There I was, dancing a wild Irish jig to a live Irish band in Blarney Stone, a small, energetic pub in Fountain Valley on the evening of March 17. It was a wild Orange County crowd. As the clock neared midnight and the band played louder, I shouted to my dance partner that it was almost my birthday.
I had met “Denver” Dave from Colorado that night. He had recently moved to L.A. for a new job. Slim and handsome in a green shirt with a honey-colored beard, he looked like a real mountain man. He pulled me closer and yelled, “What?” The music was so loud, I grabbed his hand to look at his wristwatch only to see that it was 12:05 a.m. March 18, and I announced to him that it was officially my birthday.
With a wide grin, he whirled me near the stage and told the band that I was a birthday girl. The band members began to play “Happy Birthday,” and the crowd encircled us and cheered us on. On the tiny dance floor, it was hot from all the pulsing bodies, but I loved it. All eyes were still smiling on me when the band segued into another song, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
Blushing and overheated, I swam through the crowd to escape outside for some air. Dave followed me.
Then I remembered my ski plans. In several hours, I was going on a day trip with the Sierra Singles skiers. I explained this to Dave and said, “I gotta go,” so he asked for my phone number. Instead I took his. Driving off into that calm, chilly March night, I felt so happy — single and happy. My Irish gramma always told me to count my blessings and believe in Irish luck. And I always did.
Dawn came all too soon. Running a bit late, I drove like a banshee on the empty L.A. freeways to the carpool meeting place — only to find everyone gone. When snow is involved, skiers tend to get up early, and the Sierra Club policy is to leave on time. I probably missed the group by minutes. Where was my Irish luck?
Then I saw a car speeding toward me. To my surprise, it was the mountain man, “Denver” Dave. He was also a Sierra Club member. Later I found out that he was often late. As for me, I usually arrive in the nick of time, but I’m never early. I ran over to him. I asked if he were a leprechaun, and if so, where was his pot of gold? Laughing, he said, “Irish lass, I may be a leprechaun, but you have to catch me first.”
We carpooled together to Green Valley Lake near Running Springs in the San Bernardino Mountains. We were both cross-country skiers, so we spent the perfect bluebird-sky day exploring new trails. We never caught up with the other Sierra Club members, but we quickly got caught up with each other. His green eyes were a magnet to my heart, and we bonded like old friends. Our spirits were adventurous. And as he taught me how to telemark ski safely down a steep slope, I guess I fell in love. My birthday lunch was shared trail mix, apples and water by the small, frozen Green Valley Lake. Best. Birthday. Ever.
On that day, our friendship was born, followed by many more outdoor adventures together: ski trips, hiking Mt. Baldy and beach bike rides. That fine summer we took an epic road trip, driving through Utah to Colorado to visit his family. We waded through the Narrows in Zion, dared to climb Angels Landing and explored desert arches near Moab. In Colorado near his home, we stood bathed in golden sunset awe in the Garden of the Gods near Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
One day we started up the famed Longs Peak but turned back due to a sudden summer storm. I will never forget the beauty of the Rockies and the delicate alpine flowers on the Maroon Bells trail. We also picked wild cherries with “Denver” Dave’s sister in Boulder to make the most amazing, mouthwatering cherry pie (my favorite) I have ever tasted.
Once back in Southern California, Dave realized he missed his majestic mountains. After a painful decision and a goodbye to L.A., he moved north to Fresno to be closer to Yosemite Valley. He played in the Sierra Mountains every weekend. I visited him that first winter, and we were at the base of Yosemite Falls one midnight to witness the special lunar full-moon rainbow that John Muir, the Sierra Club founder, described in his journals. We climbed from the valley floor to the top of Yosemite Falls at Easter and camped in the snow, next to the roar of Yosemite Creek.
However, it was too far for me to drive for quick weekends, and we both knew it. Plus I loved my job and career too much to consider a move.
After he climbed Half Dome on his 40th birthday in August, he saw the writing on the wall. He missed Colorado and his family too much, and soon Dave relocated to Denver for good. I flew east to visit him that frigid December, and we celebrated our end as we did our beginning — this time with a cross-country ski trip in Winter Park. A wee bit older than I was, he was ready to settle down with me, but I still yearned to be free.
He soon re-met a high school friend and married her, and together they have a daughter.
Maybe he was the lucky leprechaun I let slip away. Almost every March 17 and 18, “Denver” Dave remembers and calls to wish me a happy birthday. This wild Irish girl will never forget the warm magic and sweet love she found one night in a small Southern California Irish pub far from Ireland’s damp emerald shores.
The author respects the planet and serves on the Sustainable City Committee for the city of Signal Hill. Culturally curious, she has traveled, lived and worked overseas, as well as backpacked solo in Australia for five weeks. She always follows her heart.
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