The Apocalypse That Wasn’t

Overcrowding! Biblical traffic jams! Cats and dogs living together!

The eclipse was supposed bring it all out. From record sales to the crazies, we were gonna get it all.

We got nothing.

No, really…I walked over to a trailhead the morning of the eclipse and saw no cars. Not just a few cars, but none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The store did its lowest level of business in a decade. Apparently everybody did listen to all the warnings from the Park Service to stay away.

That being said, I still did my long-ass hike to get away from it all…then I did something very, very dumb.

Oh, the first part of the hike went well. And let me tell you, being on top of a mountain to watch the eclipse was seriously cool. The light started to fade, and to turn to that particular shade of orange-red that you really only get at dusk (which looked truly odd with the short, noon-time shadows!).

Then it got strange.

The more the sun disappeared behind the moon, the more quiet it got. I don’t mean a normal hush. No, by the time of totality (well, 98% for me) it was totally and completely silent.

Animals…birds…even the damned insects, they all went quiet. That was, honestly, the eeriest part. With this much life and activity around Yellowstone, it is never silent here. But it was yesterday, and it stayed that way for all three minutes of the totality.

That is what surprised me. That is what awed me.

Of course, none of that was the stupid part. I saved the stupid part for after the eclipse.

So, there I am sitting on top of a mountain. I had a perfectly good trail to go back down. Did I use that trail? No, sir. Not me. I’m the damned explorer. I’m the bear-whisperer. I go where I want, trail or no trail.

I decided to scramble down the opposite side of the mountain, and head to a lake I know a few miles away. I would just pick up another trail there, and head back home. Easy peasy.

Umm…no.

It sucked. No, really – it sucked donkey balls. I almost died (err, well, almost got severely injured, anyway) more than once on that particular little jaunt.

Where the mountain wasn’t trying to kill me, the bears were. Now, keep in mind, I do a lot of off-trail hiking. More than is good for me, in all honesty. But, in my defense, I am very good at it, and I very much enjoy it.

And, yes, I always carry bear spray with me. In all the miles of backcountry stuff I’ve done, I’ve never had to so much as pull that can of supercharged pepper spray out of my pocket. Yesterday, halfway down that mountain and walking through a meadow, I had the fuckin’ thing in my hand, ready to fire…and ready to GTFO as soon as I did use it.

Thank God I didn’t run into the (very large) grizzly who owned the tracks, scat and beds I saw, because he would not have been happy to see me walking through the very heart of his territory…and I almost certainly would not be typing this right now.

Yes, it was indeed one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

With the nights in the thirties, and the days starting to cool, it is beginning to feel like fall not just to us humans, but also to the animals. The elk are ready to start bugling for their rut, and the bears are starting to really get after the food in preparation for hibernation in a couple of months.

I think my off-trail days are over for the year. There’s over a thousand miles of trails in Yellowstone, maybe I should check out a few of them, instead.

I will miss that backcountry stuff, though.

The End Is Nigh!

I’m not exactly ground zero for the coming eclipse, but I’m pretty damn close: the “line of totality” is only about an hour south of me.

Am I going to go down that way to watch the sun die?

Are you freaking nuts?

The Park Service is expecting well over a million people in Grand Teton park alone, and a couple million more along other parts of the eclipse’s path. The state of Wyoming (where Yellowstone and Grand Teton are located) normally has about 500,000 inhabitants…on Monday it is expected to have well over three million. Three fucking million.

Yellowstone itself is expected to be in total and complete gridlock all day Monday.

As if the damned bison jams* weren’t bad enough.

*Yes, they really are a thing…and I’ve been stuck in several. I am, however, pretty sure it’s just the bored bison fucking with tourists: “Hey, watch this, Bob…I bet I can make ‘em all stop!”

I am, I should add, quite happily not working that day. I am going to grab my pack early, pack some booze and a nice big lunch, and head to the top of a remote mountain to watch the whole show. Even if the animals go a little nuts (as the biologists predict), they’ll still be a damn sight better – and safer – than the tourists that day.

I haven’t yet run into any of the crazy “end of the world” whackjobs, but a lifetime of cynical experience tells me it won’t be long. And, no, I don’t want to repent, thank you very much, even if the end is at hand. What’s the old saying? Oh yeah: it’s better to regret something you have done, than something you haven’t.

By the way, I did make the mistake of reading the news today, and I feel dumber for it. Do I really want to go back into that day-to-day world in a couple of months?

Err, no. Not really.

Not at all, actually.

I like my simple life of blissful ignorance at this point. My biggest problem lately has been breaking in my new hiking boots…and I like it that way. The company I work for has several other properties in other national parks. Hell, they have winter jobs here in (well, near) Yellowstone.

-40 degrees and ten+ feet of snow? It still sounds better than the news I just read…

Grinding Tears Into Wine

I’m supposed to write about pet peeves today. More specifically, I’m supposed to write about those pet peeves that I have in regards to the writing.IMG_0163

God knows, I’ve got my share of ‘em. You’ve all already heard about my need to write in taprooms, and about the impenetrable shields that are my earbuds…

But I’m still not ready to write about that. I’m not ready to write the sarcastic, wry post I had in mind. My friend’s death is too near, and far too powerful: I still hurt, and I still mourn.

So, instead, this is a post about catharsis…about how I heal with the words, and about the need to write.

I’ve never mentioned before, but the first piece I ever got paid for was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was supposed to be a simple obituary, voluntary and unpaid. But it became something far, far more. It became an ode to pain, and an expression of my rage at the loss, and at the fucking uselessness of it all…and it got picked up for that.

It was the obituary for a seventeen year old boy who committed suicide.

Writing that was the only way I had to deal with the pain, the only outlet that preserved sanity. Just under thirty years ago, in similar circumstances, I hadn’t yet learned that outlet. I hadn’t yet learned the power of putting words onto paper. I hadn’t learned the healing that comes with storytelling. Instead, I internalized everything: the loss, the pain, the rage, and the complete and utter confusion.

Oz very much is the combination of those two suicides…of those two friends. Yet, even now, I still haven’t released it all. The pain and rage and confusion are still there, and still they shape who I am, and how I think. Every single word I write is part of the healing process – and part of the venting. Every single word is my own blood on the page…and the blood of those many friends I’ve lost. If I didn’t write those words, if I didn’t use the blood, I would go back to drowning under the weight of it all.

Sometimes I still do.

Most of the subtexts and messages in both Wrath and Silence are planned and intended. Most, but not all. Some…some grew organically out of the writing…grew out of my own subconscious telling the rest of me to fuck off and taking over.

Alone is worse.

For something I once thought a simple throwaway line, that particular phrase has taken on a hell of a lot of power.

Writing Oz’s death scene almost broke me….but with the writing also came a certain amount of healing. I had to write it, I had to explore that particular moment…almost as much as I had to heal.

That is why I write. That is why I tell people that, while I write this blog for others, I write the stories for me. That is how I cope, and how I heal.

And if, someday, something I write can make a difference to someone I never meet…then it was all worth it.

Winter Is Coming*

*Thanks, GRRM!

No, really – it’s July, and the weather is changing. No, not to get even hotter, as is happening for most folks in the northern hemisphere. Nope, the weather is changing to get cooler: my summer is (already) ending.

I woke up the other morning a bit before seven. I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I grabbed some coffee and headed outside to write. The fog hadn’t yet started to lift, and the air had the crisp, cold feeling of the beginning of autumn. In July.

The nights are back down into the thirties, and as soon as the afternoon thunderstorms roll in the days drop to sixty – or even below, from time to time. In July.

As scary as it is, as I write this I’ve been living in the park for almost three months. That is more than halfway through this whole extended vacation/escape. And no, I am honestly not sure which of those two it is. A bit of both.

Pretty much everyone who comes up here is trying to escape something – well, except for the international kids*. The younger folks are trying to escape parents and authority…are trying to escape the boundaries they’ve known all their lives. The older folks are (often) trying to escape the boredom and feeling of unaccustomed uselessness of retirement.

*Err…maybe there’s a lesson in that? I’m not drunk enough to even think about that…

Us in the middle? In many ways, that’s a bit harder. Some are trying to escape lives that have not gone as planned…are trying to escape the whats and wheres of recent years. But others are trying to escape that hardest problem of all: themselves.

You can tell those at a glance: they’re the ones who drink themselves senseless every night. The ones who are angry and resentful all the time. The ones who find a place like this is not an opportunity to see and do, but as a prison.  The ones for whom the trees and valleys, the rivers and geysers, are things not to be experienced but rather feared.

Okay, so I’m not going to delve too much into the specifics of that…not yet, anyway. There’s a great deal to say on that particular topic – a great deal that pertains to writing and to the characters we create – and the whole train of thought deserves more effort and thought than I’m bringing to bear at the moment.

Yes, that does mean that this another last minute post. That worst thing about that? I didn’t even do anything last night. I have no excuse, other than the fact that I spent the last few days doing, err, Yellowstone-ish things rather than write.

No, the reason I started writing about change was more internal: change for me, like winter, is coming. And, just like Westeros’ winter, it’s inevitable and inescapable…and potentially destructive as hell.

The change, for me, is that I have to figure out what the hell I’m doing after this.

I sold my house a year-and-a-half ago. I gave up my (admittedly shitty) apartment when I came up here. My life is, in essence, sitting in a storage unit waiting for me to figure shit out.

It’s easy to lose myself in the beauty up here, and in the rather unique pace and structure of life that goes with living and working in a place like this. But that just delays the decisions, it doesn’t take them away.

I have options. In some ways, too many options. But the end of the contract is still two months away, and it all still seems so unreal…far too unreal to make decisions that, well, matter.

Crap, what’s the worst that could happen? Three months ago I acted purely on impulse: I sent a resume then uprooted my life and started this little adventure ten days later. It’s turned out pretty damned good so far, so maybe it’s time to roll the dice again?

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

Fat, Drunk, Dumb and Lazy

A nice load of artisanal bread, some good locally made Brie, a few slices of prosciutto, and a six-pack of a nice beer (Bozone Select Amber Ale, if you’re wondering). Screw the employee dining room, I’m doing my own thing tonight.

The thunderstorms are gone, the sun is back, and I’m off work.

The Chinese tourists are very put off by my meal choice, and the hiker-trash (of which I am a proud member) are all trying to pretend disdain, but have so far shown only envy. I learned many, many things in my time and travels in Europe, but most of all I learned how to picnic. I mean really, really picnic. I’d have a nice Spanish Rioja with me if only I could find one…but I’ll settle for a quality beer.

Remind me to tell you about the picnics I pulled off in southern France: I ate (and drank) better on ten bucks there than I do on a hundred here!

Ahhh…first world problems…I love ‘em. And, no, my life does not suck at this point.

Shit, I could be in an apartment back home, bitching about the heat and doing the same things over and over again.

My brain wouldn’t have stood for that, and my soul sure as hell wouldn’t have. About the only downside I have at the moment (besides crappy internet and hungry/horny bears) is that the writing itself is suffering a bit.

Oh, not the quality…not the words. Those are coming just fine. No, it’s the vision. Dark, bitter and cynical sci-fi just doesn’t flow all that naturally up here. Now, if I was writing that fantasy series floating in the back of my mind…

That being said, I am back to making progress. Crap, some of my friends up here won’t let me not make progress: they force me to sit here and write. I can’t help, however, how the surroundings, and the changes in my own mood, effect the work. Connor is developing a hint of a lighter side, and is grinding away all those edges, both the rough and the sharp.

There’s a bit from a song (yes, there’s always a song, just like there’s always a but)…admittedly, it was written about a trip to Prague, but it still applies for me. Not to mention the fact that I can, personally, also attest to just what magic and changes Prague can work on you:

The twilight of our youthful days
Books and bridges burned
And records smashed

I’m fat and drunk and dumb and lazy
Digging deep way past the petty cash
But there’s not too many nights like these
When you know you have it way too good

Oh, let it revive me
Carry on, carry in the fire
Oh, let it revive me
Finding peace for a little while

—Prague (Revive Me), Dave Hause, Resolutions

 

Terrorism Comes To Yellowstone!

Okay…well…maybe, not so much.

I don’t often do a “real time” post, but today I just have to.

IMG_0444Let’s start off by mentioning that I really doubt this place is Target #1 for ISIS: “Hmmm, Achmed, let’s see…do we bomb the SuperBowl or Yellowstone?”

Even they can get that one right.

That being said, we just had ourselves a nice (not so) little bomb scare last night.

Well, I use “scare” pretty liberally. The tourists were scared…the rangers were, err, collecting scads of overtime…and the store staff? We were up in front of the store, drinking and watching the whole thing. It was basically a Fourth of July picnic for us.

That being said, things did get more to the “scare” part when they evacuated the employee dorms a couple of hours later…then it started to hit home for a lot of folks. The poor international kids were confused as hell. Then again, the American kids weren’t a whole lot more on top of things.

Me, I had a nice buzz going…

Now, to whoever decided it would be funny to put a package in front of the building next to us with a threat printed on it: this is, err, federal land. It ain’t the much vaunted and feared Bozeman PD investigating this one, and it sure as hell ain’t the rangers. Them thar FBI boys ain’t the sharpest spoons in the drawer, but they have A LOT of money and power.

My favorite part, however, came when they evacuated the employees.

“What about my room?” I ask the ranger. “I’m like thirty feet from that package.”

“Naw, you’ll be all right. You’re below the store, it’ll take the brunt of the blast.”

Thanks. Thanks for that. I’m gonna sleep so much better, now…

One of the more entertaining pursuits, while the rangers were trying to (unsuccessfully) chase the employee picnic away from the theoretical danger zone, was to speculate on possible causes/motives. Aside from a creepy, mostly-insane former employee my favorite theory was that someone just didn’t want to wait the hundred years they figure it will be before the supervolcano goes boom. “Dammit, I want an eruption and I want it NOW!”

At least, I figured, if I was gonna die, I wanted to die with good beer. So I cracked the ONE bomber (don’t you just love the irony?) of Brombeere I had squirreled away and toasted the coming explosion.

IMG_0443Now I have to go to work, on one hour’s sleep, and clean up the mess.

Happy, happy…joy, joy.

How Dare People Want To Learn About The US?!?!

A guest got mad the other day. Nothing terribly unusual in that, to be honest: even on vacation, some people just want to find something about which they can be upset.

No, what makes this event stick out in my mind is what the guest got pissed about. This person was mad because the cashier she was dealing with has a strong accent and is still working on her English.

I was nice, let me emphasize that. I very nicely implied just what a jack-ass this guest was, and very nicely got them the hell out of the store as fast as I could.

I carry bear spray whenever I hike – I may have to start carrying tourist-spray when I work.

I should probably expand on why this irritates me:

Roughly 40% of the seasonal staff up here (and in any national park) are here on what’s called a J-1 visa. Now, a J-1 is not a normal work visa, it is an educational and cultural visa. It is for kids from other countries to come and work in the US to improve their English, and to learn about our people and our culture. It also ain’t cheap…these kids spend a lot to come here for this.

Sometimes what they learn isn’t all that great.

The cashier in question happens to be from Taiwan – she not only is a college grad, but happens to be one of the hardest and best workers I’ve ever seen. I would trust this girl with any job I could dream up and know she would exceed the goals I set.

I’m good at languages. I’m very good. I speak several, and can make my way in a few more. But in none of those languages am I perfectly fluent, in none can I hide my American accent. Yet never have I had any random, tourist asshat get pissed at me because I struggled from time to time.

Well, except in Spain…they made of fun of me because I speak Mexican Spanish, not “real” Spanish. Fuck Spain.

Err, never mind…back to the point.

We, as the US (both nation and people), have prided ourselves on the worth and strength of our attempt at a meritocracy, and tried to build that on the equality that all humans bring to the table regardless of their origins.

Believe that many of us might, but we sure have a shitty way of showing it…

Every single person should have to spend a few months living in another country, learning another language and culture. It might sound trite, but that really does change you: changes your outlook, changes your thought patterns, and sure as hell changes the boundaries of what really matters to you.