Trail Booty

Trail Booty: When lost gear is foundThe latest in outdoor gear presents a problem. In some ways, the resources used to make our gear conflicts with the low-impact lifestyle we mountain dwellers try to follow, but that’s not the biggest issue. People who venture outside seem to lose more stuff than anyone else. There is even a name for this problem. When we fail at following proper Leave No Trace, we call it Trail Booty.

I was thinking about it hard one afternoon while sitting on the roof of my apartment. A line of prayer flags recovered from the side of Engineer Mountain, where they had blown off the summit, were tied up and flapped gently overhead. The Patagonia pullover I was wearing was found forgotten on a trail somewhere in New Mexico. I had found my Sanuk shoes in the middle of Highway 50 while driving out of Gunnison, and the Prana hat on my head I had found in a parking lot in Summit County frozen into a muddy ball. I ran the hat through the dishwasher and have been wearing it most every day since. I have eaten Gu packets dropped by mountain bikers, drank eddy beers plucked from rivers, reclaimed gloves frozen stiff and alone on Loveland Pass and clipped into abandoned climbing gear only to bail on it, leaving it behind again just a few short feet higher. I assured myself that someone else would soon be by to clean the gear I found then discarded.

Maybe that person would be the same person who found the helmet I lost while paddling the Lower Canyons of the Rio some years before, but probably not. Maybe still it would be the person who found the pot I accidentally left behind at a camp in the Gila Wilderness. By the time I noticed it had been left, it would have taken two days to recover it. It was now Trail Booty.

Of all those in the backcountry, nobody knows the concept of finding and collecting lost gear more than a forest ranger. Most often, they are the first into an area at the start of a season and the last to leave. They cover more ground and spend entire seasons working in perhaps just one area and, by the end, know it well. For them, trail booty is nearly as important a perk as the pro-deals they get through their employer. In the spring, as the snow recedes from the valleys and appears to slide up the mountains, leaving just a crown at the top, the slopes along popular alpine routes become a shopping ground of lost gear. Dropped alpine axes, bottles, gloves and helmets can be plucked out of alpine grass and the exposed rocks after they were lost to the void by someone up above only a season before. Clothes moved by storms and stuff sacks blown away stand out among the rocks like garbage.

After a little rinse, a trip to the local gear resale shop will turn your third ice axe that is too short for you and a few fire-blackened pots and pans into a couple of bucks in your pocket. It turned out to be a good haul and a good thing, because that brand-new technical shell you have been looking at is still $240 after the pro deal.

John Cameron writes from wild spaces and high places around the Four Corners. He hangs his hammock in aspen groves and calls it home, but his bag is never unpacked. His last story for the MG was “The Leisure Sports Roadshow,” which appeared in #179.

Like the Turtle Lake Boulders

Mug of loveI hand the CocoMocha to the petite window washer woman who can’t get enough of them and I know he’s come in. The Steaming Bean’s screen door slams behind him and he strolls in nonchalantly, making his way to the small table at the far wall, where he likes to sit facing the street, in case he sees someone he knows, where he can plug in his computer and write who-knows-what for about an hour on Thursday afternoons.

After turning on his computer, he comes to my counter, mug-with-the-missing-lid in hand.

He opens his mug that was red when he first bought it, and glances inside, gauging its dirtiness and how much he cares about new coffee mixed with old yerba matte. Handing it to me he hopes I’ll offer to clean it so he won’t have to ask. I do, of course, as I’ve seen this small but surely important macho game before. I take his mug and he quietly says, “Latte, please.”

“Sure! Let me rinse this for you.” I take the mug and smile a little too big and observe, not for the first time, his dark-like-the-canyon-walls-of-Cascade-Creek eyes. Returning my attention to matters of caffeinated importance, I notice the obligatory outdoorsy/semi-hippie sticker coming off his coffee mug. I take a little extra care as I courtesy rinse, holding the errant sticker corner on with my thumb, so as to not encourage its disintegration.

It says something about trees being the answer. Answer to what? Anything? Everything? Global Warming? To our economic problems? Shade issues in the Smelter Dog Park? The log home shortage in La Plata County?

I smile then, sincerely appreciative of anyone who bothers to bring in his/her own coffee mug to the shop. I’m an actual believer that every small recycle/reuse/reduce effort makes a difference. Call me a hippie if you want, it wouldn’t be the first time for me, a woman who was raised in Durango, graduated with a natural resources degree, has been a river guide for a decade everywhere from British Columbia to Arizona and lives out of her truck for six months a year.

But I digress. My thoughts return to him, the man who smells deliciously earthy like the Turtle Lake Boulders outside town standing on the other side of the counter. He’s got that mountain-man charm that I love. He’s wearing Carhartt pants with a flip-knife in the right pocket, and Chacos to compliment, though it’s early November in the San Juan Mountains. He’s rocking a dark simple beard (the kind that falls somewhere between intentional it-makes-me-look-rugged effort and pure unabashed apathy), small black-rimmed glasses, and he’s tall and slender. I’m, of course, a sucker for curly hair just long enough it has to be put behind his ears every time he laughs.

It seems to me he’s my favorite kind of man, the sort who would be able to survive a few nights lost in the Weminuche (not that he’d GET lost). Sure, I’ll be delighted (no, quite seriously) to make a latte in that many-stickered dirty mug. It will give me some reading material while I steam the milk, and that’s always nice. What else will I learn about him today? What is he not going to say that he would like me to know?

He likes Native Glasses. Did he get the sticker from the new glasses he bought last year at the Gardenswartz Extravaganza sale? I bet he bought more socks than he needed too, huh? I always end up with a new headlamp, for some curious reason — like a girl needs three headlamps.

OK. I like Native too. But only when they’re on Steep and Cheap and it happens to be payday tomorrow, and I can’t physically restrain myself. My debit card leaping from my wallet before I know what happened. I type the card’s numbers rapidly while saying out loud, “Sure this is justified. I really need new sunglasses and it’s such a great deal. Perfect for that snowshoeing trip around Molas next weekend … ”

What else has he got? Southwest Adventure Guides. Does he know one of their guides and he/she bestowed 12 stickers on him and told him to put them everywhere? Or did he grab a handful from the checkout counter free basket at the outdoorsy shop around the corner because he just liked the look of them, and he always sort of wished that he was a mountaineering guide?

And a Bread sticker. Well, sure. We ARE in Durango. Everyone has a Bread sticker. It’s the essential “I’m-no-tourist” branding. Could anyone live here more than a year and NOT have a Ska, Bread or Bubba’s Boards sticker on at least their car, if not also computer, Kleen Kanteen and reusable, insulated (great for cocktails on a long weekend’s Westwater trip) coffee mug?

The Bread sticker says, “Just so you know, I venture beyond the confines of 11th and 6th street main downtown drag, from time to time, and I like their parmesan asiago loaf. I consider myself a local, thank you very much. Will I be seeing you at Monday’s Pint Night at Lady Falc’s?” (Everyone knows the Thursday’s pint night is for the college kid amateurs.)

I see he’s wearing a well-used Marmot jacket. I bet he wore it hiking Engineer Mountain on his last day off, starting too late in the afternoon and coming down the hill in the dark. He was stumbling over rocks on the descent in the three-quarter-moon’s light. I imagine he’s wearing a Telluride Bluegrass Festival T-shirt under his jacket. And I try not to imagine him under that shirt. I bet he’s got climber shoulders. I feel myself blush slightly as I pull the espresso shots.

When I’m done, he takes his mug, gives me a nod in thanks and drops me a dollar in the less-than-clever-but-it-works “Tipping’s not for Cows/Support Counter Intelligence” tip jar (thank you, every bit helps, as I’ve got a cell bill due in three days).

He then gives me some hesitant and lingering kind of look. I quickly project that he’s flirting with me, but I let it go, as I’ve got a soy mocha, spicy chai and double Americano demanding to be made. (Oh, right, I’m still a career barista/boatmun here.) Maybe I’ll get on Craigslist later and drop him a “missed connections.” I’ll see if he’s a loyalist to the List like I am.

We can talk about how much cheaper rent is in Grand Junction, read each other’s haikus in the Haiku Hotel and discuss how there’s always that same $2,200, circa-1990, 18-foot bucket boat Riken for sale that no one ever seems to want.

For now though, I hope he enjoys that latte, minds the errant sticker, and maybe I’ll run into him on my Colorado Trail post-work mountain bike ride this afternoon. I’ll meet him at the bridge. He’ll bring the Pinstripes and we’ll read the Mountain Gazette out loud to each other.

Codye Reynolds lives (for the moment) in Durango, where she plays, skis and slings coffee until water season returns, sending her to Idaho rivers and career boating. This is her first story for the Gazette. 

How to Wash Dishes

How to Wash DishesThe closest liquid water to the lookout is one-and-a-half miles down the steep switchbacks at Copper Lake. Instead, gather snow from the north side of the rocky knob to melt for drinking, cooking and washing. Pull an aluminum pot and two plastic buckets from the cabinets under the eastern windows and walk the few hundred yards out to the snowfield. First, scrape away the top layer of accumulated dust, pollen and small insects. By the time summer has begun and you have resumed your duties at the lookout, the snow has metamorphosed many times over. The grains of snow are large and coarse, gently abrasive against your fingers and knees. Under the first few centimeters, beneath the detritus, the snow is compressed into ice.

Squatting on the snowfield, sunlight’s glaring reflection bouncing into your face, work methodically — scraping, digging for dirt-free snow, scooping it into plastic buckets. The pot against the snow is a metallic reverberation, the loudest sound you have heard all morning. Every so often, you look up and the world comes back into focus — a curious raven circling overhead on a backdrop of bluebird sky, the sweet footprints left by a marmot just inches from your own, the wind sweeping over the snow, cooling the back of your neck.

With the bottom of the pot, pack the snow down and, when both buckets are full, carry one in each hand back to the lookout, shoulders stretching from the weight, arms laden with a welcome obligation. The chores necessary to live here are subtle joys that transform your life from the ordinary to something like a sanctified existence.

Later, you have made your dinner, eaten your fill, and are ready to wash dishes. First, lick your plate. Run your index finger along the curves of your bowl, scrape the burned noodles from the spoon with your teeth. Then, using the mug that reminds you of your elementary school lunchroom, scoop some of the half-melted snow from the big pot into the smaller saucepan. Heat the pan until all of the snow is melted and the water is warm. Squeeze one drop of soap onto the dishrag.

As you run the soapy towel over the contours of your plate, look out the eastern windows to watch the Picket Range turn pink with alpenglow. The light on the ridges spreads along a gradient from amber to rose, and it seems impossible that you are here, at this moment, as shadows creep up hillsides and another day in these mountains comes to an end.

You cannot imagine ever forgetting the cool evening air on your face, the faint sound of the river that courses through the valley 4,000 feet below you, the amusing totter of the ptarmigan as she parades her chicks around the outside of the lookout. But you know this to be true, just as you know that someday everyone you love will die, just as you know that the volcano to the south will erupt and mudflows and ash will overrun the path you walked to get here. At some point, despite the fact that you try to remember, you will forget.

This realization brings you back to the porcelain plate in one hand, the wet dishrag in the other, the soap slick on your skin. To rinse, you must return your attention to the chore and carefully hold the plate over the wastewater bucket so as to not drip anything onto the floor. Once it is clean, balance the plate on its edge, held between the burner and the back of the range so it can dry without being disturbed by mice.

Washing dishes, collecting snow in buckets, sweeping the lookout floor of dirt tracked in on the soles of your boots — these are mundane tasks elevated to sacred acts by the 34-million-year-old rock underfoot, the fragile and tenacious heather gardens that cloak the surrounding slopes with their pink flowers, the glaciers that occupy spaces made imperceptible by their venerable ice. There are no false pretenses; you understand that what makes your actions unique has nothing to do with you — you could very well be someone else.

You are not always aware of your condition; one cannot be constantly in awe. And so, there are evenings, when the sun is casting its last rays on Mount Baker’s ice, and Mount Shuksan’s shark-finned summit is wrapped in wispy clouds flush with twilight, that you look up from a paperback and become embarrassed for your inattention, for succumbing to the simple need to remove yourself from the world, to maintain some separation. Your heart, like a bucket for gathering snow, cannot take all of it at once.

Months later, when winter has come and you have returned to your other home, the one where water flows from multiple taps and there is even an automatic dishwasher, you find yourself rinsing a plate. There are still mountains outside the windows of your kitchen, but they are less immediate and, to see them, you must look past chimneys curling smoke into the cold air and through a grid of electrical wires. You pause, take a sip from the cool memory of your mountains and then return to the task at hand, the sacred work of living.

Abigail Sussman patrols the northwestern portion of North Cascades National Park in the summer and migrates south to Gunnison, Colorado, in the winter. Her last story in MG was “Hitchhiking With Skis,” which appeared in #161.

High Water Lines

High Water Lines“You oughta go look down by the bridge — that ol’ boy got some equipment wet.”

“He don’t have much sense anyway … ”

The old-timer’s club had been at the town store, drinking coffee and waiting for the café to open, when I walked through their circle and heard these lines.

High Water

Now, at a breakfast table near mine, one asked another, “You gettin’ any work done these days?”

“No, just waitin’ for the river to drop outta my hay meadows. Gettin’ all my irrigation done though.”

“Irrigation and fertilizin’ too,” said another old man.

Sometimes, it’s best for a dirtbag writer/river rat to keep his head down and ears open for a little high-water wisdom from some long-time neighbors of the last free-flowing river in the Colorado River system.

Plates of eggs, potatoes and bacon arrived, the old men’s conversation drifted to other topics, and within hours I’m in a shuttle van cruising past the flooded property by the river bridge, marveling at the assortment of tractors, stock trailers and trucks half-submerged by the Yampa River at flood stage. I am eying the sacrifice and idly considering the decision process that led to this so-called “flood damage.”

Put it down to “don’t have much sense,” or to misplaced trust in past high-flow marks? No time for research, because (to misquote old John Muir) the river is calling, and some of us must go.

One thing about group river trips — you never know who you’re going to meet at a campfire, and I happen to be sitting by a guy named Geoff one night. He lives on a property that has river frontage in the Yampa Valley, and I make plans for a visit.

Lines

A week later, and I’m back in the valley, on a hill overlooking two ways of living with a river in flood. Describing a river’s path through the landscape, it’s natural to face downstream. River left, a mature grove of cottonwoods; river right, a few cottonwoods with their lower foliage browsed off at cow-reach. River left, no sign of erosion; river right, a desperate attempt to the river’s advance into a pasture that cattle have mown to lawn height. Left, a riverside fringe of young cottonwoods with water flowing between the trunks; right, a fleet of earth-moving equipment transports a pile of dirt to the undercut riverbank, adding to a new levee.

Right, a large sign advertising the ranch headquarters as an investment property. Left, a conservative mention that the property is owned by an organization whose mission is “to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth” — and about here I could turn this exploration into a self-righteous screed about right and left, with an I-told-you-so finger-shaking at the failings of the Old West land use model vs. the New West vision of land as “view shed” for a telecommuting populace of uplinked do-gooders. Luckily for all of us, as my new river pal Geoff showed me around the ranch on river left, the history of the Yampa Valley (and of ranching in the Interior West) cut through stereotypes of right and left, old and new ways.

The Yampa River leaves a canyon just upstream, meanders through the valley’s meadows, and picks up speed again farther west. Taking the path of least resistance, it adjusts course by testing the banks for weak spots. When high water pushes the river from its banks, old decisions pay off, or rise to haunt the current owners.

River left is the Carpenter Ranch, begun by a cattle baron from Texas and sold to the Republican scion of a shoe-factory owner from Chicago and points east. The young Republican became a homesteader, his town’s first attorney, a player in local and state politics and a lobbyist for Western ranchers’ interests during the Great Depression. This “new” Westerner eventually became the first manager of the Taylor Grazing Act, which attempted to codify the use and conservation of grazing lands managed by the federal government in the Interior West. (The Act’s successes and failures will be listed at another time.) In the decades that Ferry Carpenter owned the ranch, a decision to fence the river off from his prized cattle herd inadvertently created a home for river otters, an idyll for birdwatchers and a safety valve that allows the Yampa to renew the ranch’s bottomlands by spreading high-water flows through a healthy riverside grove of narrow-leaf cottonwoods, box elder and red-osier dogwood.

River right is a ranch that placed most of its holdings under a conservation easement, a decision that precludes the slice-and-dice hobby ranch cycle that has boomed and busted many mountain valleys of the New West. (Many readers may name a favorite valley as victim of this plague, while others will need to buy a grizzled mountain denizen a few beers for further diatribes on the subject.) Still, the river eats away at the owner’s investment, with only the newly built levee between river and pasture, in a holding pattern that sends the river’s cutting action to downstream neighbors. The few cottonwoods are aging, and no saplings crowd the riverbanks.

High Water Lines

When a river drops, it’s tempting to repair damages, congratulate winners, blame losers and ignore lessons that high water offers; but this tale of left and right riverbanks confounds sound-bite politics. The current owner of the Carpenter v on river left is the non-profit Nature Conservancy, with a stated mission to “conserve the natural and agricultural heritage of the Yampa River Valley.” The ranch on river right is run for profit, and has signed conservation easements that are monitored by the Nature Conservancy and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Both sides are still working cattle ranches, creating opportunities to apply lessons that may help keep the river and its valley healthy.

In this year of flooding in the Rockies, late summer is a good time to walk the high-water lines of your favorite river. You’ll see flotsam from past decisions, in the roots of doomed trees exposed by undercut banks and ruined machinery. Look closely, though, for cottonwoods and willows sprouting from the rich soil left by receding floods. If you get to the High Country, walk a creek to timberline. Notice here, too, that high water has fed lines of new life on the banks, while setting a fresh course to follow. Talk to some neighbors about what you found, and listen for the freely shared observations of old-timers over early-morning coffee. These may cut across political lines, and could help remind us how to live beside our last free-flowing rivers.

[Writer’s note: My tour guide of the ranch on river left was Geoff Blakeslee. As the Conservancy’s “Yampa River Project Director,” it is his job to measure the pulse of the river, the valley, its inhabitants, and to show a dirtbag writer around the Carpenter Ranch. I appreciate his patience. The Ranch hosts research projects, and is open to the public for bird-watching and education. For more on Ferry Carpenter, read his “Confessions of a Maverick,” State Historical Society of Colorado, ISBN 0-942576-27-6.]

Senior correspondent B. Frank’s last piece for the Gazette was “In the Zone,” which appeared in MG #180. Author of “Livin’ the Dream,” Frank splits his time between the Four Corners and the Borderlands. 

Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Jerry was way ahead. No slouch, he can usually be found near the front of the group talking smart and bad-mouthing his country. But today he was on fire. It was a crisp spring morning up on Red Mountain. A moderate climb with good grip, not quite corned up and far from anything fresh. He was two switchbacks up as we all cruised along in our own personal hurt dance. At the top, he had already de-skinned and was giving us the “Let’s go, Ladies” look. “Jesus, Jer, can’t a guy stop and take leak or eat a sandwich anymore?” I muttered (or something to that effect). I offered him part of my sandwich, thinking it might slow him down. “Sure,” he said through a shit-eating grin. “And some water, a transceiver, shovel and gloves, too, if you’ve got some. Cuz all of my stuff is down there.” We could just barely see his characteristically huge pack, about 2,000 vert below us, sitting on the hood of his truck.

We’ve all done it. You’re driving along, making anticipatory small talk about how great the powder/whitewater/single-track is going to be. Most likely, you’re past any town and definitely out of cell range. Wham! Your blood runs cold and a sickeningly vivid image pops into your head: your skins/paddle/front wheel sitting on your garage floor. The one key, essential thing that you need. Right now, right here, today. You spaced it, and you are screwed. Eeediot! You laid out everything you needed and you know exactly what you need because you carefully thought it out and you’re not exactly a rookie at this. Been to a couple rodeos. Guides have looked at your rig at the put-in and marveled as they made mental notes to bring what that guy has next time. Laid out on the floor like your collared dress shirt and clean underwear on school picture day and you neglected to bring THE most important thing!

Of course there is a consequence. Usually painful, expensive and/or time consuming. If you can, you simply drag out the too-thin plastic and buy your way out. “You know, I never did like that (fill in the blank). This new one is lighter and a much cooler color,” you will cheerfully rationalize. Everyone knows the best way to ride the Slickrock Trail is in flip-flops, not those fancy $200 clip-in bike shoes. If you can’t buy, borrow or otherwise purloin the missing item, you might just get the “See ya” from your buddies and the results of your brain fart will teach you never ever to do that again. Maybe. Maybe not.

Hopefully, it is just a low-impact, ha-ha lesson that will kick start the day’s banter. Forgot a corkscrew, or can opener, or maybe all of the silverware for a multi-day, 18-person filled-permit raft trip that includes a lot of soup on the menu. Now that’s funny. But not as funny as driving behind the guy, loaded for Baja with all of his toys and worldly outdoor possessions racked up and tied on top. And there it is, his coffee mug. You have to wonder why he left it up there. Obviously he did not have enough coffee that morning. Maybe he was checking the straps one more time. Maybe he spaced that, too. Empathy takes over and you tap the horn and flash the lights. Or do you wait for the S-turns coming up to test your theory and watch the material carnage unfold?

Forgetfulness may go way beyond personal suffering, developing into loathing and spite from your peers. Just try breezing through your shopping list and subsequently forgetting the coffee on your next hut trip. Or my personal favorite: ice. I was heading to a White Rim trip with a truckload of Colorado beer, not the unmarked 3.2 schwag you’re forced to drink if you buy it in the Moab City Market (ummm … but that’s another story). I had the sacred duty of bringing beer, and lots of it in many varieties. And the key to a refreshing beer in the stinkin’ hot desert is cold, cold, almost gloves-cold beer. The secret to cold beer is of course, ice. Not just ice, but big, 10-pound blocks of ice, which last longer and are available at the aforementioned mega-market. After a grueling day of sun, saddle sores and teeth grit, nothing says “I forgot” quite like a shook-up, tepid, 16-ounce PBR, nosirree. Note: Do not try to MacGyver your way out by digging a hole in the sand, which we all know is cooler than the ambient temperature, burying the canisters of beer, waiting, and then digging them up. The result would simply be a big swallow of slightly-cooler-than-tepid, sandy, cheap beer.

Just ran into my friend Bill Kees (not his real name), who confirmed a story I’ve heard multiple times around the Dutch oven, waiting forever for dinner. He went on a raft trip a few years back and forgot his — yup — he did not pack his raft. Getting a late start on his way to the San Juan, he pulled into Hovenweep to sleep a little and get a crack-of-dawn start to the put-in. He crawled into the back of his van, which seemed a little more spacious and comfy than usual. At first light, his eyes popped open and he sat bolt upright shouting out loud, “My boat is in the f—ing closet!”  Pulling himself to the driver’s seat, he pounded back home, hoping to sneak in under the radar, grab it and make it back in time to launch. His wife Susan was already up, shaking her head and laughing.

My friend Marie, who was born in Switzerland and spends half of every winter there, has a great story. It was a big powder day and she was in line, exactly on time with her husband Tom. In Verbier, you ride a series of funiculars, trams and gondolas, all linked together with fine Swiss efficiency. You get off one lift, walk up some stairs, get on the next until you are at the top. Everybody was pumped to be on top of the Mont Fort on that rare clear day. Avalanche danger looked moderate and everything was untracked as far as the eye could see. Marie zipped her jacket, put on her goggles, threw down her boards and was ready to click in and go. One small problem. She looked down. On her feet were her nice, comfy warm boots. Not ski boots — hiking boots. Marie just laughed and her friends laughed too — then they skied away.

Let us not blur the distinction between losing something and forgetting something. Obviously, there are many parallels. The remorse, the pondering, the “What-should-I-do-now-that-this-situation-exists?” scenarios formulating in your head. My wife Melissa and I were heading to a rendezvous birthday party out by Capital Reef for a little slickrock mountain biking. We had already ridden a day in Moab, so we knew that we brought all of the requisite equipment. We drove for a few hours, drove around for another hour or so looking for the obscure, killer campsite that we were all meeting at. Upon arrival, the site was fully decked out with balloons, food, cold beverages and a Tiki-torch-emblazoned obstacle course. We partook in the feast and pulled our mounts off the roof rack to check out the course. “Hand me my front wheel, can you?” I asked Melissa, as I held the fork up out of the sand. Big, long pause. A lot of scurrying around in the back of the truck. “Hey, ummm … you did pack the front wheels, didn’t you?” To which I did not reply, “No, I thought YOU packed them,” because I was sure that I put them in the back of the truck. Turns out that, when we left Moab, they went shooting out of the back of the topper. We found them at the bottom of a small hill at the Poison Spider trailhead, at the end of mysteriously zig-zaggy tracks nestled in the cactus and pricker bushes.

Spacing out does not necessarily involve material possessions. I skied into my cabin last winter for the afternoon, to get some fresh air, get the dog out and check up on things. Turned into a longer-than-expected tour, and, when we got back to the truck, we were beat. As I was driving the 45 minutes or so back home, I rummaged the floor searching for chips, old lunches and half-empty Pepsis. Found some pretzels and ate a couple and then turned around to give my dog Racer a couple. No dog. Not squished way down where I couldn’t see him. Not hidden under a bunch of jackets or truck cab flotsam — just not there. Yikes. It’s getting dark, so I pull an unsafe U-ey and head back to the parking lot, visions of him maybe on his way back to the cabin, maybe a crazed snowmobiler hitting him. I pull up, and there, at the point last seen, are those eerie glowing canine eyes. Sitting there, a little tail wag and slight cock to his head, he didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. Hopped in the truck, looked at me and his eyes said it all — “Human, you so suck!” Maybe dogs have the whole thing figured out. They just go with what they have,
nothing more. Paws, fur, tongue and teeth. All set. Forgot the water? No biggie, I’ll just drink this puddle. No food? Nothing better than finding and eating dead things. You got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose. Maybe us humans just have too much stuff.

Mark Plantz lives and plays in Telluride with his wife Melissa and their two boys. He drives to town occasionally with his Rocket Box wide open.

Editor’s note: This may be the first time ever I have tacked an editor’s note onto the end of someone else’s tale. But this one I could not resist. We have all had equipment-remembering lapses. Like the time I realized halfway through the first day of a 10-day backpacking trip through Copper Canyon, in which I was guiding 17 constantly hungry teenagers, that I had somehow forgotten the lunches. Everyone was real happy. Or the worst one that ever happened in the entire history of gear forgetfulness: There was that awful YouTube footage a couple years back of the professional parachute photographer who realized after filming his cohorts during the freefall segment of the descent that he had left behind, of all things, his parachute! Splat! Anyhow, I’d like to see some such stories from our readers. Send them off to mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

Rabbits and Red Butte

Surviving the high desert nights of eastern Oregon for the Northern Paiute (Wada-Tika) people required that each member of the tribe own a rabbit blanket to keep them warm. Each blanket required a hundred or more rabbit pelts…

…Jack rabbit were plentiful in the old days…today it is difficult to make these blankets, due to the scarcity of jack rabbits in Harney County.  In the last 50 years the rabbit population has dwindled so much that it is difficult to get even 10 to 20 hides in the winter, when the fur is thick (and thus preferred).  Rabbit bounties in the 1950’s and other means of eradication have left few rabbits…”

— Minerva T. Soucie  (Burns Paiute),

“The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon”

“Dr. Bryce,” Newton said, “…To tell you the truth, it dismays us greatly to see what you are about to do with such a beautiful,
fertile world.  We destroyed ours a long time ago, but we had so much less to begin with that you have here.”  His voice now seemed agitated, his manner more intense.  “Do you realize that you will not only wreck your civilization, such as it is, and kill most of your people; but that you will also poison the fish in your rivers, the squirrels in your trees, the flocks of birds, the soil, the water..”

— Walter Tevis, “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” c. 1963

The little birds in the front yard are pale gray. When they arc through the evening, sunset turns their belly feathers to petals of flame. I’ve just read Thomas Newton’s prediction to Dr. Bryce. It had seemed important to look up from the book and see what was around me — the Engelmann Spruce, the apple tree, sunflowers on their way to autumn light. But, it is the underbelly feathers of the little birds that bring Thomas Newton’s words alive.

I remember the salmon feast at Warm Springs a few days earlier. The Warm Springs people invited friends and strangers to help them celebrate the opening of their museum exhibit, The Art of Ceremony: Regalia of Native Oregon. I arrived just in time for the Round Dance.

“Everybody dance,” the leader cried out. The drums began. Slow. Steady. The Warm Springs people and their guests linked hands. We stepped side-ways, going slowly and steadily in the direction of the sun. Fancy Dancers spun in smaller circles in our big circle. The drums began to slow. The Warm Springs woman who had led off the dance moved back the other direction, stopping to greet each of us with a handshake and a smile.

It had been twenty-three years since I had danced the Round Dance. The last time had been at a Havasupai gathering near Red Butte in Arizona. We had come together to pray for a little meadow a few miles from where we danced. Energy Fuels Nuclear, a Denver mining company, was planning to drill a breccia pipe uranium mine into the meadow. The Havasupai knew that the meadow was the belly of The Mother — the beautiful and fertile Mother.

The Havasupai and the rest of us did much more than dance. We demonstrated at the Grand Canyon, got arrested, filed legal appeals to the Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement. In the long run, there were three more prayer gatherings. In the long run, the price of uranium dropped and the minesite was abandoned. The fence still stands. Energy Fuels Nuclear no longer exists. And, because of the 1872 Mining Law, the belly of the Mother is not safe. The mining companies and their petitions to extract uranium are back.

The Warm Springs Round Dance ended. We went into the regalia exhibit. I came to the Wada-Tika rabbit fur robe. A white card read: Please don’t touch.

I’ll never hold the robe. I may never go back to Red Butte. And still, I contain the stories of birds with radiant belly feathers; of the roaring sage fire that lay at the circle of the Red Butte dancers; of the smiling Warm Springs woman who reached out to take my hand. I will hold the stories lightly and pass them on. That will not be enough. The times Walter Tevis envisioned are here.

Long-time MG contributor Mary Sojourner is the author of, among many other books, “She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction” and “Going Through Ghosts.” She recently moved back to Flagstaff, after stints in the Mojave and the Pacific Northwest.

Going Big: My Court Date with Hunter S. Thompson

I only met Hunter S. Thompson once when either of us was sober. I was waiting to stand trial for crimes against the State of Colorado, County of Pitkin and City of Aspen. Don’t worry though (not that you are worrying) — the crimes were not actually mine. They were those of my compadre-de-los-moñtanas, a friend we’ll just call “Bob.”

I had memorized his identity details, and tried to look three inches taller in order to attend a court date on his behalf. He had used all of his allowable absences from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School for skiing, a few fall climbing road trips and the obligatory late returns from all-night parties at Penny Hot Springs. I was an underage dishwasher at the Merry Go Round restaurant at Aspen Highlands, less than a year out of high school. George only let me work part time — so the only real question (and it was serious) was if I would miss out on some ski days while serving another man’s time in the Pitkin County Jail. (The charges seemed to carry a possibility of three days in the can.)

We did not feel that the situation merited the involvement of any faculty, staff or other authorities. Why trouble them with the inconvenience and paperwork of kicking Bob out of school? And if they did boot him, then what? He would have to move in to our unfurnished, dirt-carpeted, basement potato-bin-slash-apartment in Carbondale. We already shared every inch of the floor with the sleeping bags of everyone who shared our mountain-loving lifestyle and a lot of skis.

So, I cleaned up as best I could and drove the treacherous old road to Aspen to stand in for Bob’s trial and sentencing. I guess such things can seem complicated from the outside. Down inside that great machinery of youth, however, morality is just that. This was a simple choice because it was a moral one. We were too young to cloud those waters with questions of personal convenience and comfort.

We had been climbing, skiing and working ranches together for a few years already. Bob had saved my ass from the very real perils of the old-school sharp end any number of times. I could face a bit of jail time in his name so he didn’t get kicked out of high school. It was not nearly as dangerous as so many of the worst troubles we had been in together. It certainly did not seem like the big deal my (attorney) wife made it out to be 25 years later when I accidentally mentioned this incident in passing.

This was Aspen, after all. The food and bedding in the Pitkin County Jail was legendary. It was sure to be an improvement from the aforementioned grungy Carbondale apartment. We even already shared home with a brain-twisted homosexual drifter, artist and obvious future serial killer (whom we recruited to pay a majority of the rent). Could a jail in downtown Aspen be worse?

I was to stand Bob’s trial and sentencing date for a clearly unfounded traffic accident rap. It would have been nothing, another slip-and-slide smash-up on a patch of black ice in the high mountains, but the incident had involved the daughter and the wife of the Snowmass police chief, and Bob already had a few prior point subtractions. I fully expected to serve three days in the basement jail in Aspen while pretending to be my almost-entirely-innocent friend. It was a tense hearing for me, but, after some lecturing, the judge let both Bob and I go free with fines and warnings.

There was one other outsider in the courtroom. A guy hunched up in the corner behind me as I waited my turn to face the bar. I was too nervous to look back much, but clearly this was also a person experienced in the lost art of projecting invisibility from the back of the class. When I was released, I turned to leave the Pitkin County Court, wanting to explode with nervous delinquent larceny. I saw that the guy in the corner was none other than Hunter S. Thompson. He seemed to be observing court — as a reporter or writer might — just hanging around waiting for a good story. He stared shamelessly and then from his troll-like bundling, a writing implement stabbed up and kind of saluted me.

I would have killed for the chance to talk to the skulking bald giant and share my story. By that time in my life, I had moved past Faulkner and Hemingway and Steinbeck and Camus and plowed through Thompson’s renegade words like a herd of buffalo through a snow bank. I revered his writing style, and I had some serious questions for him (of a literary nature, of course).

Here was the Master, the one person who would understand and possibly respect my story, if told properly. Yet, the circumstance required me to walk past, silently. Of all people, on all days, of all stories, I could not share this one with Hunter S. Thompson! I savored the irony while I carefully stepped out into the heart-warming embrace of the biggest whiteout snowstorm of that historical powder season. I had not before then, and have not since, felt as perfectly free as I did when I disappeared into the storm from the view of the Pitkin County Courthouse behind me.

Now look, I hate to be one of those annoying guys who writes all about “Me” and my special connection to the mountains. These things always get old very early in the paragraphs. Ninety-percent of these stories end up in the compost pile of mountain writers who only want to broadcast their “localism” to the world, without a hint of unique voice. So I apologize for taking your time.

Let’s just leave it at this: When I was 17 or 18 years old, in 1984, I made turns at Aspen Highlands every day the lifts ran. I almost missed a few days, due to the wild and dangerous roads, a spot of illness, one or two bad parties and, in one case, I almost missed a ski day because I was tempted to wait for a chance to talk with Hunter S. Thompson outside the Pitkin County Jail, which I had just escaped from while pretending to be someone else.

The thing is, the guy didn’t look like he skied much, and the sky was dropping clean white powder by the truckload at noon. I stood grinning madly, right in the middle of the main street through Aspen, for a several long beautiful minutes. I could feel Bob’s court order and suspended jail sentence icing up in one pocket and my Highlands ski pass burning a hole the other. All I could do was laugh openly at myself and speak the mountain lover’s mantra into the teeth of the storm: “’Cause if you’re gonna go … ”

Andy Dannerbeck is a 45-year-old ex-cowboy, ex-Republican, ex-Democrat, ex-boatman, ex-climber, ex-business owner, ex-husband, ex-student, ex-rigger, ex-poet, ex-guide and exile in general. A husband, a father and a child of the mountains, who is most recently found scribbling gibberish such as this in the whiskey-soaked shadows of the No Name Saloon, Park City, Utah.