Direction: Remembering Roger

In the fall of 1971, two years after my father left, I joined the North Junior Mountain Club, run by my Latin teacher, Roger Schoenstein. My weekends throughout all of 9th Grade and into my high school years were spent hiking the Colorado mountains with Roger, often with his wife Patty, and a bunch of other teens.

One Saturday, as we were getting ready to head back to our camp after hiking up a small peak, Roger said “OK, Puzick, lead us on back.”  About 10 seconds later he called out again:  “Hey, Vince…this is great and all but, actually, our camp is that way,” his gloved hand pointed about 180 degrees opposite the direction in which I was headed.

For about six years, from the time I was a 9th grade student until I was a college student, Roger gently (and sometimes maybe not so gently) gave me direction.  With my own addictions and immaturity as a teenage boy trying to navigate his way into young manhood, I was not always able to hear or heed the guidance. Maybe it is always that way between a mentor and a stubborn mentee?  Just when you think you are ready to spread your wings, you make your mistake and learn that you have a lot to learn?

Roger was an incredible Latin and English teacher.  But more than that, he was, in many ways, a Renaissance Man.  Not only did he take us on some extraordinary nature experiences — floating the Green River in canoes, hiking Barr Trail to summit Pikes Peak, exploring the Uncompahgres, surviving overnight cross-country ski trips, and even abandoning one trip to the Grand Canyon when the transmission went out in his truck before we even reached Walsenburg — he also built a darkroom in his basement, played the guitar, knew the ins-and-outs of 16mm films, played tennis, and became an accomplished woodworker.

My teacher, a mentor in so many ways, Roger died early Saturday morning.

We didn’t have a lot of contact in the last several years — for all of the reasons that can happen when two lives get busy and diverge.   But I spent a lot of miles riding in the cab of that F-250 headed to one adventure or another.  I spent hours in the summer of 1975, when we were working the Outdoor School in Vail, riding around in that truck.  He’d give me, a misguided teen boy without a father at home or a direction in life, the keys and let me drive around alone listening to his Cat Stevens tape:  “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” and “The Wind.” Listening for one more instance of “Vince, you want to head that way.”

Whether in a canoe, the cab of a pickup truck, or on the thin boards of cross country skis, or in long conversations while developing black and white photos in the darkroom, you gave me direction at a time I needed it most.

Thank you, Roger.  May you rest in peace.

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