Upwards

“If you deny what you know, or what you are, or where you are, you deny the simplest part of being alive, and then you die.”

—Bel Kaufman, “Up the Down Staircase”

The news came circuitously, and slowly, as is the way of these sorts of entrepreneurial endeavors: The Mountain Gazette was once again simultaneously on the clock and on the block, and word came my way that a scion of the Old Dominion was interested in perhaps adding this humble enterprise to his corporate kingdom. Lordy, lordy, thought I, the last MG owner was an Englishman (a man from the country of my birth), now a Virginian (a man from the state where I mostly grew up). “Where do I need to go to get away from these people?” I asked myself, once again thinking that, if Gila Country is not far enough from the roots of my past, then I might have to consider moving to Alaska, or maybe even Bolivia. But, with the Internet and cell phones, as well as the microchip that the government has likely already planted in the brain stem of each and every one of us, truly there is no place one can go to outrun his origins, lest he don a loin cloth and start eating slugs with the Bush People.

But first things first. For those of you keeping score, here is a short chronology of the Mountain Gazette:

• 1966-72: Mike Moore founded and published Skiers’ Gazette from Denver.

• Famed Mountaineer Bob Craig hooks Moore up with Woody Creek, Colo., resident George Stranahan. The two hit it off and decide to morph Skiers’ Gazette into the Mountain Gazette.

• 1976: Moore leaves MG and is replaced as editor by Gaylord Guenin. Office is moved from Denver to Boulder.

• 1979: The MG ceases publication. People like yours truly lament this passing.

• 2000: Stranahan, Curtis Robinson and yours truly resurrect MG and base the magazine in Summit County, Colo.

• 2006: We sell MG to Paonia, Colo.-based GSM Publishing.

• 2008: GSM passes the magazine onto New York City-based Skram Media, which also owns Climbing magazine and Urban Climber. For the first time, the MG is owned by people from, of all things, the East. And flat East, at that. And even worse, urban flat East.

• June 2010: GSM transfers management of its assets to California-based Active Interest Media, a mega-publishing conglomerate. AIM puts out the word that MG is far too small a “title” for its “portfolio,” which also includes Backpacker magazine. If a buyer is not found pronto, then they will close the magazine down. Yours truly, who for a long time back in the dark past, used to be a contributing editor at Backpacker, yells,

“FUCK!!!!” at the top of his lungs, and wonders if, by some weird manifestation of karmic/cosmic convergence, I somehow have become reincarnated as myself before even passing away. Yours truly starts shopping for loincloths and eyeballing maps to find out where the Bush People actually live.

• August 2010: Charlottesville, Virginia-based Summit Publishing, which also owns Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, Elevation Outdoors magazine and Breathe magazine, procures the Gazette. Yours truly is asked to stay on as editor. Yours truly places a hold on his order from bushpeopleattire.com.

So, OK, a couple months ago, there I am, sitting on my front porch, smoking a Macanudo, when the phone rings and a familiar lilting regional accent — one I only hear nowadays when I talk to my brother on the phone — lets me know that, once again, the MG has been acquired by a company located not exactly in the middle of what we consider our prime conceptual area. You can imagine the length and breath of my sigh. I listened for an hour or so to what sounded like the introduction to an MBA honors seminar titled, “How To Say All the Right Things,” then put my retarded noggin in my hands and wondered what was going to become of the magazine that more than one acquaintance has called M. John’s baby. Then I pulled said retarded noggin out of said hands, smacked myself square in the face and said to my cat, who looked even more perplexed than usual (and that’s saying a mouthful), “Well, come what may, at least we’re still alive and kicking!”

Then, a funny thing happened next time I checked my email. I started getting communiqués from people whose opinions I actually care about informing me in no uncertain terms that the new owner, Blake DeMaso, is a perfect fit for both me and the MG. We made arrangements to meet, first in Summit County, then, a day later, in Leadville. The meetings covered a wide swath of conversational territory during a perfect blend of driving through the High Country just as the first tendrils of autumn were visiting the aspen forests and sitting in dimly lit watering holes as people I hadn’t seen in a while sidled up and, via a combination of slurs and yells, filled me in on the latest local happenings.

It was while hunkering down over Fat Tires in the Scarlet in Pb that I told Blake I intended to distill our long, rambling discourse into a very honest Smoke Signals, wherein I would straight-faced let the MG tribe know what is in store for this magazine.

Two things before I do just that.

First, Summit Publishing, which, as I said, owns three — now four — magazines, also has a deal with another halfdozen or so titles covering the geographic spectrum from Washington State to Utah to Vermont. That deal is called Outdoor Adventure Media, which gives Blake and his sales associates the ability to go to the very biggest companies that would have any interest whatsoever in advertising in outdoor media — the Subarus and Apples of the corporate world — and offer them the opportunity to advertise in all of the Outdoor Adventure Media affiliates. Now, I know it’s going to sound to a lot of our long-time readers as though I’m tooting the horn of a corporation I barely know, but I hope you will believe me when I say that, of all the things that, if I could have pushed one magic button while I owned the MG, that would have been it: To find a way to entice advertisers who would not look at us otherwise because we were simply too small and too regional. You have no idea how much breathing room that would have given us.

Those who view those words with skepticism, even perhaps with cynical bewilderment, wondering if perhaps I haven’t turned to the dark side, hear ye these syllables: The magazine publishing world these days is seriously tough. Since the MG was resurrected in 2000, many publications familiar to mountain dwellers have gone bye-bye, among them Mountainfreak, Sports Guide, Rocky Mountain Sports, National Geographic Adventure, ForbesLife MountainTime and, most recently, Inside Outside Southwest. The fact that we have managed to hold on is a flat-out miracle, and, now, the thought that we might have the opportunity to attract some larger advertisers does nothing more than make me breathe a huge, monster sigh of relief.

But—and this is a big “but”—there is now going to be justifiable concern about the effect being part of a magazine group HQed in the Blue Ridge Mountains (with additional offices in Ashville, N.C., and Boulder) that will focus serious effort on attracting advertising dollars from companies that employ people who actually wear ties to work won’t have a deleterious impact on, potentially, every aspect of a magazine that prides itself on oftentimes an anti-corporate attitude and a certain lack of maturity that we feel accurately reflects life in Mountain Country.

That is a perfect valid concern, and one that I share. Blake DeMaso has stressed to me his intentions to return the MG to its attitudinal roots. He has stressed to me that, even though his other magazines might be a bit more traditional in their appearance and editorial offerings, does not mean that the Gazette will come to resemble them. Certainly, time will tell.

Last: The main thing that has attracted me to Blake DeMaso at this point, besides the fact that he used to be a liquor salesman, and the fact that he enjoys and occasional tumbler of whiskey, is the fact that he already knows and loves the MG. He has long had a stack of them in his office in Charlottesville, and can refer to past stories and writers as though he were quoting Scripture. That’s damned sure better than the way things have been the past couple of years.

So, OK, I decided to ask Blake DeMaso, the new owner of the magazine you now hold in your hands, five questions, the answers to which I have included below. Here goes.

MJF: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your background.

BD: I am a mountain guy from the small college town of Charlottesville, VA. I like to do most of the same things that people in Colorado and New Mexico like to do: hike, bike, camp, ski, paddle, drink adult beverages … I just do them at 3,000 feet. I have been in publishing for about 10 years, and I consider myself lucky every day to wake up and do something that I love (publishing) that deals with my favorite subject (the outdoors).

MJF: You’ve apparently been a Mountain Gazette reader for years. How did someone living in Charlottesville come to be a Gazette fan?

BD: I traveled out to Colorado a few times a year for the same reason that most of us East Coasters come, which is to take a stab at the big mountains and the deep snow. I figured out quickly that 1) I was not as good of a skier as I thought I was, 2)my East Coast skis and other equipment were not made for Colorado and 3) the beer out West seemed to taste better. So I found myself in a bar, exhausted, drinking beer, and I read my first issue of MG. It wasn’t easy getting copies of MG in Charlottesville, so, before there were subscriptions offered, I had a network of people set up from places where MG was distributed and I would bribe them to send it to me. As soon as subscriptions, were offered I was all over it.

MJF: How did you come to acquire MG and how does it fit into your overall portfolio and vision?

BD: I would say that it was mostly an emotional decision because I love the Gazette, but, as luck would have it, it fits pretty well into my bigger publishing business right now. Honestly, about five years ago, I actually tried to acquire MG so that I could bring it into my national network of independently owned outdoor publications. They turned me down, so about two years ago, I started a magazine on the Front Range called Elevation Outdoors, but I still kept my eye on Mountain Gazette. In terms of editorial and distribution, MG and EO are very different, so when we added MG, it gave me a chance to add a more-extensive distribution network in mountain towns throughout Colorado and the Rockies. All of my publications are mostly funded by advertising revenue, so that they are free to the readers, and adding MG doubled our current circulation in Colorado and the Rockies.

MJF: You’ve expressed a desire to return the MG to its roots. Care to expound on that?

BD: I think the Gazette has deep roots and passionate readers and, while I am always interested in ways to expose new people to the publication, I think that tinkering with the editorial and look and feel of the magazine is messing with what makes the magazine great. Starting with the November issue, we will increase the size of the magazine. We intend to start putting significant effort back into our covers, which at one time people used for wall art. We plan to back off a bit on the theme issues, so we can have a bit more latitude on the editorial copy we choose to run. We want to get our distribution numbers back to where they were five years ago. We plan to resurrect the Mountain Music section and are talking about re-introducing some other departments we used to run, like Bumpersticker, Poetry and Lost Art. There’s a lot to do, I know, but it will be worth the effort.

MJF: There are going to be members of the MG tribe who are going to react to all this by saying, “Here we go again — another Easterner with entrepreneurial aspirations taking ownership of the Mountain Time Zone’s preeminent literary journal.” What’s your response to what many people would consider a reasonable concern?

BD: I know, I know. I have already heard this. I guess I considered myself part of the Tribe before I became the owner. Actually, I still can’t believe that I am now the owner. I have been taking “inspiration” (a publishing term for “knocking off”) from the Gazette for 10 years, so my number-one focus is getting back to where it was when there was an office in Summit County, Colorado. I know there are going to be a lot of skeptics, especially after the last few years. I think it won’t take long before the Tribe realizes we are back on the right path.

So, OK, there you have it. I will say at this point: For the first time in years, I am optimistic about the future of the Mountain Gazette.

As always, I would look forward to receiving your input on these or any other MG-related matters. mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com

Letters – October 2010


The List Guy: Thoughts About Cool Things and The Fine Line

Editor’s note: After priming the creative pump of both yours truly (Smoke Signals,“Listing Who We Are, MG #166) and the MG Tribe (via the two dozen or more Letters we have run on the subject), Dave Baldridge, whose idea it was for people to list the cool things they have done, has come back to us with his reflections on the whole process.

This is a lot deeper water than I ever imagined. The list was kind of spontaneous, and now I’m thinking about what it’s worth, if in fact it’s worth anything at all. At least the psychic rummaging around has been heating, in kind of a weird way, as editor Fayhee aptly puts it.

It’s allowed (forced) me to think for the first time about whether there are patterns in my list. Re-arranging it in chronological order, I see a lot of self-testing, especially in the older things. There’s also a lotta need for validation, but that’s never been any secret, according to my friends. My abundant search for approval probably isn’t all that different from other “cool-thing” pilgrims. Neither does it call for psychoanalysis; it’s just a list.

One unintended byproduct is that it pushed out my adrenaline threshold. Progressively over the years, it’s taken more and more to get high. Better drugs, bigger risks. I’ve come to think of this tendency as “fool’s gold.” It never led me to resolution or peace or lasting satisfaction — it’s an endless highway, littered with lotsa wrecks.

I got good at healing. And falling. As Dick Dorworth described in his 1970s MG classic “Night Driving,” there is an art to healing. Ski racers, he says, are sometimes very good at it.

On the mountain bike trip to Nepal (Item 8), I had a couple of horrendous falls, potential helicopter evac stuff. Came up unscathed both times, although helmet and sunglasses were broken. Previous experience with falling helped. Have had practice healing from broken clavicle, ribs, toe, wrist, hip, nose (21 fractures), three knee/ankle surgeries, several hundred stitches, kidney removal and a couple of times from a broken heart. That last item was the hardest.

When I left the mountains after a couple of decades, my next job took me deep into Native America. It was with a national Indian aging organization, advocating for American

Indian elders. I careened into it with the usual abandon, but this time something was different. Looking back, I feel a real sense of peace and worth about it. The only difference, adventure-wise, is that it was for the benefit of someone else, not for me. That was the key. It turned everything around, opened internal doors that were very rusty. Interesting that this only shows up once on the list (item 26).

Even now, though, it feels good to have all this stuff embedded in my psyche like road rash gravel. It’s hard to get too upset by some account executive freaking out when you’ve been chased by a head-hunting rodeo bull (item 1) or looked an avalanche fatality in the eye (item 11).

As it turns out, if I could ever write a book (never done that), these things on my list would probably be the chapters. I didn’t expect this. My girlfriend says it should be called “Going Big: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Stupidity . . . or How I Got My Knee Brace.”

Anyway, here’s what I, the list guy, hope I’ve learned in the process of getting the brace.

• What’s cool for you may not be cool for someone else. Many won’t understand or care about the coolest things.

• When you go out, take your whole heart with you, not just adrenaline. If it’s not in your heart, it isn’t cool.

• If it matters to you, it matters. Cool comes from inside, not the spectators at the finish line.

• What’s the difference? Maybe only that someone imagined something larger .

• You’re gonna get hurt. Not every time but enough. That’s why more people don’t do cool things. Cool and risk usually go hand in hand.

• Gotta try to live large. That’s what it’s all about. Well, that and being kind.

• Don’t compare self to anyone else after it happened. Winning or losing has no home among cool things; it orbits on the periphery.

• Visualize. Many a man hath seen himself in dreams. Try to channel the best before you launch.

• Roll with the punches. They can be important parts of the cool things. Sometimes they can BE the cool things.

• Nike got it right. If you don’t do it, you’ll never know. I’ve lost far more through hesitation than impulsiveness.

• Cool is a luxury of hindsight. When it’s hitting the fan, cool is meaningless.

• Breaking the rules isn’t always important. There’s enough drama to go around without taking down the system. Usually.

• If it was done with love, it’s been cool. Every time.

• The coolest, toughest adventure of all is the internal one.

Thanks again for the platform.
Dave Baldridge,
Albuquerque

Whither art thou, MG poetry?

Hey man! What happened to the poetry section? You all don’t believe in supporting and publishing the poetic insights of the mountain folk any more? I have been out of the West for a year and was shocked to not find a poetry section in the current issue that I eagerly scooped up as soon as I returned.

First the size and then the bombardment of advertising and now the poetry section!?! I understand you all have to make money and give you praise for being able to survive the black plague of publishing, but the poetry, the mountain prose, the heart and soul of the only outlet of expression we mountain people have!

Please tell me there will be more, every other issue or that I missed some serious philosophical reason for its banishment.

Sorely and sincerely yours,
One more Lost Mountain Poet,
Jen C.
Pb

Editor’s note: Not only did I have the great fortune to have received this Letter, but I had the even greater fortune to meet young Ms. Jen C. recently at a watering hole in Leadville, where she, her mother and her two sisters organized the first annual GreenerLead Festival, which was a rousing success.

That said: Verily! Yes, yes, yes, our esteemed Poetry Section has been gone for several issues now, mainly because our poetry editor moved on to greener and far-less-lyrical pastures. It is our intent to relaunch our Poetry Section as soon as we find a replacement editor.

A Third Phase Wilderness

Dear John: So much of Idaho’s potential wilderness areas, like Utah’s, are neglected, as Brook Williams suggested in “The Middle of Nowhere” (MG #170), not because of lack of beauty but because of their remoteness,

and therefore, invisibility. Two huge and beautiful places on the

Payette National Forest near McCall, the Secesh and Needles roadless areas, are even recommended by the U.S. Forest Service for Wilderness protection. But they haven’t gotten the attention of the designated Wilderness areas, despite being equally spectacular. Anyone who has gone to McCall has seen these areas, but they hardly know it. People drive beside these roadless areas and between them or enjoy them at a distance; advocates rant and rave about Wilderness either pro or con, but few actually go into them to see their guts. Few know these enormous wild places for their inherent values.

But Brook’s main point is more germane: these areas have their highest human value for being nowhere. Their profound solitude is a great bargain for evolving humanity as we look at the places we came from. Wildlife moves through these invisible places from Hells Canyon Wilderness on the west to the enormous River of No Return Wilderness: wolves,wolverine,bears,elk,pileated woodpeckers, great grey owls, eagles and many of the other beasts that live there. These proposed Wilderness areas are the connective tissue by which species will survive in the future as our climate changes. There are no trails through large portions of this land and other trails that lie forgotten or lost. It is raw land in the presence of untamed nature. There is nothing sweet or tame about this third phase of wilderness; it is a punishing landscape that sometimes manages gentility and grandeur.

These are places that people go to find out who they are in the silence of a vast loneliness. I hope that we will know enough to protect each of these little-known places to maintain their loneliness, their grandeur and more simply, their obvious wildness.

Mike Medberry,
Boulder

We Were Liberal Arts Majors!

Dear John: I realize that I subscribe to Mountain Gazette and not Math Gazette but I am still puzzling over the “simple” math included in the piece, “Death: Germ vs Bear” by Laura Pritchett (MG #170). In this article, Ms. Pritchett concluded that we are much more likely to die from bacteria than bears because bacteria are so much more abundant, and presented a calculation that estimated that there are about 100,000,000,000,000 (10^14) bacteria per human. The mathematical logic employed in calculating this number appears suspect.

It is stated that there are 10^29 bacteria in the world (the most commonly cited number is actually 50-fold higher than this) and that one percent of this number is 10^24. It is not clear why one percent of this number is used but one percent of 10^29 is 10^27, which is 1,000 times larger than 10^24.

If the more commonly used estimate of bacteria in the world is used (5x 10^30) and divided by the number of people in the world (7,000,000,000 or 7 x10^9), you come up with roughly 7 x 10^20 bacteria per person. This is 7,000,000 times more bacteria per person than the number stated in the article. So if you were worried about bacteria before, you can now be seven million times more concerned.

Regards,
Wayne Van Voorhies
Las Cruces, NM

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

Cross-Border Hiking: Getting Longer

Long-distance hiking, or walking as it’s called in Great Britain, has long been a European thing. Many long-distance trails, or paths (the British term), have Christian connections. El Camino de Santiago, the “Way of Saint James,” is a 500-mile-long pilgrimage route in northwestern Spain, to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where legend holds that the remains of Saint James are buried. It and feeder pilgrimage routes to it across Europe, such as the Jakobsweg in German-speaking countries, have been trekked for more than a thousand years. The far newer Arnoweg, mostly in Austria, is a 750-mile loop around Salzburg that was opened in 1998 to commemorate the duodecentennial of the appointment in 798 of Salzburg bishop Arno to archbishop.

Historic routes such as these, as well as other trails, are embedded in national networks, some sizeable. In Germany, there are trails almost everywhere, in all totaling some 125,000 miles. The total trail length for Norway, Europe’s most thinly-populated country, is about a tenth that of Germany, but in the trail networks there are 463 trailside cabins, including 218 staffed lodges that serve meals. Hiking in Europe is as convenient as it is popular, yet it’s mostly been done within countries, not across the borders between them. There have been exceptions along borders, such as the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (“High Pyrenees Hike”) that wiggles north and south across the border between Spain and France for 550 miles through the range, and Grensesømmen (“Border Seam”), that stretches for 1,520 miles, sometimes west of and sometimes east of the border between Norway and Sweden.

But in the wake of an increasingly borderless Europe, hiking is changing, as routes now cross borders with impunity — unthinkable 50 years ago. In 1969, the European Ramblers Association (ERA) was founded to coordinate the efforts of the national hiking organizations throughout

Europe. The word “rambler” in the name, the British term for walking in the countryside, was chosen to stress that the principal concern was travel on foot away from urban areas. The first and still principal task was to link the trails of member countries together to form long-distance routes that encourage cross-border hiking. Like the international E-road network of Europe, the routes are designated E Routes. Initially there were six E Routes; now there are 11, numbered E1 to E11.

At press time, the E Route network stretches across 20 countries, and the lengths of its trails add up to about 33,000 miles. Most of the trails have unfinished stretches, aside from the permanent gaps over water, where ferries link trailheads on land, as across the English Channel between Great Britain and the Continent. And new Routes are planned, such as the E12, envisioned as a ring around the Mediterranean Sea, with connecting trails on the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, Malta and Sardinia. Proposals have been put forth and hopefully will be agreed upon at an E12 meeting to be held in mid-2011 in southern France.

The trails of the existing eleven E Routes are being extended in the traditional way, by joining national trails and by building new ones. Aside from their challenging lengths, the trails bring new aspects to the hiking experience. When all its unfinished stretches are completed, the E8, from Cork in Ireland through Western and Eastern Europe to Istanbul in Turkey, will offer hiking through an unmatched kaleidoscope of cultures.

Likewise, when its end stretches are completed, the E1, from the North Cape, the northernmost point of the European continent, southward through continental Europe to Cape Passero, the southernmost point of Sicily, will offer hiking from sea to sea, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, through the range of topographies in which it can be done.

The northern-end stretch, from the tip of the existing E1 at Grövelsjön, a lake in Sweden at the Norwegian border, 1,020 miles to the North Cape, is expected to be finished and marked with cairns in the summer of 2011. It crosses Finnmarksvidda, the Finnmark Plateau, most of which is above timberline, subject to the harsh climate of the Arctic. Here winter temperatures have dropped as low as minus-60°F. But in midsummer, when the sun shines 24 hours a day, temperatures can soar to 90°F, giving a minimum to maximum range of 150°F, rare in Europe. Understandably, trail building is done only in summer. The southern stretch, from the southern tip of the existing E1 at Scapoli in the Molise Region of south-central Italy farther south to Cape Passero, is in the planning stage. When it’s finished, the total length of the E1 will be 4,530 miles, half again as much as the distance between the east and west coasts of the Continental USA.

M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo and takes his vacations in France. By education, he’s a natural scientist. His Dateline: Europe column appears monthly in the Gazette.

Further reading:

For further information on the European Ramblers’ Association (ERA), visit the website at www.era-ewv-ferp.com . For specific details on trails, visit the websites of the hiking associations of the member countries listed on the ERA website.

Reconfiguration

I’ve been fantasizing about a friend of mine. He’s clever and irreverent, and he has lips I’m dying to taste. All too often, I find myself distracted by the thought of coaxing him into bed. It’s irrational. But I need to feel the cadence of his breath against my ear.

I understand him well enough to know he’ll bite me and call me “baby.” But I wonder what book he might have with him, what book he’ll hold up beneath low lights and read aloud to me in bed. I think about interrupting him — limbs entangled, flesh warm and flushed — then settling back against the pillows while he fumbles again to find his page.

During our casual conversations, I’m inevitably tempted to ask him what books he has read lately. His quick answers and sometimes lengthy explanations do nothing to dispel my desire to feel his hands tight around my hips.

He fell asleep with his hands palm up before him like some dozing penitent. When he woke it was still dark. The fire had died to a few low flames seething over the coals.
— Cormac McCarthy, “The Crossing”

The night before my daughter was born, I awoke with aching hips and back. Nerves electric, I couldn’t return to sleep. Nothing offers such consistent comfort late at night as a book within reach. So, in darkness, I grabbed Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing” from the floor beside the bed and headed to the living room.

Hauling myself up from the couch an hour later, I retrieved a book of maps I’d re-stolen from a boyfriend who once dared claim it. It is tattered and taped together. Pages are ripped and tucked back in. Notes line the margins.

Spread out upon the floor, I followed McCarthy’s wolf’s crossing from Mexico into the United States, and Billy Parnham’s trek across New Mexico’s Boot Heel. I ended up that night on tangents and side trips, tracing my fingers along routes I’d previously traveled — and forgetting that I was about to embark on a journey that, for a while at least, would have little to do with dry washes.

When my water broke the next morning, and a friend drove me to the hospital, I packed “The Crossing” and stubbornly read it through labor. A crossing, to be sure.

The mountains had withdrawn somewhere beyond the horizon, and we rode in the midst of a great bowl of desert, rolling up at the edges to meet the furnace-blue of the Mexican sky. Now that I was out of the coach, a great silence, and a peace beyond anything I ever felt, wrapped me around. It is almost impossible to get objective about the desert; you sink into it—become a part of it.
— John Reed, “Insurgent Mexico”

Three nights after giving birth — love-struck, sore and full of milk — I lie in the bathtub. Avoiding helpful visitors and feebly clinging to my identity as a journalist, I was reading for review Doug Peacock’s book,

“Walking It Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness.”

Page after page — turning the hot water tap with my foot, prolonging the bath for as long as possible — I followed Peacock’s attempts to integrate himself into his own new family. “The hideous solidarity of the dead was at these times probably more important than my marriage. I wanted to serve and love my children, yet this second calling could not be reconciled with what I called everyday life. After the messy chores of combat, you wanted to wash up a little bit before you played with the kids,” he wrote.

“Sometimes it took months of scouring isolation to cleanse the blood from your hands.”

I ended up crying in the bathtub that night. I didn’t cry for traumatized veterans or massacre victims at Mai Lai. No, these were selfish tears of self-pity. I had only just then realized how definitively my life had changed. I already missed wandering the desert, thinking of nothing more than warm red rocks and the taste of whiskey.

Despite the obvious differences between our circumstances, I understood blood and second callings.

The landscape is a trick to make us miss our lives.
— Charles Bowden, “Desierto”

Thirteen years ago, I stood alongside Route 666 near Towaoc, Colorado, staring up at a sky I’d never imagined real and waiting for the pound of thunder.

Much has changed since then. That road no longer bears the label of Devil’s Highway; there’s a giant casino and a palatial new gas station. And during those intervening years, I have moved and moved again (and again and again, always hauling boxes of books), changed careers, gotten pregnant, been married and divorced. And moved again.

And yet some things never change.

This spring, I drove away from a series of phone calls that left me boiling in a rage. I’d spent that rage in retribution, wreaking havoc before standing again near Towaoc, looking at that sky as though for the first time. Deciding to rest near Cortez, I pulled a sleeping bag, headlamp and book from the trunk of the car. When morning inevitably dawned, I could pause and breathe the scent of sage, then drive home in peace.

…When I pull solace from your pages to wipe my brow, I

admit I feel less like a freak, as if indulging in ink was

a form

of communion, one beetled brow knit unto another.

— Lisa Gill, “Poem V.” in “Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist”

It’s been this way for many years. While the cast of characters within my life has shifted and changed, I return again and again to certain landscapes. And books: They’ve always helped tether me when life’s meaning seemed at one moment or another to be slipping away.

I can remember when letters clicked into words, words into sentences upon the page. It was late summer, and my older brother and I shared the third-to-last step of our parent’s back porch. (“Dick and Jane.” It was the 1970s.) Ever since that moment, at the age of four, books have been a source of wonder, knowledge and inspiration. I spent a childhood dreaming of escape from small-town existence; books were the handiest way to imagine other lives in different places.

It’s no wonder the life I’ve since carved out for myself is one that revolves around words.

And not, by the way, those words upon a computer screen, though it’s easiest to form and reform them there. With all its temptations and conveniences, the Internet weakens my wonder at the written word. My favorite writers are the ones who end up in bed with me; books propped up against the pillow, I devour their words until entirely too late at night.

That’s not to say I don’t abuse and depend upon the Internet. But I’d rather life — and reading — remain a tactile experience. Books have a heft and scent; words can be underlined and repeated over and over again. Magazine pages wrinkle and fold; pictures to save can be ripped out with a satisfying tear.

My affinity for print is akin, perhaps, to my wonder at the ways in which bodies fit against one another. Streaming videos and endless Internet eye candy be damned: I demand more time reading, less time typing; less time facing off alone against a screen and more time licking fingers and kissing napes. I’m greedy, after all: I want the flesh-and-blood man who, in bed, will read me something very good.

Laura Paskus is a writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.