Marsh Eaton

Four Words

As an occasional climber with John, I regard trips with him as journeys into magical geography;  not only the dimensional geography of the Pacific Northwest, but also the geography of his imagination, his historic tales, his drive and his genius.

This story borders on the cliché, in that friends, when they read the four words at the end of this story, will figure they knew that all along.  The setting was the top of Colonial Mountain on a Cascade summer day.  John was perched near Charlie Janeway's son, Jeffrey, a tag-along knowing neither the local geography nor John. All three of us quietly absorbed the scene, as we breathed deeply in response to oxygen debt from the climb.  Stunning cloudless blue skies merged into magnificent mountain peaks in all directions.  Every glance delighted our senses with visions of foreground ridges, mid-distance summits and distant massifs linked together by fading colors.

We owl-rotated our heads, awed by the immensity of the panorama before us and occasionally pausing to appreciate views recognized from past adventures.   Eventually Jeffrey turned to John and simply blurted: "So, John, I know you climb a lot ---- which ones have you done?"

John paused in his style of taking every comment seriously, and looked across the horizon.  I glanced at John as he brushed his beard in a light downward stroke.

"Everything you can see."

He remained still, satisfied to be blunt, and perhaps hid a smile.

The pause was now Jeffrey's.  He blinked as the ramification of John's simple answer filled his imagination.  He moved his lips, as if to repeat the words, but said no more.  We settled into silence.  If genius is utterly unique and beyond most people's imagination, then John is a true genius of geography.