"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

29 November 2014

The Dude Abides

Chevy. My brother would say if any image encapsulates the breed of Australian Shepherd, it's this one... 

And this just somehow embodied his mindset...

My brother was the first one that noticed him, a puppy weathering a badlands downpour in an x-pen. For several years after, my brother would call that puppy, who would get to be seventy-five pounds if he were an ounce, in his prime, his dog. Yet, when it came down to brass tacks and bedposts, that dog came home with me.

When my daughter and I would go out to the farm to visit and she'd wander the length and breadth of the property, Chevy never left her side. Years later, even after the arthritis crippled him to where he could not join us for walkabouts, he would excitedly gallop up to her. If anything, he was her dog.

I used to ask my mother if I could take Chevy when I finally got a house with a yard. She would always tell me no, because, in his prime, he could scale a six-foot tall fence without complaint if there was a bitch in heat on the other side. He was not the type of dog to be hemmed in. Years later, after my mother died and I took both Chevy and Whistler into the mountains, I felt no satisfaction in my victory. They were my inheritance. My monkey's paws.

Chevy was trained as therapy dog, which fit his gentle and easy-going personality. My father would say the dog didn't have any enemies. To a degree, I believe that. I would tell anyone meeting my hounds that if Chevy growled at them, they needed to get the fuck away from me directly, because, obviously, they were the most vile of threats.

His arthritis first manifested within about four months of coming to the mountains. Over the years, it would progressively get worse. Yet, as long as he had a warm place to lay down, plenty of food, and the occasional pat on the head-even and especially from my daughter-he was reasonably happy.

That day I buried Whistler out back, he stayed by my side at every opportunity. Perhaps he sensed I needed comfort. Maybe he sensed his older half-brother was gone and not coming back. It could be that it doesn't really matter, that Chevy was nearby and I found solace in that.

It was within the last few days his breathing became labored. Almost like a constant snore. At first, I wasn't terribly worried. He still trundled around, drank water, and ate. It was last night, as I noticed the trails of drool from his mouth I felt concern. Morning came, and he didn't eat. My father once said the day Chevy didn't eat, dig a hole.

The ground outside is frozen, but you probably know where this is going...

One of the vet techs speculated part of the reason for his labored breathing was strain from his heart going. I theorized pneumonia. In humans, pneumonia is the body's way of saying fuck this noise! and shutting down, it follows the same would similar for something like a dog. In humans, we try so desperately to save someone with pneumonia, where as a dog has the option of being put down without someone getting slapped with a murder charge. In fact, it's called humane.

Dogs get the better end of that bargain...

Chevy's head rested in my lap, as it has many times. Sometimes, just to hang out. Sometimes, in lending that little bit of comfort. Trying to keep my composure as the hospice dose was given, I couldn't help but think of him saying something to me with his big brown and blue eyes;

The Dude abides...

This time, I will get ashes and divide them between my daughter and I. That was a difficult phone call to make. Both my father and sister seem to think, tragic as it is, there is closure with the other of the Grumpy Old Men passing into the Bardo. My brother tells me I did right by his dog. Part of me feels like I've either lost another touchstone to the memory of my mother, or perhaps a fetter of grief has been released, but I'm not quite sure. Perhaps it doesn't matter.

Here and now, I sip whiskey and remember. The last nearly sixteen years, and especially the last four and half when they were here. To someone else, it might be quite difficult to explain that Chevy and Whistler were beyond familiars, friends, or simple companions. I've lost a facet of my family today in a way language fails to articulate, six months and nine days after a similar facet was lost. I can never get this back. All I have now are the memories and the stories.

The Grumpy Old Men, Chevy and Whistler. Sabina took this about a month before I put Whistler down...

The Dude abides, is what his final glance told me. I take that anthropomorphizing thought seriously. It keeps me from screaming.

25 November 2014

An Okay Blizzard

Looking up at the north face of Leavenworth Mountain...

To say I awoke to righteous blizzard would be something between folly and hubris. The word blizzard might even have been a stretch. Sure, the sky was leaden and its murkiness obscured the high peaks. There was wind and drifts. It was perfect Colorado winter snow, falling only sightly to the side.

As I stepped out with the hounds, hence answering the burning metaphysical question of our times, I was perfectly comfortable in my fleece jacket and beanie, as opposed to my heavy goose-down parka. In some places, The wind had blown the snow to only a thin layer of crust, not even warranting microspikes. Whilst greasy and snowpacked in areas, the roads were open. The reality was it was lapsang souchong weather. Nothing that called for my treasured last infusion of Nepali black tea. 

I've yet to meet that storm, and, when I do, I cannot say with any certainty whether I'll celebrate or mourn...

A breakfast of berbere-spiced eggs and toast. Something warm and Moroccan on the menu for supper. A space of daylight hours with no obligations to fill up in between.

Sabina dropped me off at the other narrow-gage railroad station on the way to her obligations, two miles down valley, so I might snowshoe up the canyon. We were going to be kicking around the Mount Evans Wilderness in a day, and, although I wanted to get out there, I didn't want to wander too far afield. Two miles and six-hundred vertical was more than adequate.

Looking back down the canyon from the tracks at the edge of Cemetery Hill...

It took me forty minutes to reach the cemetery, on the far eastern edge of town. Uphill? Snow that was deep in places? Pshaw!

I've always wondered how quick I could make that trek if I was genuinely in a hurry...

Returning home with visions of further infusions of tea and perhaps a documentary or two, in my skull, I took of the slowly falling flakes and murky sky. It certainly wasn't a righteous blizzard by any stretch, and even the term blizzard might be out of context. Be that as it may, for storm to snowshoe through, it did okay.

18 November 2014

First Shoeings

An almost bluebird day...

After a six day cycle of storms, the snow is just deep enough for snowshoes. We agressively researched this circumstance on a brisk day by going down the canyon as far as the ruins of the Lebanon Mine, which the narrow-gage railroad uses for tours in the summer. There were still spots where we'd hit against root and rock. So it goes. It's still early season. Our getting out on the snowshoes spoke to our own sense of desperation.

The snow was slightly deeper along the warren of wagon roads that make up the old townsite, but that's because of slightly higher elevation. However, three days out from the last snows, some of the trails were already fairly tramped down. After all, the place is a bit of a whore. It was a bit of an effort to find a place to be first tracks. Then again, in case you haven't met me, I can be tenacious.

Already the snow has started to sculpt familiar trails into other worlds, unique for that stretch of winter. Always a fascinating spectacle to behold. More snow is on the way within the next few days. Sabina counts down the weeks for our hut trip. In those weeks, it'll be a given we'll be out on the snowshoes, if, for no other reason, than we need to be conditioned.

11 November 2014

Winter's Calling

A little rivulet along the Argentine Railroad Grade, two days back...

Despite the bluster to wind, it was a mild day. I would eventually record the high as fifty on the Fahrenheit scale, eighteen degrees above that of frozen water. Although I had a soft shell in my pack, the fleece vest I wore was suffice for bushwhacking through a heavily treed slope, which spends much of its day these days in shadow.

We climbed a couple hundred feet up the mountain, to an old wagon road my daughter and I found a few years ago. Other than a few cut trees at the avalanche chute, we were hard-pressed to find any notations of the passings of Man since out last expedition this way. Down on the main trail, we saw deer, prancing and cavorting in the woods. A day later, the magistrate would tell me hunting season was over. Perhaps the deer were aware of that somehow and frolicking in thanksgiving.

Later that night, sore and exhausted from scrabbling up mountainsides, I wondered if I was getting old[er] that such a walkabout would kick my ass. Then a gust of wind rattled the house. I knew what was coming, the meteorological prophecy had been doomsaying it for days. Now, my twisted skeleton was confirming it as more than just hype and other forms of hearsay.


I made note of the first flakes starting to fall shortly after ten in the morning. Sempai and I still tried to accomplish an outdoor project of covering some of his plants. No bad weather, just the wrong clothes. We didn't have everything needed to complete the project and I went to have my Brazilian-style shrimp-take that, weather! Ha-ha!-for lunch. It was shortly after two in the afternoon a traveler asked me about the Road.

"It's a long strip of asphalt which runs east-west through the state," I said honestly.

"I hear it's closed," the traveler said, somewhat confused by my very to-the-point answer.

"I've been detained as to not be able to check, but let's have a look-see," I said.

First accumulating snow, first closers along the corridor. It is the way of things. Even if Sempai, the bookkeeper, and I all agreed the amount of snow that had fallen, that continued to fall, hardly warranted it.

"Everybody's getting their snowlegs on," I told another traveler when they asked me how and why this sort of thing happened.

For the next three hours, I would be repeating words to that effect like a mantra. Or a broken record. Take your pick.

"Can't you just call the highway patrol and get an estimate of when it's going to open again?" A traveler asked me as he drummed his impatient fingers on the counter. He did not appreciate my reaction.

"They don't give us that!" I said only after my uproarious laugher subsided. "Sort of a covering of backsides on their part. See, if they said it'd be open in two hours, there'd be some people who'd be upset it took two hours and five minutes."

Some people translating into impatient, entitled pigfuckers, that is...

When everything opened up again, I pulled the trash and took my leave. Sabina was making pizza, Monday being one of the few nights of the week I let her into my kitchen to cook. I had a calming tumbler of whiskey when I got home. We pulled out our heavy down parkas for a walk after supper.


What a difference two days makes; looking at the Bull's Head from out front of the house this morning...

I awoke to single digits. The daytime high temperature would I would record would be twenty-two, twenty-nine degrees below two days before, and ten degrees below that of frozen water. Slush-bergs ambled down the river's current. In another month, there'll be places it'll be frozen over completely. The cats looked at the hounds and I like we were insane for stepping outside and I realized I'd need to start checking the indoor litterbox more often.

Despite the cold, there were still things that needed to be done. A few errands down-valley, a walkabout to a ruin at the edge of town. There's no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

"Welcome to winter," I'd said to Sabina when I told her of the closer the day before.

Looking at meteorological prophecy, I'd wager I'm not far off, despite the fact it's six to ten days before my usual marker of when we lose direct sunlight on the house. It would seem winter decided to come a little early. Time is an abstract, after all.

I have the gear and it's been entirely too long since I snowshoed. We've only got six weeks to get conditioned for our hut trip. The only thing winter means up here is type of layering you do when playing outside. So it goes.

04 November 2014

A Dance and a Walk

The first accumulating snow of the season at ninety-one sixty fell two nights ago. It was maybe two inches, and most of it was gone by afternoon. Soon enough, we'll get our basecoat of snow that sticks around until late March into early April. That's just the way of it.

Our town's Halloween Dance, sponsored by the historical group, was held on the first of November. Of course it was. This is the same town that has its irreverent midnight Christmas service at ten at night on Christmas Eve with an after party to follow-the matter of that high-octane eggnog-and Easter sunrise service promptly at the crack of two in the afternoon, complete with the Easter Gorilla.

If this all happened somewhere else, I might think it was strange...

Sabina won second prize for her costume; the fermented fruit bat. Someone asked me what I was supposed to be and I replied with an eccentric polymath that got me a confused look from the cat inquiring and an eyeroll from Sabina, for which I cannot understand why. Truthfully, I wasn't completely in any sort of costume. Often, I've stated how I've gotten cynical toward holidays, and it seems to have gotten more pronounced in the years since my mother died.  

Since it was the start of November, some of my raiment was more in line with Dia de Muertos; the scarf the bruja made for me several birthdays ago, a sugar skull t-shirt, and what I call my Graveyard Jacket for its painting of the Tibetan Wheel of Life on the back and the memorial patch to Jibril upon the sleeve. I'm sure the bottle of Spanish red I was drinking straight from the bottle and hob-nailed, steel-toe boots made some sort of statement.

When the dance was done, I did my historical board member duty of helping with some clean up before retiring to our x-carnie neighbors' house for further merriment. I ran home to grab another bottle of wine and promptly extricated myself from the jacket, scarf, and steel-toes in favor of my down vest and some low-top hiking shoes. I have stated before I can only play dress-up for so long. The Halloween dance showed me that's any kind of dress up.

I recently told the gypsy wearing pants was me dressing up...

Certainly, I might have my punk-rock sensitivities, but that outfit was more my gutter-punk days in the city. Another skin, another life. Any time I wonder how much has changed in my years up here, I have something like this happen.


It was a pleasant treat to only encounter a total of five people on the trail. Given it's part of the CDT, it is quite the whore. There was snow, but it wasn't deep. I brought my microspikes, but I didn't need them. The glistening snow off the high ridges of the Roof of the World offered a dramatic scene.

The Citadel...

Herman Lake...

I had the tundra all to myself. The sun was hot upon my face. I was grateful for the cooling breeze that kicked up as I ate my energy bar. When I stood to leave, I thanked the landscape for the silence, serenity, and solitude. On the way down, a long-tail weasel, in its winter coat, ran in front of me. Mine was the only vehicle at the trailhead.

It certainly was a good day. One, which held a lesson or two. I would say with a fair amount of certainty that one of those lessons was to visit this trail after the first snows has fallen, as to experience its zen excellence in peace.