Jeremiah Johnson

There are very few movies that I remember watching with my Father...we usually spent time outdoors instead...building fence...working in the barn...tinkering with a thousand half-broken things in his workshop...but, for some reason, sitting down with him and watching a movie...or TV...just never happened...he was always busy with his hands...always moving...always working...heh, I believe he was an artist at heart...even if some of his "art" was a little on the intimidating side...he made it for himself...and gave it away gladly to admirers at the drop of a hat...every member of my family has something that he made with his hands...he made stick men out of railroad spikes....he twisted copper wire into hearts with arrows through them...he made huge Conan-the-Barbarian-esque swords and battle axes out of broken railroad rail......he made a giant copper ashtray once...I still have it....it looks more like something a Viking would carry into battle to bludgeon the enemy with...than an ashtray....but, in their own way, each thing he made was beautiful...each thing he made...contained a bit of his essence...

..One of the few times that he’d stop what he was doing…was to watch Jeremiah Johnson...together, we watched Robert Redford build his first greenhorn fire...under that fateful hemlock tree many, many times....each time that clump of snow fell on his fledgling fire, Dad would quietly say...just under his breath...."Damn.."....it was like he was there with Redford...freezing under that tree...knowing that with out the fire, he would surely die that night....and with fire, he would survive....I think that is the way my Dad lived his life...I think he understood...in a way that I will never be able to, exactly how Jeremiah Johnson felt at that precise moment...

That movie, in so many ways, tells a story of pain, loss, endurance, will, freedom, love, self-denial, self-reliance ..hell ..I've been close to death...I've climbed mountains...I understand...and love...cold, vicious, deadly weather...but, I have always understood the need for preparation... planning... and good equipment.... Johnson and my Dad...they had it differently...my little adventures have been just that...adventures...my Dad, on the other hand, did it because it was his job...he fed his family...he did it because he loved us, and that was the only way he could provide for us...I did it for kicks...it is a totally different thing, to go out to work on the railroad at 20 degrees...all day....in jeans, steel-toed work boots, and a Carhart jacket...because, that's all you had....and ME to go out dressed in REI, North Face, Gore-tex, Marmot, Patagonia, etc...and think I'm hard...I'm not....I'm prepared...not hard....my DAD was hard...Jeremiah Johnson was hard...we push ourselves now...out of boredom....not out of necessity....now, to do it everyday?...for years?...because you HAVE to?....that, my friend, is true courage...true grit...one could almost say "heroism"...

...this morning, as I was having my cigarette, I noticed the snow on the mountains...far off in the distance....I suddenly felt very lonely....I remembered my Dad...and watching that movie...for some reason, I just couldn't shake the image of Redford bent over that tiny fire......later, I was speaking with a friend...and without even thinking, I suddenly said..."You know, one day I might just disappear into those mountains, and never come back...hell, all I'd need is 15 minutes to pack my gear...I could live up there for years"....they didn't say anything right away...and then, they looked at me...and said...."I know you could do it...but, you'd be missed"....

...One of my most prized possessions is an original 1972 movie poster of Jeremiah Johnson...framed, and on the wall in my living room...I know it is just a movie...but, sometimes, movies aren't just movies...The characters guide us – in ways we cannot understand – to a place we want to be….maybe even...to people we want to be..

by Eric on January 19, 2004 | Comments(9) | SWG Stories

Comments so far:

Deep Deep Deep, I'm not kidding - Good Job!

posted by: Sam on January 19, 2004 08:22 PM

Haha, nice. I linked you! Rock.

posted by: Agatha on January 19, 2004 10:43 PM

Close. But no tears!!! Damn good, tho.

posted by: Indigo on January 19, 2004 11:48 PM

RRiiiiiichus tale!!!

posted by: wes jackson on January 20, 2004 02:26 AM

Great story - lotsa heart!

posted by: suzi on January 20, 2004 02:41 AM

Well said, well said. Was that the L&N?

posted by: Velociman on January 20, 2004 05:44 PM

it was Southern back then, Velociman....which is now Norfolk Southern...

posted by: Eric on January 20, 2004 07:15 PM

Ah. My competition...

posted by: Velociman on January 20, 2004 10:55 PM

Jeremiah Johnson is my all time favorite movie. I just watched it with my daughters and I hope it influenced them in a good way. Jeremiah was a tough mountain man who always listened to his heart....enjoyed your story, thank ye kindly.

posted by: Jones on April 12, 2004 02:01 PM