Gone to the Dogs

It’s hard to imagine the American West without our countless curs flapping their tongues out car windows, going blissfully insane at trailheads and, if there is water involved, shaking themselves dry, without exception, next to that one person who seriously doesn’t like dogs. There also seems to be a trend in the West for people to assume the name Dog. Not the urban Dawg, but just Dog. Has anyone else noticed that?

1) Good Dog!

We’ll start with the good Dog first. Ted “Cave Dog” Keizer of Portland has set hiking records just about everywhere he’s made a paw print. With the help of a long list of friends and family, a.k.a. the Dog Team, Cave Dog killed the Mighty Mountain Megamarathon, scaling (the Team reports he climbed 55, while the official number is generally 54) all of Colorado’s 14ers in 10 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes in September 2000. He climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in three days, 18 hours and 14 minutes in 2002; all 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains, including Mount Washington, in three days, 17 hours and 21 minutes; and the 35 Catskills peaks of more than 3,500 feet in two days, 15 hours and 24 minutes, also in 2002. He’s gotten a lot of criticism for his big support team and attacking the trails in a less-than-leisurely mode, but you can’t fault the guy for getting his job done.

2) Bad Dog!

A&E TV staple bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman has managed to piss off a whole bunch of people in Colorado lately, and they aren’t even the greasy vagabonds he culls for a living. First, we’ve got Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey all lathered up last July because Chapman blasted suspect Andrew Distel with pepper spray, then brought the fugitive into the sheriff’s office without decontaminating him first. Hilkey blogged that people were in danger of getting downwinded from Distel while “While Dog stayed outside, shirtless and sweaty, prancing back and forth, waving his golden locks for the camera …” Really? What’s this shirtless business, anyway? Chapman responded that he’d used the right protocol to clean up Distel, and that he even gave him a cigarette and clean shirt to wear. Oddly enough, the garment was a Dog promotional T-shirt. Chapman also threatened to return to Grand Junction to run for sheriff someday. Earlier that month in Breckenridge, the Chapman entourage barged into a crowded bar looking for someone who wasn’t there. The interruption resulted in a barroom melee that continued onto the sidewalk, with Chapman yelling his trademark, “Come one white boy … come on motherfuck*r!” A potted plant was thrown, a taser was brandished, someone’s shirt came off and someone ended up in the ER with 15 stitches to his head.

3) Why they go postal

In May, the U.S. Postal Service released its list of the top-25 most likely places to be attacked by other people’s curs. Houston topped the billing with 62 incidents in 2010, followed by San Diego and Columbus, Ohio, for second place, and Los Angeles in third. Elsewhere in the West, Phoenix took a respectable sixth place, followed by Portland in seventh, Denver in eighth and Seattle in 10th place. State Farm insurance processed 3,500 claims for dog bites in 2010, with California making more than $11 million in claims for 369 attacks.


4) Shocker! People like Labradors

The American Kennel Club released its highly anticipated list of which dog breeds are most popular in which cities, and we confirmed after exhaustive research that in Denver, and almost everywhere else, the Labrador retriever was at the top. Denver dog owners chose German shepherds and golden retrievers for second and third place. Portland and Seattle had the same top three, with bulldogs tied for third place in Seattle. It’s interesting that the smelliest breed (we’re basing this on the Must Swim in Foul Water Quotient, in addition to the Voluminous Flatulence and Dung Rolling scales) consistently rates as the most popular dog in America.

5) Dog party in San Diego

DogFriendly.com, in its 2011 list of best places for dogs, put Portland at the top, because Portland is always on the top of any list of things in the Known Universe that are friendly, hip, eco-conscious — you get the drift. We’re pretty much assuming at this point that bad/uncool things do not happen in Portland. Anyway, Chicago came in second and San Diego came in third for its availability of dog-friendly beaches, which are getting exceedingly rare these days. Kudos to Seattle (fourth place), because you can take leashed dogs on public transit. This means lower-income people can do crazy things like take their dogs to the vet.

6) Dogs we love

In American Humane’s 2012 list of dog heroes, there are numerous mutts whose deeds are enough to get most of us dewy-eyed. Take, for example, Sage, a border collie from Hagerman, N.M., who was called to the Pentagon as part of New Mexico Task Force 1 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, searched for missing or captured soldiers in Iraq and, locally, has helped find missing people. Sadly, she was diagnosed with two types of lung cancer in 2009, probably the result of searching through so much toxic debris. She now works with cancer patients and survivors. Probably the most tear-jerking account in this year’s picks is that of Roselle, a Labrador guide dog that took her owner down 1,463 stairs in Tower One of the World Trade Center after the plane hit the building in the 9/11 attacks. She passed away in June.

Tara Flanagan splits her time between Boulder and Breckenridge. 


There is something really great about sharing a bag of Cheetos with a dog. One for me … one for you. Three for me … one for you. No matter how you split it, Ella’s happy. She likes Cheetos.

I read recently that researchers at The Broad Institute, at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have almost completed mapping the two-billion-molecule-long genetic code of a dog. This is a big scientific breakthrough and one of the biggest insights is the uncanny similarity of a dog’s genome to our own. What this means is that buried somewhere in those billions of molecules is a little tiny shared gene that has something to do with Cheetos.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Ella lately, and I find that we balance each other out nicely. When it’s dark and rainy, she still insists that we go out, and it’s probably good for me to get away from my desk. I won’t melt after all and just moving about might bring some freshness to the effort. During the mornings, Ella tends to need some time to herself, so she slinks off to check the guestroom, or she’ll sleep in Lynn’s and my bedroom uninterrupted by my pacing. It’s quiet in there and probably filled with familiar smells and memories. In the afternoon, though, she sets up camp under my desk, chin resting either on the base of my chair or on my foot, alert to any change in plans. She dozes as dogs do. We occasionally step outside. We are in perfect harmony. Balance.

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that what made dogs truly great was that they were always just glad to be invited to the party. They realized somehow that they were not destined to control things, choose the snacks or select the band. Mostly they were just happy to be there.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to Ella that we would probably have to go to Mt. Ashland, Oregon, for a one-day business trip. Her eyes lit up as if I’d suggested spending the weekend in Paris. Road trip! I explained as well as I could that it would be a long day. I specifically told her that it was at least an eight-hour drive each way, that I’d be tied up in meetings. No sightseeing — just a brief romp up at the mountain if we were lucky. She looked at me with steady, loving eyes. At 4 a.m., we were up and ready. Ella inventoried her gear. Water … check. Kibbles … check. Tennis ball … check. We drove, I met, we romped in two feet of fresh snow, then we turned and drove back. During the grind, she would occasionally nuzzle my ear as a sort of “Are you sure you know where we’re going?” but other than that she had a terrific time. We shared a couple of hot dogs on the way home.

Somehow, we both understand and respect the limits of our relationship. While Ella and I are close, there are rules about “place” in our small society that we both accept gracefully. Snacks on the coffee table are out of bounds no matter how tempting; the couch and bed are off limits; and begging isn’t worth the humiliation. Ella affects an air of aloofness in these matters, but I suspect that these petty injustices sometimes test her generally optimistic and patient nature. Still, other issues complicate our relationship. I don’t think she’s fully grasped the concept of the telephone, but then I don’t completely understand her joy in chasing the ducks during our early-morning park patrol. Don’t worry. She has never caught a duck and probably never will — Golden Retrievers are not exactly built for speed — but in those moments of running gloriously through puddles and making a complete fool of herself, she is thoroughly and happily a dog. In those moments, I am far from her mind and as excluded from her life as she sometimes is from mine.

In the course of my life, I’ve been around more than my share of good dogs. There was Buck, Bo, Dinah, Suzy and Del when I was a kid. MacIntosh, Phoebe and now Ella as a grown-up. Each of them, even as pups, would look at me with a kind of ancient wisdom and spent their lives passing on lessons of trust, optimism and patience. Lessons not always easy for me to understand. So we go on, Ella and me, two souls linked, trying to make sense of the world.

Three for you, Ella … one for me.

Rick Casner is a full-time ski instructor and part-time architect or a full-time architect and part-time ski instructor depending on when you ask. He also writes a little. 

Snipe Hunting in the War Zone: A Diary of Peculiar Madness

“Was thinking of taking a trip down to Big Bend last week of Oct.-ish, first week of Nov.-ish … wondering if you’d be inclined to ride along. There it is,” read the e-mail from a fellow traveler.

Being a man of uncertain career goals, with a history of seasonal labors leavened by spells of gloriously under-planned, lightly funded shoulder-season road trips, I wasn’t particularly surprised when the cryptic invitation showed up in my inbox. Though wrapped up with a family crisis involving a body organ in catastrophic failure, I sent him a “Shit yeah, pending a couple minor complications” reply, because I’d just waded through a wave of news articles about a proposed solution to a perceived national inter-departmental problem, to wit:

A Bill

“To prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.”

These words are the “enacting clause” of H.R.1505 (aka the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act), which then creates Department of Homeland Security autonomy for building roads and/or fences, doing vehicle patrols, setting up surveillance equipment, using aircraft and (quoting the text again), “deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases … ,” anywhere on federally administered lands “…within 100 miles of the international land borders of the United States for the activities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection…to achieve operational control…” — followed by a hit list of 36 agricultural, archaeological, environmental, recreation, Sidebarreligious, river, watershed, wilderness and wildlife protection laws the department’s honorable Secretary would rise above for five years after the enactment date (see sidebar).

“Sad want and pouertie makes men industrious,
But law must make them good, and feare obsequious.”
The queen’s argument in “Civil Wars” [1609], Samuel Daniel’s poetic history of medieval discord 

This Day — the nays weigh in …

I find myself in a National Park visitor center with a ranger in full “badge-off” frustration burn-out mode. To my “So, what’s up with this House bill to exempt the Border Patrol from Wilderness rules?” query, the ranger launches into a short legislative history spiced with outrage about “vacating the Organic Act,” ending with advice to, “Look at Google Maps,” to see how many trails the alleged horde of illegal border-crossers had cut through his beloved park. “You won’t see any, because they don’t use Big Bend much,” he said — and you’ll notice I’m not naming names, or claiming to quote the ranger verbatim, because I figure government employees and other sundry locals in “badge-off” moments have as much right as I do to voice passions, without fearing reprisal from the empire’s overlords. Besides, this particular ranger’s camping advice leads to a quiet evening of stars wheeling overhead and kangaroo rats scampering underfoot (sans border-crossers or enforcement types) a couple days later, so let’s leave him in whatever peace can be had in a war zone.

Next day, while fellow traveler and I are sipping beverages a coyote’s stone throw from the international border with Mexico as defined by a mighty little Rio Grande (aka Rio Bravo del Norte), a passing park biologist can’t think of any highly trafficked smuggling trails through the National Park either, but offers up concern over the effects off-road vehicle patrols would have on Wilderness Study Areas that are his responsibility.

As I drain my brew, I resolve to ask the next border enforcement type I meet about Homeland Security’s need to remove the Big Bend country from Interior Department control. Good plan, except we don’t meet a patrol in the three days we spend wandering along the dirt road that parallels the border for almost 100 miles. Our only official contact is with a couple of volunteers. One is in the park to manage the construction of Border Patrol housing, and in his spare time he visits inquisitive tourists and describes how difficult it is to get Americans to come build houses this far from El Paso. He notes that there is plenty of cheap labor just across the river, but … yeah, I know, I know — Border Economics 101, again.

Map of Area

The four impoverished villages immediately south of the Rio have been devastated by post-9/11 security measures in the not-so-Bravo Norte. Border crossings have been closed, and even when the Boquillas station re-opens this spring, south-side residents will have to travel to a U.S. Consulate to get the proper documents. The closest one is almost 400 miles away. Meantime, walking sticks, beaded jewelry, wire scorpions and hand-painted rocks appear on the north-side shore, with signs such as, “Please purchase to help Boquillas children go to school,” while the official Park newspaper The Paisano (complete with picture of sombrero-topped peasant in full fetal squat) warns, “Items purchased will be considered contraband and seized by officers when encountered.” Reading on in “Big Bend and the Border” I come to this statement, “each year, hundreds [emphasis added] of people travel north through the park seeking to enter the United States.” I winter in an area that claims to be the busiest sector of the entire border war zone, where each year several hundred people die of thirst trying to get to El Norte, possibly more than pass through this park’s 801,163 acres. I’m a little underwhelmed, and can feel any fears of unwanted encounters with desperate construction-work seekers dissipating along with the effects of one mid-afternoon beverage within sight of our threatened international border.

After sampling vistas from the rim of a 1,000-foot-deep canyon and an 8,000-foot peak, hiking desiccated hills topped by abandoned mines, and camping in multiple unsecured camps within sight of the Rio with no illicit tracks or security patrols obvious to my curious gaze, a few days later we retire from this fine specimen of the nation’s crown jewels for refreshment. Multiple conversations with variously lubricated denizens of a National Park gateway town to the west produce no concern with cross-border traffic, except that enforcement efforts farther west might force some drug smuggling gangs into using the Rio’s canyons to slip past tighter patrols elsewhere. As one veteran river rat sums it up, “In over 20 years of guiding on this river, I’ve had more trouble with bubbas from Midland than with any Mexicans.”

“‘Content thee, thou unskillful man,’ he said;
‘my madnesse keepes my subjects in their wits.’”
— Daniel quoting the queen quoting a tyrant in “Civil Wars”

A Different Day — the yeas have it …

After this cold bath of negative local reaction to what certainly can appear to be a one-size-fits-all border security solution imposed from the august halls of big guv’mint, due diligence has me perusing virtual reams of news-bites, congressional testimonies and official endorsements. A press release from H.R.1505 sponsor Rob Bishop (R-Utah) lists 17 organizations and one former think-tank analyst supporting the bill. A scorecard of the groups:

8 – [off-highway vehicle industry and users]
4 – [law enforcement personnel]
3 – [livestock industry]
2 – [multiple-use forest trails advocacy]
1 – [congressional staffer formerly employed by think-tank self-described as staffed by “policy entrepreneurs”]

Each news article about the bill is replete with statements from retired Border Patrol officers and worried border ranchers about the same smuggling hot-spots in southern Arizona, and I’m looking for answers about a need for vehicle patrol access to all the public lands between, in the 100-mile-wide swath along southern, northern and (in Alaska) eastern international land borders of the empire, as defined by H.R.1505.

After reading all the supportive statements and testimonies I can find, I’ve scanned the representative’s list for groups not already quoted to a media fare-thee-well, sent out queries and am picking through the fruitful replies. (Spokespeople will remain unnamed, since they already know who they are.):

Speaking for three OHV groups that use the same office address in California and “government relations office” in Virginia,  a staff member emphasizes that support “has nothing to do with increasing  OHV access” to roadless public lands, and is related to riders’ fears of smuggling gangs along existing trails. He mentions a Border Patrol officer run down on an OHV-accessible sand dune in California, and signs warning of smuggling activity in a national monument in Arizona, but is not aware of specific areas where vehicle patrol access to roadless areas will make riders feel safer.

Representing two livestock groups, another spokesperson sends a statement that supports, “preventing federal land management agencies from using environmental policies to restrict the U.S. Border Patrol from obtaining routine access.” Attached is testimony from a member living by a riparian area turned into a smuggling thoroughfare by tightened enforcement near heavily populated border zones. A promised interview with the group’s president becomes a political potato passed to an Arizona ranching group whose executive vice president reminds me that, “the border is a complicated issue.”

One multiple-use organization supports the bill so members will know it doesn’t oppose it. Their spokesman says he “opposes misinformation from the other side,” that the bill will interfere with recreation management by land agencies. He thinks my question about the bill’s application to a 100-mile-wide zone along the land borders with Mexico and Canada, “sounds kinda funny,” has “no comment” — and then asks me if I’ve checked with H.R.1505’s sponsor.

I’m on the phone with a pleasant-voiced PR person from Representative Bishop’s office, inundated in details. She recites a by now-familiar list of border-war talking points, all taking place within 100 miles of my own winter quarters. The still-unsolved murder of a rancher to the east, the gun battle death of a Border Patrol officer just south in a mountain range I roamed long before it became a war zone, trash along foot trails, a locked gate in a wildlife refuge, wilderness rules altering sensor placements and vehicle patrols, a several-hour delay in constructing a tower to wait for a herd of pronghorns to pass, land managers “extorting” (her word, not mine) habitat mitigation funds from the Homeland Security budget.

Would H.R.1505 address all this? It is meant to be comprehensive, she replies.

Does the congressman want vehicle patrols along all borders? Up to Border Patrol, but wants sensors in any areas not patrolled.

How many federally administered acres does the Representative Bishop think are affected by the laws his bill would waive? She isn’t sure, but says bill covers all land borders.

Including Alaska/Canada border? Yes.

How about tribal lands? She gets this clarification from staff that wrote H.R.1505, “While it doesn’t provide any new authority regarding tribal lands, it would facilitate access within the tribal lands.”

What does “access” mean? Intent of bill is to empower Homeland Security as defined in 2008 by then-Secretary Michael Chertoff. (I quote Chertoff’s “Determination Pursuant to Section 102 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996,” “… to waive certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border of the United States.” [April 3, 2008])

Would habitat mitigation requirements, such as a current Homeland Security-financed jaguar monitoring project, be waived by the bill? She refers me to the border fence construction policies.

Why a 100-mile-wide zone along the entire border, rather than known hot spots? H.R.1505 language was “guided” by retired Border Patrol personnel, the still-pleasant PR voice tells me, and the bill is meant to address problems “… once and for all.”

I’ve already seen that the current management team at the Department of Homeland Security says they don’t want or need this blanket freedom from oversight, so don’t ask why the bill’s writers turned to retired staff for guidance.

“But well, I see which way the world will go;
And let it go — and so turns her about.”
— Daniel’s queen ends the argument to her king.

Just another Complicated Day in the War Zone — foxhole conversion, anyone?

To the west I see a tribal nation that has survived more than a thousand years of shifting borders and intermittent rule from distant centers of power. The mountain range to the east has tracks of a border-crossing jaguar, and to the southwest is a mountain-side where the oldest known wild jaguar stepped into a fatal trap two years ago. Both were likely repeat border-crossers born in Mexico. On the way to his practice across the border in Nogales, Sonora, my dentist bicycles past a canyon where a Border Patrol agent was shot with a gun supplied through a federal sting operation (begun by a Republican administration, and then continued by a Democratic one). Over the years I’ve known border country ranchers, Border Patrol officers, people who’ve traced kin to a time before written history on either side of the current line, and border-crossers bloodied by run-ins with Border Patrol and desert brush, so when a “once-and-for-all” solution to border smuggling looms on my horizon, I gotta admit a built-in bullshit sensor goes (to paraphrase me long-dead sawmill savage daddy) “fucking ape-shit.”

After dancing the PR/journalist mambo with talking heads from H.R.1505’s backers, I’m considering the complexities of these congressional testimonies:

From border rancher and veterinarian Gary V. Thrasher (supporting the bill last July), come fears over safety at his house just north of the border, outrage about ranching families left “… living in-between the border and the Forward Operating Bases of the Border Patrol,” and irritation that border wall construction in his area was delayed “… for an archaeological study and assessment after an Indian artifact was found.”

Dr. Thrasher concludes, “I beg you to immediately and aggressively take whatever steps are needed to secure our border. H.R. 1505 is an important step in that direction.”

From Tohono O’odham Chairman Ned Norris (supporting a 2008 attempt to reverse the border wall-building waiver), concern that “… fragments of human remains were observed in the tire tracks of the heavy construction equipment.”  He reminds the House committee that his tribe’s residency on both sides of the current border pre-dates the United States, says, “… our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes, and families divided. We did not cross the 75 miles of border within our reservation lands. The border crossed us.”

Chairman Norris wraps it this way, “We know from our own experience living on the border that security can be improved while respecting the rights of tribes and border communities, while fulfilling our duty to the environment and to our ancestors, and without granting any person the power to ignore the law.”

These two men live within a mountain range of my winter quarters, disagree on logistics of border security and deserve a chance to continue being heard. In Texas, the border wall has cut wildlife refuges and ranches in two, leaving some family homes in an unpatrolled no-man’s land between border wall and international border. From the northern border come reports of unreconstructed libertarians and flaming environmentalists actually uniting in fear of a security agency controlling their local public lands, with any semblance of due process waived.

In response, H.R.1505’s sponsor added language to prevent Homeland Security from restricting recreational use of the lands and sunset the bill’s provisions in five years — but who will then patrol the newly built roads, and how will they be secured to control motorized smuggling and recreational use in formerly roadless areas? Most of the 36 laws to be waived were enacted to prevent irreversible damage to species, habitat, cultural artifacts and religious sites; and long-time border residents south and north know that local conditions need special solutions — conditions that change over time. Barring long-term occupation-style militarization of the 100-mile-wide border enforcement zone, patrols are doomed to replay a summer-camp hazing classic, hunting unseen snipe while smugglers run contraband drugs, guns and humans through the border nights.

I greeted the year of our empire’s next political spin cycle in a border-town bar, dancing among gray-haired iconoclasts and 20-something retro-flappers and hipsters. A woman in mourning dress sat lotus-style on the bar. The band, a mix of youth and experience billed as the Border Crossers, took a break and danced with the crowd to “Burning Down the House” from the Talking Heads’ classic album “Stop Making Sense.” A couple miles away, two men were shot outside a bar on the edge of town.

After sleeping at a formerly-grand hotel supposedly patronized by border hero/villain Pancho Villa in life (and by his ghost after death), in a nearby border-town economically devastated by current Homeland Security measures and well-publicized fears real or imagined, I’m standing on a ridge of public land (my land, your land) that touches Mexico. Here the borderline is still a stock fence. Back at the parking lot, a Border Patrol camera scans east and west while an officer sits in his patrol vehicle. Fences, walls, smuggling, insecurity and incongruity, this is border country, so tracks of humans and other animals point north and south, coalescing onto a network of unauthorized trails below my vantage point.

Senior correspondent B. Frank’s last piece for MG was “Cool Cats & Dharma Bums: How to Interface with Wildland Archetypes (and Enjoy the Experience)”, which appeared in #185. He splits his time between the Border Country and the Four Corners. 

Way of the Mountain #186

I love MG’s Mountain Dog issue. Inter-species friendships, particularly with dogs, cats or horses, assume an importance in rural lives far beyond the concept of pets. They often become an integral member of a family, working partners, familiars whom we come to love deeply and depend on. The mother of my oldest son had a wonderful mixed breed named after one of the sites at the Navajo National Monument. We called her “Seel” for short. Although nearly blind, she was an incredible fetch hound, and would begin a scent-led spiraling circle search if she lost sight of any stick thrown — something that happened a lot. Nevertheless, she’d invariably come up with the stick, having never stopped looking. I still dream about that wonderful playmate and companion.

For the last several years, I’ve had the good fortune to participate in a gathering of Ish poets at Shi Shi beach in the Olympic National Park and just outside the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay. The late poet Robert Sund had a cabin near Petroleum Creek at Shi Shi, and he was the one to give the name Ish River Country to the Pacific Northwest’s coastal bioregion, since so many of its rivers ended in the suffix “ish” (Duwamish, Snohomish, Skokomish, etc.).

This month we’re featuring one of the finest Ish poets, Tim McNulty. An award-winning nature writer and essayist, his books of poetry include “Blue Mountain Dusk” (Pleasure Boat Studio) and “Pawtracks” (Copper Canyon Press), as well as some nine chapbooks. His natural history of the Olympic National Park is the definitive guide to this national treasure.

— Art Goodtimes
Maverick Draw

Sunset, Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Late flush of evening cloudlight
glowing through rippled window glass.

Steam curling from teacup
in cool night air.

Only the mountains are still.

— Tim McNulty,

Wild Pears
(Pyrus serotina)

At the waterfall gorge
in Tai Lam Chung valley
Ka-shiang brings
a sprig of wild pears.

Fruits no bigger than mountain berries,
but sweet and chewy —
same taste as the crisp
Asian pears
from the market at Kowloon Tong,

where each small globe is wrapped
in delicate paper mesh…
only wilder.

— Tim McNulty

No One’s Ark

I have squandered
the beasts of the earth
& must remake them.
It is enough.
Otter, platypus, snake & dove,
Zebra, porcupine, elk & dog:
Once you were only photographs,
Now you are only words.

— Quinten Collier
Mark Fischer Prizewinner

Muriel Rukeyser

Your poems shock
the way water lilies burning in a museum
shock the moneyed. With fragrant treason
you begged even the rich,
to understand, as you spoke
to each generation as that generation,
your dark hair curled in the Thirties
by a passion electric for justice.

— Jackie St. Joan
Excerpt from “Letter to Muriel Rukeyser at the End of the 20th Century”

Saddle Math

One coyote,
a dozen howls.

One cowboy,
a thousand cows.

One moon,
a million stars.

One Ford,
a billion cars.

— David Feela

Waking Up

the eastern sun licks
ice crystals from my front door
delicious breakfast

 — Carol Bell
Ft. Collins

Letters #186

Letters 186Envelope: Adam Lee, Decorah, IA

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette. And don’t worry about spelling “Gazette” correctly.

Coyote Bones

Hi John, I loved your story “The Bright White Light” (Smoke Signals, MG #181). I’ve had several lightning moments, mostly up near Grand Mesa doing a Vipassana retreat. The Wakayan (Thunderbeings) were really active up there. I’ve attached a few paragraphs from a short story I wrote called Coyote Bones. The lightning snapped me out of suicidal thoughts … scary and good. Hope you enjoy it.

The lines of my identity began to dissolve as I stared down at the trickster, melting myself into the creek bed, alongside the beast. Adrift in the desire to merge back into the oneness, disintegrating and submerging deep into the feeling of what I thought it would be like to cross over and die, I floated away, over the hills, river and mountains. Then, an ever-so-soft yet penetrating voice whispered into my mind, “Is this where you want to be?”

Right then, at the very moment the question was posed, a flash of lightning accompanied by an explosion louder than dynamite cracked above my head. Smack-Sizzle-Boom! Thunder reverberated through the canyon with an echoing domino effect. A primal scream erupted from my mouth, snapping me out of my dissociative daydream as I jumped back five feet from where I was standing. My heart surged with a force like rushing water and the hair on my arms stood up on end. Quickly, my mind started ticking with the consequences I could face for being down here in this deep narrow canyon.

This could be a flash-flood zone. Yes, now I could see why all the bones were down here. I looked up at the dark sky as grey clouds bundled tight and fierce, huddled together like a pack of wolves in the direction I was headed. The steep canyon walls were at least 25 to 30 feet high on each side of me. It was definitely too risky for me to try to climb out at this spot. I knew that miles up ahead a cloud burst could send a rushing river of water, mud and trees through this place that could kill me. Jolted by the thunder and the fear of really dying down here, I began to run up the canyon looking for a way to get to higher ground.

The Bone People and Coyote Trickster were laughing at me now. I sensed the presence of anthropomorphic beings, ancient ones, floating high above the cliff walls, watching my unfolding dilemma. They were the witnesses of my life in this Land of The Lost juncture. They were the guardians of this place where I had come for lessons, their kind of lessons. This was the canyon that turned my head, and now I realized that I didn’t want to be down here with the bones. I wanted out!

The sky darkened and a firm rain began to fall on me. I was about half a mile from the coyote skeleton when I saw something up ahead blocking the trail. Within minutes, I found myself face to hoof with the stench I had smelled earlier up canyon. In the most extremely narrow part of the canyon thus far, where the white rock walls came no wider than eight feet across, was a deer carcass. Silently stiff and hardened by rigor mortis, it waited for me, twisted up in thorny brambles, branches and tumbleweeds. Its head was speckled with pieces of pink decomposing flesh and one cloudy black eye gazed downward with pity. Yellow bones were poking through its bloated hide while maggots swarmed in a frenzied feast of rotting flesh. Terrified, I saw the decomposing deer as a reflection of myself, caught in the tangled barbs of anorexia. I was forced to look at it. Turning back was not an option. The only way out was through, and the only way to get through this part of the trail was to press myself up against the deer carcass, pull away the thorny branches, hold my breath and squeeze myself between this doorway of death. The rain pummeled my face. Any moment now I felt like the red murky waters of a desert flood were going to rush over me and whisk my life away.

Panicking, I grabbed at the sharp brambles to clear my way, and cut my hand. Blood seems to flow faster in the rain. My feet got tangled up in the broken cottonwood branches that were scratchy and clumped up like barbed wire. Teetering to keep my balance and not fall into the sharp thorns, I fell onto the carcass. A puff of putrid air enveloped my senses. Gagging, I rolled off of the deer and into the mud. Sobbing out loud, I sat with my eyes closed, tears and rain pouring down my face. I was afraid, bleeding and shocked. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I couldn’t bear to see any more death. The penetrating light of truth was cutting my ego open like a laser, revealing to me that this experience was my un-buried treasure.


Charlene Love 

Volcanic Activity

John: I was living in Taos, New Mexico, in the ’80s and was dating a beautiful Chinese-American lady named Nancy. She had moved from Santa Barbara, CA, to Santa Fe, NM, to attend Healing Arts School. She had a short-lived, boring career as a CPA counting beans and decided to shuck it all and reinvent herself. She was in her element and got way into the Santa Fe “New Age” spiritual community. I loved it because she practiced her massage training on me and all my buddies.

After getting certified in massage, she packed up and moved to the island of Oahu in Hawaii and set up her massage table on the beach outside of Kailua. She fit right in with her long black hair, brown rock-hard body and exotic Asian looks. She invited me over to visit and I was on the first plane I could book to Hawaii! She had changed her name to “Akua,” which she thought meant “Spiritual One” in the ancient Hawaiian language, but actually meant “God” to the locals, so she became the “Goddess on the Beach” who gave killer massages. Not far from the truth.

As soon as I arrived, she told me we were going to experience a week of spiritual enlightenment … Hawaiian style. Sounded good to me. After all, I had spent the last ten years in Taos, exposed to all kind of latent hippie craziness, and was open to anything. She had become quite a “seeker,” looking for the true meaning of life. While I was not really looking too hard to find myself, who knew what revelations I might stumble upon in this island paradise? Our first night on the path to knowledge, we went to see a “White Witch” (think of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, in “The Wizard of Oz.”). She expressed concern over our yin and yang and told us to look out for both good and evil signs that could influence our future. Next day, we went to see a psychic healer who placed heated stones all over our bodies to release any bad energy we had accumulated in our years of drug and alcohol abuse. I was not sure how much I was cleansed, but I did get a second-degree burn on my butt that gave me a small scar that looked like an eyeball.

The third day, we went to a group meeting to see a “channeler” (big in the ’80s) who channeled Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes books. He was going around the circle of seekers having us say our names, then he would emphatically state (in a pretty bad English accent) who we had been in a previous life. He told me I had been a Sioux Indian Medicine Man and I needed to drink lots of saffron tea to find the true meaning of my life. Which would have sounded kind of hokey, except, six months earlier, I had gone to a New Year’s Eve “Psychic Fair” in Taos and a lady channeling a Civil War confederate soldier had told me that I was a Sioux Indian Medicine Man in a previous life. Whoa …. Either those two were in cahoots or maybe there might be something to this channeling thing!

By this time, I was starting to find out more than I wanted to know about myself, and decided to go on a solo camping trip to the Big Island of Hawaii to see the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park was home to the 13,680-foot Mauna Loa volcano, which was still active and spewing smoke and debris in the air. It occasionally burped and sent lava flowing down the side of the mountain, continually adding to the size of the island. Mauna Loa had been relatively calm for a while, so I rented a tiny
compact car and drove straight to the top of the island, from sea level to almost 14,000 feet in just over an hour. It was getting dark by the time I reached the Park Service campground and I was the only one there. It started raining, so I quickly set up my one-person, borrowed tent, which to my dismay had no rain fly with it. Very quickly, the storm began to get violent and the wind began to howl all around me. It reminded me of the scene in the movie “Fantasia,” where the song “Storm on Witch Mountain” was playing and it was getting kinda scary up there.

The thunder was deafening and the lightning storm was becoming like a surreal dream. After my previous week of dabbling in the New Age “occult” world, a random thought crossed my mind to see if I could actually call up some of those “evil sprits” that I had been hearing about. Bad idea. That was one dumb-ass move, as the moment the thought entered my brain, a gigantic lightening bolt struck somewhere near the campground, everything went bright white and my hair stood straight up in the air! A huge gust of wind blew me and my mini-tent end-over-end across the campground. I was so scared, I almost peed my shorts. Terrified, I ran to the parking lot, with the wet tent wrapped around my ankles. I jumped in the back seat of the car and locked all the doors, wondering what the f–k had I done. What kind of idiot would call up the dark side in the middle of a lightning storm on an active volcano? Me …. that’s who! I pulled the soaking wet tent over my head and started praying to any “good” spirits that would listen, to have pity on me and rescue me from this nightmare.

It continued storming all night, and I was afraid to go to sleep for fear that I might not wake up. Finally, the rain clouds cleared and I looked out the window at the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen in my life, peeking at me over the vast horizon of the Pacific Ocean. That was all I needed to prove to me that good had prevailed over evil, and a new day was ahead for me after all. I’ll never forget that night when this young punk with an arrogant attitude thought he could actually call up evil spirits on demand and get away with it. Whatever happened that night, it made me start focusing on the good in life, not the alternatives. I learned a valuable lesson not to be asking for more than I could handle or it might actually come true. To this day, when I’m out in the woods camping,
and the lightning starts, I high tail it to lower elevation, hide in the trees and concentrate only on pure thoughts that would even meet the approval of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. Oh yeah … what happened to Akua? She got married, came back to the mainland and started a very successful accounting firm in LA. Not sure if she found real the meaning of her life, but she does have a house on the beach and gets to watch the sun set on the Pacific every day.

Richard Speegle

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.


Luthier Louis Hayes works the struts on one of his guitars. Photo: Dawne Belloise
Luthier Louis Hayes works the struts on one of his guitars. Photo: Dawne Belloise

Luthiers — makers of stringed instruments — speak in lilting tones of curves and tapered bodies, of deep waists and cantilevered necks, perfect action, sparkling highs, low profiles and how she sits in your lap. They focus on taking care of the desires of the player who is seduced by the dark smoothness or the glow of a golden face. The performance repertoire can vary from a sensuously rich timbre to a blues wail or pop and bark. Musicians have been known to refer to their beloved instruments as feminine and often bestow the title of “soulmate” on them. Although many don’t have the bucks to shell out for one of these handcrafted guitars, mandolins or fiddles, they might consider the advantage of having a single perfectly customized instrument that reflects their particular sound … and it beats lugging several cases to gigs.

In a converted carriage house tucked on the alley behind his downtown Paonia, Colorado, home, luthier Louis Hayes was hand working tiny pieces of wood for struts, the inner braces for the guitar — sanding, chiseling and fine tuning each one to exactly fit into the precise place for perfect tones and resonance. Exotic and beautifully grained woods, both cut and uncut, were stacked ready for transformation. Louie explained that different woods produce different sounds — warmer, brighter, fuller — and so the face of the guitar was usually different than the body. Holding up an unfinished and unattached guitar face, he tapped with one finger. “You should hear four tones … here … and here,” his finger rapping the wood in two different spots, the unborn guitar singing in sweet resounding vibrations.

Hanging on walls were molds and clamps, woodworking tools and guitar blueprints — the entire studio garnished with corkscrews of wood shavings in loose piles on the floors and worktables … a twisted sculpture in themselves. Like walking through the telltale aroma of a kitchen with a fine chef at work, the smell of wood hung thick in the air. Louie’s guitars are sold to musicians across the country, through music festivals and word of mouth. (On Facebook at Hayes Guitar Lutherie or call 970-527-8977.)

Heading to the southern mountain town of Crestone, Colorado, from Glenwood Springs, Don Paine and his son Josh, are multi-generational builders of Pomeroy Mandolins. Their shop specializes in F-5 Gibson archtop replicas, archtop mandolas and octave mandolins whose sound has been described as an old Gibson on steroids. Don, who also builds exquisite fiddles, says his Crestone shop in a town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where 14,000-foot glaciated peaks are graced with stands of Engelmann Spruce, is an inspiration for any luthier. (pomeroyinstruments.com)

A short jaunt from Monarch Pass, in Salida, Colorado, Jeff Bamburg says it was like jumping off a cliff when he chose to become a full-time guitar luthier. In Jeff’s world, it takes around 150 hours to build a basic guitar, a more customized one can take up to 250 hours. Jeff also teaches classes for aspiring luthiers, where a complete guitar can take two weeks of 12-hour days. “Every builder has his own signature sound and trying to build a guitar that resonates what the luthier wants that voice to sound like can take decades to develop,” he said of the technique. (bamburgguitars.com)

Brian Deckeback of Deltoro Guitars, has been building electric basses and guitars since 2001. He notes that there’s a little difference between creating a guitar and a bass, but the lower range frequencies are a consideration. Crisp, clean sounds translate into harder, heavier woods like ash and maple for clarity of the low end, while the lighter, airier dynamics would sport, for example, mahogany and alder. He feels the anticipation and fun about building is that you never know what the instrument is going to do until you string it and play it. “They sound better as they break in and develop their own personality. A guitar will sound completely different a week after you string it than when you first play it,” Deckeback  says. (deltoroguitars.com and Deltoro Guitars on facebook)

There are basic rules of relativity that affect these stringed wooden instruments. Don’t expect to jump off a plane and start playing immediately since, most likely, a guitar, mando or fiddle will wonk out of tune. For acoustic pickers and strummers, air conditioning and the outdoors will be really tough on your ax, along with wind, sun and temperature changes, which affect it more than a solid-body instrument. There are many luthiers to be found throughout the mountain states who all have the same hope that their creations are played and not just kept in a case in a closet. All of the builders agree, it’s always a great feeling when you match the musicians with their perfect instrument.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com 

Dude, Where’s My Dog?

Porter the malamute wonders, “Dude, where’s my beer?”
Porter the malamute wonders, “Dude, where’s my beer?”

I have seen the future, and it’s dark. Not in a cataclysmic, greed-driven economic meltdown kinda way (been there, done that), nor in an apocalyptic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kinda way (the peculiarity of an 1,100-year-old Mayan astronomical cycle ending in 2012 of the Common Era IS NOT a harbinger of the end), but in the sense that trends old and long forgotten often become new again.

According to some estimates, as much as 75% of beer produced in London in the mid-19th century was Porter-style ale. First produced late in the 18th century, the brew had caught on among the workers of London, and through trade had become a rampant success across Europe, on order of the beaver-pelt hat. While the latter faded from fashion around 1850, Porter continued to be produced by British brewers until grain rationing during the First World War forced the beer to be brewed with lower alcohol content, on the order of Stout. This, along with the increasing popularity of Stout, nearly led to the demise of the style until a number of breweries began producing Porters again in the 1980s.

Porter is dark ale, brewed with heavily roasted malts to create a rich body balanced with dry flavors of coffee and nuts or sometimes a sweet character of caramel or toffee. Porter is commonly brewed to finish at 5-6% abv, with its heavier cousin, Baltic Porter, finishing between 7-10% abv. Hopping rates vary, with many Porters using modest amounts of hops to compliment the astringency already present from the darker malts. Some domestically produced porters, such as Deschutes Brewing Co.’s Black Butte Porter and Avery Brewing Co.’s New World Porter, hop to much higher levels, on order of a Pale Ale or India Pale Ale. (Avery has even been so bold as to lay claim to their New World Porter being the first Black IPA, thus entering an ongoing dispute among Pacific Northwest brewers and the Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido, CA, over the origination of the style). Occasionally, breweries choose to add a small amount of smoked malt to the grain bill. This is roasted malt that has been placed in a smoker or dried over a wood fire. Generally found in bigger Baltic Porters, a modest touch of smoke can be an excellent addition to the overall flavor, and hearkens back to a time prior to kiln-drying of malt, when all beer would have contained some level of smoke flavor from the use of fire-dried barley.

Today, Porter is readily available at the package store, and is offered by many craft breweries. For a baseline example of the style, one can’t miss with a bottle of Fuller’s, or Samuel Smith’s Old Taddy Porter. The latter was a crowd favorite in parking lots outside of music venues in the ’90s, and while drinking a bottle in preparation for this article, a friend reminisced fondly that it and a piece of paper had been dinner on more than one occasion before seeing a band.

For a smoked variety, pick up a bottle of Smoked Baltic Porter from Great Divide Brewing Co. or the excellent Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Co. Alaskan has chosen to add their alder-wood smoked malt to a base brew of modest (5.5% abv) strength, allowing the smoke to play a more prominent role in the flavor profile than it does in the offering from Great Divide. The brew is released annually and labeled with the year of release. I was lucky enough to find a bottle from 2009, and was happy to find that it had mellowed nicely in the bottle with little loss of body.

And so, will darker beer, like Porter, become the norm again? I don’t know, but for every beer, there is a person who drinks it. The two major international beer producing conglomerates, (AB/InBev and MillerCoors together controlling 265+ brands between them), are making quite a bit of money selling the likes of Michelob Amber Bock and other filthy poisons of a non-yellow color to someone. This was unheard of 15 years ago, and as the craft industry continues its impressive year-over-year growth, I can’t help but hope for a mass change in consciousness away from lite “beer.” Perhaps this time, it can be done without the beaver-pelt hat craze and the near extinction of the hapless beaver from North America.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO and is a contributor to the blog beerat6512.com. He can be reached at beer@mountaingazette.com