Land in the Sky: Accidents in North American Mountaineering

East of the Catskills I park close to the summit of Mount Walmart. This prominent snow peak reminds me of Mount Jefferson in the Oregon Cascades. It can be tricky. Today the route looks sketchy. The weather could go either way. And my microspikes are dull. So I abandon any ambitions of ascent I might have had and head into the store.

Nobody knows me in this place, even though I buy stuff here all the time for reasons unknown and I probably don’t need to. I could go elsewhere, maybe another Walmart, but I’m fond of this one, so leave me alone.

Today I need new underwear. Alas, that doesn’t happen. Instead I make an impulse buy: a Dremel tool. This way I can sharpen my microspikes. I will also need to buy a little grinding stone attachment for my new Dremel. See how one impulse leads to another and the same old underwear because now the money has run out?

Anyway, once I get paid for this piece of writing, I will come back here in good weather. My wallet will be flush. I will have freshly-sharpened microspikes and new underwear. Properly outfitted then, I will attempt the tricky summit of Mount Walmart. I know it’s a dream. You come too.

Postcard: Sun at last, CO

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

Even with temperatures struggling to get above zero, a bluebird day in Colorado’s high country beckons us outside — especially when the previous week delivered one long run of storms, not that there is anything wrong with that. Here, a couple of friends and I near our high point above the upper Blue River Valley.

Postcard: Frisky donkeys, USVI

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

Don’t mind the wildlife, just focus on the sun, sand and ocean. At least that’s what I told myself as I ate lunch in front of these two friendly fellows a couple of weeks ago in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Donkeys roam freely on St. John, fifth legs and all.

Land in the Sky: On Labels

Today at a supermarket in the Catskill Mountains I saw a bottle of vegetable juice adorned with remarkable labeling: “100% Juice with Added Ingredients.” What manner of adjective is this percent? I wasn’t totally sure. I stood there longer than I should have, pondering which language game I was being invited to play. What were the rules? What exactly was at stake here? Whatever could this mean? The middle of the supermarket juice aisle is no place to philosophize. Others needed access to the goods. Nobody else was reading labels, much less subjecting them to hermeneutic scrutiny. “Just who do you think you are?”

A decent respect to the needs of my fellow shoppers required I suspend further thought till the drive home, wherein I passed a pizza parlor housed on the first floor of what appeared to be a haunted house next door to a junkyard, then an erstwhile fairground long since overrun by scruffy trees, among them a single staghorn sumac, then a shuttered bar and grill where I used to have dinner and drinks with my dad on our way home from visiting my mom in the nursing home, past that was the occasional burned-down summer resort of yesteryear, but mostly it’s like motoring through a Hudson River School painting with gas stations and utility poles and oh so very scenic. I do my best thinking while driving because that’s usually when I have no thoughts at all, just like taking a shower or posting on Facebook, but today I got stuck behind a smoky old pickup, license plate hanging by a single rusty screw, great big Stars and Bars draped across the back window, just as we were passing the untended historic graveyard with its big Civil War monument smack in the middle of a manufactured memory.

And that’s when it hit me: 100% American with added ingredients.

Postcard: Sandy Cay, British Virgin Islands

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

Kids love the beach. They might not appreciate the turquoise water, or the sailboat churning along the horizon, or the mountains looming across the Caribbean Sea a country away. But that’s why being a kid is so innocent. You get to just be and play. As an aside, it sure is hard to leave this scene and go home to minus-15 Farenheit wind chills. But kids, like adults, love snow too.

Postcard: Central Mass wildlife

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

There we were, driving down a two-lane road in lovely central Massachusetts earlier this month, when 20 wild turkeys bolted across it. Do these guys know how close we are to Thanksgiving? I wondered. Or how much it hurts to get hit by a car when you weigh 10 pounds and most of that is feathers? We didn’t stop to inquire, but I imagine both answers would be no.

Land in the Sky: Another Mountain Excursion

The collies sit for hot dogs as well as cheese, what good boots these are, this Election Day summit of Wittenberg Mountain, heart of the southern Catskills, broad picnic scenery, drowned towns of the Ashokan, no porcupines persecuted in or on our account, onward then to Cornell and Slide (highest in the range, hides itself from near view), “not real mountains” some say outside knowledge, blowdowns and memories of vistas since obscured, dark waves of forest succession extend into stroll down unfrequented side of peak along abandoned trail of steps buried in leaves, eye of limited service here, foot feels through sole the forgotten path, around and down and down, down past “Posted” signs into thick ferns and composting drifts of bygone summer shade, descending sun, fast-fading registry of deeds, a party pushing through, fourteen-plus cliffy miles come to an end, into the car and go, stop at Brio’s for hamburgers ordered off the “Doggy Menu” lovingly hand fed by tuckered-out vegetarian ward as he downs a beer and another.

Postcard: Truckee, CA ski stud

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

With all the uncertainty swirling around us this morning after Election Day, lest we not forget that life will go on, the sun will continue to rise, and ski season is headed our way. This little gem of a skimobile, captured during a quick stop in Truckee, California, two weeks ago, gives me hope.

 

Land in the Sky: After That Visit to Walden Pond

When we emerged from the cocktail lounge, it became clear–largely because daylight had returned or maybe had become something other than it ordinarily is–that we should have stuck to beer and ignored what was happening on the television. In any case, now we had to find a ride home and figure out all over again–or maybe for the first time–who we were and how we got there. You went first. The rest are still waiting for your call.
cocktail-lounge

Postcard: Crazy colors in an empty Wilderness

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

Don’t worry, this is the last foliage photo of the year from me. It was taken in a northern Colorado Wilderness area on September 23. After hiking in six miles to reach our campsite, we spent four days staring at this scene. It almost became mundane … until we had to leave; then it became sad and even more beautiful than it had seemed all along.