Editor’s note: Ed and Tresa Konderla live on a mountain ridge half way between La Paz and the Yunguilla valley, an hour’s drive south of Cuenca. On a clear day they can see the Pacific Ocean, 60 miles away, from their front deck. When the fog rolls in, as it frequently does during the rainy season, they can’t see a damn thing. They discovered Ecuador in the late 1990s when Ed worked in the oil fields of the Oriente. They came back to live in 2010 and became Ecuadorian citizens last week.
By Ed Konderla
Damn I hate getting old.
I sit here convalescing from undertaking an excavation project that involved the removal of over 2,000 wheelbarrow loads of dirt. I am not implying I did it alone. If I had, I’m sure this tribute would have been written from a box six feet underground and brought to you by the magic of “the Cloud,” whatever the hell that is.
One of my passions is playing the keyboard and I probably have the only Model 47 Leslie speaker in Molino, Ecuador. If you have to ask what that is, you wouldn’t understand the answer. Although I frequently play along with Youtube, especially the live performances because I always get such a great applause, I rarely listen closely to lyrics. Well, as I sit here wounded, with a left knee that looks like some kind of an overinflated caricature, a left ankle that when I ask my wife what she thinks, she says, “Yup, that’s broken,” and the middle finger of my left hand supported by a popsicle stick held in place with blue masking tape, I have the opportunity to listen to the lyrics since I can’t play along.
As it so happens, I am listening to John Denver’s greatest hits, probably for at least the millionth time.
John and I go way back. I arrived at Lowery AFB, Denver, Colorado, in August 1973, fresh out of basic training. At that time my choice of music was “hard rock” (he said with a defiant glint in his eye). Also, at that time in Denver, you couldn’t turn on the radio without getting either “Rocky Mountain Way” (Kool!) by Joe Walsh or “Rocky Mountain High” (What is this sugar-coated crap?) by, of course, John Denver.
I remember many a time driving from my apartment on Lima Street in Aurora to the base in my orange 1971 Karmann Gia (makes you jealous, don’t it?), desperately trying to change stations in traffic, trying to escape, “He was born in the summer of his 27th year.” I was 19.
I’m now 64. I sit here, a newly minted Ecuadorian citizen (my wife Tresa and I were naturalized last week in Azogues) at our farm high up in the Andes Mountains looking out on a view of which I’m sure John would approve, feeling like I’ve been hit by a speeding bus.
In my pain and discomfort, feeling sorry for myself, accepting that things probably aren’t going to get any better as I get older, I figure I might as well listen to some music. I select some blues, sit back, and well — feel blue.
Youtube knows what I listen to (that’s some scary shit, isn’t it?) so we started off with some Samantha Fish, BB, Stevie Ray. Next thing I know there’s that imminently recognizable guitar and voice, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.” It wasn’t part of the playlist, but hey, why not. So for the next two hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds, John and I walked down country roads, left on jet planes and said goodbye again.
For better or worse, it occurred to me that John has always been with me since my Air Force days in Denver. He was with me through the sad times, through two failed marriages, through the challenging years working in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and the rain forest of Ecuador, through the adventures of building and flying my own aircraft, of Tresa and I driving from east Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska by motorcycle and yes, even while sitting on my couch feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus.
Somehow, for me, John’s music now provokes a cathartic response from me. It has the capacity to make the sad and tragic times seem bitter-sweet and the good times seem incredible and, in the final analysis, to give me something to be thankful for.
After my two hours, 13 minutes and 42 seconds of walking down memory lane and taking advantage of John’s talent for adding a certain dignity and grace to life, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, even though I couldn’t get off of the couch unassisted.
It left me less fearful of the future and grateful that I could count on John to continue with me on my journey. It reminded me that, truly, some days are diamonds and some days are stones.