Postcard: Fall Backpacking in Northern Colorado

For years I had wanted to visit a particular lake nine miles up this sleepy drainage, dogleg right under the headwall. My brother, a friend, and I finally made it happen this fall. If you could bottle the positive energy one feels at the outset of a backpacking adventure like this, I believe you could solve a lot of the problems damning our society. Not so much the energy you feel when you return to the trailhead the next day … but the front-end vibe is enough to get you through the six-month winter, until you can seek it out again.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Baptism by Whitewater: Running the Middle Fork of the Salmon

One man’s determination to run the Middle Fork of the Salmon in his kayak turns into a story of mermaids, fly fishing, punishment, and camaraderie. By Nicholas O’Connell

It’s a rock dodge. I point the red 9-foot kayak toward Orelano Rapid on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. The rapid is rated a III (on a scale of I – VI, from easy to hazardous), putting it at the limit of my abilities as a kayaker. Earlier rapids have boosted my confidence, but I hope they haven’t lulled me into a false sense of security. 

I enter the rapid on the right, weaving past one rock and then another, relishing the feeling of dashing through the whitewater. A boulder looms ahead. I glide past it, but overcompensate, turning my kayak to the side. The current smashes it against a large boulder, high-centering it on the top. I dig on the paddle, trying to free it.

As I try to shove off, the current catches the underside of the kayak, flipping me into the drink. The water is cold, fast, and powerful. I clutch the boat and pin the paddle between my knees. The river surges past me, threatening to knock me over.  I remember the guide’s advice about staying calm, facing down river and releasing the boat if necessary, but I keep fighting and drag it over to the bank. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I assess the situation.

For years, I’ve wanted to run the Middle Fork and experience every riffle and rapid of this wild and scenic river. Despite the spill, I’ve progressed with my paddling and hope to develop some decent chops during the trip. Easing myself back into to the kayak, I shove off and re-enter the current. I steer more decisively, avoiding the last boulders and gliding into the smooth water below.

“Nice job!” says Willi Cannell, owner of Solitude River Trips, as he pulls up next to me in the larger raft. “That’s what we call an unscheduled swim.”

The “unscheduled swim” serves as my baptism by whitewater on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, one of the premier multi-day whitewater trips in the world. It’s the first day of our 77-mile, six-day journey.  My friend, Chris Olsen, an avid river rat, and five others make up our group of seven. With its abundant whitewater, outstanding fishing, and fascinating native pictographs, the trip represents an intact fragment of the American West.

“It never gets old,” says Willi, 28, a calm, bearded guide who has run the river some 70 times. “I notice something new every time.”

0E4A8195_4791The river begins high in the Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho, north of Boise, Idaho. It runs fast and hard for its length of some 100 miles, passing through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area which contains one of the deepest canyons in the continental United States. At 7,000 feet of relief, it’s almost as deep as the Grand Canyon. At 2.367 million acres, it’s the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48. Rafting the Middle Fork is the most spectacular way to explore it.

At the end of the first day, my arms ache, but I’m pleased with my progress.  I navigated a number of moderate rapids without taking another “unscheduled swim,” as Willi would put it. An enthusiastic teacher, he coached me through each of them, describing the easiest line and then leading the way with the raft.

Chris and I steer the kayaks into camp and pull them up onto the rocky shore. The guides have set up tents for us on a grassy ledge. All we have to do is assemble our cots and lay out our sleeping bags. I feel guilty about not doing more, but the guides are a cheerful, well-oiled machine, now busy preparing a fried chicken dinner. So I grab a cold beer, sit in a lounge chair and watch the river run by.

We chat with the others about the first day. Charles Gehr, an expert fly fisherman from Ashland, Oregon, swaps fish tales with Orville and Vince Talbert and Katie Peterson, vacationing from Maryland. We have no cell reception. No television. No contact with the outside world. We’re back to the pleasures of storytelling.



0E4A7873_5390After breakfast the next morning, I shove off, eager to test my paddling skills.  Chris and I warm up on a couple easier rapids before hitting Jackass Rapid (Class III). Willi gives us advice about running it.

“Hug the side along the gravel bar and then go left,” he says, above the roar of the rapid.

He goes first. I watch him maneuver the raft through it and then follow. The current pushes me left and I go with it until I whip past the gravel bar. I dig hard on my right to avoid getting smashed into the ledges.  The kayak pivots left and bursts into the wave train below. Pleased with this accomplishment, I raise my paddle in celebration.

Turning around, I see Chris entering the rapid. He steers toward the gravel bar, but doesn’t paddle quickly enough to clear the rapid on his right. The wave engulfs his kayak, which disappears beneath him. The current spews him into the eddy below.

“The mermaids got me!” he says, grinning. “They pulled me under.”

The mermaids appear to be active today. With his unscheduled swim, Chris and I head downriver, gaining confidence with every rapid. The kayaks travel much faster than the larger rafts, so we wait in an eddy until the rest of the group catches up with us.

“Are you enjoying the kayak?” asks guide Adam Grogan.

“It’s great fun,” I say.

“Watch out for Killer Fang Falls,” he says ominously. “Only one man has survived it. May the force be with you!”

I easily navigate the rest of the rapids and Killer Fang Falls never materializes. The force appears to be with me today.

Later in the evening, I ask Willi for a lesson in fly casting. I have fly fished before, mostly in my teens, and would love to try it again.

Willi demonstrates how to cast. “Remember to take the line back as far as you throw it forward,” he says. “The line will send the fly out.”

He hands me the rod. My first few casts are messy and awkward, the line snaking around and hitting the water in back of me. Then I allow the line to go back far enough to launch it forward. After a few times, I fling the line forward into the current.

0E4A6854_5990I get a couple bites and then—Wham—something grabs the fly. The rod bends double as I madly try to bring in line and keep the rod tip high. The fish works back and forth across the river, trying to throw the barbless hook. I try to bring in line, but the fish keeps fighting. Slowly, I bring it closer.

“Willi, can you help me land it?” I excitedly move it toward the shallows. Willi comes over, takes the line, and guides the fish into the sand. It’s a beautiful 14-inch native cutthroat, a great omen for the trip ahead.

“Nice job!” Willi says as he removes the hook and releases the fish. With a flick of its tail, it disappears into the current. There’s nothing like a catching a large trout to stoke fishing fever.



The next day, I trade places with Vince. He wants to try the kayak, while I’m psyched to fly fish, another way of reading and experiencing the river. I hope to avoid hooking Charles or guide Roger Goth and perhaps even catch a fish in the process.

Just watching Charles improves my own casting. His cast is fluid and stylish. Roger rows back and forth across the river to put us on the best fish habitat.

We cast into the banks, landing our flies in the seams alongside the main current where the fish congregate. The idea is to put the fly, a dry attractor pattern, right above the trout’s nose. I sometimes hit and sometimes miss the mark, but either way the trout don’t seem impressed.


Charles makes a cast, watches it drift, and then reels in his line. “That fish came up, looked at it, gave me the fin and then swam away,” he says, shaking his head.

We pass through prime fishing water, the river rushing past huge pink granite boulders. I’m expecting a strike but it doesn’t come. Fishing is about belief; you have to believe the fish will take your fly.

Fifteen minutes from camp, I cast again, sending the line out in a curving S-shape, the fly lightly landing on the surface. Bright and buoyant, it rides through the seam. A fish engulfs it. I pull back on the rod, hooking the fish.

“You’re going to have to net it yourself,” Roger says. “I need to steer.”

0E4A6841_5976A small rapid looms ahead. I keep reeling and hold up the rod as we head through the rapid. At the end of it, I reel in the line and feel the fish struggling to throw the hook.  I bring it toward the raft until Roger nets it, a beautiful 14-inch native cutthroat, wriggling and flapping. I take a long look at the fish: its green, black-spotted back, bright red slashes along its jaw, and fierce, surprised eye. Then Roger drops it back in the water.

Late in the afternoon, we pull into Grassy Flat, a wide open field above the river bordered by a grove of ponderosa pine trees. The guides have already set up the tents among the trees.  Like all the other campsites, this one looks as pristine as when Lewis and Clark passed through the region in 1805, avoiding the Salmon River as too tough to navigate. No garbage. No pop cans. Not even a fire ring. The guides bring a portable metal fire box for cooking. It feels like we’re the first ones to visit this place.

“I’m jealous of people who come down the river for the first time,” Willi says over a beer. “I love to hear people say, ‘It’s amazing this place exists in the lower 48.’”

The next day, we take out the kayaks again. The rapids will be challenging, but Willi is confident in our abilities. By this time, my paddling skills have improved, but the volume of water has increased. At the start of the trip it was low and “bony,” but now it’s broad, flat, and powerful, barreling around rocks, making the hydraulics more challenging.

After we run a couple riffles, Willi announces that Waterfall Creek Rapid (Class IV) is coming up. “It’s complicated and technical,” he adds. “You’ll start to the right, go left, and then back to the right.” 

The roar of the rapid is deep and powerful. Chris and I wait in our kayaks until Willi’s raft hits the rapid on the right. Willi skillfully pivots the raft to the left, churning through the whitewater. Then he brings it back to the right, the water surging around him.

Chris is right behind him, fighting his way through the rapid. I back paddle, waiting my turn. I don’t want to enter too soon and crash into Chris. He disappears into the rapid. I can’t wait any longer; I don’t want to lose sight of him. I head for the right side of the rapid, feeling it buffet the kayak. I spot Chris and stroke right, turning my kayak until—Whoa! —I plunge over a drop into the pool below. Cursing, I fight hard to follow him as he bobs and weaves through the waves. The current knocks me around like a bathtub toy, but I keep moving left, following a path through the tumult, the current shoving me toward a large granite boulder, threatening to high-center me like at Orelano Rapid, but I stroke madly, just missing it. I spot a chute amid the spray and go for it, shooting through it like a grapeseed through fingers. Waves smack me from both sides, trying to wrest the paddle from my grasp. I grit my teeth, clench my paddle and take my punishment.

The river releases me into the calm water below. I execute a wide pirouette, catching my breath and feeling the knot in my stomach release.

Chris raises his paddle in the air. I do the same. I let out a yell, jazzed by the jolt of adrenalin.

That evening we camp at Ouzel, a narrow strip of sand on the bank. It’s our last night and everyone’s in a celebratory mood. The guides serve London Broil steak and pop the corks on several bottles of wine. Sitting by the river, I take in the beauty of the surroundings: the broken line of cliffs on the opposite bank, the bright half moon rising in the distance, the chorus of crickets and frogs serenading us. Later that evening, guide Charles Baker takes out his guitar and sings “Old Crow Medicine Show” with the Milky Way overhead, his voice harmonizing with the river murmuring in the background.


On the last day, Willi says the rapids are “consequential” and so we put away the kayaks and board the rafts for the final leg of the trip. I’m alternately disappointed and relieved not to be running these rapids in a kayak, but it’s a moot point. Willi has spoken.

0E4A8152_4748Right after breakfast, we pull in at the Stoddard Creek. After a short walk, we reach an extensive series of pictographs drawn by the Sheepeater Indians who lived in the Middle Fork canyon for centuries. The drawings depict deer, elk, and the stick figures of those who preceded us.

Getting back on the rafts, we barrel through some of the biggest rapids on the river­—Rubber, Devil’s Tooth, House of Rock. In between rapids, I stare up at the steep rock walls of the Impassable Canyon, awed by the intricate patterns and whorls of minerals. It’s the history of the Middle Fork written in pages of stone, a history unfathomably long, complex and mysterious, with human life just the last brief page.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that you never experience the same river twice. This has certainly been true of this trip. Every day has brought new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and experiences: the exhilaration of the rapids, the satisfaction of learning to run them, the camaraderie of the group, the graciousness of the guides, all wrapped up in the powerful and haunting rhythms of the river.

As we approach the confluence with the main Salmon, I marvel at how quickly the time has passed. Then I spot a dirt road, the first real sign of development in the last week. As we haul our gear up to the take out, a trio of ORVs roars by, welcoming us back to “civilization.”


Nicholas O’Connell is the author of The Storms of Denali and teaches for

TOP PHOTO courtesy Solitude River Trips; ALL OTHER PHOTOS by Kat Smith.

Mountain Passages: Heavy Thoughts

Bear makes a commitment to lose some weight, but after sports, a divorce, running, backcountry ski patrol, and a handful of other scheme have failed, can iPhone photos really do the trick? By Alan Stark

As an adult (a term with infinite definitions) the most I ever weighed was 236 pounds and the least was 175. Right now I weigh 206 pounds and have every intention of getting to 190 pounds.

Fat chance.

Unfortunately, weight loss is all self-delusion and general horse pucky. The real truth is that in spite of the multi-billion dollar weight loss cartel and its various bromides, exercise regimens, supplements and snake oil, group think positivism, nutritional hocus pocus, and even surgical procedures, it is almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off.

The first time I decided to loose weight was as a roly-poly 16-year-old. It had become obvious to me that no one wanted to date Fat Albert; that if I weighed less I might get a date. So I counted calories and wrote down what I ate and lost twenty pounds.

So there I was at five-ten or so and weighing 160 and still dateless. Weight was only part of my dating problem, acne residue, terminal shyness, and no car were contributing factors. By the time I reached my adult height of 6 feet, I weighed 180.

The next plan was to lose weight by playing sports. My Dad stressed a number of practical and philosophical skills and points of view to me and my older sister. One personal philosophy took on more importance than any other—it was an unrestrained and fierce independence. Team sports are all about transcending oneself to become part of a greater whole. No surprise that team sports pretty much eluded me.

My problem was independent thinking. Take football for example. I played guard and had two jobs. First, protect the quarterback and second, make a hole for the running back. But I could see it was usually a linebacker disrupting most of our plays. And it was clear to me that if I knocked down a linebacker repeatedly, our plays would go a good deal better. But I wasn’t doing the team thing, I was free-lancing and spent an inordinate amount of time on the bench as a result.

The afternoon practices made me stronger but no slimmer. I didn’t get to play much.

And then there was lacrosse. I went to junior high and high school in Maryland where lacrosse, like fly fishing in Montana, is sort of a religion. In most states, a five or six-year-old kid gets a baseball glove or bat for his birthday. In Maryland it’s a lacrosse stick. I was late to the game, starting at sixteen.

But I loved lacrosse because it was mostly mayhem and clearing the ball downfield while people were bashing each other with sticks. I played crease defense in front of the goalie. I could watch a play form-up at midfield. I could pick the player most likely to shoot and hope that he came at me because I was bigger, although not as fast, but 100 per cent committed to taking the ball away from him. I did okay in lacrosse but ended up playing club lacrosse because I simply wasn’t good enough to play for the university.

But did I lose weight? Nope, I actually gained weight, possibly muscle. Lacrosse practices usually started with either a slow five mile run or a half hour of intense wind sprints that taught me how to run, something I have done ever since, mostly on trails.

The running continued as I started a career, spent some time as a guest of the military, and got married to a person who became a lawyer. Running was sort of my sanity. I could get all wired-up about the job and then go out and put up some miles and come back not giving much of a shit about the job until I went to work the next day.


My next weight loss scheme came when the lawyer and I split. I had smoked a little since college, maybe half a pack a day and then quit. That didn’t work so well so I took up smoking a pipe in my late twenties. I thought I was pretty sophisticated looking with my pipe when, more likely, I just looked like a dick.

My post-divorce weight loss program was to smoke my pipe and run uphill from Table Mesa to NCAR and back down every day. I was trashed from the hard uphill and pounding downhill, often so trashed that I forgot to eat dinner. I was thirty some years old, and somewhat of a skeleton at 175.

And then I fell in love a couple of times. The second time stuck and I married Blue Eyes. I learned to love to cook. We bought a house and got a dog. Domestic life is rewarding. You have this partner with whom you get to travel through time, often laughing at the dumb stuff like dealing with bankers, and loving the beautiful stuff like a rainy November day in the gardens of Kyoto. Problem is, while my life got better, I managed to go from 175 to 236 over twenty years. All my fault.

Since high school I have always run something 700 to 1,000 miles a year, sometimes more, almost always on trails. As the pounds piled on the running got harder but I was still out there. Then my running partner and I got this wild idea that we’d try the Atkins diet where you could eat just about anything you wanted so long as it wasn’t a carbohydrate. What a great idea. I got down to 205 pounds but I had absolutely no endurance. There was nothing in the tank. A simple five-mile trail run would seem like it went on forever in glue.

I stopped the Atkins diet and gained back twenty pounds in less than a month.

Every since when it was time to take some weight off I just cut back on drinking and sweets and portion sizes and kept things in the 210 to 215 range. But then I started working as a volunteer backcountry ski patroller.

gearLet’s say that last winter I was at 210 and that my AT skis, boots, and clothing added 15 pounds, that’s 225. Add a 20 pound pack that included a shovel, probe, transceiver, bivy bag and liner, air mattress, radio, and first aid gear and I was weighing-in at 245 and trying to move uphill at 10,000 feet. It was hard. I was always the slowest backcountry patroller.

Starting in May my large sister in Vancouver and I agreed to work together using Fitbits to lose weight with a weekly Friday weigh-in that includes iPhone photos of the scale so there can be no cheating. It’s actually worked so far. While we had planned to be down 20 or so pounds by now, we’ve both lost and kept off at least ten pounds in about the same number of weeks. Half good.

But here’s the deal: I’ve got to get to 190 before snowfall if I’m going to make it through the next backcountry patrol season.

Fat Chance.

Alan Stark is a free-lance writer, volunteer backcountry ski patroller, and recovering book publisher who lives with this Blue Eyed person and her dog in Boulder and Breckenridge.

Postcard: Como, Colorado

For all the western towns that have grown exponentially in recent decades, a smattering of their peers have remained more or less the same as ever. Como, Colorado, a railroad town founded in 1879, is a good example. I don’t think I could live there, but every fall, I try to visit on my bike and let the mellow vibe wash over me. To get there, you cross the Continental Divide and weave in and out of aspen trees on a long, technical singletrack. There’s no way to know in advance if the aspens have turned, which always provides extra motivation to find out.

como fall scene

Postcard: Holy Cross Wilderness, CO

Some wilderness is too vast to even consider getting to know all of its territory. There are too many big basins with no trails. Too many peaks and ridges to navigate. Too much wild, in a way. The Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado is one of those places. After a brief foray last week, I felt a tug to return the moment I left.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

In Focus: Nicole Morgenthau and the Mountain Men

Mountain men still thrive and photographer Nicole Morgenthau has been documenting them in stunning portraits at rendezvous and the places where they live and work across the West.

The mountain man has been an integral part of the West since before the Louisiana Purchase. (Hey, and when it comes down to it, that individual in-step with the natural world and wanting nothing to do with the regulations of normal society is also the atypical Mountain Gazette reader.) Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, photographer Nicole Morgenthau has been traveling across the West and attending gatherings such as the Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous getting to know present-day mountain men and taking haunting portraits that feel vintage and yet transcend time. She took the time to share some of her best work with us and let us know what it has been like to get under the skin of mountain men.

Tell us about this project.  Mountain men?  They still exist?

“As with any other group/ subculture, there are different levels of commitment.  Most of the mountain men I know are teachers, have a wife, a few kids and two cars in the garage.  These folks enjoy the history and often camp in a primitive way.  Very few of the mountain men I know live the life here in 2015.  Oliver is the only one I’ve met that sleeps in a shelter with no electricity or running water; under a buffalo hide and works as a tanner.”

How do you achieve the quality in these photos that makes them feel as if they came from the 19th century, not just technically speaking but also in the personalities you have captured?

“Honestly, it’s all right there—teepees in huge fields of sage, people in deerskin wearing old trade beads, dogs on hemp ropes.  I feel as a documentary photographer, I am good at sniffing out characters.  I’m very outgoing, so if someone looks interesting, I just approach them and nine out of ten people are happy to participate in my project, and tell me how they got here.

As for the vintage quality, I look for textures that will sing in Black & White- canvas tents, deerskin, suntanned skin all work well.  Sometimes I will manipulate an image for days before it’s where I want it.  I love making a good sky a great sky, and making a weathered face look like a topographical map of the Himalyas.  I enjoy writing captions too, but want the pictures alone to tell a story.”

You say you don’t like to shoot landscapes?  But these men seem part of their landscape.  Can you capture the essence of a place through people?

“Great question.  I spend most of my free time outside, on a trail.  I adore wide open spaces, but always want to stick a human in the landscape if I’m taking a picture.  These men are for sure part of the landscape.  They rely on it heavily from the animals they hunt for meat and hides, the quills that are used for adornment, and wood used to start fires for warmth and cooking.  There are mountain men in almost every state.  So far,  I’ve stayed close to home, but I think the rendezvous in Texas, Oaklahoma, Virginia would show a similar a very different setting.  While camping in Texas or Virginia sounds unpleasant to me, the varied landscape would tell a mountain man of that regions story for sure.  Ok, now I kind of want to check one out in a different region.”

Any good stories about hanging out with these characters?

“Um, where to start… There are a lot of marriage proposals.  Additionally, I hear about a lot of divorce too.  People have divulged about their affairs, tumor on scrotums, you know, the norm.  Sometimes I bring beer (othertimes, I drink theirs) and sit and talk to people for an hour or so before taking their picture.  I think photographers, hair dressers, massage therapist, bar tenders are all the same in that we are approachable; people are comfy telling me their story.  I’ve gone to some tiny rendezvous, where it was pouring rain.  All we do is talk.  Sometimes I come home with 2,000 pictures other times 20.  I’d rather be a friend telling their story than anything.  That’s my approach to photography.”

Do you think the West as we imagine it is disappearing?

“Yes.  Ground that was once covered in sage is now home to Kohls, Costco, Home Depot.  Mountain men and cowboys are on their smart phones, so yeah the west as we imagine it is disappearing.  I think a lof of people love the romantic notion of the west, I do.  But as land get sold off, there are just less jobs for people that work the land and encompass our picture of life in the west.  It isn’t gone, but shrinking for sure.”

Now scroll down and enjoy the stunning, all-mountain-man work of Nicole Morgenthau (click on any photo to enlarge):


Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous. Lone Tree, WY“At the Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous (RMNR). Two German bookends and a buddy/ brother from Vernal, Utah.”


Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous. Lone Tree, WY“This is Concho. We spent about an hour talking about taxes, divorce, beer, tumors & working dogs. Nice guy. Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous (RMNR)”


Rocky Mountain National Rendezvous. Lone Tree, WY

“Ron ‘Maddog’ Johnson. He had a tear in his eye as the American flag was being raised. If I could keep my mouth shut I would, but I can’t so I didn’t: I asked him what made him sad. He said he’d lost quite a few friends at war and felt bad that he always dodged the draft. The cogs in my brain were spinning for something better than ‘sorry man.’ As we looked west at a sky so cobalt blue and an afternoon so incredibly beautiful, I said ‘You were meant to be here, to honor the fallen, to stand amongst friends old and brand new in this perfect place.’ We hugged, in a dad-and-daughter kinda way, a human way.”


Mountain Man Rendezvous. Ft Bridger, WY 2014

“Oliver McCloskey of Cedar City, Utah.  Brain tanner of deer skin and other game since he was 10 years old.  Tanning and the hunting shirts and mosassins he makes from the hide has been his soul source of income for 15 years.”


Scott Olsen aka "Doc Ivory"

“This is Dr. Scott Olsen aka ‘Doc Ivory.’ He’s a dentist three days a week, mountain man the rest of the time. Doc commutes into the small town of Dillon, Mont., to keep people’s mouths in top shape.”


Mountain Man Rendezvous. Ft Bridger, WY 2014“Father and son- Curtis and Rio.  Rio is now 17 and has been attending rendezvous since he was two years old.  They are from central Utah.”

morgenthau.profile.picA Salt Lake City based photographer documenting life in the west from cowboys to climbers, Nicole takes pictures because that is what she loves and knows how to do.  Nicole contributes growing up in one of the most Uninspiring Town in America (a category she created) to her creativity.  “We had to dream big; flat, suburban New Jersey was not inspiring,” she says, adding that, she would not trade that experience for anything in the world.  Suburbia gave her the desire to travel and meet people of all walks of life– with camera in hand.  Nicole has a keen ability to connect with her subjects regardless of age, race, or status and believes, “We are all unique and that alone is worth documenting.” See more of Morgenthau’s work at

Intro photo at top of page: Oliver McCloskey & Scott “Doc Ivory” Olsen.  These two have ridden long distances on horseback to primitive rendezvous together for 10 years.


Land in the Sky: The Waiting Room

In the waiting room at the dentist’s office. Nobody here but me. The walls are thin. I can hear the unwelcome sounds of the dentist at work. It’s like a muffled tree full of angry cicadas. I look around for something to read. All I find are news magazines, thinner than ever, and an Omaha Steaks catalog. I should have brought a book. I spot a pamphlet for the local rail trail. I pick it up and read.

On the cover it says, “Four miles of paved adventure through time and nature!” I open the pamphlet and learn that the rail trail is a “passage of varied terrain and experiences that you will not soon forget.” Somewhere along the way, the rail trail visitor enters “a deep canopy of trees.” Each rock cut is “a reminder that this was once a major thoroughfare for moving goods and materials on rails.” Eventually the rail trail visitor arrives at a bridge that spans a considerable river. Nobody knows what’s on the other side. The pamphlet doesn’t say.

Meanwhile, here in the waiting room things have gone painfully quiet. Save for the faint and faraway groaning on the other side of the wall, the stillness of the waiting room is undisturbed. Then a door opens, and a voice on the other side says “Next.”