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Experiencing a Book, While Traveling

When traveling I try to experience a book, rather than merely read it. With some luck a traveler's location can add something chemical and explosive to the book.

This happened to me recently in Leadville, CO. I was camped by a national forest road that was on the race course of two separate races that featured the most amazing athletes. My mind drifted off to Greek Olympic athletes. I picked up a book on Greek mythology, and was amazed to find myself actually interested in that silly nonsense, for the first time.

Other things contributed to this chemical reaction, such as monsoon clouds accumulating before their mid-afternoon schedule, and lightning strikes so close to my trailer that they sounded like a shotgun blast outside the trailer door. So I was willing to play along with reading about Zeus the Cloud-Gatherer and Thunderbolt-Thrower. If this seems too whimsical for the reader, remember that your mind and body are the same as the homo sapiens of a few thousand years ago. All that has changed is the layers of modern security blankets and conveniences that insulate you from the capricious force of real nature. That, and you've been taught that everything is scientifically explainable, and hence dull.

We hiked up a non-descript mountain near Leadville -- one that barely deserved a name.
We got an unusually late start, and once above tree-line I started to worry about agglomerating clouds approaching from both sides. My head was the highest object on this exposed ridge. How can you tell how risky that actually is? Recently a Denver weekender told me about a jogger being killed by lightning.

But just when I was ready to surrender and turn around, the sun would come out. This happened several times. Something--or someone--seemed to be playing with me.

Then we came up to this mine shaft. I truly hate these things, and yes, it's a bit of a phobia

They are the very portals of Pluto, god of the Underworld, Hades. I'll bet the miners hated them even worse.
I forced myself to walk closer. When only a body's length away I reached down for a rock to sound the portal's sinister, subterranean depths. How many seconds would a lucky toss go before hitting a solid stop?

A lurid image kept coming to mind: the falling rock was turned into my dear little dog, who had been lured over by the siren call of marmots. Or maybe the rock had been transformed to my dog by whats-her-name, that goddess who turned Odysseus's crew into swine.

At any rate, in reaching down, water dribbled out of water bottle, apparently.  When I felt water falling...falling...down my arm, it so startled me that I dropped everything and backed away from the abyss, and nearly stumbled over a rock.

In case the reader thinks this is a fanciful encounter with an old dead god of ancient Greece, let him think about the recent headline story about the miners in Utah. What was the human drama there, exactly? The death of six men, and the grief of their families? Of course not--that happens all over the world, every day. The drama was the fact that nobody actually knew if the miners were dead or alive--it was the shadowiness of the Underworld, all over again.

Finally it seemed like Zeus would spare me. Why would a god of his stature bother to smite a man who hiked up such a minor mountain? The gods punished mortals for overweening pride, hubris, and my choice of such a humble mountain peak had let me off the hook.

Say, that was rather clever, wasn't it? I gloated inwardly, congratulating myself on beating the System once again. Just then I noticed a molybdenum-colored cloud ahead. It seemed to be moving right towards the peak, if that was the peak.

This mountain top was one of those convexities that tantalizes you with a continually receding false summit. So it wasn't just a cloud. It was a new malevolence, a local Zeus wannabe not mentioned in my mythology book, which was aimed at a national audience, after all. It was Climaxos, the sky-god who guards Leadville's lesser peaks.

Again I was spared. The sky-god moved off to the north and east, to his home on Colorado's continental divide--a place unique in all mythology, a place where the sky gods and the god of the Underworld live as neighbors--the famous Climax molybdenum mine.