Mountain Passages: Getting Trashed By My Cycling Partner And The Seven Motherfuckers

My cycling partner weighs 140 pounds wet. I weigh 65 more than that dry. Once again today he’s trashing me in the flats around Boulder. We are essentially the same age. We are not older than dirt, but close to it. We have all the normal Boulder bike gear, that is to say bikes that cost more than our first year of undergraduate tuition, maybe our first two years. This was back when tuition went for facilities, professional, and support staff salaries, not football programs, administrators, advertising budgets, and consultants.
Tarmac
It all starts out innocently enough. I gather all my gear, pump-up my tires, suck down a couple glasses of water and then peddle over to his palatial house in North Boulder.

“What do you want to do today?” I ask.
“You know me, I just follow.”
“Right, until we start climbing and you blast by me.”
“Okay, let’s get to Hygiene and see how we feel.”

Hygiene is this village out on the Boulder County flats with a good restaurant (Crane Hollow Café) and across the street a combination supermarket, butcher shop, and antique store (Mary’s Market). The restaurant has a wonderful green chili and the supermarket gets a grill going on weekend afternoons that you can smell a mile out of town. Some cyclist never make it past Hygiene on a Saturday afternoon.

“Sweetheart, could you pick me up in Hygiene?”
“No, you got there on your bike. Get home on your bike.”
“But I’ve had three brats and I’m feeling a little bloated.”
“Ride through it.”
“Sweetie?”
“Click.”

There is small post office in Hygiene. If I ever start another book publishing company I’m gong to get a PO Box in Hygiene and when the automatons from Amazon call for more discount I’m going to ask them how they could possibly strong-arm a little book publisher from Hygiene, have they no sense of decency?

Not.

So we head out of Boulder past billions of ugly condos. These things look like they were designed in the old East Germany by third-rate architects.

“Butt ugly.”
“I liked it better when it was a trailer park, junk stores, and a drive-in movie.”
“We called it Dogpatch.”
“Now they call it NoBo.”
“Geesus.”
“This ain’t New York.”
“Be thankful for small things, Brother.”

He’s behind me on the Foothills Highway. Actually he’s drafting me, that which is about 30% more efficient than tooling along by yourself. I may have mentioned that he’s smart. On the first hill north of town he just blasts by me. My bike is rigged with just two chain rings, one for speed and one for climbing. Given his weight advantage and a similar rig, he’s super fast on the climbs.

“Asshole.”
“Hey, I’m just limiting the pain.”
“No, you are embarrassing a portly person.”
“That too.”

The Foothills highway rolls for fourteen miles north of Boulder and continues on up to Lyons. We roll with the hills and pick up the remnants of a triathalon that includes State Patrolmen sitting in their cars talking to their girlfriends, and medics on motorcycles. I’m a backcountry ski patroller. I sort of get the medic mentality but I can’t understand medics on motorcycles. My friend the ED doc calls motorcycles “donormobiles.”

The cut-off to Hygiene comes at about 13 miles and is somewhat of a relief because it is a downhill blast for about five miles. We are amazed at how green it still is at the end of July. It’s as if we are living in the Pacific Northwest and not the arid plains east of the Rockies. We pull into Hygiene and discuss the next move.

“Carter Lake?”
“Nope, I haven’t got that in the tank,” he says.
“Lyons and the Fruit Loops?
“Sure.”

Lyons took a blast from last September’s floods. We weren’t sure that Lyons was going to come back. We were wrong. Some folks just left Lyons but the locals just stood up on their hind legs and started rebuilding. You need to be semi-tough sometimes to live in Colorado. The folks in Lyons are tough.

The Fruit Loops are two back roads out of Lyons through some wonderful houses that all parallel streams, all of which blew out during the flood. The locals seem impervious to the disaster. Sure their environment has been altered somewhat, but they just kept moving, which is sometimes the only option we have in life, and the Fruit Loops look like a place we’ll be cycling for a long time to come.

After one Fruit Loop we stop for coffee at The Stone Cup. This is a great place, but why on God’s Green Earth should it take 10 minutes to queue-up and get a cup of black coffee? It’s the “half-caf, half de-caf iced coffee with cream and sugar in it blended at extremely high speed for Christsake.” Come on folks, it’s a coffee shop. Don’t waste my time with your silly-assed specialty coffee drinks.

Okay, so we have had a hard thirty miles where my partner has done his utmost to trash me. The ride back to Boulder involves the Seven Motherfuckers on 14 miles of roads dominated by pickups, travel trailers, motorcycles, and dump trucks all traveling at warp speed. The Seven Motherfuckers are these hills that have to be climbed to get back to Boulder. None of them are particularly difficult like the last mile into Ward but when you have been out for a while the prospect of the Seven Motherfucker is daunting.

“If we sit here long enough, someone will bring out a guitar and start singing.”
“And then it will be dark and we don’t have lights on our bikes.”
“Still, it’s better than doing the Seven Motherfuckers at noon.”
“You said it Brother.”

He gives that baleful look, picks up his coffee cup and walks back into the shop. I know I’m toast, he’s got that determined look. Sort of a, “I’m riding back to Boulder…I’m riding as fast as I can so that I can limit the pain…stay with me if you can.”

I gather my gear and get back on the bike. What follows is essentially a death march. The temperature on my bike computer is in three digits, my pulse is semi-serious triple digits, sweat is running down my nose and back, and we are still six or seven miles north of Boulder. I notice that for the first time all day he doesn’t blow me out of the saddle on the uphill. I wait around and he catches me at the top of motherfucker four.

“I’m trashed,”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Trashed, finished, wasted. Might not make it home.”
“Cosmic justice.”

Alan Stark is a recovering book publisher and member of Bryan Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol.

Creamsicle Dick and the Reading of the Classifieds

Creamsicle Dick and the Reading of the Classifieds

By Cameron M. Burns

Author’s note: some of the email addresses and phone numbers in this piece have been slightly modified (using Xs) to spare the authors of these real advertisements unnecessary attention. I have kept the typography exactly as the original.

Unknown-2People of the Rocky Mountain West like to think the terms that define them probably include strong-willed, independent, self-starter, initiative, entrepreneurial, and clever. That might be so, but if you ever sit down with a newspaper published anyplace between Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Polebridge, Montana, and start reading the classified ads in local newspapers, a few more terms will spring to mind, as I will shortly demonstrate.

My serious “reading of the classifieds” in as many newspapers as I could lay my hands on and time allowed began in late 2010. The previous summer, my wife, Ann, had started doing sudoko, apparently to mellow out when stressed; my mother had fired her interest. Ann would sit at our modest kitchen table thoughtfully working her way through the problems, trying to reveal the numerical pattern that sudoko is all about. But my wife’s an animal lover at heart, and when confounded by a number sequence, she’d often drift over into the classifieds, she told me later, to check the animals up for adoption. The following day’s emails from her would be filled with text like (and this one is clearly made up, but it’s close to what I’d get): “Rager: Un-neutered male pitbull male with severe aggression disorder. Great if you have a pit to keep him in….”

Every now and then, Ann would show me the ads. Sometimes I’d read them then wander back to the news. One evening, Ann delved deeper into the “classies” (as newspaper folks call them), and we realized she’d stumbled on a gold mine.

“Hey, come look at this,” she said.

She pointed to an ad in the Aspen Times, one of our local papers, offering “gold smelting equipment”; next to that was an “intelligent synthesizer”; a few ads down was a mounted coyote head.

“What the heck is an intelligent synthesizer?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Ann responded. “But we could put the coyote head on it and really mess with the neighbors. All the while smelting gold, perhaps.”

“Hmmm….”

Officially, it was the September 3, 2010 edition of the Aspen Times, a fine publication where both the editor of this magazine and I have labored many hours. Other dry goods on sale that day included the following:

• A moose head being sold by a John Henry of Silverthorne for $2,950;

• Two 5-gallon glass carboys for $29 each;

• A hydrofarm reflector; and

• An Orvis Battenkill rolling duffle bag (the Battenkill is, apparently, a river in Vermont/New York whence Orvis has its origin). Those items seemed simple enough, but then there was this: muscle milk natural, vanilla crème $15 81611 Aspen unopened 2.5 lb container Kevin 845-321-XXXX.

I immediately had to wonder, what is “muscle milk natural, vanilla crème,” and is it what I think it is? Then why’s it so expensive? Another ad read: drive 6 hours behind the wheel with Jamie Maffey value is $300 sell for $200 OBO 81611 aspen superb condition only 970-355-XXXX.

It sounded as if Jamie Maffey was some kind of uber vehicle-racing person, but a google search brought up nothing. I have to guess, then, that Jamie’s just a really wonderful person, the kind you’d shell out $200 to spend six hours in a car with. There really aren’t too many people like that, so $200 was probably a bargain. I wonder how Jamie felt about it and if he/she even knew such a thing was for sale. Doubtless, Jamie found out.

My wife and I wandered the classifieds over the course of the summer of 2010, and we were always surprised and delighted by what we found. In March, 2011, I decided to knuckle down and see if our experience was an anomaly or whether the rear-ends of most newspapers really were bizarre. From a roughly one-week period in late March, here are a few things I gleaned.

 

Used Car Salesmen

The vehicle ads are always worth a scan, and these days they seem to be more honest than some of the guys on the lots. For one thing, many papers now offer classified ads that include photos of the items to be sold, so you can get a look at your next commitment to the carbon economy. The Aspen Times of March 22, 2011 had a few of gems that read as follow:

BEATER – 4x Toyota Landcruiser 1986 1500 4 door. Rust of course. 27800 Manual transmission. white full chains dick 303 886 XXXX hampleman@XXX.net

I’d surmise this chap’s real name was Dick “Full Chains” White (perhaps derived from a CB handle or some such), but his honesty is beyond reproach. How many budding salesmen would throw in “Rust of course” as a statement? (Though I once saw a classified ad for a car that said “Rust in peace.”) The following ad caught my eye for two reasons:

Toyota Tacoma 2010

TRD loaded w/extras. Excellent condition. 17,000K.

Auto transmission 4WD. V6 silver

Access cab. Tow package.

$25,500

948-XXXX or call_john@XXX.com

One, most sellers of a vehicle that had 17 million miles on it would steer clear of pointing that tidbit out, and perhaps focus on the positive—like the fact that the vehicle still existed (as evidenced by a photograph).

Two, that email address…. Is it like call boy? Was the seller having a brainfart when he wrote down his phone number then his email address? Sadly, we’ll likely never know. But there must have been a sale on brainfarts on March 22 in Aspen—either a sale on brainfarts or on the word “used”—as the Times also had this:

Used tires $20 Glenwood Springs. Used condition. Joe 970945XXXX carguy1@XXX.net

 

Bodily Fluids

My mother always taught me to never buy certain things used: underpants, shoes, socks, bathing suits, mattresses, sheets, sofas, etc. You know, things of a highly personal nature. So the amount of stuff that gets used really hard—and peed, pooed, spat, or vomited on—for sale in today’s newspapers in unnerving. Ann suggested this is a result of the recent economic downturn and the fact that we’re all broke. That might be the reason for all the bad art in the contemporary classifieds, but what’s up with all the baby clothes, toys, and other items that fall into the “personal” category? Certainly these people didn’t grow up with my mother.

Under the header “Other,” the March 24 Glenwood Springs Post Independent offered:

Thick weave pre-folded CLOTH DIAPERS, Barely used, 4 dozen, asking $45 Rifle Excellent condition. 970-309-XXXX

My first thought was here’s an item that has actually had poo on it. And they want $45 for it. The nerve! My second thought was that that’s what it was going to have on it again, so no wonder the owner’s selling it. Other baby items really disturb me, though. The March 22 Summit Daily News had an item:

Baby Bjorn baby carrier

$30 Frisco Good condition. Frisco. Heidi 389-XXXX.

Bjorns are the one item that should be illegal to resell. In case you are somehow unfamiliar with a Bjorn, it’s a sort of backpack-like device that straps to your front and is used for carrying infants and toddlers around (think mommy wants to be a kangaroo and you get the idea). The child can face either forwards (toward the oncoming scenery) or backwards (towards you).

I have two daughters who were toted every which way in Bjorns. Our two Bjorns (one wore out, so we bought a second) were so covered with aged, white, glued-on vomit you could make a pretty thick chowder by dipping them briefly in hot water (we always had our kids face forwards to avoid the warm stream). Hence, my conviction that Bjorns come in two varieties: brand new or destroyed. There is no middle ground here as “Good condition” in this ad suggests.

Frisco Heidi was committing an unspoken classified-ad indiscretion to my way of thinking. I’m all into recycling, but I’m also a bit of a fan of hygiene. (Then again, I’ve seen lots of adverts for breast pumps, so maybe a milky Bjorn isn’t as much of a fourth-estate no-no as I’m prone to believe.)

While we’re in the region of mammalian output, one thing that’s always surprising is the number of dog-poo-pickup firms that advertise in the classifieds. Seems every mountain town has at least several of these companies, always with a clever name (e.g., Pooper Scoopers), and they only seem advertise in the “classies” (nothing classier than poo ads, right?). Ever seen one of these companies’ ads on a bus? On the chairlift? On the local public access channel? In GQ?

The following two ads appeared in a March 2011 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

 

Valley Poo Busters

PET WASTE REMOVAL

Call Today 970-456-XXXX

Valleypoobusters.com

 

Bapper Doggie Doos

Full Service Pet “Spaw” in Silt

970-640-6383/970-631-XXXX

 

The first one is straightforward enough. (Although why would you call them just today? If you’re having a tough time managing it and need this kind of professional help, I think you’d want to call today, tomorrow, and every other day—perhaps you need a Busters franchise in your backyard.)

If memory serves, the second advert had a typo (I believe it was meant to be Dapper Doggie Doos). The change to Bapper made me think it was another dog-poo scooping company, because, when it comes to dogs, the word “doo” can be applied to either end. I hope the paper offered them a free day’s classy.

 

Men Seeking Women They Can Move

A lot of folks turn to the “tight and narrow” section for love. Or things that approach love. (Or things that approach tight and narrow.) The Summit Daily News had a few gems that kept recurring in March. I especially liked these two:

 

A Gentleman and a Scholar

Dates and Escorts for Women Only.

970-389-XXXX

 

Need Help Moving?

I Have a 24’ Boxed Truck & A Strong Back

970-389-XXXX

 

The scholar half of the first guy needs some help with his capitalization, and his gentleman side needs to be less sexist. Aren’t escorts supposed to be professional? Aren’t they supposed to serve clients regardless of gender? I bet I could sue when he turns me down….

Meanwhile, the moving-back guy committed the ultimate classified ad faux pas (worse than baby spew). He offered himself bodily to the greater world. Certainly, most humans are at the core good, but when you offer your spine for services against gravity, all sorts of nutjobs with bizarre requests step up to the line. That ad ran, I think, on a Saturday. Ten bucks says he was in hospital by Sunday morning.

 

Don’t Know What You’re Getting?

To be sure, there are no courses in classified advertising writing (perhaps there should be), and I have never in my life seen a newspaper offer a set of instructions to would-be classified ad writers—other than a word limit and how to pay. The reporters at these papers are all provided with an Associated Press stylebook so that their copy is neat and clean, but venture into the classifieds an it’s as if a copy-style nuclear warhead has gone off. Scarier than all the random typographical rotten eggs is often the lack of vital information or of clarity—dare I say logic? On March 24, 2011, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent had this gem:

 

Photo $80 Basalt Good condition. 970-948-XXXX walkerandcore@XXX.com

 

I immediately had to wonder what the photo might be of. The seller’s long-lost Aunt Mildred? A bongo? His lawn ornament? Something vulgar? Something delightful? I personally would’ve paid $80 for a photo of something delightful but not for a photo of something vulgar—I already have too many of those. A more important question was why would you advertise a photo in the Glenwood Springs newspaper that an owner in Basalt was selling?

Then, my ever-prescient wife stepped in: “Maybe it’s a photo of Basalt.”

That might’ve cleared up some of the confusion (who, really, could say for sure?), but the reader still had to be wondering “of what in Basalt?” The seller’s long-lost Aunt Mildred in Basalt? A bongo in Basalt? His lawn ornament in Basalt? Something vulgar in Basalt (which, ironically, happens to be where I live). It appears classified ad writers seem to thrive on maintaining a high level of intrigue in their announcements.

On Thursday, March 24, 2011, I found myself scanning the Chaffee County Times during a trip to New Mexico. In the “wanted” section was the following:

 

Conga/Djembe teacher needed. Not very skilled yet. 395-XXXX.

 

Did the author want a conga/djembe teacher who was not very skilled or did he/she want one because he/she was not very skilled yet? Who can tell? And really, who cares—except, of course, the tens of thousands of conga/djembe teachers in the greater Buena Vista area looking for gainful employment. To them, this information would’ve been vital. More intrigue, more mystery. Proper command of English appears a Sisyphean dilemma for many mountain-town advertisers. Under the heading of “customer service” in the March 25 Vail Daily was an ad that read, in part:

 

immediate opening for

Store/General help.

Must be English speak

PT seasonal position

Up to 24 hours/week.

 

Gone to the Dogs

Dogs are what got my wife and me into the classified ads in the first place, so no discussion of said media would be complete without a trip to the dogs. The only problem I have with dogs—or, more correctly, dog ads—is that they’re often quite elastic with the truth. We humans are so rotten to animals that there are as many rescue shelters in mountain towns as there are coffee shops. And the good folks running these shelters will do anything they can to get them into happy homes.

On March 24, 2011, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent had this questionable listing:

 

Great Dane mix. Adoption Fee. 1.5 yrs Marlow is a wonderful boy, who loves to cuddle on the couch. Loves everyone he meets. 918-200-XXXX nxgolden@XXXX.net

 

A great dane that cuddles on the couch? Excuse me? You mean crush the couch and “everyone he meets”? Okay, maybe I’m too skeptical. But I kept reading and came across the following gem. At first I laughed, because the item could be read as if the dog were a mix between a rat and a terrier, not a rat terrier mixed with another breed. Then, the ad suddenly went south:

 

Rat Terrier Mix- Tuffy is a loyal and happy little 2 yr. old. Missing a back leg and is still very athletic. Loves people, great with other dogs! Rifle Animal Shelter. 970-625-XXXX

 

Of course, I got a knot in my stomach, but then realized that the Marlow the great dane could probably carry Tuffy around pretty easily, and I pondered calling the Rifle Animal Shelter to suggest a Marlow–Tuffy package deal. Ann said no.

Okay, I wasn’t really planning to call the Rifle animal shelter, but I really did get sad about Tuffy. Then I read a bit farther and got really sad. That same edition of the Glenwood paper had the following (including a photo of “Eric”):

 

ASPEN JOB WANTED

34 year old, orphaned at 7, continually incarcerated since 13 year old child, eagerly entering work force. Honest, intelligent, always drug & alcohol free. Holds GED plus numerous vocational training certificates. Seeks hospitality/recreation related, house sitting, service, retail or other position??? Available full time, will train. Beneficial Employer Tax Credit & Fidelity Bonding! Please contact longtime advocate mentor @ 714878XXXX,  gKisley@XXXXXX for information, plus official administrative contact & most compelling story of Eric’s journey.”

 

Creamsicle Dick

The classified ads in small-town newspapers represent the Rocky Mountain West better than pretty much any local peak, activity, superhuman resident, or marketing “collateral” (what a dumb-ass term) the mountain-town lifestyle sellers come up with.

In this modern day and age, every mountain town has become rather generic. They all have Victorian houses that have been restored in bright colors and cost far more than they should; nearly identical outdoor film festivals (that feature climbing, boating, skiing, and environmental issues); overpriced gear shops where only tourists shop because the locals are all professional outdoor athletes, even though their livelihoods consist of managing inheritances; a never-ending supply of dogs with names like Dakota, Kaya, Khan, and Kona; and businesses that actively welcome and offer dog treats to dogs with names like Dakota, Kaya, Khan, and Kona.

The classified ads in these towns’ papers often seem far more real than the places themselves. They’re not cookie-cutter like the communities they aim to represent, which means, hopefully the communities really aren’t as cookie-cutter as cynics like me believe.

Of course, with publishing moving online faster than a dog will show your dinner guests its flexibility, the same gaffes are now available to those from far outside the mountain west, as are their gaffes to us.

The Chaffee County Times classified section—the entire newspaper section—is called “Classified Adventures.” And that, I think, really sums it up.

Which brings me to Creamsicle Dick.

I don’t know Dick. I’d never heard of Dick until March 2011, I’m not entirely sure where Dick lives, and I have no idea how he came upon his own disturbingly colorful name, but in the March 31, 2011 Rifle Citizen Telegram, he (I’m assuming Dick’s a he) placed a classified ad.

Dick was selling a VW. It had lasted since 1974. It was cheap, as it should’ve been. Dick—when he placed the ad—was apparently based in Rifle. And his moniker was inspired by a sugary summertime confection:

 

Volkswagen Superbug 1974 $2500

creamsicle Dick

vtas@XXXX.com 81652

$2450

970-319-XXXX

 

Creamsicle Dick’s simple ad doesn’t say a lot, but it’s precisely what it doesn’t say that produces a colorful little debrief on life in the mountain West. His simple ad opens up an expansive window into the people and places we think we know, and realize we don’t quite. Or don’t think we quite do, even though we likely do.

Let’s see…a 1974 VW? Dick’s probably in his mid-fifties. He was likely a bit of a rebel back in the 1960s (who drove Superbugs in 1974?), he moved to Rifle because it was the West, and a slice of the real west, not a soft resort like Aspen.

Dick is also probably bald, or bad in bed, maybe both—Creamsicle being a nickname passed along from a loving female friend and kept by Dick as a humbling reminder of the degeneration of the human body and the simple joy of human relationships. Or it could just be the color of the Superbug.

Dick clearly cherishes his name, both the offensive images it brings to mind, and the special relationship he had, and maybe still has, with that woman, even though the kids are long gone. Dick can make fun of himself, but he doesn’t go overboard.

I picture him in his yard, in the mid-summer heat that flattens Rifle in August, his feet in an old kiddy pool, while he sips a cold Budweiser and lazily flips a few burgers on the grill. He’s not looking forward to tomorrow, pulling all that wire or fixing that backhoe. Life’s been good, and he’s earned it. Sure, he needs to lose twenty pounds, but he’ll do some Summit County peaks later in the summer and get back to a svelte 190. Selling the bug is a bummer, but he won’t miss the endless repairs, the endless search for parts, and the endless sore back from leaning over the motor.

Now, he drives a Camry, and feels like a neutered token of the middle class. Life is a long series of compromises, but it’s an adventure, too, and he’s enjoyed that part, and plans to enjoy it long into his twilight years.

Creamsicle Dick’s post is simply the best ad I’ve stumbled across in the years I was searching this stuff out.

I would, though, wager that Creamsicle Dick, and the guy I mentioned at the start of this classifieds adventure, Dick “Full Chains” White, are both chums, and they are probably still publishing ads.

Anyway, whatever they have to say, or not, it’s definitely worth a read.

Cam Burns knows that no matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.

 

Postcard: Frisco, Colorado

Ah, mountain creativity. Some people plant flowers. Other people lynch laptops. I don’t think we’ll see this scene on the cover of Fine Gardening magazine, but it does provoke thought among people who wander past, which is more than I can say for my yard. (Click image to enlarge)

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

Land in the Sky: Hidden Lake

Mount-AnalogueHidden Lake lies in the shadow of Mount Analogue. We set out on a trail to find it. The path was lined with low willow and dwarf fireweed. Clouds hung low over the peak. The air was chill. We walked a long way and gained some elevation. We came to a place we believed was our destination. We sat down by a grassy pond we later learned is called Obvious. We enjoyed our rest there, unaware of our mistake. The error was revealed well after the fact, when we got back to where we began. Now we know: Hidden is a lake that loves to hide. Maybe we’ll try it again someday.

Postcard: Durban, South Africa

Durban is one of South Africa’s surfing hotbeds, home to some of the world’s premier barreling beachbreaks. But 30 miles inland from the famous, high-rise-lined beachfront sits a different kind of landscape. Dry, prickly, and woven together by a steep network of trails, the Valley of a Thousand Hills is home to natural athletes who run up mountains like the rest of us run down them. I spent a day there last week and got to wondering whether I’d be any fleeter of foot if I had grown up there instead of where I did. I kind of think I would be. (Click image to enlarge)

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

THE ANTHROPOCENTRIC ANTHROPOCENE SHAM/SCAM

 

THE ANTHROPOCENTRIC ANTHROPOCENE SHAM/SCAM

By Dick Dorworth

IMG_3789“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
Edward O. Wilson

“I don’t like formal gardens. I like wild nature. It’s just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess.”
Walt Disney

People whose wilderness instincts haven’t been ground into pabulum by the daily grind and who still know and acknowledge the differences between a forest and a tree farm, a meadow and a lawn, a river with and without dams and the relative values of long-term environmental health and short-term profits, also know that homo sapiens is a part of nature, the ecology and the web of life of Planet Earth. As E.O. Wilson succinctly points out, mankind is neither master of life on earth nor essential to its existence. Members of our species who are incognizant of this reality are, at best, deluded. Words are insufficient to describe those who appear incognizant but in reality are not. Among the many precious, irreplaceable treasures of life, including clear air, clean water, life sustaining seas, mountain glaciers, healthy soil, jungles, forests and democratic economy already being sacrificed to their delusions and addiction to greed are the quality and security of the lives of your grandchildren and mine.
That pisses me off. In my view it should piss off everyone at a deep gut level. Every human, with or without grandchildren, is inextricably connected to everything that lives—past, present and future—and every individual thought, word, action, inaction and standard of integrity affects the whole. I wish for my grandchildren the best of healthy, vibrant, engaged lives guided by wilderness instincts and compassion. Anthropogenic global warming climate change deniers and other adherents of/participants in the anthropocentric anthropocene sham/scam (AASS) don’t give a shit about your grandchildren or mine or about the other irreplaceable treasures of life. Deniers are the 21st century’s mental/emotional/spiritual/ethical descendants of European Medieval inquisitors of the middle ages and the perpetrators of the Salem Witch Trials of 17th century America. These people, literally, do not think twice about sacrificing the living and the unborn to the status quo of dead and discredited superstitions. The AASS’s standards of honesty, intelligence, morality, ethics and compassion are perhaps best exemplified today by Dick Cheney, who was/is happy to take time out from justifying his better known wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to serve as point man in AASS’s war on reality and scientific consensus.
It’s been 500 years since the inquisition placed Galileo Galilei under house arrest for the rest of his life for the ‘heresy’ of publishing his accurate scientific observations. Galileo, honored today as the “Father” of modern observational astronomy, physics and modern science, observed, among other things, that the Earth moved around the Sun and could not be the center of the universe. This reality was in conflict with “the” church’s dogma that the sun moved around the Earth which was the center of the universe. Galileo’s observations also threatened the anthropocentric delusions about mankind’s place in that universe on which “the” church thrived. The good news in the obtuse, cruel violence of the inquisition is that Galileo got off easy, relatively speaking. The bad news is that anthropocentric craziness is alive and well in the modern world.
500 years later AASS has replaced the inquisition with something more sophisticated and amorphous but just as brutal, stupid, parasitic and destructive to the best potential of mankind and the ecological health of the Earth.
Anthropocentrism is the fallacious idea that human beings are the center of the universe and the most significant creature on Earth. E.O. Wilson puts that self-absorbed idea in perspective.
Officially, the majority of scientists agree that earth is currently in the Holocene (meaning ‘recent whole’) marking the period since the last ice age nearly 12,000 years ago. The so-called Anthropocene is a proposed term for the present geological epoch since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century began to impact the climate and ecosystems of Earth. As such, it is a recognition of the destructive influence humans have had and a backhanded, unintended denial of the deniers, but as currently used it conflates the power of destruction with the gift of creation All of the older and more traditional ‘cenes’, as in Holo, Plio, Oligo and Paleo, took millions of years to form, but the anthropocene sham/scammers don’t have millions of years. 300 years is plenty of time to build an AASS cene for those whose quarterly profit reports, particularly from those extractive/polluting/poisoning industries too well known to need listing, are the center of their universe. Irony weeps.
AASSers have embraced the famous anthropocentric quip/quote by Stewart Brand “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” (Which he later updated to what might be termed the AASS motto: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”) But a simple deconstruction of Brand’s flippant if tempting solution to, for instance, human caused global climate change reveals it to be a shameless/shameful sham/scam. “We are as gods” is anthropocentrism at its most deluded and dangerous. The natural world, the environment, wilderness and the wild existed on earth for millions of years before human beings appeared. The very concept of God or gods is a recent human invention, a projection of the human mind no one has ever seen and which is a very different reality from the creation of a blade of grass which everyone has seen. “We” cannot create so much as a blade of grass, though since inquisition times we have discovered how to better destroy, genetically modify, domesticate and turn blades of grass (temporarily) into vassals instead of members of the biotic community of the web of life, their rightful place.
We are not as Gods any more than we are as Martians, and we cannot get good at being whatever it is that godsIMG_3874 do as we cannot get good at living on Mars. And it is telling that some AASSers are already talking about colonizing Mars after our reign of being as gods on Earth has ended. Details about our future on Mars haven’t been worked out, but we are as good at pretending that details don’t matter as we are not at being as gods.
AASSers cloak themselves in a green mantle synthetically dyed by such organizations as The Nature Conservancy that consistently and oxymoronically insist that nature is dead and gone and that they are protecting nature by the very science and economic policies and dogmas that are killing it. It is worth remembering that the Koch brothers have given millions of dollars to The Nature Conservancy, and the many mantles covering the Koch brothers are the green of money not of grass.
The Anthropocentric Anthropocene Sham/Scam and its supporters like Cheney, the Kochs, the Nature Conservancy and others less well known have allowed greed, dogma, superstition and hubris to blind them to what Lau Tzu pointed out more than 2500 years ago:

“As for those who would take the whole world
To tinker as they see fit,
I observe that they never succeed:
For the world is a sacred vessel
Not made to be altered by man.
The tinker will spoil it;
Usurpers will lose it.”

Don’t lose it. Keep your wilderness instincts along with the world.

Land in the Sky: About to End

About-to-EndEarly July early morning. Steady rain all night. It continues. A gray-green mist shrouds Paradise Hill in the Catskill Mountains. The deer are bedded down. A solitary wood thrush, perched perdue, sings his song for the joy of it. The collie puppy barks at every leaf drip. He barks and he barks and he barks. A sudden waft of honeysuckle sends the heart reeling. The rain is always about to end.

Postcard: Rochester, Minnesota

A family reunion on my wife’s side beckoned us to Rochester, Minnesota, last weekend. Twenty-eight out of a possible 29 attendees made the trip, coming from as far away as Winnipeg, Manitoba. Sunday morning, a handful of us walked down to Cascade Creek and a swing that my wife used to play on when she was little. This is my wife’s sister giving her son (our nephew) his first taste of the same sensation they felt when they were kids. Not pictured: some of the hungriest mosquitoes I have ever met, swarming the creek bed where it has rained more or less nonstop for a month. (Click image to enlarge)

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

Mountain Passages: Iceland Ruminations

Mountain Passages: Ruminations on Vikings

Vikings have gotten bad rap. It’s true that for about 300 years the boys did get in their longboats and pretty much terrorize every coastland in Europe, but I was just in Iceland and I came away with a different impression of who these people were.

The Vikings were like mountain people in that they were rough and tumble and in tune with their environment; they built extensive farms on just about every arable piece of Iceland; they had a very strong sense of independence and developed a kind of early democracy in Iceland, and through nascent democracy they settled internal conflicts, mostly without hacking each other to death.

I’m sitting on a beach in Iceland made up entirely of black smooth roundish rocks that clatter when the surf recedes. The air temperature is 50ish with a slight wind, the sky is overcast and there is a mist falling. I keep looking for the guy who comes around taking drink orders but I’m apparently a little ahead of the summer season here. In fact, other than Blue Eyes and two people a 100-yards down the beach, there is no one here.
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The interpretive sign said that this spot is where fishermen landed their boats. It’s a calm day for Iceland with maybe three-foot surf that would make landing any boat somewhat tricky. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to land a boat here in a storm. Most likely, they would have had to stand off until the weather improved, but we’re talking about open boats. And yes we’re talking about longboats, and Vikings. We’re talking about ruffians from what is now Norway who settled Iceland in the ninth century and built a country on fishing, farming, trading, and pillaging coastal towns throughout Europe. The Icelanders still fish, farm and trade but the pillaging stopped soon after their conversion to Christianity around 1,000 AD.

The Icelanders governed themselves with a combination of an elected parliament and judiciary called Althing that met in an open field about this time of year. The Althing is sort of analogous to Rendezvous in a social sense but much more legally oriented than Rendezvous. There was a social component to Althing. But more it was an elected legislative body from the four regions of Iceland that in turn elected a leader called a Law Speaker who memorized the law and commented, interpreted, and made decisions when necessary. Later on the Althing added what was essentially a supreme court to adjudicate civil disagreements.

Blue Eyes is looking at the rock cairns that folks have built out of the beach stones. Okay, I understand what cairns are for. If you look closely while driving, you can see cairns along the Ring Road that were built to mark some of the original trails here in Iceland. What I don’t understand is why people feel compelled to build cairns that don’t really mark anything. I suppose it to mark their passage through this place or exercise a creative urge. I tell her that the cairns have been built by very strong elves who are back in the parking lot pillaging our luggage while we wander the beach looking at their cairns. She smiles but ignores me.
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There is a strong mystical vibe about Iceland. Partly it must come from the physical appearance of the place such as a huge white glacier sitting over a verdant green field littered with sheep. Or deep blue fjords with walls of mountains topped with snowfields. It’s a magical place. And because of their pagan religion that spoke of shape shifters (people who turn into bears and wolves) and beserkers (warriors who go out of control) the Vikings get tied into this mysticism. Elves and trolls? Them too. All you have to do is look.

I’m back watching the surf and thinking about religion. I was born a Christian but not particularly proud of the fact. First because I can’t stand the fanatical Christians who would have no doubt pissed off Jesus with their literalism and chauvinism. And second because I have come to believe more in rocks, trees, living creatures, and rivers than in the deities of organized religions. And if I speak to a god he or she is usually a specific god like the, “I’ll-never-do-this-again-if-you-let-me-live” Mountain God. In addition to mountain gods there are ocean gods and gods for whatever you love. Yup, even war gods like the Viking’s Odin.

The history of religious conversions is soaked in blood of those who would not convert to the religion then in power. This didn’t happen in Iceland. At one point there were a good number of Vikings who had been converted to Christianity and there remained a good number of Vikings who wanted to stick with their pagan religion. The questions was taken to the Althing and given to the Law Speaker to decide. Imagine if you will a thousand or so Christian Vikings and a thousand or so pagan Vikings who were about ready to fight over the issue of religion. The Law Speaker, who was a pagan, simply decided that for the good of all of Iceland there would be just one religion and that would be Christianity, but any pagan could continue in his pagan rituals in his own home. It worked. There was no blood shed over the conversion to Christianity in Iceland.

There was another interpretive sign along the path and four round rocks of various sizes below it. Best guess is that the smallest stone weighed 60-70 pounds and the largest stone maybe 250-300 pounds. I didn’t even try to move it. The sign said that to qualify for a spot on a fishing boat an Icelander had to be able to pickup the second heaviest rock that weighed more than 200 pounds. Let me see if I have this right—fishing off this coast is life-threatening even today, getting on and off the beach in an open boat required huge amounts of skill and certainly some luck, spending hours or even days in an open boat in the North Atlantic defines cold and uncomfortable—and you had to qualify for the work by being able to lift a 200 pound rock.

There is evidence that these folks got their boats as far as the eastern Mediterranean and to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Regardless of the Viking reputation, and who wouldn’t have their day ruined by a boatload of berserkers landing their longboat on their shoreline, these folks were intrepid sailors and as good as the Polynesians at navigating open water.

We have been on the Ring Road (Route 1) that generally follows the perimeter of the island for over 800 miles. We started at the airport outside Reykjavik four days ago in a rental car that feels like a closet on wheels. It’s true that if you really want to see the backcountry of Iceland, you’ll need to rent a four-wheel drive, like everything in Iceland, four-wheel drive rentals are pricy.

Even from what is essentially a road built for tourists, the landscape of Iceland is nothing short of magnificent with waterfalls just about everywhere. In a way it is like touring a huge national park with orderly looking farms along the way with white buildings and red roofs that are tucked into the hillsides surrounded by free- range sheep.
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Several days ago, we came around a bend and there in the distance was a huge ice wall. We were on a sort of alluvial plain crisscrossed with rushing streams and there was the butt end of a glacier. We stopped and I couldn’t stop looking at it. Like most mountain folk, I may have been just thinking about a route up but that’s too obvious—we all do that. More I was just struck by how grand this huge blue piece of ice was that sort of hung there in the mountains. Some miles later there was a lake close to the road that was filled with icebergs. I felt like an ant peering over the lip of a margarita at all these clumps of ice floating to the sea.

Enough of this beach ruminating. It’s addictive, like sitting on a mountainside watching the weather. I could stay here all day but it’s time to head back to the car and cruise-on down the road to a couple days in Reykjavik, taking in the sights and sounds of a cosmopolitan European city and eating a good meal or two. And maybe we’ll sit on the dock and watch the midnight sun slip across the horizon if: (1) we can stay up that late and (2) if the sun can break through the clouds.

Alan Stark lives with a Blue Eyed person and her dog in Boulder and Breckenridge.

Land in the Sky: A World Government

A-World-GovernmentLate one summer morning, an unexpected car pulls into the drive. I don’t recognize the vehicle. It proceeds slowly down and comes to a stop in front of the barn. This arrival is a big surprise, as we live in the middle of nowhere. The only strangers who show up on the doorstep are the lost. Lucky for them I have some good directions.

Anyway, the crunch of car wheels on the gravel drive awakens the collie puppy from his morning nap. We go to the front door, eagerly, and open it. A chubby middle-aged man with ill-fitting spectacles approaches along the walk. The collie puppy is happily barking away in his usual who-the-hell-are-you?! enthusiasm for strangers, which they—knowing nothing about collies and especially collie puppies—mistake for aggression.

The chubby middle-aged man with ill-fitting specs reaches into a black satchel and pulls out a small pamphlet. He hands it to me from where he’s standing at the bottom of the deck steps, not wanting to come any closer to the enthusiastic collie puppy, who I am restraining by the collar.

“Thank you,” I say.

“You’re always welcome,” he says, mustering a nervous smile. His brow is sweaty. He tells me once more that I’m always welcome. Then he beats a hasty retreat to his car and pulls away.

The collie puppy and I go back into the house. I glance at the pamphlet. On the cover are some words:

A WORLD GOVERNMENT

Why do we need one?

Is it possible?

Who is qualified to rule?

Hear the answers at a free public event.

This is your invitation.

Inside are more words: “Earth’s New Ruler—Who Really Qualifies?” A good question, but one I’m ill-prepared to answer. I can’t even say for sure who’s qualified to serve as supervisor for our small town.

I read a little further in the pamphlet and realize that this is an invitation to a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The pamphlet was printed in Canada. It has a bar code on the back so you can scan it with your smart phone to “find a location near you.” I have neither smart phone nor much access to a vehicle. And the collie puppy still gets sick on long car rides. The inevitable sadness of an invitation declined begins to settle upon me. What can I say, I’m a Pisces.

I guess I’ll just hang onto the invitation, in case one of you might be interested. You can stop by and pick it up. Let me know if you need directions.