precious items I own. It’s an ice axe. I bought it in the spring of 1964, when I was getting ready to join my brother on the Juneau Icefield for the summer.
I found a bit of white…a bit of dust on my finger. How could I have not attended to this most coveted item…in my cleaning?
You must understand something. You can’t get these ice axes anymore. Oh, maybe in some tiny Swiss alpine shop in Zermatt, but not here…unless you’re willing to pay an outrageous price. This ice axe is made of ash (maybe hickory), the kind that Edmund Hillary used on Everest in 1953…on the first ascent (maybe). What you get today, if you find yourself ordering an ice axe, it will be made of anodized aluminum or carbon fiber or some sort of alloy devised by NASA for the International Space Station.
But, my ice axe (note to reader: it is not called an “ice pick”. That is so gauche a term. It’s an ice axe…so no further discussion here, ok.) An ice axe of an old classic style that you see now in Museums of Alpine History.
Yes, I ran my finger along the top and found dust. Not so surprising, unless you’re like me…items from earlier years rarely collected dust. Once I put away the toys of childhood, they stayed mostly out of sight…and therefore out of mind. There is an exception or two: my Lionel locomotive and a Lone Ranger lunch box. But, the ice axe was somehow different. It represented a transition from youth to adulthood and I often would stare at it, up there on the wall reflecting back on the times that were brighter, better, more youthful, full of energy and promise. I climbed nameless peaks with it in my right hand and even saved myself from falling into a crevasse on a July day in 1964.
This was a special item I owned. I even went into my fathers forbidden workshop and wood burned my initials into the shaft: P.J.EGAN. My childhood girlfriend stood by be as I did that. She kissed it for good luck (al least in my memory she did). Later, I rubbed boiled Linseed Oil into the wood until my forearm ached.
It was an object of utility, craftsmanship, art and beauty.
Then, when my wife and I moved to the Adirondacks in 2011, I took the ice axe and mounted it on the wall. It was several weeks until I realized what it was that I had done. I hung up my ice axe. This is the ultimate “well, I’m done with that stage of my life” moment. It’s like when you hand your car keys to your child because you can’t drive anymore…safely. But, I wasn’t that old…was I?
I walked over to my “alpine bookshelf” and looked at the titles and saw the hardware: the pitons, carabiners and chocks…tools of a rock climber. I was fairly good in the 1970’s. They were coated in a thin layer of dust.
I picked up Direttissima, by Peter Gillman and Dougal Haston (someone you should google someday when it’s raining and you want to read about a tragic, enigmatic person), and, again, I blew enough dust off the top pages that I began to sneeze like it was a late summer day in a field of ragweed.
So, this was my past? This is was what I have left of my glory days on the glaciers, in the bars of Juneau…and watching Eagles soar at 10:00 pm when I was fishing out of Auk Bay?
Dusty books and a very special dusty ice axe…mounted on a thinly paneled wall in our home?
This was me once:
Are the glory days really behind us…gathering dust?