What do you notice in this photo? A cool tree, sure. Lots of hands in the air. Pretty blue sky. The Pacific. Me? I see the lady on the left side/pink mat not following the leader. What does that say about me? More broadly, what does it say about us, if I can be representative of our species? I think it says we notice the people who don’t fall in line. If that’s true, would you rather be the one people notice because you weren’t doing the same thing as everyone else? Or would you rather reach for the sky when all the others are too? Tough choice, eh? So it went last Sunday at Yoga in the Park in Long Beach.
If you call yourself a pro adventure photographer and you call Jackson, Wyoming, your home, you had better be damn good. Take a look at Greg Von Doersten’s work and we think you will understand just how he has used his talented eye to make a name for himself in the proving ground of big mountain culture—and built a career as a successful commercial photographer.
Every erstwhile shutterbug with a taste for fun wants to live the dream and become a pro photographer in a mountain town. And every pro photographer wants to build on their work and succeed in the world of commercial photography. It’s tough to bridge those two worlds and hang on to your soul, but Jackson, Wyoming-based Greg Von Doersten is figuring it out. Born in California, but wandering off for school in Montana and adventure in Wyoming, Von Doersten looks to tell stories in his images and some of his best work takes a view far above the action, making it even more dramatic and engaging. Adventure photography has taken him across the planet, shooting on the Congo with pro kayaker Steve Fisher, to Tibet, to Antarctica, and to some of the wildest spots on the planet with pro athletes like Jeremy Jones and Chris Davenport. He also continues to build a name in the commercial world, shooting for outdoor brands including Helly Hansen and Zeal, and beyond the outdoor industry. “I’m an outdoor/action sports/adventure photographer who is diving into the commercial world of work recently,” he says. “That brings up a lot of new challenges. LA and NYC are a far cry from the mountains, but I enjoy the problem solving and creative challenges of the commercial world as I dive head first into a new market for my photography.” We love to see talented artists get the credit (and cash) they deserve for their hard work… and just take a look at these images.
“Occasionally, I like to take to the air for a unique perspective to make mankind look insignificant in nature. Here, a river surfer carves up Lunch Counter Wave on the Snake River in Alpine, Wyoming.”
“The unstoppable Steph Davis, rock climber extraordinaire (and more recently moving into the BASE and Wingsuit flying realms) on “Johnny Cat,” a 511d classic in Indian Creek, Utah.”
“The Potala palace in Lhasa, Tibet, taken during the evening, when the day light fades to blue and the palace is like a beacon reaching out to all of the Buddhists around the world.”
“Covering Helly Hansen apparel and Mountain Madness mountaineering guides for a a commercial shoot of the new launch of the companies techincal mountaineering line on in the North Cascades.”
“Enjoying the views of Jeremy Jones’ ‘Deeper’ team as they make their way to a first descent in the Fairweather Range in Alaska. I’ve worked with Jeremy since he was in his early 20s and saw him develop from a competition slalom rider into one of the world’s leading big mountain snowboarders.”
“Actor Steve Zahn and a friend enjoy the views from a Vietnamese junk on Halong Bay, North Vietnam. This was a previsualized shot for a feature article in Men’s Journal where I knew I would need a harness and good crew to get me up to the center of the main mast where I could take in the beauty of the bay and the surrounding floating fishing villages which the area is known for.”
“Stian Hagen skis into the ink blue waters of the Antarctica Peninsula on an expedition with American ski mountaineer, Chris Davemport and Stian’s wife Andrea Binning. The team skied a number of peaks, notching a couple first descents, and attempted the first ski descent of Shackleton Peak (without success). Chris created a documentary for Red Bull media and I landed a feature with Outside magazine which ran in the 2011 adventure issue.”
“In Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with our security detail after the documenting the successful kayak descent of the Grand Inga Rapids with expedition leader, Steve Fisher and kayaking team members Ben Marr, Tyler Bradt and Rush Sturges. The Congo is the second largest river in the world but sets itself apart from the rest by having the largest rapids and hydraulics in the world.”
Otto Sverdrup was one of the greatest pioneers of polar exploration alongside Amundsen and Nansen. But we are guessing you never heard of him. By M. Michael Brady
Otto Sverdrup (1854-1930) is considered to be one of the three Norwegians prominent in the history of the golden era of polar exploration. The other two are Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Nansen certainly originated much and inspired others. Amundsen is most remembered as the man who beat Scott to the South Pole in 1911. In comparison, Sverdrup’s polar achievements and leadership seem unheralded.
In his unpublished autobiography of 1962, Arctic explorer Henry A. Larsen sought to change that low ranking, writing that: “in my opinion, Otto Sverdrup was the most competent and practical of all the Norwegian explorers of that era. But being both shy and reticent, he was satisfied with taking a back seat and was of course overshadowed by such men as Nansen and Amundsen. From my own personal knowledge of the Arctic, there is no doubt in my mind today, but that Sverdrup was the most versatile and competent of the three.” [Quoted in Ships of wood and men of iron, p. xvi].
Larsen’s assessment may be the best available. He was born, brought up, and educated at the maritime academy in Norway and had met and been inspired by Amundsen in 1923 in Seattle before emigrating to Canada in 1928. In “Otto Sverdrup, Never Baffled”, Sverdrup’s definitive biographer, Per Egil Hegge echoes Larsen in observing that “Otto Sverdrup completely lacked the ability to publicize himself.” The picture that then emerges is of Sverdrup as the quiet man of polar exploration.
By his full name, Otto Neumann Knoph Sverdrup was born the second of ten children of a tenant farming family on the Horstad gård, a large farmstead in the municipality of Bindal at 65°N in the fjord indented mountainous landscape of northern Norway. The Sverdrups were of a family that traced its lineage back more than two centuries to its progenitor, Peder Michelsen Sverdrup, a royal tax collector appointed in 1624 when Denmark ruled Norway. The surname Sverdrup came from that of a small village in the Southern Jutland region of Denmark that borders on Germany.
Otto and his elder brother Peter Jakob were tutored by their maternal grandfather, whose teaching methods were direct. He taught the boys to swim by rowing them out on the Bindal Fjord and tossing them into the water to find for themselves how to get to land. Otto got his first rifle when he was ten years old. Then he and Peter Jakob went hunting, on foot in summer and on skis in winter. At age 14, he shot his first bear.
At age 17 in 1872, Otto Sverdrup went to sea. He studied in Trondheim and then Christiania (now Oslo), where he qualified as a mate in 1875 and as a shipmaster in 1878. In that year, at the age of 24, he became captain of the Trio, one of the first steamships in coastal traffic in mid Norway. In the following decade, he sailed as a merchant ship officer to destinations in Norway and abroad, including the USA. As he was pursuing his maritime career, his father had bought and in 1874 moved the family to the Trana Farm at Ogndal just east of the small city of Steinkjer, one degree of latitude south of Bindal. So Steinkjer had become Sverdrup’s home on land. At the time, the Sverdup family’s legal advisor was Alexander Nansen, a lawyer who lived and worked in Namsos, just north of Steinkjer. That connection was to change the course of Sverdrup’s career.
Early in 1888, Sverdrup learned from lawyer Alexander Nansen of the search of his elder by one year brother Fridtjof Nansen for members of an expedition then being planned to cross Greenland on skis. So on February 8, he wrote Fridtjof Nansen in Christiania to indicate his interest in taking part in the expedition. On February 20, Alexander sent Fritjof a telegram recommending Otto Sverdrup as an ideal expedition member. The rest is history.
Nansen chose Sverdrup for the Greenland crossing expedition. The four other members were two other explorers, Oluf Christian Dietrichson, and Kristian Kristiansen, and two Sami reindeer herders, Samuel Johannesen Balto and Ole Nilsen Ravna, chosen in part because the expedition had been initially planned using reindeer and because they were superb long-distance skiers with an innate ability to get along in snow-covered landscape. The six-man party sailed on the sealer Jason to the east coast of Greenland, and then rowed two small boats northward for 12 days and nights to Umivik, a village near the Gyldenlöve Fjord at 64°24’N. They left Umivik on skis on August 15, 1888 and arrived at the Ameralik Fjord on the west coast at 64°7’N on September 29 to complete the first documented crossing of Greenland.
In 1891-92, Sverdrup advised Nansen in the building in Larvik of the Fram (“Forward”), a polar exploration ship designed by Scottish naval architect Colin Archer to withstand freezing into the drift ice in Nansen’s planned three-year Arctic science expedition that included an effort to reach the North Pole.
The Fram was launched on October 26, 1892. Sverdrup was given command, and she sailed from Christiania on June 24, 1893 and finally from Vardø in North Norway in late July. On October 5, she reached and was frozen into the drift ice at more than 79°N. After two winters drifting with the ice, in March 1895, Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the ship to ski with a dogsled team to reach the Pole, and Sverdrup assumed command of the expedition. By April 7, Nansen and Johansen had reached 86°14’N, but turned around as they reckoned they couldn’t reach the Pole and return before the end of the Arctic summer. Their return was arduous, and they were obliged to overwinter in a makeshift shelter on Franz Joseph Land. By mid June they had reached Cape Flora. On the 17th, they experienced what was to become the most famed chance encounter of Polar exploration. Nansen first caught sight of and approached British polar explorer Frederick George Jackson, who had assumed that the Nansen expedition had perished, as there had been no word from it for three years. The two men stood for a few moments staring at each other. Then Jackson asked: “You are Nansen, aren’t you?”, to which Nansen replied, “Yes, I am Nansen.” Thereafter, Nansen and Johansen returned with the British expedition to north Norway, where they rejoined Sverdrup and the Fram in August 1896.
In 1898, Sverdrup again sailed on the Fram, as captain of the ship and leader of a four-year scientific expedition to northwestern Greenland and eastern Canada, an area on the globe then poorly mapped. He chose five scientists—a cartographer, a geologist, a botanist, a zoologist, and a medical doctor—and a crew of ten. Interestingly, one man that Sverdrup asked to join the crew was Hermann Smith-Johannsen, who could not accept as he wished to finish his engineering studies in Berlin. Later, Smith-Johannsen emigrated to Canada in 1907 and there became a well-known cross-country skier nicknamed “Jackrabbit.”
From the start, the expedition was successful. It explored Ellesmere Island and mapped an area of some 65,000 square miles in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavit. Flora and fauna were observed and documented, and geological and oceanographic observations were recorded. Like polar expeditions of its time, it tested and proved the hardiness of its participants, not least of its leader. One night during the first winter, Sverdrup had imbibed a bit much in celebrating his 45th birthday and fell asleep outside his tent without his mittens, at a temperature of minus 35°C (-31°F). When he awoke, he just went back inside the tent and continued sleeping, apparently completely uninjured.
The expedition was comprehensively documented in Sverdrup’s own words in New Land. As described in the Prologue of Sverdrup’s Arctic Adventures, Sverdrup compiled the book in the winter of 1902-1903. With the diaries and charts of the expedition spread out in front of him, he dictating to a shorthand recorder provided by the Norwegian government, to speed publication of the book. Arctic historian Gerard Kenney considers Sverdrup’s second Fram expedition to be one of the greatest ever of polar exploration. In the Acknowledgements of Ships of wood and men of iron, he remarks that upon their return to Norway, the members of the expedition “came back with a record of geographic and scientific discovery, the richness of which is unparalleled in the annals of Arctic exploration.”
After the stunningly successful New Land expedition, Sverdrup continued to sail Arctic waters. One of his lesser known exploits was his search and rescue mission for the Imperial Russian Navy. In 1914-15 on the Eclipse (a Dundee whaler built in 1867),he sought two missing Russian Arctic Expeditions, one led by Greorgy Brusilov on the Santa Anna schooner and the other by Vladimir Rusanov on the Hercules ketch. In retrospect, the enormity of Sverdrup’s search is reflected in an account of survival in the Arctic written by the navigator of the ill-fated Brusilov expedition, who after having been at odds with his commander for months, left the Santa Anna in April 1914 and after a 235 mile trek to Cape Flora in Franz Josef Land, survived to write In the Land of White Death, an account of his ordeal published in Russian in 1917 (translated into German in 1925 and into English in 2000). Sverdrup’s rescue mission for the Imperial Navy was unsuccessful. The fates of the two expeditions remained unknown until many years later, when the Soviet Arctic Institute found relics of the Rusanov expedition in 1937 and explorers found remains of the Brusilov expedition in 2010.
Sverdrup went on his fourth and last voyage in Siberian waters in the summer of 1921. From the bridge of the Soviet ice-breaker Lenin, he led an experimental convoy of four cargo vessels from England to the Ob and Yenisei rivers, replicating a trade route proved feasible by Nansen in 1913 (the centennial of which was observed in 2013 by a Norwegian-Russian expedition, reported in Through Siberia with Nansen, Mountain Gazette, March 4, 2015). Sverdrup’s cargo convoy to the Kara ports and back again was a commercial success. In the in the years that followed, larger convoys were sent along the Arctic sea route that Sverdrup had helped pioneer.
In 1908, Sverdrup had bought Villa Walle on a hill overlooking the town of Sandvika, a southern suburb of Oslo. It had become his home on land, which he called “Homewood.” It was there he died on November 26, 1930.
Memorials to Sverdrup abound. A crater near the South Pole of the Moon is named Otto Sverdrup. The archipelago of the northern Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Arctic Ocean west of Ellesmere Island that he discovered and mapped on the second Fram expedition are is now known as the Sverdrup Islands. In mid 1957, Crown Prince (and later King) Olav unveiled a statue of him by sculptor Carl E. Paulsen in Steinkjer, where he lived in his youth. Sculptor Per Ung created two Otto Sverdrup works in bronze, a bust in Bindal, where he was born, and a statue in Sandvika, where he died. In 2004, upon the 150 anniversary of Sverdrup’s birth, Norway, Canada, and Greenland had a joint issue of commemorative Sverdrup stamps. One of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s five Fridtjof Nansen class frigates is named the HNoMS Otto Sverdrup. The LN-DYO, a Boeing 737-300 in the Norwegian (airline) fleet of passenger airliners featuring tailfin portraits of the famed, honors Otto Sverdrup.
Had men’s magazines existed in Sverdrup’s time, he probably would have been a regular feature on covers. With his fiery red beard, piercing blue eyes, and muscular build, he personified the powers needed to prevail in polar exploration. But just as time travel has yet to happen, that will not come about. Otto Sverdrup remains one of the greatest and most enigmatic of polar explorers.
Further reading (books mentioned in text):
Ships of Wood and Men of Iron: A Norwegian-Canadian Saga of Exploration in the High Arctic, by Gerard Kenney [Toronto, Natural Heritage Books, 2005, 139 page paperback, ISBN 978-1897045060].
New Land: Four Years in the Arctic Regions by Otto Sverdrup, translated by Ethel Harriet Heam, [original edition: London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1904, 2 volumes hardcover; republished 2014 by Cambridge University Press, 518 page paperback, ISBN 978-1108071109.]
Sverdrup’s Arctic Adventures, adapted with explanatory notes from Sverdrup’s New Land, by T.C. Fairley [London, Longmans, 1959, 305 page hardcover].
Otto Sverdrup, Aldri Rådløs (“Otto Sverdrup, Never baffled”), by Per Egil Hegge [Oslo, JM Stenersens Forlag, 1996, large format (9.6 x 12.4 inch), 264 page hardcover, ISBN 988-82-7201-198-6], the definitive Sverdrup biography, with a 52 page addendum by mariner Asbjørn F. Aastrøm (in Norwegian only). Author Hegge also published an equivalent biography of Fridtjof Nansen in 2002.
In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov [New York, Modern Library, 2000, 243 page paperback, ISBN 978-0679783619], the account of survival in the Arctic, by the navigator of the ill-fated Imperial Russian expedition led by Brusilov.
Persons mentioned in text (in addition to Otto Sverdrup, in alphabetical order by surname)
Asbjørn F. Aastrøm (1944- ), Norwegian Arctic mariner
Valerian Albanov (1881-1919), Russian navigator, one of two survivors of Brusilov expedition
Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), Norwegian polar explorer, first to South Pole.
Colin Archer (1832-1921), Scottish naval architect and shipbuilder, lived and worked in Larvik, Norway.
Samuel Johannessen Balto (1891-1921), Sami reindeer herder, on Greenland crossing with Nansen.
When people advise you to “take the high road,” most probably don’t realize their admonition serves two purposes. Yes, the moral high road is worthwhile every time. But so is the actual high road, in this case an old mining track on 13,684-foot Bald Mountain, just east of Breckenridge. My brother was in town and my chain broke a few minutes into our initial planned route, so we doubled back to Main Street, bought a new chain, and proceeded up Plan B: the high road.
As you probably know, the Continental Divide Trail, or CDT, does not follow the actual spine that delineates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds the entire way from Canada to Mexico. But it stays close to that spine as it passes through the Rockies, often tracing the Divide itself. Where I live, the CDT veers a few miles west from the actual spine but does not lose any beauty. Ample bunches of Colorado’s state flower, the regal Columbine, still deem the CDT worthy of making it their home, and nothing says summer in the high country like freshly bloomed Columbines in a field of green set against a backdrop of 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks.
When is a climb dependent on a priori reasoning? When you carry a backpack full of philosophy books and leave your warm shell at home. By Cameron M. Burns
My first trip to the Grand Teton in May 1986 was a lesson in mountain preparedness.
Somehow we’d managed to score one of the American Alpine Club’s huts for a long weekend, and five of us zoomed up to Wyoming in two cars: the Bach brothers in their hot red MG, and Jeff O’Defey, Ethan Putterman, and I in Jeff’s sedan, a Sanford and Son–style Ford his dad had offered up, a vehicle with a ridiculous name like the Painful Yoga Position SL or some such (BTW: SL stands for “Short Legs” with all American-made sedans).
We unloaded into the bright and clean wooden cabin and immediately had a lively discussion about particulate matter and methane emissions—Ethan had had baked beans for breakfast.
The plan was to do an acclimatization hike the next day (a Saturday), then climb the regular route (an easy scramble) the following day. We fixed a gourmet-style dinner of Vienna sausages in hot dog rolls and corn chips and called it a night. In the morning, we loaded our packs and set off up the Garnet Canyon trail. After a couple of hours, we stopped for a break. Benny, Kirk, Jeff, and I pulled out water bottles and ate a snack.
Curiously, Ethan—whose 6-foot 4-inch frame earned him the nickname “The Big E” throughout our college careers—sat with his pack on his lap and took in no nutrients or moisture. We eyed him suspiciously.
After 20 minutes, we started up again, plodding methodically up the canyon, taking in the scenery and enjoying a new experience. Although we all lived in the ~5,000-foot high Pretend Left-wingers Ultra Conservative Republic (Boulder) at the time, we thought we needed to acclimatize.
We also wanted to travel across Wyoming to experience the kind of multi-culturalism that we couldn’t experience at home in Boulder—you know, black people, native Americans, Asians, etc. (As Benny, a denizen of Reno often points out, the gay cowboys building electric cars he’s met in Reno are way more Boulder than Boulder. Oops, sorry, Reno, for that slur.)
About two miles up the trail it started to rain and a cold wind blew in from the west. We were in minimalist clothing, but we had sweaters and rain jackets. We opened packs and pulled them out. The Big E just watched and shivered slightly.
“Ethan, aren’t you going to put something warmer on?” I asked.
“Uh, no,” he said.
“Whatcha got in that pack then?” Jeff asked.
Jeff’s observation was spot on. Ethan looked at his overstuffed academically oriented and notably square backpack, gave us a weak smile, then unzipped the main compartment. He pulled out a book. It was Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. He pulled out another book: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract. Then Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right.
A floodgate, it seemed, had been opened.
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics.
Phenomenology of Mind.
Science of Logic.
Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men.
The Principle of Reason.
Identity and Difference.
Discourse On Thinking.
The German Constitution.
A veritable library of philosophy books the rest of us had never heard of were pulled out and shared among Ethan’s small shivering audience.
“You don’t have a shell?” I asked.
Jeff and I looked in his pack, just to make sure. Besides additional philosophy books, there were some pens and a notebook. But certainly nothing that anyone in a Tetons snowstorm would consider useful unless you thought a bonfire built with classic intellectuals’ masterworks might keep you going.
We held a quick meeting.
It was June, and down on the plains it was already scorching hot. Up in the canyon, though, it was blizzarding.
Jeff recently (e.g., nearly 30 years later) recalled via email: “So we sent him back to the cabin with instructions to put the beer in the river to get it cold. And at the end of the day, as we drove across the bridge and looked down, there was Ethan, reading on the bank, beer cans slowly floating away downstream….” (I’d forgotten about the kayaking beer cans. Thanks, Jeff.)
After another dinner choking down as many Vienna sausages as we could without raising bile, we played a nasty game where we threw the sausages as hard as we could at the window screens (I recommend everyone try this because it’s quite strange; huck a Vienna sausage as hard as you can at an insect screen and the sausage will—no kidding—go right through it. It might say a bit about the amount of fiber in Viennese cuisine).
We settled in for another night of the unexpected and delightful noises and smells and vibrations generated by five 20-year-old men while they slumber.
In the morning, Benny, Kirk, Jeff, and I left the Big E lying in bed with his very thoughtful, several-hundred-year-old male friends (“Wait, does The Social Contract really have a centerfold?”) and hoofed it up Garnet Canyon again.
We reached the Lower Saddle, where Benny, Kirk, and Jeff all got altitude sickness—or something along those lines. (Thoughts of sausages and insects, I suspect.)
I continued on by myself.
The standard route up the Grand is called the Owen-Spaulding. There’s a section on it called “The Belly Roll,” which is a straightforward traverse across a ledge with a bit of a drop to the Black Ice Couloir below. The Belly Roll, of course, was coated with ice, so I finger-jammed the inch-wide gap between the rock and the ice and shimmied across—and nearly lost my cookies.
Up on the summit I swore I wouldn’t downclimb that. Nope, I was going to wait for whoever was next up and beg a rappel from them.
Miraculously, a few minutes after I reached the “apex” of Wyoming (a curious term climbing-writers often use (like I just did) to prove their cleverness), there was a light clanking sound and two climbers, armed with enough gear to solo girdle traverse the Great Trango Tower and Everest simultaneously, panted their way to the top of the east ridge, where I was waiting for them.
We swapped loud yodels, as Wyoming climbers do, and agreed to swap my knowledge of the standard descent with use of their rope via a crack-cleaning Dulfer-Sitz.
We got down, shook hands, and I ran down the trail, thoughts of vulnerable sausages dancing through my head.
About 10 pm I met Benny and Jeff hiking up the trail to find me. They congratulated me and shepherded me down with their headlamps.
And, as is suggested in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “there was much rejoicing.”
The funny thing about that trip is how much I learned about preparedness. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared for the weather, climbing conditions, and descent issues on the mountain, and the rest of the crew weren’t prepared for altitude sickness.
And, if Wikipedia is anything to go by, the Owen-Spaulding is, apparently, an aid route. I didn’t even know how to erect a portaledge at that tender age. (That’ll likely get changed 5 minutes after this article is posted.)
Ethan, on the other hand, was ready all along. He had his books and his thoughts, and could’ve spent several years on the banks of Cottonwood Creek, reading and allowing dozens of cans of Mill-gag-me’s Beast to return to their natural habitat in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
Next time I go into the mountains, I’m going prepared—with an armload of books.
Ethan says he has a few I can borrow.
Although he is now in therapy because the above story is completely true, Cam Burns enjoyed every moment of that long (and lost) weekend.
The Robert Frost House Museum in Vermont used to be a poet’s house. A sign at the gate says: “Open”. So I walk through the gate and head up to the house. Another sign says: “Come In.” I go in through a door. A lady with officious blue eyes is sitting behind the information desk. She is busy providing information to a young family—a couple with two little girls—about the dangers of ticks in the area. “Don’t even sit on the park benches around here,” she warns the innocents. “The ticks have learned that people like to sit on benches. So the ticks hide there and wait for you! And they will bite! It’s best that you don’t even go outside. Stay inside, where it’s safe.” One of the little girls looks like she’s about to cry. The parents exchange a look. The woman behind the information desk continues her homily concerning the great outdoors. I wait my turn. When she is done with the young family, they thank her and flee to their car. Now it’s my turn.
I step up to the desk. “Welcome to the historic home of Robert Frost,” she says without spirit. “How much to get in?” I ask. “Six dollars,” she says. I hand it over. She hands me a one-page museum guide and points to a door. Over the door hangs a sign that says: “Start Here”. So I do. I walk through the door into something called “The Robert Frost Room.” The walls are lined with display panels full of informative words and pictures. The only piece of furniture in the room is an old couch that once belonged to Robert Frost. A sign on the couch says not to sit on it. So I don’t.
Instead, I start reading the writing on the walls. It’s all about Robert Frost and his time in here in Vermont. It turns out that Robert Frost had several historic homes in New England. A couple of them were in New Hampshire and two in Vermont. The other historic Robert Frost home in Vermont is only a couple miles from this one. I wonder where, exactly. I enjoy visiting historic homes of writers and would like to see that one too. The pamphlet does not say. On the wall is an old picture of Robert Frost. He’s in his middle years. He’s sitting in a wooden chair in front of a big tree and he’s wearing suspenders. He looks like a poet caught between writing poems. The wall explains that this photo was taken right outside in the yard. It says: “You used to be able to look out that nearby window and see that very tree but it’s gone now.” I look out the window to see for myself. Nothing but a tangle of shrubbery. I move on to the next room.
This one is called “The Stopping by Woods Room”. The pamphlet tells why: “This is the historic spot where Frost wrote one of his most famous poems, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’” I take a solemn look around the room. The pamphlet continues: “The entire room is devoted to this poem—the story of how it was written, a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript, a controversial comma, a presentation of meter and rhyme, what the critics said about the poem, and what Frost said about it.” I learn that he wrote the poem at the dining room table on a hot June morning in 1922. That particular table is not here anymore. There is a facsimile of it, and it’s for sale. I can’t afford it. What would I write on it anyway? I skip the informational panels in this room. I already know everything I need to know about this famous poem by Robert Frost. I probably know too much. I wish I could leave it all here for somebody else.
I exit The Stopping by Woods Room through another door. I find myself back where I started. There’s the lady at the information desk. She’s working on a crossword puzzle and does not look up. I ask her where the other historic Robert Frost home around here is. She looks up from her crossword puzzle and shakes her head with gusto: “No! It’s private.” So I ask her if this historic Robert Frost home that we’re in right here right now is haunted. I always ask that of docents when I visit historic homes. She looks at me sternly and says, “No! Not that I’m aware of.” She goes back to her crossword puzzle. I don’t have any more questions.
I leave the historic home of Robert Frost by the same door I entered. Outside, lying against a stone wall, is some brand new signage, not yet installed on the grounds. I have to tilt my head to read it. It’s a health alert. Something to do with ticks.
Fayhee and Sojourner to Headline Written Word festival in New Mexico This Fall.
If you have been looking for a semi-literate excuse to visit New Mexico’s astounding Gila Country, here it is. Mountain Gazette alumni M. John Fayhee and Mary Sojourner will be presenters at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word at Western New Mexico University in Silver City this fall. Fayhee, author of, among many others, Smoke Signals, used to be MG’s
editor and was the man responsible for bringing the magazine back to life in the 1990s after it had long been out of print. He was also a contributing editor at Backpacker magazine for more than a decade. His presentation is titled “Outdoor Writing: Evolution, Ethics, Exposure and Extreme Exaggeration.” It will take place Friday, Oct. 3 from 3:30-4:40 p.m. Sojourner, author of, among others, She Bets Her Life, will present a
seminar on editing 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 3. In addition, Phillip Connors, author of the award-winning Fire Season, will conduct a seminar on memoir writing on Saturday Oct. 3 from 3-4 p.m.
All aspects of the SFWW are free and open to the public. Fayhee says he will be available for beer consumption throughout the weekend, especially if you’re buying. Bring your hiking boots, mountain bike, appropriate hot-springs attire,
camera and venture on down to southwest New Mexico, where the weather will
be almost guaranteed perfect.
Photo: Fayhee ponders deep literary topics in New Mexico’s Gila Country, home to the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. (Courtesy M. John Fayhee)
I have for so many years believed that the winding mountain roads in car commercials do not exist anywhere in the United States. Maybe they used to, but there are too many people now, too much traffic. The roads I drive in the West, mostly near popular climbing areas, are never without other cars. If you are a driver who likes to push the upper limits of your car’s handling abilities, barely making it around curves without skidding, tossing your passenger around and making them wish that they too had a steering wheel to hold onto, the roads I have driven will do nothing but piss you off during the daytime. Tourists in rental cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, buses and cars and trucks carrying climbers and backpackers like me are everywhere. If you really want to open it up on the mountain roads I know, your bliss will be interrupted within three minutes, your freedom impeded by one of us going a little slower than as fast as our tires could handle.
But there is a road that exists, not only in the artificial creations of advertising agencies who sell us BMWs and Audis, but in the forests of southern Washington State.
If you have the occasion to drive between Mount Rainier National Park and a place called Indian Heaven in southern Washington, you will find it. National Forest Road 25 between Randle, Washington, and Swift Reservoir, Washington, just east of Mount St. Helens, is 45 miles of pure driving ecstasy, a goddamn rollercoaster of a road built by an engineer who was perhaps motivated by finding the most direct route possible for a road in these parts, but I like to think maybe more so to create something that would bring joy.
I don’t get excited about driving fast, for the most part. I’ve never souped up a car or drag raced anyone. I cautiously accelerate and brake slowly wherever I go. My car has 210,000 miles on it and has a 25-year-old engine. Right now, I live in it. But I found the joy in National Forest Road 25, driving north to south. I had a car-driving experience.
For almost an hour, I was 16 years old again, behind the wheel of my first car, in love with the freedom of moving myself at a speed faster than my mother would drive, smashing on the accelerator more excited than scared of what could happen, watching the speedometer needle shoot up 20, 30 miles per hour on the short straight-aways, punching it in the last half of curves and hoping I didn’t have to hit the brakes as I came out the other side. Everything slid around in the back of the car as I flew low around the bends in the road, 20 mph faster than advised on the yellow signs with the curved arrows on them. It was as if an invisible hand was pushing and steering my car faster down the road, skating on blacktop down a tunnel of green so thick you couldn’t see the sky through it.
I ripped it wide open, seeing only a handful of other vehicles on the road the entire time. I imagined a highway engineer, laying out the route on maps, watching the asphalt poured, anticipating what it would be like to drive, and then finally getting a chance, driving this same stretch of road just like I was, smiling and laughing out loud the whole way. It’s possible that he or she or they were just doing there job, that this was the only logical course for this route between two places, but it’s just too good to believe that’s the reason.
This is the king, two lanes of speed, gravity, centripetal and centrifugal forces, a water slide and a bullet train ride with your hands are on the wheel and your own lead foot is on the gas. No Estes Park or Yosemite Valley at either end to draw thousands of tourists, no scenic pull-offs to slow you down. Pure, American driving for the love of driving. And some guy in a piece-of-shit, 4-cylinder, 2.5-liter Subaru Outback with bad tires and a million dents in it, a guy who thought it was over, that there was no joy in driving anymore, who could be in a BMW Z4 for all he knows.
Let’s face it, there are good dirt roads and there are bad dirt roads. Crested Butte has mostly good dirt roads. Some take you into a great expanse; others just let you get off the pavement downtown. But the feeling of freedom is the same.