Thursday, November 12, 2015
Vodka Taste Challenge, 11.12.2015
Vodka 1. Sting. I'm drinking in a snifter. Letting it cool a bit, two cubes of ice. Lips afire, seems like that wouldn't happen with the Tito's. On further sips, mellowing, doesn't seem that unfamiliar. Really no taste at all to speak of, no smell. With the melting of the cubes, the taste goes closer and closer to that of water. B has the classical station on, this after the jazz station gave us a wide saucy baritone version of 'Summertime.' Duh, it's just about the middle of November. Roof of mouth still tingles some, like I've recently had a cough drop, or huffed a couple of menthols. Halogen light flickering in what I guess I'd have to call an old lamp. I bought it many years ago at the Office Depot at Big Bend and Clayton in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. I used to get so high and go in there, it was like Wonderland, all of the pens and notebooks and possible desk adornments.... That's it for Vodka 1. Just slurped down the wort. I think it's the Skyy..
Vodka 2. Less sting, broader taste but I'm not sure it's any better. I mean, they both taste the way rubbing alcohol smells, like evaporation fumes. I am snookered. Not drunk, but lost in this challenge. The first vodka had more sting but this one... my tongue tingles a little, a minute after my first sip... this one... hell, I don't know. They don't seem all that different. I'm going to get this wrong, I have a strong sense. It's a coin flip and yet having more information is going to lead me to have less than an even chance in guessing. It's very noticeable how less distinct each sample has become after the initial sip. Once water is in the admixture... forget it. Sting isn't necessarily bad for alcohols. I'm afraid to guess. I'll go with my first instinct. 1 Skyy, 2 Tito's.
Result: I was right: I was wrong.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
That's Just the Way it Works
Join me mad man,
Answer again, forget it.
Bulletin board bimbo,
I talked to Phil today,
I talked to Phil today.
It wasn't a wash,
we really, rarely talked.
Sunday, October 04, 2015
I. St. Louis to Salt Lake City.
I have jumped seats across the aisle. I paid up for legroom but the package I bought didn't come with any extra shoulder room. Alas. Alackaday.
It is not a full flight. I last flight I was on, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, wasn't full either. Behind me, along with me in the cabin are inter alia my wife and three of my dozen or so friends. The chicken is in the woods. It is a hen or a rooster. Hen, I think. I have selected from a snack tray the blue bag of mini pretzels. And, on second thought, a banana. The old man with the window seat one seat away scoffed at the pretzels, took the peanuts and a granola bar. They rest on a napkin on the empty seat between us. The laundry cats are in the basket, replete with anonymous fish.
I am sipping coffee; he orange juice, aka a little bit of the ole jugo de naranja. He has a cut over his eye, a wound above his elbow. His cane is in the cabin above my head. He raises slightly the window shield. Just as quickly he lowers it back down. The chicken is in the woods, anon anon.
Something led me to think just now of the band Ratatat and their song, "Montanita." I realiZe I left it off of the 'Montana' playlist Anne set up and invited us to add to. I was adding theme-themed songs—meta-themes, mother of memes. Montana; passport; glacier; aurora borealis; Alberta. I am otherwise indifferent to music at the moment, whatever you want to listen to. Whiplash, autograph. Neck hurts? Take an aspirin, laugh-in. The breakfast sandwich expands across the federal lands. No one even lives in Utah anymore. "I'm on a plane.... I can't complain...." I forgot that one, too.
After I went through the body scan sedan a TSA guard asked me to lift my left arm straight out to my side and then he patted my armpit. He'd found my sweat alright, half of it anyway. Flight attendant comes by with coffee. The one was enough. I pass. I demure, for sure, the cure. My skimpy goal for this flight, my picayune imperative, is to refrain from having to use the restroom. My fear is getting trapped in the aisle fore or aft the beverage cart; or having to stand outside the restroom for too long a time, standing there right on the doorstep of the poor folks with the seats right next to the restroom, crowded by the sloppy anxious passengers loitering on their doorstep. Shadenfruede, Sigmund Freud. Butter-scented candle, gold-plated candle. My name is—six forty a.m. mountain time on September 26, 2015. Wildcat, spoiled brat, exiled frat. Scaredy-cat welcome mat—come on then, come on in. National park, national party: no need to get arty: the wellhead's tapped but the rig's gone idle. Let's do math, let's take a bath. That chicken is back on the escalator!
I think the old man is asleep. Except, as I'm stealing glances at him, there's that cut nascently healing above/around his left eye and there's just the slightest suggestion that his eye is cracked a glimmer and he is leering back at me as I am leering at him. He looks a little like my grandfather, my dad's dad, gone...eighteen years now...a bit jowly, pot belly, light bulb polo with some kind go animal sewn on where the eponymous polo players would be...what is that animal? A sheep, a fox? A pox, on all the houses of the holy molybdenum.
I have brought two books, each of which I have read at least twice apiece. One, The Sun Also Rises. It is a copy I bought many years ago—18 years ago?—at the Memorial Hospital Book Bazaar in Belleville, IL. I am fairly certain I took that book to Mexico in college. Now it will also find its way into Canada! Reading a bit of it just now, it is as rich and stark as it ever was; there are parts I do not remember, probably because I did not understand them in the first place. Pernod for instance. He calls it imitation absinthe. Certainly this is the first time I have read the book having actually tasted Pernod. It's not my taste. I recently poured out what was left of a bottle I didn't want to sit in my cabinet any longer. I suppose Earnest would have frowned upon me. Sorry, Earnest, ye Great Pacer. It struck me too that the girl he picks up early is a prostitute. I am dense about the subtext in great books, kind of like how I am terrible about picking up song lyrics. Plot, meaning, and subtext aside: it is the rhythm and the sparseness of his prose that set something in motion inside me. All of the unused word. Th'economy.
The second book, Bill Luoma's Works & Days, is the second of two copies I've owned of it. The first I bought nine years ago at Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop, back when they sold used books. Now it's all new books and I am still sullen with their decision to stop selling used books; I don't go there much anymore, once or twice a year to throw them a dime and pick up a gift; nobody ever goes there anymore, it's too new. I found my original copy in the poetry section, it was secondhand. It's not strictly a poetry book but that's as good a place as any for it. Prose poetry travelogue. Travelounge. I attempted to copy its style pace & rhythm when I wrote a journal about a trip to Jamaica back in 2009. I have not read the book since then. I leant it to a bandmate of my friend Brett. This bandmate seemed interested in writing and poetry and I figured he'd like Luoma. But Brett soured on him. Apparently this guy and his wife liked to swing. That's what Roy told me. He ended up out at their place one time, to go swimming. I'm not sure how he ended up out there, come to think of it. This bandmate had an apartment with a pool. He invited me out there the last time I talked to him. I guess he got the sense I wasn't ever going to come out to swim. That's how I lost that first copy of 'Works & Days' and why I had to get onto AmaZon to buy it used (again) a couple of years ago.
Loma might have copied Hemingway a bit. I'm going to rip off the both of them best I can. Hemingway, of course, is dead. I cannot find any other work by Luoma; shame. There's other works listed in 'Works & Days' as being by him but the last time I tried to find any of them all I came up with was a scrap about a guy living in Hawaii, working as a programmer of some sort, possibly utilising computer algorithms to produce a hop-scotch random sort of automatic poetry not different in concept than Burroughs's cut-ups, which I never cared for and which don't compare to his beat-diary classic, Junkie. I digress; I have an abscess in the annex, the narthex, it's complex, with flecks—of tungsten conducting an experiment of relative thought at a temperature as close to zero as we might reasonably get a haircut, get a real job, get lost and—found my way to...Montana...not quite sure how that happened.
I am in-setting the poem Luoma opens the book with. It is "Douglasses poem." I've inset it in at least one of my previous travelogues. Luoma writes, "It is a sad and beautiful poem about a broken car which makes you feel things. You can interpret it however you like, but it sets the stage for everything to come." I agree! And now, "Douglasses poem."
if the car is broken,
& we cannot go to get it,
if the car is broken,
& no one can go to get it,
if the car is old & broken,
wounded like the street,
broken like the broken parts
of these our broken lives,
& we remain?
I was thinking about this poem this past summer when the contractor working for Ameren (who was working for the city) came to put down sod on a patch of the right-of-way that sits between the sidewalk and the street out in front of my house. It all started when the bozo construction crew building a new house on a tear-down lot down the street was dicking around in the ground and snapped—for the second time in as many years—the electric cable that runs between the light post out in front of the tear-down and the lighthouse sitting by my house.
It was a Saturday and I was doing this and that in and out of the house while B was out running errands. A flatbed truck arrived carrying nothing at all. It parked right across the foot of our driveway, like it was looking for our driveway to cut it in half. It was part of a convoy of trucks, one of which held the sod. Figuring my wife was going to be back at some point that afternoon I went out to the fellas who were standing around chatting while a couple others did all of the work. "What's going on?" I said. A sun-bitten, rind-skinned smoker-for-life roofer-type told me, "Sod." That was it, a one-word answer. Sod. I'm looking at the three or four trucks and this patch afoot the light pole that might have been 25-square yards at the most and all I could do was shrug; look up and down the sidewalk. Quite an operation for this little patch, I wanted to say. Three big trucks, five or six guys.
"How long you gonna be here?" I ask.
"I can move right now if you need me to," said another guy.
I said that wasn't necessary, yet. They got the sod down and were gone twenty minutes later, just as quick as they appeared.
This was late July. They came and put the sod down but the sod wasn't going to take without additional care and maintenance. It led me to wonder: city lays the sod, but city doesn't water the sod—who waters the sod? That inquisitive rhythm reminded me of Douglasses poem. It is the same sort of question. Again I digress, I recess, I adjournal for lunch, crunch time and again and again & again. Ryan Hanigan again. Jack Clark. Will Clark. Clark Kent, naked on a beach in New Mexico. They don't have a beach in New Mexico? They do now. Its sand is laced with kryptonite.
The old fella took off his shoes. And then, no surely not—yes—he took his socks off too. I'm stealing a few peeks at his left foot. I was afraid it was going to be all messed up somehow—mad cow—but it's not. It looks OK and, breathing now through my nose again, I don't smell anything at all. Relief, Rolaids, trapezoids. Polaroids of the pyramids. Rhombuses of Ramses and a variety of other unclassified shapes. Seatbacks up and try tables returned to their locked position. Folks, prepare the cabin for landing!
II. Salt Lake City to Kalispell.
I'm up in row seven while the other four are opposite aisle one another, two each side, two rows back. There's a couple regular old folk in the row between us. Anne starts giggling and I turn around all serious, "No laughing! I'm trying to read up here." With a real pissed off look I do this.
"Mind you own!" she snaps back.
The couple in between us, startled out of a toddling nap, is wide-eyes and in the way.
"We're just joking," I say. "I know these people. They've been following me ever since I left St. Louis."
"Oh, OK," they say, awkward chuckles from the both of them.
That last part didn't actually happen. I just imagined it and thought it would be kind of funny. I am two rows in front of them, though—and I have been hearing Anne's occasional giggles. Rose and B are back there, too. I heard a snippet of dialogue between them as we lifted toward cruising altitude over the Great Salt Lake. They were talking about th'eponymous lake, I believe. What I noticed about the lake: I saw no boats. Is there no recreation on or involving the lake? I did not see any wildlife but I am rather far away so how could I tell, even if there were wildlife? What is the water source for the lake? We are in the middle of what I would otherwise call a desert. Where does all of that water come from? I thought I saw a river winding its way toward something. Perhaps the lake is fed by this river. Is the river also salty? Are there fish in the lake? Does the lake have a bodyguard? Does the bodyguard go fishing in the lake? Does the bodyguard keep the fish he catches or does he throw them back? If he keeps them, does he clean the fish himself? Or does he, in turn, hire someone that cleans the fish for him? Is the bodyguard so busy catching and cleaning the fish that he cannot do the bodyguard work that he was originally hired to do? Is this why there are not many famous or infamous people hanging about by the Great Salt Lake?
I had also been hearing behind me, amidst the landscape dialogue and the ticklish giggling, a baby. That baby is now right across the aisle from me! His helpless, provocative father brought that baby up here to gain hold of some peace and quiet. I discover now that this baby has no shirt on! How about if I take my shirt off? The father is bouncing the shirtless baby on his lap and making goo goo sounds while the facing-forward baby grabs at the worthless Delta paraphernalia in the seat pocket in front of the seat. The baby has quieted down since the father emigrated to this part of the plane. The baby has a piece of paper in his left hand, now his right hand, that he is shaking. The stewardess is going up and down the aisle soliciting trash. Trash, otherwise referred to with this incredible euphemism I heard right at the end of the STL to SLC flight, when the attendant called out for any remaining "used service items".
When we got off the plane, B came up to me and said, "How'd you and that little baby get along? It seemed like he got quiet once he went up and sat by you."
I said, "That's because when he got up there I went and leaned over to him and said, 'Listen here, you little punk. You better keep quiet around me or I'll whip your little baby ass.'"
And everybody laughed at my good-natured faux-curmudgeon humor as we strolled through the effulgent concourse of the expansive and karma-filled Kalispell airport before seamlessly snatching up our already-carouseling bags and practically walking right into our rental car which was parked right on the curb outside with the engine running and the radio turned to whatever channel on Sirius we were all going to agree we wanted to listen to
None of that actually happened either. I'm still on the plane but the father has taken his shirtless kid back to the back of the plane, though I still smell a little bit of baby in the air.... Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen baby...baby air...baby bubble...bubble boy...the Moops, oops, I—I—I guess I didn't know that. The nose knows. A rose is a rose is a rose. Hemingway is at his best writing about Paris. The Sun Also Rises is a lot like A Moveable Feast with a stronger fictional bent, stripped down, made minimal. We are over mountains. I am listening to Milieu. The temperature in Kalispell is 36 degrees? That's what the captain said. He must be wrong. Or maybe that's in Celsius. Celsius Clay, the bizarro version of Casius Clay. European and swinging from the left.
I am writing in a journal made in Spain munching on Biscoff biscuits from Belgium, while reading a Kansas City newspaperman's account of his time in Paris. The descent into Kalispell has begun. Fun. These tray tables need to be returned to their seat-back position. Adieu for now, mon frer.
III. Cabin Outside Glacier, First Day.
It is Sunday morning. The alarm clock read, '3:21' but that wasn't right. It was 3:56. I put on my glasses and opened my phone, went to Instagram, the photo-tribune obsession of my travels. I strained against the screen in the dark before deciding to get up, go downstairs, turn on a light. I slept alright. The headache I had for most of yesterday is gone. I was hung over. The second flight in a row where too many beers the night before led to a mounting dehydration-fueled head-pounder. I've chastised myself enough already.
I posted my photo, of a peak catching a bit of the fading sun somewhere around magic hour yesterday. We were headed north along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We had stopped because of the way the light was hitting those peaks. Pat was driving. He upgraded the Santa Fe to a Suburban, a burgundy beast of a vehicle straight from Detroit with Bluetooth, USB ports, an excellent rear-view camera, and three rows of seats. When it was holding all of our luggage and then our groceries we were all glad for the space.
I am sitting here in this woody cabin drinking tea and writing and it is quiet. Pat had been out on the back deck last night looking at the nearly full moon when he realized how quiet it was. No insects, no birds, no airplanes. Occasionally a car will go by; there is a train track not far away, down the road, just past the point where the north fork and the middle fork of the Flathead River come together at the Blankenship Bridge. Where water comes together with other water. Take the north fork. So much water so close to home.
I have been delighted by how many rivers and creeks we have seen. I did not expect them. I am not much impressed by the lakes. Lake McDonald is big and rippling but it is also shapeless. The Flathead at Blankenship Bridge—the sound of a train in the distance—looked like a scene from Normal Maclean. There were fly fishermen in the river on either side of the bridge as we passed. I want to get into that river. Rivers move. Creeks move. The water of McDonald Creek could not have been more clear. That creek tracks the Going-to-the-Sun Road for a pleasant stretch between Lake McDonald and The Loop, a hairpin turn on the road at which point the elevation starts to take hold. From on high we caught sight of numerous creeks below and a few waterfalls here and there sluicing their way down various mountainside escarpments. There isn't much snowpack to speak of; I don't know where the water comes from. I am guessing we saw glints of Mineral Creek, Avalanche Creek, Hidden Creek.
Do not misunderestimate the size and augustness of these streams; I call them creeks because they have been dubbed, officially, as creeks. They look like rivers to me. Especially McDonald Creek. It's got pools deep as most rivers I've ever seen. It is wet and gets white and it flows. I believe the terminology is captive to the scientific text in this case. There must be some rule about what counts as a creek versus what can be dubbed a river. These creeks, best as I can tell from the map, all wend down through the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park and eventually feed into the various forks of the Flathead. Lincoln Creek, Harrison Creek, Nyack Creek, Pinchot Creek, Coal Creek, Muir Creek, Park Creek, Ole Creek, Bear Creek. When you've got so many tributaries in such close proximity, all feeding into the same body of water, I suppose they can't all be rivers so they must be creeks. And they're not especially long; they are about as long as their mounts are high.
This is all in the southern part, the southwest corner of the park. Our cabin is just south of the park, north of Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Coram. I did almost zero advance scouting for this trip. Pat and Anne have been here before. They got married in Kalispell, ten years ago tomorrow. Ten years gone. Time flies. Where does it go? Going, going, gone. You better watch the road, baby. The chicken is in the woods. Syrah, syrah.
The North Fork of the Flathead River hails from Canada. British Columbia. I am looking at this Waterton-Glacier park map in awe. Part of the park is in Canada, that's Waterton: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. B and I honeymooned in the maritime provinces of Canada but I have not sniffed Alberta.
I've got so much to say! The ink is flowing, the tea is strong and I am under a blanket in a recliner in Montana. As John Sterling would say, "How do you like that?" But that's baseball; that's a whole 'nother story.
The cabin has low beams. Some have clearance of less than 6'5". The wall on the staircase leading upstairs to the landing where our bed is has a nasty slant, requiring me to be very aware as I traverse the stairs. The water has a strong iron content, I do declare. I bent to wash my face yesterday and I could taste something in the water, I thought blood. It was like my nose had started to bleed as I began to wash my face; I have in the paste hit my nose just the right way while washing and opened it up, realizing only because the water then ended up in my mouth. This was the same exact taste. I have concluded that this cabin would be perfect for short vampires. Being neither short nor a vampire I plan to spend the bulk of my cabin time in this recliner drinking tea or out on the commodious back deck drinking beer.
The sky cleared sometime in the night. B stirs. It was mostly cloudy when Pat I and proclaimed our embers burnt and turned in somewhere around ten o'clock. Yet I was underwhelmed by the sky when I looked out and up this cool, clear morning in my barefoot for just a minute on the back deck. It's the moon. The moon is too bright. It's not going to be any less bright tonight. Indeed, tonight is a full moon, a Harvest moon, a super moon (the moon being as close to the earth as any full moon will be this year). And that's not all! If you order now we'll also send you a full lunar eclipse and a blood moon for no extra charge! See what I'm saying about the vampires liking it here?
We saw a small black bear yesterday but we did not see many birds; a stellar's jay; a robin (could have been a towhee); a quail (could have been a ptarmigan?). The bear was alongside the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and went back into the woods about ten seconds after we initially saw it. Pat had predicted we would see a bear on day one, and we did. Rose is somewhat concerned about encountering a grizzly on one of our hikes. The possibility is far enough above zero to be classified as legitimate. She bought a bell. I kind of wish I had a cowbell. I've always liked the sound. The point of the bell is to make noise; you don't want to surprise a bear and/or her family. There is a gratis can of bear spray in the cabin (but if you break the seal, you buy it). We should be OK, the five of us. It's six o'clock, mama bear. Do you know where your cubs are?
IV. Sunday Night: Blood Moon vs. Milky Way.
We had originally planned to go up to Logan Pass, the high point in the park along the Continental Divide, to see the Blood Moon. But I had doubts about us commanding The Beast along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the dark and I said so. I told Pat it wasn't a comment upon his driving and I meant it. It is a narrow road; difficult enough in the light. And it would have been well into our cocktail hour.
We did phone research into the moonrise: when and on what horizon. Rise was 19:12 in the southeastern sky. I suggested we go down to the banks of the river banks, the ole Flathead. The sky was pretty open there. When we went down there in the light to scout it out the brush on the narrow, bumpy turnoff scraped the sides of The Beast something good—seemingly perfunctory warnings from the rental car agent about "No Off-roading" echoed in my worried head.
When the hour arrived Pat drove us down there. As we worked our way toward the bridge the moon jumped out to us suddenly, big and round and orange and we were headed straight for it. We lost elevation and we lost our view for the moment. Cocktail in hand, Pat first drove over the bridge, missing the turnoff. There were already a bunch of locals down on the banks and multiple bonfires were burning. We made to join them. It was a pretty sight, people out under the moon on a riverbank having a fire and being outside on a Sunday night. The moon was just about in full eclipse when we parked on the rocks not too far from everyone else.
It was a rusty, orange, large, eclipsed moon. It moved quickly through its arc. Once the eclipse was full, the rest of the night sky came out of hiding. The Milky Way was straight overhead. I realize we won't have another lunar eclipse until 2033, but I'd be much more unhappy if you were to tell me that I would not get to see the Milky Way again until 2033. That ghostly ribbon is the prize of any sky. The only thing I'd rather see is a comet. The Way ran from the southwest to the northeast, straight above through Cassiopeia. Pat had his camera trying different exposures to nail it. I don't think he was satisfied with what he got. I'm afraid he will not have a better chance on this trip. The moon will be just one day off of full tonight, plenty bright. Maybe when we are in Canada, once the moon is set, one morning along 3:30 or so. Will I be awake? Will he? It's 2015 and the climate is changing. Do you know where your glaciers are?
I believe I could write a long, groping passage about glaciers but I don't want to fail in my responsibility to record for posterity the simpler items on my agenda, e.g. the cornucopia of other action from yesterday, Sunday, September the whatever.
We hiked the Avalanche Lake Trail from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Taking our time to snap photos and pause at the end of the trail at the head of the lake we were out on the trail for three-and-a-half hours. We could not agree on what distance it was we had hiked. I cannot say for sure that we did more than six miles. The park map was not as helpful as you might think. It was chilly at the head of the lake, a wind dancing off of its surface and cutting right through me. We snacked. I peed. I am driving myself craZy with my small bladder and its itchy-trigger-prostate on these excursions. I think I might have a drinking problem—I'm drinking too much water! Pat remarked last night that he thought he drank one liter over the course of the whole day. I drank two liters on the Avalanche hike alone and had to race like a pisshorse again by the time I got back to the trailhead. I was militant with the sensation. No one wants to get between a mother bear and her cub; no one wants to get between me and a place to take a leak when my bladder is beating with a pulse in my pelvis. I need to figure something out.
Where was I. There are lilies in here. Pat got them for Anne, the same arrangement they had ten years ago. I am somewhat allergic to lilies; a shame.
I want to voice briefly my wonder about the lakes and the creeks here. I've discussed this with my comrades. Where is all of this water coming from? Snow melt they say. What snow? Glacier melt. T'ain't many glaciers anymore, not enough to fun all of these creeks 24-7, no way. Not unless I am simply underestimating, by magnitudes, how large and how voluminous these remaining, global-warming holdout glaciers really are. Could the source be a sort of groundwater? Maybe, but then the water table has to be somehow higher within the tallest mountains, rising like a column within them. I am missing something. The simplest explanation, my dear Occam, is: snow up high/snowpack/glacier; melts, reaches lakes via waterfall or sluicing through the body of the rock; lakes themselves also happen to be spots where the water table is high, commingling with the melt-off and/or there are springs somewhere on the undersides of these lakes, turbo-charging the runoff; the lakes then drain, slowly, via the creeks. We saw an example of this process yesterday. There were two waterfalls high above the head of Avalanche Lake. That water reaches into and constantly feeds Avalanche Lake, replenishing the lake at a rate identical to that at which the lake loses water into Avalanche Creek. Meaning: the creek must run in volume and at a rate equal to that of the waterfalls reaching the lake. Avalanche Creek runs into McDonald Creek. McDonald Creek feeds the lengthy Lake McDonald. McDonald Lake spills into the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River comes together with the North Fork of the Flathead River at Blankenship Bridge, becoming the "just plain" Flathead River, where I saw a beaver yesterday morning; where we saw the last of the three blood moons; where we were given, for one night only, The Galaxy; where we had a bonfire after the locals tried to drown it; where we ate peperoncini Kettle Chips; where we "crushed the Dickel"; where we walked along the flat, smooth rocks. From which place we left at ten-fifteen last last to have Rose make us reuben sandwiches. Which were good.
[Author's Note: Sometime later in the trip, after we had left the short vampire cabin, we were talking about the water again and Pat harkened back to the way that, about mid-morning, once the sun got going, water would drip off of the corrugated iron roof of the cabin...drip, drip, drip in the morning sun. This water came from frost, he said. If there is so much water suddenly sliding off of the roof of the cabin every morning, where the night before there was none, why cannot frost-melt be an important piece of the waterfall; lake; creek: where does it all come from puzzle?]
V. 20 Grams of Protein and a Case of Iron-Water Heartburn.
It is Tuesday morning. B has been caught in the heartburn vortex. She's never had it before. I've given her some of my generic Pepsid completes. At dinner at Belton Chalet last night we all talked about what could have caused the heartburn. The cabin's blood water or the 20-grams-of-protein bar she ate on the hike. Breakfast couldn't have been the culprit because we hadn't eaten any. The folks at the Lake McDonald Lodge closed down the buffet to new entrants sometime before ten o'clock; we got there a few minutes 'til ten thinking as long as we got through the door at ten we were good; we weren't.
Pat suggested the heartburn resulted from a combination of things and he's probably right. Protein bar: a too-potent combination of protein and vitamins. The iron-laden blood water she drank on the hike (and in her morning coffee). The ibuprofen she took to alleviate the slight hangy she had as a result of our frolicking under the moon and Way. The up-and-down topographic nature of our badass nine-mile hike Monday along the Highline Trail. The nut mix, which also contains chocolate in the form of M & M s. The coffee she had yesterday afternoon. The red wine we were then having at dinner (Hill Family Barrel Blend from Napa, $42). The rich meal, her dish beef tips in sauce. The caffeine she is about to have this morning, etc., etc. The heartburn vortex spins and spins, and when it will stop nobody knows.
I will go into town this morning, to the Smith's, and I will get more heartburn pills. I brought enough for myself. I took half-a-one yesterday...the richness of the meal, the red wine, the protein bar, the up-and-down nature of our badass nine-plus-mile hike along the Highline Trail, starting out at Logan Pass and proceeding what was four-and-a-half or five miles before turning around. It is a little more than eleven miles from Logan Pass down to The Loop. We could have done it, I now realiZe. Before we set out I could not have even contemplated doing eleven miles. It would have been grueling; the last couple of miles could have gotten chippy. That's what happened with me and B down the stretch as we hiked Bear Lake to Fern Lake Shuttle Stop in Rocky last year. But we could have done it. Of course, the shuttles normally running between Logan Pass and The Loop are shut down for the season so we would have had to hitch our way back, something we probably would not have planned to do. Alas. Alackaday. We will get our change to do a longer hike when we do Crypt Lake. That will test our endurance.
And it will re-test Rose's fear of heights. She had trouble getting through the initial stretch of the Highline Trail. That stretch consists of a three-foot-wide ledge with not much of an escarpment below you. There was nothing running along the wall to hold onto. (There was a series of metal loops drilled into that wall, through which a cable can run...but the cable was not there.) I was out in front of everyone as we set out. Pat and Anne were figuring something out back at Logan Pass, I can't remember what. B and Rose were a ways behind me. I heard some commotion and hiked back toward them as they had paused on the skinny stretch of the ledge. Rose was upset with height. I had not looked down much myself. My glass at that moment half-empty, I told her she should turn around. I really didn't think she was going to make it. This turned out to be a really terrible piece of advice. Oh, hindsight: we seek to use you to show how we were right but too often you reveal the opposite! Pat and Anne caught up and urged her on. Pat and Anne, the bulls on one side; me and B, the bears on the other. The bulls won yesterday. It is always better when the bulls win. Being a bear is part of my current nature, and I do not seek to trans myself. With the bear mindset comes vigilance and straight-face and awareness of risk. It is a useful mindset but when the bulls win out I am left feeling weighty and dour and curmudgeonly.
I am sipping on some re-heated coffee. There are burgundy-bottomed wine glasses in the sink. I couldn't stay up. I had a vodka rocks after dinner but it went down into a hole. I know that if I have a drink and it has zero effect on ushering me toward drunkenness that I am done and it is time to retire. It was originally acid reflux, my brand of heartburn, that led me to vodka rocks as a drink option, especially later on in the day. I wrote a random line awhile back, "All alcoholics eventually turn to vodka." No color, no congeners, no flavor. No dime thrown toward that flaming, churning bum in my throat. Vodka is simply a vodka molecule tossed into my bloodstream to quiet the murmurs of want before my liver takes those whispers out of circulation. Form follows function. The season is the reason. The chicken is in the woods, the bear is on the hill. Qu'elque'une, qu'elque'une, one day beyond the blood moon. I took a shower in blood, I took a shower in blood. Meet me at the Montana Motel Six. Ah-ah-ah, we got plenty of time.
The sound of a train in the distance. Union Pacific has money problems, says Anne at dinner. The stock is at $85, down from $124.52 earlier this year. The stock market fell a lot yesterday. I had a bevy of limit orders click off. My dad and Eileen were there; crutches. Yesterday was pretty ugly from what I could tell. The biotech stocks were among the biggest losers. I'm glad to say I never swam too deep in that pool. Some of the funds I've been buying, though; there's some floaters in what they're swimming in. Some warm spots of water. Some yellow snow. One fund I've been buying was down over four percent yesterday. Ouch. YowZa. For numerous clients I had moved money into that fund and out of one of its stodgy, laggard siblings. Even if you are making the right move in the long-term, the market will make your decision look wrong in the short-term. That is its nature. There's nowhere to hide at the moment. Cash. Rose said it yesterday, "Cash is king." No one wants to hear that when the Federal Funds Overnight rate is zero percent. But it's true. It's true now, always has been, and always will be. Beauty's truth, truth beauty. That is all I know, and all you need to know.
Enough stock market talk. What is this, a cocktail party out on Long Island in the waning days of summer? Except one thing. I want to point out, for the record, as it related to the case of Randle vs. Randle, that last year when I was in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was all hot and bothered and exasperated because I had been, over the course of the preceding twelve months, too cautious about committing new dollars to the stock market. I was, in practice, moving too slowly for too many customers. According to the scoreboard of the moment, I was dead fucking wrong. I spent so many months cursing the S&P 500 because it would not correct. The shoe is on the other foot now, isn't it, Jacky Boy? The grass is always greener until you get to the other side and you realize that your mistake was in the going. This is life! I am wrapped in living it and the wrap is a little tight at the moment. If I allow myself to be unhappy about the market being down when I am gone, then what was last year about when I flaked out circa Labor Day and hit the road in search of my soul because it would not come down? The answer lay somewhere in the middle approach, the "showing up" part of the job, the 90% of life. Just show up. Don't try to be right all of the goddam time! I will never be right enough consistently enough to keep myself happy. It was the being right about it that I couldn't get away with. There has to be a hit in the hair in the wood. Good. But how do you catch that? Said another way, "What shakes in the canebrake, kemosabe?" Attempts at correctness kill what kindles inside me. But I'm supposed to be so smart. Shhh. Shhh to all of that. That is a magazine cover. That is a trending tweet. It is not a way.
We are parked in a day-use area of a National Forest Service Campground. We pulled off to get a better look at Big Creek, a Flathead River tributary. This is one of the spots the bull trout swim up river to in order to spawn. You aren't supposed to fish for them. The exhibit sign said they are especially vulnerable to capture. Days ago Pat had read something about a trout that swims upstream. I said, "No, that's salmon." He said, "Them too. But I read about trout." He was right. I've never said to myself, "Pat isn't as bright as I am." But I was damned when he was telling me more about fish than I knew. I read fly fishing books in high school. Books set in Montana! Am I getting stupider or is everyone else just starting to read a whole lot in secret, in the dark, when I am four beers deep and listening to baseball? What in the hell is going on around here? The bull trout swim upstream from Flathead Lake and they spawn in places like Big Creek. Pretty stream, moving smoothly along. Blue, soon to reach the North Fork.
We are proceeding south to Columbia Falls, then west to Whitefish for lunch and shopping. No long hike today. Plenty else to do. We did a short loop hike earlier along the Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail. Pat wants to go back into the park later, to the west side of Lake McDonald looking east for a sunrise shot, the light against the mountains.
Corrugated unpaved road. Washboard road. Dust. Car massage. Pat asked a day or two ago: what process causes this washboard road surface topography? It's a good question. One I intend to answer with study. We're seeing aspen today. Honest to god aspen. It was paper birch along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. White bark and yellow leaves, but not aspen.
I am outside Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish, MT. Here comes B. I can smell the wort fermenting. We had beer and lunch in there earlier. Generous space, good beer. We sat up top, along the beer. Some guy and his wife went in there and the guy got offended when the bartender asked him if he wanted to try some beer. In a brewery of all places. My pen is trying to run out of ink on me. Anne and Rose are shopping still. I had a cold brew nitro with Pat after lunch. I am sitting and looking at an intersection. A guy gets out of his old white Explorer and does something to the trailer hitch as he's stopped. Damn this pen. There was some sort of sadness in that act, the guy having to stop at an intersection in his old Ford, on the doorstep of the Farmer's Market, trying just to hold his trailer in his place. He's got his wares in there, probably. A lot is riding on whether he can sell them. The desperation of that hits me and sits in me and makes me weak. B wants the key to get a bottle of water out of The Beast. She's walking away, down Central. I was not in a mood to talk about much. This is a re-vitalized area. There are strata visible. There are spotty spots our zero-rate economy has decided to bliss. From our table in the brewco I could see a dozen ski runs along the mountainsides in the distance. This is a second-home town. It feels a tad specious. There is construction and heavy trucks on a weekday. No bums but a lot of old cars, some with a gad of bumper stickers. An older lady with gold shoes, pink socks, and a bag from Ace Hardware comes walking along. Her daughter meets her in the intersection near the Farmer's Market and takes the Ace bag. On Central between here and the BNSF tracks is where the Farmer's Market will occur. We parked in that space originally but had to move it after being there a couple of hours. Closer to the tracks are swathes of parking reserved for BNSF employees only. I would wager the railroad is the largest employer in town.
Back comes B with a coffee. She is sitting down. It is a damn hard thing finding the time to put a few words down. Can a chap get a pen that works and some silence? I'm being peevish when I want to be random. A woman goes by leaving her potpourri perfume in my nose. Kegs and eggs Sunday October 4th. Another old Explorer comes by, this one sounding like a mining operation. An old Buick with a young driver. Here comes the coal bed explorer, pumping out exhaust like a diesel VW....
Is this pen working any better now? Not really. It is 11:34 pm mountain daylight time on Tuesday, September 29th. Tomorrow is the end of the month. Tom Arrow. After sitting there on Central in Whitefish we went for a beer at the other brewery in town, Bonsai. The beer wasn't as good, neither was the setup. From there we went into the park, to the west side of Lake McDonald as planned, for photos circa sunset. The highlight was as were leaving, seeing three black bears, presumably a mother and her two cubs, crossing the road. After that we went and ate, chicken or fish with fry bread, at the Back Room of the Nite Owl. I had an IPA. Back here we struggled to reach consensus as to what hike we would do tomorrow. Tom Arrow. I am ready for sleep. Goodnight.
VI. Wild Goose Wednesdays.
It is now Wednesday morning. We will go up to Canada today. It is uncertain whether we will stop to hike between here and there. It seems that most of the trails in the St. Mary's Lake area remain closed as a result of fires in that area over the last couple of months. That leaves Many Glacier but we are not up for Grinnell Glacier; Grinnell Lake isn't enticing. Ptarmigan Falls is appealing but is also considered to represent the heart of grizzly country in the park. Factoring that in—considering we would not have bear spray—I put in a word for getting to Canada sooner rather than later and finding a hike up there somewhere. Lineham Falls? We will see. We lack consensus.
It is quiet here in the cabin except for the clicking of a clock, the sporadic whoosh of a car on the road, and the scratching of this pen against this paper. The ink is flowing again, I can't explain why it was sputtering in Whitefish. I can't find the other pen I thought I packed. I have always carried a back-up pen but not this time. I'm drinking tea and siting in the recliner. Getting all of our stuff back out of the cabin and back into the Suburban is going to be a pain. We are going to try to use up all of the food we bought the day we arrived but we will probably end up tossing some of it and leaving some it, in hopes that it will find a stomach somewhere down the line. Six beers in glass bottles sans their caddy. Those'll find a home.
The pen is sputtering again. It felt like my writing voice crashed yesterday. I'm not getting a whole lot of time to sit and relax on this trip. It's go, go and I'm trying to go with the flow. Damn this pen. It's seven o'clock and no one else is up yet. At this rate we will not be at our hotel, with a hike under our belts, until six o'clock at the earliest. It will be two hours until we leave here; it will take four hours to get to Canada; it will take four hours to hike; and there will be one hour of unpredictable miscellany. Alas, alackaday, I'll get drunk all day, look for that chicken in the woods. Today is the last day of the month, the last day of the quarter. It looks like the stock market will be up today. It will open higher, anyway. It will need to hold those gains throughout the day before I believe tomorrow will not be a lower close yet. It had plumbed the 12% decline level again yesterday, after having hit that level twice briefly in August. Christ, Jack, stop talking about stocks. This isn't art; this isn't even travel writing. What is this, a financial blog? A flog? A log in the lake. Log lady down. Crown, of the continent, and us on top of the Motel 6.
Lurch. Anguish in hamstring. Tingle in toes, feet apulse. I cannot move; it will cause the Suburban to move, off of the cliff. Death down there, no coming back. Haystack Falls can descend in that direction, I cannot. Lead. Leaden. One tire, the front right one stick its nose where it doesn't belong and—into the haze, son. Young son. To the light. Climbing. Bending. Dropping. God in an Indian on Dramamine, going to the Sun.
Goats above the Weeping Wall. Heart is a drum. Stopping. See 'em up in the rocks? Hoppin' around? Up where the rocks meet the grass?
I still haven't figured it out, couldn't explain. What, exactly, is a glacier? Do glaciers have momentum? Do they actually move, sliding along the land and scouring out deep landscapes? Or they just freeze and thaw and sort of blob-pulse their way along? Do they weep and moan? Smile and cry? Build roads, destroy them? Make mountains, move them?
Set the controls for the heart of the sun, Jack. This road was completed somewhere in the thirties, is that right? When did it begin? Switch back to black-out. I think about jumping whilst the glacier pertains.
Siyeh Creek. A guy with his binoculars out. We stop, look that way, don't see. On down to the Jackson Glacier overlook. "And runnin', and runnin', and runnin', and runnin'." We runnin' rebel, we trippin' treble, we on the level, we really revel.
Into the burn toward St. Mary's Lake. Sand bars, burnt trees, glitter, and glimmer. Burned on both sides. Hell of pretty lake, though. Lots of cordon: shiny, bare glossy black trees still standing guard around the lake. Large trees, too. We are stopping for a look at that little island out in the lake, that I have been suggesting, with perhaps no basis at all, is called Wild Goose Island. Damn this pen again. Can't a cap get some ink? Boy that sun is warm on my face.
VII. Tales from the Crypt Lake Hike.
It is Thursday, the first of October. Canadian dime, do you have the time? It is 18:24. We have endured a full day of hiking in the mountains. Up and up, up a thin ladder chained to a rock, along a sharded ledge as we held fast to a flighty cable before eventually making it to Crypt Lake. It is not so much the lake that I will remember as I will never forget coming back down along that craggly ledge, the flaccid cable to my right, death to my left, with every step so obviously important.
I did not look down so I cannot say how sheer or plain the drop really was. I looked at the cable, the wall that was my friend, and I looked at my boots. Yes, the coming down was the hardest part. On the way up to Crypt Lake, you are ascending. With each step along that precipice you are pulling up, moving yourself upward. And gravity is not such a problem—it is a small thing easily managed with each little step. But coming down your weight and your pack's weight are investing all of themselves in that only-child foothold you have just elected. If you have picked a bad spot to drop all of yourself into, you could be in very real trouble. I said I did not look down and I didn't. But the sense of what down meant: all in my field of vision that was not the ledge, or my foot, or my wall—it is impossible to ignore the presence of all that nether. Going up I can look up and away, into the sky. Or up and outward, at the peaks in the distance—objects that don't shift around, don't wobble.
I put that Crypt Lake hike, because of the cable-ledge-decline portion of the trail, in the category of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again." I will not forget it; it might have made me a more resilient human; but I will never do it again. The other ten-and-a-half miles were fine. It was mostly uphill getting to the lake, mostly downhill coming back. Props to the balls of my feet, my menisci, all the rest of me too, I suppose. Props to my mind for not going wingbats up there. The elevation gain is approximately 2,200 feet. We did 35-minute miles, inclusive of all stops and breaks, e.g. a quick lunch and group photo at the lake itself. I did not get winded going up. The running I've done the last 21 weeks helped with that but it could not prepare my body for the brutality involved in descending those 2,200 feet back down the trailhead/boat dock on Waterton Lake.
We did not see any wildlife of note. There was a shotgun-sounding, echo-creating, touchdown-with-a-splash rockslide while we were at the lake. The initial sound was like a huge metal cable was snapping as a result of too much tension. And then it was like sporadic gunfire mixed with the sound, if you have your head under water, of rocks sliding along into one another at the bottom of a riverbed, with tinks and clinks. It was a procession of these sounds, seemingly getting closer via echo, ending with a violent splash right across the lake from us, far enough away such that I never wondered about our own safety, but at the same time playing out right in front of us.
Ultimately, we are all back safe and sound. It is amazing to me that Rose made it across the cabled ledge and back. It was trying enough for me. I had a moment, coming back across that ledge, holding onto that cable with all the grip I had in me, when I asked myself, "What the fuck am I doing here?" At that moment—and also while clambering through the five-foot high, 20-foot long scratchy patch of tunnel running between the skinny ladder and the cable-death-ledge when it occurred to me that I might actually be in the midst of a trip gone bad. As if the reality of my reality had suddenly revealed itself to me, in some sort of Philip K. Dick gnostic plot-twist: you don't really live in U City, work in Illinois, have a wife named B, drive a Subaru: in reality you have been scraping back and forth through this tunnel in hell for the last fifteen years. Only because I was stone cold sober did I survive that hike. Or perhaps I would have, eventually, survived otherwise but I can say for sure I would not have made it back to that boat dock by 17:30 to catch the one-and-only boat back to Waterton marina. I'd be out there shuddering and muttering, trying to figure out how to start a fire—bring a lighter next time, Jack: it takes up very little space, doesn't weigh much, could save your life. I'd be asleep on a mountain with questionable berries thrumming my insides while thinking about what I could use to fend off Alberta's finest bobcats and grizzlies.
A few more trip stats, for informational purposes. To do this hike you have to take a boat from Waterton marina to the trailhead just east of a nondescript boat dock about ten minutes away from the marina. We bought those tickets in a little shop on the marina. I believe it was C$22 each. The boat left the marina somewhere past ten o'clock, its scheduled departure time. We started the hike at 10:24. We were done with the hike at 17:04. The boat picked us up at 17:35. We were back on land in petered-out Waterton at 17:50.
That's a days hiking. It feels like a great accomplishment. Tomorrow can be a milk day. I need to shower. B has done so. I've been drinking not bourbon and Coke; not Jack and Coke; but Canadian whisky and Pepsi! How do you like that, Suzyn? It's bizarro-bar up here in Waterton. World's End. Crown of the Continent. Ice Machine entrance, room 12, wi-fi password 20MCL13. Almost. That's what I typed in, incorrectly. Dinner at wieners of Waterton. Most of this town has already commenced Operation Shutdown and the rest is soon to follow suit.
I'm the jacket on the space monkey
in the astronaut ship.
I'm the waterfall, the
silent movie on the mountainside...
VIII. Cardston Cattle Drive.
Can everybody touch the sky? Can everybody touch the sky? It is Friday morning. The car is packed, B is walking down to the water for one last look at Lake Waterton. Pat and Anne are enjoying a waffle breakfast. We will bid adieu to Canada today. First, though, we'll try to get to Cameron Lake and maybe see some elk along the way. When Rose got breakfast at Wieners of Waterton early this morn, the gal working there relayed news of hundreds of elk in a field not far from here. We have not seen any elk on this trip.
Waterton is a strange place right now. So much of it is shut down. I am listening to a trio speaking a language I cannot identify, it is perhaps Slavic in nature. Many businesses are not just closed for the winter but the buildings housing those businesses are boarded up as if the town were in the middle stages of an evacuation for purposes of managing best against an oncoming hurricane. B and I had breakfast this morning at the same place as we had dinner last night. There aren't many options. I used an ATM at the Bayshore Inn to replenish the Canadian cash we've used over the last couple of days. I love other forms of currency. The Queen is on the shiny green C$20 notes I got. And there is a clear strip with a hologram embedded in it running the short length of the bill, a feature quite unlike anything on U.S. dollars.
Leavitt, AB. The cattle drive. About 100 cattle crossing Highway 5 as we head east from the park toward Cranston. Yes, those cattle are crossing the highway right in front of us. Pat jokes that if he had not seen them when he did it would have been ground beef. A couple of cowboys and one collie directing traffic. Us all laughing hysterically.
Bums in Cardston where I got cash from a TD Green Machine. Have they gone bust in the Tar Sands collapse? They had better head south soon, or at least west to Vancouver. My view is to the southwest as we prepare to cross the border back into America. Mountains, rolling fields, a magpie, and the Rockies of Glacier National Park.
IX. Trains and Darkness, Looking for a Fix.
It is Saturday morning at the dark and dry Belton Chalet. There is no power and no water! It is 7:11.
The power had gone out somewhere along 3:00. I found no light at my reach around that time when I tried to turn on the bathroom light. My first thought is that I am somehow not flipping the switch correctly, or that I am flipping the wrong switch. Then I think, "Maybe it's just our room." B then starts telling me that someone is knocking at our door! She says it's Rose. Somewhere during our drunken romp the night before we had discussed waking one another up at 3:00 to check and see whether auroras were visible.
I opened the door but there was no one out there. There was a light on in the hall but I soon realiZed it was an emergency light. That light must have burned its battery sometime around five or six because when I went out of the room later there was no light on in the hallway at all and I resorted to wearing my headlamp. I had brought the headlamp along on the trip for the purpose of using its red light while reading the star chart under Montana's big-ass sky. There wasn't much to do with no light and no water and the sun still down. So I just drank some bottled water and lay in bed in the dark and listened to the trains rumble past on the tracks across the street, sounding like there was a busboy pushing an enormous cart of rattling dishes. I think I could listen to those trains every night for the rest of my life and it would never get old. I cannot say how or why but to hear them rumble along in the night fills me with a serenity I cannot find anywhere else.
The power came back on at 7:45 and along with that power came the immediate blast and wail of the emergency sirens from atop one of the smaller mountains of West Glacier. Nothing was wrong; it was the power coming back on that tripped the sirens, kind of like if a person is brought back to life with a jolt from a defibrillator their first action upon returning back to this side of life is to take one big violent gasp of air. The sirens went on for a couple of minutes and I heard someone ask the flustered clerk at the front desk what the sirens signaled. The answer was nothing. By this time we had packed our suitcase and I had lugged it down the old Belton staircase and through the dim, fire-lit lobby. I did want a shower and now that the power had come back on, and the water pumps could get back to work, I could have taken one. But I thought it would be best to just keep moving along.
We talked last night about leaving for breakfast at McDonald Lodge at 8:45. It's only 8:23 now so I'll sit on this veranda and look northwest over the Belton Chalet restaurant and continue to jot. I am looking at large hills or small mountains. Here comes a train from the east. It's a BNSF engine toting a series of black, pill-shaped oil cars. Where is it coming from and to where is it going? Pat is here now, camera in hand. Screech of metal wheel on metal track. Cadence of circular motion, a whirring like a chopper's rotor but blunter. The orange BNSF engine at the end raises the volume level before it too disappears down the track. Anne arrives with coffee in hand.
It was a scene earlier, in the basement, watching the coffee junkies itch and scratch and agitate the staff looking for their fix. There was no customary coffee in the lobby first-thing because of the power outage and the lack of water. I had popped a couple of generic headache pills, in part for the aspirin. But they also contain caffeine, so I was not nearly as desperate as the three or four older hotel guests who one after the other popped their heads behind the swinging kitchen door clearly marked with an "EMPLOYEES ONLY" sign, bugging the hell out of the gal who was back there getting the coffee ready, waiting, she said, for the water to get hot. Part of the problem, however, lay with the front desk clerk. She told several guests ten or fifteen minutes prior (including myself) that there was hot coffee ready downstairs. I went down and looked. There was no coffee. Alas. Alackaday. I sat back and watched the others strike out, too.
X. Kalispell to Salt Lake City.
We are just about to take off. We are taking off and I am saying goodbye to the mountains for a while. That's a quick bank, an airplane u-e. Christ. Bumpy. Not pleasant. I guess the runway had us pointed the wrong way. Climbing and turning simultaneously, subcutaneously. Big lake: Flathead? Bumps in the clouds. River dumping into big lake. Flathead River, Flathead Lake. Banking again. Clouds and mountains and turbulence. Smoothing out now. For awhile I was back on that ledge on the Crypt Lake trail. Don't let go, pilot. Several strata of clouds and we are still under at least one. I can't write right now. I am sick about leaving all of that behind. The only thing I would need to stay in Montana for awhile is my little friend, Squirt. I believe it would be pretty inexpensive to live in Columbia Falls. Or Kalispell or Helena, Butte, whatever. There is a day I can see down the road, far but not too far, when I will not be a resident of St. Louis, when I will not work in Illinois. B can get a job at the U of Montana. We'll become grizzlies and scavenge for food from the trash cans at the Motel 6. Look out: here comes the beverage cart!
Fair's fair, Larry: if you're looking for me you'd better look outside. I looked outside at 3:00 this morning. It was cool but not cold and there were too many clouds. If there were auroras visible at our latitude I wasn't going to be able to see them. Next time.
XI. Salt Lake City to St. Louis.
I am now on the flight back to St. Louis from Salt Lake City. Our layover in Salt Lake City around two-and-a-half hours. I walked around mostly, going from terminal to terminal, like electricity in a battery, turning around at the end and going back to where I'd come from. B, C, and D were all busy. A was quiet. E was down an escalator and had only a few gates but it had a huge smoking den and it did seem like the air down there was a little hazy. I ran into B eventually and we walked around this way and that for awhile. We got smoothies and then we were done with those we got sandwiches to go from the Boar's Head. I've got mine in my bag yet, ham and pork and swiss and pickles with mustard on a ciabatta. Cuban. Cigar, as in close, almost. We saw a movie star in the airport. Not a huge star but I've seen her in one or two movies that were popular when they came out and still might catch your attention when they are running on cable and you find yourself watching them with your family around holiday time.
I liked the Salt Lake City airport. I'd fly through there again. There was some good landscape art in a couple of different places. There were lots of little tables set near the windows in the parts of the concourse bridging the various terminals. Speed ramps ran through those parts of the concourse, too. It looked like rain outside, dark blue and cloudy in the distance, out toward the furrowed red-brown mountains. But it did not rain at the airport and I wonder if I wasn't looking instead at the effect of a lot of dust being in the air. I did not look at the lake coming in nor on the way back out. I am on the aisle on this flight and my neck is tight as I write.
I wanted to get through the first section of this notebook on this trip. The pages in this section are edged in blue. I've got a ways to go, sorry to say. I did not do enough describing of areas. I was reluctant to write in the car and in being so reluctant I pissed a lot of decent words down the drain. I would have said more about how the plains looked once we were on the eastern side of the park, looking out toward the east. It was what I called Custer's view. East of the park, on the fat part of the divide, the land begins the process of flattening out and it's as though you can see for miles and miles and miles. Maybe you can. The colors were a range of maize yellows and sun-bleached wheat whites and dull greens and then of course the blue of the sky, that dumbstruck, blue-lipped blue. The sky was free of clouds as we drove north to Canada on Wednesday but it was accentuated and supported by fairly high altostratus on the way back down. It was mackerel sky in spots, probably my favorite day sky.
There was champagne—well, prosecco—in our room at the Belton yesterday. It sat in a little ice bucket on a tray along with a card of congratulations and two up-ended champagne flutes. B had told them it was our 10-year anniversary trip, which was true. It was the same brand of prosecco as was waiting in the fridge at Reclusive Moose, for Pat and Anne in recognition of their tenth. This was not coincidence. One of the co-owners of the cabin is the general manager at the Belton. The other co-owner was waiting tables at the restaurant there last night. Small town in a small world, I guess.
The first class passengers are getting their meals delivered. I got snacks with my leg-room seat: a bag of Sun Chips and a bag of lightly salted peanuts. I have a small bottle of vodka in my shirt pocket. I started the trip with five of these bottles. Including the one in my pocket I still have four left. I drank one with the prosecco yesterday evening while the other were out on the restaurant veranda noshing on a Mediterranean plate of hummus, pita, baba ghanoush, olives, cheese, salami, and tabouleh. I had about half of the little vodka vodka in a cocktail combo with the prosecco. Once I finished that I drank the rest of the vodka on rocks from the bucket and then went down and sat with them on the veranda along Highway 2, fifty feet from the train tracks. The Mediterranean plate was quite good, all of it. Even the parsley-containing tabouleh. I drank an india pale ale and we ordered more pita bread and crostinis while finishing off the plate entirely, every last dollop and morsel.
I am so enamored with Jake Barnes's Paris and Spain that I had it in mind for last night to feel that way. The historic, rustic nature of the hotel provided the right setting. It was part of the reason I wanted red wine with the meal but no one else was with me so I had a couple of Montana-bourbon manhattans in lieu. This was after we had left our spot on the restaurant veranda while it was still light out yet to walk and get beer at the gas station. We got two six-packs, one wheat and one IPA. Rose bought a wheat tall boy, too. We sat on the wraparound veranda of the hotel and drank our beers. Rose posted a video of the cow crossing, a particular snippet she had caught right outside her window in which one of the cows lost itself in liquid fashion on the highway.
Looking back on those cows, it strikes me that it was a damned sad sight. There were so haggard looking. It was something we really weren't supposed to see. That was the look on the elder cowboy as we sped to the crossing and braked, him and his cattle just beginning to make their cross and us in our massive vehicle appearing from out of nowhere for no good reason. On the one hand is all of the wildlife we did see or might have seen on this trip: mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, chipmunks...grizzlies, elk, elusive moose. Then there are the hundred or so cows we came very close to running over on the road in Alberta. Big and small, brown and black, scurvy-patched. Bloated, swinging udders. Foam from the mouth. Drool. And damnit if one of young ones didn't have one of its hoofed legs buckle under it on the pavement and go down for a second, gracelessly. Cows hooves weren't adapted for the purpose of crossing roads.
The area outside Waterton seemed a pretty grim place all around. The bums in Cardston. The lack of anything between there and the border. The desperation of the kitschy roadside shops on the highway between the park and Cardston. It was beautiful out there but it was also barren. Montana was that way, too. Maybe not Whitefish—but even there I suggest that underneath the bourgeois patina lay a crust of stagnation and the pulsating question of: What now? Both Columbia Falls and Kalispell smacked hard of economic decline, supposing there ever was a thriving economy there in the first place. There were so many casinos in those two small towns, one every mile it seemed. Other than the railroad and the tourist industry I cannot see where the jobs were at. There was a large Plum Creek Timber plant in Columbia Falls. But it was a town of two faces: the cheer, optimism, and free time of the folks waiting in line at the packed Montana Coffee Traders; and then the alcohol- and wind-burned faces of some of the folks hanging out in the Nite Owl diner. One fella, say 50-years-old in a maroon Montana Grizzlies sweatshirt, stood near the front counter for some time before a manager came out and told him, "No, sorry, we're not hiring right now." Turning now toward me, his face looked like a lunar landscape or one of the plain's hardened, glacier-torn hillsides. The sort of place where flash floods occasionally occur. His wasn't the only face looking that way in that restaurant. It seemed a place of pensioners and social security recipients rather keen to hear what the next year's cost-of-living increase was going to be. Then there's us in there—me—and I don't know how to square it.
We could not figure out why so much of Waterton was closed down when we got there. Why was McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park suddenly closed for the season, denying us a breakfast buffet there this morning for the second time in five days!? Perhaps wehad gotten there a whisker late on Tuesday but today it was just plain shuttered for the season even though the recorded message on their answering machine indicated they were open and taking reservation through the end of the month.
The Belton Chalet hotel was full as far as I could tell. It was their last weekend of the season before they closed. It was like being on the set of a play that had run for the summer and now was coming to an end. The cast was the staff there and the other "guests": older folks mostly, no families. They'll go and be camp hosts somewhere or work seasonally at Amazon warehouses sending rectangular brown packages out into space. I guess it's the touring families that thee places want to have their door most open for. Once those kids are in school, the season is over. I suppose the weather also starts to turn at the same time although we had great weather, really quite luck-be-a-lady on our trip. Thanks to the Indian gods for granting us a little of their summer. The warmth had us shedding layers only a mile in on the Crypt Lake trail. I didn't need the vest, the flannel, the hat, the scarf, or the gloves.
Oh boy. My pen had a renaissance stretch on this flight. It climbed to the heights of Mt. Ventoux, more impressive than anything I've done on this trip. But now it is really going; its time is "near". Come on, pen. Give a chap a brandy and soda and a few more pages. While I've still got a few ink vapors remaining, I'd like to thank Ernest Hemingway for giving me prose upon which to model my tone in this travelogue. And I'd like to thank Mother Nature for being incredible with her weather and scenery in Montana and Canada. The wealth we enjoyed this last week lay not in money nor in private land but in Time. If you haven't got time, you haven't got anything. Old hotel, old book, empty bottle of whisky. It was a wind gust that knocked the power out this morning. We got out of there just in time.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Money Isn't Right-Handed
"Anaesthetic, doctor. Give me the anaesthetic."
First sentence setting the scene in an elusive way—best sentence of the story, except for the last sentence, which just leaves them hanging. "What? That's the story?"
City lays the sod but City doesn't water the sod. Who waters the sod?
Jackson McCullers had won the steak and liquor bet. The bet had depended on the outcome of the game in front of them, a National League baseball game between two teams out of the running, the season already stuck in the dregs and doldrum of August.
Players aren't supposed to bet on baseball but Jackson and his teammate, Chance Larson, didn't think anyone would find out. And, luckily, no one did. It was a simple bet. The bet was whether either of them would get into the game. It didn't matter which. Larson was saying he didn't think any of them would get into the game.
"Dog days of the season," he said, munching on sunflower seeds. He had a half a shell caught on his lip and this caught him up and he had to start his sentence again. "Dog days of the season and this shitty team, we can't even get a hit off of them. Getting our asses kicked and Baez is out there, it wasn't even supposed to be mop-up duty. He's gonna have to eat it now. Skip'll get try to get two innings out of him, don't you think?"
McCullers didn't respond.
"Three?" said Larson.
"If Baez isn't making good pitches, Skip won't let him stay in the game."
"You really believe that?" asked Larson.
"This is his last inning," said McCullers. "It's you or me next. Baez threw yesterday. And the day before that."
The skipper went to Larson in the next inning and McCullers started thinking about a ribeye, and a few monster shrimp on the side, Gulf amazons—and a big Manhattan, something to make the big city proud, generous bitters. After that, maybe split a bottle of wine. It didn't have to be red.
Larson allowed a solo homer to the first batter he saw. As it gained velocity and whizzed above his head, he cursed McCullers and quickly wondered what expensive and unnecessary items his teammate would order to consummate his winning bet. Imagining a menu in his head, the various sections, Larson achieved a sort of Zen-like state and retired the next three batters on fourteen pitches. Larson even batted in the bottom half. The team went down a bench player when an errant foul screamed into the home dugout and clocked the backup catcher in the bottom of the sixth...
Monday, June 01, 2015
They walked over to the campground store with a few desired purchases in mind. He wanted newspaper and wood. He wanted to check their ice, to see if it was any good. Usually it would be him looking for beer but this time it was her—Bud Light or Bud Light Lime. It didn't make sense to expect anything better, such as Heineken or Stella Artois.
There were three ladies sitting behind the counter, on the older side, looking like they didn't have much else to do, here or anywhere. He figured they must all be family, part of whatever family owned this land, the base of a business that included running a campground and its store, selling some of the adjacent timber, charging non-campers for day use, and taking a cut on float referrals they'd be glad to make to one of the nearby outfitters.
The store was a slimmed-down dollar store, mostly full of junk. Anything worth buying they'd brought with them already. He didn't immediately see any of the big, commercial refrigerators, the kind you'd see in a convenience store. But they were there, toward the back. It was just soft drinks, though, colas and sports drinks and water and tea. It was a disappointment but not a surprise. He'd get the wood in any event. What a bunch of crap else wise, though. A tent? Who would buy a tent here? It couldn't be any good. Toys, pool toys. Noodles and yet-to-be-inflated beach balls and rafts. A whole other section of regular toys. A tractor, a car, a helicopter with one big propeller on top and another little one inside its tail, like a fan—a tail fan. There was a blue cross on one side of it and on the other side a snake and staff emblem, like for The Hippocratic Oath. There was a company, publicly traded, that ran medical transport helicopters. They charged thousands upon thousands of dollars to fly people from one hospital to another, for special procedures like transplants. Or they'd fly into the sticks and pull the broken people out. He knew the stock from work. His father, a chartist, had seen a secret pattern emerge in the up and down movements of the stock. The fundamentals were terrible. The insurance companies were still writing the checks but that was going to come to an end at some point. He'd dabbled in the stock, bought it for a few clients. At the moment it was a loss. He could handle a small loss but if it got any bigger he'd have to cut and run, find something else, a train company, a car company, or a company that cut down timber and sold it for a hundred times cost to campers like him at campgrounds like this, where old ladies behind the counter refused to stock beer in the coolers.
One of the women sneezed as he walked up to the counter. "I'll take three parcels of wood," he said. Normally he'd call them bundles, and that's how the sign outside referred to them: "Wood—bundles—$4.50". But these weren't wrapped in twine or encircled in cellophane. These were in little plastic sacks, hopefully fairly heavy duty plastic, something with a generous amount of "mil". Ten mil at least, maybe twenty. Heck, he didn't know how many mil were enough.
The lady was coughing now.
"I've got a tickle in my throat."
"I suppose so. Something came over me all of a sudden. Maybe I'm allergic to you."
"I hope not!"
But it made him think of a sneezing attack he'd had that morning. He decided it was best not to mention that, even though he was grasping at straws trying to think about what to say next. He just gave her the money, a $50, and took a half step back. The lady squinted at the bill, seeming to say with her body language that she wasn't quite sure why it had been handed to her. She didn't hold it up to the light to see if it had that little strip in it. Nor did she take a marker to it. She just set it on the keys of the register for a second, letting it rest there. She turned away and coughed a few more times, dryly. She consulted a note on the register that told her how much the bundles cost. And then she gave him his change.
They would be in the cabin just for one night. She had called and made the reservation. The place had a two-night minimum but she went ahead and booked it anyway. She'd pay for both nights but she wouldn't tell him about the second night. It was the kind of thing that didn't really matter that he would get himself hung up on anyhow. He would allow himself, even require himself, to get hung up on something like paying for a second night without being there for the second night. If he knew about it he'd scotch the arrangement altogether and she didn't want that. So, mum. This was better than being in a tent here for the night and then breaking it all down hurriedly tomorrow morning, floating, stopping, setting up the tent again somewhere along the river and then breaking it down again the next morning. Besides, the cabins were supposed to be nice. A friend of theirs had stayed there before and recommended them. Nothing fancy, simple but clean, with air conditioning and satellite TV. She was eager to tell him about the satellite TV after she'd made the reservation. In her mind, she saw them in the cabin, with a baseball game going, and she thought he'd enjoy that. But when she told him there was satellite all he did was say, "Uh-huh." He'd see. He'd find a game and they'd drink a little, and they'd have a happy night.
In fact there had been a game on, a day game at Wrigley. They started a happy hour, maybe an hour earlier than on a regular Friday, but this was a special occasion, a vacation of sorts. It was a vacation day on the time card at work, anyway. The campground and the river weren't quite two hundred miles from home. It wasn't like they were flying somewhere tropical but it was still a getaway. And Missouri really was quite beautiful. People didn't realize that. It was "underrated". It should be in the top ten if there were any top ten lists for "The Most Underrated States". It had hills. Not mountains, sure, no one was claiming that. It had rivers, not oceans. So there weren't beaches, per se. But there were gravel bars and float trips and some of the rolling farmland you would cross to reach the rivers was very pretty, especially when the grasses were let to grow high and sway in the breeze, waving like an ocean unto themselves, ungrazed, uncut, and unseen.
He had asked her to help him get a few rocks for the fire. He had concocted what sounded to her like an elaborate idea for what she knew he was envisioning in his head would become not just his best fire yet, but the ultimate fire—a perfect fire, the perfect fire. He had brought with them a bag of sticks he had picked up throughout the neighborhood in the weeks leading up to this little trip. He was adamant about kindling and newspaper and turned up his nose at lighter fluid. She appreciated the purist in him, theoretically, but every once in a while he was craft a fire design that choked on itself, smoking a lot, but never really becoming a fire. Lighter fluid, for him, was just too easy.
They scavenged rocks from remnant fire rings at various vacant tent sites not far from the cabin. He expected her to know exactly which rocks he wanted her to pick up. But she didn't know, how could she inherently know something like that, what were his criteria? Who knew? She stood there, perhaps with her hands in her pockets, looking off at the river, as he tried to get at least two rocks in each hand.
"Are you going to help me at all?"
"I don't know which ones you want."
He shook his head not quite imperceptibly. She reached for a rock.
"Not that one. I need it to be...it's got to be the same height as these. These are all the same height."
She managed to pick a couple that made the final cut.
He had to admit that this fire had been a disappointment. Where did he go wrong? The rocks had worked in previous fires, they had kept the wood off of the ground. Wood on the ground wouldn't really burn, it would just smoke and get in people's eyes. No one liked wood on the ground. He wanted a smokeless fire, the chewing tobacco of fires, if he could get it. That was his goal. All along in school they were always preaching about "goal setting". He had shrinked away from setting goals. It seemed so artificial, such an exercise, so clunky. Life didn't work that way. You couldn't just set goals and then strike out along the path of, "OK, here I go, I'm going about my effort of achieving Goal Number One!" But he did have a goal in mind for that fire and he had failed. He had formally failed to achieve his goal and this embarrassed him. He hated that one cabin over they had gotten a nice little fire going whilst he flailed with his. They had used lighter fluid, naturally. Cheaters. Still, with the kindling he'd brought, and by continuing to add crusty old sections of the USA Today Money section, he was able to conjure enough heat to allow them to roast three rounds of all-beef franks. They tasted good—no residue of lighter fluid on them either. Who wants to eat an oil refinery? Anyone?
He shook his head but he was shaking it for a number of reasons. It had been a long-enough drive just to get down here. Elephant Rocks was crawling with kids. Not exactly a romantic getaway. Then there was that one town draping itself in Confederate flags. Not exactly scenic. They drove close enough to Doe Run to contract a solid case of lead poisoning. Now this fire, the disaster that never caught flame. Hot dogs for dinner and too much beer on top of it. He was starting to feel a little woozy. It was probably the cigarettes. She was sitting at the picnic table and didn't seem to be having a bad time but she wasn't saying much either, was she? He looked all around the campground in the gloaming light. There were several respectable fires. Kids rode bike and played grabass. People ten, maybe even fifteen years younger gleamed and shined and rocked away with their music. The only thing that made sense to him was to have another cigarette.
I wake up and my dog is licking my face, which is weird because he wouldn't normally do that, so I lift my head a little to check and see: is this really my dog? Yeah, that's him. I'm dead, that's it, I must be, I'm definitely dead, which—at least I got here without killing myself—but, how did I here, why am I here, and—what's that on my dog's side, or—where is the dog's side, it's just gloop, bloody gloop that's kind of oozing down, a string of it is just about to hit the ground and I—
She is making coffee and he is sleeping in a bit, it does appear, it does seem. The water was almost boiling on the range. With these electric ranges, remedial as this one was, water started boiling in about a minute, much quicker than on gas. It was just a basic little kitchen but the range was nice and the countertop was no worse than what they had at home. They lived hardly a stone's throw from Granite County USA—they drove through it on the way down here, hill after hill bursting with new countertops and— Well, the coffee was going to taste good. It was Via, nothing fancy. It packs up easy. Strong taste. Micro crystals, who knew? The stretch of humankind that went through a couple of generations of Sanka before this stuff was invented deserves some sort of medal. The Awful Coffee Endurance Medal. Something like that. It would be a ring of golden coffee beans lightly roasted from a very sustainable harvest spot in the mountains of Peru or the most agreeable swathes of Ethiopia.
The smell of bacon beckoned her back. They didn't bring butter. It wasn't on his "Camp List #3". That was the most exhaustive pack list, the one that had every supposed possibility on it. They never had cause to call for butter, apparently. So she put the bacon in and it would render down and she would cook the eggs and toast the bread in that. The way generations before had done it. She could hang when she had to. But he was gonna have to stir pretty soon, snap himself out of whatever dream he was enjoying. The van was supposed to get them in ninety minutes.
She sipped her coffee, went and looked out the window. Hmmmm. She opened the cabin's front door unto a puddle. It hadn't just rained last night—it had poured....
Friday, April 03, 2015
A friend leant me a book about projecting—effecting an out of body experience. I attempted to read it just now. The attempt was a failure. I picked up a few good lines in a short time, though.
Projecting myself from here to there, to drop the book off. Down Page, through Westport, curving downward into the valley, past the small airport blinking here and there in the night, to the river, seeing it sidelong, the casino standing sentry along it, looking north, all the water moving that way between here and there before winding its way east and losing itself all south, into another river. I've had dreams that have explored this question but never answered it. Past the river—. No, the OBE ends at the river. Best to keep it short, and what exists beyond the river anyway.
The ice cubes don't clink. Not when they've been in the glass for a while and the drink is gone. As one or more of them is melting, they shift, downward in a slink. A sodden, blunt, downward plink. A drink.
That's four for me tonight. I thought that'd be my limit. I can't tell all of my truth. I'll tell you I wanted to stop at four and now I'm sitting here in this old non-magazine chair listening to California classical and I don't have to work tomorrow. I might be camping this weekend. Campfire, hotdogs, a tent, the Squirt-man let loose into nature. Are you seeing what I'm saying here?
The E-Van (E-Vonage, aka Coach) is going to be here tomorrow morning to appraise the old 74-squared. I might do Vonage double-duty tomorrow. I envision E-Van and right away I think of my own brother and he is a hole in me. My brother the mystery. He'd said, "Mystery? What mystery? There's no mystery." E-Van, appraisal, tomorrow. He came here four years ago, some early evening on a weeknight and I remember I was nervous about it. Or at least that was the chassis I built my bar-car on on that night, drinking something and Coke and I was over here half-lit and he came and checked the place out and I was pointing out a few things I said were wrong with the house. "It can't be worth that much!" kind of thing. He took some photos, with a digital camera I think. And—I don't know why I was nervous but I was. I will fear and dread almost anything.
The fifth drink went down way too easy. I've gotten the restless legs—the jimmy legs. They get like that late, when I've been sedentary. It's started pouring outside. It's April now, two days in. It was warm and humid today—ripe substrate for a storm. No hail, unremarkable wind, but patchy moments of heavy rain. Hold on a moment ... I switched TuneIn radio app classical stations. LA started playing opera so I'm on KWMU HD2. Drink number five just made its adios drink clink. I'm reading a book by Margaret Atwood. Not counting the Berkeley-taught-Aussie-penned astral projector book I just gnarred on unsuccessfully, that's two books in a row by Canadian women. B is asleep. She has some Canadian blood, and she is a woman. The Dance of the Happy Shades, "Walker Brothers Cowboy", "What It Was Like Seeing Et"—smell of mojito on the doctor's breath. I'm bleeding, drive me. Cuckolded by a carpenter's apprentice, the kids all dead. This story is autobiographical. I'm blind. I'm the assassin.