Quiet Desperation

Peak experience is a case of aiming way too high


The greatest risk I am willing to take is grocery shopping in Douglas County on a Saturday afternoon.

It is an electrifying episode of “Supermarket Sweep” conjoined with a dress rehearsal for “Lord of the Flies.”

Get ready for some alliteration: It is carts and kids and confusion. Grandparents and grandchildren. Half are leaning over a phone, and the other half are looking in one direction and walking in another.

I go as punishment. If I have done something wrong, impermissible to my code, during the week, I feel a need to be punished.

It is not Catholic. It is Harry and Shirley, who instilled values in me I can’t shake.

I have no sense of adventure, and I never have had a sense of adventure. Combining risk with adventure is the last thing I would do.

And combining risk with adventure at 29,000 feet isn’t even a moment’s contemplation.

Mount Everest was once thought to be an unobtainable goal.

Then Edmund Hillary and what’s-his name (answer below) reached the summit on May 23, 1953. It was a big deal. It was international news. And Edmund became Sir Edmund because of it.

Now? Mount Everest has a daily queue of climbers in colorful parkas headed up.

Some of them make it to the top and some of them turn around. And some of them fall in the snow and die.

So far this year: 11 bodies.

I have tried my best to figure out why this doesn’t appeal to me, any more than being an astronaut, or someone who interviews sharks in person.

I camp in nice hotels, with hot and cold running toilets, and bedding than isn’t visited by ravenous bears.

I have left it all to others to share with me what they have done. Like that Bourdain fellow, who went around the world, ate things that most of us wouldn’t, and explored the rich veins of other cultures.

I explore my refrigerator.

Thoreau stayed in one place his entire life, including two years in a 15 x 10 cabin. He wrote “Walden” about it, which Robert Louis Stevenson chided for being “womanly,” because Thoreau wrote it in near isolation, while Stevenson was off exploring the world.

(Both of them died at age 44.)

My biographer may find me in contempt if he or she has a high regard for risk and adventure in someone’s life.

Roller coasters and race cars. Neither. Interstate 25 is enough.

Being a schoolteacher was plenty risky, let me tell you. And it is a much greater risk now to tend a classroom in America.

The risks I experienced were the slings of “C” students. They could be formidable.

Colleagues inflated grades, insuring some buffer; but, again, I could hear Harry and Shirley, reminding me of my duty.

My girlfriend is a high school teacher. She and her students have been educated in something I was not. Survival.

American schools are as full of risks as Mount Everest, without the wind chill.

My photographer has three grade school-aged children.

She said they have not been traumatized by evacuations and lock downs.

Business as usual.

Climbing a mountain might provide the same feeling of accomplishment I get when I complete the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, without the frostbite.

(Tenzing Norgay.)

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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