Torches And Pitchforks: An Angry Village Finally Wins One

The hulking shape hunched at the reins while the white wagon lurched and creaked under his great weight.  A look of anger on his face, and of resentment, as he fled the village once prey to his tyranny.

And on the face of the poor horse pulling that wagon? A look of equine resignation that did nothing to hide his misery and depression. Reduced to pulling a troll…where had his life gone so wrong? His mother had been right, he should have become a plow horse, like his father and grandfather.

Behind that wagon, the villagers cheered and danced. Maidens with flowers in their hair glanced shyly at the young men clustered near the ale keg, hoping for a dance and a kiss. Those same young men, however, could not tear themselves away from the nearby cluster of village elders.

Having drunk deeply of the ale, and of the sweet wine of freedom, those elders were busy regaling each other with tales of the troll’s vicious wickedness. Every one had a story, every one had felt the sting of the troll’s evil. Something else all shared, however, was a common refrain: the nightmare was over! The troll was gone! Salvation and freedom had come finally to free them from fear and dread!

Separate from the others stood one woman. Beautiful and strong, she had faced more of the troll’s wrath than any other. Now she stood alone, at the end of the village street, and waved a mocking goodbye to that white wagon as it slunk away. No words did she speak, no sound did she make, but forever would her laughter of joyous relief ring bitterly in the ears of that giant, bloated figure.

Umm…yes, it’s metaphorical. And, no, I won’t explain. Nope, not when I have to go back to the ale keg and continue telling stories…

WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! COMPLETELY STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS WRITING AHEAD!!

I’ve already hiked-out a pair of boots. No, really: I bought brand new Timberlands last October, and I noticed today just how destroyed and falling-apart they have become.

I’d make some joke about things not being made like they used to be, but let’s be honest…I’ve put those boots through a metric ass-ton of abuse over the last three months. There are A LOT of pretty hard miles on them…

The more hours I spend in the backcountry, the harder it gets to think of Connor and his world. I find myself thinking more and more about the two or three fantasy stories/series I have floating around the back of my mind. Hell, I’ve written six or seven snippets for those stories, if only to explore the main characters, and their world/society.

It’s amazing just how much your surroundings impact the work…hell, how much they impact the vision and imagination. When I’m “home”, working on sci-fi isn’t all that hard: I can see and feel Connor and his world. Okay, so, in all honesty, I’ll admit that I don’t exactly write hard-sci-fi. My college physics experience was most definitely proof that C’s do, indeed, get degrees…I couldn’t write hard-sci-fi if you held a gun to my head. My stuff is as soft-sci-fi as it gets…and as character-centric: Connor’s bitter, cynical world of contrast and strife is fairly easy to come to when I’m surrounded by people and concrete.

But what happens when those give way to trees and dirt? Different story. No, literally: I have a completely different story in my head. Different tone, different meaning, different message. When I’m bushwhacking through spaces that haven’t seen a human in years – if not decades – I can’t help but imagine what life must have been like a millennia ago.

Hell, hiking-out those boots illustrates to me one of those concepts that has really changed over time: that of distance. 8 miles is nothing to us, it’s a trip to the convenience store for beer and munchies at midnight. 8 miles is also, however, about the maximum that your basic, out-of-shape tourist can walk in a single day. Put Betty the Cubicle-Dweller on the trail, and after 8 miles she is completely done.

Hell, even I struggle to do much more than twenty miles in a day, and I hike more in a month than most people do in several years.

Just to offer a contrast: the Roman legions marched thirty miles a day, rain or shine, road or no road, just outside of Rome or in hostile territory. Then they built a fortified camp at the end of that march. Every single night.

THAT is the concept we have lost: just what a day’s walk really is.

You think London and Canterbury are the same place? Walk them. No, honestly: get out and walk the road…your understanding of distance will change rapidly. And, no, horses don’t really change the math. Sure they can run, trot or jog much faster than us…but only for short distances. For a long-haul journey, it’s time to walk, and a horse walks only about one mile an hour faster than a human.

Okay, that’s enough of this entire digression…

Maybe I should point out that I, literally, just got back from my hike. Instead of laying down for a nap, I decided to try and pound out a post (since I didn’t have one ready for this morning). That may have been a mistake…

On the other hand, I have another huge load of pictures for later this week. Yay!

Eat, Drink And Be Merry…

Hmmm…you go several hundred miles. You try to “get away from it all”. Then what do you do?

Well, if you’re like me – completely submerged in the world of craft beer – you forget that you came up here for a change, and you do what you would be doing if you were back home: you go to a beer festival.

I took a few friends down to one of the surrounding “cities” (ahem) in order to expose them to something better than the limited selection we have at the store. They were all excited, they were all happy to go.  Me, I was actually trembling with excitement.

As soon as we walked through the gates, what did I do? I saw the booth for “my” home brewery and I headed straight there. I heard these little voices in the background, calling out for me “wait up” and “slow down” but I still don’t know what the hell they were talking about: I wasn’t walking fast, they were just slower than shit!

That first damned beer from “home” went down far too easy. And the second.

Then I had to pace myself – my friends had caught up by then, and I had to lead them around the festival! As much as I love living up here in Yellowstone, it was freaking Heaven to be back in my natural element.

A porter here…a lager there…a chile beer over that way…. There was even a couple of breweries I had never tried before! That, sadly, is a rare thing nowadays…and you have no idea how much I miss that kid-on-Christmas-morning feeling of trying a new brewery for the first time.

Wait, writing? Work? The stuff I’m supposed to be doing?  What the hell are you talking about? I have me a growler of the good stuff from home, the rest of the universe can damn well wait.

Okay, okay…I did grab a couple pictures. No, literally, just a couple: I had beer to drink, dammit!  And, yes, I know they are crappy pictures.  Once again: there was beer demanding consumption.

My “home” brewery, all the way up here in Cody, WY at the Yellowstone Beerfest: IMG_0562

A couple of my friends from up here…the other five are back in line waiting (im)patiently while these two got their drinks already:

IMG_0559

PBR’s Revenge

I drink good beer. I don’t think that fact will surprise anyone: I spend a great deal of time in microbreweries, and I’ve developed a pretty good appreciation for real beers. My brewer friends may mock my palate, but…well…they taste shit in beers that no sane person would ever find without hints from the “experts”.

There are, thank heavens, good breweries up this way. Actually, there are numerous good breweries: Bozeman alone has 8 craft breweries, of which 4-5 are well worth a visit. But…and, yes, here’s the inevitable but…

…but: we run out of the good beer pretty damn fast around here. Remember, there are 800 trillion people in the park at any given moment, and they drink through anything and everything we have in stock.

You know what that leaves?

Yep: PBR…or Miller High Life.

*shudder**

No, really: I shudder just to think of that shit!

But I’ve been drinking it.

I hate myself for it…I know my “sin account” is growing exponentially, and I’ll pay for my foolishness in the afterlife…I know I’m not even drinking actual beer…but, shit, I can only afford so much scotch and a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do!

When I get back home, my “home” brewery isn’t even gonna let me in the door without some serious level of atonement.

The worst part is that I’ve been teaching the kids up here about good beer. Preaching about it, actually. Hell, I’ve even run a couple of beer tours to Bozeman for the staff! With that in mind, what nickname have they given me? High Life.

I feel so dirty. I hate myself right now.

Oh, and the title of this post is a…well…it’s a clue to something in Silence.

What, did you really think I wouldn’t write about my personal shame?!

 

Bears Are Nicer At Night, Right?

Dr. Doolittle ain’t got nothin’ on me.

I walk with the animals…I talk with the animals…

Err, well…I’ve sorta convinced them to not eat me, anyway.

You remember that bison that turned me back the other day? He and I made friends this morning, and I finally completed that hike. Well, completed it and then some.

The bears were all sleeping-in, and Billy (the Bison) had better things to do than contemplate what meat tastes like (thanks, Mrs. Bison!!), so it was a nice, peaceful walk.

I needed it.

I’m pretty much a complete introvert. All of the time I spend with others…all of the time surrounded by people…all of the time schmoozing and chatting….yep, I’m pretty much faking it. I hate crowds.

No, really: tie me up and leave me to the damned mosquitoes instead, because people suck. After four days of dealing with staff who are even needier than the tourists, I was ready to strangle someone. But, still, I plastered on the fake smile and mustered the ersatz-enthusiasm needed for one more day on the job (Sunday nights are always the hardest). I needed the scotch I drank last night in celebration of the end of my week.

I do, however, fake it very well….hence my former career in sales & marketing.

At any rate, Mondays are my “special time”. It’s the first day of my weekend, and – no matter how bad the hangover – the first thing I do is get up early and grab my pack. Screw the trails and the various sights around the park, I don’t want to see another soul.

I was off the trail and cruising by 7:30 this morning. I didn’t get back to “civilization” until 1:30, and even that was too damned soon. In between I saw nothing but streams and trees and landscapes to make your jaw drop.

In spite of the crap that goes with it, I love this job.

The only reason I came back from my hike this early is because, well…it’s writing time. I’m supposed to go out for a moonlight hike tonight (“Hi there, Mr. Hungry Bear!”), so if I don’t write now, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Oh, and if the bear does happen to get me: no, you can’t have my stuff…

 

Okay, Okay…I Can Take A Hint

Edit Note: I couldn’t get the photos loaded until this morning – as you might expect, cell & wi-fi can, umm, challenging up here.

I think Mother Nature wants me to spend more time writing. She sure as hell didn’t want me hiking today.

I took off for some back-country hiking in the few hours of nice weather we’ve got before the thunder storms roll in this afternoon. No problem, so far…I’m not going anywhere dangerous. Hell, I’m not going even going all that far from the little “village” in which I live & work.

One quick, background note: I do a lot of solo, off-trail hiking and camping back home in the Rockies…but there I carry a gun with me. The folks I work for up here – who also happen to be my “landlord” – have policies that make it impractical to have one, so I have nothing but a can of bear spray and common sense for protection. I’m not particularly excited to test either of those.

I’m not a half-mile from “home”, and just stepping into a thicket of young pines, when Ma Nature dropped her first hint. I don’t know who jumped higher, me or the elk. All I know is the damned thing was all of six feet away when we spotted each other…and I’m pretty sure we both pissed ourselves. I’ve heard elk described as “burly deer” a few times, but you don’t think about just how big they really are until you are – literally – nose to nose with one.

Never mind, I’m a big boy. I can handle myself. I continue walking the hills and meadows, spending more time just wandering and taking pictures than doing serious hiking. I find a small trail, old and no longer really used, so I decide to follow it. I’m pretty sure it goes to Cascade Creek, then curves south to Crystal Falls, so what the hell…that sounds good to me.

Another quarter-mile or so and I turn a blind corner to find…bison. Frickin’ bison. Big frickin’ bison. Two are eating breakfast right next to the trail while the third is staring at me like he’s reconsidering the whole herbivore-thing.

IMG_0294

Okay, okay…I did back up about twenty yards and snap some pictures first. Then I fled.

Screw the trail, I’ll just head uphill and go deeper into the woods.

I had to take training on bear biology and safety for a certification I’m working on. Rule #2 is: a big, steaming pile of morning fresh bear shit is a good time to turn around.

Of course, Rule #1 is: a dead elk is a good time to well-and-truly get the fuck out.

I saw both.

A wave to the invisible-yet-nearby bear, then, and I put the better part of valor on full display.

Please keep in mind that I’m still less than two miles from where I live and work.

Maybe I’ll try the trail again, that sounds good…going the other way this time. Ooh, the trail is curving back towards the little bear camp-out I just ran away from fifteen minutes ago. IMG_0334Better yet, there’s a tree with claw marks on it. Oh, how cute: the bear was sharpening its claws just for little ol’ me! How special!

Maybe it’s time to go home and write instead…

Arrgghh!! I’m Taking Up Cigars Again!

Screw mosquitos.

No, really: screw the whole species, and every branch of the evolutionary tree that gave birth to them.

I lived in New England, for the love all that’s holy: I know mosquitos!

The ones here in Yellowstone are the sneakiest little bastards I’ve ever encountered.

They fly under the radar and just sorta hover harmlessly, blending into the background…and then the next morning you wake up with roughly 4,350,756 mosquito bites covering your skin.

GODDAMMIT!

In my younger days – in the days when I gave even less of a damn about the consequences than I do now – I started smoking cigars simply because the smoke helped to keep the mosquitos at bay.

I gave up the stogies when I left for Europe.

You know what?

I screwed up.

Give me a damned cigar…..no, really, give me one RIGHT NOW!

The stupid mosquitos have decided the “writer-diet” is the new “in thing” and I’m item #1 on the menu. Apparently booze-and-junk-food-laden blood is the way to go for these little bastards.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been writing out in front of the store. That is not working well at this point. Not well at all. Type a word or two…scratch…type a word or two…scratch…type a word…start to scratch, then scream some curse words and storm off.

Nope, not well at all.

Yellowstone is apparently Shoshone for “Mosquito Breeding Ground”.

I’m starting to think my next story is going to be about genocide against these evil little monsters….

 

When Laundry Is The High Point Of Your Morning…

It’s laundry day today. Really, is there any better way to start your weekend than laundry day? I mean, c’mon, all those weekends I spent going to Vegas or Mexico when I was young can’t hold a candle to the spin cycle…

I had an hour to kill while the washing machine ran, so I decided to (finally) read the news. I have, by the way, been pretty completely ignoring the news, the web – other than for this blog – and the rest of the world in general for the last several weeks.

It’s been glorious.

But today I spent forty-five minutes reading the news.

What the hell was I thinking?

I sat outside last night, drinking beer and watching a rare appearance of the aurora borealis (not as colorful up here as it is farther north, but still awesome). Less than half a day later I’m reading about the insanity that is the current state of our world. All I can say is: we’re fuckin’ nuts.

People screaming at each other because of the letter(s) after their name…fat nutjobs threatening nukes all over the planet…nail bombs at concerts…racism and segregation as a response to racism and segregation…

I once thought the last election was as low as we could sink. I should’ve known better. You never bet against humanity’s ability to look at all the options and choose the stupidest one.

Shit.

One day of news was more than enough for me. Unless fatboy really does nuke Hawaii, I think I’ll just stay off-the-grid for a while. Maybe I’ll check again in another month.

And people wonder why my sci-fi is dark, bitter and cynical as hell…

Get Off My Lawn! Pt II

Ok, look…I know the hair may be going a bit grey, and my knees make more noise than a popcorn machine, but that does not mean I’m old!

If you’re only as old as you feel, I’m pretty much stuck in my early twenties.

So, the other day I had to get three new kids checked out with their banks so they can start working as cashiers. Yes, I said “kids”…deal with it. All three spent the entire 20 minutes saying “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. I felt like goddamned Methuselah.

IMG_0174But – and this is the important bit, kids – we cagey old bastards always get our revenge. There ain’t a 22 year old in the world who can keep up with me when it comes to whiskey.

Take that, youth and energy! Age and cynicism win again!!

Now where the hell is my walker? I feel like shit this morning…

The biggest problem up here isn’t finding good beer, it’s finding people who appreciate good beer. There is far too much PBR and Bud Light flying around for any self-respecting beer-snob to keep his or her sanity. Crap, I have to spend more time educating these folks on decent beers than I do actually drinking.

On the other hand, with this many folks from backgrounds so different and varied, I am getting a ton of new music to listen to. That is a very good, and very welcome, thing: my writing needed an infusion of fresh music. The old soundtrack was getting a bit stale, and it was starting to come out in the words themselves. New music means new thoughts and new outlooks…that can be almost as valuable to me as the change of scene has been.

By the way: if the last couple of posts seem a bit choppy it’s because, well, they are. I’m currently sitting outside trying to catch the last of the sun while I write this pout – two hours ago it was 65, now it’s 40…and In two more hours it will be in the high 20’s.

Not even a decent beer can keep my fingers warm at this point…

It’s Closed? Did I Hear You Right?

One of the things I’ve accused myself of in the past is taking these posts too seriously. Oh, I don’t mean to imply that I shouldn’t give them thought, and try to say something important and meaningful. But I have been known to flex my “introspection muscles” and write posts that can skirt desperately close to the line of  self-indulgence.

Nope, don’t want to do that…not now, not today.

I had another post worked up, one about the assumptions we make about the strangers we meet, and how that can (and often does) tie to the assumptions we writers make about our characters. I just reread that post to do the one real editing pass I give these posts…

Egads. Crikey. Insert your own mild exclamation here.

Took myself waaay too seriously on that one. I also had…err…well…nothing to really say in it, so it was a lot of words accomplishing very little.

Shit, I did enough of that in college. That is not a (bad) habit to which I really need to return.

So, to get to something equally pointless…but far less serious: the pub. Specifically, the employee pub.IMG_0175

It’s not open yet.

There are, in fact, claw marks on the door from my first encounter with that locked entrance.

Then someone told me it won’t open for another couple of weeks.

Wait…what?!

Are you kidding me? Even prisoners can get booze*, for fuck’s sake!

*Yay for prison hooch!

Now, I’ve talked to some of the folks who have done this summer work thing up here for a few seasons, and I know the pub can be…well…questionable (a bit like the donkey-bar in Tijuana can be questionable). But, crap…no one is here yet! There’s only a relative handful of staff around right now (within the next month another 500ish will arrive in my little “village”), so shouldn’t it be a nice place to have a drink or two after work?

But the universe hates me and it’s closed.

So just what do I have to do? I have to pretend like I’m nineteen again and visit other folks’ RVs or dorm rooms to have a few drinks with ’em. Shit. If someone mentions homework to me, I’m gonna feed ’em to a damn bear.

Yes, I’m a manager…yes, I’m supposed to be a good example…but, goddamit, I don’t want to drink scotch alone! It’s a crime to drink single malt alone!

So…now…it’s off I go to gather a six pack of a local craft brew and a flask of scotch, then to a gathering of like-minded degenerates…err, co-workers. If I get raped by a bison on the way home, I’m gonna be pissed.