BOB Chamberlain’s Mountain vision

Street photography is the point of view of the innocent bystander. Empty streets and no traffic; chance meeting in mid-street; a dog named Koa from the free-puppy box at Rose Market. Ice hockey with cubes on the kitchen floor, and Unlimited Class Stick retrieval, including gathering firewood for campfires were his favored activities. Headstones at the Telluride cemetery are frequently engraved with the epithet, “He Walked These Hills With Me,” which would include patiently having the porcupine quills removed from his overloaded mouth and muzzle, and learning to ski on Independence Pass, which he did by watching me do a couple of linked turns below him, and then connecting them by sliding on his belly with paws outstretched, pushing powder with his feet.
— Bob Chamberlain

Movie Review: ‘127 Hours’

Aron Ralston? He had to have been an idiot getting stuck in that canyon the way he did. That’s all I could figure at the time. Even if you kick it hard as a test, you don’t put your weight on some chintzy chockstone. Clan of half-naked desert spawn who call this region of southeast Utah home pretty much concluded he must have been some big-dick mountain climber hung with ropes and jangling gear that would never allow him to grasp the heart of this country the way we do. Too much shit to carry. Too much reliance on things that have been machined. We know what we are, trust me, spacemen with our packs and our silent little alcohol stoves made out of Coke cans stuffed with fiberglass insulation. We know how to strip down, but not without comforts, our jammies and chocolates. We go light, but not too light. I figure that’s the best we can do, and, from there on, it’s gravy. A group of us has been soloing and tag-teaming out here for a couple decades, first-class nimrods apprehending this landscape. That’s why this guy rankled us. This was our territory. What was he thinking, leading the bone-headed adventure crowd our direction? Of course he was an idiot, had to be.

I have started this review on the inside of a candy box torn open in a theater, stadium seats and a booming sound system, pen scratching in the dark on waxy-thin cardboard. It’s the movie — “127 Hours” — about Aron Ralston chocked by a boulder in a slot canyon, spending a little more than five days trapped before getting up the mad nerve to cut off his own arm and escape. Right away, I recognize nicks, notches and routes in the landscape. They had filmed high in the drainage of Horseshoe Canyon, a place I’ve been walking all my adult years. It’s studded by red buttes, articulated by countless shadowy drainages, and marched across by eerie rock art of ancient hunters and gatherers. They got the right place. This is where Aron did his brutal Houdini act, leaving his arm behind (later removed by the Park Service*). This also happens to be the very landscape I consider one of my homes. Last year, I worked from multiple points around the globe, and after each trip I came back to Horseshoe Canyon, its circular horizon distantly rimmed by the bat-winged La Sal Mountains, blue dome of Abajos, Henrys and the long, elegant rise of the San Rafael Swell, not to mention proud Book Cliffs and Roans closing the circuit to the north. Here I have chased my two little boys into slots, and sunk into my wife’s arms on sensual, bulbous rims, Navajo sandstone being the most carnal piece of geography on the planet. I come back to this region because it is familiar and grounding for an over-traveled soul.

Those I know who walk hard out here happen to love movies. After just about every wilderness trip, we would come back and pile into the Moab theater for some dazzling CGI flick. Even with such an honored pastime, I couldn’t get any of them to see this dramatization.

Dirk Vaughan, who from the beginning contended that the man’s mistake was not taking desert canyons seriously, blew out one of his usual tirades: “The dude’s a tech-head, solo climbs Fourteeners in winter, carries extreme clothes and extreme gear for extreme conditions. He gets out here in Canyonlands in shirtsleeve weather and a Kelsey guidebook to point the way and he let his guard down.

I heard him say it himself ‘I was on a vacation.’ Well, guess what, Canyonlands can kill you just as quick as a Fourteener in winter. Especially in shirtsleeves when you’re on vacation.”

His brother Devin just shrugged. Sure he’d watch, but he did not want to spend the $7 or spring for the drive.

The list of excuses goes on from person to person. I’m not giving my money to an idiot. I refuse to glorify stupidity.

But you see, I sort of had to watch it. They paid me. I don’t think I would have seen it otherwise, just a shrug. The money I got was not to actually see the movie, but to help with it. They wanted spots with a so-called expert explaining why this landscape exists in the first place. I liked the sound of that. Did I need the money? Sure. But I would have done it for free. I’m a whore when it comes to broadcasting what an awesome and twisted planet we live on, especially in a place where I have a decent grasp on local geomorphology. It was a hired production crew, desert-treading camera-folk, the kind of people I’d happily clamber around with any day. Camped in the upper arms of Horseshoe, we trundled our way across red-sand slopes and magnificent vistas, Island in the Sky brimming to the east as we hiked down toward Aron’s canyon. An excuse to wander about and get paid, I loved this job.

The slot where poor Aron had to butcher his way to survival opens like most of them do: suddenly. A cap-layer undercuts and the drainage falls into erotic bends of Navajo. Just about every slot canyon in this country has some sort of gatekeeper wedged into its entrance, a blown-out car or memorable constellations of chockstones. This one has an S-log jammed into place. Down from the S-log and along the first straightaway are knobby boulders like asteroids fallen in the path, sheaves of flash-flood debris pushed up around them. As we crawled and climbed under and over them, the crew with the cameras wanted to hear about flash floods, sandstone and erosion. Hands waving, I told them how this place came to be: boom, boom, boom.

When we reached the spot where Aron did the deed, we dispersed. Seems nobody even thought to film here. I stuck around for a while. I put my hands on the smooth, bluish rock that had lodged against his arm. It had a little bit of carbonate mixed with local sandstone making it harder than the surrounding substrate. About the size of an old television, it had been dumped in here by flash floods from about 40 feet up. I recognized it as the kind of chockstone I would have put my weight on, testing it first with a kick as Aron did, then a light hop down, giving it a second of full body weight before landing and moving ahead. I would not have expected the boulder to pivot and drop like wedge on top of me.

With fingertips, I traced chip-marks Aron had made with his dull knife blade where he tried to whittle the sandstone around the boulder, only to discover it caused the immovable object to settle more firmly. In the movie, the brave actor spends most of the film’s 94 minutes lodged against this very rock, or one just like it, moving through physical and psychological montages that always bring him back to here. To accomplish this claustrophobic task, film crews worked both in the canyon itself and on a Salt Lake City stage set they built from laser-mapped topography. There are times, sitting with a candy box unfolded on my lap, that I cannot tell canyon from stage set. Close-ups and bedding planes in Navajo sandstone are carefully filmed in situ, the real thing. After so many shittier and shittier movies made in the Southwest, finally, thank you. Even the sound of fingertips idly brushed along a rock wall sound perfect.

Oh, there is some crap in the movie, no doubt. Jumping into a luminous pool of blue water with two hot party chicks? Give me a break. The only women I’ve ever seen at this end of Horseshoe may be beautiful, but they are damn crusty by the time I get to them. Second of all, that kind of blue water you only find at the mouth of the Little Colorado or down Havasu, but not in Utahan hinterlands. Any standing water in one of these canyons would be red like blood and tomato soup, and shadowless, so that if you actually cannonballed into it, you would impale your rectum on the pike of an unseen boulder.

That’s pretty much it for gripes. The rest of the movie is startlingly close to home. There’s not a drumroll for the boulder when it falls; it just happens, like it does when a boulder actually falls. The actor himself displays the confusion, fear and self-ridicule I might expect from the situation. Having drunk my own urine in the past, I found the portrayal of Aron’s experience distastefully similar to my own.

I remember sitting on that boulder of his, looking up at the crack of the sky. It is right where the canyon deepens into dungeon-like shade. You can reach your arm in and feel the coolness pooling down there. Aron stopped by that same day, curious about what the film crew was up to. He sat on the very boulder he had hugged for those desperate days, comfortable on its lumpy top as he talked about his experience, waving his left hand around as his prosthetic claw on the right waved with it. When I asked about the effect of light while he was down here, he commented on how strangely beautiful it had been, unceremoniously describing light pouring down the walls to the bottom where it landed for only 15 minutes a day. He did not talk about discordant terror or the futility that must have seemed crushing. On day three of being trapped, he was still taking scenic pictures; it was that striking down here.

A man with a spiel, no doubt, Aron showed unexpected vulnerability. I was surprised by his candor and attentiveness. He asked many questions about the boulder itself, about its mineral  composition, and queried me repeatedly through the day as to the nature of hydraulics and erosion. His were more or less the same questions I once asked of this place, the ones I continue to ask, watching the sun rise through the La Sals day after day, drinking rain and snowmelt off the rock. Of all the moments and seasons I have witnessed in this country, I was glad this particular episode happened to Aron and not me. It many ways, he was a better man for it than I.

I judge the same from the movie — no tricks or agonizingly false dramatizations, just a man on a mission through a canyon, stupid like I’ve been so many times, not telling anyone where I was going, but in ways better prepared than me. He had a date with a boulder and was fortunate enough to cut his way out from behind it and live to tell the tale. I sit through the entire movie captivated, and eventually stop writing on the candy box, just watching the experience, a new story from an old and familiar landscape.

Craig Childs lives off-grid in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado. He has written several books, the most recent, “Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession.”

* The first and most-definitive story about the Park Service’s expedition to retrieve Aron Ralson’s hand was penned by Vince Welch in Mountain Gazette #124.

The Grief Counselor: A Search Concludes in the Gila

For Christmas, I got him this little wooden cross that dangles from his dog collar, only half-jokingly to signify his calling.  I threaten to get him a little black robe with a white collar, but he — with his classic border collie coat — already wears those. I, once his equal partner in search and rescue, am more and more often relegated to being his manager and chauffeur.

The wilderness search is over, the missing hunter found, the Office of the Medical Examiner on the way with a white body bag. As we arrive back at Incident Base, most of us studiously avoid the little knot of people standing slightly to the side, these being relatives of the subject.

They are deep in grief,  silenced by the depth of their loss. All around us, clamor prevails — four-wheeler and ground-pounder search teams returning, radio coms continuing hot and heavy, doors and tailgates slamming on State Police, Forest Service and Border Patrol trucks.

He makes a beeline for the relatives, still wearing his bright orange Search K9 vest. At an almost-but-not-quite hesitant walk, he approaches, drops a stick at their feet.

His eyes seek theirs — seemingly expressing their pain: the senseless Big Question of why it had to happen this way. His body language empathetic, his eyes now implore theirs to set the tragedy aside for a minute,  just for a bit, really, to throw the stick just this once, please. He crouches, belly on the ground, somber as a pallbearer.

He bounds after the stick,  returns it at a gallop, drops it on their feet. He lies down again, imploring.

They end up throwing the stick a dozen times. Then they are talking to each other for the first time since showing up here, six miles up this little wilderness dirt road. When I call him, he doesn’t come right away, but stays with them a little longer, licks a hand, gets a hug.

Their immersion in this somber game validates my dog’s conviction, deeply embedded in his K9 worldview,  that all transactions around this particular stick are very important.  This, he is teaching me, is the unfinished business of search and rescue.

Dave Baldridge’s last piece for the Gazette was “A Rescuer Reflects on Angels and Idiots,” which appeared in #174. Baldridge lives in Albuquerque.

Eating Wolf

I have stopped at the top long enough to rip the skins from my skis, taking breaths more slowly now than the ones I stopped counting on the way up. The even, heavy cadence of my breathing as I lay down a fresh up-track is addictive. The exhale louder, more pronounced, than the inhale. The short, quiet space in between each breath. The solid and unexpectedly slow and deep pound, pound of my heart. Opium.
Shush, click.
Shush, click.
Shush, click.

From pull-off to top. Ski sliding against the micro-topography of snow. Shush. Heel striking down, binding against binding. Click. And then the other ski, shush, and then the other heel, click. Shush, click, back and forth, one and then the other,

From the top, I lock my heels, turn my toes to the tall trees below. If I am lucky, I will float. The snow is better here. Soon the trees will disappear and all that remains will be the narrow spaces in between. And the cold air I am breathing. My exhale louder, more pronounced than my inhale. The short, quiet space in between each breath. My heart now in my ears.

Some of my turns are snaked and some are kicked, as I work my way down through the maze of in-between …

I pop out on the north side, on another mountain, laying fresh tracks with my Wolfdog. Snow makes him high and it is absolutely everywhere. The peaks go on up into Canada from here, and then they keep going on up from there. It is enough to make me dizzy and so we keep on going higher. The Wolfdog is grinning big, his pink tongue extended out long, like his long, long legs. He is running beyond fast, all four paws airborne at once. He is flying.

My heart is pounding and it grows wings and flies right on out of my chest. There is no other way to put this: I am so goddamn, unbelievably happy. And the mountains are so goddamn, unbelievably beautiful. I holler a WAHOO!  And I know, just know, that this is one of the best times of my life, and I do not ever want it to stop.

But it does stop, much later on. This time will roll into the next, and there will be other amazing times, but not one as goddamn, unbelievably beautiful as this one, when I am so unspeakably happy and my heart and my Wolfdog are both flying through the snow straight out ahead of me. Free.

And I was right as rain about all of that …

I snake out one last turn onto an east slope, and a lot of time has passed. Skins are back on my skis and I carry my Wolfdog in an old and battered Nalgene tucked in my pack. We both drank water from that beat-up bottle and it seemed like a good place to keep his ashes.

The puppy keeps right up with me, following close behind in the up-track, without stepping on the backs of my skis. He is a similar mix as my Wolfdog was, but I don’t see my Wolfdog when I look at him, and for this I am grateful. We top out at the frozen lake and find the perfect spot for a handful of my best friend’s ashes. Here, there are three ponderosa pines, a view of the lake and craggy ridgeline.

I pull off my pack and pull out the Nalgene. My heart is breaking, just as it does every day now. I unscrew the lid and pour some of my Wolfdog’s ashes into my naked, outstretched hand. The sun is low, the air still. Gently I shake the ashes from my hand and they land gracefully near the three ponderosas. The puppy, I call him Arrow, bounds over, taking a big bite of snow, and of Wolfie’s ashes.

I am kneeling in the snow, feeling a little stunned. Through my tears, I smile at Arrow, touching my tongue to the palm of my hand where some of Wolfie’s ashes remain.

It is time to ski down, before we lose any more daylight. My long-legged puppy stays just ahead of me and off to the side, keeping his amber eyes on my turns, brilliantly steering clear of my skis, yipping at me to go faster, faster, faster PLEASE! He is a good dog. He has a tough act to follow.

It will not stop hurting, but I will become accustomed to the hurt, the sharp intake of breath, the breath held until I absolutely have to let it go and take another one. Down at the bottom, I squeeze my hands into fists and press them against my chest and then against my eyes. I do not want this good pain to go away. Ever. I will hold onto it as if my life depends on it. I think my life does depend on it. And if I am lucky, I will float …

Tricia M. Cook writes from a wee hamlet snuggled into the eastern toes of the North Cascade Mountains. There, she is accompanied by her two big dogs and two small cats, and various forest creatures.

The Merde in France: Dog Dung Decline

One hazard of travel in France is underfoot in villages, towns and cities: la merde, literally “the merde,” dog dung, infamously an aspect of life in the country. So much is this so that in English, the word merde, from the French and meaning dung, usually connotes an unlucky event in France. That’s both wrong and right.

It’s wrong because merde is an English word of long standing, having been first used in 1477 by poet and alchemist Thomas Norton in his treatise “Ordinall of Alchemy.” Through the centuries, alchemists apparently found that they couldn’t make gold from pooch poop, so merde fell into disuse in alchemy and now is mostly a literary word in English. It’s right because merde survived in French in colloquial mentions of excrement: “Shit happens,” in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, became la merde passe in French translation.

In everyday usage today, la merde principally means dog dung. That prominence comes from prevalence, as statistics imply. The numbers mound peaks in Paris, where 200,000 dogs leave some 16 tons of dung on the city’s streets every day, a hazard that each year causes serious injuries to some 650 pedestrians who slip on dog droppings.

Luckily, the nuisance is subsiding, thanks in part to political response to public disgust. The first major assault came in the mid-1980s, understandably in Paris, which had the biggest problem. Mayor Jacques Chirac launched a fleet of poop patrol motorbikes supplied by JCDecaux, the French outdoor advertising giant also known for public bike schemes and street toilets. Each motorbike was equipped with a purpose-built vacuum device called a caninette that sucked up a dropping and disinfected the underlying surface in one operation. Fleet operation was a success. JCDecaux went on to implement similar fleets in other cities. Jacques Chirac went on to become President of France (1995-2007). And the word caninette became an entry in “Petit Robert,” the definitive desk dictionary of the French language.

Across the country, cities, towns and villages implemented various precautions, including dog toilets and restricted dog access to parks, with varying degrees of success. The trend now is toward high-tech, led by the city of Toulouse, one of the hubs of the European aerospace industry and home of Airbus, the European competitor to Boeing. In the Toulouse system now being implemented, wardens equipped with GPS-enabled Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) roam the streets and parks. Upon spotting a nuisance — a dog dropping, a dead animal, graffiti, an illegally parked car, whatever — the warden uses the PDA to take a geo-tagged photo that is transmitted to the appropriate public department so cleanup may be initiated.

Despite the efficiency of the new public services, everyone admits that true progress depends on dog owners changing their habits. So municipalities throughout the country have mounted anti-poop information campaigns and now offer dog dropping pick-up kits given away free to users from dispensers having easily-understood pictorial instructions and dedicated trash cans close at hand. Two popular brands are the Pince à crotte® (“turd tongs”), a kit of biodegradable cardboard tongs and a suitably tough paper bag for disposing of the picked-up droppings and soiled tongs, and the Toutounet (“doggie-neat”), a plastic bag large enough to insert a hand to grasp the droppings and then turn inside-out and tie to seal for disposal.

Progress is noticeable across France. The merde is on the wane. But the vulgar taint of the word remains. So it’s not part of polite conversation or of legislation dealing with it: in December 1998, when the nuisance of dog dung on the sidewalks and streets of the country was debated in the French Senate, the senators spoke of déjections canines. That term of two words is almost understandable in English, as dejection is the medical term for a BM. That la merde has gone mainstream in a politically correct cloak may be a signal of its further demise.

M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo and takes his vacations in France. By education, he’s a natural scientist. His Dateline: Europe column appears monthly in the Gazette.

Comic solution

Ville de Cabestany artwork    Civic administrators know that the merde can be defeated only if the public’s pooch poop practices change. So they publish pamphlets and placards calling for greater propriety, often in Bande dessinée (“comic strips”), a literature form so popular in France that it’s considered to be the ninth art. An example is the placard published by the town of Cabestany, a suburb of the city of Perpignan, reading in translation:

A simple gesture to preserve our sidewalks and green spaces
1 Put your hand in a plastic bag and turn it inside out.
2. Pick up the dog dropping,
3. and then toss it in the nearest trashcan. Easy!

The joy of sliding: Why our feet make skiing feel so sexy

It’s long been a cliché among skiers that a good day on the slopes, especially a good powder day, is as good as sex. Maybe skiers who think so are simply better at skiing than they are at sex. Or perhaps the sport is flush with shameless pervs. (It is frickin’ freezing out there and streaking the spring splash is considered normal.)

Skiing’s sexy mojo might just be a marketing ploy combined with a sharky singles scene and Hollywood hype, but a close look at the neurological relationship of the feet and the brain suggests that skiing and sex may be more intimately related than we might suspect.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Natural History of the Senses,” Diane Ackerman, found scientific evidence that stroking, sliding and caressing motions are therapeutic. “The touching can’t be light, or it will tickle…, nor rough, or it will agitate …, but firm and steady, as if one were smoothing a crease from heavy fabric.” Great advice for the execution of the ideal ski turn: not too light; not too rough.

Firm and steady. Keep it smooth and it feels good.

Applied to skiing, the most important touch points are obviously our feet. Feet are already sexy, of course. No fetish is more famous than the foot fetish. A Google of “Feet & Sex” returns 1,480,000 listings. Says one on-line advisor, “If you keep your feet in good shape and looking nice, it makes for much more erotic sex.” This alone may be the reason women care what color ski boots are. And why you should demand that your girlfriend’s ski boots are warm. Dr. Louann Brizedine, author of “The Female Brain,” claims “women need to have their feet warm before they feel like having sex.”

The obvious issues of appearances and comfort aside, it turns out there probably is a visceral, sexy connection between our heels, arches, toes and skiing.

The soles of the feet host two types of nerves with a flair for sexuality. Meissner’s corpuscles are hyper-sensitive, especially to perpendicular pressure. They respond to gentle sensations — caresses, kisses and tickles. Sharp sensations, like a pebble stuck inside a shoe, or a poke, also send them into a tizzy.

Interestingly, Meissner’s are found in a select few sexy places in the body: the lips, clitoris, penis, nipples and the feet. When you slide and your feet feel undulating pressure passing under them, the Meissner’s get busy. “The slightest distortion of a Meissner’s corpuscle will create sexual sensation,” writes Kristin O’Hara in “Sex As Nature Intended It.” Even inside a tight, hard-shelled boot, the soles of our feet become amplifiers of pushing, twisting, bouncing sensations, sensations that get fed to the brain via very sexy channels.

There just happens to be oodles of Meissners in the toes (which help monitor forward lean), and at the back of the foot (where subtle heel pressure allows the finish of a carved turn).

Pacinian corpuscles, according to the reference “Anatomy, Descriptive & Surgical,” are “found chiefly on the nerves of the fingers and toes…and in the genital organs.” “The Science of Orgasm” identifies the Pacinian as “specialized to respond to pressure and vibration,” and the “densest nerve supply in the body” occurs in the clitoris. Men have them too, in the glans, where O’Hara assures us they are “densely packed nerves excited by pressure.”

Every skier knows that, despite those clunky, heavy boots, there’s a whole lot of vibrating going on — not just those Julie Andrews the-hills-are-alive psychic vibes, but literally the vibration of the skis. Skis thrum powerfully as they turn. Amidst this constant vibrating, the Pacinian corpuscles wiggle their sexy messages to the brain, and what is the brain to do except enjoy the ride?

Luckily for skiers, it doesn’t take much to get a touch receptor’s attention. Ackerman explains that, “Any first time touch, or change in touch (from gentle to stinging, say) sends the brain into a flurry of activity.” The nerves wake up. “A little pressure produces a flurry of excitement, then fades, and a stronger pressure extends the burst of activity.” She explains that the excitement of touch is all about change — as in novelty, variety and intensity.

Like sex, the joy of skiing resonates with touch’s craving for nuanced, diverse experience. The texture and consistency of snow changes, often. Dozens of companies afford us thousands of novel combinations of equipment. Edges tune to various degrees of sharpness and bevel. A range of base structures combined with a rainbow of waxes respond to arrays of snow temperatures. Varying intensity is as easy as skiing steeper or flatter or bumpier runs. Ski fast. Ski slowly. Like the snowflakes we ski on, no two skiing experiences are ever exactly the same.

This is a good thing for touch receptors. Our sense of touch knows exactly how to challenge and reward valuable activities — like sex and skiing. As a touch sport that demands so much from the feet, there’s almost no denying that (provided your boots fit and they are warm) skiing is inherently sexy. Dr. Daniel Amen may not have had skiing in mind when he wrote, “What a lot of people don’t know is that the foot area in the brain — the area of the brain that feels your feet — is right next door to the area of the brain that feels your genitals,” in his book, “Sex on the Brain: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life.”

Or maybe he did.

There’s more. Our footy fetish with skiing may be a nod to our evolutionary success. Ackerman reminds us that the sense of touch evolved before all other senses. The earliest blind organisms literally felt their way to survival. Whether found in our genitalia or our feet, the Meissners and the Pacinian are nerves retained from primordial sliding in epochs when slithering and sliding meant the success of species.

Experimental neurologist Saul Schanberg, interviewed by Ackerman, asserts that, from the standpoint of sexuality within species, “Those animals who did more touching instinctively produced more offspring which survived, and their genes were passed on and the tendency to touch became even stronger.” He says, “Touch is not only basic to our species, but the key to it.”

In other words, sliding has been the key to sentience for more than 600 million years. The fittest were those that were best at it, and liked it, and kept doing it.

So maybe when skis start to slide and slither under us, something elemental happens, too. Maybe skiing stimulates nerve receptors that evolved partly to detect and encourage the firm, steady, smooth, not-too-light, not-to-rough flurries and bursts of sex — the touches that send our brains into a tizzy.

And maybe after a great day of skiing — with all the nerve receptors in your feet suggesting to your brain how great all that sliding was — there’s a chance you might find yourself thinking, “Wow, skiing is as good as sex.” Notice as you slip your boots off the therapeutic glow arising from your feet. Notice the distinct feeling that your entire species is destined for success.

Sources Consulted:
“The Female Brain.” Dr. Louann Brezedine. Broadway Books, 2007.
“Sex as Nature Intended It.” Kristin O’Hara and Jeffrey O’Hara. Turning Point Publications, 2002
“Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical.” Henry Grey, Thomas Pickering Pick, William Williams Keen. Bounty Books, 1977. p. 75-76.
“The Science of Orgasm.” Barry Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer, Carlos Beyer-Flores, Beverly Whipple. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. p. 231.
“Sex on the Brain: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life.” Dr Daniel G Amen. Three Rivers Press, 2006

Wayne Sheldrake is the author of “Instant Karma: The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum.” He lives in Del Norte, Colo.

Parting Gift

Editor’s note: On Sept. 11, 2010, long-time Mountain Gazette poetry editor Karen Chamberlain passed away. Her husband, photographer Bob Chamberlain, found the following two pieces on her computer in a folder titled, “Unfinished Poems.” A book of Karen’s poetry will be published by People’s Press in the spring.


Scissoring out of the newspaper
The obituary of a man I knew well
I’m stopped
By the adjacent obituary
Of a man I didn’t know at all
And the microsecond flash
Of how equal they’d become.

She Speaks To Her Bones

I know you, old bones, know
how you’d rather wander
at your own pace, evade
the tiresome curiosity I place
upon you, how you’d rather collapse
in a heap on these coral sands
I walk you over, or wobble off
alone toward the easy route,
the sky’s blue road.

I know you’re tired of lifting
the burdens I put in your arms,
the loads of sadness and anger
I’ve given you to hold, the bundles
of rocks I’ve thoughtlessly placed
on your back, the ways I’ve twisted
and cracked you, vertebrae, leg
bones, and you, arms, weaving
in dances, climbing rough hills,
turning, always turning to keep
us focused on desires you may
not have shared, on the strange
wild beauties surrounding us
on this long red path, this journey
from ancient sea
to withering desert.

O bones,

I know if I’d let you rest
more often along the way,
if I’d let you find your own loves,
pursue your own dreams
instead of hauling you along
searching after mine, I know
you’d be more loyal, you’d
not creak and pop and complain
the way you do. But not all

memories must lapse.
There were those days
when we ran so lightly
over the grass, down, down
over the sloping fields, leaping,
leaping through forests past
the envious rooted trees,
so fast we ran, faster
than anything, faster than
day’s impatient hours
faster than night’s
impassive stars, until
we ran right up into the sky,
breath reaching into you
breathing deep into you,
old bones,
with joy.

Karen Chamberlain was the author of “Desert of the Heart.” Her first published story, which appeared in MG #46, was titled “Climbing the Walls in Berkeley.” That story was included in the book, “When in Doubt Go Higher: The Mountain Gazette Anthology.”

The Five Stages of a Nap

So you are lying on the couch in the living room with a book and maybe an empty beer can or two — maybe even three. Who’s counting? The book is about a 190-foot, wooden, steam sailer called the Bear and Coast Guard operations in the Alaskan waters in the late-1800s. And while you are amazed that anyone would volunteer to rescue whalers, you read on about endless storms and ice, and gathering a reindeer herd and moving it north cross country to Point Barrow, and all of a sudden you are surprised to hear this:


There is giggling in the room and that person with blues eyes that sparkle and laugh when she is happy (which is most of time) is pointing at you.

“Sweetie, you were snoring.”

“Nope, I was reading about Lt. D.H. Jarvis saving ice-bound whalers.”

This is called Denial.

So you go back to your book and maybe visit the fridge to acquire another Pale Ale from Upslope Brewery (highly recommended).

Lt. Jarvis is now in some hovel with 14 Eskimos waiting out a storm. He’s absolutely driven to get the reindeer to Point Barrow, but the wind is gusting at 50 knots and the temperature is 20 below and even the Eskimos are saying “screw it” when anyone mentions going out.

You think of bone-chilling cold, snow coming at you sideways, wind blasting right off the Bering Sea and Eskimo roommates that have had a bath maybe once in the last year. You reach for your beer and take a pull, maybe two, and go back to the book. And maybe your eyes close for just a moment to imagine the spot that Lt. Jarvis is in.


“Sweetie, you are annoying the dog with your snoring. You should go take a nap.”

“Dammit, I am not snoring. I am reading.”

“The dog thinks you were snoring. I heard you snoring, and you woke yourself up with your snoring.”

“Okay! So my best friend accuses me of snoring. My dog is upset with my snoring. Will everyone just fricking leave me alone? Huh?”

This is called Anger.

“Sweetie, there are four beer cans lined-up along the bottom of the couch.”


“It’s 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and you have done two-thirds of a six pack. Your consumption is bordering on slacker-dude.”

“I deny that.”

“Okay, so everyone in the whole mountain world lies on the couch on a Saturday afternoon, reads a book, drinks four beers, falls asleep and snores, annoying both his best friend and the dog?”

“No, not true, some people have to work on the weekend. Ski Patrol is out on the weekend. Cops are visiting donut shops on the weekend. Hell, librarians sometimes have to work on the weekend if the city has enough money to keep the library open.”

“You know what? You’re a lout.”

“I deny that.”

“I’m going to movie without you.”

“You’re not mad at me are you?”

“No, just disappointed to be living with a lout.”

“Huh, so what movie are you going to?”

“A sci-fi thriller called, ‘Amazons Kicking Lout Ass’.”

“Can I go?”


This is called Bargaining

You didn’t really want to get off the couch and go to an afternoon movie. Blue Eyes knew that. She pulled on her down parka, patted the dog, grabbed the keys and took the truck to the movies without you.

So you go back to the book. But after a while, if you have to read about one more Eskimo village that, in desperation, has to eat their sled dogs, and you think you might just have to toss the book across the room and go watch a basketball game.

So the basketball game is a good idea. It’s your old school, the one it took you seven years to get through, playing against archrivals and they are winning. But then those dirtbags from North Carolina pull even and then surge ahead. Your team folds like a cheap card table. The criminals from North Carolina pour on the points. You wish the coach of your team would just toss a towel onto the floor to end the pain. The score gets more and more lopsided. The play-by-play guys are making fun of your school. All the undergraduates have left the stadium.

This is called Depression

You turn off the tube in disgust and move back toward the book and the couch. But first you grab a blanket off the bed. You pick up the book and assume your position again on the couch, this time under a blanket. After two more Arctic snowstorms, your eyes begin to droop, you yawn several times and the book starts to waver back and forth. You close your eyes, lower the book to your chest and just drift off into this wonderful thing called a nap. Your body relaxes, you seem to be floating and, if you have any thoughts at all, they are of the warm fuzzy sort … a pup licking your face, a perfect steak frites with béarnaise sauce, or sailing downwind, with a following sea from St. Somewhere. And then there is simply nothingness as you wake slowly, look around your house and realize that this is really a comfortable place and all things considered, you have a best friend and a dog and a job — so life is good and best of all — there are still two beers in the Fridge.

This is called Acceptance.

Alan Stark’s last story for the Gazette was “God’s Own Dog,” which appeared in #174. He lives in
Boulder and is co-owner of Boulder Bookworks.

Dogged Pursuits

At last count, we Americans had roughly 77.5 million dogs among our ranks. Nearly 40 percent of our households contain at least one dog, and despite the recession, we are spending record amounts on our curs. If you doubt our willingness to spend big, consider Neuticles, a testicular implant that restores “anatomical preciseness” to neutered dogs. The cost? $919. For a pair, naturally.

1. Complete WTF situation
A former University of Colorado student was sentenced last summer to a month in jail and three years’ probation for taping her boyfriend’s dog to their refrigerator. Boulder police encountered a complete WTF situation when they entered the boyfriend’s apartment on a domestic dispute complaint and noticed that things were not going at all well for little Rex the shiba inu. Apparently Abby Toll had been upset about the dog’s behavior as well as her boyfriend paying more attention to the dog than her, and she played out her frustration by binding the animal’s feet and snout, then encasing him in packing tape and sticking him to the fridge. The judge denied a prosecutor’s request for Rex to enter the courtroom for the sentencing. Toll, meanwhile, has been ordered to stay away from animals during her probation. She could have faced up to 18 months in prison for felony animal cruelty, which would have gone over well with throngs of outraged animal rights activists. The dog was adopted into a new home that does not use packing tape for discipline.

2. Top dogs
It’s no surprise that the Northeast U.S. dominates any one-upsmanship relating to hot dogs, but last year Jane and Michael Stern, founders of, included two Western eateries in their Best Hot Dogs in America list. Otto’s Sausage Kitchen in Portland received honors for their vaunted chicken dogs, smoky Octoberfest sausage, bockwurst and Cajun andouille, while Tucson’s Sonoran Dog was recognized for being flipping amazing. The bacon-wrapped frank is topped with tomatoes, beans, “an artistic squiggle” of mayo and hot sauce, and served with a roasted and stuffed guero pepper, all on a soft bun from a Mexican bakery.

3. He was quite breathtaking
People have ugly dog contests to the point where they barely merit mention, but Sam, the world champion ugliest dog from 2003-2005, made your average chupacabra look like Lassie in comparison. The rescue from which he was adopted initially deemed him as too old and ugly to re-home (he also was blind), but a woman who already had a squad of hairless, ugly dogs saw his championship qualities and took him in, repeatedly winning the esteemed Sonoma-Marin County Fair contest among the world’s most revolting curs. The white-eyed, snaggle-toothed Sam dominated the ugly dog scene until his death, and while other Chinese cresteds have stepped up to the winner’s podium, it’s doubtful that any will surpass his attributes. Sam was so well known that he appeared on TV with Donald Trump, making The Donald’s combover (“No animals have been harmed in the creation of my hairstyle,” he has said against allegations of wearing a toupé) look downright hot. Go to to see what we mean.

4. Doghouse
Speaking of hair, the ever-reliable internet has several snippets of celebrated bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman residing, at least part time, in Castle Rock, CO. A report said he had “roamed the area wearing festive garb and mingling with the locals.” No word if he placed any of them in headlocks and, his golden locks flowing, dragged them away at gunpoint with buxom wife No. 5, Beth, nearby and ready to assist. Oddly enough, Dog served as the warden’s barber at the Texas State Penitentiary, where he served two years of a five-year sentence in connection with a gang killing in the 1970s.

5. Love those curs
Albuquerque is frequently rated among the country’s most dog-friendly locales, flanked by Portland, Colorado Springs, Seattle and even Las Vegas. With plenty of nearby trails and restaurants that reward curs with biscuits, the Duke City is a good place to have a dog or four. It ranked No. 8 in BellaDog’s 2010 top-ten list, and Forbes put Albuquerque at No. 3 in its 2007 survey.

6. That’s one big dog
George, a Great Dane who weighs in at 245 pounds (that’s not a typo) and stands 43 inches at the shoulder and 7 feet, 3 inches from nose to tail, is the new Tallest Dog Ever in the Guinness Book of World Records. A resident of Tucson, George consumes 110 pounds of kibble each month (you do the math on what his owner, Dave Nasser, has to pick up in his back yard) and has his own queen-sized bed. George beat out record-holder Titan, a Great Dane from California, by three-quarters of an inch.

7. Hero dogs
The West abounds with hero-dog stories. There’s Willy the Weimaraner waking his almost-unconscious owner and forcing her to leave their house, which had filled with carbon monoxide (Los Alamos, N.M.) There’s the story about two dogs that were rafting with their family on the Colorado River. When the raft flipped, Bo the Labrador was trapped under the raft with one of his owners. He emerged, but dove back under the raft and pulled her out by the hair. She then held his tail as he swam through the rough water to shore. There’s also the recent and horribly sad story of Target, a dog adopted by troops in Afghanistan. Target saved a group of 50 soldiers by attacking a suicide bomber with two other dogs. Featured on Oprah, among much other notoriety, Target came home to Florence, Ariz. with Sgt. Terry Young. She got out of her yard on a Friday, and was accidentally euthanized at an animal shelter the following Monday before her owners could claim her.

Cumulus Dentatus, or Why I Believe in Winter Storm Warnings

1. Unmooring
On some days, you sit and look at the computer. Your fingers touch the keys and go nowhere. Your mind numbs as symbols collide on the screen. On some days, this all makes perfect sense. You have things to do. You are bound, chained. But on other days, there’s that cold wet black nose that nudges your elbow as you drone on. That nose is never wrong. It calls you from complacency: “I need to go out, to roam! This nose must hunt, must cover new territory! This is what I must do.”

The nose is attached to Riley, 75 pounds of four-legged tawny brawn. For this beautiful canine eunuch, ranging, roaming and alarmingly indiscriminate eating are the only patterns worth repeating. Patterns like the awkward totter of bipedal motion, the curse of obsessive cognition and the maze of symbols spewed across a computer screen are of no use to him.

At 2 p.m., you will be knee-deep still in work, but the nose will prevail. It will cause an awakening, a resurgence of the hunter-gatherer within. Prompted by sidekick, modern man goes mini-paleolithic, shuts down computer and leaves warm house, bent on Winter Solstice hike.

2. Ascending
At 8,300 feet above sea level, Grandeur Peak’s height is much more attainable than that of its loftier sister mountains that jut skyward east of Salt Lake City. Most days, it’s a pretty good choice for roaming with Riley. During the winter, snowshoers’ tracks make the path easily negotiable with simple hiking boots. Dog paws work great too. And the view is outstanding at sunset, particularly when the haze of particulate matter that favors the valley broadens the typical palette of dull reds and oranges. Seemed like the right destination, given the few hours we had until darkness.

Bound for Grandeur, Riley and I loaded up and went to pick up his cousin Sandy. Sandy is my brother’s dog, a labweiler (Labrador Retriever meets Rottweiler; the two fall in love; they make labweilers). Sandy and Riley’s relationship unfolds along distinctly canine lines. Riley’s the upstart male, heckling, herding and worrying the larger, stronger Sandy until she corrects him decisively. This cycle repeats.

On the car radio, the announcer prated on about snow: snow tonight, snow impending, three inches of snow, snow in the valley, snow warning, snow advisory, winter storm watch. The forecast had featured snow for days, and never once had reality reflected the forecast. So I paid no mind to this sober warning, though the wind had been gusting all day. I had heard the swamp cooler cover twisting in the wind, I had felt the raw push of the wind shake the wood frame of the house, yet I had remained skeptical.

The line between skeptical and ill-advised is sometimes a thin one. But we nevertheless entered the V-shaped confines of Mill Creek Canyon, home of the Grandeur Peak trailhead. We piled out. Riley and Sandy, unconcerned about the pitch of the terrain, bounded ahead, working as a pair, negotiating a maze of scrub oak, nipping, charging full tilt. I stomped up the trail, watching carefully to see where they would relieve themselves so I could make things right with a plastic doggie dookie bag.

Wind was strangely absent from the canyon. The air was stirring only lazily, its torpor a sharp contrast to the fury of wind scouring the valley. As we rose upward, leaving the initial canyon of Church Fork for a series of switchbacks up a sort of hanging valley, I looked southward at Olympus, at Raymond and at Twin Peaks, masses of stone and earth. Cirrocumulus clouds skittered across their faces, sucked inevitably northward into the looming low pressure.

No matter. I was sure the storm was taking its sweet time, and I still didn’t believe it would produce snow. We pressed upward, zigzagging our way up the mountain’s south flank. The dogs had not yet begun to scrub off the excess energy that fueled their frenetic play, now pouncing, now dodging, now bolting down the trail to a place I had been fifteen minutes before in a tenth of the time, only to return to me, tongues lolling.

Just under an hour, and I had huffed my way to a ridge that overlooks Parley’s Canyon, named for Parley Pratt, an Mormon pioneer with a capitalist knack for creating toll roads through eponymous landforms. The peak was maybe twenty minutes away, and the view into Parley’s Canyon was pretty clear. So we might as well continue on. The dogs charged ahead, live wires still, and I began booting up the steepening — and deepening — snow.

I wallowed (and the dogs frolicked) southwest up the ridge that meanders to the summit. As the ridge curves southward, hikers are generally treated with a commanding view of the Salt Lake Valley. Not so today. The wind, in its implacable persistence, had eventually succeeded in ushering into the valley a cloud whose proportions defied my sense of measurement. In place of the valley
was an immense blackness, a nightmare cloud.

The cloud looked to be contained in the valley, hugging its floor and enveloping its inhabitants, content with disrupting the impending rush hour traffic rather than ascending to the aerie from which I watched its menacing — but apparently slow — progress.  So of course we continued upward. Ten minutes later, within 200 meters of the summit, I was corrected. A gust of wind, the velocity of which was unmistakably north of 60 miles per hour, sent me reeling. And I realized that this wind, being sucked into the vortex of cloud into the valley, would exercise a return pull on the low pressure, which translated to this place being enveloped in cloud. And soon. The wind had finally pierced through to my deeply buried common sense, playing Sandy to my Riley: You’re pushing my limits. Knock it off already.

So we turned around. Suddenly, the top of the mountain seemed a profoundly stupid place to be spending any length of time. Couch, hot tub, Afghanistan, all began to seem like better alternatives. I tromped downward, soon reaching the spot where I had moments before seen the black cloud. It had been replaced by a rush of oncoming white, a wall of wind and snow.

I couldn’t ignore a certain fascination with the approaching blanket of wind-whipped snow. I knew by now I was not going to outrun this storm, so I let it overtake me. Standing on the ridge, I whooped with a visceral excitement as I was engulfed by the storm. I had never witnessed a frontal passage this defined. The swirling mass of white poured over the ridge, over me and the wholly unconcerned dogs, and spilled into the canyon below. Visibility: zero.

3. Of moths and flames
Traveling in the Sierra Nevada on a crust of bread and a prayer, writer and adventurer John Muir once climbed a tree to get closer to one of the sublimely powerful electrical storms that often besieged his mountain retreat. When the first lightning strike came, I realized just how peculiarly unconcerned with life and limb Muir was — and therefore how unlike me he was. While I had reveled in the mildly Muirish moment of having the storm pass before my eyes and immediately cloud my perspective, I unequivocally drew the line at lightning. What was lightning doing in a snowstorm, anyway?

The strike had happened, I thought, somewhere toward the Parley’s Canyon side of the ridge. Too close.  I ran. The dogs were in front of me, but were stalling, tentatively looking back, wondering why I had become a madman. I shouted at them, “up, up, up,” thinking they might understand this to mean hey-we-need-to-get-the-hell-off-this-mountain-and-fast. But they still lagged, concerned by my sudden lack of sanity. I hurtled down the trail, post-holing at times to mid-thigh, flopping back onto the snow, flounder-like, getting up, running again, falling again.

Again lightning struck. Again too close. I looked like Hawkeye in the television show “M*A*S*H”, ducking low to avoid a chopper’s rotors. Ridiculous — I was still the highest, most conductive thing on this ridge, and lightning would not pass me by on account of this half-assed slouching. I hadn’t noticed it on the climb up, but much of the last mile or so of the trail is exposed, the only trailside flora stubby, leafless Gambel Oak, no buffer whatsoever. Images of Ben Franklin’s ill-advised but ground-breaking experiments with lightning flashed through my mind. But in my frightened mind’s eye, I was the electrified kite, not the flier.

More flashes, the cloud above me glowing orange, hair standing on end quite literally, and running at a faster clip than I have since, well, ever, are my trauma-scattered memories of the rest of the trip down. I stumbled over dogs; I cursed; I struck a prayerful bargain with god/buddha/universe/to whom it may concern; I twisted my knee and didn’t care; and finally I made it to lower ground. The succor might have been psychological only, as I knew a grove of tall trees wasn’t a great place to be, but at least the lightning would have options — other life forms to snuff out on its way to the ground.

Fifty minutes from turnaround point to parking area. Fifty of the most intensely felt minutes I have experienced on this earth — the drive back into the valley coming in a close second, the road having been covered by four inches of snow and made virtually un-navigable. Looking back, I know that Franklin and Muir were both madmen, if geniuses. And I know why we fear and yet still seek out lightning, with its alien power and effortless mastery of humans and our frail ingenuity. There is something in nature, in its deadly power, we must come closer to if we are to understand the audacious tenuousness of life. We are drawn to its truth.

4. Home, awake, recharged
You will realize that those near-misses, those jolts of unknowable energy that writer and strike survivor Gretel Ehrlich calls “a match to the heart,” had the power — terawatts of it — to scare you into a heightened sense of the unmitigated beauty of being alive as opposed to dead. You will be thankful for the lightning’s way of recharging your vitality, delivering a surge of power to scare you out of, and back into, your animal skin.

But you will not climb that mountain in a storm again. Ever.

Aaron Phillips is based in Salt Lake City, where he teaches writing at the University of Utah. He flees to — and from — high elevations with his canine guide whenever possible.