Letters #193

Letter art

Envelope: K.Laskey  Silverton CO

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.

Setting The North Face history straight

Dear Editor, Just for the record, I noticed an error in regards to the founding of The North Face in the 40th-anniversary edition of Mountain Gazette that I should point out. Not that this was an earth-shaking
mistake, but I was the sole founder of The North Face in 1963 and I sold the company in or around 1970. Hap Klopp was never a partner of mine and entered the company’s activities long after the company was founded, and I had sold it to two brothers from the East Bay who owned a ski shop in Concord or Lafayette (don’t remember now just exactly where they were from, but one of those two places). Klopp happened onto the scene if I remember correctly as he was going to or related in some manner with the Stanford Business School and was doing
a case study of TNF as an entrepreneurial small business. He hung around our offices for a bit while he gathered his information and then that was more or less the last we saw of him. Later, and I do not remember
the circumstances, he somehow bought out the brothers who had bought the company from me.

Anyway, no big deal, but I had heard a number of times over the years that Klopp has posed as the founder and this simply is far from the fact of the matter and I wanted to set the record straight. As I said above, this is not earth-shaking news!

Best regards,
Doug Tompkins

‘Dateline: Europe’ will be missed

Dear Mr. Fayhee: Not sure who made the decision to drop Michael Brady’s “Dateline: Europe” column, but I want to register my disappointment over this decision. Brady’s column was a major reason that I subscribe to your magazine. Although I enjoy the regional nature of MG, I also enjoyed, at least as much, if not more, the cosmopolitan atmosphere that “Dateline: Europe” provided. It’s unfortunate that you don’t feel this way. The Rocky Mountain West can be very parochial and self-centered and I find it a healthy change to read about other regions.

Please reconsider your decision. You’ll probably lose at least one subscriber if you don’t, as the magazine is very much diminished without Mr. Brady’s articles. In fact, I suggest you add more writers like him. I wouldn’t mind reading about other mountainous regions of the world than just the Rocky Mountains.

Kind regards,
Ted Johnson
Belgrade MT

Misguided decision

Dear MJF: I was disappointed you wouldn’t allow any of your own comments from the past to be posted in the “Mountain Gazette’s 60 Best Excerpts” section of your 40th Anniversary issue (MG #191).

I have read Abbey, I have read Thompson and, for my reading time, I would rather have some MJF on hand.

I like Abbey and etc. Yeah you have had other good writers, yeah the best-of section had some good stuff — but still — I always read your stuff, whereas I don’t have the same drive, desire or need to read all the others. For whatever reason, your writing hits the spot, so please suspend the modesty for the next anniversary issue and allow your comments to appear in the best-of section. (I/we may not be around for another 40th anniversary — so why don’t you pull off a 45th or a 48th or some such, and allow your words to appear in big and bold print in the MG 43rd Anniversary Issue?)

So long.
Kevin A. Yuan

Gun Thoughts

John: I’m not a climber, but enjoyed MG #189 about those who do — dog issue is still the best  — but, thinking about topical issues, have you ever considered one on guns?  I’ve lived in the Colorado mountains most of my life. I own guns and I used to hunt. But, ever since I was a Boy Scout in the 1950s, it has never occurred to me to carry a gun when I camp, fish or hike. Lately, I have become aware of several acquaintances who do carry weapons in their backpacks, even on short day hikes. Is this becoming the norm these days? It might make an interesting issue just to try to find out how your readers feel, experiences they’ve had, etc. You have at least one reader who’d be interested.Cheers.

Roger Miller,
Nathrop, CO

Parodied Parody

John: When I first read the “Rumble in Hawai’i” story by Craig Childs  in #187, I thought it was well-done and useful, a cautionary tale of how easy it is to get on the wrong side of the locals even in your own country and with the best of intentions. But I have to give credit where it’s due. Robert Shepherd’s parody of the “ugly Coloradan” in #189 — booted, backpacked and obtuse — is brilliant. I especially loved the conceit that if a natural disaster — fire? flood? windstorm? — wipes out your gazebo, your land becomes everybody’s. A perfect expression of cultural arrogance. (I’m just glad he didn’t identify himself as a Californian. We already have a bad enough reputation!) OK, kinda mean but definitely funny.

Walt Read
Fresno, CA

J-Tree Paradise

John: Charles Clayton’s “Jesus and the Joshua Tree, or How I Almost Became a Climber” (MG #189) reminded me of J-Tree’s effect on this non-climber. While not a religious experience per se, I certainly thanked Gawd for that place during my visit. It’s a park that always held some level of enchanting curiosity for me. If I had to place an objective attraction on it, it’s the desert Seussical landscape, groves of goofy-looking lily relatives resembling toy poodle arbors, the botanical reincarnate of the Muppets’ “Animal” in the hugantic desert palms, and, of course, the rock formations, some literally appearing as vertical geological jigsaw puzzles or even ice cream cones. I recall one that was a perfect V cut into the cliff with a perfect sphere cradled perfectly in the top! J-Tree was all I’d hoped for.

What I didn’t expect was the climbing-friendly rocks! I am not a climber and have little, if any, interest in (though appreciate the skill involved) scaling up walls and back down when I could be coursing in and out of canyons seeking oases and staking out austere mountain passes looking for desert bighorns. However, by the amount of climbing one sees there, you can’t help but feel some sort of tacit peer pressure, and the fact that the large-grit sandpaper rock surfaces make for fairly easy jaunts up 89-degree surfaces made me a dilettante free climber for that week.

In the mornings and after dinner, all I’d have to do is put a boot up and lean forward and upwards to start my way to some outcropping 100 feet above me. It was on some of these perched rock jumbles I have some of my fondest J-Tree recollections. The friendly free-climbing allowed me to scale up to vantage points to see the solar carpet and purple shadows see-saw with each other across this fantastic landscape — a religious experience of its own kind.

Tony Smith
East Longmeadow, MA

Editor’s note: Given the fact that our snail mail address is two states away from where our editor lives, handwritten, typed and scrawled Letters to the Editor often take a while to reach the Official Desk. These next three letters were sent our way last spring. The stagecoach to Gila Country is running slower than ever.

Even More Colorado Songs

Hi, Mr. Fayhee: The Colorado Songs article was wonderful. (Smoke Signals, “Colorado Songs,” MG #185.) It was surprising how many songs exist referencing Colorado. Many of those listed are new to me. And you are right, in that this reader and others can come up with more. Here’s one: A group called Grubstake has a folk-oriented tune that might be called “The Colorado Song”. Harry Tuft, a local folk legend, is one of Grubstake’s musicians, along with three or so others. He runs the Folklore Center in Denver.

The song deals with visitors to CO that stay, thereby adding to the population.

I recall one stanza running something like: “Now we’re having trouble with the jet set/Them lazy no good bastards love to ski/ And they all want fly to Colorado and buy up all our mountain scenery.”

The chorus is roughly: “Oh you can visit now and then/Bring your money and your friends/Just don’t forget to leave when you get through.”

I suppose other Western states enduring an influx of folks have similar songs and sentiments.

Thanks again for a fun article,

Rainer (Said Ry’-ner) Hantschel
Denver, CO

Utah Songs

Hello: I live in Colorado. I know all these Colorado songs and like them, but let me make a suggestion for the finest song about our neighbor to the West. “Utah,” by the Osmonds, off of their hard-rockin’ 1972 album “Crazy Horses.” It is one of the most amazingly non-specific songs ever written … no references to anything that might make Utah a special place, except that the Osmonds live there, and they are going back there because it’s home and “the place to be.” (The least they could have done is make a pro-Mormon pitch like they did on their follow-up album, “The Plan”). That said, it’s a good solid rocker by a truly astounding and underrated group of young men.

Dan Groth
Durango, CO

Shouldn’t have got that MBA

Dear John, Hey — I figured I could call you John as 1) I love the Mountain Gazette, 2) Sometime in the ’80s, my ex-wife & I were just coming down from hiking Greys Peak ( I believe … at 57 now I can barely remember my name, much less which 14ers we hiked) and you were hitchhiking down the road + we gave you a ride, 3) I’m re-reading your book, “Up At Altitude” 4) I pick up this great copy of MG at Ken Sanders’  Rare Books — EARTH FIRST!

Hey — great magazine — A. Stark’s article, “Cosmic Justice” (MG #185) strikes a cord — in 1975 myself + ex brother in law + other best friend camped up the rock north of Nederland + hiked Arapahoe Peak — then, as the road was too tough to drive a fucking Ford Fairlane back down to Boulder to get booze (before Pearl Street was rebuilt), my pal + I hiked from Rainbow Lakes to Nederland to hitch to Boulder. I too noticed these cows, all smarter than me — all trying to deter me from
getting my MBA.

I should have listened.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your publication — like Bowden’s “Tucson City Weekly” in the ’80s — like Jim Stile’s Moab Rants — like DeVere Hinkley’s ’80s single-spaced typed eight-page missives from Cowley, Wyoming — “The Cowley Progress” — the must-read “A Man Can Believe Anything.”

Take Care — keep it going!

In the Service of Her Majesty — Mother Earth! EF!

Dave Naslund
SLC, UT
Loving life behind the ZION CURTAIN

A Sport That Encourages Drinking & Smoking!

Hi! Well March did come in like a lion in these parts — but it sure seems way to lamb-ish too soon! Snow is certainly fading fast — faster than ever I’d bet! Some would claim it’s been mud season all winter. Of course, we’re spoiled here with our geographic advantage — skiing’s been fine to great — alpine @ Wolf Creek and nordic all over our little corner of the state. I don’t mind the mud — it goes away on ground and shoes —eventually. I only hate the wind — the Chinese claim it’s evil — I won’t argue that. I am looking forward to hiking now, I must admit, though, I suspect the beetle-killed pines may pose a real danger when the winds rip!

In the meantime, there’s disc golf — I think you’d really like it, M. John F. You can smoke & drink before, during & after and throwing things at a target satisfies the primal urge — hunting?

Anyway, I wanted to send in a decorated envelope, haven’t gotten to fully digest the dog issue of MG and didn’t want to wait for the next issue. Love ’em all — only wish they were LONGER — with more info, fotos, etc.

If you want to play Pagosa’s sweet disc golf course, look me up and I’ll get you discs & show you around the course — it’s truly a sweet one! Won’t be ready for a bit of course, got to dry up the ice, snow & mud!

Happy Spring!
Addi G.
Pagosa Springs

Editor’s note: The following two Letters were addressed to long-rime MG contributor George Sibley in response to his article, “The Colorado: The First River of the Anthropocene,” which appeared in MG #188.

Hi George: Greetings from Silverton, where the aspens in my yard finally popped their buds just yesterday …

Really enjoyed your piece in MG and the turning two-by-four studs back into trees analogy! Thanks for injecting this much more useful perspective into the mind-numbing litany of “woe is us” literature on the River.

FYI — CSAS, in discussing our organizing premise, talks about the “anthroposphere” and the “music of the spheres” (atmos-, litho-,cryo-, and anthropo-spheres) … the anthropocene is the context for all this!

Cheers,
Chris Landry, Executive Director,
Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
Silverton CO

George: Beer or wine? I want to know what to buy you in appreciation of your latest work. In fact, whiskey is not out of the question.

I thoroughly enjoyed this essay each time I read it and only curse the Gazette’s format for the difficulty of scanning it so I can distribute it to my fellow members on the Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District board — even if it’s to watch them choke on the word Anthropocene. Congratulations on another fine job.

Thanks again.

Jim Durr

Mountain Media #193

Buried in the sky

BOOKS: “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day,” by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

During every Himalayan expedition, the behind-the-scenes work of hauling gear, setting up camps, scouting routes and fixing rope lines falls on the backs of high-altitude workers, or Sherpa climbers, as they’re commonly known. But who are the Sherpa people? What compels some to become high-altitude workers? And on K2, the world’s second-highest peak, does the mountain goddess Takar Dolsangma answer their prayers?

In their new book, “Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day,” Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan answer these questions while telling a gripping story of the August 2008 disaster. Instead of the usual glorified gush from surviving sponsored mountaineers, the story centers on the Sherpas, giving a cultural context to their perilous work amid their most sacred places.

The authors neatly lay out each of the characters’ backgrounds, personalities and philosophies as if laying out gear before an assault on the mountain. As they push for the summit, the story degenerates into a tangled mass of rope, ice, rock and dead or dying climbers. Despite multiple storylines, this book clearly communicates the imperceptible Death Zone logic and impossible language gaps that led to the deaths of eleven climbers, Sherpa or not. The story’s flow receives help from the book’s many maps, color photos and notes.

Shocked by the death of her friend Karim Meherban in the accident, fellow climber Amanda Padoan sought to uncover how such a tragedy could happen. With help from her cousin, Peter Zuckerman, the authors thoroughly researched the story, but also pioneered a new, exciting perspective that raises the bar for all mountaineering literature. Sure, it still implies the age-old question: why climb? But when asked in the context of Sherpa climbers, the answers reverberate deeper and reveal more than ever before. $26.95, www.wwnorton.com

— Jeff Miesbauer

Utah Wasatch Cover

BOOKS: “Utah’s Wasatch Range: Four Season Refuge,” by Howie Garber

Abruptly rising thousands of feet above Salt Lake City, Utah’s Wasatch Range forms a stark boundary between the western edge of the Rocky Mountains and the eastern front of the Great Basin. And, with 85% of the state’s population living within 20 miles, the range’s constant battle between conservation and development is just as stark.

Photographer Howie Garber has been exploring and taking photos in and of the Wasatch for 40 years, but his first book, “Utah’s Wasatch Range: Four Season Refuge,” is much more than just a photographic retrospective of his career in these mountains. Garber’s expansive collection of landscape, wildlife and outdoor sports photos are paired with essays from conservationists, business leaders, scientists and government officials that detail the intricacies, beauty and fragility of this cherished range. The result is both a tribute to the home of the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and a cautionary message of the many threats faced by these craggy peaks.

The book’s essays, written by everyone from skier Andrew McLean to U.S. Congressman Jim Matheson, run the gamut of subjects from geological history to watershed stewardship to the contentious nature of the Wasatch’s unparalleled ski
terrain. For those looking for reason to believe in preserving the Wasatch’s endless recreation opportunities, pure water and accessible wilderness, Garber’s beautiful images of golden aspen stands, craggy quartzite summits, diverse wildlife and powdery ski descents make the perfect companion for the words of so many important local voices.

Collectively, the book’s photographs and words make for many things — a visual tribute, a case for conservation, and most of all, something that anyone who has ever spent time in the Wasatch will find a deep appreciation for. $39.95, www.utahswasatchrangehowiegarberphotography.com

— Andy Anderson

The Old Breed

SHORT FILMS: “The Old Breed,” by Cowboy Bear Ninja

In 2011, climber and filmmaker Freddie Wilkinson received an invite to go and climb the second-highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Saser Kangri II, in Asia’s Karakoram Mountains. The invite came from Mark Richey and Steve Swenson — two men with careers, families and lengthy lists of successful climbing expeditions under their belts. Eager to pull out one more major first ascent before retiring from big-mountain expeditions, the pair recruited Wilkinson — 25 years younger than both men — as the third member of the team.

In “The Old Breed,” Wilkinson documents the trio’s climb while also exploring what compels a pair of men in their mid-50s to travel halfway around the world and risk their lives in pursuit of an unclimbed mountain. For Richey and Swenson, the trip to climb Saser Kangri II represents what might be one of the final chapters in a long and illustrious mountaineering career. For Wilkinson, it represents a chance to share in one of a dwindling number of major unclimbed summits with two climbers he had long admired.

Due to the complex nature of what Wilkinson refers to as oropolitics, many sections of the Karakoram have been closed due to tensions between the bordering nations of India, Pakistan and China. When these areas are finally opened, it presents a bounty of first ascent potential for alpinists. And it’s such a political sea change that allows these three climbers to venture in pursuit of Saser Kangri II’s unclaimed summit.

But when Swenson falls ill on the mountain with a dangerous lung infection, the film delves into the age-old mountaineering struggle between the magnetic pull of the summit and a climber’s capacity for self-preservation. The film dabbles with the oft-discussed reasons why we go to the mountains in the first place, but it’s ultimately about how even as we age, the raw, wild spaces and expansive summits of the world offer something we can’t get anywhere else. www.theoldbreedmovie.com

— Andy Anderson

It’s all in your head: Shred music

geoff snow-face

Photo by Chris Segal, Crested Butte Mountain Resort

It’s here, it’s finally here… the month we’ve all been waiting through the off-season brown, beefing up with pot lucks, brews and conditioning classes in anticipation of burning quadriceps and lifts cranking up to take us to the magnificent white glory. It’s cause for celebration. Opening day costumes, copious brews, facial hair encrusted in icy splendor and music to help drown out the deafening sound of your lungs as you huck yourself down the slopes.

That means you’d better revisit your iPod, like, now, and get some new favorite tunes loaded up, whatever your preferences run, because a decent playlist is as essential as good ski equipment. Music makes the inexperienced more confident as it glides them into a rhythmic schussing of their very own beat and makes the seasoned shredder immortal. No one genre is going to suit every snow condition or style, so you may want something less challenging on your initial ride up (some classic Dead or Marley, perhaps?), only to switch gears to something to rip by (kick in the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Pow days might require a bit of Led Zep (“Immigrant Song” is a good one to have snow nuking non-stop into your face.) Modest Mouse to Beatles tossed with Widespread Panic and seasoned with a touch of Drew Emmitt could be sunny daze cruising happily ever after choices.

You’ll certainly want your personal listening device as Thanksgiving nears and the incessant, repetitive holiday music starts crankin’ on your nerves from blaring outdoor speakers. Having a headset on is also a legitimately recognized means to ignore annoying conversationalists who take up precious time yammering away when you could be making another run. Less talk equals more gravity enhanced slope action.

If you want to slam to the same beat as the pros in your favorite ski movies, but don’t have the time to seek out every song, you’re in luck … someone’s already done the task for you. A whitewater raft guide named Jesse Lakes realized there wasn’t a site anywhere to be found with a comprehensive list of all those fabulous tunes featured in the dramatic drops those extreme sick birds take to, so he created skimoviemusic.com, where you can search by movie name or its maker, skier or company, and then download it through just one click into iTunes. He’s also created ridertunes.com for snowboard tracks and, when the lifts close and you grab your other board, you can download your faves from surfertunes.com. Pretty damn brilliant and convenient … search less, ski more is the motto here.

It’s also worth noting is that most of the opening-day celebrations at many of our favorite snow-farming resorts include music to stomp your ski and board boots to. Not wanting to give up a good party, some mountains carry on the revelry throughout the month and into the next. Vail is kicking off its 50th anniversary on November 16 with a new gondola and continuing their mezzo centenarian birthday with an impressive concert line-up for their Snow Daze, December 13 through 15, which includes The Shins, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Wilco. Get yourself tickets and info at www.vail.com/snowdaze.

Out in Crested Butte, the drive to the end of the road is definitely worthwhile for their opening Free Ski Day November 21 and the wrap of their half-century celebration as they head into their 51st year (www.skicb.com). You can also ski free on your own birthday (hopefully, it falls sometime during winter lift operations and may it scream snow like a banshee for your special day). There’s live music slopeside on the deck of Butte 66 with the return of a much-loved surprise band that can’t be named at this time, and thrown in for fun is local community radio KBUT (www.kbut.org), which will also be spinning tunes between the lifts .

Aspen opens its slopes November 22 with the amazing Reverend Horton Heat funking up a free concert on the Upper Gondola Plaza on the 24th and, since no one knows what time this shindig kicks off, you’ll have to check in at www.aspensnowmass.com.

With all the sacrifices and dances to honor and implore Ullr, this year is sure to be big and deep, so don’t wait until the last minute to recrank the iPod, because you don’t want to waste any time getting to the slopes for your dance of vertical kinetics.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance journalist, photographer and vocalist happily entrenched back in the Shire of Crested Butte fully amped for really deep winter with new helmet speakers and a large stash of downloaded tunes. Give her a shout at dbelloise@gmail.com  

The Best Bar in America

Recently, the Craft Brewers Association of America held a contest to try and find the “Best Beer Bar in America.” Members of the beer-drinking public were invited to vote through a website, and, not surprisingly, the winning institution is located in a place where the population within a 20-mile radius of the bar easily exceeds the total resident headcount of several Western states. More people equals more votes, and the numbers behind the math make perfect sense. But perhaps the calculus behind the concept is more intriguing — what makes a bar “the best?” It is a fascinating question: What makes a certain bar great, and another average? A question elusive enough that it has been ruminated upon in many MG Bar Issues. The subject is even lofty enough as to warrant treatment in a film of the same name as this column, currently in post-production/pre-release (see MG #154).

The theme is similar to the lifelong pursuit of the American dream that the good doctor, Hunter S. Thompson, undertook and used as a recurring motif throughout his writings — his mad search for any sign of the Aquarian-tinted, utopian hippie dream of the ’60s that captivated his imagination so, as reflected through the twisted lens of Las Vegas, or the alternate reality of a presidential campaign.

After reading most of what was published, it is unclear to this writer whether Thompson ever found what he was after, but what is clear is that much of the research was conducted in a wide variety of drinking establishments. And why not? For certainly, it is in the best bars in America where the elusive truth about our reality often appears, and wherein some of the finest that this country has to offer can be found …

For instance, take the Millsite Inn, located on the Peak-to-Peak Highway up above Ward, Colorado. Time was when an aspiring beer writer might take to the hills on a Saturday evening with his best girl, in search of some of that high-lonesome sound they kept talkin’ ’bout on the volunteer radio station each and every Saturday morning down in Boulder, and find himself and twenty other revelers in the company of local legends like Buck Buckner, Pete Wernick, the boys from Leftover Salmon and international prodigies like Radim Zenkel, the Czech virtuoso of all things mandolin. Long-haired, long-bearded, long-in-the-tooth mountain men sat in the shadows of the bar taking long tokes from cheap cigars and long pulls of rail whiskey while shooting dark looks from deepening brows at us long-haired, long-bearded, ne’er-do-wells as we asked the barmaid what was on tap other than Currs, a shame worth enduring to score a tall pitcher of Lefthand Brewing Co.’s Sawtooth or Odell’s 90 Schilling Ale (we still had to share our smaller but not-so-cheap cigars furtively outside between the vans, however).

Or take, perhaps, Alma’s Only Bar (aptly named, as the other drinking establishment in North America’s highest-elevationed incorporated town is a saloon), which was at this same time, as we found out, a great place to meet long-haired, long-bearded, long-in-the-tooth mountain men that were wacked out of their minds on LSD on a Saturday evening. A chance run-in with space cowboys is always disconcerting when oneself is not also trippin’, and, after a day spent learning to drop a knee at the hands of two “friends,” who also happened to be working ski patrol at Loveland that season, and subsequently in uber-physical shape from patrolling on tele for the two previous months, my beat-to-shit muscular and cardiovascular systems weighed with such force on my mental capabilities that the beguiling dudes in the corner talking excitedly about a string of completely unrelated abstractions just about threw me over the edge. ’Twas on this night that Alma’s Only Bar happened to have a new beer on tap, the now-august Hazed and Infused pale ale from Boulder Brewing Co. At the time, this was one of the most hopped-up beers on the market, and let’s just say that this experience did for hops and I what Burt Reynold’s mustache did in “Smokey and the Bandit” for D-bag dudes and the Pontiac Trans-Am. Yes, it was love at first sip, and the rest is history.

But to get back to my point … all the while he searched for his notion of the American dream, it seems to me that the good doctor was constantly looking for a twinkling reflection of his own vibrant “madness” in the twisted misshapen mirrors of the people he encountered. I don’t know if he ever saw it (perhaps in the strange moment that he relates where he is sitting for a few minutes alone with Nixon in the back of a limo talking football), but, if it happened elsewhere, it was not
mentioned, or I am remiss in my recollections. What I do know is this: While good beer on tap helps, the best bar in America is determined by the patrons. It’s you, and me, and the other freaks that sit and converse and share our wild dreams in these spaces and places about the matters and times that concern us that can make any bar the best bar in America, even if just for an evening.

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO, where he spends his leisure time brewing his own beer. Got your own thoughts about the best bar in America? Drop him a line at beer@mountaingazette.com. 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision #193

San Francisco Ski Show

Used Shoes, San Francisco Ski Show 1976

In the course of auditing my tax account, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that I was allowed to take a deduction for one pair of skis a year, but could not deduct my boots. As they saw the matter, the boots could be conceivably be used for purposes other than skiing. What those other purposes were was not clear. My attorney made the analogy with his three-piece suit, which he was required to wear in the courtroom, even through he only appeared in court only about once a year. It was necessary for his profession, but could be worn places other than in the courtroom, so was not deductible.

I can hardly see myself clomping into a courtroom in my Lange boots, or being able to sit comfortably as a juror for any considerable length of time. Or wearing a three-piece suit in a snowstorm, for that matter, although it may already have been done. So there you are, ski boots are not deductible.

If “skiing” is not a sport, but a “way of life,” then ski boots are not sporting goods, but life-supporting goods, so they should be chosen with care, and made to last. Which is how they were originally made — leather starched over a last — until Hans Heierling’s hands were no longer enough to sew the elephant hide he used in his last boots. Thus began, by default, the era of plastic. At last, or so we thought.

Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. 

If the world doesn’t end

cartographic

Winter has some serious competition this year in the form of The Shift, which is slated around the date of Dec. 21, and at which time, as you very well know, the world will split into higher and lower dimensional realities. We’re not exactly sure how winter is going to play out in the new scenario, so we’re using our current Third Dimension, where other people’s bad luck/decisions/situations make for fun things for the rest of us lowlifes to talk about. Those of us who move on to the Fifth Dimension won’t be doing this kind of crap anymore.

1) Winter You Gotta Wonderland

We got to wondering if there were any real, sanctioned Winter Wonderlands out there. What we were looking for were places that are so goddamned wonderful that you almost can’t stand it. Instead, we found a story about allegedly great wintry places to retire because, if you don’t have to work, you don’t have to go outside in the towns’ really repulsive weather. Places like South Bend, Indiana. What the hell? Anyway, according to U.S. News, there are lots of great crappy wintry places to go if you don’t plan to go outside and deal with the fact that you’re in such a crappy situation. On the list: Juneau, Alaska; Syracuse, N.Y.; South Bend; Marquette, Michigan (where, in winter, you can usually saw off your own limbs without anesthesia after 20 minutes of being outside); Minneapolis (a relatively okay place due to a bunch of skyway tunnels to run around in, sort of like a gerbil habitat) and Aurora, Colorado (Aurora doesn’t necessarily have hideous weather, but if you’re moving to Colorado, you might as well take all your retirement money and spend three weeks in Aspen instead). There also were a few places where you might actually want to go outside: Burlington, Vermont, Salt Lake City and Portland, Maine.

2) Action-packed winter sports

It’s never too early to start getting all lathered up over the next Winter Olympics. If you want to get your sport listed for competition, a good place to start is by petitioning the International Olympic Committee via sites like Change.org or GoPetition.com. Really, it’s that easy; otherwise there’s no way they’d have curling or biathlon. That said, it’s anyone’s guess why the maniacs who race their cars on the partially frozen lake at Georgetown, Colorado, for example, have not had some sort of Olympic invitation/recognition. We digress (and to be fair, we should mention that they often place orange cones somewhere near the place where ice becomes water). You can plan to see women’s ski jumping added to the 2014 lineup at Sochi, in addition to a figure skating team event, a luge team relay, ski halfpipe for men and women AND the long-awaited biathlon mixed relay, which pretty much has everyone at the Mountain Gazette foaming at the mouth and/or experiencing bowel failure. Evidently, the XGames have had some influence on the addition of more extreme sports. Wielding his usual rapier wit, IOC president Jacques Rogge had this to say: “Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed lineup of Olympic winter sports.”

3) The winter of our discontent

While zillions of people attempt to escape the winter cold every year and thaw out in Arizona, we’ve got some real bad news. Both the Kingman/Lake Havasu City and Prescott areas apparently suck the good vibes out of people, or perhaps people with bad vibes are attracted to these locales, creating a vibrational suckhole that puts these spots among the top-10 saddest places in the United States, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. It goes without
saying that Boulder took the top billing as the happiest place in the country (see Olympic sports entry for MG staff reaction to Boulder’s inherent perkiness). Conversely, out of 188 MSA’s (metropolitan statistical areas), Huntington-Ashland
WV-KY-OH took top billing as the saddest place in the country, followed by places like Youngstown, Ohio, and Beaumont, Texas. Coming in at No. 9, Prescott has a bunch of firecrackers who predominantly rank low in their feelings about their physical health and life in general. At No. 8, the folks in the Kingman/Lake Havasu City area ranked 52nd for emotional health, but completely fell apart on physical health and overall life evaluation.

4) Precision research on winter clothes

Operating on the assumption that colder, more-wintry places force people to buy warm clothes that are more expensive by nature, we learned many things in our extensive investigation. First of all, and no surprise here — folks in Jackson buy a lot of clothes — an average of $361 a month, according to Bundle. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s sartorial average is $121, with places like Sheridan ($119) and Rawlins ($97) holding the numbers and fashion down. If you seriously don’t want to dress to impress, Montana and Idaho are where you need to be. Montana has a scratchy $85 monthly average, with Livingston coming in at a paltry $81. Idaho’s average is $86, and if you really want to scrimp on style, Caldwell is your place at $53. We checked out Silver City, N.M., home of the Gazette’s esteemed editor, and folks there are parting with $91 a month on clothes.

5) Dirtbags, all

We were looking for some fun, weird-ish winter festivals to talk about here, and encountered the usual ice-water plunges, and, naturally, the après-Christmas fruitcake toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado. But ranking among the World’s Top-10 Winter Festivals, according to MSN Travel, is Dirtbag Day at Big Sky Resort. Held in March, it’s not so much about douchebags, although there is some statistical crossover here. It’s more about hardcore skiers and riders who hit the bars at night, with hygiene as a distant consideration. Anyway, on Dirtbag Day, the dirtbags get to dress up in whatever they want. “This is our Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras all in one,” one of the participants told The New York Times.  

Way of the Mountain #193

Elections are over. Time to let go the human drama. And dig into the spirit of place where you live. Awake to what lives beneath your feet … Two poets from Ridgway this month — must be the several hot springs there (Orvis, Wiesbaden, Ouray) that makes for such good poets …

— Art Goodtimes, Cloud Acre

47 km North of Squamish

Wet silence of flakes
Gives way
To the heavy rush of falls
And I’m drawn
Sneakers like slippers
Into the soft powder of
The muffled white woods

— Bryan Shuman
Laramie

The Old Barn

the old barn
stands open to the sky
and the steaming breath
of black horses searching for grass
in the muted gold of winter

— Cathy Casper
Eagle

Avalanche

What was thicker
than a man and
a thousand times
stronger snapped
at the waist from
the breath of what
consumed a gorge we
labored all day to traverse

— Kevin Patrick McCarthy
Locuto.com
Boulder

Driving. Blizzard.

My wish is for
eighteen more
of you in the
world, says
the five-year-old
to his big sister,
and we sit back
into the sum total
of what we
know.

— Erika Moss Gordon
Ridgway

Snowy Woods

Along Cottonwood Pass
the loggers’ road
covered in deep snow
becomes a skier’s delight
winding through pines

— David Reynolds
Fountain Valley

Ice Verse 3

Our girls red cheeked
tasting this evening’s snow

Coldplay in the background
trying to capture Satie
The mad Frenchman’s “Gymnopedie”
plays us out

No lyrics
only notes fading into dark
credits rolling and blame

— Kierstin Bridger
Ridgway

Coming Back from a Moonlight Ski

when i am
dead
dead
dead
coyotes will leave
tracks in fresh snow
and stars will shine
at night, then
who
who
will be watching

— Carl Marcus
Wilson Mesa

Summerville Trail

Talus slope
Chirping marmot
Bear? Me? Both?

— Joseph Van Nurden
Gunnison

Old Haiku Chair

old haiku chair
just off the trail
has 4 legs and half an arm

— Jimi Bernath
from “Weathering” 
(Porcupine Books)
Englewood  

The Hermit Trail

Grand Canyon illustration

Ed Abbey and I traveled all over the Southwest. I was a college sophomore and “Desert Solitare” had been in print for only four years. I kept a cheap, dog-eared copy in my red Kelty external-frame backpack and everywhere I hitchhiked across the Southwest, there was Ed.

We had great conversations as we thumbed across the Colorado Plateau, from the Glen Canyon Damn to the Gila, the Henrys, Madera Canyon and the Dragoons.

He was there that night in Hussong’s in Enseñada, Mexico, when I met a ranch manager at the bar and he suggested we visit the place he was caretaking along the coast. On the way to the beach, we suffered a fierce hailstorm, got soaked. I tried to dry my jeans by the ranch house fireplace, but, because of too much tequila, my attention wavered. The jeans burned up, and I crossed the border at Tijuana wearing a beard and a lightweight cotton skirt.

Ed was in my pack with the fringed Pendleton blanket I’d bought at the pawn shop on Route 66 in Gallup. I didn’t know it was a female blanket. It was cheap and I wanted to stay warm. Sometimes, I wore it draped around my shoulders or tied to the top of my pack. All across Navajo and Hopi land, I got sly smiles from children, uproarious laughter from adults and rides in the back of trucks.

Abbey was my guide. He taught me never to let college interfere with my education, how to question authority and how to find myself by getting lost. He went with me to Canyonlands, Arches, Wupatki and everywhere on the Coconino. Abbey was even with me on the Hermit Trail in the glaring light and suffocating heat of the Grand Canyon, and he was just as glad to crawl out of that overrated hole in the ground as I was. To hell with all those glorious sunrises and sunsets. I needed beer. I needed rest. And I needed to get laid.

I knew it wasn’t a good idea to take two girlfriends to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the same hike. I knew the Hermit Trail was a long, hot nine-mile slog 4,300 feet down to the river, but I wanted less traffic than on the Bright Angel Trail, with its hordes of tourists and farting, shitting mules. I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how much trouble I’d get into or what I’d find at the Colorado River’s edge.

What I didn’t know was how much water to take, even in March. Nor did I know the benefits of caps, hats, anything to cover my overheated head. But I’d learn. Oh, yes, I’d learn.

In the morning descending into the center of the earth, the first mile below the rim, hikers are confident, calm, poised. Backpacks are not yet heavy, thirst is not anything like what it will be by late afternoon, and the lack of shade is of no consequence. Hikers stretch out and get distance between each other. The full-on heat of the canyon is not yet apparent, at least not in early spring. It’s joyful to swing out along the trail walking, deeper and deeper away from the traffic, congestion and gawking tourists with their cameras, ice cream cones and fear of leaving the paved viewpoints on top.

Molly, Susan and I spread out. We attended college together and wanted to hike the Grand Canyon on our spring break. It had seemed like a fine thing to do back in Colorado with late-winter snow still on the ground, and no warm Chinook winds to melt patches of ice. So we made the drive down through Durango, the Four Corners, on to Kayenta, Tuba City, Cameron and in. Seeing the canyon in late afternoon light is unforgettable. As we drove, we thought about how fun it would be to play in the river so far below us, we couldn’t even see it.

Susan had her dad’s big Ford Galaxie station wagon and agreed to drive, which gave me time to flirt with freckle-faced Molly with her long straight hair, cute dimples and warm smile. I didn’t know how well I’d get to know her until we got close to the bottom. Then she took off her shorts and top and swam naked in one of the pools. Underwater, she dipped and dived, her smooth white skin submerged below the green surface of the water, a college boy’s fantasy if ever there was one. I’d been reading Abbey and somewhere he’d written about “rosy-bottomed skinny-dippers.” Had he been down the Hermit Trail, too?

But before we got to the pools and Polly’s birthday suit, there were miles of hot, dusty trail. After a few hours, my canteen was almost empty. I had no chewing gum and my tongue was getting thick and heavy. Little sparks seemed to float near my eyelids. I finished the canteen and soon wanted more water but, in the glare of mid-day, all I could find was shimmering, bleached-out rocks. The trail wound down. First, I wanted water, then I begged for shade, but there was none of that, either.

Instead, what there was under that glaring, brutal sun was a group of bouncy, boisterous Boy Scouts. Didn’t they know they could die out here in the depths of the Grand Canyon? What sort of Kool-Aid was in their canteens anyway? And, if the Boy Scouts were a shimmering haze of uniforms, patches and pins, on the flat, dry Tonto Platform, I thought I saw a wiry little man skipping down the trail, poking at rocks, turning them over and setting them back. It was high noon and I thought I was seeing things — a brown leather elf wearing nylon shorts and sandals. He looked not just sunburned but sunbaked, like a dark chocolate chip cookie left in an oven overnight. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and assumed we’d had too many beers the evening before at our camp up top.

We’d packed all wrong. Too much food. Canned goods, mostly. Too many clothes. Winter wear for Colorado utterly unnecessary where we were headed. The sleeping bags were too heavy and I don’t remember any tents. What I do remember is becoming overheated, wanting water, then wanting shade, willing to settle for death if only the vultures and coyotes would be quick and clean. Sharp claws gripped behind my eyeballs. Dust in my nose made it hard to breath, and those damn Boy Scouts up ahead kept singing.

I knew I should have felt more responsibility for the young women I was with, but they seemed to have more stamina than I did, and they had sense enough to bring caps while I thought my long hair would keep me cool. Without a hiking stick, I slipped and tripped every now and then, sliding a few feet closer to the bottom. As for the brilliant colors and snapshots of geologic time in the heart of the canyon, it was all stone to me. I was as dry as a hobo’s shoe.

Just when I was ready to give up, fall behind a rock and wait for darkness, death, anything, out of the corner of my eye I saw the tiniest little white cloud.  A few minutes later, it got larger, and the hot desert wind seemed to be a trifle cooler. The cumulus cloud grew. I said a quick prayer for shade and was overjoyed when the first cold drop of rain splattered in the dust before me. Suddenly, scattered drops became a deluge. What had been an insufferable descent into hell became a rush to get out of the cold, driving rain mixed with spikes of hail.

We came around a corner to find Hermit’s Creek and a likely ledge for shelter. As we ducked under it, we were surprised to see a dozen other hikers with wet hair, soaked shirts and saturated packs. My death march was over. From rain running off the alcove I scooped cold, clear water in dripping handfuls. We had a few snacks. The eagles let go of the backs of my eyeballs. I was delighted to see how lovely Susan and Molly looked in their wet, clinging T-shirts. It was the early 1970s and liberated women wore no bras.

Renewed, refreshed and keenly interested in sharing my sleeping bag that night, when the rain ceased we swung on down the trail. In another mile, we could hear the river, though we couldn’t see it. Water kept flowing down rivulets and off canyon walls. I was as happy and as ecstatic in that moment as I had been depressed and forlorn forty minutes earlier.

Life had taken on new meaning. I would live to tell the tale. To hell with the vultures, the coyotes and the Boy Scouts. I had two girls ahead of me on the path, a pack full of food, a wet bandanna around my neck for extra cooling and the welcome roar of a river getting louder in my ears. It would be an exciting night to be alone with Susan and Molly. I would be the hero, the guide, the interpreter. I would make up stories about prospectors, tell them about my favorite children’s book, “Brighty of the Grand Canyon,” whip up Dinty Moore beef stew as canyon cuisine, wait for the stars, the cool night and the need to sleep close.

And then I saw them. Large hairy males wearing loin cloths dead ahead on the trail. Tall, muscular, bearded, like some throwback to the Stone Age. What the hell was this? We had almost made it to the bottom. I wanted to be alone with these two young bra-less co-eds, but, instead, we’d stumbled into a camp of degenerate, dope-smoking male hippies in need of food and females. While I was trying to determine what kind of threat the lean, muscular and totally bronzed Neanderthals might pose, Polly took off her clothes …

Stunned, I watched as she swam and splashed, making little noises about how cool the water was. I particularly liked her backstroke. Shapely breasts exposed, silken alabaster thighs moving slowly through the pool. Suddenly, there was a large splash. One of the cavemen had taken off his loincloth and jumped in. They started to swim and laugh together. I thought about reaching for a rock to bean him on the head when he swam by, but then I saw his four friends grinning ear to ear and talking to Sarah, who had just started to take off her T-shirt, too. I looked at my arms. As white as the belly of a trout.

So much for all those hours spent in the college library. My moment of confidence and tranquility ebbed away. I sat down hard on a rock, took off my pack, looked for a map and realized this was the end of the trail. The Colorado River was just below us. I had thought I’d find privacy. I thought at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the girls’ inhibitions would fall away. You know, back to nature in the basement of time.

But I had not counted on stumbling into a male hippie enclave hiding from the National Park Service. Their 14-day camping permits had long since expired. Instead, the merry band lived on food from any backpackers who had extra and who were returning to the top. When that ran out, they drew straws from blades of grass to see who would make the long hike up. We had arrived just in time. I had brought food and females.

Dejected, I watched a milk-white mermaid and a bronzed Greek God gambol in a pour-off pool. The Grand Canyon suddenly didn’t seem so grand anymore. Then the lizard man showed up.

He wasn’t actually a lizard man. He was a man who studied lizards and looked like one. He was a scientist from some university back east and this was his spring break, too. I don’t know what he’d been smoking, but a decade earlier he’d been hiking the Hermit Trail, crossing the Tonto Platform, and had seen the very first, only, one-of-a-kind, bonafide lizard with hair on it. Naturally, he was surprised. Delighted, but surprised. Quickly he reached for his camera only to remember that he’d forgotten to put in a new roll of film.

The lizard lounged, did a few push-ups, posed on a rock, showing off its hairy chest and a few small tufts of hair on its legs. Frantically, the scientist groped to load his camera, finally the film was in. He quickly closed the camera’s back, leaned down to take the photo that would make him world famous, and the hairy lizard disappeared. Without a trace. Into the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Into the brightness of high noon.

Skeptically, I listened to his story. It didn’t sound too probable to me, but what the hell? How was I to know that a colony of renegade hippies would make off with not one but both of my girlfriends? Reality was pretty strange down here below the rim. Anything could happen in the heat of the day.

I looked again at the scientist. He’d been stained mahogany by the sun. Then I looked closer. If he’d found a lizard with hair on it, he himself had no hair. Nowhere. He was as bald as a river rock. Seemed a little odd, but he was telling what he thought was a rational story about why he’d returned to the same spot on the Hermit Trail every March for the last sixteen years. This was the imp I’d seen hours ago.

I was sympathetic. At least I’d found someone not interested in gawking at the two girls I’d led down here to a canyon oasis. Still feeling sorry for myself, I looked up. By then, we were close to the river and a large group of rafts was coming by, including a National Park Service rig hidden in between the other rafts. The swimmers had decided to sun themselves on a boulder and didn’t see what was happening.

Ah ha! I thought. I’m saved. The Park Service will bust these law-breaking cavemen, give them fat fines, handcuff them, haul them out by water and leave me in peace with my naked nymphs. Hooray for the man with the gray shirt and golden badge!

But the hippies, long overdue up top, had been expecting an official visit. Just as I started to run down to the rocks to receive a tossed line from the short-sleeved ranger, the king of the vagabonds, naked as the day he was born, jumped off the boulder he’d been lying on with Molly, swam a little ways off shore, climbed on another rock and yelled at the passing boaters, water streaming off the long hair that ran halfway down his shoulders, “MY NAME IS KING RICHARD AND THIS IS MY BATHTUB — BE GONE!!!”

Startled by this brazen exhibition of premeditated madness, the Park Service ranger forgot to throw the rope. He drifted into frothing Hermit Rapid the wrong way and, despite paddling hard toward shore, the current pulled him into the river’s main channel. Like the other rafters, he was gone. And so was my hope for solitude and sex.

The cavemen, the girls, the lizard man, all began to laugh. I didn’t.

It would be a long restless night, followed by more nakedness the next day with accompanying giggles, hand holding and God knows what else. I slept alone in the sand counting the stars. Wondering how long it would take to hike out.

The morning of the fourth day, we began the long trek up, minus most of our food, which we had donated to the hairy hippies. Susan and Molly gave big hugs to the Neanderthals, hugs that seemed a little too long for such newfound friends, but who cared? I was going up, climbing toward the rim and sanity, to the real world and not this crazy canyon scene.

My legs and thighs hurt. Thankfully, the muscles we use hiking uphill are different from the muscles used going downhill or I would have been immobile. I was feeling pretty good until those rowdy Boy Scouts came by, shouting and singing and way too happy for the hard hike ahead. Hours and hours later — or was it days, weeks, months? — we finally topped out, took off our packs and collapsed. Molly and Susan were beat, exhausted, too much heat they said, and quite frankly, a real expanse of sunburn.

I was not sympathetic. Secretly, I wished that we’d all gotten sunburned together, but that had not come to pass.

Truly in need of shade and rest, we made it to the Ford station wagon and down the road to a cheap motel at Cameron, Arizona. I was perking up. Here was my chance. Having experienced the beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon, I was ready for a long, slow night in a motel room with two college co-eds. We got the room. The last one they had.

Heart pounding with anticipation, I opened the door to two single beds. I showered, they showered, shades drawn, we re-hydrated drinking glass after glass of water. They put lotion on each other and whimpered softly, exclaiming loudly as they applied cream to the more painful bright-red, sunburned places.

Then they slept. And so did I.

On the floor.

The author teaches at an institution of higher learning on the Colorado Plateau and prefers to travel incognito 

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Editor’s note: This story was obviously submitted well before the November election and, thus, may appear dated.

Author’s note: The apparition quotes are drawn from original quotes from Hunter S. Thompson and Edward Abbey, mashed together in a couple places and edited lightly for continuity]

I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Stave One

It was long past dark on Christmas Eve 2008 and I was still at my desk. I had a backlog of political blog entries to read, several recordings of Congressional hearings to watch and nearly a dozen Internet bulletin board comment-thread “flame wars” all going at once.

Upstairs, the stockings had been hung by the chimney with care, and my finally asleep children’s heads were filled with dancing visions of a gift-wrapped wooden pirate ship play set — said set still requiring “some assembly” by daddy.

A cheery if threat-tinged motivational suggestion floated down the stairs from the wife: “Honey, we still need to wrap several gifts and clean the kitchen. And, remember, my parents will be here at 6:30.” A.M., that is.

“Humbug” is what I barked toward the door. Because I had work to do.

My name is Ebenezer, and I am a very important man. My work is far too important to yield to a Hallmark-holiday festival of drunkenness, gluttony, merriment and sloth. And in-laws. Especially in-laws. Particularly raving right-wing Fox-News-immersed in-laws.

You see, while everyone else was celebrating a particularly joyous holiday season — we had after all just elected in a landslide a liberal/progressive/hip African-American savior, who would travel the skies on Inauguration Day and send hope down our chimneys and leave change in our stockings. But I knew better.

“Humbug,” I said again, to no one in particular. So, I went to the “comment here” section below an online op-ed about how Obama was going to bring Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Liberals and Conservative alike and typed it in: H*U*M*B*U*G.

As if to underscore my gloom, a Steve Earle song came across the Pandora Radio web stream, one referring to another Christmas, exactly twelve years earlier.

It’s Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Getting’ into gear for four more years
Of things not getting’ worse
The Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, ‘He cannot seek another term
They’ll be no more FDRs’

There’s foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn
To listen to the radio
You’d think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It’s going straight to hell

“Man, that Earle guy knows what’s up,” I thought to myself. But then I got even more depressed, because more than a decade has passed, and nothing at all has changed. Check that; it’s gotten worse.

It went on like that for a while — brooding over the dimly lit screen of my computer, then flying upstairs to wrap a gift, then hurrying back to check my internet conversation threads, until, despite myself, I drifted off to sleep, still seated at the keyboard. And with that, I entered a fitful slumber.

Stave Two

Although technically asleep, my mind was by no means resting. That damned song kept passing across my consciousness:

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barricades are goin’ up
They cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We’re marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

As the bells of freedom ring … bells ringing … bells … BELLS! I awoke with a start. My forehead was resting on the keyboard and my computer was beeping to tell me to get the hell off.

I became aware of a presence in the room. I turned to find a ghostly apparition next to me in the room. “Great Marley’s Ghost,” I shouted, for it was Steve Earle himself. “What do you want with me?” I wailed. “Much!” is all he said. “Why do you trouble me?” I asked. He simply replied, “You will be haunted by two spirits,” then he pointed a guitar pick toward the bookshelves on the back wall, and with that he was gone.

“Thanks for nothing,” I shouted at no one in particular. But it was late of hour, and I was much in need of repose, so I slumped into my office chair and fell promptly back to sleep.

Stave Three

My slumbers were soon interrupted by a second apparition. This one had a shaved head, wore a Hawaiian shirt and clutched in one hand a pistol and in the other a tumbler of whiskey, while between his teeth he clenched a cigarette holder, which he removed with a curled index finger and began waving about the room. “Goddamn bats,” he screeched, then leveled his gaze at me. My voice-activated webcam recorded the conversation, which went as follows:

Ebenezer: Who and what are you?

Apparition: I am the ghost of Raoul Duke. [Then gesturing towards the window] Rise and walk with me.

We left my room and after passing through a haze of smoke, entered what appeared to be a Las Vegas casino. Casino security staff approached to try and take the pistol from the apparition.

Ghost of Raoul Duke (GoRD) [tucking the pistol in his waistband]: Don’t take any guff from these fucking swine.

GoRD [gesturing at the drunken crowds around the craps tables]: It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die. Who knows? If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix, with everyone being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there.

Somewhere in the casino, a slot machine paid off; the crowd cheered raucously.

GoRD: What passes for society is a loud, giddy whirl of thieves and pretentious hustlers, a dull sideshow full of quacks and clowns and philistines with gimp mentalities. Freedom, Truth, Honour — you could rattle off a hundred such words and behind every one of them would gather a thousand punks, pompous little farts, waving the banner with one hand and reaching under the table with the other. In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we know it. Doom is the operative ethic.

Ebenezer: Why won’t people wake up and see all the madness and deceit?

GoRD: Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. The importance of Liking Yourself is a notion that fell heavily out of favour during the coptic, anti-ego frenzy of the acid era — but nobody guessed back then that the experiment might churn up this kind of hangover; a whole subculture of frightened illiterates with no faith in anything.

A red convertible Cadillac pulled out of the casino bar and stopped at our feet. It was driven by a massive and clearly intoxicated man of Pacific Island descent.

Driver: Let’s give that boy a lift.

GoRD: We can’t stop here — this is bat country.

They grab me by the shoulders and push me in. We roar off through a swarm of bats and pterodactyls, and come to a stop next to a hotel swimming pool. There appears to be some sort of political convention going on.

Ebenezer: What can we do about this official madness and deceit and violence, why can’t we get off our asses and throw the bums out?

GoRD: The massive, frustrated energies of a mainly young, disillusioned electorate that has long since abandoned the idea that we all have a duty to vote. This is like being told you have a duty to buy a new car, but you have to choose immediately between a Ford and a Chevy.

GoRD [Gesturing toward a fat couple in matching red-white-and-blue track suits]: Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush? They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. George W. Bush was a natural-born loser with a filthy-rich daddy who pimped his son out to rich oil-mongers. He hates music, football and sex, in no particular order, and he is no fun at all — all the dumb bastard could show us, after eight years of total freedom to do anything he wanted with all this power, is a shattered national economy, disastrous defeat in a war, and a hand-picked personal staff whose collective criminal record will blow the minds of high-school American History students for the next 100 years. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be president?

GoRD [Shouting]: This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 300 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

Ebenezer: Well, what about Obama? Democrats seem to think he’ll fix everything and usher in a new progressive era.

GoRD: We’ve come to a point where every four years this national fever rises up — this hunger for the Savior — and whoever wins becomes so immensely powerful, like Obama will be now, that when you vote for President today you’re talking about giving a man dictatorial power for four years. The whole framework of the presidency is getting out of hand. It’s come to the point where you almost can’t run unless you can cause people to salivate and whip each other with big sticks. You almost have to be a rock star to get the kind of fever you need to survive in American politics.

Ebenezer: Why don’t the media expose the charlatans then?

GoRD: Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Bush to slither into the White House and launch a war on Iraq in the first place. You have to get Subjective to see things clearly. Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

We left the convention in the Cadillac and ended up at some kind of farm. There is gunfire and explosions. And strange birds shrieking in the woods.

Ebenezer: Since 9/11, Bush built up a massive security apparatus and world-wide military machine waging overt and covert wars all over the globe, while spying on everyone everywhere. Where the hell are the right-wingers who supposedly fear big government?

GoRD: We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear — fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts, or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.

GoRD [Blowing smoke rings towards the ceiling]: The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy… We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or all three at once. This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone.

Ebenezer: Bush said we were on a righteous crusade against the Axis of Evil, that we are the Good Guys.

GoRD: We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world, a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us. No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we’ll kill you.

We moved into a kitchen. There are piles of books and papers, old posters and perhaps twenty televisions all tuned to different channels.

Ebenezer: I know, I know. The fix is in, and we are savage and hated. So, where do you find solace then?

GoRD: The Edge … there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. So, every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas … with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether. I wouldn’t recommend sex, drugs or insanity for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me.

Ebenezer: Ye Gods, this is vicious and ugly. Spirit, remove me from this place. Leave me. Take me back. Haunt me no longer. (Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it?)

And with that he was gone. Since it was even later of hour, and I was in even greater need of repose, I slumped back into my office chair and fell promptly back to sleep.

Stave Four

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, I heard another bell ringing. Dammit, I had fallen asleep on the keyboard again. Sitting up to get my thoughts together, I soon became aware of yet another apparition. This one was tall and bearded and wearing flannel. He threw a crumpled beer can at my computer, tucked a monkey-wrench into his belt and then motioned toward a beat-up pickup truck that had appeared in my basement office, into which he climbed behind the wheel and glared at me like a vulture contemplating road-kill.

Apparition: Come in. Come in, and know me better, man.

Ebenezer: Say, did you pass a guy in a Hawaiian shirt when you came in?

Apparition: Among apparitions I have but one hero, and that is Raoul Duke. I honor him because he reports the simple facts, in plain language, of what he sees around him. His style is mistaken for fantastic, drug-crazed exaggeration, but that was to be expected. As always in this country, they only laugh at you when you tell the truth. He is one who sees — a seer.

He again beckons me into the truck, so I climb in amongst a pile of empty beer cans, dog-eared books and bottles of molasses.

Ebenezer: Alright, but before we go, I need to know who you are.

Apparition: I am called Henry Lightcap, but known as The Ghost of Cactus Ed.

He shifted the truck’s transmission into low-range, whereupon we plunged into a roiling flash flood, eventually coming to rest high-centered and hanging halfway out over the edge on the rim above a vast desert canyon. The silence of the place was deafening.

Ghost of Cactus Ed (GoCE): Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the antehuman, that other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse — its implacable indifference.

GoCE [Stamping his feet]: We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may not ever need to go there. Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.

Ebenezer: Yeah, but the Republicans insist that wilderness is a waste of valuable real estate.

GoCE: What most humans really desire is something quite different from industrial gimmickry, that is, liberty, spontaneity, nakedness, mystery, wildness and wilderness. And joy. Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless.

Ebenezer: Naked joy in the woods, that reminds me of the last time I took mushrooms. But I am too old and have too many responsibilities for that now.  What can we do to defend wild places now?

GoCE: The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders. Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in. Our job is to save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving.

Ebenezer: But wilderness — actual on-the-ground wilderness — is wild, and can be dangerous and scary. It freaks a lot of people out when bad things happen.

GoCE: If people persist in trespassing upon the grizzlies’ territory, we must accept the fact that the grizzlies, from time to time, will harvest a few trespassers.

As the truck shuddered and tilted forward a bit, Cactus Ed slammed it into gear and we careened down a canyon trail, until we came to a graded dirt road, which we followed to an industrial site. There were giant bulldozers kicking up huge plumes of dust, strange trucks on balloon tires crashing about in the sage, long lines of trailers marked “hazardous” and drilling derricks spewing flames from their tops.

Ebenezer: My God, it’s even more medieval than I imagined. It’s something out of Dante. This cannot be the only way to grow our economy.

GoCE: Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Everywhere I look, I see my own country overwhelmed by ugliness and mediocrity and overcrowding, the land smothered under airstrips and super-highways, the natural wealth of a million years squandered on atomic bombs and tin automobiles and television sets and ball-point pens.

Ebenezer: But the Republicans say we need more activity just like this, or our economy will crash and the terrorists will win.

GoCE: For more growth, we must give up the very qualities that make a high standard of civilized life still possible…for more development, we will transform what we prize into temporary jobs…and fat bank accounts for the powerful minority of land-speculators, tract-slum builders, bankers, car dealers and shopping mall hustlers who stand to profit. What we need is an optimum industrialism, neither too much or too little. Technology boosters say it’s the entire package, plagues and all, or nothing, but it is not true. We can pick and choose, we can learn to select this and reject that.

Ebenezer: The Republicans insist that we are ordained by God to uncover and use every bit of fossil fuel we can find, that’s why God put it there.

GoCE: From the point of view of a tapeworm, man was created by God to serve the appetite of the tapeworm. Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God, this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues. I believe in sun. In rock. In the dogma of the sun and the doctrine of the rock. The world is older and bigger than we are. This is a hard truth for some folks to swallow.

Ebenezer: Speaking of God, one of the people who ran for the GOP Presidential nomination is a Mormon.

GoCE: Mormonism: Nothing so hilarious could possibly be true. Or all bad.

We drive onto a highway and down into a shimmering desert city. Pulling into the driveway of a small house, we enter to find its occupant watching television on which there’s a conservative politician bloviating about “democracy” and “liberty”.

GoCE [Kicking the TV with his boot]: Bullshit! Democracy — rule by the people — sounds like a fine thing; we should try it sometime in America. Counterpart to the knee-jerk liberal is the knee-pad conservative, always groveling before the rich and powerful. Our “neoconservatives” are neither new nor conservative, but old as Babylon and evil as Hell. A true libertarian supports free enterprise, opposes big business; supports local self-government, opposes the nation-state; supports the National Rifle Association, opposes the Pentagon.

Ebenezer: Liberal; conservative; or libertarian — which has become and arm of the GOP — what choices are there besides statism or authoritarianism?

GoCE: There’s anarchism. Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners. Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.

Ebenezer: You know, there were protests by the left at the Democratic nominating convention this year. It was an echo of Chicago in 1968, complete with riot police beating up everyone who got in their way.

GoCE: A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government. Representative government has broken down. Our politicians represent not the people who vote for them but the commercial interests who finance their election campaigns. We have the best politicians that money can buy. The purpose and function of government is not to preside over change. But to prevent change. By political methods when unavoidable, by violence when convenient.

Ebenezer: But I don’t want to get arrested or beat up, or go to prison. I’ve got kids. I don’t want a psychopathic cell mate.

GoCE: Here’s how to overthrow the system: brew your own beer; kick in your tee vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.

Ebenezer: We’ve elected another charismatic Democrat; all the liberals are ecstatic, but I don’t buy it. He’s just more of the same corporatist DLC crap; beholden to Wall Street

GoCE: The one thing worse than a knee-pad Tory is a chickenshit liberal. The type that cannot say “shit” even when his mouth is full of it. Among politicians and businessman, Pragmatism is the current term for “To hell with our children.” “Be fair,” say the temporizers, “tell both sides of the story.” But how can you be fair to both sides of a rape? Of a murder? Of a massacre?

Ebenezer: There’s been a huge meltdown on Wall Street. The bankers committed gargantuan acts of fraud and theft and made bad bets that crashed the economy, now they are getting bailed out no questions asked while the middle class is eating a shit sandwich.

GoCE: When the biggest, richest, glassiest buildings in town are the banks, you know that town’s in trouble. One thing more dangerous than getting between a grizzly sow and her cub is getting between a businessman and a dollar bill. That’s why administrators are respected and school-teachers are not: An administrator is paid a lot for doing very little, while a teacher is paid very little for doing a lot. There is no force more potent in the modern world than stupidity fueled by greed. Nothing so mean could be right. Greed is the ugliest of the capital sins.

GoCE: It’s not all gloom though, take comfort in this: the rich can buy everything but health, virtue, friendship, wit, good looks, love, pride, intelligence, grace and, if you need it, happiness.

We leave the truck behind and strike off on foot. After walking for a very long time in silence, the apparition stops and spreads his arms out toward the vista of canyon country that lies before us.

GoCE [Speaking toward the horizon as in a benediction]: May your trails be dim, lonesome, stony, narrow, winding and only slightly uphill. May the wind bring rain for the slickrock potholes fourteen miles on the other side of yonder blue ridge. May God’s dog serenade your campfire, may the rattlesnake and the screech owl amuse your reverie, may great sun dazzle your eyes by day and the Great Bear watch over you by night.

Ebenezer: That’s a lovely sentiment, but it’s just too goddamned brutal out there to take seriously. NOTHING HAS GODDAMNED CHANGED.

GoCE: When the situation is desperate, it is too late to be serious. Be playful. In my case, saving the world was only a hobby. Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourself and your life for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.

Ebenezer: But what should I do? All I can do is write. Why should I write?

GoCE: Why write? Write to entertain your friends and exasperate your enemies. To record the truth of your time as best as you can see it. To investigate the comedy and the tragedy of human relationships. To oppose, resist and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a global technocratic police state whatever its ideological coloration. To oppose injustice, to defy power, and to speak for the voiceless.

He knelt down to the ground and picked up a handful of bones from the skeleton of a long-dead coyote and then held them for a moment in silence. Then he ground the bones into dust and they drifted off on the breeze.

Ebenezer: Answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only.

(A pause)

Ebenezer: Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.

(A pause)

I heard the sound of coyotes’ mournful howls. It sounded almost as if they were saying my name.

Coyotes: EBENEZER! EBENEZER! EBENEZER!

Overcome and trembling, I reared my head back and howled back at the distance: “No, Spirit. Oh no, no.” Then I stood up, drained, and an awakening washed over me like a waterfall deep in a hidden canyon. I turned to the spirit and spoke.

Ebenezer: Spirit, hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. I see now that nothing ever really changes, but the important thing is what we do with our lives. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. I will not burn out or turn away from life and hide in my basement seething on internet chat boards.

At that, the apparition transformed into a Turkey Buzzard, craned his neck toward me and croaked: “remember, Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.” And then he flew spirals into the sky and disappeared from sight.

Stave Five

I must have fallen back asleep onto my keyboard, because I awoke once again to the ringing of a bell. Nope, it was the doorbell this time, and I was in my own bed. Church bells began to ring. Christmas morning was before me!

Oh glorious, glorious! I ran to the top of the stairs and shouted: “Merry Christmas, wife. Merry Christmas, kids. Merry Christmas, in-laws. And God bless us, every one.”

Malcolm McMichael lives in Carbondale, Colorado, with his wife and kids. 

 

Marshall Pass

cliff

All illustrations by Michele Murray

All roads lead somewhere if you can make it that far…

Hmmm, I’ve been on this road at least a thousand times before, though maybe not in this lifetime …

The situation was the result of an error in the phenomenon of mechanical navigation. Batteries must have been running low in the sextant. The stars were wobbling on their axes, not speaking truthfully to my technical instruments. Night-time astral-bodies in the sky were obscured from my eye by The Big One — that great ball of plasma in our sky: the Earth’s Sun. Once you make a couple of wrong turns and realize you don’t know where you are, you find yourself committed to your journey because now I have to see what’s around the next bend. Yeah, you could turn around and maybe you should turn around — you might even ACTUALLY TURN AROUND before all the other people wonder WHY DIDN’T SHE TURN AROUND? when they read about the discovery of your foolish ass a year after you have disappeared on the other side of this new (to you) mountain.

Maybe I “should” turn around. “Would-should-could” — those are some kind of auxiliary verbs, I think, like the other verbs joggling around in my 5th-grade memory cells:“be-am-is-are-was-were-have-had-has-will-shall-would-should-or-could.”  Yes, I think these are all some kind of verbs unlike the action verb, “turn around.” Why am I perpetually in this situation, unable to do something as seemingly simple as turn around?

Examination of the immediate vicinity: The edge of the dirt road is crumbly and fairly steep, but the width of the road is not completely unmanageable should I decide with logic to turn around.

I “could” turn this Subaru around if I wanted to, utilizing about 5-7 forward-and-backward turns. That wouldn’t be a K-turn or a Y-turn; rather it would be a W-turn or a VW-turn.

Cliff: Unfathomable in the sense of leagues below the abyss “SHOULD” I go over the side, demonstrating another action verb: PLUNGING TO DEATH. At the least, I would-should-could sustain a serious injury if I crash.

If I decide to turn around, I would have to be vewy vewy cawful.

The edge of this dirt road is unreliable in that sort of soft shoulder kind of way.

This is exactly the kind of place a person in a car goes over the side and no one finds her until the middle of elk hunting season — the last hunting season — the one right before Christmas when men return home to their annoyed wives all smelly and dirty but nonetheless happy with themselves for that personal stink of freedom.

Hmmm, I might not go over the edge if I turn around carefully and I might even find myself headed safely back to the starting point where I THINK I made a wrong turn and I might then possibly figure out where I am. On the other hand, there is one more bend in the road, one more high spot beyond my current topographical horizon and a person really probably should see what’s on the other side for the sake of that time in the future when a person will have to rely on memories of places she’s explored because I’ll likely end up sitting beside the window sill of the State Mental Hospital for a long time one day. SIGH … I look forward to wearing jammies and working on jigsaw puzzles all day when I am retired.

THE MIGHTY LORD O’ GOD DIRECTS MY SUBARU!

I have no say in the matter. A power larger than my steering wheel is in control. I’m just a piece of biota in the sea of life. Besides, I am certain the LORD-O-GOD has been here before, probably just this morning. Thing is, sometimes the LORD-O-G puts a big impassable boulder in the road, or washes it out, or arranges other events of interest — such as that wild buckskin mustang mare with the soft eyes trapped up to her bloody belly in a cattle guard way out in the remotest part of central Nevada. My, that turned out to be quite a day … Sheesh! I’m not ready for a day like that again…

I don’t know where this road goes but I am going to follow it as long as my car keeps rolling.

I am bleeding like a leaking box of wine, too, and down to my last single tampon and last single beer (Stella Artois — a tall can and an O.B. — the super-dooper kind).

This has got to be Gold Camp Road. I know where I am now. I am somewhere above Cheyenne Mountain. I’ve been here a thousand times before.

Fork in the road with a sign pops up: “No trailers beyond this point.”

Hmmm, well I’ve got that going for me. No trailer. No boat. No ATV no dirt bike no cellular service no tampon and no beer in reserve. Where the heck does this pass come out? How far from my destination have I strayed? Can my Subaru make it?

These questions enter my mind, as does my underwear. Some women are completely fastidious about their moon-cycle. They keep gear handy — things like “emergency applications” — and they always have a plan. I knew a woman who would change up her hygiene equipment every twenty minutes or so in order to avoid the sensation of actually feeling that warm, moist, evacuation of human-genetic-effluent being expunged from her body. She washed compulsively and changed her panties all day long. A great amount of money and women-lore goes into learning how to get rid of that dark little stain of dried blood on cotton.

Cold Water. That’s the key to removing fresh blood from fabric. If it’s dried blood — then that solution ain’t gonna work, though. If it’s a blood stain on your skirt or dress slacks, yer looking at an awkward visit to the dry cleaners. You can tell the Korean behind the counter that it’s grape juice or wine. They know what it is. They can get it out for $. It’s not worth the embarrassment to me. TAKE MY MONEY, GIVE ME MY CLEANED SKIRT BACK AND DON’T TELL ANYONE.

Women sometimes have fevers, feel nausea, suffer headaches, a bit of disorientation and intermittently experience emotional sensitivity during this celestial-vestigial-carnilogical-uterineal event. If I “spot” (that is to bleed through the gear a little bit), I toss my panties away. Forget that cold water and neurotic gotta-clean-it-like-a-raccoon-with-a-fish-at-the-river reaction. Throw it away. Done. Such was the case today: stuff the offensive panties under the car seat for trashing later. Stuff some facial tissue down there instead. Good. Unfortunately, in about an hour, my jeans got spotted as well.

No problem. I can handle this. I’ve still got a swimming suit and fishing waders I can put on.

A woman colleague of mine confided to me an event in the Amargosa Desert where she had been mapping volcanic stratigraphy with her male boss. She is a bit older than I am and recounted that the onset of menopause for her meant higher flows for a while — flows that verged on draining the life out of her. During that field excursion, she began to bleed like that giant Achilles in “Jason and the Argonauts” — the ORIGINAL Argonauts movie with Kirk Douglas (1960s science fiction at its finest). Kirk Douglas unscrewed a door in Achilles’ ankle and emptied his entire bodily contents of fluid like a discharge from Hoover Dam. That’s how my friend was describing her bleeding. She was literally draining to the point of passing out. All she could do was apologize to her boss, who turned the expedition around and headed back to the truck to return to base camp. She bled heavily through her pad, her panties, her trousers and left a pool of blood on the front seat. She had to lie down to rejuvenate and try to generate more blood overnight before getting up in the morning. Her flow eventually stopped short of a medical emergency.

That scenario made me wonder how women in Neolithic societies must have dealt with the flow? My lesbian gym teachers in Jr. High school (What? Yeah — they were Lesbos for real. So what? I’m not making this up. They were.) — told me that some primitive societies consider menstruation to be a curse — “The devil is with her,” they said of the Neolithic people muttering in Neolithic camps.

bear illustration

DIGRESSION 

I asked my huzbun if anyone in his family ever told him Bible stories. He said no. I asked him who then told him about the devil? He asked, “What’s the devil?”

END DIGRESSION

Those lesbian gym teachers told me a lot of information about adolescence, but not in enough detail for me to grasp the entire picture. For example: sex-Ed. Yeah, all of us kids knew it was called sex-Ed because it was supposed to be educating us about sex. We were nervous. However, at no time did the “film-loops” we watched ever show any sex. There was a cartoon of a uterus and a diagram of menstruation. They showed where pubic hair was going to start growing one day. (“Over my dead body! Not me!” I swore.) They showed a cartoon of the egg and then the sperm swimming against the egg’s big body, and then the egg began to multiply. I saw a schematic silhouette in cartoon of an erect penis but they didn’t show a sperm coming out of a penis. They didn’t show a penis in a vagina, either.

As a consequence, I left the room not knowing exactly where my vagina was (I was skeptical about that) or that I would be bleeding from a mysterious place between my legs from which I also pee. (Clueless.) I also did not know that a penis goes into the vagina or that sperm comes out of the end of the penis or that babies come out of the vagina. Why would I figure that out on my own? I didn’t live on a farm. I never saw what animals do. Television and movies simply did not show that stuff back then. When I did learn about what happens during sex from Patty Sellers — she was Catholic and was the most experienced girl I ever knew — I thought that she was making it up. Sex was completely science fiction: a lie, a bad story, had to be some sick person’s idea of a joke (a joke from a sick person like my VBF Patty …).

grasshut illustration

I left sex-Ed class and stumbled through my adolescence one incident at a time, all the while Patty Sellers (my college roommate by then) laughing at me. My first date in college was with a handsome timpani player in the orchestra a couple of years older than me. I went to his house to “neck.” I was ready for some “heavy petting.” During this process, the poor man partially disrobed me and attempted to “go down on me.” I had no idea WHAT he was doing and was so freaked out that I grabbed my clothes and ran straight out of his house half naked and snuck my way back to the dormitory. I woke Patty up to tell her the weird action of this psychopath. She laughed her ass off at me, told me what he was attempting to do, and then tried to get me to introduce him to her in the future. I was aghast people would do such things to each other and avoided him the rest of the year. I hope he understands now that’s what happens when you date a really naïve virgin from Aurora, Colorado.

My current exploratory drive up the pass of this very familiar mountain consumed a quarter of my already half-empty tank of gas before I considered myself lost. The errant journey required at least half of my last beer before I reached what I assumed was the summit. I pulled off the road to peruse the scene and assess my situation (and to formulate some explanation to provide my huzbun should I ever see him again, as to maybe why I did not make it home that evening).

View: Wow! Ponds! Time to fish! In the meadow below me, beaver ponds leaked through a marshy bog down the inclined valley linked one to another in a sequence like pearls on a string. No sign of rising brookies on the surface, though. That might change if I were to look more closely.

My plan: I needed to change into my swimsuit and waders for hygiene’s sake anyway. Stuff those tainted blue jeans under the seat with stained panties to commiserate together in the dark. The hike to the ponds would involve sinking and trudging through knee-high slime and lumpy bumpy marsh grass with mosquitoes sticking their proboscises between every sweaty pore in my exposed face and forearms. The ardor of this feat will require my beer ditty bag. My beer can rides in a little ditty bag that attaches to my fishing fanny pack by a thick Velcro strap. My huzbun thinks this little bag was designed to carry a water bottle, but I know better.

I nursed my warm, half-a-beer on this hike through mucky marsh to discover there are no fish in the meadow ponds out in the middle of this mountain paradise. My legs were sinking knee-deep into the black ooze. I tried to turn, but my feet were stuck. I was now a human popsicle stick for a bear should one come by. My legs were stuck in the marsh by suction and sinking an inch with every tug. I had to sway my body forward and allow air to seep down into the mud before the bog would release my foot. I did this leaning, sucking, teetering march under the afternoon sun, with mosquitoes blaring in my ears all the way back to the car, every once in a while turning to see if some sneaky trouties were rising behind my back. No sign. By the time I made it back to semi-solid ground — enough solid ground to stop and partake of my Holy warm beer — the can was severely diminished. Sadly, a light came on the side of the can: “Low on beer.” I wasn’t totally without emergency rations. I was on my way home from a party in Gunnison the night before and in my Subaru was a vat of vegetarian lasagna, 1½ gallons purple pomegranate-blueberry juice with rum, tossed salad, 2 pieces of homemade pound cake, jumper cables, a tool box, 2 shovels and a spare 7-foot 3-weight fly rod. I had 5 royal wulffs, assorted elk-hair caddis, baetis, terrestrials, nymphs, pulpa, pupa, larvae and octopus patterns. No spare tampon or beer, though.

In primitive societies women were (are?) removed from the community arena and made to stay inside special huts away from everyone else because “She gots the curse.” On my return hike to my car from the beaver ponds, I had the insight that these poor girls had been poked, impregnated, miscarried, birthed, lost babies and suckled babies ever since they were nubile enough to become the apple of some horny old goat’s eye and this was not going to end for any reason as long as they were fertile. By the time these girls had been through the gamut month after month for a couple of years, it was probably one of them who had the idea to make a special hut and to get away from the bastards for a while — no men, no kids

Tell ’em I gots the curse. Tell ’em all to stay away and I mean it.” The ancient women probably had lovely candles, incense, soft music and chocolate in the special huts.

DIGRESSION 

When women spend time together, say working in an office or taking the same class on a regular basis, they begin to menstruate at the same time. Fact.

END DIGRESSION

Sign on the primitive society women’s hut: “Stay away — Devil in here!”

I returned to my car from my marsh hike sweating, bleeding, nursing the dregs of my dying can of beer and having not seen a trout. I got in my Subaru and rolled it back onto the mountain road wondering where I would come out and how far off course I was from any road leading home.

What will my huzbun think of me? Will he make some kind of “rule,” like I have to start calling him and telling him where I am, when I am leaving or HEY!! I know where I am now — I’m on Rampart Range above Rainbow Falls. I am near the Hayman Fire area. Hmmm, maybe this is Idaho …

I drove on but not so apprehensively now. The road was in better condition on the far side of the pass. Strangely, I saw in the speckled shadow being thrown by aspen leaves overhanging the road ahead a doe lying in the road on her belly with legs folded under her. Her head was up and her ears bent toward the sound my approaching car.

Oh, God. Is this the big event you planned for my day? Is this why you directed me here? Is this deer partially severed? Half-paralyzed? Broken-legged? Semi-eviscerated? Did you bring me here to dispatch her? Move her? Comfort her? Bear witness to her suffering?

I slowed my car down, shifted to neutral, rolled the window down and turned the engine off. As I quietly approached, she attempted to get up by extracting one leg from under her belly. My car slowly rolled past her with only the sound of my rubber tires crunching in the gravel. I looked. She flopped her ears at pesky flies and settled back down in her spot on the road in the shade. Just resting her fat deer belly. No traumatic event in my path to deal with today.

I rolled a little ways past her, reengaged the engine, turned on my music. Lucinda Williams popped up on my iPod through the radio singing one of her soulful, burnt-out-old-whore kind of songs. After not very long, a convoy of ATVs approached me coming from yonder mountain head-on driven by brown-clad BOY SCOUTS — the older ones who have peach-fuzz cheeks and bony knees and bobbing Adam’s apples. They probably did not know the downhill-uphill law of mountain driving, which would require that I (being the downhill driver) was required to yield and backup so that they (being the uphill party) could pass.

They slowed down as we all approached head-on. Eyes were big. I don’t know what they thought they were looking at, but it was simply a woman in a Subaru wearing a bikini and rubber pants. Not like I was a cougar or anything as exciting. I know they were waiting for me to speak, like what could I possibly say? They were expecting the beginning of an adventure, I am sure. They were expecting me to say, “HELP! My baby is lost in the woods and I don’t know where to find her AND my leg is broken — a compound fracture. I think I’m going into a state of shock and I have a snake-bite!”

That’s what Boy Scouts look for in the forest: women with compound fractures, snake bites and missing family members — babies are better. Instead, I told them:

Hi, fellas — hey, please watch out for a deer sleeping on the road up there. She’s OK, not hurt or anything, just napping in the shade on the road. Say you guys, I haven’t been on this road before. Am I gonna bust an axle if I go any farther — because I’ve busted an axle before and I don‘t want to do that again. Do you think the rest of this drive is OK for a car like mine?

They surmised my situation, evaluated my vehicle and told me no problem that the road is good enough for cars and they would watch out for the deer. I wondered if any of them had any beer. Better not ask. There were old guys with them — the protective type. I waited until they all passed — all nine of them. Probably Eagle Scouts. They had no idea they are talking to a lady without panties bleeding in her waders. I am pretty sure they didn’t have any beer.

Maybe this is Old Monarch Pass or maybe Red Mountain Pass. I should have asked them what this mountain pass is called.

Willie on the iPod!!! Everything will be good for sure now. Keep going. Watch out for boulders and deer on the road. Never you mind about the rum and purple juice in the cooler. The LORD-O-G doesn’t believe in mixing hard alcohol with driving.

At least not yet.

DIGRESSION 

I dated a Greek bookie in New York City for a while whose sole objective was to make a living without doing anything legal for his entire life. When he was a kid in New Hampshire, he worked at a fast-food joint and accidentally left the fry-o-lator on high after his first shift. The place burned down and he was given an insurance adjustment with all the other employees for the rest of the summer. Same summer, he got new job at a movie theater and learned that during the show no one knew where he was, so he would slip out and go to a third job with the highway department hired to sit in a folding lawn chair on a cliff and count cars that went by every hour. He would take a nap in the chair while collecting three paychecks and make up numbers to write on the log sheet. One afternoon, he woke up because the boss had come upon him and kicked his chair out from under his napping ass. He liked the money, though. He was only 13 years old but he was already completely addicted to having a lot of cash in hand for little or no output.

THAT GUY — the flaky dishonest illegal shifty two-timing lying slippery weasel Greek bookie from New Hampshire living in New York City — that guy once barked at me, “Why do YOU WOMEN always run out of tampons? You know you’re going to need them. It happens every month. Why the big surprise every time it happens, like you forgot? Why don’t you buy more than one month at a time of those things???

I don’t know. He runs out of cigarettes all the time and it’s not like he’s ever NOT going to want a cigarette again for the rest of his life. Despite that, I started to buy boxes of tampons by the case. I stowed them in my purse, office drawers, my bassoon case, my sister’s house, my mom’s house, my other sister’s house, my boyfriend’s house, my other boyfriend’s house … I had caches of tampons on the scale of a squirrel going into deep winter with a bevy of teenager girl-squirrels menstruating left and right in squirrel moon-cycles (which I think is like every other week …). I kept this up for a really long time until I began to travel internationally. I really had to limit myself to the barest of minimum of carry-on stuff so as to avoid checking luggage and I took to buying tampons on the road again rather than transporting caches of them. THAT is how I ended up in the High Country without a beer or tampon, both of which I direly needed.

END DIGRESSION

I headed down the mountain enjoying my iPod despite lack of beer and noticed the little lever that points to a series of tick marks that symbolize the state of my gasoline capacity was hovering BELOW the letter E. I know exactly how much forward motion I can get out of one gallon of gasoline in each of my vehicles. I also know that the little lever will move up or down with respect to how level the car is and therefore how skewed the last drops of combustible carbon-based liquid might be lying in the tank relative to the floating bobber in there. (I don’t know if there is a floating bobber in there, but that is how I imagine the system works, kind of like a toilet bobber turning the input of water off in the reserve tank — right?) I don’t usually get excited about the E on the gas tank meter. That lever can go way way below the E before the red gasoline-gauge light comes on the dash. If I am driving with a nervous type of person and he or she seems to be getting upset about that little red gasoline-gauge light, I will cover it up with something like with a piece of black electric tape for their sake until we can coast into a station. Besides, there is a reserve, and that is usually a gallon in my experience and a car can usually get AT LEAST 10 miles more on reserve — even if it is a gas hog — so 10 miles is a lot of distance yet to put on the wheels. No worries.

In this frame of mind, I focused my energy into downhill economy mode utilizing coasting and gravity whenever possible, cursing any slight incline in the rolling mountain road.

OMG —  I’m in New Mexico — I know where this road goes … WHERE DOES THIS ROAD GO?

I was in an urgent state.

One time I came rolling out of a steep, rocky mountain gully into the back pasture of an apple orchard in New Mexico. The rancher would normally have shot first but he was so amazed to see a little red clown car of a Toyota come climbing over the boulders that he allowed himself the opportunity to get to know me. Another time, I made my way onto another dirt road way below the “E” on my gas-o-meter and about five miles into the red gas-tank light being on. I had no idea how far I would have to go to find gas. I evaluated the quality of maintenance on the fences along the roadside to try and determine how close I was to a habitable place where I might beg for some gas, provided I was not surrounded by pit bulls, dobbies, rotties and guns. On that other trip, I eventually drove past a lively Mexican dance going on under a tin-roofed pavilion, so I spruced myself up, entered the bar area and asked for gasoline. No gasoline there, but the tortillas were fresh and the beer was free.

I don’t remember any painful long walks due to lack of gas — OK, maybe one. I have actually run out of gas and had a dead vehicle on the side of the road twice. The first time, however, after I slept in the vehicle till morning — the condensation created a mini-reservoir of liquid from vapor phase overnight, and the F-150 straight-six 3-on-the-tree pickup truck started up “va-ROOOM!” and we (truck and I) made it to the next off ramp somewhere north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and coasted into a gas station right next to the pump before she died for good. It was at least 30 years later that I ran out of gas for the second time and I attribute that to being in someone else’s car (the gauges you know are all in different places in different vehicles …)

On today’s particular journey, I eventually popped out on a more-developed dirt road and took a left because left went downhill. I passed the Boy Scout jamboree camp full of chaperones milling about, big tents and empty pickup trucks with ATV trailers. That road joined up with a paved road, which led to a four-lane highway, which led to Poncha Pass, which opens out onto the Great Alluvial Plains near Salida. Bought gas, beer, tampons and some of those cheesy-peanut butter crackers. Made it home before my huzbun got home from work. He had no idea where I had been. I didn’t tell him about the journey, either. Save that kind of info for when we are old and I need to tell him something to get him all riled up about so he won’t die. Just being with him in our house and being surrounded by calm, stable time together makes me feel centered. Keeps me out of jail, too. When he came home, I could tell he sensed my day had been full of stories that I was not going to share. Instead, I told him:“I don’t know how old I am on a day-to-day basis, but I do know that when I finally become really old, I am gonna scare myself. Oh, and I’m on my period so watch out.

He shook his head slowly in agreement.

Long-time contributor Michele Murray is a geologist, concert bassonist and dog trainer who lives in Lake George, CO.