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…

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…

The Bellowing Of Horny Males

The bison are horny. No, really…the rut is starting early this season, and the bison are starting to gather in a couple of the larger valleys for what can only be described as a giant (in every sense of the word) orgy.

Picture a shaggy-furred, two-thousand-pound Austin Powers and you start to get an idea about an adult male about this time of year. They start making this loud, strange almost-but-not-quite-bellowing sound while they follow the fertile females around like lovestruck teenagers.

The employee dorms are not, it must be said, a whole lot different. From bellowing to following around to, well, orgies, it’s pretty much the same the thing.

Both are funny as hell.

Ever watch a twenty-eight year old man make a complete ass of himself over a nineteen year old girl who has zero interest in him? It’s pretty damned entertaining…not to mention reaching entirely new levels of pathetic.

Now, I do happen to have a hard and fast rule against fishing off the company pier, so I get to remain purely a member of the audience. Sitting around and watching this all, however, is far from boring. Heckling and mocking all these proceedings happens to be one of my favorite non-hiking activities right now.

Hell, even the handful of gay couples have added their own drama and spin. If I ever decide to turn to writing romance, I’ve got enough for a five book series after just three months of this!

All I know is that by then end of this summer, there will be exactly zero new marriages…and zero divorces. Pretty much everyone will go out the way they come in, and there’s something right about that. The married folks are still married…the single folks are still single…and the desperate are still desperate.

Yep, the universe is still chugging right along. Now, if we happened to get as many “Yellowstone babies” as the bison will, things might be a bit different…

At any rate, this ersatz-Saturnalia does get me to thinking about love interests, and about romance. Especially about how those two things need to be organic to the work. One thing I cannot stand, as a reader, are those stories where a “beautiful and spunky” love interest is shoe-horned in just because someone decided that every story has to have one.

Spare me.

More than ever, I keep falling back on (what is to me) Rule #1: do what is right for your story, and for your characters. Don’t put a damned romance in if it doesn’t belong. Don’t saddle your protagonist with a love interest that, well, wouldn’t interest him/her in other circumstances.

Honestly, the best love story is the one that makes sense. Then again…not a single one of the ever-changing, ever-humorous relationships I’m watching develop and disintegrate in the dorms makes any real sense either.

Crap, now I want to write a protagonist who is brave, brilliant, supremely capable…and is a complete cheap-slut.

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

 

The Evil Of Soup

Noodles…and, no, I don’t mean the good stuff. I’m talking about the cheap-ass “pour in hot water and have instant ramen” type stuff. Yeah, yeah – we all lived on that stuff at one time or another in our lives. I know I did.

But, for the love of all that’s holy, does it have to be so bad?

Let me paint a picture for you: roughly 4.5 million visitors go through Yellowstone in a year. And, to all intents and purposes, every single damned one of them comes into this store and gets noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner…all at the same time.

The hordes of tourists – all pushing and shoving and fighting to get their noodle-bowl first – are not even the worst part. The worst part? The smell.

No, really: the smell. How did I ever eat that crap?

The store’s cashiers, stockers and food service people are way too busy to take care of the damned noodle stand, so guess who gets to try and keep it cleaned and stocked? Good guess.

Every single time I walk past the place, I have to stop to clean and stock…all while gagging on the smell and getting shoved aside by hungry tourists. It’s enough to remind me why I’m an introvert…

Now, why on earth am I talking about the stench of cheap, instant noodles? Because, all too often, we writers forget that folks have senses other than eyes (and the occasional ear). How many stories talk about the smell of a place? Or the feel?

Honestly, the sense of smell can be just as evocative and memorable as sights and sounds. Whether I ever do another season working up here or not, I will remember two things about the store itself: the complete lack of air circulation in a 60+ year old building, and the stench of noodles.

And the noodles are worse…far, far worse. I’d gladly sweat my ass off every single day if it meant I didn’t have to walk by that damned noodle stand ever again.

Hmm…I thought about doing something serious here, a brief snippet to capture the feeling and smell of the store. My brain didn’t cooperate:

From sun to shade, the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. He pulled the hat from his head and wiped ineffectively at sweat-matted hair. The hike had left him tired, dirty and starving. But mostly starving. He needed something – anything – and he needed it fast.

He stepped through the door, dodging young kids and grandmothers as he squeezed between the two lines waiting impatiently for their chance at the registers. His stomach growled, and his legs felt weak. Something…anything…even a goddamned overpriced granola bar!

The crowd was a pain in the ass, every single one seemingly determined to keep him from reaching the ready-made food. It was a weaving, circuitous route he took. Faster to walk twice the distance than to fight upstream against all those pushing for the exit.

The beer fridge almost pulled him off the hunt – almost. As much as he wanted a drink, however, he needed food more. The briefest of sighs, and he left behind the Jennie’s Lake lager and the Bitch Creek brown. Later, when urgent needs were settled. When he didn’t feel like a weasel was eating him from the inside out.

He felt like a hero finally reaching the tower with the sleeping princess when he found the soup aisle. And when he’d grabbed one of those big, plastic bowls? He’d just slain the biggest fucking dragon in the place. Now he just had to escape, had to fight through the hordes of guards to reach the safety of the Kingdom of the Microwave.

Something began to build, however. A sense…a feeling…an odor. What fell beast lay in wait? What diabolical trap would he face?

That evil built, became all but overwhelming. Thirty people there were, all using two microwaves to heat soup. All the exact same soup…all the soup he himself held in his sweating, shaking hand.

The stench hit him in a wave. It was almost physical, that smell. Sickly, greasy…like a fire in a barn full of animals. Like the worst day in the slaughterhouses outside of Chicago.

He wanted to wretch, wanted to flee…but he was hungry, dammit!

He continued to wait in that line, started to push forward a bit, to claim a place as far ahead as he could. Hey, it was working for the little grannies – one had even stabbed him with the handle of her cane just to use his moment of shock to move ahead.

And the smell continued to build.

Thank God he had quit drinking early last night. He didn’t think he could take the place with a hangover. A headache and general queasiness to go with that smell? Yeah, that would be a good idea.

Only one person ahead, now. Hunger built until it had taken control of his mind. His eyes saw nothing but the microwave just ahead…

The rest of his body? The rest of his body was crying – screaming – to leave, to get out.

The dragon was still alive, and it was pissed. The air felt thick: thick with grease and salt, thick with the smells of nothing natural, thick with evil. His hands suddenly felt heavy, that plastic bowl starting to grow in weight until it dragged at his arms.

He had to do this, he had to eat!

The tiny granny fetched her soup from inside the microwave and moved away with a smirk for him. Psychotic bitch.

A tear at the packaging, then, and his bowl was open and ready. The smell, however, the smell from that granny’s bowl lingered. It had combined with the thousands before her, had permeated even the wood and plastic of the counter. Just a touch and the man felt soiled, dirty. Was that stain on his skin, or had it penetrated all the way into his very soul?

Water in the bowl…bowl in microwave…a couple of minutes to heat…

He started to shake and sweat. A burp, tiny and subtle, but one that brought with it a bit of bile from below. What the hell? He tried to settle himself, to take a deep breath.

That was a mistake.

He broke into a fit of coughing, wanted nothing more than water to drink..and to wash. The grease was everywhere, the evil filling every pore. He was gagging now, barely able to breathe.

DING

A trembling, palsied hand on the small door. A brief pull and it snapped open. Not a bowl of noodles did that door release, but a raging demon on the attack.

He wretched, had to lean on the counter to keep from passing out. His stomach continued to heave, and the other organs decided that now was a good time for some internal solidarity: his lungs shut down, his heart began to pound. Hell, even his fucking spleen decided to not do whatever it is that spleens do.

Inside that cloud, however – inside that demon – still hid his bowl of soup. Still hid the lunch he so badly needed.

He commanded an arm to move, to reach. The arm refused.

His legs had had enough. Fuck you brain, they said, we’re out of here.

The bowl of noodles laughed at him with maniacal glee.

Men and women were pushed aside. Children simply run over. The only pause in his flight was to kick aside the psychotic granny’s cane. Out of the store he ran, pursued all the while by the taunting, evil laughter of a $1.69 bowl of soup.