Saturday, January 22, 2005

Waxing Skis

The storm blew in late last night and by the morning knee-deep snow blankets the landscape. It’s beautiful, but the wind is wicked. Shoveling out the driveway, I pull my Stetson down over my eyes and lean into the wind as I dig away. The dog loves it, running and jumping in the snow. He runs and then buries his head in the snow and with his nose, kicks up snow and snaps at it as if he’s catching it in his mouth. To be so easily amused! As soon as the wind dies, it will be great skiing. It’s cold so the snow is light. If only there were mountains… But with a full moon a few days away, they’ll be a opportunity for a moonlight ski through the barren hardwood forests behind my home. Perhaps I’ll take the high ground above the frozen lakes or maybe I’ll ski along the abandoned railroad right-a-way that parallels the river. Will the dog remember that he needs to stay behind me. Walking and running, he gets out in front, but that’s not a good position when I’m skiing, as he has to relearn every year. He likes to stop frequently and clean the snow from his paws, which is dangerous for he seems to want to stop right in front of me on a downhill run.

After cleaning my driveway, I head over to the gym to swim. There's no problem getting a lane, only a handful of people are out. I’m informed they’re closing early today, due to the storm. So instead of swimming a mile and then relaxing in the hot-tub, I stopped at ¾ of a mile. Afterwards, I head downtown and now sit in Rich’s, the smoky coffee shop that most of my friends abhor. As a non-smoker, the smoke annoying, but I like the people here, the food is cheap and the coffee is hot and they never let your cup go dry. After an active morning, I long to indulge myself with some greasy hashbrowns, poached eggs with plenty of hot sauce, and rye toast. Of course, the real attractions here are the young waitresses. They’re cute and it’s fun to watch them bounce from table to table, flirting and bringing smiles to men old enough to be their granddads. Today, because of the storm, it’s not very busy. Several waitresses were unable to make it in, but that’s okay ‘cause the place which is usually hopping on a Saturday morning, with blue smoke lingering at the ceiling, is now almost empty and the air fairly clean. Talk is all about the snow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Reading about Water

I've successfully made another trip around the sun--and am another year older.
This past year has been one of change. I left the desert last January and now reside in a land dissected by lakes and streams and marsh. Water has always played a role in my life, whether the abundance of it when I lived near the coast or the lack of it in the desert. In the desert, I’d hike miles to find water in a rocky crag. Here, in the summer, my canoe freely navigates streams, taking me away from civilization. Water defines me. One day I will write my book on water, but this year I invested considerable time reading about it.

My reading included Craig Childs poetic book, The Secret of Water. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, Childs reminded me that too much water is as threatening as too little. The secret knowledge of water is desire, he finally admits on page 270. Next to be read was Richard Francaviglia’s, Believing in Place: A Spiritual Geography of the Great Basin. Reading it right after leaving the Great Basin, a place I’ve spent a over a decade of my life exploring, the book served as a funeral, allowing me to grieve even as I looked forward to new explorations. Francaviglia does a great job integrating Native America, Judeo-Christian and Mormon spiritual beliefs about the desert (which is defined by the lack of water). Then, as summer approached, I read David James Duncan’s The River Why?. This wonderful novel reminded me of my lost love for fishing and inspired me to frequently get our my fly rod and torment the fish during the summer (In Utah, I’d have to drive 30 miles to the nearest trout stream. Here, I can walk out into a neighbor’s pasture and catch bluegills out of a farm pond, just a few hundred yards from my backdoor. Bluegills may not be trout, but they are fun to catch on a fly rod). Another book, that was kind of about fishing and water, was Daniel Wallace’s surrealistic portrayal of his father in Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions. Toward the end of the year I read Mark Spragg’s, Where Rivers Change Direction. The last chapter of this memoir of growing up in Wyoming starts out with a focus on water:

“I am related to water. I am a descendant of its sound and movement. Part of a roiling lineage. If I bend an ear to either shoulder I hear the suck and swell and hiss of a mountain stream. My soul has nursed at liquid teats. As colostrums is passed from mother to child, so the vital history of water has entered me. Water brings me joy. I fear that water will someday murder me. My life is balanced between its threat and grace.” (page 254).
Although Spragg’s memoir wouldn’t be considered religious in a traditional sense, he understands the essence of water in Jewish and Christian faiths. Water destroys as in the great flood. Water gives new life as in the Israelites crossing the sea or John baptizing in the Jordan. Water allows us to experience life more fully and comfortably as Moses striking the rock in the desert or Jesus telling the woman at the well about living water. Norman Maclean at the end of in his novella A River Runs Through It (you may have seen the movie) confesses that he’s haunted by water. I agree.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Waiting in line at the grocery story

Waiting at the check-out line, I scanned the tabloids. The World Daily News or something like that had a startling revelation that our first parents were gay. Instead of Adam and Eve, they were Adam and Ed. THe cover had a picture of two skeletons embraced. Both had a fig leaf stragetically placed over the site where each one's private area use to be before the flesh returned to dust...

I didn't buy the paper, but I thought it must be great to have a job where you could write all kinds of crap and not have to worry about documentation. Mark Twain once mused that if Martin Luther and Joan of Arc were our first parents (he was fond of both), neither would have eaten of the fruit in the garden, but then, as Twain went on to say, they'd probably be no you or me.

After a day of record warmth with rain, the snow has returned.

Valley Sage: A Picture in 4 Parts

I. Autumn—Snow on Sage
The season’s first snow fell overnight.
As the sun rises between broken clouds,
it lays heavy on the sage
giving the valley an appearance of a cotton field
ready for the harvest.
By late morning, the snow’s gone
And the valley again appears as a sea of light green sage
stretching between the now golden aspens
that line the benches next to the mountains.
The snow, a foretaste of the change in season,
reveals a cosmic battle between light and dark,
summer and winter, life and death.

II. Winter: Sheep and Solitude
Low clouds hang between the mountains
obscuring the sun, a mere diffused spot in the firmament.
Underneath, a white blanket covers the valley
protruded by sage and sheep,
which blend into the bland landscape
as they nibble on the bitter brush.
Howling winds between the mountains
draw the sheep close together.
The herder as another stick of dry sage to the fire
which, as light fades in the west,
sends sparks upward
as if a prayer to the gods.

III. Spring: New Life in the Valley
Evening surrenders to darkness
revealing mighty Orion, his sword drawn,
who now hangs low in the western sky.
Underneath the expanse of the heavens chill settles in
and a lone wolf shatters the silence.
Daily, the snow retreats further up the mountains
followed closely behind by the sheep
who seek fresh grass, a welcome respite from the bitter herb.
On the benches, amongst budding Aspen, they birth lambs.
And in the meadows, amongst the sage, paintbrush and lupine appear
as ducks, high overhead, follow an internal compass north.

VI. Summer: Fragrant Sage and Alpine Glow
Rising, like a nuclear dawn, the sun climbs higher
baking the parched soil as heat simmers from the valley floor.
The hearty sage, now with pale greenish gray shoots
hide rattlesnakes and a few rodents,
longing for relief from the sun and cover from the hawk’s piercing eyes.
As the sun crest overhead
puffs of clouds build over the western mountains
promising evening relief, a quick shower.
Soon, the air freshened and fragrant with sage.
the clouds break as the sun sets
allowing low rays to protrude from behind the horizon
casting a spell of pink over the valley.


Dissolve with me into the fog
that hides the land and muffles the sound
to where we only see an outline of trees
and hear the screech of an owl,
our gasps for air and the pounding of our hearts.
Clasp my hand and explore
the subtle world closing in.

until there is only the other
and together we embrace to ward off the chill

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

It ain't suppose to rain in January

The snow was almost good enough to snow and now it's raining and melting. When it's not raining, fog covers the land, creating a mystical view. I miss sunshine and open skies and snow in the mountains. But I am thankful, too. I'm surrounded by good folk, am in good health, and haven't had to swim in a tsunami lately. Even if I can't ski, I'm grateful for regular opportunites to swim. And I'm grateful for a friend who introduced me to Pramoedya Ananta Toer's writing. I enjoyed The Girl from the Coast, a novel about his grandmother, and look forward to reading more of his works.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Christmas is over. I've taken the tree down and abandoned my railway until next year. Sure wish we would get some consistant winter weather so that the skiing would improve. Until then, I'll be content to sit by the fire and sip aged Rum while reading a stash of Railroad magazines from the 1940s given to me by my grandmother.