Uppermost House: The day that nothing happened

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

“Hey!!! Let’s get together!!! I miss you!!!” I typed the words into an e-mail and then clicked the send button, and later in the day came into my inbox the message, “Tuesday could work for me” and that was that; my pal Charlie and I had a date.

We’ve been friends for over thirty years. Worked together for a lot of those years. Both the same age and both married (and stayed married) to our childhood sweethearts. Both have two kids (roughly the same ages). Have the same kind of house (old, white cape), for a while drove the same model car (Mazda 626), and both have whitening hair (although he has more of it). So many things about us are similar that it’s slightly creepy; although there are significant differences (Charlie grows raspberries, while I’m a strawberry man).

Anyway, on that Tuesday we got up early, met up in a town halfway between our respective homes, merged our stuff into one car, and headed north.

Gosh, we haven’t had an adventure in a long time, I said. We need some new stories.

Well, let’s have the kind of day that doesn’t generate any new stories, Charlie said, always the sensible one.

In the kind of work we’d shared (technical mountain climbing), our best stories all seemed to be along the line of near catastrophes, and we were both getting too old to add to that list.

We spent the day with our ropes and harness and other esoteric climbing paraphernalia way above timberline on Mount Washington, climbing several hundred feet up a steep, nondescript rock buttress on the south rim of Tuckerman Ravine. It was the kind of thing that no one ever climbs, but which both of us had been looking at since the 80s and thinking, I wonder if…

It was a hot day (for way up there) and the black flies were voracious and we didn’t bring enough water, but the climb was straightforward and easy and so we just puttered our way up, a foothold here, a handhold there, chattering on as if we’d been friends for decades. We talked about our kids and our wives and our life insurance and our (household) plumbing, and retold the same silly stories beginning all the way back when Ronald Reagan was in his first term.

We got confused a couple of times to and from the climb, oddly because we weren’t used to being up there in the summer. Most of our professional climbing time on the mountain (hundreds of days) had been in the black-and-white grip of winter when the ground was a frozen anvil, the weather was underfoot rather than overhead, you couldn’t see 50 feet, and the wind was blowing so hard that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear later that Nova Scotia had been shoved a few feet to the east. But now everything was green and squishy, you could see fifty miles, and it was so still that you couldn’t fly a kite for money.

It’s sure a lot easier in February, when there aren’t any landmarks, Charlie said at one trail junction, as we were trying to orient our map and ourselves.

Back in town, hot and bug-bit and grubby and happy, we split up, each in his own car and yet each headed to the same grocery story, each with a list from his wife. So we each drove for two minutes, parked alongside each other again, got out at the same time again, and greeted each other again, just like we had earlier in the morning.

Don’t worry; in another 30 years things like this won’t be awkward anymore, I said as we walked together into the store, hinting at our future dodderage.

A few days later, I was out in the garden sitting atop an upended five-gallon bucket, picking strawberries in a gentle, straight-down rain, and thinking about my day with my beloved Charlie. We’d had a good adventure, mostly because nothing had happened. There weren’t any new stories, really, but we’d both gotten an answer to our niggling little question about climbing up that obscure rock buttress we’d been looking at for decades (yes, it can be done, but it’s nothing special).

“Thanks for the last 30 years,” I’d said to Charlie as we parted to go home.

Yeah, it’s been great, he said.

And it occurred to me that one of my favorite chunks of the day had been in the earliest moments of the morning, when Charlie and I weren’t together yet, but were both looking for an adventure and driving toward each other. Knowing that in a few minutes you’ll be with one of your best friends in the whole world, well, that’s just one of life’s greatest blessings. And so I sat there thinking about that, and then I wiped my eyes because of the rain.

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