Epic Afternoon

Epic afternoon. Dad (Dee Molenaar, aged 99 and 10/12) was visited by three of his old mountaineering buddies – Tom Hornbein, Jim Wickwire, and Bill Sumner – extraordinary climbers all. Dad arm-wrestled Tom (Tom and Willi Unsoeld were the first men to ascend Everest from the West ridge), looked at a K2 book with Jim (Jim and Louis Reichardt were the first Americans to ascend K2), and had a good laugh with Bill (who was a member of the expedition that included the first one-legged person to reach the top of Denali). They talked about old friends, old climbs, and the Mountaineers Lifetime Achievement Award Tom is going to receive tonight. (Tom picked up the award for Dad last spring when Dad was in the hospital, and says that helped him prepare for accepting his own award tonight.)

Watching these old pals reunite – men who have shared adventures together that most people probably can’t even imagine – men who are living pieces of history – brought tears to my eyes. What a privilege to be there with them…

 

 

 

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Dad Turns 98 Today!

Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you. Be afraid of nothing. There is so little time that your youth will last – such a little time.
– Richard Halliburton

God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis.
– Mary Baker Eddy

Dad turns 98 today. A couple months ago he thought he’d be turning 100 today. A month ago he thought he’d be turning 97. We finally got it all sorted out when I reminded him that he was born in 1918 and that it is now 2016. I saw him do the calculations in his head. A few minutes later we were sitting at the dining room table with my mom and husband, when Dad announced, kind of shocked, “I’m going to be 98 in a month! I never thought I’d make it to 98.” Later he told me that 98 sounds a lot older than 100. Apparently he just skipped over 98 and 99 and went right from 97 to 100 when he’d been trying to figure out his age.

Think about this: When Dad was born women didn’t have the right to vote, yet. Radios, telephones, and cars had just been invented. There were no CDs, televisions, cellphones, or computers. There was no internet. There was no Google. There was no Wikipedia. To find information people often went to the library and did research in these things called books – and sometimes the research might take days or even weeks! (Today if you want to find out more about Dad, all you’ve got to do is go to his Wikipedia page – et voila! There he is!)

People also read those things called books just for fun. The book that Dad has said most influenced him was a book called The Rolling Road to Romance by an adventurer named Richard Halliburton. Halliburton exonerated his readers to “Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you. Be afraid of nothing. There is so little time that your youth will last – such a little time.”

Dad took those words to heart.

Dad was born at the end of World War I. He survived The Great Depression with his family, served in World War II, has climbed on the highest mountains on earth, went to the South Pole, and close to the North Pole, has been on six of the seven continents, has moved easily among world leaders, and traveled the world with a close group of fellow adventurers and explorers. At various times he’s worked as a photographer, cartographer, geologist, hydrologist, artist, mountain guide, ski instructor, and author. He’s moved through life with no sense of limitation about what he might accomplish or where he might go or who he might meet, and that – what I guess some might call “naïve” – sense of freedom has served him well in his life.

And today he turns 98. He’s still engaged in his life – still enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of Life’s highways and by-ways. He continues to live “the wonderful life” that is in him.

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Dee Molenaar

 

Dad’s Backpack

Tomorrow will not only be Father’s Day, it will be my dad’s 97th birthday. My dad, Dee Molenaar, has lived a most amazing 97 years. He was born at the end of World War I, was alive when women got the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, fought in World War II, saw men walk on the moon, and teared-up with pride for his country the night the first African-American was elected President. He has traveled on six of the seven continents (the only continent he somehow missed was Africa),  climbed on the highest mountains in the world (and, with his climbing team, almost made the first summit of the second tallest one), painted paintings, written books, created maps, had his photos published in National Geographic, and hobnobbed with presidential candidates.

He and Mom are currently in the process of moving out of their home of 48 years. This has involved some down-sizing. Last weekend when I was at their place to help them pack up, Dad gave me the little backpack he’d bought in 1973 for his journey to Europe to climb in the Alps. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to be able to bring that familiar little pack home with me. I always knew I was safe when I was climbing with the man who wore this pack. This is the pack Dad wore to the summit of Rainier when we’d climbed it together in 1977, and the same pack I’d followed up to the top of Mount Baker ten years later. This is the pack Dad wore when he’d taken hikes with my young sons and myself. There are a lot of fond memories attached to that pack.

For now, it is hanging from a hook in our family room. I know it doesn’t have any special magical powers or anything, but somehow just looking at it makes me feel safe.

Dee Molenaar's pack

Dad’s pack

Reluctant Heroes and Reluctant Leaders

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
– William Shakespeare

 “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve always enjoyed the “reluctant heroes” and “reluctant leaders” of literature and film, and real life – the people who don’t really seek to be heroes or leaders; who don’t really want to risk their lives; who have some concept of what might happen to them if they step forward and do the right thing, and sigh and take a deep breath, and do it anyway. These aren’t the people who are seeking the limelight. They aren’t looking for glory. They don’t want medals and awards and accolades and power. They’re doing the right thing in spite of their trepidation. They’re doing the right thing simply because they don’t have it in them to NOT try to save someone else’s life, or rescue the puppy, or stand up for what is right and fair, or to lead when there is a need. They are, in my mind, the best kinds of heroes and leaders.

In literature, one of my favorite “reluctant heroes” is Frodo Baggins. Frodo clearly does not want the responsibility of The Ring. He’d much rather have given that responsibility to someone else, and gone home to his quiet life in the Shire. But he realizes that he’s the only one equipped – mentally and emotionally – to take on the responsibility. He’s the only one humble enough. In short, his very reluctance to be the hero is exactly why he’s the best one fit to BE the hero.

In “Are You a Reluctant Leader?” Walt Grassle writes: “…often, reluctant leaders are the best leaders. They lead from a desire to serve, not a desire for power.” And in “The Reluctant Leader” Lainie Heneghan writes: “Adaptability, humility, a capacity to bring others along in their efforts, and a plain old willingness to listen are defining qualities of reluctant leaders.”

In thinking about reluctant leadership, the death of one of my dad’s climbing friends in an avalanche on Mount Rainier comes to mind. Dad’s friend, Willy, had been leading a group of climbers from Evergreen State College up Mount Rainier when an avalanche struck the team.  Willy and another climber were buried under the avalanche. The other team members were able to uncover the snow from the two victims’ bodies, and tried to resuscitate them, but without success. The team’s leader, Willy, was gone, and the remaining members were in a perilous situation – exhausted, traumatized, and in shock. It was then, according to Dad, that Ian, one of the student-members of the climbing team, stepped forward and assumed leadership. As I understand it, this student had been one of the quieter members of the team until that moment – a strong climber who had earlier helped Willy scout out the route to the summit – but not someone who had sought attention for himself. I’m sure that Iain would rather not have been in a situation where he had to assume leadership.  But, as Dad tells it, Ian was an observer and he’d seen there was a need – recognized that someone needed to step forward and give direction to the team – and he had done what he knew needed to be done to get the surviving members of the team safely off the mountain.

I’m guessing the world is full or reluctant heroes and leaders – people quietly making the lives of other people better; people stepping up to the plate when a leader is needed, or a hero; people who recognize that in their neighborhood, or workplace, or political organization they are the ones best equipped to create a positive atmosphere or lead in a positive direction – and then quietly go about doing so. Without fanfare. Without hope of recognition or credit. Just because it’s the right thing to do.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…” – Matthew 20: 25-27

Walt Grassle’s article: http://researchcareersblog.com/2014/12/08/are-you-a-reluctant-leader/#sthash.ifYrR64X.dpbs

Lainie Heneghan’s article: http://www.jmw.com/assets/JMW_Reluctant_Leader.pdf

reluctant heroes

Photo of cannon at Fort Ticonderoga, NY (Karen Molenaar Terrell)

 

 

 

Preface to Memoirs of a Dinosaur Mountaineer

Preface to Dee Molenaar’s book, Memoirs of a Dinosaur Mountaineer

A light breeze came up the canyon and through the pine boughs overhead, and soon isolated white specks began descending. The snowflakes increased and soon we were encompassed in a flurry that blotted out the semi-arid valley far below, and the trail penetrating the pines below the granite walls high above. In our present light apparel and on a short, leg-stretching hike after motoring from Death Valley 80 miles in the east, our “Old Cronies Expedition” took another prolonged look around, and turned back to the trailhead at Whitney Portal.

It was then that my brother K and I and our friends, George Senner and Bob Johnson, found we were not alone among these rugged mountains.

Coming down through the mists was a lone hiker.

The heavily-bearded, long-haired chap was traveling beneath a bulky backpack that suggested he’d been out for some time. However, the big coil of fiberglass rope tucked beneath a hatchet, a large cast-iron skillet, and soft-toed boots indicated this was no modern-day mountaineer with a fetish for the latest in lightweight travel.

He stopped briefly and we questioned him about his travels. He was originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and more recently from the Stockton area across the mountains. Tiring of the Bay Area drug scene, he was aiming for a change of pace and was now returning from a trip into the mountains. He talked confidently of his climbing experiences and we enjoyed his free-spirited philosophy before we parted. At a distance through the mist we followed his burdened figure down the trail.

Meeting this hairy 40-ish fellow on the Mount Whitney trail rekindled my thoughts of a half-century earlier – in 1937, a late-summer trip into the Sierras Nevada with my brother K, similarly clad in jeans and carrying unwieldy loads. In that day we also had the trail and the mountain pretty much to ourselves. But in today’s world, had we passed here a couple months later, during the summer’s climbing season, we would have been part of the mountain’s allowable 75 hikers registered daily for the 20-mile roundtrip to the top of Mount Whitney.

How times have changed since those youthful days of the 1930s, during the Great Depression and prior to World War II.

Yet my life since has been a succession of fortuitous circumstances – in many cases being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person. And though the breaks never made me rich, they provided a bounty of fond memories of fascinating places and events, people and good friends.

– Dee Molenaar

http://www.amazon.com/Memoirs-Dinosaur-Mountaineer-Dee-Molenaar/dp/1479321907/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415850855&sr=1-1&keywords=dinosaur+mountaineer

Mell, My First Fan

In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend… I shall not leave you. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Mell has been a presence in my life for… well… ever, really. In 1953, before I was even a twinkle in my dad’s eye, Mell’s husband, Pete Schoening, and my dad were comrades on the 1953 American Expedition to K2, the second highest mountain in the world.  In fact, Mell’s husband saved Dad’s life and the lives of four other men on that climb with his belay – known as The Belay amongst those familiar with mountaineering history. If it wasn’t for Mell’s husband I wouldn’t have been born.

Pete was an amazing man with a passion for life and adventure. And Mell, although maybe less well-known, was no less amazing than her husband.

My first memory of Mell is of a visit my family made to the Schoening domicile on Lake Washington when I was maybe seven or eight. I remember clearly Mell’s laugh – an exuberant, infectious, no-holds-barred royal gem of a laugh – the kind of laugh that never failed to make those within earshot start grinning. The Schoening children were there that day – ranging in age from a little older than me to a little younger – and a livelier, more energetic group of playmates I have never known. I remember swimming in the lake with them, gathering around a campfire later and roasting things over the coals, and I remember being in a dark room with the Schoening youngsters and being introduced to the joys of a strobe light for the first time.

Although neither my dad nor Pete had been at all religious men, they had both managed to marry themselves to women who were Christian Scientists. Actually, now that I think about this, Christian Science wives were perfect for those two outdoorsmen. There wasn’t a whole lot of dogma and “religiosity” in Mell’s or Mom’s denomination – no belief in eternal damnation, no belief in an anthropomorphic god who zaps his children to hell periodically, no fear, no guilt, no rigid strictures, or a literal interpretation of The Bible. In short, their wives’ religion made absolutely no demands on Dad or Pete to live any differently than they were already living, and Mom and Mell’s positive view that things always turn out alright in the end was probably a huge support to men who occasionally launched themselves out onto epic adventures in the highest mountains in the world.

In 2005 I published my first book of stories and essays, Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist. I started writing Blessings in April and I’ve never had a book pour out of me so easily and effortlessly. By Mother’s Day I had a rough draft ready to give to my mom for a Mother’s Day gift.  And, because I’d made mention of The Belay and what I called “The Children of the Belay” (the descendants of those who had been roped up to Pete’s belay on K2) in my book, I also sent a copy to Mell – I wanted to get her approval before I published Blessings in a more public way.

A few days later Mell called me up. She told me that my book had really touched her and she wanted to share it with the rest of her family. Mell was my first book fan. By the time our conversation ended I was feeling all galvanized and inspired by her enthusiasm and encouragement – and ready to get Blessings published.

Over the next few months as I prepared my book for publication Mell’s unfailing support was crucial to me. She had the uncanny knack of always calling just as I was getting discouraged – right after some weird computer glitch stalled me out, or the printer stopped working, or I couldn’t figure out how to re-work the formatting. And her words of encouragement always set me back on track with a renewed energy. She helped me feel that what I was doing was important. She helped give me a feeling of mission.

A year or two after Blessings was published, Pete passed on. At the reception to his memorial service, several of his children began talking with me about bringing together the COBs (Children of the Belay) for a kind of reunion. The reunion took place the following August and it was a blast! The Schoening family put it all together for us, and even printed out t-shirts for everyone to commemorate the event. Mell played a huge part in all of that.

After Blessings I published several more books, and every time one came out in print I’d send a copy to Mell – my first fan. And every time she received one of my books Mell would call me, or email me, to thank me and offer her words of encouragement and inspiration.

Mell passed on a couple weeks ago.

Publishing my books is not going to feel the same for me now. I think it’s going to feel like it did the first time I climbed a mountain without Dad. It’s going to feel like there’s something – someone – missing from the whole experience.

I know Mell lives on in our memories of her, in our love for her, and her love for us – and I believe who she is has moved on to whole new adventures. I know her laugh is blessing others right now, as it has blest me.

But I miss her just the same.

And I really wish I could share this post with her.

children of the belay

Children of the Belay, 2006