"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

26 December 2013

Backcountry Birthday

The night before we left we attended the services, which started once upon at time at midnight before people either got old or had kids and had since been moved to ten. There was afterward, a reception with high-octane eggnog-I stuck with Sri Lankan beer. Sabina took this opportunity to tell some of our neighbors who didn't already know about our upcoming trip. Even going as far as to quote bastardized football mantras;

"Twelve! Twenty-six! Fifty! Hut! Hut! Hut! Hike!"

I have resolved she perhaps never needs to have any of that high-octane eggnog ever again...

The service and our yearly pilgrimage to the Great Stupa our way of getting holy. At least in the institutional human construct. The older I get, I see it as more contrived and otherwise fake. A dog and pony show. It's when I get to walking, out in the bush, that I find the shit gets real.


The air was crisp and clean when we arrived at the trailhead. There was fresh snow and turquoise blue sky. Perfect for snowshoeing the two miles up a jeep road to our destination.

Although I can move at a good clip on my long shanks, I learned quickly, carrying our liquid; four and half liters of water, a bottle of wine, four twelve ounce cans of beer, and a three-hundred seventy-five milliliter bottle of spiced rum-gotta be prepared-that there's no hurry. A mile an hour is fine. I took the framepack's discipline-an estimated thirty pounds of weight total-in stride. It could be seen as training for a summer backpacking walkabout.

It took two hours to reach the cabin, whereupon we met some of our eighteen new friends, most of whom were skiers, although there were a couple of fellow snowshoers. We found a couple of beds, opened two of the beers, and settled in. There is something just so very right about arriving somewhere that has books both by and about Edward Abbey.

This is one of the more family-friendly huts and there were children. Whilst loud when playing, they weren't horrifically obnoxious. One was just fascinated with my trinkets.

"You have rings and bracelets and earrings and a nose ring," she observed.

"Yeh, and tattoos too," I said, pulling up a sleeve to show some ink. "Terrifying, ain't it?"

"Not really."

"My goal in life is to play as much as possible," one of our cabin-mates quipped when asked what he did.

A wise philosophy to have, and one I embrace as well. I like to be entertained. Part of it I could say is purely environmental; we live somewhere that playing outside is hardly kid's stuff or an occasional weekend hobby, it's a lifestyle choice. Nay, a sacrament.

For the duration of our stay, Sabina's name was birthday girl, and exhortations of merry Christmas were replaced with happy birthday. This was kind of cool. I suppose after you survive a half century you most assuredly earn that.

We slept fairly well for being in a strange place with well-worn pillows. Bacon, eggs, and mashed potatoes take on a special divinity when you're in the outback that language cannot properly describe. With the sun out and the air still at eleven-thousand two-hundred sixty-four feet, twenty above doesn't feel bad at all. I didn't bother with a shell when we set out.

One hour down. It was more the grade than the shedding of three-quarters of our liquid weight. We discussed returning to the cabin in summer to check it out in another season, when we'd deal with mountain bikers, jeepers, and fellow walkers. Both of us were beaming from the adventure.

"We did it!" The birthday girl exclaimed. "And we didn't get mauled by mountain goats!"

"I only saw one cougar up there," I said with a smirk.

"Oh, fuck off," she said somewhat flippantly, although I cannot fathom why. It wasn't like I was going to start humming Mrs Robinson to her. At least not straight away.

24 December 2013

In the Himalayan Mood

There's a bit of a Himalayan feel to the day. Not enough to justify my coveted final infusion's worth of black Nepali tea, but I certainly don't mind rocking the lapsang souchong. A little Nawang Khehog and Manose on the stereo, and I've got me a mood going. It's fantastic.

Soft flakes waft down from the clouds coiled across the high peaks. When out on walkabout-last minute snowshoe conditioning, of course-I was caught in a thirty minute blizzard. I read a meteorologist describing it as an angry inch of snow falling. In summer, we'd have called it a downpour of a gully-washer, depending upon one's geographical bent.

It's not supposed to snow much. Just enough to give a little fresh powder. Something extra for our snowshoe to Francie's Cabin for Sabina's birthday. Such a lucky girl.

It cost me a fortune...

I get my framepack as ready as I can for early the next morning. There is the matter of perishable foodstuffs and libations. Sabina said something about wanting to make herself a cake. I might be a little handy in the kitchen, but I never mastered the discipline of baking.

Outside is chilly and overcast with passing squalls of snow. Perfect for lapsang souchong tea and Himalayan folk music. Perfect for snowshoeing, and I should know. The next two days, those of our trek, are supposed to be sunny and mild. Bluebird days as some snowbums call it. I'm excited for our walkabout, and it's not even my birthday, just an adventure. One of many. Then again, the day I can't get even the slightest bit excited about a potential adventure is the day I check to see if bullets are edible.

22 December 2013


It was four years ago this past Tuesday that you went into the sickhouse and never came back out. You told me it wasn't your last rodeo and I spent longer than I'd like to admit being angry at you for unintentionally lying to me. Whenever I look up at the ridge of Leavenworth Mountain, toward the ruins of Waldorf on the other side of that ridge, where we scattered your immolated bones, I smile bittersweetly, thinking perhaps you're really not that far away after all.

When I saw her kneeling to snap a photograph, I saw you. Right down to the Carhartt ranch jacket. The same hair-before you got sick and the chemo shaved you bald-and the same smile. Even a similar lack of chin. I tried very hard not to stare.

With purposeful stride I put some distance between us. Once I rounded a corner, I caught myself trembling slightly. As with most any time I see a ghost of memory, I found myself rattled. There were so many things I wanted to ask and tell, but she wouldn't have understood. But part of me thinks I should be grateful for that doppelganger in the Carhartt ranch jacket that looked so disturbingly like you. If I allow myself a moment of superstition, I could theorize it was your way of letting me know you're really not that far away after all.

18 December 2013


The moon looked down like the unblinking eye of a detached and distant ancestor. Only the brightest of stars were visible. The river, almost completely covered by its icy carapace shimmered like liquid mercury. There was a low illumination given off by the reflecting snow that could best be described as mystical.

We walked up to the old gravel quarry on the west end of town, no headlamps needed. It wasn't terribly cold out. Although, I was a little disappointed we didn't partake of any spiced rum. Still, the company and walkabout itself was worth it. Then again, when isn't a walkabout worth it?

The moon looked on impassively, and, there was mystical comfort in that...

15 December 2013

Slumming Amongst the Glitterati

Back when I lived down below, when, during one of my urban walkabouts, I happened into a wealthier district, I’d say I was slumming. There are those who would say-quite baselessly, I might add-that I am paradoxical and otherwise contrary, which is a bunch of who shot john. See, I don’t have a contrary bone in my body. My daughter agrees, although, she went on to say I had two-hundred six such bones. Contemptuous fucking child.

She gets that from her mother…

It really wasn't my fault how I ended up slumming amongst some of the local glitterati. In fact, having just got home from obligations, I was beginning to contemplate a Sri Lankan beer. It was going to be pizza night at the House of Owls and Bats.

Then my phone buzzed. The message in a digital bottle was from a friend whom was at the holiday shin-dig for the Hamill House. Initially, she'd contacted Sabina, under the auspice of a girls night out playing pretty-pretty princesses, but Sabina had her own obligations she was still engaged in. So I was asked to be a date. Apparently there were snacks and a free! bar.

That's how I ended up at the historic mansion of a mine owner in the getup I normally reserve for marryings, buryings, and the summer melodrama. I'd dug out my Hungarian wool-cashmere blend overcoat, with a skull and crossbones pin on one lapel and my Scottish clan crest on the other and the multi-colored Doctor Who scarf the bruja made for me several birthdays ago. I'd told my date I'd be looking like a bohemian version of the help.

This event was put on by one of the historical groups. One of which is kissing-with tongue-cousins with the organization of which I receive my patronage from to bankroll my adventures and pay my mortgage. There's a certain sense of incest here-cue the banjos-because the memberships are to both groups and many of these cats are my volunteers. There's also my affiliation with my town's historical group and being on our museum board, not to mention living within a small aggregate of communities within a narrow rift-like valley in the mountains.

Despite my misanthropy, I know people...

It was queer to turn heads. I've never liked that kind of attention. Both the magistrate and matron gave me compliments. My date said she'd never seen me so dressed up, and I told her unless we were seeing someone to the altar or into the ground, she'd not see me that way again.

"You clean up really well," one of my acquaintances/volunteers said, taking in my raiment.

"What? This old thing? This rag I picked up off my closet floor?" I said. "I only wear this when I don't give a fuck what I look like."

I chuckled at her eye-roll, trying to think of when I give a fuck what I look like...

There were Christmas carols and the lighting of a tree in the grand old Victorian style. Mulled wine and a host of toasts. Moments of simple humanity, those moments, which I'm a sucker for, but maybe I just suck.

Sabina got a brief second to catch me in playing-dress-up-clothes when she first got home. I was all but cutting myself out of them in favor of some cotton Nepali-style cargo pants with Buddhist symbology on them, a Live t-shirt, and what I call my grandpa sweater. Quite soon I felt more at ease within my own skin instead of wanting to flay it off, playing dress-up does that to me, despite how well I can do it. I relaxed. There was pizza to make. The whole time, since when I'd received the initial invite, I had a Ministry song playing within the walls of my skull;

Albeit more rocking....

10 December 2013

Relative Balmy

The full implications of how cold it had been hit me around six-thirty in the morning when I was letting the hounds out, thus answering the gnawing metaphysical question of our time. There was no wind and my weather station stated it was positive sixteen out. I found this pleasant.

Of course, the day before, horrific gales lashed our Sahel at sustained speeds of between fifteen and twenty miles per hour. I'd rather not discuss the gusts. It was type of wind, which was that of icy talons and surgically sharpened blades; ripping and cutting through any kind of armor as though it was wet paper. The ambient air temperature hovered at a paltry eight or nine above, with a wind chill of minus ten to fifteen. There are very few times I might say it was miserable up here, but the day before was one of them.

The wind had turned the snow around the house into hardpack and I feared for conditions on the trails for a walkabout. Thankfully, it was not that bad as I started my snowshoe up Grizzly Gulch. There was a breeze, but the surrounding trees pretty much kept me shielded. I found myself comfortable in my gear, if not a little hot now and again, with the excursion.

Gray's and Torrey's were cloaked in phantasmal smoke-gray clouds and orographic snow. In the distance, I heard the roar of an avalanche, and deduced it was from the slope of Kelso Mountain along nearby Stevens Gulch. I hoped it wasn't human-caused, and, if it was, there was no one caught in it.

At home in the fading daylight, I took my tea on the porch, musing places for Sabina and I to snowshoe the next time the sun rose, whilst the hounds milled about. My weather station told me it was positive twenty-three and the high had been twenty-six. I sat back, taking in my tiny snow-covered world. It was so warm out I considered cracking open a beer out there on the porch and grilling for supper.

08 December 2013

Powdery Frolic

My personal Kilimanjaro, Brown, and Silver Plume Mountain respectively, as well town itself as seen from a ruin on the Argentine trail...

There are some righteous icicles hanging from the back of the house. It's been nearly a week since the mercury has risen above freezing, and for quite a few of those days, it's been sub-zero. This is something to be taken in stride, given the Roof of the World is but ten miles away, and it's winter. I have a down parka for just such events. 

I woke up to a light dusting of snow to add to ten inches we'd received from the previous storm. There were no obligations and I had a new set of snow pants to break in. It was with the most wicked grin of joy that, after a breakfast of Cambodian curried eggs, I grabbed my snowshoes.

The avalanche danger was just high enough to make a Backcountry walkabout unwise. Even and especially solo. The Argentine is close, as in walking distance, and on a north face. Not to mentioned rather heavily treed.

Of course, the trail is a whore, so there were already tracks. Although, I know enough hidden places along there that I could go frolic in the fresh powder. That was how I ended up at a particular ruin Sabina and I have stopped at before. The snow was shin-deep on me. Fantastic.

Ice crystals clung to my beard. I couldn't help but chuckle at that. All things considered, I was toasty, bordering on hot, from the trekking. There was that profound snowbound silence and the landscape transformed under the coat of winter.

I came down a back way and hopped down-valley to see Miguel Loco to tell him about conditions and have a mocha. He pressed me to go on longer excursions whilst I'm still in good shape and I told him this snowshoe was the first of conditioning runs for the upcoming hut trip. 

It's supposed to warm up in the coming days and there's no snow foretold for perhaps the next ten. At least that means the avi danger will decrease and I could perhaps do Grizzly or Watrous come Tuesday. This first snowshoe of the season filled me with joy, and I found myself reciting part of a Christmas carol as a mantra in context;

"Let it snow,
let it snow,
let it snow...."

And Om mani padme hum to that, muthafuckas...

03 December 2013

Those Old Honeymooners

Margot MacFadden had hair the color of polished copper and eyes that shown like brilliantly-cut emeralds. There was a light play of freckles across her face that resembled the mask of a badger. Even as she grew into adulthood there was something child-like and carefree in her manner. An ex of hers once postulated she belonged to one of the races whom dwelt beneath Fey Hill; some manner of pixie or sprite. Something she took as a compliment.

She was very proud of her Celtic ancestry. There were tales she could recite from memory, as if she had been there. Stories of battle against tyranny for the good Earth of her kin and adventures to brave new lands. Some of them may have been true, and, to her mind; all of them were.

Years later, her copper-colored locks teased her jawline and were striped with cords of pure silver. Sometimes she considered a dye-job to conceal the suggestion she might be aging. Her eyes still twinkled with youthful exuberance and the freckles still danced playfully across her older face.

She had been called a sexy grandma, which she took as a pleasing, albeit backhanded, compliment, having been born without a uterus. Never having the maternal pull, she did not regret not having children, and, there were plenty of the adopteds-never, ever, fosters-coming in and out, which she felt more like the occasional guide to than a parent. When asked, she could say with all honesty that satisfied her.


Counting almost to the day, it was thirty years since she first met Solomon Chance. That night, her world changed. It had been at a gallery opening and her lead-singer boyfriend was doing a set. Solomon had just come from living three years in Spain for no other reason than to live in Spain. In his wool jacket pocket was a book of Rumi’s poems-“I read it once a year, whether I need to or not,” he told her-he was drinking something dark and esoteric and was smoking a fat cigar, which smelled of hundred-dollar bills and a thousand places that didn’t exist. Margo would never admit it, but it was love at first sight. Doubly so after he shook her hand.

“You realize I’m going to marry you someday,” he said.

“My boyfriend’s with the band,” she shot back, trying not to let her electric arousal seep into her words.

“An obstacle,” Solomon said with a shrug. “Obstacles can be overcome.”

In their first encounters, Margot felt shame in her ancestral pride. She could speak of glory and battle, but those were tales of those who had come before. Solomon spoke of places he had been; the three years in Spain. Before that, travels through the Mediterranean, Middle East, and all through Africa. Those ten years backpacking all through south and east Asia, Australia, and South America because he did.

She remembered asking him why

“Because I wanted to,” he said without the slightest blush of arrogance. “Maybe I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what it was.”

He was fascinated by her ancestral tales. Having grown up on a Wyoming ranch, he didn’t know much of his family’s history beyond his great-grandparents. The fact Margot had family whom she could trace back centuries was of savage interest to him.

“You’re already established,” he said. “Me? I’ve got to make a name for myself.”

“With your last name? You won’t have to try too hard,” Margot teased with a wink of emerald.

A year and a half after they met, the lead-singer was gone. Five years later, they were a couple. Fabulous, some would say. Five years after that, as Solomon warned, they were married. It was on the Patagonian coast against the long-beached skeleton of a minke whale. Both agreed it was tragic in its romance. A wedding and funeral all in one.


She had been away on personal business. When she walked into the salon there was the usual mournful wailing of Hank Williams and the faces of people she knew. With a slight pixie-ish smile, she singled out a patron sitting at the bar.

These days, his hair was that of brushed steel, but his eyes were that of ball lightning. Those were the eyes that got her in the end. A gaze that could tell you a thousand secrets or slice you apart. Sometimes, he spoke more with a glance than with words. She found that fascinating to this day, some thirty years from that night in the gallery.

He was at the bar, hunched over a snifter of brandy and his book of Rumi’s poems-“I read it once a year, whether I need to or not”. She sat down next to him, her nails working their way into his hair. He seemed to scarcely notice, but she knew better.

“Hello, handsome,” she cooed. “What’re you reading?”

“It’s called a book,” he replied without a sidelong glance. “In some places in the world, these are the work of the Devil.”

“Devilish man,” she teased. “Can I get you another drink?”

“I didn’t miss you,” he said.

“I’d question you if you did,” she shot back.

His eyes shifted over her. She felt the electric current of his gaze. It told her everything. She smiled as the bartender walked up to them.

“Doing okay, Sol?”

“Another brandy, please,” he replied, and then motioned to Margot. “And something special for my date here. She says she’ll pay.”

“Martini?” The bartender inquired with a knowing wink.

“Oh, of course,” she replied, placing a kiss on Solomon’s cheek like it was their first date.

01 December 2013


Early winter continues apace. Meteorological prophecy speaks of a dusting between night and the next day. Mid-week, there's suppose to be a fairly decent storm. As I purge these words, it is the century anniversary of a particularly vicious blizzard. Apocrypha says that six-hundred vertical feet bellow was the location of the largest amount of snow to fall for one day anywhere in this part of the world, and that includes Alaska. 

I have come to the conclusion that, during winter, I want it either to snow a little every few days, or not at all. It's a matter of aesthetics. When there longer periods between the storms, the snow on the ground becomes crusty. Streaks of grime from the dust of passing vehicles and soot from fires tarnish the diamond countenance. It's really no mystery where the hounds have been and what they did at that location, and, the subsequent clean-up does not bring the snow back to pristine. Don't think I haven't tried.

Sometimes, I find it comical that I wish for just a little snow. Time was, I wished against it. That was a very long time ago.

It's one of those cool days between the storms. The sky above is that shade of turquoise, although, to the west, there is a rather definite line of white clouds. On occasion, the wind blows Tibetan off the Roof of the World. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

Sabina and I mean to drive to the summit of Guanella Pass for the last time this season before the county closes the gates, making the top only accessible on foot, by ski or snowshoe. We had discussed snowshoeing the Rosalie Trail a few days back, but that was before Sabina was downed by a twenty-four bout with what may have been malaria. As it stands, the drive is done for something to do and a way to celebrate her return to the lands of the living.

Here's to life...

We'll still take our gear, just in case. I keep my eyes to west, for the next storm. It'd be great to go snowshoeing today, but I know not to be upset if I don't. See, I've heard Watrous Gulch has some righteous snow, and Tuesday ain't but a few days off.