I musta looked really "stoopid" standing there with my mouth involuntarily dropping wide open. The woman before me had just mentioned that she was a grandmother of an eight- and a six-year-old.
"You're kidding me!" I blurted out. "I took you to be in your mid-30s!" She chuckled and turned a slight shade of red.
This lady goes by the name of Mary O'Loughlin, and she has lived in Silver since the mid-1950s. After high school she did move away and lived in other parts of the west, but she returned to stay nearly eight years ago.
I wanted to find out about that fountain of youth she must have discovered at some point in those years. Mary went on to tell me about her hobbies of hiking and jogging in the hills and mountains surrounding Silver. But I knew the only way I could really pick her brain would be to go on a hike with her, which would give me the opportunity to observe and analyze as we conversed.
At first I thought about a hike up the northern face of Cooke's Peak—you know, that straight-up side, but I thought better of it. After all, she was just a slip of a woman, and I worried about her ability and stamina to carry me piggy-back once I pooped out about halfway up to the summit. And could she carry me back down with a slippery slope before us? No, that would be expecting too much from this petite granny.
Instead I decided we would take an easier hike, starting at the old Boy Scout camp ruins in Meadow Creek and going downstream to find a waterfall I had been told about. Someone had said that the falls and attendant pool of water were no more than two miles away. Actually, it turned out to be only a little more than a mile.
Right off I started to pick her brain as we hiked down the meandering stream. I wanted to know how she maintained her sense of youth and athletic physique. Here is what I found out.
First and foremost, she has a totally positive mental attitude about life and living it. Mary says she loves life completely, and I could tell it as I secretly observed her actions. As we moseyed down the creek, she would pause at a spot and exclaim how beautiful a certain posy was, then move on and excitedly point to a bright green towering oak. She'd pick up rocks and examine them and express joy at her discovery of this or that.
She told me that she figured to have the same attitude at the age of 80 and still be hiking and running through the mountains. Now, that's positive thinking, folks!
Her mention of physical exercise brought up the second clue I was seeking: Mary jogs and hikes an average of 15 miles per week and all of it is in the dirt—no flat, boring high school track for her! Besides that, she finds time to cross-train by stretching, yoga and resistance exercises, six days a week, while holding down a steady job and maintaining a house.
Mary has hiked on and among the many volcanoes of Ecuador and into the vast chasm of Copper Canyon in Mexico, and climbed to the summits of no less than three 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.
She said that she has hiked the hills since she was three years old, thanks to the love of the outdoors her parents had, and she has perpetually connected with the fields, valleys and mountains.
Relating a story or two to back up her statement, she told of the time when she was but two or three and she'd wandered away from her family and discovered a blue bird feather. She had an arm wrapped about a tree to steady herself and was leaning over and using said feather to stroke the back of a coiled-up snake at her feet. Her worried family discovered and rescued her in the nick of time. You see, the snake was a rattler! Somehow that snake never struck, but just followed her every movement as she caressed its skin; it seemed to know that Mary meant it no harm!
On another occasion, not too many years past, she was hiking and spooked a herd of elk. As they ran away, her eyes came upon a startling sight: a black bear that had been stalking the cows and now was intently focusing its gaze upon her! As they made eye contact, neither moved, until Mary finally realized that she needed to get the heck out of there as her heart pounded wildly within her chest. Slowly she backed up until she was out of sight of the bruin; the bear in turn steadily kept eye contact the entire time. She was a very fortunate hiker indeed!
But back to my discoveries. Mary's third element to youthfulness is her diet. While she doesn't ban any food, she does not eat any red meat (she doesn't like the taste), and prefers poultry and fish. She eats several small meals a day (including the black-walnut ice cream we enjoyed later) and doesn't snack after the evening begins. She claims the many meals help keep her metabolism running at a good rate, which in turn burns off body fat. It seems to work!
Lastly, she credits her genetic make-up. As you can guess by her name, she is of Irish descent, and that makes her of Celtic origin. That discovery really lit me up, since if you have followed my dissertations in the past, you know that I too am of Celtic descent, and I credit my own propensity for wandering and free-roaming to those bloodlines.
It turns out that Mary, too, must see around the next bend in the trail or cross over just one more hill to see what's on the other side. So we could understand each other well—it's a Celtic thing!
One other incident bore this out: We had finally come to the narrows and descended into a gorge with slippery granite under our feet amongst the pools of water. We clambered down to the small waterfall and attendant six-foot-deep pool, and it was here we decided to rest and eat our lunch. We took off our socks and dipped our tired, hot feet into the frigid, clear liquid, and it was then that Mary retrieved the long, shrouded object that stuck from her day-pack.
It was a cedar-juniper flute made by hand, and quite simple but exquisite. She began to play softly, then switched to a Celtic tune as she tapped her bronzed foot upon the bare gray rock beneath. All the while a soft breeze in the trees overhead and the sound of the gentle waterfall both accompanied and complemented her tune.
It was an outdoor experience of the first magnitude, and I must admit that it touched the soul of this cynical old free-roaming woodsman. What made it even more special was the fact that Mary revealed to me that she is shy about playing for anyone. What a treat!
We spoke more of the woods and our common love for it all, before realizing, somewhat grudgingly, that we needed to make the trek back. (That was probably good timing, as when I arrived home I discovered that my legs had taken on the patina of a broiled lobster.)
On the ascent, we meandered some more, talked a lot, and discovered even more treasures of the forest. Mary retrieved a heart-shaped rock, explaining that she collects such shapes for her garden.
I didn't come away with any rocks, but I did discover Mary's secret fountain of youth: It is what she said in the first place—her simple, unbridled love for everything. Now that's a real treasure!
As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God continue to bless you.