There was a two thousand foot drop on our left and a small rock ledge just a little over the width of a foot and half to progress upon. Most of the hike was just a trudge without any major exposure, but the next 200 yards were dramatically different. I told my son to give every step all of his attention. I told him this was a “no fail” situation. I couldn’t hold on to him as I was path finding and had to rely on his own efforts. The sun had just risen on our right and the bright glare made looking for handholds more difficult. With slow and deliberate movements we made it back up the main ridge line at 14,000 feet where the ridge spread out and now felt more like a table top than the last several minutes.
As we finished the last 100 feet of the climb my mind began to race, What was I thinking putting an eight year old in such a dangerous position? What if there had been a loose rock? Am I a bad father? Moments later when we made the summit the celebrations began and the voices of fear were quieted. I had squelched those same voices two years early when I had my son hanging from the cables going up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
A couple of years later he would show me a leather bracelet he made with the words, “No Fail” inscribed on it.
My son, Don Owens IV (Beau) would follow me for years into less than safe adventures, but in time, I would be following him. When he hit his teens I couldn’t keep the same pace. I remember a river crossing in Arkansas where he leapt across with ease and I needed his help to make the large jump. Climbing fourteen thousand foot mountains in Colorado he would be easily an hour ahead of me if he had not waited. I would help him catch his first fish at three, but he would become an excellent angler and end up teaching me how to fly fish. I still don’t have the confidence to fly fish without him. I would take him hunting, but he would stop using rifles and learn the patience of bow hunting with incredible success.
Not only was he growing past me in strength and skill, but in mind and heart. I would share and talk of faith, but at the age of eight he would already be sharing faith with others his age and younger.
I am reflecting on the last twenty two years this weekend because my son is following the visions in his life and moving to Alaska as a pilot in one of the most amazing landscapes of the world. I thought my daughter would be the one to move far from home, but for now it is her adventurous brother. He departs September 14th.
We are no strangers to our kids taking on things which make us nervous. Two years ago, Sarah left alone to walk 500 miles across Spain on The Camino de Santiago. She came back with incredible stories and a husband.
As with other things we introduced our son to, he discovered a love for flying and Alaska in 2016. We boarded a 1946 Beaver bush plane in McCarthy, Alaska with our gear and were flown into the middle of the Wrangell St Elias National Park, the largest national park in the U.S., for four days. A pilot named Larz with Wrangell Mountain Air soared through the canyons and over the glaciers and landed us on a sandbar. Beau smiled the entire time. During our four days of hiking and pack rafting in the wilderness Beau would act more as our guide than as a fellow adventurer. This adventure defined his course from then on.
Last month while he was training in Alaska Danae and I took a flight out to the Colony Glacier to pack raft through the icebergs. While we paddled, Beau flew over us with a low flying greeting. The photo I was able to take was the capture of a dream fulfilled. A boy in a plane flying in the most majestic of places with a smile the size of Texas. And it was the joy of a parent watching your son soar.
When my son was nineteen he flew me in a Citabria through Caprock Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. He swooped into the canyon and dodged left and right through its winding walls. I was in his hands and trusting he would respond rightly as it was a “no fail” situation and there was nothing I could bring to the moment except to enjoy it.
Beau is extremely thoughtful. He is willing to teach others and patient with their progress. He can spend a weekend hunting, never see a thing, and still be thrilled with the time outdoors. He is methodical making his personality perfect for being a pilot. He listens and absorbs when learning something new and never acts like a know-it-all.
He is respectful of his elders and loves his friends. He can play with a child and carry a conversation with the most esteemed of gentlemen. He loves his girl. He loves the Lord and seeks Christ. He behaves honorably and has honored us throughout his life through his action.
He appreciates nature and its creator. From an earlier age he would have the neighbor kids meet him early in the morning so they could all watch the sunrise.
He is down for any adventure. He’s hiked Machu Picchu in Peru, The Pyrenees of Spain, Omotepe in Nicaragua, the hills of Southern China, the snow covered mountains of British Columbia, the Appalachian Trail, the slots of Utah, and the wilds of Alaska. He never turns me down for a hike, climb or paddle, so long as I ensure he has time to fish. At an early age he has a wealth of stories to tell.
I am proud of my son. Proud of how he has lived his life and proud of how he has committed and pursued the things and people he loves. I am grateful for his faith. Both of our kids have pursued their faith in Christ and nothing could make us happier as parents. Even better, they chose individuals that built their lives with the same love and pursuit of Jesus Christ.
If you are looking for a true friend, a teacher, an adventurer, a kind spirit, a leader...then I suggest you spend more time with my son. He will make your life and story better. He has made mine complete.