The Mountain of Manhood.
By Cory Dudley
Jose Garcia Perez was in the field of his father hoeing weeds and shooing away the birds that were after the new sprouts of corn that had just started to turn the field green. At ten he already knew much about tending crops and what was required to care for the animals on his father’s six hundred hectors. He also knew the feeling of having put in a long days work on an empty stomach, but he never complained. The ranch was the bond that kept the family together. When the weather was good and the crops were lush the few head of cattle they sold brought in enough to make life a bit easier.
There was no more school for Jose, he now had the almost all of the responsibilities, a heavy load for him to carry. The past year had seen a drastic decline in his father’s health, the constant coughing and loss of weight had him in bed most of the time. Doctor Ramirez would visit him once a week but the possibility of him getting better was never brought up.
“Papa the fields are looking good and I have managed to scare the birds so I think we will have a good crop.”
He laughed and made a gesture as if throwing a rock. The best Jose’s father could do was smile and take Joe’s hand holding it until he dropped off to sleep once again. Jose spent much time by his father’s bedside when his daily chores were over. Something told Jose the time he spent with his father at this time was very important, it was something a son should do. Jose’s sister Carmen would bring him something to eat during these times and always gave him a hug.
Carmen shouted across the field, “Jose come home quickly come right now, the doctor wants to see you.”
Jose dropped the hoe and ran past Carmen leaping over the fence and entered the house. Once inside he was greeted by Doctor Ramirez.
“Jose please come with me.”
Jose followed the doctor outside.
“Jose your father is very ill as you know and his time with us could be very limited.”
He paused and put his hand on Jose’s shoulder.
“Your father may not be with us for very long, your family should spend as much time with him as possible to make his last days as comfortable as possible. Do what little it takes to keep the farm up and running but dedicate your time to your father.
Jose knew about such things, his mother had gone the same way, a very long illness then one day she just slipped and was gone.
The doctor put his hands on Jose’s shoulders, “You are a good son Jose and you have the support of the community.”
Jose returned to his father’s bedside, Carmen was on the other side of the bed. They were both holding their fathers hand as well as each other’s hand, both had tears running down their cheeks. The night was long, no thought of working the fields as the sun began to rise they just sat in silence. Carmen was saying the rosary using her mother’s beads, she paused, “Are you hungry Jose?” Jose just shook his head then got up and got another blanket and gently placed it over his father.
“Jose, Carmen please come closer.”
They sat on the bed each holding their fathers hand.
“I want you to follow my instructions please. Some time ago I was offered many pesos for the ranch by Don de Lama, many pesos. Maybe the time has arrived to sell the ranch the papers have been drawn up Carmen and I signed them a few months ago, they are in my desk. The money will be deposited in an account and you will be responsible for the welfare of you and your brother until he can care for himself, do you agree to this my daughter?”
With tears flowing down her cheeks she squeezed her father’s hand and quietly told him she understood.”
“I know Alfredo has asked you to marry him my daughter, he is a good man but not a farmer. He will provide for you over the years Carmen and you will bare healthy children. Jose you have been a wonderful son and have carried a heavy load for such a young man. You my son are a farmer and have made me very proud. One day you can have your very own ranch if you wish the pesos will be there. The soil is friendly to your hands; you have the gift of farming. Jose, climb the mountain, climb Picacho Del Diablo my son. When you reach the top you will become a man and the mountain will teach you many lessons that will guide you through life.”
Jose held his father’s hand even tighter and with his lips close to his father said, “I will Papa, I will climb the mountain as you did so many years ago then become a man like you Papa, this I promise.”
That night Ramon “Chico” Perez quietly slipped away. Jose and Carmen remained at his bedside until dawn without speaking a word. The funeral service like most services in San Vicente was short with just about everyone in this simple Pueblo attending. Ramon had been known within the community as “The quiet farmer” a gentle man.
Three days later Alfredo Garcia began loading up all of the Perez family belongings into his truck and headed for his house in town. Carmen and Jose left the ranch in tears but carried away many things that were not in Alfredo’s truck, memories and a rose bush their mother had planted was in Carmen’s arms. The agreement Ramon had sighed with Don de Lama was taken to the bank, funds were put into an account and a week later new field hands were working the fields and casting stones at the birds. It all seemed to happen so fast, one day Jose was tending the fields now he was trying on new cloths and getting ready to return to school.
The tears past and Jose grew into a strapping young man who caught the eye of many young girls in San Vicente. The day of his graduation from High School he decided to act on his father’s wish. The time had arrived for him to climb Picacho Del Diablo; it was time to become a man. He had quietly been getting ready for the ordeal. He had started running a few a kilometers each day before school. He was now running five kilometers each day. He was looking forward to the challenge and especially the view from the top. There he would be able to see the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Sea of Cortez to the east and San Vicente far below. “I’m ready to become a man.”
“Carmen I will be gone for a few days, there is something I must do.”
“Climb carefully brother. I have seen you getting ready to challenge the mountain; I know you will make it.”
He packed his bed roll and put enough food and water in his backpack for a week. It weighed more the he had thought it would as the backpack slipped over his shoulders. He set out early that evening to avoid the heat and followed the dry creek bed that led to the base of mountain; it was a full day walk. This was his first trip into this area but the full moon and stars made the walk easy. It was getting light when he arrived at the base of the mountain, El Diablo seemed much higher than he had thought. He set up camp under a large tree and then gathered some stones to make a fire pit for his afternoon meal. His plan was to set out just before day break and head for the summit. It looked like a long climb but many had done it before and he was in good shape.
As he dressed in the morning darkness he was thinking about his father and how proud he would have been to see his son standing at the summit, he smiled. He carried three tortillas filled with beans and two small water bottles. “This will be enough to get me up and back before it gets dark.” For the first two hours it was easy climbing it was a well-used trail. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a tortilla, he ate it without out missing his stride. He glanced over his shoulder and was truly surprised at the height he had reached. He looked up at the peak and became aware of just how high he actually was, it surprised him. Six hours of climbing at this pace had him completely exhausted. He finally had to stop, he was out of water and there was nothing left to eat. He knew he would not be able to reach the summit today; he turned back and returned to his camp. He barely made it back to camp before night had set in; he was too exhausted to eat and just went to sleep. Two days later he tried it once again, slowing down his pace and carrying more food. He passed the small pile of rocks he had set alongside the trail it was as far as he had made it on his first attempt. Once again the mountain would not allow him the summit, “I need to be in better shape and then I can reach the top.”
Jose returned to San Vicente, his sister welcomed him home but never asked how the climb was; she saw the sadness in his eyes. Every morning for six months he would train and was soon running fifteen kilometers effortlessly. Every six months he was given a two week vacation from his job packing vegetables for Don de Lama main ranch.
“Tomorrow I leave, the summit shall be mine.” He had learned the three tortillas filled with beans was not enough, it was going to take at least eight and much more water. Once again he headed out with his eyes set on the distant summed, nothing else mattered. The trek to his old camp seemed much shorter this time. After seven hours he could see te summit, another two hours and it would be his, but it was getting dark, the mountain had denied him once again. He rested the following day thinking he might be taking the wrong path. Dawn broke and much to his amazement was a person in a bed roll just a few feet away. He started the fire to make breakfast he had decided to spend another day resting. The new arrival awake and it was a boy a bit younger then him.
“Good morning, I hope I didn’t wake you last night, I followed to smell of smoke. I was a little lost and it was nice to find another person. I’m Federico Lopez, I’m from San Telmo. I’ve come to climb the mountain are you also climbing it?”
Jose looked at the frail looking young man and started to smile.
“You are rather young to be climbing this mountain, it’s not an easy task, Ive been climbing it for years. Please share my breakfast Federico you will need all the energy you can get if you are to stand on the summit.
The young man looked at Jose with a surprised look.
“Is it that difficult?’
Jose just smiled. The boy accepted his offer and had breakfast.
“I’ve never been this far from home before, this is truly an adventure for me.”
Jose’s guest started packing his belongings into his backpack. Jose noted the boy only had one bottle of water and his backpack must weigh at least fifteen kilo’s.
“You plan on carrying all of that to the top?”
“Well almost to the top, my father told me that if I climbed the mountain I would learn many things and become a man, he had climbed it as a young man. He told me the trail was tough and that I would be impressed with the small meadow and the little stream just off the main trail it was a good place to spend the night.”
“Meadow, small stream, spend the night?”
“Yes he suggested I spend the first night there then move up to the large outcropping the following day he said the view at night was unbelievable. He suggested I leave my food there and strike out for the summit at first light. He said I would be back the meadow before dark.”
Jose just stood there looking at the young man; he could not believe his ears.
“I have a great idea; it would be nice if we could climb the summit together how does that sound Jose? I have plenty of food and had planned on spending four days to climb the mountain. I think you would be good company and you could teach me a few things about climbing mountains. I would truly appreciate it Jose seeing as how you have been climbing this mountain and knew it very well.”
Jose slowly broke camp full well knowing he would not be returning later on in the day. He mumbled to himself, “Two or three days” then broke out in laughter.
“It’s going to be a great day, a great day. I’m glad you found my camp last night, I think my father sent you, he knew I was getting tired.”
Once again Jose laughed and the boy joined in as they headed up the mountain.
We all have mountains to climb; some find it easier than others. If you should meet a stranger along “your climb” be sure and pay attention to what they have to say, it could save you a lot of time and make your climb much easier.