Your Life Won’t Be Ruined

Err…okay…so I probably shouldn’t think about how long it’s been since I wrote a blog post…

No, I don’t need to think about that at all.

What I need to think about instead is what actually got me to wanting to write a post tonight in the first place…

It was a long — and kinda shitty — day at work.  All I wanted was pizza and a beer.  Or beer and a pizza.*

*Amazing, isn’t it, how changing the placement of just two tiny words can change the emphasis and imagery of a sentence…and don’t even get me started on changing one tiny word!  “My arms around her neck…” versus “My hands around her neck…”  Ahem.  Vocabulary and syntax for the writing-win, Alex!

At any rate, pizza and beer.  That’s where I was.  Yeah, that’s it…

I went music shopping tonight, while I was drinking.  Oh, it wasn’t the old-school flipping through albums and CDs that used to be such an important part of my life.  No, this time — as has become my norm — it was mousing through the electronic catalog that is Apple’s iTunes Store.

Crap, I don’t even own CDs anymore, let alone the old vinyl albums that took my music-virginity.  Gah, don’t even get me started on losing the visceral satisfaction of actually “putting on” on a new album!

Okay…crap…talk about squirrel moments…that whole 200-word attempt at an “intro” was one giant squirrel-moment!  But…well…at least it gets me started…

One of the songs I was listening to tonight had a line that resonated.  It was in fact a line that damned-well better resonate!  “You’re life won’t be ruined…” that song said.

Your life won’t be ruined…

Your life won’t be ruined if you accidentally buy the low-pulp orange juice.

Your life won’t be ruined if the Broncos lose by 24 points to the Chiefs.

Your life won’t be ruined if Britain leaves the EU…or if it fails to do so.

Your life won’t be ruined if Donald Trump is impeached, or wins the ‘20 election…or not.

Your life won’t be ruined…

Your life won’t be ruined.

As someone who has fought the twin demons of depression and despair; as someone who has questioned whether any of this shit is actually worth it; as someone who has sat on a branch with a bottle in one hand and rope around his neck; as someone who has known both highs and lows that most folks don’t get to experience, all I can say is this: your life won’t be ruined.

Part of me wants to write this post to reassure my friends and family — to reassure those who have learned, if only through this blog, of my struggles with life — that I “get it”, that I’m not quite as fucked up as they think I am.

But only part.

Most of me, however…

Most of me just wants to speak to anyone who is staring at the same forbidding terrain through which I have spent a lifetime traveling.

Your life won’t be ruined.

In spite of everything the judgmental and the superior and the vindictive can do, your life won’t be ruined.  Second chances are everything in life, and most of the world appreciates that fact.  Shit, most of the world needs that fact.  More than that, however, anyone who doesn’t believe in second chances is far more fucked up than any of the rest of us could ever be.

So go ahead and vote for whoever or whatever you like.  Win or lose, your life won’t be ruined.

Go ahead and try to write that novel or poem, or paint that picture or compose that song.  Win or lose, your life won’t be ruined.

Most importantly, however, go ahead and be YOU.  Go ahead and be honest with those who love you.  Whether they accept and embrace, or turn their backs, you will survive.  You CAN survive.  Your life doesn’t have to be ruined.

If you live in the closet and are terrified of coming out…

If death and suicide stalk your thoughts…

If failure is an everyday companion…

If everyone looks, or acts, or feels, different from you…

You can make it.  You can survive.  It might be hard…it might even be hell, but there is far more to life than now.  To quote a charity/movement I whole-heartedly support and believe in: “it gets better.”

When you get right down to it, your life won’t be ruined.

90 Days…And A Bit More

The last snow here in Yellowstone came on June 22nd, the summer solstice.

CB47650C-F077-48B3-8517-47E9EC463940Summer has not yet officially ended, but the first snow has come already…on September 21st.  That’s right, two days before the official end of summer.  Not even ninety days, and the snows are here again.

Yep, that’s about right for this place: three months of summer, and nine of winter.

It’s a good thing I like the cold.  Hell, it’s even better that I like hiking in the cold!  The animals are out this time of year, you see, eating like mad to get ready for winter.  The only other period that comes even close to this is the early spring, when they are again eating like mad to recover from the winter.

Two days ago I was out on a favorite trail of mine, early in the morning.  Within the first mile I saw a wolf pack stalking an elk herd, and a grizzly circling a dying bison.  Throw in the eagle I saw as well and I hit the freaking jackpot within 20 minutes of setting out!

“But why are you going up there again?!” I was asked six months ago.

Gee, I wonder…

Err…that’s why I’m staying, too.

Yep, that’s right, I gave in and signed up to stay through the winter.  Through temperatures of 20-30 degrees below zero (that’s in Fahrenheit, in Celsius it translates to … err … umm … freaking COLD).  Through 20+ feet of snow on the ground.  Through no possible road travel.  Through no one around but a few fellow lunatics…

I’m gonna love it.  But…


But what about the writing?


I’m sanguine.


Hey, my productivity can’t get any lower than the last six months…

…can it?

The good news, of course, is that I’ll be up here — still mostly out of contact and 8A5B492A-F26A-4432-B7FF-9A484642E648away from it all — as the current political climate gets nothing but nuttier as the election comes ever closer.  Like the tramp of sweet, cute little lizard, it comes ever closer…

Ahh, a special thank you to Ray Bradbury for the ultimate expression of how I feel about the coming election: something wicked this way comes, indeed!

This way comes the carnival of insults and bitterness…28C1D836-6628-469A-87BF-62D3203305B2

The carnival of partisan rancor and lies…

The carnival of knee-jerk hate and intolerance…

The carnival of everything that’s wrong with us as a nation…

Yeah, I’ll take the starving bears and wolves, thank you very much.

Sorry, Mom!

Okay, since this is — err, technically — a writing blog, I suppose I have to pay at least some lip service to my writing…but, of course, I’ll come at it from a weird direction…

You live in Yellowstone?  You must get all kinds of inspiration for your writing up there!”

Umm…yes and no.  Yes, because the place really does have an innate magic that can’t help but touch you.  And No because, when I’m out in the Park, I’m…well…out in the Park.  Oh, I bring a notebook and a pen along on most hikes, but let’s be honest here: I spend that time hiking and soaking in the surroundings, not thinking.  As much as I love — and need — to write, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to switch gears from outdoorsman to writer.  Not least because, when I write, I put all of my focus and attention into the words.  To do that when I’m sitting on the top of a mountain?  Or deep in the woods?  Yeah, at that point it’s not quite so easy as it is when I’m sitting at the picnic table at the back of my RV site.

Oh, and because … well … bears.  There’s a now-hard-to-find picture of some girl in F7FFE55A-77D3-4284-A6FA-6F1EBCEFABD3Alaska who was so absorbed in setting up and taking her selfie that she missed the grizzly coming up behind her in that picture…   I’m pretty sure my Mom would prefer it if I didn’t end up an ursine Happy Meal with my earbuds in and a pen in my hand.  Although, now that I describe it that way, I suppose there are worse ways to go!

Sorry, Mom!!

The internet in Yellowstone sucks, how do you keep up with family and news and all that stuff?”

Umm…I mostly don’t.  Look, I’m a complete introvert* who needs to “get away from 543617DA-2735-4F8E-A8AD-F07F478C3355it all” for at least a part of every year.  Okay, okay, I really DO get it — doing so for six months at a time might be considered a BIT more than “part of the year”, but I’ve always believed in the old joke that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess!

*Although I CAN pretty effectively fake being an extroverted “nice guy” when necessary.

My family is pretty used to “radio silence” from me, by the way, so they tend not to get too stressed when they don’t hear from me for a while.  Well, except for that time when my Mom called the cops on me because I forgot to call for … umm … ahem … better than two months …

Sorry, Mom!

As for the news?  It just frustrates and irritates me, anyway.  I give myself one morning a week to read the news, over my coffee and bagel.  At the end of that morning, I usually wonder why the hell I bothered wasting my time and energy.  I then head out to see if I can tempt a grizzly into eating me in an effort to atone for my news-reading sin.  Hell, if I didn’t need my iPad for writing, I’d cover it in peanut butter and try to get the bear to eat that

How many words do you write in a week up there compared with back home?”

Great, thanks a ton for making me feel guilty about my lack of productivity.  I average about 1,000 miles of hiking in six months up here, doesn’t that count for something?!


Fine, here’s the reality: a full, dedicated day of writing will see me put down somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 effective words.  I will also, on a day like that, accomplish a few writing-oriented chores that do not directly involve creating sentences and scenes.  That means that, back home, I can (and hopefully will!) produce anything from 10,000 to 15,000 first-draft words in a week.  Up here, I’m happy to end a week with 4,000 words on the page.  Occasionally — like when the Yellowstone Beer Fest was happening! — I produce zero words.  Such is my cross to bear*.  

*Pun fully intended!

Can I have a free copy of your stuff?”

Can I have your f*@#ing house?  There ain’t many people in this universe getting rich from writing, and I am most definitely NOT one of those few.

Okay, I get it, Yellowstone isn’t really an inspiration for you…so what does inspire you?”


Well….beer and coffee.

Oh, and tourists.  Any time I need to write a character who is annoying, ignorant, or stupid — or, better yet, all three — I just study the tourists for ten minutes.

Are you grumpy, or what?  I’m glad you aren’t in public relations!”

That WAS public relations for me.  Get any staff member who has spent more than a month up here even the slightest bit drunk, and we will tell you stories that’ll make you want the supervolcano to go off!

So, on that topic, the supervolcano…  It’s just media-hype, right?  A fake-news thing?”

55D93F29-BCB4-4F24-8034-5BC193432AFCMy RV currently sits all of two thousand meters above an active magma chamber the size of freaking Montana.  Mt St Helens put out one-quarter of a cubic kilometer of
stuff…and that devastated shit for miles.  The last Yellowstone eruption put out A THOUSAND cubic kilometers of shit.  2.1 million years ago, Yellowstone put out 2,500 cubic kilometers!  So, yeah…“fake news”…

Where are you going after this season?”

Somewhere I can do more writing.  I love being up here, I really do.  I love the park, I love the hiking, I love the animals…but I don’t produce crap as far as writing is concerned.  From a real-world, financial perspective being up here is stupid as hell.  Let’s be honest — no one comes up here to work for the money.  There ain’t no money up here.  Pretty much every seasonal employee up here just manages to break even for the season.  That’s it.  At best, you might put away a few hundred.  Which is why 75% of the seasonal staff are either college kids or retired folks.  To be one of the few still trying to make a living while working in the park?  Yeah, that has it’s problems.  I’m going to need the six months following this just to make up the ground I lost being up here…and I still wouldn’t change it for anything.

Okay, with all that said — are you FINALLY going to call your mother?”

No, I’m going to write.  Then I’m gonna lead a moonlight hike through a geyser basin…

Sorry, Mom!

Pop-Tarts and Beer, Vol. II

I spend most of my (public) time here in Yellowstone talking to people about hiking.  What trails they should or shouldn’t use, what kind of gear and supplies they should have, what they can expect to see and do, how best to watch* the wildlife, that kind of thing.

*Rule #1 for wildlife watching, by the way, is to do as I say, not as I do…Me: ”What do you mean, I shouldn’t follow the wolf tracks back to the den?”  My Ranger-Friend: “You know, I’m not coming all the way out there to help when you get attacked…”

Invariably, people — being people, of course — will worry and ask about food.  Oh, they’ll couch it in terms of “energy” and “nutrition” and “hydration” but we humans are just as worried about our stomachs as are your average grizzly and bison.  “What do you eat,” I was asked once by a co-worker, “to recover energy after a tough hike?”


I thought about all the crap I should eat afterwards, about carbs and proteins and restoring everything I sweated out over the miles of the hike.  I thought about it, then I decided to answer with the truth, “Pop-tarts and beer.”

Hell, the only reason I don’t take those two miracles with me on the trail is, well, have you ever actually TASTED beer out of a camelback?  Yeah, not even I’m that committed…

DC88F4A3-9794-4102-BE0C-BA6C932333E7So, okay…now, after my little snack, I’ve ticked the last box on my list and I’m completely content and happy.  It was one of those absolutely perfect days to be out hiking.  The kind of day you have to get out and take advantage of: a day of blue, blue skies and gentle breezes…a day of puffy clouds and vibrant wildflowers still in riotous bloom…a day of nothing but rolling hills and rich meadows as far as I could see…

A mile in and the noise from the road was lost to me…two miles in and all the worries and frustrations of the world were lost, as well…three miles, and I was in my element, looking for someplace new and interesting to explore…

Then I started to wonder.

Dammit, why do I do that?  Why can’t I just relax and take it all for what it is?  But nope, I’m a writer, I always have to think and wonder and imagine.

So, this time, I wondered about those who…well…those who wait.  Wait for someone to tell them where to go, and what to do.  Wait for someone else to discover, to teach, to explore.  Wait for permission and for approval.  Wait, when you get right down to it, to live.

I have this friend, someone I work with up here, who is competence and confidence personified.  He spent a career as a firefighter, for Pete’s sake, finishing as Chief of a department.  This man is no shrinking violet, no weakling and certainly no fool.  But he waits.  He waits for someone else to take him around the park…for someone else to lead he hikes…for someone else to do.

I don’t know if its upbringing, or something more innate, but I just can’t imagine being here in Yellowstone like that.  Even when I was first here, even when I had no idea where the freaking laundry room was, let alone anything in the Park itself, I 1C0D02C4-9662-466A-BDDA-E68D0AAAB310would just head out and find places to go and things to see.  I would, of course, also find ways to get myself in deep shit, too…but that’s part of the fun!  “Oh, hi, Mr Grizzly.  How are you today?”

Beyond the Park, however, I most definitely can’t understand living like that.  For good or for ill, I’m pretty much the embodiment of the whole “better to ask forgiveness than permission” theory of life.  I can’t imagine waiting for someone to tell me to write…I can’t imagine waiting for someone to show me the path.  I said it once before on this blog, a couple of years ago: if you always follow the trail — if you wait — then all you can ever do is walk in someone else’s footsteps.

And that seems a whole lot like living a life of fear.  That, in fact, seems a whole lot like hell.


A38151E8-B8AD-42AE-9367-6D55846EDF6ABy the way, I wasn’t actually kidding about following the wolf tracks — I found the tracks of a pup and adult who were scouting for the rest of their pack, and followed those back to where the others had rested after the morning hunt.  From there, the tracks & sign of the whole pack were (relatively) easy to follow for a few miles…