The Poet Trims a House

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When I’ve find myself wondering what am I doing? When it seems like I’m spinning my wheels writing, I seek for immediate tangible daily gratification. Something concrete. Do it. Look at it. Be done with it.

Hard work is good. Physical work is good. Physical work with a mental component is even better.

Most of this non-writing work is carpentry. At the end of the day, you stand back, look at job that is visibly further along. Real measures exist. The living room windows are trimmed out. The bedroom doors are hung. The floor in the hall is finished.

Recently I trimmed out a house in a traditional manner. The owner wanted the finish to reflect the old school craftsmen manner and quality. In that way, it was a traditional trim job. We installed all the wood from the walls out. Trimmed the windows. Laid the floor. Hung the doors. He wanted no end grain showing, so every piece of wood was cut at a 45 on the end and another matching, short 45 piece was slid in to finish the end into the wall. The grain, the stain, all had to match so as to be un-noticeable. Each finished window required the cutting and fitting of 23 pieces. From the extension jambs bringing the window casing out to the plane of the wall to the crown molding running across the head, each piece required thought, precision and care.

And now that I think about it, the project was as mental as it was physical. Each piece became a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge.

After the windows, we laid the floor.

The flooring was re-sawn four by six larch beams re-sawn, then run through a molder to shape into tongue and groove. The beams weathered heavily before being taken down and held spike holes with black stains from the rusted materials that once held them together. When we finished the floor, the owner spent hours filling the holes, matching each with one of four or five stained fillers he mixed for the job. Three coats of satin finish topped it off. The floor became a central feature of the house, finely finished with a rustic undertone.

As we worked on the floor, at the end of each day we could look back and state, “We started there and we finished here.”



No question about the worth of the day.

And then, we hung and trimmed the doors. There were a bunch. Not as complicated as the widows, but similar. Only 16 pieces per door. But then remember, there are two sides to every door, so in reality 32 pieces trimmed out each door. Lots of little pieces. Finicky little pieces.

You learn tricks. Like using tape to hold a piece is only so good. There is bound to be a little slippage. When it dries, the edges will not remain exactly aligned. The best using good contact cement. Put two coats on the face of little piece and the larger piece. The grain tends to absorb the first layer of glue. The second layer really creates the bond. Let it fully dry and then –thunk—it holds.

That’s done now.

I am back to following up with editors, sending out queries, and trying to write little essays like this one to keep me feeling like am making progress.

And there is no longer any measure.

Wiley Coyote All Over Again

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Growing up on the Roadrunner cartoons affected a whole generation and a half. It was OK to blow someone up with Acme Dynamite. Acme Catapults were perfect for throwing things long distances. And so on. There was no PC. And there was good ol’ violence. Violence after a fashion, since most was self-inflicted by/on Wiley Coyote.

I thought of that Monday morning. We’ve been ripping along in full-on summer mode. A little cool the last few days, but remaining summer. Shorts, Flip-flops. T-shirts with a sweater in the early morning and then again in the evening.

And then Monday, we dropped through a trap door into another country and another world. The mountains disappeared. It was cold. No, not just cold, but almost freezing. And raining, snowing, groppling and then raining again. And blowing. It never blows in Fernie. And cold enough to look for long pants and even socks. Did I say cold?

What’s up?

Who pulled the Wiley Coyote dropping us unexpectedly through an Acme Trap Door in the sidewalk?

Whose hand is on the switch?

Flip it back. Now.

We’re a whole town of Wiley Coyotes dropped through a trap door into late fall/early winter and we need a ladder to get back up to the real world. We desperately need to return to our last precious vestiges of summer.

Anyone got the ladder?


Back on the Deck.

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August 7th

I’m back on the deck. It’s early. The sun has yet to hit the valley. Clouds shroud the mountains beyond the ridge across the river. The trees on the crest of the ridge are defined by the grey of the clouds behind. In a couple hours, the heat of the day will disperse the clouds and the sharp granite spires behind will appear.

After Midnight from the Cowboy Junkies powers gently out of the deck speakers. They play like the far off whistle of a train recently passed. Half memory. Soft. Half myth of an event. A memory, only a memory, without concrete matter remaining. As they finish a bald eagle flies across the opening in the trees that runs to the river. Low, skimming over the crowns of the birches, he weaves between the taller cedars. The squirrels start calliope of chatter warning of the bird. Quieting after he passes, they return to searching for lost pine comes.

For a few minutes all is quiet. A goose honks on the river and the Cowboy Junkies start in again. I remember the lonesome wail of the train passed hours ago.

On Writing with a Pencil

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August 6, 2013. Early morning.

This early morning I am sitting on a deck overlooking a relatively placid river. The current is obvious, but there is no sound of rushing water. The water runs deep between two grassy cut banks. Across the river, on the floodplain, black Angus graze. Above the cows, on the first river bench, an old farmhouse and several aged barns house the workings of the farm. Mature trees shade and serve as a windbreak to the house and a couple of the barns. The largest barn is a classic hay barn. The sort of barn every kid draws when asked, “Draw a barn.” The farm lies organic on the land. Over time the buildings grew into the land as the land they worked became a part of them. They belong to each other, like fingers of opposing hands meshed together.

Behind the farm, a mountain rises steeply forming a long north/south forested running ridge. Behind that ridge, on the other side of the valley, a provincial park starts. The next road is a few days’ walk across the mountains. Mountains full of glaciers, granite cliffs, mountain goats and the occasional climber. The peaks on the horizon resemble saw teeth. Granite saw teeth.

This side of the river is a 60 or 70 year-old second growth forest. A maturing mix of birches, fir and cedar, the forest floor is open and covered with duff. In front of the deck a broad swath of mowed grass runs down to the water.

Half way to the river, the grass is broken by the remnants of a garden. Maybe 40 by 80, square grey weathered cedar posts once holding deer fencing outline the plot. Inside and along the edges stand several fruit trees. Two pear trees, just about to ripen, a couple sweet plum trees now ripe, and a peach tree. These are the only bearing remnants of the garden. The balance is now grass.

At the house end of the enclosure, a green steel gate lies open to the interior. Yesterday, walking down to the river I walked thought the gate and just as easily out the other end, as a matter of principle. To see how it felt to walk effortlessly though a deer fence. To be a present day ghost visiting the past.

The cabin offers all the amenities of modern life. Almost all. Hot and cold water. Shower and tub. A full kitchen and a fine outdoor barbeque. Dishwasher. Both wood and hot air heat. Lights. Music from a 200 disc CD player.

But in this small interior BC valley there is no internet and no cell coverage. The coffee shops (with great dark coffee) offer WiFi, but cell coverage remains not an option.

And I’m writing this by hand. With a #2 mechanical pencil. A Bic. Blue with a white soft plastic molding where you grip the pencil with your fingers. In recent years, this particular mechanical pencil replaced the original yellow hexagonal #2. It moves easily across the page. Words fall onto the page in my half readable scratchings. Some words fall into full sentences. Some words form brief notes left to fill in when I start to translate this onto my computer.

And as I write this, I wonder about the difference in the creativity in composing on lined paper with a pencil versus composing directly on a computer. If I wrote at home, at my desk with the world at my fingertips, I would move away from this piece and Goggle “writing with a pencil” to see what came up. And then I’d follow that thread for an hour, maybe more, leaving behind my original thoughts, feelings and incorporate the thoughts and research of others. I’d find out about the mind/physical balance of writing with a pencil. And how that differs from composing solely on a computer. How each fosters a particular type of creativity.

So what?

Who really needs Goggle?

For my writing, all I really need is a few lined sheets of paper and a pencil. Not even my current fav, just a pencil.
I know what I need to create. I don’t need to be validated (or not) by a series of creativity studies dredged off Goggle.

Time, a pencil and a stack of paper and I’m good. And adding a cup of Bean Pod coffee on a deck with a view helps just a bit.

The Poet Strings Barbed Wire

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The Poet Strings Barbed Wire

It’s been a long time since the poet strung a stand of barbed wire taunt and hammered a staple into a post to keep the wire in place.

More than 35 years in fact.

The first time was also in the spring. Asked to help the horse packer supplying the Grand Teton backcountry trail crews and range cabins, we spent a couple weeks repairing the fences around the park pasture. Migrating elk and marauding moose popped stands at will. It took a couple weeks, all off horseback. At the end of the weeks of pulling and twisting, we drove the stake truck and a trailer to the winter pasture and hauled the horses back.

A few years later, on a ranch in the high Colorado mountains, we ran cattle and horses. Again the elk ignored the issue of fence wire, as did the large white Brahma bull next door. They all strolled at will through five wires of barbs expecting us to trail behind joining the broken strands. And again, on a horse we rode the fences, twisting and pulling the broken twisted strands together in a semblance of a border.

So this last week, I repaired a half kilometers of fence and built another couple of kilometers new.

The first day was filled with slight and sometimes stronger memories and tricks.

You know, if we do this. . .

Opps, that’s not it.

At the end of the first day, I ambled down to the local hardware store and bought a new pair of calfskin work gloves. The smell of the leather’s tannins and the feel of the leather pulled snug on my hands took me right back to the cold mornings in the Tetons gathering the fencing tools in the first light. Cold. Quiet. The tool steel seeming even more brittle in the cold. The smell of the hay and oiled tack in the barn. The hard clank of steel on steel. The soft half swish of leather settling on the saddle blanket.

At the end of the second day, with tricks and memories coming back. I said to the boss man,

You know, it’s coming back.


You know what would really help?


A horse. I want a horse tomorrow.

He shook his head, the boss.

Not likely.

We Need Jumbo Wild Forever

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The wildness of the mountains define my life and the person I am today. Take one simple anecdote.
Several years ago Rich and I were up in the Teton’s to climb the Grand. Our planned route was a moderate climb by any standard. As so often happens, we woke in the morning to an evil mix of rain and snow. The snow was sticking only a couple hundred feet above our bivouac and, after a quick breakfast we bolted down from the Lower Saddle. This involves a descent down a sloppy slab with a thick rope to hang on to and then a tenuous descent through a massive boulder field to the main Garnet Canyon trail. It was a controlled slip and slide affair in a light rain just above freezing. Two-thirds of the way down are the “Caves”. Not really caves, but the massive overhangs of a couple boulders, for years the Caves have been a meeting place for retreating climbers, ascending climbers and those not making the hump all the way to the Lower Saddle. We huddled in the Caves for an hour trading stories with a group that bivy’d just below the Lower Saddle, compared intended routes, commented on the rain and the unique ability of the Teton to turn to shit with no warning and eventually made plans to get together for dinner that night at their place.
Such are the friendships made in the rain and snow in the mountains.
At dinner that night, a woman mentioned she’d taken some photos on a ranch during haying the fall before. The ranch lay near my home in Colorado. Pulling out an 11 by 17 box of black and white prints, she started spreading them out on the dining room table. The second print showed a man on a tractor pulling a hayrack being stacked by the following elevator. He was a close friend. A friend I skied with half my days with that year.
Such are the connections found in the Caves of the mountains.

Today we live in the quagmire of a cyber world. Between Tweets, texts, email and Facebook, there remains little actual or even forced face-to-face connections. The norm becomes the impersonal digital. Yet, off the road, in a cave on a mountain, we meet, we make immediate evaluations and find camaraderie that last beyond 140 characters.
This is the loss that will happen with the building of Jumbo. Yes we lose a wild section of land. A huge basin that will never again recover its essential being. We will lose grizzly bears and an intact ecosystem. Beyond the loss of the wild, we will lose the people populating that wild land. We will lose the connections. The community fostered by that land. A delicate human ecosystem will be scattered and dispersed in the winds of a digital world in a manner that cannot be reconfigured in any fashion.
Jumbo is a loss on all levels. Natural. Cultural. Social. Spiritual.
There is no reason for this to go forward.
There is every reason to stop the project.
In the next weeks and months as they attempt to move the project forward with BC Provincial approvals, I hope everyone will do their utmost to toss at least one pebble in the path of the project. Or trundle a boulder or two down on their path.

Remember, Hayduke lives. Keep Jumbo Wild.

Through the Looking Glass

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Several years ago, I drove to the end of a road on the Olympic Peninsula. I stepped out of my car, shouldered my pack and left that cul-de-sac quite literally stepping into another world. I moved through a few feet of stubby pucker brush of a decade old clear cut into the dark cool of an old growth cedar and hemlock forest. It was like stepping from a crowded souk bazaar into a quiet coffee room.
This was the Olympic National Forest’s boundary with the Olympic National Park. If one ever wants to demonstrate the value of a National Park vs. a National Forest, rent a plane and fly over the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. Trees delineate the Park. Outside the park, there are no trees. Within the Park stand much the oldest remaining temperate rainforest in lower North America.
This May day I was climbing. Alone, I walked up hill and across to the right. In short order I reached snow still holding under the canopy some 150 feet above. The slope became steeper. I kicked steps and moved on. Not long after, I broke free of the trees onto an open avalanche slope and ceasing my rising traverse. I began climbing directly up the fall line. As I climbed the snow became harder and steepened even more. Sometimes I kicked twice to create a purchase on the face or the snow. In an hour, I reached a point where the avalanche slope tightened and became a narrow steep walled gully rising between cliffs of black broken volcanic rock. Steeper, shaded by the vertical walls on either side the snow in the couloir quickly changed from white to the blue of ice in a matter of fifty vertical yards.
Climbing off the snow, I sat on a flat outcropping at the base of the couloir and slid off my pack. I pulled out an orange and my water bottle. After taking a swig, I started peeling the orange. It was juicy and bits of the sections’ skin came off with the peel leaving my fingers wet and sticky. After eating the juicy broken sections of the orange, reaching down I scraped, gathering the surface corn snow and scrubbed my hands clean, then wiped them dry on my pants. The peels I put back in the top pocket. Taking another swig from the bottle, I looked up the couloir. It rose straight and clean with the ice starting quickly. Beyond the ice there was only the slightly softer washed blue of the sky. From the top flap of my pack I took my crampons. Slipping my boots into the straps, I pulled and snugged the straps eliminating any play. Taking the two ice tools off the back of the pack, I swung each into the hard snow at the edge of the rock and left them as I settled my pack on my back and once again looked up the couloir.
Nothing but blue ice and blue skies. This was why I left my car at the end of the road and stepped into an old growth forest. For the sun and sky above. And the ice. The summit, a few hundred yards off to the right beyond the ice, would be only an asterisk.
Slipping the loops around my wrists, I pulled the tools out of the snow. Kicking steps, kicking twice to build a purchase, I moved up and onto the ice.

The Truth. Fiction or Non-fiction?

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I was tying my bootlaces. The coarse cross braid cut into my fingers as I pushed the loop through and pulled the laces tight.

And I woke up.

The feeling of the laces on my fingers remained, as I looked out the window at the mountains in the first light of the day. A touch of pink brushed the clouds still remaining on the ridges, remnants from the last few days’ storms.

And I wondered about writing.

At dinner with a friend the other night, we talked about writing, universality, and how you touch people with your words.

We talked of the truth in non-fiction, of the emotional truth in fiction and how you blend both with your experience when you try to write the narrative history of a generation or two before you. How your character, your experience, informs and helps flesh out the related characters of 50 or even 100 years before.

And we asked, is that honest? I said yes. She was not so sure.

I hiked up the bank of a boulder-strewn creek. My bootlace loosened, perhaps caught on a willow as I passed. Stopping, I put my foot up on a boulder, looked upstream and saw a grey water ouzel, bobbing, bobbing on a rock maybe 20 feet in front of me. The rock was splashed with water, but only half wet, darkened, cooled in the heat of the day. The ouzel dipped into the creek and I moved to tie my shoe.

It was a dream.

Was it true?

Does that make it fiction or non-fiction?

If it appears in an essay like this, does it have more validity than if I fold the experience and the dream into a piece of fiction and use it to fill out a day following a character in the story.

Was it even a dream?


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I grew up in the States. After my college years, I started spending more time in Canada. Then, about 18 years ago, I started spending much of each winter in Whistler. When I say, I grew up in the States, I should clarify by stating I grew up in Palo Alto, California. Yes, California, Land of the Fruits and Nuts. I swam, skateboarded, surfed, hiked, climbed and skied.

When I was 16, I laced up my first pair of skates and found I was completely inept. A rough deal for a 16 year-old athlete. In the days of my Nordic racing, we used a nearby 400-meter rink for pre-season training. Speed skates resemble skate skis more than hockey skates.

That’s it for my ice time.

And I’ve come to love hockey.

More than that, I’ve come to love the Canadian attitude toward hockey.

Late this spring, when the national debates conflicted with the first games of the hockey play-offs, they changed the debates, not the hockey game. A clear recognition that in the horse and cart world of national politics, changing the horse will not make too much difference. On the other hand, who makes the Stanley Cup will be determined by the games in the play-offs.

That has import.

If there ever was any doubt of the tension, finesse and excitement of hockey, last night’s first game of the Cup finals put that to rest. Back and forth, non-scoring, power-play after power-play, the game was fast, clean and went into the final minutes with no score from either the Boston Bruins or the Vancouver Canucks.

With only a few seconds left in the game, the Canucks picked up the puck at the blue line and passed across the ice to Hansen on the right. He skated in on Bruins’s goal angling in from the outside right. The Bruin’s goalie, Tim Thomas, moved a few feet forward from the net to meet him and close down the angle. With a flick of his wrist, Hansen passed across to Raffie Torres skating on the left and Torres slipped the puck into the now open left side of the net.

Picture perfect. No slop. Easy pass. Crisp, clean goal.

And with 18 seconds still left in the game.

Almost 60 minutes of play and it all comes down to the last few seconds.


Now that’s a sport. Every minute counts. Every second counts. And the last minute counts in spades.

Love it.

March 11. 2011

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Monday, April 11

Today is the first day beyond winter.

I wake in the half-light of dawn to rain pelting my windows. Clouds cut the mountains half way to the ridges and snow draws a hard line between the clouds and the valley floor. Pulling the pillows up, I lean against them at the head of the bed, watching the weather, I think,

I am done with skiing. Done for the year.

The ski area closed yesterday. Well, not really. The mountain re-opens Wednesday for staff. As always, I plan on skiing staff day. The Elk runs early and then the Bear runs from 11 to 3:30. I’ll swing up once the snow softens and make a few token runs. After, the area hosts a dinner and such at the Griz. That’s far more appealing than the skiing.

Then there’s the RCR Fernie “Bonus Weekend” April 16 and 17th. The old side opens for one last shot at the year. Trooper will play a fee concert in the plaza at the base of the mountain. It’s more a gathering than a weekend of skiing. Take a couple runs. Sit in the sun. Drink a beer and enjoy the music, the day with friends. There will be skiing, but skiing will not be the point of going up.

This year closes in an unusual fashion. No morning pools of half frozen slush at the bottom of the mountain. Just snow. Fourteen and a half feet of compacted base. We close with perhaps twice the deepest base of anytime in last two years. We’re skiing an exceptional combination of mid-winter conditions and spring corn.

Every night the mountain freezes hard. The lows are 7 or 8 C below each night. Starting each morning on east facing slopes that collect the first sun so soften. As the sun warms the snow, I ski aspects and by noon move to the northern facing slopes, slopes the sun never touches and remain soft and unaffected for weeks after a storm.

And then I head down. Once the snow softens beyond an inch or two of corn, I bail.

Mid-day today, the weather turns nasty. A harsh wind sweeps into the valley. Gropple, mixed with real hail, occasionally turning to snow rushes across the streets and hides the mountains completely. Walking down to Mug Shots, the fresh snow drives into my cheeks with needle like intensity.

Yes, I am done with skiing for the year.

Late in the day, as the sun drops toward the ridges on the western edge of the valley, the wind dies, clouds break and the skies clear, leaving only remnants of weather stuck on the sharp peaks. The reflection of the setting sun on the cloud bottoms creates a gold glow the first alpen glow of the season. The peaks are lit and then dark. And cold again.

In the sunset, I start my spring summer habit of evening walks. Ambles, I walk to the river looking for ducks. None. No geese either. And walk back home composing this little epistle.

And I am really done with skiing this year. It’s all good. I’m balanced on my skis. Balanced on my feet. Climbing beckons. It’s time to head into another venue.