Saturday, March 27, 2010

A mountain man's stance on a flat earth

I was browsing my personal book-backstock, tucked away on backroom bookshelf, the other day. I was pulling out selections that sparked a mood or memory, then cracking them open at random pages to see what highlighted passages I might encounter, to see what spark of insight or creativity the aphorical wisdom therein might ignite.

I like to think of it as the I Ching of the second-rate writer.

Anyway, at one point I withdrew a paperback-version of a classic of Western nature writing, parted its pages reverently at a point I left it to greater powers to select ... and all the pages spilled out like leaves in windgust.

Was that some kind of ... sign??

Actually, no. It was cheap-shit Chinese book binding. But the event did extract a memory ...

I was teaching a course on Western Environmental Literature, and put this book on my reading lest, knowing the students would be surprised, engaged, and challenged by its story and messages.

And in keeping with my own message and theme of the course -- stand by your land -- I instructed the campus bookstore to order the book from a small, West-based publishing house.

Books came. Assignments made. Books purchased. Reading began.

Then the pages fell out of the damn things. Every damn copy of the damn things.

Was that some kind of sign? I doubt it. But the page facing up when own copy imploded displayed the information that this here edition of this classic of Western nature writing was printed in China.

I sensed the surge of money digitally passing out of the region and over the ocean ...

I felt the weight the many heavy cartons of books returning on that ocean encased in an enormous steel hull driven by kilo-barrels of oil ...

Email to publisher ensued, wherein I described the ... glitch, let's call it, in the bookbinding. They responded with, essentially, we know -- it was a bad batch of books. I replied, expressing my ... surprise, let's say, that they would still choose to ship an order -- especially an order for a college class -- knowing the books were doomed to vomit their insides.

And, I appended the hypothesis that even if the students didn't deserve such shitty-ass books, maybe the publishing house did, getting what it deserved for having their classics of Western nature writing printed in China.

Something like that. I'm sure I was quintessentially professorial through it all.

Anyway, my cyber-sparring oppenent seemed to absorb my digital jabs well enough -- except that last one. A terse retort snapped into my inbox:

"Well, it's a flat earth now." 

End of conversation.

An a most unsatisfying end to that conversation, that was. But, I'm here to report that, as I gathered up the fully re-shuffled fallen pages from that former textbook the other day, it still achieved its mystical, magical insight-sparking goal. Because I now have response to that flat-earth defense:

I, myself, like my earth with topography. With moutains and valleys and lakes and rivers and canyons. And with mountain towns and desert hamlets and riverside cities. And I like the variety of cultures that are shaped by those varieted topographies, a diversity reflecting the individual landscapes that hold and support the folks who choose to live there.

And I, myself, choose to work for and support that topography.

So, thanks for the insight!

Epilogue: That company based in the West but helping flatten the earth did later make recompense by sending myself and my class much more expensive and nicer hardcover copies of the book to replace the crap they'd shipped the first time.

I guess they make better books in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Banff Moutain Film Festival inspires extreme domesticity!

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour came to Durango on Sunday. The event, held at the Smiley Building, was a fundraiser for Colorado Wild, those good folks plugging away for us to keep Wolf Creek Pass from becoming Wolf Creek Village, Estates, Mall, Condos, Parking Lot and MegaResort.

Anyway, the whole family and some friends wandered over to check it out. It was a good time, and a nice sedentary way to get stimulated after a weekend of spring skiing.

The eight shorts and films we saw were, as the MC from the Festival promised during the warm-up, "inspirational." I'm glad the kids came along, because it did convey the message, emerging as the attitude radiating from each person portrayed in each film, that you gotta get yer ass out and do stuff.

Challenging stuff. Stuff that puckers your butt. Stuff that is a siren call direct to your quantum-level energy-being -- or whatever you believe animates us as living beings. Stuff that you cannot not heed. Or if you do, it's at your mortal risk.

Okay, the folks recorded in this particular series of shorts may have followed their inner voices to places and situations that I, myself, am happy to support from a safe and sedentary distance. Rowing across the ocean? Speed-biking down Mont Blanc? Pedaling a tandem bicycle from Prudhoe Bay to the tip of South America? Scaling Trango Tower -- bivvying on the cliff face for days on a "porta-ledge" -- then leaping off wearing one of those flying-squirrel suits?

Admirable. But not enviable.
Yet also inspirational.

It's true. At this point in my life, my extreme sport is parenting. (But I do have two teenages -- a riffly section life-stream ranging from pool-drop Class III to Class V waterfall.) And the overall grander epic I forge along on involves maintaining a house; navigating a network of close friends, neighbors and acquaintances; arranging and executing frequent forays into the mountains, rivers, and canyons around where I live; and -- this one is a rather constant challenge -- working at ways to pay for all that.

Yet settling somewhere that matters to me, creating a family, connecting with friends and neighbors, pursuing an occupation and skill -- those were deliberate choices I made. A predilection that called to me. A desire I sought to explore. A long journey I deliberately and of my own free will embarked up and still travel. Every day.

Like those boundary seekers in those films -- but within my own framework of modern domestic wildness -- I find I myself also fervently endeavoring to travel my own life-expedition with the mind and heart of the Grand Adventurer. I watch those films, and I know that I follow the same spiritual compass bearing as those remote backcountry ice climbers who flew into the Canadian outback to admire and scale British Columbia's remote Hunlen Falls.

I just follow it across close-by, often residential and sometimes indoors terrain. 

(Did I mention I have TWO kids? Both TEENS?? At the SAME TIME!??)

While I believe that harrowing wilderness adventures and excruciating physical challenges hold a primal allure for us as human beings -- hence the popularity of everything from the Banff Mountain Film Festival to action flicks to bungee jumping -- I also know from experience that it's also a deep, genetic, human calling to nurture and provide for a family, become a loving husband (for it takes practice -- take it from an Extreme Spouse), develop useful and practical skills, forge yourself a character, build a tribe, learn a homeland, and work to protect and improve those things for the next generation.

Those, too, are wilderness adventures. Those, too, are human doings that make us human beings. And those, too, require sustained effort and unbending intent; are fraught with extreme risk, struggle, challenge, learning, fear, pain, and risk of failure, injury, and death; and are best approached with senses of presence and adventure, and executed with both practiced skill and personal style.

And those too reward with an overwhelming, transcending, richly gratifying sense of accomplishment and success when done.

And done well.


Learn more about the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour here.

Check out a clip of Roz Savage's rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Festival.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ringing in Spring with Bodo Corn Camp 2010!

Well, what else are a bunch of olde tyme ski bums going to do on the first day of spring?

They are, of course, going to dress up all goofy and skin up their skis and head up within sight of their hometown and ride some early-season high-desert corn.

For the second year in a row, the Four Corners climate cooperated with the zaniness, delivering a warm(ish) first spring day and some intense sunbeams, gently microwaving the big-winter snowpack and serving up a hefty heapin' helpin' of corn. Best washed down with snow-chilled PBRs.

On hand were many of the usual suspects: Our Master of Ceremonies, Captain Cornacopia; Mr. Chips (a.k.a the Chiptator); The Canadian Cosmo Kramer; Joan Jett of the Rockies; Laird Cornilton (with surfboard); Corn Shrek; some creapy guy in boxer shorts, suspenders, and a trucker's cap (Cob the Ripper?); and yours truly, Corn Yastrzemski. And many others.

As Abbey said: "Down with Empire! Up with Spring!"

Check out some more pics here and below:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why Charles Bowden is the most kick-ass living writer

I won't even offer any teasers from this article, because I'd just have to re-post the whole thing. If you read just one thing this week, make it this: "Charles Bowden on The War Next Door," from High Country News.

Here Bowden is interviewed about his most recent book, Some of the Dead are Still Breathing

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

U.S. 50 -- the "Lonliest Road" to loveliness

As a traveler, I have several personal favorite ways of doing my going. They are, in order:
  1. Walking
  2. Paddling or rowing
  3. Skiing
  4. Driving
It may seem contradictory to a paleo-guy like me to love to drive (or blog, eh?), but love to drive I do. And long I have. I've even pursued this predilection professionally, including an extended string of mini-careers as a driver of public buses, commercial trucks, limousines, and taxis.

But my favorite driving has been long, epic voyages lashed to the steering wheel. And I've done many long drives -- crossing the U.S. dozens of times, hauling a camper trailer to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back, crossing the TransCanada Highway, and even navigating the fjord-gouged coast of my personal totem-land, Norway. I also lived for a good spell out of a Toyota hatchback, but that's a whole 'nother road best wandered down another day, in another post.

So it was that I was happy to captain last week's family spring break trip to California. Time, of course, was precious, so I merrily volunteered to make the drive straight-through, a 16-hour sitting marathon fueled by coffee and XM Radio.

And scenery.

Our route to Lake Tahoe took us across Nevada on U.S. 50, the aptly named "Loneliest Road in America" -- and a byway that I haven't rolled down in a quarter of a century.

And it hasn't seemed to have changed much -- it still stands (or lies) like a piece of pre-interstate Americana, a straight-line two-lane strip of pavement across broad basins of sagebrush (the Nevada state flower -- really) and and over rocky ranges, over and over again, broken only by the occasional widely spaced remote little outpost town.

Wonderful, lovely, expansive country.

I'd forgotten, to be honest -- both about the isolation of U.S. 50 across Nevada, and, well, about Nevada itself.

U.S. 50 stretches 3,200 miles coast-to-coast, passing through a dozen states and four state capitals, as well as the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. But in Nevada, U.S. 50 crosses what is truly one of the great stretches of wild and undeveloped landscapes left in North America. Some 95 percent of the state's land is public land, and the rest is sparsely populated, outside of the surreal extra-terrestrial hovels of Las Vegas and Reno. Nevada is as wild as any stretch of African veld or savanna (where I haven't driven -- but I have hitchhiked), except sliced by long, ragged, island-in-the-sky mountain ranges.

Even from the windshield of my truck, it was damned good to be back. And I know I'll be back more -- this time to travel Nevada some of those other ways besides driving.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happiness and longing ...

Our backyard -- still ...


But! March offers welcome signs of rebirth! 

Unless you're talking about my canoe ... which is somewhere under yonder ...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Springtime in -- and with -- the Rockies

Walp, got my windows and door open out here in my garage office (The Wordshop). The sun careens in off the snowfields of nearby backyards. The birds are back and yacking it up. And the (still chill) air wafts in, bringing (very) early spring richness and riches. It's almost like working outdoors.Where a writer should work.

Oh: And the season's first spring training baseball game streams in through the sorcery of the internet.

No more spells without baseball for another nine months.

Things are good.

So ... thought I'd drag out, dust off, and offer up this little blogdom chestnut.

(This one goes out to you, Jono!)


People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. 
I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
—Rogers Hornsby

It takes skill, this following baseball. I mean following a single game, in progress. It takes practice. It takes training. Especially following a game on the radio, which I do a lot living out here in the Rocky Mountain West, where most of my baseball fixes are injected either through or via XM Radio.

So while the dreary, dragging days of February at long-blessedly-last fade into the rebirth and reawakening that we call March, my favorite teams are at last in spring training -- The Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., and the Rockies in Tucson.

And while they're in spring training, so am I.

I mean getting this football-softened brain back into shape -- working hard on my ability to maintain a running consciousness of the status of a ball game whilst keeping up the pace of my multitasking of daily work and life. It takes me a few weeks before my mental dexterity returns to its major-league game-ready regular-season agility. So I'm thankful for those few weeks of spring training games to work on my own game.

But the reward for this spring training is more than merely sharpening my mental game-tracking skills, of course -- just the same way that the joy of following those Grapefruit League and Cactus League games is more than just notching the (relatively) meaningless wins and losses.

Spring training is about ... Spring!

So when I tune my browser to a pre-season Red Sox game from the humble City of Palms Park, or click my XM receiver to a second-string-players match-up between the Cubs and Rockies in the ever-summer climes of Arizona, sure, I'm rooting for each at bat. And, yes, I'm working on my ability to follow the game while I do my work, since games that matter are only a few weeks away (and work never goes away).

But, really, what I'm doing is listening to music, like some cool jazz, feeling the groove, tuning in to the musical soundtrack of Spring itself.

With the lyrical intonations of a Joe Castiglione, or Ron Santo, or Jeff Kingery on vocals.

It's music to my frost-bitten ears.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Mountain View ...

... is the title of this month's San Juandering column, in Inside Outside Southwest. I'm glad to be able to offer it up here, because I've been such a lame-ass blogger lately.
The view from my home town is pretty sweet. And it's that view that brought me to the mountains, and has kept me eddied out, a hostage of choice, here and in other Colorado mountain towns for more than half my life.
But that's not the only view from this, and those many other, mountain towns ...