Being Scared While Having Fun

Rick called me the other day. No reason, he explained. Just wanted to talk.

He told me he’d finally gotten around to starting what I had urged him to do — write a book about his life. He’d already given it the tentative title of My First Life As I Remember It. He’d told me enough about his adventures when he was years younger that I agreed the title was most appropriate.

I mean, this guy has stories that will have you on the edge of your chair anticipating or falling off it with laughter.

He’s already written poems so good that they’ve graced the pages of several newspapers. The few poems I’ve read not only reflect his bold take on life, but also the full width and breadth of the Great American West where fact and fable are often so close together, they can hardly be told apart.

Born and raised in Detroit, Rick took to the streets to learn how to walk the talk. In his late twenties, he went to Montana. That was back when the state was more like it had been a hundred years before, not what the rest of the country had become.

He immediately plunged himself into the culture, a new normal such as getting caught in the screaming wind of a blinding blizzard, the temperature below zero. Yet, Rick lusted for more — more excitement, more risk, more of anything short of daredevil and suicidal.

Tall, husky, and impressively sturdy, he chose to face down any obstacle that caused even native Montanans to hesitate. Still, he wasn’t foolish, like the time he slowly backed away from a grizzly ready to attack.

As we talked, he said, “If I’m not scared, I’m not having fun.” Yeah, he actually said that.

The soft button, though, has always been within reach, like when he was pursuing a livestock eating mountain lion. Astride his horse, Nugget, he followed the animal’s tracks in the snow that ended at the mouth of a small dark cave. He pulled the 30-30 rifle from its holster, loaded it, waited a few moments, then took aim as the mountain lion cautiously emerged from the cave and into the light. Rick was already tightening his finger on the trigger when three small cubs scampered out of the darkness to join their mother at her feet. Through squinted eyes, he looked again at the mother and three, then relaxed, stowed the rifle, and rode off.

Now in his early seventies, Rick wonders how he won, much less survived the self-induced wagers that often brought him so close to the edge that when he looked down, there was nothing but space.

All of it contrasts sharply with his present existence — a fine wife, three great adult kids, and his self-made job of aiding stranded boaters who call upon his seemingly endless depth of knowledge for help. He begins by stripping every difficulty down to stark nakedness, then building it up from there. He can coax any machine to run, fix anything broken, make do with whatever is handy to get himself or others out of a jam.

I’ve always said this about Rick: If I were stranded on a desert island with only one other person, he’d be the one I’d want at my side. When it comes time for him to leave this earth, he’ll be ready for any task God gives him.

In the meantime, he laughs, he inspires, he motivates. If you’re down when you meet him, he’ll have you up and running before he leaves to tackle the next big thing. His attitude infects, then with crowbar force, goes on to persuade and convince. I could tell you more, but you get the idea.

By merely leading his life for others to see, he teaches a lesson in logic that’s pretty clear, one you definitely need to stick on your refrigerator: You will never know you have it until you’re forced to use it. You will never know the full meaning of life until you test its outer limits. You will never experience the pleasure of laughing at yourself until you remember those times you were scared to death.

I can count on one hand with four fingers left over, the number of people who can execute in that fashion. To Rick, I give a thumb turned straight up.