Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. - Lord Tennyson, Ulysses.
Forty-five years; nearly half a century; more than half a lifetime. That is the time that has passed since my father and I built our first cabin in Sunshine Valley. With fast running mountain streams off snow covered peaks, this verdant valley was the image of Shangri-la itself to my young virginal eyes, stimulating the natural aspirations of a young man’s heart to exploration and adventure.
As the rose fingered dawn appeared above the mountains which ringed us on all sides, we appraised our task in the brisk morning air. I was barely a teen, bare skinned against Helios (God of Sunshine) in a vain attempt to at least obtain a suntan whilst swinging a hammer, blindly following orders from my father through an incomprehensible process of building a home from scratch. Inexplicable to me, my father had an innate understanding of the arcane process to convert a barren site of land, into a cottage complete with a fireplace, from which our family would enjoy many years of blissful solitude and reverence in the womb of Mother Nature.
I became, unknowingly, a pupil of my father: self-mastery of his trade, his energy for all that was done according to reason, his constant equability, his serene expression, his gentleness, his lack of conceit; his drive to take a firm grasp of affairs. How he would never put anything aside without first looking closely to understand it clearly; how he was never rushed in anything. He would not listen to malicious gossip; he was an accurate judge of men’s character and actions; slow to criticize, immune to rumour and suspicion, devoid of pretence. How he was content with little by way of house, bed, dress, food; his love of work and his stamina. He was a man to stay at the same task until evening, not needing to relieve himself except at his usual hour, such was his frugal diet. Constant and fair in his friendships; tolerant of frank opposition to his own views, and delighted to be shown a better way; to give of himself freely, without thought of profit, to whomever might benefit from his assistance. Quick to wit and laughter, enjoying the company of men who too enjoyed his, a strength of character and indomitable spirit visible through periods of illness and physical ailments; integrity, and manliness. A former soldier visible through an unmistakably military bearing. May my own final hour find me with a conscience as clear as his.
Those years spent in our youth, and the quality of the time spent in the company of our fathers, are clearly numbered. Soon enough, I was off to University, and then abroad to Tokyo, Toronto and London for twenty years. The vivid memories of the experience of those precious years sustained me in ways I was unaware, while I, like Odysseus himself, was forlorn to think that I may never again return to share time with my parents in the Shangri-La that had since become their home.
It is perhaps a matter of taste as to whether one prefers Remembrance of Things Past”, or In Search of Lost Time as the title for Proust’s masterpiece.