Postcard: Valdez, Alaska

I don’t think it’s possible to call one place the best ski zone on earth. There are simply too many radical places to ski. However, if someone put a gun to my head and threatened to pull the trigger if I didn’t vote for one and only one, I would say Valdez, Alaska. And I would feel good about it. This shot happened by chance a few years back around this time of spring. I was standing on a peak and saw this guy start arcing down a different peak across the way. No idea who it was. But I wanted to be him and I still kind of do.

Photo by Devon O'Neil
Photo by Devon O’Neil

Confessions of a Non-wanna-be Guidebook Writer

The tale of the old Old Green Beast or the horror (and occasional joy) of a climber who became a guidebook writer. By Cameron M. Burns

When I was a young climber, I never ever, ever wanted to write a guidebook.

Never ever.

I hated them.

As Steve Roper so famously wrote in a classic guide to the Sierra Nevada: “kick the cairns over and let people discover it all for themselves,” or something like that. I agree. I’ll always agree with “Ropero,” as Layton Kor called him.

It came about in a silly way. In 1988, a bunch of my high school friends were starting to bolt (by hand) routes at a crag in New Mexico. We all got in on the act, spending hours hand-drilling bolts in the iron-hard basalt. It was horrendous work. But a few months later, a few members of the local climbing club, the Los Alamos Mountaineers, wanted information on the routes. So I stapled together 18 pages, gave them to about six blokes who corrected a few things, Xeroxed twenty copies, and set them on the desk at the local “climbing” store. They were gone in a day.

Hmm. That was that, I thought. Done with that crap.

 

Within six months I was cruising the Sierra Nevada with Steve Porcella (see Alpinist 48).

After 65 routes the summer of 1989, we thought a new guidebook (to just the fourteeners) might be a worthwhile project. Roper had revamped an old edition of A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra for the Sierra Club (about the 4th or 5th edition, several of which had different titles (Hervey Voge’s 1954 edition had the same title, but the 1972 edition, for example, was simply called Mountaineer’s Guide)), and the route descriptions and grades were interesting, to say the least. In the summer of 1990, we headed back into the Sierra, the Whitney region. Somehow, we timed our trip with one that Dave Wilson and Galen Rowell were planning, and we decided to do a sort-of foursome. We met in Lone Pine the night before the hike in.

Over dinner, we got to chatting about a possible guidebook to the fourteeners.

“You know how Steve graded all those routes, right?” Galen asked while skewering a lump of potato (he’d known Steve since the fourth grade in Berkeley). “He flew over the range with a pair of binoculars and declared, ‘that can’t be a Class 5. I’m calling it a Class 4’.” The story seemed completely plausible because the stuff we were climbing in 1989 had grades that were quite outta whack with what was in the guidebook.

On the East Face of Whitney, Steve and I watched from 200 feet away while Dave and Galen finished off a route Galen and Kike Arnal had tried the previous year—Left Wing Extremist—named for the chicken-winging they did on the climb. (We failed on our new route.)

In 1990, Steve and I wrote a 450-page guide to California’s 14ers with about 150 routes in it. I remember just printing out the Word document was more than anything I could ever afford. But we also knew no one would want that—it was mostly boring climbing history. With fourteeners, people want to just bag summits, not know about some incredibly obscure 5.9 lying 15 miles from a trailhead.

CA14ers(1e)We pared it down to 92 pages—the easiest route or voie normal on each peak. We sent it to a half dozen publishers and none of them wanted anything to do with it. So we self-published California Fourteeners (Palisades Press, 1991, 92 pages), 5,000 copies done at a print shop in Great Falls, Montana under the auspices of our own company (Palisades Press). It was a funky little purple book, that to this day is one of my proudest achievements (then again, eating a six-egg omlette is a massively proud moment for me).

Four years later, George Meyers of Chockstone Press approached us and gave us a publishing deal for the 92-pager—20 percent of gross sales because it was selling so well (something like 4,000 copies in four years). George’s was the second edition: (Chockstone Press, 1995, 92 pages).

(In 1998, the Mountaineers Books republished a much bigger version: Climbing California’s Fourteeners: 183 Routes to the 15 Highest Peaks (1998, 272 pages). Like the first version, it went into a second edition (Climbing California’s Fourteeners: The Route Guide to the 15 Highest Peaks (2008, 272 pages). The full 450-page version remains like garlic to a vampire—appropriately untouched.)

While all these books were happening (1991–95), I’d moved across the west chasing various journalism jobs. My girlfriend Ann and I ended up in Aspen when I got a job at the Aspen Times in 1992, thankfully, with subsidized housing. After three years there (and having paying off my student loans for architecture school), we got married, and I headed to Patagonia with two English climbers. We climbed a handful of routes, and I came home in early 1996—completely stinking broke. Not two nickels to rub together.

After landing at Denver International, Ann took me straight to George’s place in Evergreen, Colo. Several hours of talk ensued, and I walked out of his garage with four book contracts in hand: a Colorado ice climbers guide, a guide to Independence Pass, a guide to Escalante, and a guide to climbing in the Telluride area. Luckily (for both me and climbers everywhere), I was smart enough to realize I knew very little about three of those areas, but I had been doing quite a bit of ice climbing. We chatted on the phone, agreed both of us would tear up the Escalante, Indy Pass, and Telluride contracts—but I thought I could pull together an ice guide pretty easily because I really did know most of it.

The only issue, I soon learned, was Jack Roberts. He’d started in on a Colorado ice guide, but George explained that Jack’s progress was glacially slow, and, in all honesty, he didn’t think Jack would actually ever finish it. Jack, of course, was doing all sorts of wild routes in Alaska and other places, so that was completely understandable.

I went back to Aspen, and took up a job shoveling snow off roofs in Snowmass Village—I had to earn a buck.

 

COiceIn late March 1996, George and I talked again. He wanted a Colorado ice guide manuscript in three weeks and Jack was on another climbing trip, or generally unavailable. I quit my incredibly lucrative career as a snow shoveler, jumped in my truck, and spent a week driving around the entire state, taking photos of well-known ice climbs that—since it was early April—were coming unglued and falling to pieces. Three weeks later, I’d finished the manuscript, crappy as it was, to the first Colorado ice guide—“The Old Green Beast,” I’d later call it. It was about 40,000 words—no big length because words seem to flow out of me like some kind of puss. We used to do easily 12,000 words a week at the Times, sometimes more, and my editors would often complain I’d written too much.

Jon Klusmire, a friend who worked at the Times, recently noted in a Facebook post: “As one of those Aspen Times editors, this is how I remember describing Cam’s approach to writing: ‘It’s like crapping in a tub. Back up and let ’er fly.’” Grusmire (as we used to call him) is always spot on.

In the fall of 1997, The Old Green Beast came out. It was less a point of pride than I would have ever imagined. In fact, throwing a guidebook for an entire state together in three weeks, with one week of on-the-ground research (even if I knew most areas), was sort of like performing brain surgery for the first time using Brain Surgery for Dummies as your guiding light.

Not a great idea. I was scared when anyone picked it up.

 

In the winter of 1997–98, climbing with Jesse Harvey in the Fisher Towers, we ran into three young climbers from Crested Butte sitting around a campfire. We talked climbing.

“So you guys like the Fishers?” Jesse asked.

“Yeah,” one of them said. “But we’ve got the new Cam Burns ice guide and we’ve been doing a lot of ice lately.”

My entire scalp rotated 30 degrees back on my skull, eyebrows lifting as if hauled toward the sky by an invisible crane. I waited several moments, then asked, “Is the book any good?”

The kid shrugged: “I think so, although we’ve only done a dozen routes in it so far.”

Jesse leaned over, and held the back of his hand up against his mouth so, ostensibly, the lads couldn’t hear him. But being a cheeky bastard, he said it loud enough so they could: “Cam, didn’t you say you wrote that book in two weeks?”

One of the Butteans looked at us curiously. He heard part of the wonderful commentary by my best climbing partner at the time (a somewhat cherished position at the time, since I led everything).

Thankfully the lad from the Butte hadn’t quite heard the entire comment. I swung an angry foot at Jesse, then announced it was bedtime as we had to get up and fix a few pitches in the morning. Oh, yes, and I had to go take a piton hammer to my friend’s head.

 

Over Valentine’s weekend in 1998, my wife and I hiked into a climb near Lake City. Three other climbers ahead of us were standing at the base of the route we wanted to do, and they were scouring the Old Greener. I did a quick 180 and told Ann, “We’re leaving. Run. Run!”

“What? We just got here.”

I bolted along the post-holed trail, gear clanking like an Indian dishwalla.

“They’ve got the Beast,” I yelled back at Ann. “Run.”

She tripped over the rope, now flopping around her feet, and gave me a stare that would’ve melted an ice climbing guidebook—even one with some bad mistakes. We got in the truck (also green), and buggered off to Ouray.

“Well, that certainly was fun,” Ann said as I drove. “What if we run into some ice climbers with a Tolstoy or, God forbid, an Ed Abbey?”

“Shsssh.”

 

A year or two later, Jack Robert’s Colorado ice climbing guide came out. It was really, really well done. But at a trade show, a good friend, Brian Litz—the publisher of Jack’s book—told me he’d been over to Jack’s Boulder home one day and found Jack at a keyboard with The Old Green Beast open, and Jack copying the Green Beast ver batim. Brian flipped, he told me at the trade show, and explained to Jack that you can’t do such a thing in writing. (If you study the mistakes in The Old Green Beast, some of them are repeated in Jack’s first book—like, for example, a route in Redstone that Duane Raleigh pointed out was horribly incorrect in the Beast (“In your own backyard,” Duane appropriately and correctly chided)).

But I didn’t mind the situation. Jack’s second edition was far, far superior to the first two books out there, and Jack and I later climbed together at Lincoln Falls.

Ice climbing with Jack was like watching a gazelle outrun a cheetah in the Serengeti. Ice climbing with me was like watching a sanitarium patient fumble with a walker. Besides, Jack was a real climber. I was oozing puss.

K&KForget the Beast. I was already onto several more books, including the second guidebook to Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya: A Climbing and Trekking Guide (The Mountaineers Books, 1998, 176 pages); Selected Climbs in the Desert Southwest (The Mountaineers Books, 1999, 240 pages); 50 Hikes in Colorado (Norton, 2003, 208 pages); and later, Kilimanjaro & East Africa (The Mountaineers Books, 2006, 240 pages).

As well as several books of stories, chapters of books for other people, ghost-writing material for people, magazine articles and columns, gear companies’ material, and much more.

 

What strikes me looking back is that while writing all this stuff, I kept a full-time job the entire time. Research was done on vacation time, and it was always go, go, go—mostly on weekends. Mistakes are inevitable, as I’ve read in some of the not-so-friendly comments online, but I’ve always told critics, “hey, if you don’t like it, try writing your own. I’m sure it’ll be much better anyway.”

The Old Green Beast, though, was special. It came during one of those moments in life when you’re just living for the climbing, not giving a damn about the next buck but needing one anyway. Surviving any way you can. And seeing the world.

And Jack was always giving me story ideas for the UK magazines I wrote for. I scooped everyone on the news of Jeff Lowe’s Octopussy because of Jack, and later won a Colorado Press Association award because of that story. I never had a chance to thank him.

I miss his warm smile, his humble demeanor, and his friendliness when I’d show up at Gary Neptune’s shop. He was always good value, top shelf, as were his books. Well, his second edition, at least. The first had a bit too much of the Old Green Beast in it.

Mountain Passages: Cuba Libre!

Our erstwhile reporter jets off to Cuba with a headful of politics, art, music, and questions about what it will be like for an American to travel in a nation that has been closed off for so long. By Alan Stark

While we are waiting at Miami International Airport (MIA), a number of thoughts rumble around my head regarding Cuba. I’m wondering which of them will prove to be true when I get there, and if any of them will prove to be utter horsepucky. That and the knowledge that “MIA” means something entirely different to me, and I hope it’s not the case during our 45-minute charter flight to Havana.

My thoughts revolve around politics, the arts, and the people of Cuba.

As soon as I think about Cuba, Castro’s iconic shaggy appearance just looms in my mind. It is as if Castro is to Cuba like the Pope is to the Catholic Church. Odd that I don’t think of an island nation with a speckled history of freedom and oppression, but I instead think of one banana republic dictator who has always appeared a little larger than life, in a John Wayneish sort of way, as he ranted from a podium for hours at a time.

cuba apartmentsNext I think of the pre-Castro Cuba that was essentially a Mafia colony—a sort of island Las Vegas. Next come thoughts of the highly courageous, clever, and ultimately successful guerrilla war that toppled Batista. This was in many ways a case study for overthrowing a dictator.  And then, finally, the Cuban missile crisis comes to mind. At that time, my family lived close to the DC border in Maryland, not far from Bolling Air Force Base. On that October night when it seemed the world was about to blow up, I watched a great number of planes in the pattern and landing at Bolling—many more than usual. I was just a kid, but I remember thinking that maybe they were bringing in troops to protect the Capitol. Now I think those planes were really there to evacuate political leaders and their families—odd how you get more cynical with age.

It’s alleged that Castro isn’t much of a commie, rather that communism was a dogma of convenience to him. Brother Raul, who is now in power, is the serious communist. But Raul, since taking power in 2011, has overseen a great deal of common sense politics. This isn’t a place for a political rant, but a dictatorship is a dictatorship. It is the American reaction to Castro’s control of Cuba that makes me crazy. Embargoes are one of the worst ideas since Comcast. The people in power aren’t hurt by embargoes, but everyone else in the country is. I travel to Cuba with the belief that our embargo of Cuba has been a very bad idea.

Guban SingerTrying to explain how Cuban music sounds is like describing individual pieces of a puzzle without being able to see the image of the completed puzzle on the box. The Denver jazz station KUVO will occasionally play a piece from Cuba that I often find intriguing enough to stop fiddling with whatever is on my desk or workbench and listen. The music feels like fun—it draws you in and makes you feel like you would want to be right there, standing at the bar, toe tapping with a drink in hand, and watch and listen to the musicians playing.

So I travel to Cuba thinking I’ll very much like the music that I hear. That I’ll buy a stack of CDs long before it occurs to me that we may not have a CD player in The Creak House anymore. Meaning that the only place I’ll play them once or twice is in the car that also may or may not have a CD player. I should have checked this all out before I left.

And art? If you look around The Creak House where we live in Boulder, there are objects sitting in alcoves, on tables, and hung on the walls, done by artists and craftspeople (sometimes not the same) from all over the world. A bowl from Japan filled with round pebbles from a beach in Iceland would sort of give a clue about our artistic tastes. I’m the last person in the world to discuss ART— Joan, my neighbor, and former gallery owner, bristles whenever the word comes out of my mouth. When it comes to describing my artistic taste I’m tantamount to a pirate turned loose in a palace—if something catches my eye I then decide whether or not I like it. And then I move on. If I really like it and can afford it (often two very different scenarios) I sometimes come back and buy the piece. But, in our relationship, it is Blue Eyes who usually buys the art that we have agreed on.

We agree on our art purchases in the following manner:

“You like it?”

“Nope.”

“I do.”

“Okay, but no foul, no penalty. Right?

“Right, we should both like it…too bad all your taste is in your mouth.”

“Foul.”

But every once in a while, Blue Eyes asks the question, and I immediately see what she sees in the piece and wink at her. A Hopi mudhead kachina we found in Scottsdale, of all places, now sits in an alcove in the bathroom. He has his own little light above his feathered head, and sometimes on a cold winter’s morning, I turn on the light and look at him and smile. Sometimes Mudhead smiles back.

Will we come back with any art or crafts from Cuba? I doubt it. While Blue Eyes says there are plenty of places left in The Creak House for displaying more pieces, we have both agreed that we need to get rid of some of our stuff. But that’s an entirely different story, most likely delusional and not worth telling.

cuba streetsweeperI’ve been told the Cuban people dislike our government and love us as a people. That’s a thought I can get behind and it is not one unique to the Cubans. This isn’t a place to rant or justify our government but this, and the next few notes from Cuba will be an opportunity to make some comparisons and maybe take a guess as to what will happen next in Cuba.

Join me?

This is the first of a three-part series on Cuba. Alan Stark is wordsmith who lives with this blue-eyed person and her dog in both Boulder and Breckenridge.

Postcard: Trailblazer

Swiss avalanche guru Manuel Genswein swung through Colorado last week, and we got out for a ski tour just north of the Continental Divide. It’s easy to forget how insignificant each of us is, size-wise, until you venture into country much bigger than that which exists in our towns and valleys. Here, Genswein feels out the snowpack at 13,000 feet in search of cold, dry powder to ski. Much of this zone had either been cooked by the sun or blasted by the wind, but there remained just enough sheltered snow to send us home sated.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Land in the Sky: What’s Happening

The same old news. I turn the radio off and take a long walk with the collie through empty woods. Melting snow and dying hemlocks. Robins and red-eyed vireos warming up their voices. Downy woodpeckers drumming up a racket. Vultures clearing leftovers from winter’s table. Back home, I shovel off the last pile of ice from the back deck. Think about the news, and maybe putting the screens back in the windows. Late in the afternoon, the sump pump in the basement comes back to life, first time since November. Today: not quite when “sumer is icumen in,” but it would have sufficed. Tomorrow is another day.

Postcard: Arkansas River

On a warm spring day at 10,200 feet, we decided to head lower and maximize the temps. We drove to a BLM campground just outside of Salida, Colorado, on the Arkansas River. We drank suds around the fire, grilled meat and vegetables, and talked about everything and nothing at once. The next morning, the fish didn’t bite. But it was OK. We sat in the sun and let its rays warm our skin. Then we drove home to the snow and the rest of the ski season.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Beautiful or Ugly

You tell me. While exploring Robbers Roost Canyon in Utah last week, we flipped over a rock to use it to hold down a tarp or something benign like that and found this guy. I found it to be rather beautiful. His green extremities, black body, and he was backed up into a small opening in the rocky slope. My wife found it less amusing and admitted it might not bother her so much if it wasn’t so poisonous. Anyone know what kind of scorpion this is?

Postcard: Tortola, BVI

The British Virgin Islands are pristine for a number of reasons, most of them natural, but my favorite is the territory’s restrictions on who can buy property. You have to be a “BVIslander” (the senior status) or a “Belonger,” which is complicated but designed to prevent too many outsiders from buying into the islands then rarely visiting. My old Little League coach is a Belonger, which is how he ended up buying the land from which this photo was taken above Cane Garden Bay. Every winter about this time in Colorado, I long to be on his deck, staring out at this scene, wondering which open-air beach bar I’m going to drink boat drinks at that evening.

Tortola photo by Devon O’Neil

The Hermit: New Mexico’s First Mountaineer

The mystery of Giovanni Maria Agostini

By Cameron M. Burns

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of history is that it tends to repeat itself. And the greatest people who do remarkable things during one era are generally forgotten by those of the next. Paul Simon said it best, and simplest, when he sang: “Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts.”

The story of Giovanni Maria Agostini is a case in point. Born in 1801, in Navaro, Italy, Agostini was the son of a nobleman, and an incurable wanderer. According to legend, Agostini killed his cousin during an argument, then devoted the remainder of his existence to atoning for the dreadful deed. After roaming around Europe for almost ten years, Agostini sailed to Caracas in 1838, then proceeded to wander the length and breadth of South America. He traveled throughout the Amazon Basin, up and down the Brazilian coast, amongst the Chilean Andes, and as far south as Patagonia.

One strange element of Agostini’s wanderings was his parallel lifestyles. Although he spent a great deal of time as the guest of the rich and powerful, he also sought out remote settings. According to historians, he was interested in pursuing a life of abstinence; he wished to repent for his murderous act. Thus he spent much of his life living in the wilderness, usually in caves.

Not surprisingly, Agostini also earned a reputation for being a holy man and was constantly healing the sick and comforting the poor. In 1863, after being removed from a cave on El Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, Agostini arrived in New Mexico. He promptly took up residence in a cave near Las Vegas, New Mexico, and was soon administering to the needy. Although Agostino sought only solitude, his own reputation made him a rather hot item, and people came from miles around to ask for his help.

Eventually, seeking only peace, Agostini moved to a cave at the top of El Cerro del Tecolote. The mountain later became known as Hermit’s Peak. In his new abode, Agostini carved trinkets and crosses, which he sold in Las Vegas for a pittance, just enough to buy cornmeal. Agostini’s notoriety grew, and before long the villagers were climbing the steep face of El Cerro de Tecolote just to seek the alleged saint.

The hermit’s most renowned miracle was performed when a group of villagers built a wooden shelter to help him endure the harsh mountain winter. Because he was very old at the time, Agostini consented. The group built the cabin to the Hermit’s plans; it was small and windowless, and had a low door that required he get down on his knees to pass through it. He also had the cabin builders rim the doorway with sharp wooden spikes. Obviously he embraced pain as much as he embraced solitude.

According to legend, while the townsfolk were building the cabin, they ran out of water. Not eager to see them suffer on his account, the Hermit scratched the ground with his walking stick. To the surprise of his followers, fresh water gurgled forth. Agostini had produced a spring where previously there was nothing but dry earth. Although the story sounds pretty tall today, the spring is the only water to be found on a totally dehydrated mountaintop.

In 1867, in search of a more fulfilling solitude, Agostini, then 66, wandered toward the southern part of New Mexico. In 1869, his body was found in a cave in the Organ Mountains; he had been stabbed to death.

Agostini left behind a wealth of legends, the least of which was an unsolvable murder. However, he also embraced a lifestyle that went beyond any mountaineering achievement. His life was spent as a part of the mountain itself.

This piece, written by Cam Burn in 1989, has never been published (until now).

Mountain Passages: Coyote

 

In which the old coyote puts on his Yaktrax

By Alan Stark

The coyote gazes out of his den at the snow pelting the foothills below.

“Brrrr. Who the hell would want to go out in this slop?”

“Your turn to hunt,” says his younger mate.

“All the mice, rats, and prairie dogs will be holed up.”

“Go dumpster diving.”

“Too much snow on the lids. Hard to open.”

“You could sit outside the homeless shelter looking pathetic.”

“Not helpful.”

You’re the one who said he owns the trails up here.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, get out on them and get us dinner.”

He gets up and stretches, hearing joints creak and feeling muscles ache. He looks around the den to make sure he didn’t miss any scraps of food. Noting that the pantry is bare, he crawls out through an almost invisible hole and into the snow. He shakes his brown-yellow-grey coat to clear the snow and does a careful 360-degree check of his surroundings.

First, he scans the sky for big birds on patrol. Then looking uphill he sees the hogback and some houses above him that were built by people with more money than common sense. He looks north up toward Lyons where the tough people relentlessly rebuild their town after the flood. To the east he see the flatland and the sprawl of Dogpatch that has been rebuilt as a Millennial ghetto. To the south he can see the cement plant on the edge of Rocky Flats.

There isn’t much that threatens him in these hills around Boulder. He’s large and in decent shape although he has seen ten winters. But he nonetheless checks, out of habit, because another litter is on the way and the foothills are a hugely dangerous place for pups.

“Geesus, knocked up again.” He mumbles to himself.

“What was I thinking?

“I should be retiring to the Old Coyote’s Home. But Nooo. We’ve got another pack of pups coming to take care of.”

The runner pads along the trail around Wonderland Lake. He isn’t exactly running anymore. It is more like jogging—and that is on a good day. On a snowy day he looks like he is walking fast.

He’s been running forty years, mostly in the High Country, but also along the Chesapeake Bay where the wind off the water felt like it would cut a hole right through him, and on Puget Sound where it was an odd day when all his clothes were dry.

He constantly reminds himself to straighten his posture and hold his head up as he runs. But within minutes he is back to carefully staring at the snowy trail directly in front of him looking for things that could make him stumble and possibly blow up a knee again.

“Going for a run?” his blue-eyed mate asked.

“No, I’m wearing tights because I’m going to tryout for the Boulder Ballet.”

“I didn’t know they needed old crease defensemen.”

“No one does.”

“Put on your Yaktraxs.”

“Nah, don’t need them. I own the trail.”

“No more calls from the ER.”

“Hey, not fair. It was just once.”

“Put ‘em on.”

“Okay.”

He reaches the dogleg pitch at the northwest end of the lake and begins the huff and puff uphill to the crunch of his running shoes in the ice and snow. Reaching the top he scans the foothills looking for movement using that extra sense that most mountain people have—the sense that there is another animal out there long before he can see it.

In the foothills he sees a brown-yellow-grey coat moving efficiently along a contour toward the north. The trotting animal pauses every so often to look around, sniff the air, and then continue the hunt. The runner glances up every so often to follow the coyote and watch the storm.

“No coyote would be out in this snowstorm unless he got tossed out of his den by a hungry mate,” the runner mumbles. “Wonder what he thinks he’ll be catching today?”

“Runner down and to the right,” the coyote thinks, “It’s amazing his mate let him out in this.”

“You’d think they’d give it up. But this is Boulder, they keep running until they can’t. Could be a lesson in that…or not.”

“If I were a coyote on the hunt I’d be working the dumpsters in Dogpatch. There are some half good restaurants over there and a bakery.”

“Wonder what it’s like to have a full refrigerator at home? Just open that hummer up and there’s a roasted chicken from Nick-N-Willy’s and a bomber from Avery.” The coyote thinks of the chicken and licks his lips.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a coyote whose only job is to protect and provide for his family? No more time-sink meetings, or a mortgage that will never get paid off. No more software engineers telling me how smart they are, or general corporate creepiness that makes me fear for the future of this country.”

“I wouldn’t be out in this shitty weather unless I had to hunt,” the coyote grumbles to no one.

“There is no place I’d rather be than here right now, than running through the snowstorm watching the coyote hunt.”

“Why would anyone run in the snow for the fun of it? Not because you have to hunt like I do but because it’s their sport?”

The runner turns right and heads up the Old Kiln Trail to the west. His pace slows as he works his way uphill. The coyote drops down to the Old Kiln Trail where it flattens for a moment before splitting to go up to the hogback to the west and down to the stream to the north.

The coyote stops and takes a dump right in the middle of the trail.

“That will let the runner know who owns this trail.”

The coyote moves on downhill toward the dumpsters.

The runner reaches the top of the trail and sees the pile of steaming scat. He stops for a moment, laughs, and kicks the turds aside.

“We both own this trail coyote.”

Alan Stark is a free-lance writer who lives in Boulder and Breckenridge with this blue-eyed person and her dog.

Photo by Christopher Bruno/Creative Commons