Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eulogies 101 - Olaf

Continued from Muse 3

They rarely holidayed together. Their interests were so different. In the beginning, it was his 'difference' that set him apart. He was like nobody she had ever met. Brave, exciting, arrogant. His weather beaten tanned body strong and able, his rugged face obscured by the beard of a woodsman, his eyes piercing blue and fierce with the lust for adventure. She knew he was wild, she knew he was an adventurer and that drew her immediately from her safe life.

She was high school teacher straight out of college, he a reluctant Librarian at the same school but that's where any commonality ceased. He was an adventurer, a trekker, an explorer of remote places. She liked her creature comforts and after years of moving with her family due to her father's work, wanted stability, children and picket fence security.  

Occasionally, they'd vacation in mutually adored places, the Cook Islands or American Samoa but for the most part, they vacationed separately, she visiting friends in New Zealand or Queensland, he taking off for the Himalayas or Andes with little more than a tent and a sleeping bag, and a trusty propane stove.

He was the type to mow his lawn in a sarong, his Scandinavian gruffness easily mistaken for rudeness. He was abrupt and broody. She was a country child then a city woman with intelligence and good manners, genteel and happy. They never married. It bothered her that he wandered off on a whim or that he might take off for good one day due to boredom or the pressures of domestic life.  It tore at her every time she dropped him off at the airport and hugged him goodbye, often wishing he'd go somewhere safer, less remote.  It never bothered him a jot and he'd disengage from her embrace a little too quickly, a little too eagerly. She knew things weren't as they should be but never had the courage to challenge him or indeed to even ask him if he was happy.

He moved through the automatic doors long before she'd even put on her seat belt, eager to be free of the trappings of suburban life, suburban wife.  She wiped the welling in her eyes with the back of her hand and put on a brave face as she slipped sadly away from the kerb, ignoring the chattering of her toddlers, restrained in the back seat. She thought briefly that perhaps Olaf felt restrained but shed the thought as the influx of city traffic distracted her.

He'd made the trip many times alone and with the company of others. This time, he took a bevy of students, eager mountaineers all excited about their adventure. The flights were gruelling, three of them in all and as is always the case in South America, local planes were overbooked and late. Their arrival in Lima allowed them a couple of days respite and time to provision before packing up once again and heading south via the Cajatambo bus on a partially paved road. The 11 hours together allowing them to get to know each other.  His group of students did not like him. They found him gruff and controlling, rude and domineering. He found them trivial and chattering, unwilling to listen or absorb things around them.  They were noisy and disrespectful and he let them know it. They on the other hand knew that the coming weeks were going to require their patience, either that or him being pushed off the edge of a precipice.

The group of 8 prepared with small hikes out of Huaraz to acclimatise to the altitude. Some feeling the sickness but after a couple of days, all were excited and prepared to venture out on one the world's most beautiful treks. Their journey would take them from Matacancha to Pallca among the majestic peaks and stunning vistas.

Olaf was not a patient man and the persistent chatter of his young cohorts annoyed him when all he wanted to absorb was the majesty of the mountains, the depths of the valleys, the abiding silence, quiet as the grave. The rowdy group of fellow Australians were prone to breaking into what could only loosely be called song to vent their exuberance.

"Rocks without mouths sing the best songs..." he'd chided the group when he could stand the cacophony no more. 

"Listen to the mountains, they have their own music and don't need to be corrupted by your caterwauling!"

Silenced by his ill humour, they put metaphoric tails between their legs and complied, but quietly complained about the temperament of their guide and jokingly plotted his demise and disappearance.

It's an unforgiving circuit, the landscape rugged and cursed with unpredictable weather. None of these challenges fazed the group as they trailed along the old Inca road over high pass after high pass, through an Andean wilderness where condors soar high along the ridges and peaks in search of carrion, and wild horses graze in small herds. 

It was on their sixth day that Olaf was uncharacteristically not the first to rise and heat a billy for morning tea. It was on their sixth day that there was no fire even lit. It was on their sixth day that they found him, sleeping peacefully, fitfully, eternally in his tent. It was six days later that his body was recovered by the Peruvian authorities and six weeks after that, when he was finally released, returned home and laid to rest.

It took time for it to sink in. The past weeks had been a flurry of administration, legal representation and scraping the funds to return her partner to Australia under the most stressful and desperate of circumstances.

Her heart doubted and was suspicious but nothing could be proven.  She almost felt shame that he had died by leaving a propane heater on in his tent. She couldn't understand it. He was a seasoned camper, an expert mountaineer yet he'd made the most novice of mistakes. Perhaps he was tired, perhaps he just nodded off. Perhaps someone lit it after he'd fallen asleep.  Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps the differences between them had grown insurmountable and he'd taken his own life.  The autopsy results were certain, he'd died of carbon monoxide poisoning but nobody knew exactly how. She will never know exactly why.

RIP Olaf Arud
"Forever Listening to the Mountains"
1945 - 1995

Posted for the 10th River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Muse 4 "Rocks Without Mouths Sing the Best Songs"