Bitter & Cynical For The Win!

I’m home.

Yay…?

Getting into a real city again was weird. For all that Yellowstone’s surrounding towns have to offer, not even the most charitable could call Cody or Bozeman “cities”. That is, of course, a big part of why I like them.

Hell, half the reason I went to Yellowstone in the first place was to run away from the crowding and craziness that are starting to take over the area I currently call home. The area to which I just returned.

I almost didn’t, by the way.  Didn’t return, that is. A winter in the vast, sprawling metropolis of West Yellowstone wasn’t sounding too bad to me at the end, there. But…

But family comes first, and right now family has to take priority over self-indulgence and my introverted desire to continue running away.

The trip home*, however, did have one very big saving grace: time and quiet to take stock of the writing I did in Yellowstone.

*Thanks, airport shuttle, for having ZERO heat in twenty-degree weather!

Umm…

Ahh…

That stock-taking kinda sucked.

The plan was to write something on the order of 80,000 words while I was living in the park.

“Hey,” I thought, “there’s nothing around…I can write my ass off.”

Yes, I was that big of an idiot.  80,000 my ass – I wrote 20,000. That’s it. Shit, I should be writing 20,000 in a couple of weeks, not over the course of five months!

And you know why I got even that much done? Nagging guilt and shame had their roles, of course, but also the faith and support of my friends.  Especially of those that read my rough draft stuff and tried to keep me focused.

Hell, I don’t think I can ever really describe just how much I appreciated one friend’s…well, there’s no other way to describe it: her outright bullying.

“How much did you write, today? Nothing? Go…shoo! Go write! Now!”

Now, I’m a pretty big guy, and Billy small enough to stuff into my pocket, but I just hung my head and went to write. And valued the friendship as I went.

The time up there did, however, change the tenor of the story a little bit. That’s fine for the last third of Silence – it was intended to return a sense of hope, and of meaning, to Connor’s life – but for the first bit?

Err…

It sounds weird, but I have to recover that bitter cynicism that so colored everything – both for me, and for him – before I left. One glance at the traffic as we drove home, and I decided that rediscovery probably wouldn’t be as hard as I’d first thought.

What A Crew Of Blessed Souls*

*Note – from Dave Haus’ “Meet Me At The Lanes”

I don’t leave for a couple of days, but this is probably the last post I’ll have time to put together before then. I figure Monday – while I actually am leaving to travel home – is probably a good time to put up another snippet…

At any rate, I decided it was time to sum up some things from the past 5+ months. Now, I don’t really have to say that I really did love it up here. That has, I think, come through in past posts, both written and photographic.

All I can really add on that score is a simple statement that Yellowstone was worth every minute, and every drop of the frustration that cropped up from time to time. Even if you never venture off the trail, even if you never try to follow me into places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), it is well worth it.

No, what I lay awake thinking about last night was the people who are about to scatter to the wind. The people that I never would have met under any other circumstance. With only one exception, the group that remains to close the store is the same group that opened the place so long ago.

We didn’t know each other back in that first week of May. Hell, we had not even the slightest idea about each other. Yet, as different as we all are, we’ve become close…we’ve become real, lasting friends.

Those of us who write, like to think about how to break our protagonist’s stasis, how to shake him or her out of comfortable normalcy and throw them into the situations in which they can (and hopefully will) grow.

Well, five months up here broke my stasis.

I thought last night about what would have happened if I had not come up and, instead, any of these remaining twenty-ish people had walked into the brewery.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

If we interacted at all, it would have been solely on the most surface and shallow of levels. And that would have been very, very sad. I would have missed that which has caused me – like any good protagonist – to grow and change.  And, worst of all, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Crap, I’ll reiterate: I generally don’t do nostalgia. Err…well…oh hell, let’s just go with it, anyway.

Now, like any human, I’ve grown closer to some than to others, but all are people I like, and people I am the better for having met.

From Bridget yelling at me for change, to Ian failing to work through biblical hangovers…

From Mark’s pro-Trump sermons, to Onni’s anti-Trump jokes…

From Chandler’s retro-goth hair and nails, to Jess’s Shy Guy tattoo…

Twenty-plus people up here, all with their own foibles and tics…all with their own stories, and their own worth. A few, though…a few are the ones that really stick with you:

Steve R and Sarah N – for making me laugh…a lot. And people wonder why we all spent so much damned time in the office.

Sara P and Jarrod – for the friendship, and the pending marriage. There’s no way I’m not coming out to Mass. to visit.

Kody – for making me laugh…for skipping right past the few lines even I wouldn’t cross…and for just being that comfortable, confident kid you are.

Billy – for late nights of anime and podcasts and D&D…for reminding me I’m fucking old, and (most importantly) becoming one of my closest friends, anyway.

So many I’ve met, that I’ve come to know, but those few…those few really stick with you.

Thank you, all.

Yellowstone Practical: Hiking

Two weeks…that’s it. Just two weeks left. Now, besides all the other crap involved with going back to the real world, that means it’ll soon be time to turn this blog back to it’s original focus on writing.

Err…

Well, at least I tried to have that as a focus. Didn’t always do all that well.

Having the opportunity to talk (a bit) about Yellowstone itself has been a nice change for me. Even if my current surroundings have taken away from the focus and time I need to write, it has been well worth it.

So, in the interests of getting back to basics, I’m going to not talk about writing once again.

Nope, I figured I would do a “public service” bit for the next couple of posts…talk about some of the best hikes/outings that are near to where I “live”.

One thing, however: although a great deal of my hiking has been off-trail, in places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), I am NOT going to talk much about that. Off-trail hiking (and camping) can, frankly, be extremely dangerous if you are not experienced and prepared. I have friends up here – friends who are serious hikers & campers – who think I am completely insane for my little solo little excursions into the wilds, so I am not going to lead anyone else into my own life of…err…sin.

Today is mainly some equipment notes, specific to hiking at this altitude, and in this kind of terrain:

1) Water, water, water – you’re gonna dehydrate at eight thousand feet just sitting on your butt. If you go for an eight or ten mile hike? Yeah, running out of water sucks donkey balls. On easy terrain, and in mild weather, I plan on one liter of water for every nine or ten miles. If the day is hot, or the terrain difficult, I increase that by at least fifty percent.
2) Water addendum – even when you’re not hiking, have water. I use one liter Nalgene bottles so I can keep track of how much I drink in a day (three to four liters, on average, when I’m not hiking). Also, keep in mind that water does wash out salt and other minerals you need. I do not recommend Gatorade or other sports drinks…just make sure to bring food along that includes a few things that will help put back what you’ve lost. Even a simple handful of trail mix can make a big difference.
3) Boots – I recommend good, over-the-ankle boots. The stability and protection you gain can make a big difference in rough, uneven terrain. For on-trail travel, those aren’t quite as important, but folks should know that even the “maintained” trails here can have rough sections (downed trees, creeks & streams, rocks & boulders, etc…).
4) Daypack – get a good one, and make sure you set the straps right. Nothing sucks more than aching shoulders and neck ruining your hike. Trust me on that, it is fairly miserable. Also, make sure you have a pack that’s fitted out to carry a camelback. Having your water integral to your pack, rather than in bottles or canteens, makes things a lot more comfortable. Make sure, also, that you have enough space for all the shit you need to carry (more on that below).
5) Food – for a day hike, you don’t need to go crazy here. A couple of granola bars and a sandwich can be just fine. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to spend a while picnicking and relaxing at your hike’s destination/midpoint. I don’t usually snack while I walk (bears, you know…), so a nice lunch is a good thing for me. DO keep your food in sealed, airtight bags…and DO haul back out any remainder, as well as trash, in those airtight bags. Throwing open food and/or trash into your pack makes you nothing more than a mobile snack stand for the wildlife you didn’t think was right next to the trail.
6) Small, important things – a decent knife (no, you don’t need to go all freaking Rambo with some huge “survival” knife), something warm to wear just in case (sweatshirt, flannel, etc…), a decent map of the trail you’re on, and bear spray. No, bear spray is not a scam…I’ve had a bear walk past ten feet from my window. You need to have it with you.
7) Small, optional things – backpack hammock, camera, spare socks (far more important on longer hikes: there are creeks and streams that you can only cross by fording), and anything else you can’t bear to do without. Keep in mind, weight is not your friend when you hike – that pack that seemed so light when you started, can weigh a million pounds when you’re done.
8) “Oh, shit” kit – kinda optional, especially for trail hikes…but for my more aggressive treks, I always have this with me: waterproof matches, flashlight, compass, first aid kid (a tiny one) and small tarp.
9) Firearms – touchy subject to a lot of people. Back home, in the Rockies, I carry a pistol whenever I hike. Here in Yellowstone (or any National Park), carrying a firearm is perfectly legal…it’s just firing it that is illegal. If you carry a gun, and do fire it, you better damn well have a very good (read: life threatening) reason why. The rangers take that very seriously, and any ticket or criminal charge inside a National Park is a federal offense.
10) Cell service – just don’t count on it. No, really…you’re gonna run out of contact real, real fast. A cell phone is not a valid safety net up here. I know this is crazy talk in today’s world, but use common sense and preparation, instead.

The Social Event Of The Season

It’s the end of the season up here. We’ve lost half the staff already. Over the next week or so, we’ll lose just over half of those who remain.

We’re pretty much gonna be down to…well…not enough people after that. I think I’m gonna have to start cooking for everyone…

We opened the season with some, umm, interesting evenings, so it’s only fair that we close it with one. With the best party of the year.

Now, keep in mind, in the dorms alcohol is technically allowed only inside the individual rooms themselves. Not in the halls, not in the lobby, not even on the pseudo-patio outside. And, no, please don’t get me started on the futile insanity of that particular regulation. Suffice it to say, that little rule is not the most well-obeyed one in the universe.

But, for our party, we decided to obey it. Hell, we decided to build the evening around it!

Six rooms, each featuring two or three different cocktails…and a whole lot of people who have lived and worked in close proximity for five months now.  And, no, I didn’t serve beer…well, not just beer.  Nope, I channeled my old bartending days and made limoncello bellinis.  It was a good decision.

Now, as to the party – there are pictures. Worryingly, there are pictures. There might even have been a “dick-wand”.

Ahem.

It’s back to work today, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Worse, it’s back to the real world in less than three weeks.

I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

I’ve written less than half what I wanted (let alone needed) to write up here…I’m just plain freakin’ done with tourists…I want real, honest-to-God internet in the worst way…I miss my friends and family…and…and…and I don’t really want to leave.

Hey, I’ve told you before, consistency is not one of my (many) failings!

Real life? Real cities? People? Traffic? Bills and the stress of everyday living?

Gah…I need to go on another hike.

Pop-Tarts & Beer

I had an eye infection today: I just couldn’t see doing anything.

Now, keep in mind, my normal “I Hate Humans” Monday involves a hike of somewhere around 16 or 20 miles. Occasionally, more.

Today?

Today, I went four miles and stalled out for a picnic lunch. Sat in the shade and stared at a meadow.

I even pretended to write for a while.

Then pretending to write began to feel too much like work, so I decided some napping was in order. Remember that backpack hammock I mentioned a couple of posts ago? Yep, in that. Hey, if I can’t see the bears, they can’t see me…right?

Now, I’m sitting in front of the store to do some actual — err, well, semi-actual — writing. And, yes, I did extend the hike a bit…but ten total miles is still more of a stroll than it is a real hike.

But, and this is important bit, I have to call it a hike…if ain’t a hike, I don’t get my favorite post-hike snack.

And, if you’re wondering, today’s snack is strawberry-flavored, washed down with a nice pale ale. The people behind me are having granola bars and water…I feel so much better about myself as a human being!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pretending to do…

A Full-House

“Your bet…” prompted the transgender girl slowly turning into a boy, looking to the left.

A shake of the head and a quick reply from the big, straight guy in that next seat. “I need another beer, first.”

“I’ll get it.” This from the rail-thin gay kid on the other side of the table as he stood and stepped over to the ice chest.

“Keep betting like that and you’ll need more than beer,” laughed the blonde, tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop.

In the background, a tall and aging server – head shaven to hide receding hair – is still throwing his all into hitting-on the pretty girl from Romania. She laughs and shakes her head; she still has a boyfriend back home.

College is a long time ago for me…err, both stints are a long time ago. It has been, over the years, hard to remember the semi-forced intimacy of that period. That period when boundaries are expanded, when preconceptions are shattered, and when new ways of looking at life are learned. That time when you well and truly grow up.

Six months ago, most of my friends looked like me. Most thought like me. Some even acted like me.

Now?

Now I play games with a transgender girl-turning-into-a-boy. Now I have real, meaningful discussions with a rail-thin gay kid. Now I feel avuncularly protective of a tougher-than-she-looks ex-cop. Now I laugh (with all the empathy and understanding of the fellow-aging) at a trying-oh-so-hard server*.

Six months ago, not a single one of us would have spoken three words to the others. Hell, none of us would’ve so much as entered each other’s orbit, let alone become friends. I’m a straight, white guy who is addicted to hockey and writes in brewery taprooms…what the hell do I have in common with any of these people?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

*Note: there are far more characters – and friends! – up here. The cast above, however, illustrates better than anything the variety…and the chasms crossed.

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.

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…

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.

Why?

There’s another drink at the end of the bar. I don’t want to say that…fuck, I don’t want to have to say that.

IMG_0720But I do: I have to put another drink on the bar. Another drink to join all those I’ve set to toast the souls to whom I’ve had to say good-bye.

I came up here to rediscover life, not to lose one of those friends who helped me do so.

I didn’t know Gerard for long, but I did come to trust and admire him like I do few people in this world. He was, in every single sense of the word, a gentleman. He was, with no exaggeration, one of the best people I’ve ever met.

He was a hell of a lot better of a man than me.

Yet, here I sit, still alive, still drinking whiskey and still mourning the dead.

I’m sick of mourning the dead. I’m sick of being the last man standing while my betters are cut short.

Yeah, yeah, I know: it’s all grist for the mill. It’s all emotion and passion and experience that can go into the words. No one knows that better than I: I would never – could never – have imagined and created Connor and Oz without having lost far too many close friends to suicide.

Yes, loss and grief, just like pain and anger, are what we writers live on. But, you know what?

Fuck that.

If this is the price I have to pay, I’d rather go back to losing my soul in a goddamned cubicle.

What makes all this worse? Gerard’s wife is just as good a friend, and just as admirable. I love that woman…shit, I used to joke to my friend about just how much I envied him his soul-mate and how I was going to steal her.

Now she’s shattered and broken.

I’ve been shattered and broken…hell, I’m not sure I’m still all that far from shattered and broken. But to watch Jacqueline fall into that hell, to watch her lose the center of her world…

I spent today holding it together because I had to: the business was open, and someone had to keep it going. I had to announce to the staff, several times, the death of a man that most considered their second grandfather. I had to announce, several times, the loss that tore at all of our souls. Then I had to carry on. We all had to carry on…even when all I wanted to do was go out and get drunk and raise a toast to my friend.

I had originally intended this post to be such a toast, but the words….for the first time, the words are failing me.

I could put together a thousand-word post and not come close to doing justice to my friend.

I could spend every ounce of my remaining strength (which ain’t all that much, right now), and not touch on everything I should say.

I could do a lot of things…

But, for now, I’m going to think. I’m going to mourn. I’m going to cry. And I’m going to get very, very drunk staring at yet another drink at the end of the bar.