"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

24 November 2013

Base Coat

In terms of severity, it wasn't the worst storm, but it was serious enough to close the Road over a twenty mile stretch for a few hours. Ever notice there are never any comedic or ironic storms? Queer.

It was amateur day; those who felt invincible their four-by-fours and all-wheel drives, flatlanders who had only seen snow on television and le cinema screens, and those getting their snow legs on who were unfortunate enough to be in the way. It was something, which made my obligations border upon agonizing in terms of the perceived passage of time. That night, there was to be a shin-dig, but night seemed days away.

"What a lovely day out," the preservationist of my acquaintance said in reference to the portrait of diamond-dust and polished ivory accumulating upon the ground and playful squalls of snow dancing in the thin mountain air.

"Snowshoeing weather," I said. We both smiled. Almost every one I'm acquainted with knows of the scheme for Sabina's birthday and how anxious I am to get out there.

In the days following that storm, I've had travelers query me about places to go snowshoeing and conditions. I keep my envy in check, thinking of where I can go in the next few days, and advise them to become well-acquainted with the CAIC. Either that or I just send them over to Miguel Loco for advice.

The day before the flakes started to fly, whilst doing errands, Sabina observed snow-encrusted the shark-tooth countenance of Mount Sniktau. She waxed melancholy; three days prior, we lost the direct sunlight, marking the Long Dark and the start of our winter. There was lamentation for warmer times. I shot her a sidelong glance.

"Mi amore, with what we mean to do for your birthday, you best hope it dumps on us," I said.

She sighed in agreement and the conversation turned to this upcoming trek. Once more, we talked about our route and what to take. Still almost a month off and we've made the walkabout several times in our minds and discussions. It'll be interesting to see how the real thing plays out.

Ya'll might not know this about me, but I'm always up for an adventure...

And it looks like we've started to get a decent base coat. The landscape begins to change shape in variation to snow and temperature and wind. Every season is different, which is part of the magic of this place. I cast a glance toward my snowshoes, a simple one-word mantra rattling within the walls of my skull;


19 November 2013


We first met in a diner. I was using a set of Chinese medicine balls as stage-prop in what could be considered a lewd joke. You came back with one better. We spent the first half of the evening trading dirty jokes. I might have blushed once or twice whilst giggling guiltily, had all the capillaries in my face not been damaged by the ugly incident in Calcutta when I went toe-to-toe with that militant faction of Up with People, but that's another story.

I was twenty-one. A young, impressionable, philosophy and theology student who was probably far too impressed with my own intelligence. I kept talking about writing a book. Being published someday was my rockstar fantasy back then.

You were eleven years my senior. Already, you had worked a molybdenum mine outside of Leadville and been involved in the constabulary. You had a vocabulary that made my other philosopher friend seem like a monosyllabic hick. When I told you I was starting to dig on far eastern philosophy, you implored me to check out Sun Tzu.

Some of the others may not have liked you as much as I did. Thinking back, you might be right about that. No subject was taboo to you. At all. You stood your ground in a dialogue and refused to mollycoddle. It could be that made some others, weaker in their constitutions and convictions, uncomfortable. Perhaps it was that shocking, violent honesty that fascinated me. Maybe it was because you were willing to hang out with me until night became another day whilst we drank coffee and discussed the whichnesses and wherefores.

You taught me the concept of the alligator mouth and the hummingbird ass. Something both of us still have a problem with-although, I like to say I have come to a place of acceptance and the rest of the world needs to catch up. During those dark days of my divorce, you offered unflinching advice, much like you did the time I quired you about a restraining order against an x-girlfriend. Some of what you said hurt my feelings, but I desperately needed to hear it anyway. I was perhaps the second person in the whole of creation you told you were going to marry your second x-wife the night you met her.

Over the years and lifetimes we've known each other, I've called you one of my gurus. A guru, after all, aids one in finding enlightenment. Whilst I'll not be pretentious and say enlightenment is something I'm even close to achieving, you have helped me pull away some of the cobwebs of ignorance.

When you told me you were born again, I flippantly wanted to ask what was wrong with the first time. You may have laughed. You might have entreated me to go fuck myself. Either response would've been appropriate. I did tell you I am pretty happy with my beliefs and we'd just have to agree to disagree.

"Robbie Grey, I didn't call you to convert you," you said. "I called because you're my friend and I wanted to talk to you."

Just like that, everything was zen...

And the shit you've been through in the last few years; divorce, bad health, loss of home, hearth, and income, you describe as your living perdition. Meanwhile, I am so very happy in my existence here in paradise. The dichotomy is enough to get me to believe that blasphemous rumor that god has a sick sense of humor. That, the Problem of Evil, is why I cannot even pretend to believe in an anthropomorphic deity that even remotely cares. Yet, to your credit, you've kept your faith.

And I name thee Job...

So, naturally, when you phone me up sounding all but broken beneath the blade, I catch myself worrying. Not that you'll go and do something utterly stupid and rash; I do believe you that you'll not go quietly. I worry that the man I've spent the last nearly twenty years admiring for calling it as it's seen and going where the angels fear tread for a laugh and intellectual curiosity, is considering bearing his jugular.

I understand; it's been a long time in this downward spiral. Kafka, Milton, and Dante would cross their legs and blush. But I've heard your stories, Sir. Those ones from further back. Back from before that night in a diner with a set of Chinese medicine balls and a volley of crass humor. You've gone toe-to-toe with worse infernals than this and they were the ones who limped away with scars.

There was that night during the bardo after my x-wife left and when my divorce became official. I was scribbling manic poetry to a soundtrack of Nine Inch Nails. Words fail in describing the psychic devastation and Shakespearian betrayal of it all. It, to this day, was one time in my life that I was closest to being heartbroken, which is queer, given my heart has no bones. You sat down with me and told me how sick to death you were with my wallowing.

"The fact you have fallen is interesting," you said in a steady, yet harsh voice. "The time you remain down is important."
Job, my guru...mon ami, you have fallen, and ain't that about interesting?

How long will you remain down?

16 November 2013

A Night at the Cantina

"I want you to try this," she says to me, pouring the amber liquid into a glass. "It's whiskey, rock candy, and citrus peal. Supposedly, it was a formula for cough syrup."

"It's vile," I say taking a sip. "You better just give me that bottle for proper disposal."

"I think we'll put it back on the shelf now," she giggles, toasting me. "But I have another new whiskey for you to try."

After five months, she's started to figure me out. Good or ill. I do appreciate a bartender who drinks, even and especially with her customers. Otherwise, I might fear I was being poisoned.

She looks very much like a flapper girl, and, even though I know her given name, I'm tempted to call her Miss Parker. I don't, because Miss Parker was a cat of the gypsy's that turned out to be a boy. Of course the gypsy's pussy-cat!-would be male with a female name. That's just how things like this play out.

It's a Friday night down at the local watering hole. We talk about the week that's passed since we last all saw one another. There's musing of whether or not it'll snow. The weather seems to be an often-visited topic in the mountains.

Familiar faces come and go. It's because I brought a book. If I didn't, it'd have been quieter, and I'd have been staring blankly out the window, watching the lengthening twilight shadows. All in the name of a shot and a beer, I catch myself being social.

At some point, it gets brought up I'm Buddhist. One neighbor asks if that means facing Mecca, and I have to correct him. Another neighbor, a schoolteacher for money, eyes me oddly.

"I never said I was a good Buddhist," I say taking a sip of beer.

"It's just I never imagined you identifying with a major cult," the schoolteacher muses.

"Closest thing to my beliefs," I reply with a shrug, the cult thing not being insulting. After all, they have some great songs. Besides, a cult is merely the church down the lane from yours.

The man from Minnesota, who lives in the old hotel in town, comes in to do some open stage. His accent reminds me of the gypsy, and I want to ask him about finding me the culinary rarity of Canadian bacon. Again, I resist temptation. It's pointless to ask someone from Minnesota about Canadian bacon no matter how Canadian he sounds.

He starts up with a Neil Young song, the Canadian motif continues, though I'm the only one who notices. I turn to for my beer and notice a fresh tumbler of whiskey waiting for me. The bartender shoots me an innocent smirk.

"It's magic," she says.

"Praises be!" I take on my father's accent. "A miracle!"

I listen to a few songs and share a few conversations. It's only seven at night, but it's dark far too early these days, and it feels so much later. I tab out, say my good nights, promising to show up in a week. Outside, a few soft flakes of snow have started to fall.

12 November 2013

Native Moments

Looking down at Naylor Lake. Squaretop Mountain stands in the distance...

I've been working on rocking the winter beard; thicker, and letting the scruff to vine its way further up my cheeks. There are a few more flecks of gray. So it goes and what are you going to do about it anyway? Gray hair doesn't terrify me as it once did.

There has been the joke that come late, late April or early May, I'll shave it all off and be baby-faced for a week, thus giving me a reminder of what my chin looks like. See, with the exception of a few periods, I've worn a beard since I was twenty-seven. The last time I completely shaved it off, the bruja said I looked like I was twelve, but taller.


The other night, after dinner, sitting back with a relaxing glass of red, we were listening to the Grateful Dead. It wasn't until recent years that I could tolerate the Dead enough to own an album from them, and, nowadays, we have a few, and yet we don't smoke weed-it interferes with the drinking, you know. The Dead, along with folk/Americana/bluegrass, and reggae are the soundtrack of these mountains. Perhaps we have truly gone native.

"Imagine if someone would have told you ten years ago that you'd be staying in, reading a book, and listening to the Grateful Dead," Sabina mused. A long-running game between us.

Early November, ten years back, I just found out my grandmother had an aneurysm in her chest the size of a softball, and might live six months, if she didn't get surgery and just die on the table. She did opt for surgery, because she was my grandmother; a tough old broad who was going to be in charge of her own fate, and not the other way around. She died three months later. I got a tattoo in memorandum.

Early November, ten years back, I was trying to understand how a bright-burning relationship had suddenly drifted into a cold void that made interstellar space seem tropical. Like Joe Strummer, I wondered if I should stay or should I go. Perhaps I was just overreacting, and she'd come back, as it were. Maybe I knew better, but wanted to be wrong.

Perhaps me ten years back, depressed and confused, would have heard of sitting in a one-hundred thirty-three year old house high in the mountains, sipping after dinner wine and grooving to the Grateful Dead and figured fuck it, why not?, after all, it wasn't like there was a lot to lose. Maybe he would've scoffed, thinking such a state unlikely. It could be he would've said not yet, because whatever intangible he was looking for, that, which had drawn him into the greater metroplex in the first place, had yet to be found. But once it was found, he'd be gone so fast his pants would have to catch the next bus out.

When it comes down to brass tacks and bedposts, it's kind of irrelevant. The me of ten years back is alien and distant. The mental exercise, whilst amusing, is akin to trying to imagine what the me at twenty-one, or even eleven, would think of me at forty-one. Those after-images may be aliens, but we share similar features and a string of memories and experiences which would shape that monster that stares back at me in the mirror. The aberration that spits these words out into ether, either, and or.


My neighbors got to see me in the closest thing I have to a suit the other day. See, we were burying one of our own. The only time one should wear a suit is when seeing someone go to the altar, into the ground, or, perhaps, some unfortunate moment in front of a magistrate, like a murder trial-or so I've heard. Anything else is the pompous try-too-hard that inspires murder thoughts or drug addiction, if not both in the same instance.

Two of my neighbors noticed the anarchy pin I wear on the left lapel of my fine pinstripe jacket. One commented I wear anarchy well-I'm pretty sure that was a compliment-and the other told me of all the old political buttons she had from the sixties and seventies. I mentioned that my anarchy pin, like the Free Tibet sticker I have on Old Scratch, is the closest I come to advertising my politics.

"Once a punk, always a punk," Sabina said with a sly wink. I cocked an eyebrow in her direction, but said nothing.

After all, what's more punk-rock than the mountains? Living where I want to, how I want to, with the person I want to is its own bold statement. High-powered corporate executives jerk-off like ugly apes in humping season to this kind of success. You can see it in their eyes when they come up for vacation.

We knew the deceased peripherally, but we are better acquainted with her mother, and that's why we went. Still, we were subjected to empathic overload, as there was not a dry eye in the place. Even the neighbor giving the requiem's voice crackled with emotion, and when the preacher-man's voice breaks, the shit gets real.

The wake was at the rathskeller of a restaurant down-valley. Because of our peripheral acquaintance with the deceased, we bowed out. There were some ruins we wanted to explore and my daughter was up. This was the closest we were to get to hanging out for her birthday.

After a hard-scrabble and hard-won discovery, we had cha'i at Miguel Loco's shoppe. Stories and the marvels of how quick the kids grow were exchanged. My daughter left after a dinner of wild rice, roasted potatoes, and buffalo chicken legs. I sometimes felt like I was being a little clingy with her, but I just saw a neighbor bury one of their babies. Perhaps I was justified. Maybe I was being simpy. It could be that, however unlikely, I might be a little more sentimental than I let on.


I reacquaint myself with the concept of upper and lower lots. Summer and winter. Snow has come to our Sahel. This early in the season, cramp-ons and gaiters are advisable. In perhaps another month, snow pants and either skis or snowshoes, depending upon one's preference.

It's possible I could've driven to the upper lot, but I do not regret playing it safe and parking lower. After all, I go solo trekking a fair amount, thus taking a risk when I go on walkabout in one aspect. I saw snowshoe tracks, which I found absurd; the snow was too hard-packed and not deep enough. There were bare muddy patches where the sun shone through the trees. As much as I want to go snowshoeing, I know I must be patient, and my patients is formidable.

I found a rock outcropping overlooking a mountain lake to stop and relax. The alpine sun was warm upon my shoulders. It was profoundly quite. As I walked, the only sounds were that of my breathing and my boots and poles crunching against the snow. There was not even the song of wind. It was as if the universe itself was holding its breath.

Looking out, I meditated upon perceptions of success and how successful I perceive myself. I thought back to that memorial and the thing, which is said any time someone walks on; enjoy the moment, because when the number's up, it's up. Trite, but so very true.

I could go on one of my solo treks and never be heard from again. We could all get hit by an asteroid the size of Pavarotti's ass tomorrow and it'd be lights out. Even the wise cannot foresee all ends, but that's because there is no future, just as there is no past. There's just this, the moment. Everything else is memory and jack-off fantasy.

This song makes me think of living in the mountains, though, I'm not sure if it's because of the title or the instrumentation...

05 November 2013

Days of Bitter Strength

Okay, it's their most poppy song, and I lack ganja to fully appreciate this band, but the lyrics speak profound truth.Besides, I'm sucker for a touch of Grey...

I was at the local watering hole early in the evening on Día de Muertos drinking lemonade and reading the bible. Some might argue, in context, me saying I was drinking lemonade and reading the bible means I was having a pint of stout beer and tumbler of whiskey. Even if such a baseless assertion was true, both libations would've been locally made, and if I'm going to be a locavore, I'm going to keep the shit real. Bordering upon surreal.

"You ready for winter?" The man sitting next to me inquired. Outside, flurries of soft flakes wafted down in the manner of soft down feathers and willo'-the-wisp.

"'Ready' has very little to do with it," I replied. "It's November; winter's inevitable." 

We talked about trails; ones he Backcountry skis and I snowshoe. My eyes would drift outside to fading light, watching the snowflakes dancing upon the wind. I caught myself smiling bittersweetly. Simultaneously I look forward to the coming season and dreading it.

Superstition dictates that the recent holidays of Samhain and  Día de Muertos are the times when the veils between the lands of the living and realms of the dead are at their very thinest. On those days, they touch and maybe even kiss. Maybe with a little tongue.

November in our Sahel is when the veils between seasons, between light and shadow, are at their thinest. Hours, both in terms of sunlight and professional obligations, reduce. Things slow down. It's colder.

A contemporary of mine despises the month of April. I wrestle with November, when my reptile zen and crippling depression crush up against one another like glacial ice across bare rock. The direct sun is gone by mid-month and I always remember Thanksgiving as the last holiday with my mother before those last seventeen days in the sickhouse. The bruja and her unborn babe died this month, and one of my neighbors has just been introduced to the macabre of having to bury one her babies. It was strangely flattering that she asked me for Buddhist prayer for her recently departed daughter. 

Both my daughter and father have birthdays in November. Thanksgiving, for all its personal melancholy and socially expected gluttony, is the time I am most likely to see my brother, sister, their spouses, nephew, and niece. Trails, even the whore ones, become less crowded, blessing me with deeper solitude, even when only a little ways from home.

Some of the first real snows fall in November. Sometimes quite viciously. As I've watched the first flakes fall, coating the high peaks, I've caught tings of excitement, visions of snowshoeing dancing in my head.

Sabina's birthday is on Boxing Day, and, in the years we've lived here, have gone snowshoeing to celebrate it, much like we grill for mine. This birthday is a big one, and we mean to snowshoe to one of the Tenth Mountain Division Huts and spend the night to mark it. The snow means a new adventures on several levels. I find myself barely able to wait.

November is this time when we cross the veil. Into the darkness. Into the cold. Into the snow. This is the way of things here in our Sahel. I fight to maintain my equilibrium, knowing, despite my psychic scars from this time of year, this is the way of things. One must have the dark to appreciate the light, and light without shadow is blindness.

A touch of Grey, if you will...

It has been a chilly mountain autumn day. A thin dusting greeted me upon waking. The high peaks have been muted by phantasmal curtains of blowing snow refracting the pale sunlight. There is a bite to the breeze, which made my fleece and beanie a good idea when I wandered the Bull's Head.

I looked west, toward the Roof of the World, seeing the snow clouds churn. Despite myself, I thought of Yuki-Onna. The seasons were changing before my eyes.

"Are you ready for winter?" I was asked.

Fucking bring it...