Cold, Snow and the Fire in My Soul

Snowy Blueberries

Is it the Northern European and Highlander blood romping wildly through my veins? And that bit o’ Japanese blood found cavorting there; clearly it must hail from one of that island country’s many mountain ranges. For I cannot deny, nor would I want to, that I am a woman in love … with winter.

In the summertime, I hold my breath until it rains. Here, there are long stretches of time during which nothing wet falls from the clouds. If we are lucky enough to have any clouds. I grow bored of the blue-on-blue backdrop, the scorched and arid air. It is not very interesting. And then there are the rampant wildfires with that angry, maraschino cherry of a sun.

When summer finally ends, I am pleased as punch to see it retreat in a cowardly and vapid puff of dust. Good riddance to friable rubbish! And should 55⁰F still feel downright chilly, burr, go grab a sweater. Start adding to your coffers of rounds and splits and kindling. Chastise yourself repeatedly for not worrying about your firewood needs earlier in the season, like you always plan to do. Worry about it, get over it and then get on it. It will warm you up.

Graciously by mid-September, the days have cooled and the nights are chill. Soppy stuff falls from the gathering clouds in big, fat, confident dollops. A little more time passes and October clip-clops in, riding in his pumpkin carriage — no glass slippers here! And thank my Lucky Stars, snuggling up to October, draped in puffy white fleece and sucking on purple popsicles, is the delirious Promise of Winter.

Firewood has been split and carefully stacked under cover. Chimneys and stovepipes cleaned by the man who travels way up here from way down-valley, wearing a stovepipe hat and with a smudge of ash on his pointy nose. I stop holding my breath and release an overdue and hearty sigh, a sigh that looks like my papa’s pipe smoke spiraling upward in the Jack Frost air.

Praise Earl, god of weather, two-dog nights are fast on autumn’s heels and champing — never chomping — at November’s bit. Ready the hot wax! Add to your quiver of skis if fortune has smiled graciously upon your rosy cheeks! Damn if 22⁰F begins to feel toasty. Know that eventually 12⁰F will become blessedly doable if you are splitting more rounds or skinning up the mountain. Then, somehow make the negative numbers work.

Make certain to take midnight kick-and-glides in the light of the bright and waxing moon. Do not use your headlamp. Slide your fish scales across the mountain highway deep with snow and long since closed for the season. Gather a few good friends and bring along a thermos of blueberry
tea, a hot, adult beverage that has nothing to do with blueberries and yet tastes magically of the delicious fruit. A very adventuresome friend of mine proclaims, Everything’s better with booze. And while this may be an arguable point, it makes us laugh.

Watch as disembodied, reflective eyes mystically hover two feet above the glacier-blue and mica-garnished surface. Lynx in the sky with diamonds.

Much later, go on home, stoke the woodstove, sleep like a puppy.

The season becomes circular: shovel-shovel, split-stack, skin-ski, shovel-shovel, sleep. Grow quick and sinewy, in spite of the extra calories consumed. Snow and firewood management grow muscles. Skiing grows wings.

I dread the encroachment of late spring, with the threat of fierce and fiery summer lurking in its shrinking shadows, biting viciously at its heels. With some amount of sorrow, I anticipate the holding of my breath.

At the end of an extended winter season, across the border in northern Cascadia, when the cold and snow continued late and well into spring, nay nearly into summer, while many grew weary of the lingering cold and less enthusiastic about the promise of greening hills, an absent fire season and an increased water table, my dear and very adventuresome friend Anne called out heartily into the grey and frigid air, eyes skyward, fists clenched, Grow me some glaciers!

Acclimated.

Blueberry Tea for a Moonlit Ski

1 oz. Amaretto

2 oz. Grand Marnier

Lemon Peel

Piping Hot Earl Gray Tea

Absolutely No Blueberries

Pour piping hot Earl Gray tea steeped with lemon peel into thermos.

Add measurements of Amaretto and Grand Marnier for each full cup of tea.

Gently swirl.

Serve hot, while moving across snow, under the light of a shining moon.

Senior correspondent Tricia M. Cook is an avid wolf preservationist who lives in the North Cascades of Washington State.

Little Black Dress

I was top-roping an exposed and thin ’10c face. Even on TR, anything smooth, requiring healthy servings of finesse, throws me for a loop. A familiar 5.9 would be nice right now. Or a juggy ’10b. Give me some dynamic moves I can use to make my way to the next hold.

climbing hold
Reaching for the next good hold on a more dynamic route

Below me, Geof Childs, who had effortlessly gunned up the rope and set up the anchor, hollered out the necessary beta and encouragement. The air carried the sharp bite of late season and the rock was a bit chilly. The sky was all gray and gloom and I noticed fresh snow creeping stealthily down from the high country.

Climbing is fun, but I was feeling surprisingly grumpy and gripped. Again, I was on TR, so it really was quite silly.

I was also experiencing a touch of performance anxiety. Childs was one of the first to establish routes in this popular cragging area. I have a signed copy of his book “Stone Palaces” and, from pages yellowed and fragranced by the incessant tick-tock of countless clocks, I have enjoyed reading his stories from the early days of the Mountain Gazette.

Childs is kind of a hero of mine.

So this is what Childs said to help me get my head around the thin nubbins generously referred to as holds, to ignore the possibility of a wide and painful swing and to move myself up to the anchor. Childs said, “You are wearing a little black dress and holding a martini. Because your dress is very tight and you don’t want to spill your very dry drink, you must take very small and delicate steps. It will also help if you extend your little finger when you move to the next hold. You are, after all, holding a martini. Grip the hold lightly with your little finger extended … and don’t spill your drink.”

climbing rock
Putting in motion the credo, When in doubt go higher

************

Good god, I remember thinking, a little black dress? I haven’t worn one in years.

I have a sensationally smoky one sequestered in my closet. She appears to be shunned by whatever else is draped on the hangers at either side of her … Jealousy. I recall slowly pulling this slip of a dress over my head and working her carefully down by body (because she would not fall into place of her own accord). Then there were the awfully-high heels to complete the affect.

Time has passed generously since then. I now have scant use for a little black dress. I have a collection of well-worn ski boots and rock shoes, but my high heels are simply collecting dust. And yet, for some reason, I will not part with her, suspended so lovely and lonely from a pink silk hanger in my closet.

************

I have now paused about halfway up the route to slowly and carefully pull on my little black dress. I take a small and delicate step up and slightly to the right, lowering my heel and smearing so I am able to gingerly grip the next hold, my little finger properly extended. I blush a little when I think of Childs below me, adroitly meting out and taking in the rope. I am confident he will prevent his gaze from traveling up my dress, both because he is a gentleman and because he is happily married to a bright and beautiful woman. But, still, I am shy.

A few more moves and I have finessed my way to the anchor. Finessed! A smile has found its way to my lips and a few clouds part, allowing a glimpse of some much needed sunglow.

Climbing is fun.

I clip into the chains, break down the anchor and, feeling lazy, ask Childs to lower me instead of rapping down. The taste of gin is on my tongue and my skin relishes the familiar cling of the dress. Untying from the rope, my little finger extends … and I haven’t spilled a drop.

Local Crags
Pleasant scenery abounds at the local crags
Mazama Rocks Road
But before too long the snow will fall in the valley

For information on climbing in my neck o’ the hills:

http://www.okanogancountry.com/whattodo_rockclimbing.php
http://www.ncmountainguides.com/climbing.asp

Forty Years in Wolves’ Clothing

Between 1972 and 1975, some very cool stuff happened. First, Skiers’ Gazette was reborn as the Mountain Gazette. The following year, Rick Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act, and, in 1974 wolves in the Lower 48 were the first species declared endangered under this bright and shiny new law.

1975 hailed the end of the war in Vietnam.

But time can be a cruel mistress: We cannot stop ourselves from fighting more wars. And in 2011, the Obama Administration compromised both the Endangered Species Act and wolf recovery in one fell swoop by approving a federal budget with a sneaky rider. For, buried deep within the budget’s muck and mire, the delisting of wolves was mandated for the Northern Rockies. Adding insult to injury, legal challenges were blocked and, for the first time, Congress alone stripped a specific species of protection under the ESA.

I will not argue that, today, most small and multi-generational family ranches are struggling to survive. Adding wolves to the equation just makes it that much more difficult, or so one may believe. But while wolves are an easy target for misdirected blame and aggression, there are far more nefarious factors that are being swept under the braided rug, like so much dirt mingled with cow shit. It is far too convenient, actually romantic for some, to point a finger — or a gun — at an apex predator, making it their own personal scapegoat.

I phoned my good friend Mr. Miller, who helps maintain a small, fourth-generation family ranch in Jefferson County, Montana. A former teacher, Miller wrote his Master’s thesis on the decline of family farms in American rural communities. When I asked him what he felt was the biggest threat to ranching in America, Miller replied, no, it wasn’t predation, but rather favorable tax policies and agricultural subsidies benefitting large commercial livestock operations that were systematically wiping them out.

But you cannot legally practice the shoot, shovel and shut up method on lobbyists and politicians who promote and support the commercial livestock industry.

The Miller family ranch, currently grazing 150 cows and 70 sheep (it has been historically both bigger and smaller), has yet to suffer one loss from wolf predation over these many years. Yet, locals swear they know of wolves in the area, near the Tobacco Roots and the Highlands. “But we have definitely lost livestock to coyotes, domestic dogs, foxes and hunters,” Miller said.

The USDA Statistic Service (NASS) recently reported that depredation by wolves accounts for a very small percentage of cattle lost — 2% in the Northern Rocky Mountain states and 0.23% nationwide. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, using professional, field-verified reports, calculates these numbers even lower than the NASS, which uses unverified livestock industry reports.

Non-predator causes account for about 95% of livestock loss: disease, injury, weather, poisoning and theft. But it is much simpler to bludgeon, shoot and trap wolves than it is the aforementioned.

Miller fears the days are numbered for his family’s ranch and others like it, the only way of life known by his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. In order to help keep it viable today, and just maybe into perpetuity, Miller salvaged six commercial greenhouses, moving them onto the land. With three currently up and running, Miller is producing pesticide-free, all-natural tomatoes, peppers and herbs, which he sells to local shops and farmer’s markets.

Thinking outside the fence line just may work.

“Can anyone tell me what’s good about wolves?” asked a little girl during a public meeting of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission last summer. The meeting preceded a vote the next day setting the hunting and trapping season for the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf. Her father, a hunting guide and trapper, suggested during the same meeting, “Open ’em year round. Hunt ’em, trap ’em, run ’em over. Don’t make a collared wolf illegal to shoot. Shoot ’em!”

During the past forty years, the wolf began as a mere ghost in the Lower 48, given federal protection in great hopes of enhancing biodiversity and restoring healthy ecosystems. Nearly twenty years later, efforts went so far as to take individual wolves from their packs in Canada, turning them into non-consenting martyrs and reintroducing them, kicking and howling, into Yellowstone National Park. Twenty more years pass and we watch in horror as wolves are vilified, legally and illegally tortured, trapped and hunted.

Like most of us, wolves are neither devils nor saints. Wolves are just another animal playing an important role in the fabric of a diverse planet Earth. Collectively, we must look toward a changing landscape that impatiently waits beyond the end of our own noses, far and away from our own Back Forties. We need to think outside the fence line. If we refuse, I will continue to huff, and to puff, and keep right on trying with all of my might to blow this house down.

Tricia Cook writes from the eastern toes of the North Cascade mountains, in the company of her two big dogs, two small cats, and a cornucopia of forest flora and fauna, including a wolf pack or two. Tricia’s blog, Living Beyond Lost, can be found at mountaingazette.com.

The Mountain Dirtbag Transportation Unit Formula, find out more about it.

Hunting Bears

Remote Montana Wilderness

I was living in the true mountains, surrounded by untamed, sprawling ranges. This place is far and away and wild. From my aging cabin’s loft, I looked down onto three ancient apple trees, trees so ancient they do not have names. The apples are delicious, but they are not delicious apples, if you know what I am saying. Late one September, I had the pleasure of eating a few of those apples, picking one from time to time as I walked by, standing on my tippy-toes like some backwoods ballerina, picking one here and there that was almost ripe, but not quite.

A few days passed and the apples were gone from their branches, branches becoming bare and brittle, long bony fingers reaching out into the chilly air. There had been so many apples and I had taken so few. They were just becoming perfectly rosy ripe when the bears were in the backwoods hiding, grinning I imagined, their distended tummies stuffed, their lips sticky with apple juice.

They would come in the midst and mist of night, moon or no, after I had turned off the lights and brought in the dogs. After I was sawing logs. They graciously left their calling cards: great moist piles of applesauce shit, great broken branches. The berries had not been robust that summer, and the bears were hungry, I could understand. I just wanted to catch one in the act, catch one climbing a tree, catch one stuffing its gut with apples. Catch one crapping applesauce … wouldn’t that be funny?

Periodically, I walked the ragged fence line. The fence is there to keep out Ma Hill’s free-range cows. Ma Hill’s goddamn cows. I wanted to think they were cute, but really they were not. So the fence keeps out Ma Hill’s cows, but little else. It does not keep out the bears. Good. Late in summer, along the inside of the fence line, curled steaming lumps of purple bear scat, huckleberry shit to be exact. In autumn crouched browning piles of applesauce. Chunky style. Bears are not careful masticators.

Within days of running away to this bittersweet hamlet, I saw my first grizzly. The cinnamon bear was young, likely less than four years old and was hanging out a few fields over. The locals, some of whom had lived there for-evvv-er and had yet to see a griz, doubted my claim, thought the greenhorn was seeing a brown black bear. Big difference. I can tell. But later on, glory be! one of the locals witnessed my grizzly with their very own peepers.

A friend came out to visit and we hunted bears. No guns for us, just our ears, eyes, hearts. Another friend chose the bear as her totem. Or perhaps it is the bear who chose her? Years ago, we hiked to a peak named Bear’s Breast Mountain, and heard a bear call out to us (though some would have called it a long, loud growl). We froze for a moment, our eyes saucers, our spines electric, then skedaddled up the trail.

Many folks around this faraway mountain hideaway eagerly look ahead to spring bear season, a time when the bears are just waking up and still groggy. With sleep in their eyes and fuzz in their brains, they make for easy targets. It breaks my heart; the bears have so few places to go anymore.

Winter Hardwood
Winter Hardwood

My last winter there had been a mild one and it was early in the next season when I experienced my first bear encounter of the year. He was a beautiful, silvery black bear, about three years old, all paws and romp. He stopped about a dozen feet away, quickly sized me up, his eyes saucers, his spine electric, then skeedaddled back down into the trees.

I’ve had closer encounters since. One encounter that stretched the minutes out good and long, like Salvador Dali used to do. Breath held tight against my lungs, heart pounding to beat the band. Wondering how much the likely attack would hurt and if I would live to bear (no pun intended) the scars and tell the tale. But even that encounter turned out just fine. The big black bear decided, after his own ponderous moments, to leave me be. We could have almost reached out and touched one another. What a rush. After watching his backside disappear into the brambles, I giggled all the way back down the old, overgrown USFS road and back into the cabin.

After a year, I moved away from that remote, Montana acreage, and it wasn’t because of the bears.

I now live at the toes of another breathtaking and wild range, and always feel real peaceful after seeing bears. Close up, far off, it doesn’t matter.  And I love knowing they are right close by, even when I am unaware …

Tsunami on the Trail
Tsunami on the Trail

Two Sites and Causes I Dig:

WOLFWATCHER

FOOTLOOSE MONTANA

Read more of Tricia’s work in her blog Living Beyond Lost

Alice’s Restaurant

“ … I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth … I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL.”

— Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant,” 1967

Coyote Sentinel
Coyote Sentinel, above the Rendezvous Canyon, courtesy of Robin

Killing Coyotes

It was well after the last rifle season and as I recall Dave telling it, he was traveling down the Rendezvous in his big pick-’em-up truck and came up behind a slow-moving, white Subaru. An unfamiliar vehicle. Around here, one becomes familiar with the comings and goings of vehicles that belong. Big Dave watched as the car slowed to a crawl in the middle of the road, and a rifle was thrust out of the driver’s side window.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

What the what? thought Dave (more or less). Mulie season was over and besides, the shooter was discharging from a moving vehicle into private property and near a rancher’s home. Big Dave tooted his horn and waved for the Subaru to pull into a nearby gravel drive. Which it did, oddly enough.

Two men sat in the Subie and one of them said through the open driver’s side window, that they were here from Sedro Woolley to take care of “your problem coyotes.”

Number 1, as Dave was more than happy to point out, we do not have problem coyotes.

Around the valley, we are collectively quite fond of our resident coyotes. They are not overly abundant and their presence helps keep down the rascally rodent populations. They are robust and beautiful. Their haunting yodels accompany our dreams, and one neighbor has enjoyed watching pups play around a nearby den.

Numbers 2, 3 and 4, as Dave was more than happy to point out, you cannot shoot from a fucking moving vehicle. You cannot shoot from a road. You cannot shoot near or into private property.

Next time we will be hunting more than coyotes, threatened the driver, more than likely missing a few teeth and high on meth. Sedro Woolley has a reputation. It is nice that the pass is closed for a good 6 months or more a year: It helps keep out the riff-raff, the coyote killers.

Dave called the county sheriff, and the white Subaru was later pulled over, the occupants given a good finger wagging. But that was it. A lot of good that did. Thanks for nothing, county sheriff. Luckily, our local game enforcement officer took more of an interest. Next time, white Sedro Woolley Subie, watch out. We have your number.

Killing Things for No Damn Good Reason

A while back, I lived in NW, Northwest Montana for a year to-the-day, roughly 30 miles east of Sandpoint Ideehoho, snuggled in betwixt the Cabinet Mountains and the Clark Fork River. I lived in an old log cabin plunked into a stretch of breathtakingly gorgeous inland rainforest. Every damn day I watched myriad wildlife activity right outside the creaking plank door, and sometimes right there on the old splintered porch. (Like the time I awoke at 4 a.m. to a baby moose literally tap-dancing on the porch’s weathered wood. “Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal …”)

During my one year in NW, Northwest Montana, I watched — and sometimes this was face-to-face-awfully-close-for-comfort watching — black bear and grizzly bear, cougar and coyotes, elk and moose and deer, fisher and pica. I listened to wolves sing in the wee hours. And all of this was right out my door, on the other side of the log walls. It was really cool.

But I will tell you what, around those parts, folks are really into killing things.

During that year, I did a little substitute teaching at the all-ages schoolhouse the next town over, about the only time I was around people, and I grew weary of listening to kids talk about killing critters. Talk of shooting crows just to watch other crows land and scavenge the dead crows, and then shooting those crows too. During rifle season, talk of trying to give away an animal they had just shot because their freezer was already full. Talk of not being able to give away the meat because everybody’s freezers already seemed to be full.

And yet folks just kept right on killing things.

Even the school’s principal bragged about the trip to northern BC he and his wife were planning so they could fly in and bag a polar bear.

Heavenly Jesus.

So please don’t tell me these folks were just trying to feed their families. They were bored and didn’t know what else to do, and hiking the phenomenally scenic trails and majestic mountains without a gun and without the sole purpose of killing something was apparently out of the question.

My friend Alison traveled over a few state lines and stayed with me for a week or so of hiking and exploring. It was well outside of rifle season, any kind of legal hunting season, and she was sickened by the number of fresh deer and other unidentifiable animal carcasses strewn about the otherwise empty trailheads and along USFS roads: Late-Season tags. AKA poaching. I was slowly becoming accustomed to the crazy carnage, but it made me sick, too.

From the get-go, I had intended to devote five years of my life to living in that old log cabin, but I made it merely a year. After my wolfish-looking dog Wolfgang was almost shot twice for hiking Forest Service roads with me and for looking wolfish, and after Wolfy sprung a leg-hold trap set just a few feet off a trail, I knew I needed to leave while we were both still intact. Just too much killing.

Alice’s Restaurant

I borrowed the title for this post from lyrics intended to be anti-war, anti-massacree, but senseless killing is senseless killing in my book. Whether you are hunting man, or needlessly hunting non-human animals, the killing is indeed senseless.

And maybe next time I will write about war …

Moon over the Rendezvous
Moon Over the Rendezvous Canyon

Live Free! Love Music!

Suggests Don Ashford of KTRT 97.5 The Root, Winthrop, WA

Tsunami is serenaded in the Koma Kulshan Cabin
Tsunami is serenaded in the Koma Kulshan Cabin

My Lonely Violin

About nine years ago, I traded my god-awful television set — I had eschewed goggling the goggle box for years, and a big oak table for a graceful violin. I do not have a background in music, save for a school year of cello when I was in third grade. (And I seriously doubt I have retained much of that.) But I adore Celtic and bluegrass fiddle and viola, and the telly and table were no longer doing me any favors — as well as being cumbersome to cart around during my nomadic period. I thought the trade would be a good one. And it was. Sort of. A violin is lightweight and easy to haul about.

I took one lesson.

I never followed up that first lesson with a second, and once the violin needed tuning, I tucked her away in a hard, dark case, leaning the case against one wall or another to collect dust. I silenced her. It was a cruel thing to do.

The learning curve for a violin is a steep one, so I started to dream of playing mandolin. But that never happened either. Now I dream of ukuleles. Yep, I think a ukulele would suit me well. I listened to Jake Shimabukuro play ukulele on NPR. He is a ukulele virtuoso, mastering everything from Classical to Queen. His playing is gorgeous. Inspirational. And yes, intimidating.

I aspire to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” You know, Tiny Tim?

I very much want to find a loving home for my elegant and lonely violin; she deserves a better life than I can offer her. And then I will welcome a lighthearted and goofy ukulele (apologies, Jake) into my life. I’m not saying it is going to be cake, learning to play, but I do feel a kindred spirit with the uke.

Cody Beebe and the Crooks, Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop, WA
Cody Beebe and the Crooks, Old Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop, WA

The Hills Are Alive

Even way out here, at the local brewpub in a small turista town 25 miles down-valley from my wee abode, my wee abode that sits at the end of a spur road a stone’s throw from wilderness (if you have a good arm), and one ridgeline over from a scenic mountain highway that is closed from around Thanksgiving until maybe sometime in May — but I digress — we get us some really good music. Our river and mountain valley is home to some amazing musicians, and Stephanie at the brewpub wrangles up some mighty fine musicians and bands. Come for the beer! Stay for the music! Pick up a Mountain Gazette! Trust me, the service really has improved!

Musicians travel here from faraway places like Seattle, Olympia, Portland and beyond. They travel here from both sides of the majestic slopes and from across state lines. They walk down the road from their cozy cabins and they play. And for the night, while they are playing, I fall in love with each and every one of them.

And then I make the long trek back up-valley, wink at my violin, and dream of ukuleles.

Winter Closure
Winter Closure

Taking a Breath

This poem saw print in the Mountain Gazette quite some time ago, I’m pretty sure. A former boyfriend was my muse for this piece, written well after I couldn’t find love and we had gone our separate ways. There will always be a warm place in my heart for a man who can play…

I COULD LOVE A MUSICIAN

He looks a little old
but he plays real young,
sitting there by the woodstove,
thick fingers dancing across thin strings,
toes a’ tap.
His sound is warm when I come in
cold,
kicking snow packed in worn lugs,
pulling pieces of ice from hair hanging down,
frozen.
Playing the Blues
(always the blues)
he carves a long easy look my way,
glacier-gray eyes crevassed at the edges,
like his smile,
like the rest of him.
I don’t remember where he plays tonight,
but he is here,
now.
Walking across the room,
I lift the back of his shirt just a little
putting chilled hands onto the heat of him,
against the small of his back,
and wonder what will happen next.

Check These Out:

The Blackberry Bushes
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2RcU5MWDFs

Redwood Son
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=uICAUAjyt0A

Cody Beebe and the Crooks
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=DyPYsGhrLrw

Extreme Backcountry (Drum Roll, Please…) Snowshoeing!


Creede Backcountry on Snowshoes, courtesy of Gin Getz
Creede Backcountry on Snowshoes, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Rant

Dammit all to heck! I hate it when snowshoers ruin a perfectly good skin-track, plodding their thick and clumsy way uphill in their gall dang, clompy snowshoes. Don’t those big, fat, plastic platforms offer enough weight distribution to carry your galumphing arse across the snow without the necessity of poaching a skier’s up-track? Can you not put in your very own route? Isn’t that why they are called snowshoes, why you buy ’em, why you strap ’em on?

And why must you take a perfectly pristine backcountry run and scar it with your pathetic, pointless frolicking? There you go again, back and forth across the virgin snow, hither and freaking thither. The snow sets up later and your big honkin’ track-holes are indelibly Etch-A-Sketch’d into the new-fallen snow until the next big storm. Thanks for nothing, ’shoers.

Heavy sigh.

Shoeing Along the Rio Grande, courtesy of Gin Getz
Shoeing Along the Rio Grande, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Set-up

I recently invited a few friends over for Sunday brunch to be followed up with some outdoor fun (more on the alleged fun later). In attendance were seven smiling people, four big dogs, two freaked-out cats … and a woodpecker in a pine tree. The dogs romped outside in the old snow. We ate an abundance of savory foods and sweet rum balls. Caffeine was heavily involved. My two anti-social and freaked-out cats hid under my bed way up in the loft. All the while, the woodpecker continued to peck contentedly away on his pine tree.

After the meal, we faced a known dilemma for the desired outdoor fun: Not all of us were skiers. Sharp intake of breath! Besides that, the snow conditions were far under par: Here we are in the midst of a blessed La Niña, with the glorious promise of colder, wetter weather conditions in our neck o’ the woods — more snow for us, hurray! — and, sadly, instead it has been nothing but blue skies for much more than a month. Blue skies. Just awful! The snow is old and crusty, especially beneath the trees.

As a group, we elected to go snowshoeing. Another sharp intake of breath! Know this people; I do have my own pair of snowshoes. I resort to snowshoeing at least once every year or two. But snowshoeing is not my winter activity of choice. Ever since I began to AT (alpine tour), or as the French say, randonnée, or as I say, “Lock your heel. Ski for real!” my snowshoes have pretty much collected cobwebs. AT is the best of both: you climb as on snowshoes, and then you have the pleasure of making alpine turns on the way back down. ’Shoes don’t really offer much glide on the way down. If you try, it’s more like ass over teakettle. I know. I’ve tried.

The Author Shamelessly Partaking, courtesy of Gin Getz
The Author Shamelessly Partaking, courtesy of Gin Getz

The Admission

We took two vehicles to where the scenic mountain highway is closed for the season, having been buried by snowfall and avalanche. We parked among the 4WDs pulling snowmo trailers and transporting backcountry skiers to the gate. I recognized most of the trucks, vans and Subarus, but the parking area was now sans skiers and sledders. Thankfully, we were left alone to strap on our ’shoes and begin the climb up Silver Star.

It really was very pretty. We stayed to the far, creek-side edge on an old, considerate snowshoe route, and off an old, hard-earned skiers’ up-track. Evidently no one had been up there for a while. The snow was a manky crust through the trees, but easily navigable on snowshoes. It was punchy outside of the trees, but damn, if I wasn’t having a good time! The company was excellent, the scenery gorgeous, and we could listen to the calming sound of water flowing generously underneath the thick layer of ice atop Silver Star Creek … when we stopped for a break. You can’t sneak up on anything in snowshoes.

The pitch was a healthy one and my breathing took on the same cadence it does when I am skinning. I love that. My snowshoes’ crampons bit happily and heartily into the crust and detritus that would have been a challenge on skis and would have fouled my skins. Did I mention I was having fun? On snowshoes?

On the way downhill, after topping out beyond the first accessible bowl and through more tall trees that transitioned to a fairyland of snowy granite slabs and secret passageways, we took perfectly pristine backcountry runs and scarred them with pointless frolicking. It did not seem pathetic in the least. Back and forth across the virgin snow we ran and jumped, hither and freaking thither. We even ’shoed over skiers’ up-tracks and linked turns. We made a mess of things for sure.

I’m reasonably certain that, later on, after the snow set up even more, our big honkin’ track-holes were indelibly Etch-A-Sketch’d into the snow. At least until the next big storm. But I’ll swear on a stack of bibles, or I at the very least I’ll swear, that it was crazy fun.

Come to think of it, whenever I have been on snowshoes, I have had a surprising amount of fun. Yes, far more fun than I would have bargained for.

The Last Laugh

At the end of the afternoon, after we poked our heads out of the trees at the bottom, our cheeks all rosy and lips all a’grin, we joined in with the skiers who were slogging exhaustedly across the snow and toward their parked vehicles. I wouldn’t say that their cheeks were rosy, but their faces were indeed red. Come to think of it, they weren’t really smiling either.

I picked out Dave from the group as he shuffled along on his splitboard. “How was it up Delancy?” I queried cheerfully. “Breakable. Nothing but breakable,” said Dave, shaking his stocking-capped head. Eyeing my snowshoes, almost enviously I would say, Dave looked away as he added, “I’m sure you had more fun today than we did.”

Whoda thunk?

Tsu and Arrow, Tired Puppies
Tsu and Arrow, Tired Puppies

Two Very Good Sites

Check out these beautiful images and words found in my new friend Gin’s blog, who’s Snowshoe Action Shots graced this post.

And Hobie’s amazing images, Wild Hare Photos, from the wilds of greater Yellowstone, the Northern US and Canadian Rockies, Alaska, the US Desert Southwest, and more.

Marked

Bang bang bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang
Bang bang bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang

I have lived in my present paradise for seven hunting seasons. The high-country hunt, black powder, bear and bow seasons are quiet and relatively non-intrusive. Unless, of course, you are a bear or ungulate. However, rifle season for our resident and abundant mule deer population — a money-making population artificially enhanced and aggrandized — is a circus and thankfully short. Shake your money makers, little mulies!

For the last five of my seven rifle seasons here, I have taken holiday during these ten days of massacree. I get the hell out of Dodge.

My first two rifle seasons were a shock to the system. Three hundred and fifty-five days a year, our river and mountain valley is a peaceful, quiet and litter-free blip on one’s GPS device (if one has one, which I do not). The liquor store slash real estate office — buy your booze upstairs, buy your getaway downstairs — is pretty dang quiet most times, but upstairs rifle season is their busiest time of year. Get liquored up! Shoot your buck!

During these ten days of massacree, all hell breaks loose, with load after load of folks traveling eastbound in their pick-’em-up trucks, RVs and motorhomes (many hauling quads), speeding down the mountain highway while crawling, nay, trolling our byways and yes, neighborhoods, tossing empties and chip bags out their windows. Every year, there are reports of hunters stalking their prey along private drives and fence lines, near porches and patios. “Hey, do you mind if I come onto your yard to shoot (or finish off) that mulie buck or whitetail doe?” We mind.

Poached Mulie Spike
Poached Mulie Spike

I am not anti-hunting! I am against factory farming on so many levels it hurts. I believe with all of my heart that it is far better for a hunter to skillfully and legally take an animal for food from its natural habitat than to buy factory-farmed flesh. I believe that, if one is going to eat the flesh of animals, one had best be prepared to lawfully kill and chop up a critter from time to time. I believe the flesh from mindfully hunted animals is healthier and happier, absent of antibiotics and a life of continuous pain and misery. And if you do eat factory-farmed flesh, you are indeed responsible for the animal’s suffering: It’s supply and demand, baby.

Unfortunately, barrels of bad-apple hunters negatively affect my attitude toward our valley’s rifle season. Honest to Dog, I am aware that not all hunters who travel here are mealy and wormy and liquored up. Most (I hope it is most) respect private property and designated national park boundaries, the age and sex of their prey and whether it is nighttime or daylight hours. I am reasonably confident many of our visiting hunters actually park their vehicles and hike out into the forests and meadows and mountains, respecting boundaries, the land they move across and the animals they take. Goodonya.

Marked 

I made noise as I drove up the gravel byway to work, slowed by the trollers, some stopped in the middle of the narrow road with guns hanging out of their windows. I taped No Hunting sign’s to my wrangler’s side and rear windows. Armed with my jalopy’s horn and a camera sitting on the passenger seat, I was ready for action. While I pissed off some folks, others gave me hugs and encouragement, grateful I had brought much-needed attention to the disrespectful and dangerously armed wildfire that had been spreading out of control.

My first three or so years in the valley, I was a stringer for the local weekly rag, a very fine and well-read small town newspaper. I chose to write some pieces on the illegal road hunting, trolling if you will, I witnessed on my way up the canyon and off to work. I wrote a piece on the poached one-point someone shot from the road as the spike peacefully masticated on sweet apples from an old and gnarly apple tree not 15 feet away from where the vehicle had stopped. I wrote about the mulie doe shot up with arrows who had died along the highway. You could still see where her breath and blood had warmed the chip seal.

Mule DeerI wrote more pieces on various other topics, but some remembered only that I had shined the printed spotlight on their illegal hunting habits. And that I had made noise. I received more than one violent threat. They didn’t forgive and I eventually stopped submitting anything to our little weekly. I quieted down.

Every rifle season, I now peacefully pack up my rig, load up the big dogs and travel someplace safe. This year I spent some time snug as a bug in a log cabin by the mighty Koma Kulshan. My old stomping grounds. Some critters there were in season, but I merely crossed paths with one hunting party of two and heard four rifle shots over five days of hiking and back-country skiing (it was mid-October and I booted up to Artist’s Point, making six whole turns on the way back down!).

As I consider submitting this journal post to Mr. Fayhee, my stomach tightens a bit: Will there be any local backlash? Will the likes of Idaho Dave and “tlm”  grow more agitated and even less lucid in response to my words?

Well, what the hell! This is my truth. It doesn’t need to be yours.

*****

On my way west on 542, watching Grandpa Kulshan fade in my rearview mirror, I swung wide into Bellingham and entered Old School Tattoo. Shortly thereafter, Mikel inked the inside of my right forearm with a fair-sized Pacific Northwest-style line drawing of a lone wolf.

The process felt good.

Mikel was cool and talented, and I hope he writes that graphic novel.

You see, I often feel as I imagine a wolf may feel, if wolves’ thoughts were filled with linear language instead of circular images: I am misunderstood! I am a scapegoat! Outside of my small pack, I am on my own.

I am marked.

Taking a breath

Nope, no poetry, no self-amusing little ditty …  I am holding my breath this time.

Good Things to Do:

Check this out: Conservation NW’s Fall 2011 Quarterly

Help my friend, Ryan- Renacuajo Productions (http://www.renacuajoproductions.com/)

Learn about Yasuni Man. Keep visiting Ryan’s Renacuajo Productions site for updates and when we can again offer help.  Spread the word.

Creation and the Dirty Shame

RoadtrippingOn the first day, I created the Roadtrip, and I saw that it was good. And the Days stretched out before me, gangly arms reaching high over glossy heads, first long and deep breaths taken.

The Days collectively winked. They smiled. They licked their full and rosy lips. The Days lined up in front of me, just waiting to be taken. With an easy equanimity borne from frolicking amidst the wild and green, they waited. Some tapped their toes and hummed contentedly. Others danced joyfully in circles. The first three sat cockeyed on barstools at the Dirty Shame Saloon, rang the bell and ordered another round of something dark and yeasty. The first Day belched moistly without covering his mouth.

Earl old pal, god of weather, graciously bestowed upon this adventure into the imagined and unknown clear skies and breezes mild. Two conditions imperative considering my mode of transportation: VW camper bus with high-rise fiberglass turtle-top, a vehicle that is entertaining as hell to keep within the lines in any kind weather. Be it inclement, be it fair. It’s just easier in fair.

The bus putted on, faithfully if not enthusiastically, over one state line and then another. In celebration of the busted radio, I composed psalms to the Roadtrip to sing along with the arrythm of the engine. Often I pulled off the road, listening to rivers meander, stretching my long and restless legs, letting the two big dogs out to pee and frolic. I watched the odometer tick off miles and I grew thirsty. I imagined English would be waiting at the Dirty Shame, wedged solidly between Days One and Two, ordering another round.

He was not. Prayers to Earl and myself answered, I arrived two hours ahead of schedule. This never happens. So I continued up the byway in search of a site therein to revitalize. I parked the bus in the cool shade of dense and fragrant pine gathered about an old service road, and let the big dogs out to romp. I romped right along with them through tall trees until the overgrown gravel road gave way to primitive trail and the trail gave way to thick impassible brush. Eliciting goose bumps, I stripped down and cleaned up in a chill and snow-lined creek, decided to go cowboy (cowgirl?) — very liberating — and pulled on fresh and faded blue jeans and a clean T. I brushed my hair. I brushed my teeth. I fished a barley wine from the cooler and drank deep.

At the Dirty Shame, Rick, Bartender Proprietor-Priest, poured me a tall one, relaying that English had phoned to say he was two hours behind, his intended route yet to be plowed out from the past season’s heavy snows. But with a Moose Drool bedded down patiently before me and new friends in the making, none of the waiting mattered. The big dogs were invited into the establishment and life was sweet. So I made those friends and nursed that beer, while the big dogs lounged on the worn wood floor.

Day One tipped his hat to me and promptly fell off his barstool. It had been a long one.

The sun was just narrowly above the hills when in walked English, throwing open the door to release long, sinewy fingers of cigarette and cigar smoke, friendly vulgarity and loud guffaws. I stood up and walked over. We grinned and wrapped our arms around one another. Squeezed. Tendrils of soft dark hair were blown askew and into his dark, mischievous eyes. It was a very nice effect. He was wearing a thick cotton shirt that had seen better days, a tattered pair of shorts, and he smelled like the forest. For all of my waiting, the payoff was fine.

I introduced English to my new best buddies at the bar. With eyes bleary, Days Two and Three scootched over to make room as he pulled a battered barstool next to mine.  Spread-eagled and snoring, Day One hadn’t budged from his spot on the floor.

All through the evening, the bell was busy ringing. Thirst was no longer a dilemma. Another Rick grabbed a guitar from the back of the room and played Celtic folksongs for a while. He really was good. Barkeep Rick joined in at times and was pretty good himself. Old Bernie told a few tall tales and we all belly laughed. Bernie had been in the valley for a very long time. I felt like I had been in the valley for a very long time. It was beautiful. Before English and I ended up joining Day One, who was clearly passed out cold and had begun to drool, on the floor, we thought we’d call it a night. We slept entwined and peacefully in the bus parked on the grass and weeds behind the saloon, beneath a starry starry sky, full moon, big dogs, thick blankets.

In the wee hours, Day Two arrived naked — without a stitch of cloud cover, entertaining temperatures in the high teens and masterfully finger-painting a layer of serious frost onto the inside of the bus’ windows. It was so cold, Day Two’s teeth were chattering loudly and her knees were knocking violently. All three of us were in dire need of hot coffee. We walked over to the wee mom & pop, cozy’d up to another fine drinking establishment. Yaak Valley: population 300 give or take, two taverns, one one-room schoolhouse, one place of worship and one sparsely stocked store offering bad but gratefully hot coffee in leaky paper cups. It was easy to see wherein the priorities of this populace lie. Good for them. We reclined in the bus, watching the sun straddle the hills, while eating trail food and sipping steaming Joe. Day Two burned her tongue on the coffee, cussed sweetly under her breath, smiled sheepishly and quickly began to warm up.

Adventure beckoned. We left behind the bus and boarded English’s late-model pickup. Up the road we traveled. The big dogs sat eager in the back of the extended cab, long tongues lolling, twitching noses poked out of windows. Past cabins and homesteads, past the board-and-bat schoolhouse, past the little log church, past a few more cabins. Up the road we rolled until it was flanked by continuous forest, and then out into the woolly wild we ventured. Packs packed and boots laced. We were keenly aware these woods were home to black bear and grizz, big cats and an assortment of ungulates. Neither of us had hiked often in grizzly territory and it felt a little spooky. I watched the big dogs closely.

Upon returning down valley, for two bucks each, we bathed at the Yaak-O-Mat, finding our way back to the Dirty Shame. It was handily the next building over. We ordered burgers and brews and let the good times continue to roll. We saw a few new faces. We made a few more new friends. A slight woman, brown hair gathered into an awkward ponytail, burst like a balloon into the saloon and, wasting no time, tried to talk a familiar patron out of paying any attention to the ring on his finger. He was a good sport about it. A short while later, she slipped into an unintended cartwheel behind the bar, both feet flailing in midair, legs splayed. Her landing scored low but she appeared unharmed. Rick paid her little attention as he poured another round. Sometime before last call, in through the front door, the ponytailed sprite maneuvered a child’s bicycle, resplendent with glittered banana seat and colorful plastic streamers hanging from the handlebar grips. She peddled forth a few feet before tipping over, joining Day Two who, with moss ground into her knees and forest detritus in her hair, had curled up on the floor for a nap.

A blond man walked up to English and me, grinning wildly and dancing with his own round belly while adroitly balancing a drink within his big, chapped paw. He winked at me. He winked at English. He introduced himself as Jeff, flirting with me and teasing English about his mop. He wondered where we were sleeping, so we told him. Jeff said that was no good, offering his cabin located a few miles up the road. He wasn’t using it. What about the big dogs? Without the slightest hesitation, Jeff said to bring ’em along. I pictured a cobwebbed and drafty shanty with an outhouse if we were lucky. Probably no running water, likely no electricity. Hey, just like the camper bus only perhaps a bit roomier.

We arrived to Jeff unlocking the door and flipping breakers. He motioned us in with a hearty sweep of his big, burly arms and mixed himself a drink for the road from a cupboard in the kitchen. He told us to enjoy ourselves and then he left. Just like that.

The cabin was not cobwebbed, nor was it drafty. The cabin’s interior was blanketed in hardwoods and softwoods, comfortable furniture and picture windows that would offer 180-degree views of the sunrise, mountains, river and meadows. We selected a bedroom and made ourselves comfortable, if not ready for sleep forthwith. One big dog made three circles on the braided rug at the foot of the bed and began drafting ZZZs. The other, chin resting on front paws, kept an alert canine watch from down the hall. When all was said and done, we closed our eyes, slowed our breathing, and were carried blissfully away to our own private dreams.

Day Three bolted upright as dawn cracked bright and shiny. We let him out the front door along with the big dogs and found coffee to brew. We reclined on the sofa and watched the big dogs chase Day Three around the frosty meadow.

We found ourselves in a vast and lonely sea of mountain acreage. We moved casually around in our birthday suits, swimming peacefully in the low tide of morning sun that slowly crested through shade-less windows.

There were more Days of course, as I had created quite a few of them. But they had traveled ahead as a group to the top of the next valley east, damn near a stone’s throw from Canada. Days Five and Six, an extremely athletic pair, had already strapped on snowshoes and were camped out at the base of Terriault Pass, sharing an exceptionally succulent apple. It was snowing again in the high country and English and I would catch up with them soon enough. Meanwhile, we had mountain to climb and road to travel.

And on the seventh Day, I rested. I still had a long, long way to go.

Tricia M. Cook writes from a wee hamlet snuggled into the eastern toes of the North Cascade Mountains. Her last story for Mountain Gazette was “Eating Wolf,” which appeared in MG #176. Catch her bimonthly blog, “Living Beyond Lost,” at mountaingazette.com.

Boomerang

 Living Beyond Lost: Boomerang

Late August 1999, and the trail is crisscrossed with windfall. Above treeline, it is covered in deep snow. My pack is heavy in preparation for the fire lookout being locked and shuttered, in case Wolfgang and I need to camp out after we top out.

I frequently throw off my pack, slinging it over or shoving it under the otherwise impassable toppled trees and limbs — gargantuan, rainforest limbs having been amputated by harsh winter weather — now resting horizontally, almost strategically, across the heavily wooded trail. There is much of this heaving and ho-ing. It takes an hour for each of the four miles along with the 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

In the headlamp’s narrow beam, we literally claw our way up the last icy chute. Up high, on the tippy-top, the lookout is neither shuttered, nor occupied. Wolfy and I doggedly (which is easy for him) climb the three flights of steep and rickety stairs and I un-batten the hatches. No padlock on the door and we are in!

Making hot water for tea. Eating crackers and cheese. Wolfy crunching his crunchy dog granola.

Living Beyond Lost: Boomerang

Exhausted.

Time to crawl into the sleeping bag I have rolled out onto the small bed. How many others have flopped onto this lovely, tattered mattress? Dreamed? Made love? Laid awake and watched the stars? A storm rolls in and out. Another storm rolls in and not out. The wind kicks up its heals. The lookout sways back and forth, back and forth, pacing along with the gusts. Big, dark, rainforest clouds weep big, heavy tears, ratatatat against the lookout’s shingles and glass.

Sleep.

Daybreak and it is still socked in. A good day to read, take a nap, write a little. I make an entry in the lookout’s logbook and date it 26 August 1999, because it is. My entry includes a poem, a few sentences about the continuing storm and of my dog and gratitude.

Wolfy and I saw our logs another night while tucked into this lofty loft, and awake to a sky as blue as we have ever seen. I haven’t crossed paths with another humanbean since before pulling off at the trailhead’s modest pull-off two days ago.

On our way back down, three-quarters of the way down, we meet a trail crew working their way up with saw, pulaski and shovel. The crew leader considers me hearty and I am offered a job on the spot with the USFS working trails. I never follow up on this, but maybe should have.

After my pack is back in the Jeep and Wolfy hops in, I turn the key. Space and Time roughly take a hold of us and hurl us back into the continuum.

Someday I will return. I promise.

********

Late August 2011, and the trail is sparsely crisscrossed with windfall. Above treeline, scattered patches of snow cling to short stretches of the trail and slopes. The remaining snow isn’t very deep. My pack is heavy in preparation for the fire lookout being locked and shuttered, in case Arrow and I need to camp out after we top out.

There is no need to throw off my pack and sling it over or shove it under otherwise impassable trees and limbs — I am able to circumnavigate off-trail a few switchbacks, avoiding the few clusters of windfall. Yet, it takes a considerable amount of time for each of the four miles along with the 4,500 feet of elevation gain.

Up high, on the tippy-top, the lookout is neither shuttered, nor occupied. I doggedly climb the three flights of steep and rickety stairs and I un-batten the hatches. No padlock on the door and I am in with plenty of daylight remaining! It takes several attempts over the course of a couple of hours to coax Arrow up the steep and rickety stairs. Once I have him on lead, he sheepishly makes the climb and enters the lookout. Trust. A sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Living Beyond Lost: Boomerang

Tired.

Time to crawl into the sleeping bag I have rolled out onto the small bed. How many others have flopped onto this lovely, tattered mattress? Dreamed? Made love? Laid awake and watched the stars like I am about to do? After the sun sets gorgeous on Grandpa Koma Kulshan, there is no moon, only countless, countless stars in an octopus ink sky.

Sleep.

Daybreak and the sky is as blue as we have ever seen. A good day to take a hike and write a little. I make an entry in the lookout’s logbook and date it 27 August 2011, because it is. My entry includes a poem, a few sentences about the sunset, the stars, the sunrise, and of my dog and gratitude.

I haven’t crossed paths with another humanbean since before pulling off at the trailhead’s modest pull-off.

In the early hours, I can see where a good-sized black bear had padded tracks into the snow surrounding the lookout, before the snow froze solid in the starlight. He had walked from the ridgeline toward the base of the lookout, and stopped. Then, instead of retracing his original paw-falls, he V’d back into the trees nearby. From the lookout above, the pattern made by the tracks he left behind looked just like a boomerang.

And I had kept my promise.

Living Beyond Lost: Boomerang

Intermission

Before Winter

Tamarack torches fool my eyes into seeing
sunshine.
Saffron on jade.
The sun, circumspect, moves behind
a five month fortress of grey
clouds.
Sterling on slate.

Rifle shot smacks his deadly lips.
More terrifying than thunder.

Midnight soot on my elbow
nose tip
cheekbone
hands.
I smell of burning trees,
fallen,
cured.

The Four-Point
fallen,
cured.

It is more terrifying than thunder.

 

A Good Thing to Do:

Help my friend, Ryan — Renacuajo Productions (http://www.renacuajoproductions.com/)

Learn about Yasuni Man. Keep visiting Ryan’s Renacuajo Productions site for updates and when we can again offer help. Spread the word.