This is what I think about when I’m sitting at my desk during the summer: wildflowers in an alpine meadow surrounded by big peaks. It evokes a sense of freedom unto itself. Running down a trail through said meadow only magnifies said sense of freedom. Last week’s circumnavigation of one of our local peaks proved that once more.
Some mountains are worthy of cross-valley staring. Mount of the Holy Cross, pictured above my friend’s head, is one. Even in late June, the famous cross on the 14,005-foot peak’s east face is clearly visible. It’s the same view pilgrims traveled thousands of miles to witness in the 19th century, and the best part about it is nothing has changed.
As I rode my bike past this tennis court just southeast of Crested Butte, Colorado, I felt a pang of sympathy. Its brethren in Florida and Arizona and most places in the country, really, teem with people and balls and action. Not this one. He sits alone surrounded by peaks and trails and aspen groves, pining for company, pining to be needed, played on. One can only hope he enjoys the view.
We are sitting at the bar in the Blue Fox in Anchorage, Alaska. It’s an election year and the TV is tuned to the National Geographic channel. Right now it’s a show about elephants. On the big screen we see a mama elephant and her adorable baby sharing an affectionate moment. Even though the scene takes place out on the African savanna where things are supposed to be “nature red in tooth and claw,” everybody here at the Blue Fox looks at the TV and goes: “Awww. . . .”
Then for no apparent reason, mama elephant tips over and collapses to the ground. Everybody gasps. “What’s going on? Is this how elephants take a nap? Is she dead?” Meanwhile baby elephant has his own problems. He is looking at mama lying there on the ground. The expression on his face—and yes, you can recognize it—is one of bewilderment. The look says: “What the hell, mama? I love you, please get up!” But mama does not get up. She does not move. She might really be dead. The look on baby elephant’s face now shifts from bewilderment to full blown terror. He turns and runs away, exiting the camera’s frame.
Enter now a couple of scientists dressed in stylish his-and-her safari outfits. We know they are scientists because he’s shouldering a tranquilizer rifle and she’s carrying what appears to be a medical satchel. The volume on the TV is turned off—and we’ve all had a few drinks—so admittedly some of this report should be taken as guesswork on my part. Nonetheless, the two presumed scientists, smiling for the camera, proceed with their business.
They attend to mama elephant, who—it’s safe to infer—is out cold from a Mickey Finn delivered with a dart. The scientists start taking measurements of mama’s body. She does not move. If she’s still breathing, we here in the bar can’t see it. The female scientist, still smiling for the camera, reaches into her satchel and pulls out the all the gear needed to make a venipuncture and draw some blood. The bar goes silent. All eyes are on the smiling scientist as she steps toward mama elephant’s comatose mass. She runs a cool hand over mama elephant’s ear. The vein is located. The needle is unsheathed. It glitters in the African sun. “This won’t hurt a bit. . . .”
Somebody in the bar shouts: “I can’t take this anymore! Change the channel! Let’s watch the Republican convention!”
Sometimes we sit in this place, just stare out the window at mountains and forests and parking lots. This is Alaska and that’s what happens here. Elsewhere it’s another story. And another. And yet another. A less pleasant story, one that’s on its way. It draws closer and closer. It will be here soon. What ever shall we do?
Look! There. See! Our reflection in the window.
The new parking lot in Alaska is already becoming sketchy. The yellow lines laid down just last year are fading. You can barely read them anymore. Soon they’ll be gone altogether, erased by sun. Drivers then will be forced to fill in the blanks. They will park as best as they can, as best as they can remember where the lines once were, where the lines ought to be, as they are or ought to be in all the other lots within the horizon of their experience: supermarkets and mega-churches, stadiums and mortuaries. That would be the best case scenario.
It could go otherwise. It probably will. Without the lines to guide them, people will park wherever there’s an opening or an opening can be made. In short order, chaos will ensue. The pavement will fill up with vehicles parked any which way, just as a blank page is heaped with somebody’s ill-begotten words. Things will spill out onto the margins, even beyond. The whole scene will come to look like a junkyard.
Skiing on the Fourth of July is a tradition for some, less so for me. But I love it every time I do it. Our parade of nine, hailing from near and far, convened at a trailhead up a washboard-y dirt road last week to say goodbye to the 2015-16 ski season on this swath of discolored white. After the turns (and caviar and champagne at the top of the hike) we barbecued bratwursts and drank beer.
My informant for this story is my wife. I was gone for the day hiking.
Catherine took the collies for their morning walk. The big collie—still licking the wounds inflicted to his self-esteem by yesterday’s mishap at the haunted well—decided he needed some alone time. So off he darted once again through the woods to the Stinky Pond. Nothing like a good mud spa to salve a collie’s injured pride. He was gone a good half hour or more. Meanwhile Catherine and the little collie continued on their peaceful stroll through the woods. Eventually they started heading home and still no sign of the big collie.
Just for a change of scenery, they decided to take a lesser-used path that runs along the side of the hill, among the broken ledges and immense dying hemlocks. Some of the biggest trees on Paradise Hill are found here. Also some of the biggest bears, who leave some of the biggest scats you’ll ever find in the woods. And if you can’t find one yourself, don’t worry, the little collie will. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning she did. A nice big, fresh, steaming pile of hell candy! Upon which the little collie promptly plopped down and started to roll. What fun! The only thing better than this would be to tangle with the bear itself.
Oh wait! This was the little collie’s lucky day! That poor bear was right over there, not more than a couple hundred feet away, fresh from its innocent crap. And the little collie was off! She charged right at the bear—barking barking barking! For its part, the bear started with a menacing look, then gave a growl, then started charging right back. The little collie—no dummy— immediately turned tail and started blazing back toward Catherine, who surely could fix this little problem.
This story might not be ending well were it not for the big collie. Out of nowhere—or more likely, the Stinky Pond—he burst from the hemlock shadows—charging, growling, barking—and heading straight for the oncoming bear! Now it was the bear’s turn to turn tail and flee. The big collie was right after it—barking barking barking. The chase concluded when the bear wisely scooted up a tree. The big collie stopped, looked up, and reckoned his job was done.
He turned around and trotted back—smiling triumphant—to Catherine and the little collie, who were awaiting the return of their stinky hero.
This is not how the story is supposed to go.
The big collie takes off through the woods toward the Stinky Pond. He has a mud spa in mind. The rest of us keep walking along the trail. “He’ll come back soon.” Time passes. No sign of the big collie. The little collie is starting to look worried. Abruptly then, far off in the distance, the sound of panicky barking. It’s the big collie! What’s he gotten into?
The little collie takes off in the direction of the barking. I take off after the little collie. The big collie’s panicky barking continues. He’s never done this before. Must be big trouble! The little collie and I run through the woods as fast as we can. We run and we run and we run. The big collie keeps barking, barking, barking. I lose sight of the little collie. I’m getting winded. We’ve come a long way through the woods and I’m a long way from my marathon days. The barking ceases. Where’s the little collie?
I spot her standing next to the crumbling wall of the haunted well. I approach her and turn the corner. I look down and there’s the big collie! He’s fallen into the well. He’s okay but he can’t get out on his own. The look on his face is that of the favorite having just lost the big match to the underdog. He needs help. So I roll up my pant legs and lower myself into the murky depths. At first it’s up to my knees but then when I begin to lift him out I sink another foot into the primordial ooze at the bottom of the well. Rescue complete. The big collie is so happy to be out of the watery entrapment that he shakes off the mud into my face.
I claw my way up and out of the well. The big collie is already off running with joy through the woods. The little collie gives me a puppy head tilt that says: “Can we change his name to Timmy?”
In the hours before this double rainbow appeared, I sat on a plane that was forced to fly 200 miles off course due to thunderstorms, while a wailing baby (ours) threw a temper tantrum in the seat next to me. It was stressful; the boy was angry for at least an hour straight. After the flight finally ended, we walked outside in the rain and took a bus to the parking lot, with a two-hour drive ahead of us. Then this rainbow appeared. We stood in silence and stared at nature’s little gift. For the first time in half a day, everything seemed OK.