The great thing about growing old is growing old.
That may sound a tad daffy, but then again so does spending seven days hiking and jogging in Death Valley and its various mountain ranges.
What isn’t crazy - and it takes someone “old” to understand - is doing so with someone 36 years your junior.
Sawyer is a remarkable 20-year-old from Williston, ND, who I am fortunate enough to know thanks to his being my granddaughter Ashley’s boyfriend.
Last week marked my 12th trip to Death Valley. It goes without saying that it is my favorite place in California save Manteca. I figured that it would leave an impression with Sawyer. It indeed did do that. But this trip had a big impact on me as well. There is something magical about seeing a place you’ve been so many times before through the eyes of someone much younger. It is even sweeter when you get to partake in conversations with someone who is almost a third your age on the cusp of starting his journey through life in earnest.
I’m not going to lie. Our tastes in things differ widely. I lean toward the likes of Frank Sinatra, Garth Brooks, and Jefferson Airplane. Sawyer is more at home with the music genre somewhere beyond MTV and not quite rap. Even so, we found common ground with each other’s musical tastes.
The same is true in other areas.
Usually I like the fact I can spend a week in Death Valley and maybe have two or so bona fide conversations with people besides the once-a-day encounter with a clerk at the Stovepipe Wells General Store. Hiking solo 8 to 10 miles a day while climbing upwards of 5,000 feet gives you plenty of time to think and put things in perspective.
Making that trip with someone who is just starting life’s journey of self-discovery can be even more enlightening.
There is wonder laced with apprehension and indignation at life’s injustices - perceived and otherwise - that only someone that age can possess. As you grow older the sharp points of your fears tend to dull. Injustices still tear at you but less so. The passage of time and effort has chipped away at them, even if ever-so-slightly, just as water ultimately wears down a granite mountain into sand.
It is the long, steady, and sure approach that wins every time. Everyone at 20 seems to want the world and want it now regardless of how modest or immodest their dreams are. Add the years on and you can look back and realize that your dreams are just like rivers — ever-changing as time flows on. And, if you’re fortunate enough to grow old, that wonder you had when you were 20 and time couldn’t move fast enough is even stronger than before.
You also learn that those younger than you have a lot to teach you. Sawyer’s interest in things such as creatures from six-point mule deer to scorpions to constellations and jets moving across a starry night sky gave me the gift of being able to experience Death Valley in a way I never had before.
But so did his love of life, the joy he got from experiencing and seeing something new, and just general conversations about things running the gamut from people, politics, and growing up to the meaning of life.
I just hope he got as much from the time we spent in Death Valley as I did. It would be great knowing he came away understanding that as time passes, things do progress and get better. Even if everyone experiences setbacks and failure along the way.
I do know that Sawyer probably came to the conclusion I might be just a bit off.
One evening as we were talking outside, Sawyer suddenly changed the subject and pointed to my feet and said, “Papa, I think that’s a scorpion.”
I looked down, said it was probably just a twig, and then reached down to prove my point.
Imagine my surprise when “the twig” suddenly turned around, reared up a pointy tail, extended two rather vicious looking claws, and started hissing while charging me. I quickly went from “it’s nothing” to panic mode, flattening the scorpion with the bottom off my shoe — it made a distinct crunch sound — while Sawyer jumped out of the way.
It was my first encounter with a scorpion as well as my first scorpion kill.
Life is full of surprises.
A 20-year-old reminded me that you need to be cautious as you move through life.
And hopefully Sawyer learned from a 56-year-old that at the same time you shouldn’t fear life as you make your journey.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.