23 December 2012

December's Child

A six pack sampler from this year's Christmas CD including what might be the quintessential American Christmas song. Email me if you want the full 22 song version. Also, don't forget everyone's favorite deformed, backcountry skiing elf. Little Sandy Sleighfoot is at it again. Enjoy.

03 December 2012

A Friendly Reminder

The busyness of a home renovation project has kept my mind on the roof above my head and other things of day to day consequence. The only thought of the changing seasons has been as it relates to the urgent nature of the project, the fact that soon all outside work will come to a halt and when that happens, at the very least, I want to live in a dry house.

It was a nice surprise, then, as well as a sort of wake-up call, to find my now annual postcard from Lea in my humble mailbox. Lea has been mentioned many times in these pages. We first met and skied together in Chile in 2007 and have crossed turns together whenever and wherever possible since. It's not often and I wish it were more but many miles have always separated us and the business of life is an awfully complex ball of wax.

At any rate, I must have done something right this year because I receive two postcards delivered to my humble mailbox, one from Bhaktapur, Nepal and the other from Patagonia. Lea pulled off some sort of funded "glacial research" trip to Nepal, her first visit. Stolen picture #1:


A few weeks later the second postcard arrived from Patagonia, a place she now knows well. Lea has been tromping around Chile and Argentina's winter landscape since time immemorial; I think by the time we met she was already on her second or third season down there and she has returned every year for a month or so since then. The best part is that she has a seemingly permanent traveling partner by the name of Lorenzo who is an equally excellent person and, as far as I can tell, makes her happy, as well as probably helps her parents breathe easier, too. Stolen picture #2:


The next best thing about the postcards is that they usually arrive at the time autumn turns to winter and the idea of Lea and Lorenzo skiing (and wading countless rivers) in the South just prior to all of us skiing again in the North makes me both happy and anxious. So now I'm happy and anxious to ski and this is a much better space to inhabit than the anxious and nervous (with the possibility of water falling on my head) space that preceded her postcards. Thanks, Lea. Thanks, Lorenzo. Thanks for being two of meiner Lieblings-Skifahrer, Wanderer, und Freunde.

Read about Lea and Lorenzo's adventures in Patagonia in her blog: Over the Hills and Far Away.

And now it's time to refocus 'cause there is new and deep snow in those hills yonder.


06 November 2012

A Run with a View

Several months of running injuries, traveling, moving, and general disruption has left me a little out of sorts. The immediate tasks at hand--winterizing a new/old home, the transition to two new spaces (Boise, Carey), helping with cattle--have pretty much exhausted all waking hours and daylight. It is with great comfort and pleasure, then, to find myself settling into a new routine and a new routine means the ability to carve enough time in the day for a run.

For me, running, especially if it involves hills, views, and dirt roads or trails, provides the same kind of mind-cleaning, heart-jumping, muscle-shocking experience that ski-touring offers, only without the time commitment or avalanche gear. So I've found my new routine and it's a good one: a circuit of ten kilometers in total starting at an elevation of 4,797 feet, maxing at 5,449 feet, and with a total gain of 1,014 feet. Respectable and only a six-minute drive from the house. Or, in other words, in conjunction with coffee it's the best way to start a day and an assurance of a sound night's sleep.

Topographically, the run begins on the backside of what is known as the Queen's Crown, a tapered band of cliffs that defines the pass on Highway 20 between Carey and Picabo. The road climbs through public access State land to a ridge line that drops back down to Highway 20 with an optional steep-ass pitch straight to the top of the Queen's Crown. It's a hump of earth situated between the foothills of the Pioneer Mountains and the extinct lava flows of the Snake River Plain. The road is rough, it's rocky, it's completely deserted, and it makes me happy.

The starting line and optional steep-ass pitch to the Queen's Crown backside:

On top of the Queen's Crown facing east toward Carey; the Craters of the Moon National Monument is off to the south; Blizzard Mountain is the high peak:

Looking west off the Queen's Crown with the Queen's Crown Ranch in the foreground; the Hidden Crown Ranch above; the Susie Q Ranch tucked into the right side of the bend in the highway; Picabo up the highway; and on toward the sprawling kingdom of Bud Purdy:

A mellow mini-mix for dusty sagebrush runs:


02 October 2012

New Beginnings

Say hello to my little friend.

His name is Jaime. He was born in 1995. Jaime descends from the Silverado clan of American Chevrolets but with markings and appearance that show a cultural heritage steeped in the deserts of Sonora or Chihuahua. He is big but he is old. His only new jobs will be to haul junk from two homes in various states of renovation and to transport Hazel and I up and down bumpy, dusty roads. He seems at his happiest with the windows down, driving slowly, and listening to cowboy songs from Northeastern Mexico.

Along with Jaime I would like to introduce a new blog, A House Is Not a Motel, that will document the progress of House Renovation Project #1 in Carey. House Renovation Project #2 will begin when the house in Carey is suitable for permanent residency.

Life in Idahome is settling into a busy but productive routine. An open suitcase still holds my clothes but that will change soon, too. Baby steps and deep breaths. A morning chill is in the air, the Quaking Aspen are turning golden, and the desert light is low and melancholy. My skis have found a new home.

28 August 2012

Exit, Phase Four: (End of) Traveling

One more road trip before the settling process, this time with a high concentration of rivers and streams, all due north by northwest. A quick stop to witness Titus Andronicus's reign of terror (and lamentable tragedy) and it was back to the homeland. The trip was about bodies of water, a brother I hadn't seen in too long a time, and the chance to spend some time alone in the mountains. These are the eyes of my eyes.

Middle Fork John Day River: Small streams, happy native trout. Originating in Oregon's Blue Mountains, the John Day River and it's branches add up to the third longest free-flowing river in the continuous United States.

Desolation Creek: Also in the Blue Mountains, Desolation Creek teams up with the North Fork of the John Day River around the hamlet of Dale. I almost passed this one by as the heat of the day was oppressive and at times the creek was barely a trickle. But I grabbed a beer, caught a couple Redband trout (a subspecies of the Rainbow trout), and walked the creek until I found this hole:

Most of the creek wasn't deep enough to support a population of large fish. This hole, though, was deep enough to drown in and as I stood on its banks I watched a group of about six of the largest fish I've ever seen outside of an aquarium. Most of them must have been Brown trout as they huddled together and never left the bottom. There was at least one Chinook or Steelhead salmon in there, however, and it was quite clearly in charge. Much bigger, much blacker than the trout, the salmon pushed others out of the way for food and every once in a while surfaced for a fly with a slow rolling movement that resembled something more akin to the Loch Ness Monster than any other cold-blooded, aquatic, vertebrate.

The beast was impressive and neither it nor the trout wanted anything to do with anything I threw at them. Silly human. Fair enough, watching something so ancient and beautiful was a humbling privilege. As Cormac McCarthy wrote: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

North Fork John Day River: Water as warm as a bath. Welcome mountain whitefish.

Here I paused for a quick civilization break and a half day's trip to the source of countless rivers and streams.

A kinder, gentler, moonlighting Titus:

Then back to the road and back to the water.

Bumping Lake.

Upper Naches River: clear, cold, fast, and seemingly devoid of fish. Why? I inquired but was given no answer. A friend of the devil is a friend of mine.

The trip ended where it began, back in northeastern Oregon among small streams and giant Ponderosa Pines. Dry country with very little water.

Allen Creek: Yes, there are fish in there. I'm less surprised by big fish that live in big streams than I am small fish that are able to eke a living from the smallest, most delicate, most fragile of ecosystems.

Out of the trees and into the desert. A nail in a tire and rescued by Les Schwab. Born and raised on the Oregon Trail. The end of traveling. Time to work. I will be happy to close my eyes on new places, or half close 'em with new faces.

03 August 2012

Exit, Phase Four: Assimilation

A week of recovery in the Uncompahgre Valley and it was time to move again. A week's worth of tacos, big trucks, and patriotism and I was ready to escape to the quieter side of life. With the dog (Hazel) returned to family and the new car (Subaru) returned to family, it was time to hit the highway, dirt roads, and hidden campsites. Time to assimilate.

What we lacked in appropriate camping gear (stove) we made up with accessories (electric scooter, suitcase of books and stuffed animals). Too many accoutrements aside, spirits were high. The last attempt at a car camping road trip didn't fare so well but I was fairly certain that traveling in a more familiar geography was a sure thing.

Loaded with both Minnie's Dreams and the Minnie's Dreams Appendices, as well as the epic, six disc Americana compilation, The Last Living Town, away we went. Chippeha!

Headlong to the heavens.

A torrent of rain within the first thirty minutes made for a wet night in the San Juan Mountains. It's hard to deter a boy's curiosity and imagination, though.

From the West Dolores River it was down and out through Dolores, Dove Creek, then over the border, O Pioneers, into You-tar. With moisture and cool temperatures long gone we found relief in the Dry Wash Reservoir at about 7,000 feet. Swimming in the desert underneath the 11,000 foot Abajo Mountains--or Blue Mountains, depending--is a real treat.

All roads lead to Hank's ville.

The problem with Hanksville is that it's placed in an inferno. At the bottom of the inferno is an illusion of a giant lake. John Wesley Powell knew of no such lake. We paid the ferryman and he took us across Styx.

Hanksville and Henry's Mountains would have to wait. The road to them is straight and narrow and hot and dry. Instead, the shortest distance between an inferno and subalpine shade is a winding, bumpy, dusty road through a Waterpocket Fold in the desert.

The next couple days took us due north and up and over several of Utah's high mountain passes where the near-100 degree temperatures of the valley rose to just over 80. Blissful.

Plans to continue the bliss somewhere up the Huntington Canyon Scenic Byway changed with the 48,000 acre Seeley Fire that burned promising campsites and turned the trout-filled Huntington Creek black. So back down to Huntington to remap and give the kid some fountain time.

Before heading north again I counted five mothers who drove five cars to the fountain with a total of twenty-two kids in tow, a demographic and cultural reminder of the type of country we were traveling through. Then we drove into the appropriately named Carbon County and passed another reminder.

The Castle Gate Cemetery is almost an afterthought now, easily hidden from view and camouflaged by sagebrush and faded stone. Names like Spenoni, Barozzi, Tzanakis, and Georgopoulos account for a different kind of pioneer. Though the 08 March 1924 date on 29 tombstones answer one question, the number of infant and stillborn grave markers testify to the difficult, dangerous, and often lonely lives of both miners and their families that relocated to a foreign country in search of something better than what they left behind.

Up and over more mountain passes until we entered the southwestern flanks of the Unita Mountains, the highest east-west running range in the contiguous United States. It was time to hunker for a couple days and, besides that, I knew the headwater forks of the Duchesne River teem with cutthroat trout. Camp was set, dads took pictures of sons, sons took pictures of dads, and we fished for two days straight.

Leaving the Unitas and more reminders, this time that inhabitants of the contemporary Western landscape aren't always as compatible as those we often emulate.

The Five Suns is a creation myth of the Aztec and other central Mexican peoples. The previous four worlds, or Suns, have long been destroyed by the faults and arrogant actions of presiding deities. The Fifth Sun, the present world, is supported by the Aztec themselves whose divine duty is to nourish Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, with sacrifices. Should the sacrifices fail, Coyolxauhqui, the goddess of the moon and a black magician, would defeat the sun god. If this happens, the Fifth Sun will be cast into darkness and a giant earthquake will spell the end of the Earth and all of humanity. Until then we'll make massive wrought iron monuments to ourselves and spray sagebrush with all the water we cannot afford to lose.

Water is a recurrent theme of desert travel and as we inched our way into the upper northeastern corner of the Great Basin water seemed more abundant, pastures greener, and friends more friendly. The swimming was good and so were the key lime pie shakes, cold cans of Coors, and backyard BBQs.

From Utah we entered the home stretch out of the Great Basin and into the Snake River Plain and its various tributaries of Idaho. It is here where we will stay.

The rest of the summer will focus on settling and assimilating back into something more recognizable and familiar than the intensive immersion course of the last ten years. It's good to touch the green, green grass of the desert. For now.

06 July 2012

Exit, Phase Three: The Landing

Hello New World.

Landing on top of a 236th birthday celebration. Familiarity breeds contempt? Maybe.

Maybe there is also a cold comfort in contempt. A don't criticize what you can't understand kind of thing. I love this place because it drives me crazy. I understand.

In the United States bigger is better. It has to be. It thrives in its sense of enormity. The once and future Last Living Town. Welcome to the big sky. The big sky is too big to sympathize.

Be careful of low flying clouds.

29 June 2012

Exit, Phase Three: The Flight

Goodbye Old World. It's been a long three and a half years. When we arrived it was bitter cold and raining and the sky was slate gray. Today is hot and humid and the sun is bright and full of power. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player..." Etc, etc. "Signifying nothing."

Have you ever cried while running? Strange. I felt like flying. I did not stumble.

Well, then, as the wise-beyond-his-years Laurent Adler said last weekend just before diving into a heaping pile of tartiflette: "See you on the other side."