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…

 

A Dingo Ate My Baby

It’s getting into late June…

Holy crap.

I’m not sure I believe that.

How the hell did it get be to be late June already?!

By the end of this month, I am “supposed” to be at least halfway through the first draft of Silence.

Err…

I think I need to dust off some of those old excuses I used way back in college. “I’m sorry, professor, but there was this baby, you see. And a pack of dingos. There were definitely dingos…”

Yeah, my professors never bought it either.

The hard part isn’t inspiration: Yellowstone is not short on that particular commodity. Electricity and good wi-fi? Those are problems, but inspiration is pretty much everywhere.

No, the problem is the right inspiration – and the right environment. For someone who grew very used to writing in the taproom of a brewery, adjusting to “writing on the go” while surrounded by mountains, trees, vicious bears and a supervolcano that is – quite literally – right under my feet is something of a challenge.

I’m essentially at the 35% mark. So much for schedules and planning…

On the other hand, I do now know just what bison smell like up close, so I’ve got that going for me.

The worst part is that I am writing…I’m just not writing what I’m supposed to be. There’s an old maxim in writing that if you put off writing out an idea that comes to you – even in the middle of the night – you are guaranteed to forget it. Well, an idea came to me a week or so ago…in the middle of the night.

You know the refrain by now: I had to write it.

During my work week, I can squeeze in a couple hours of writing each day. What did I do with the two or three writing sessions I actually managed to complete this past week? Yep, you guessed it: I started fleshing out that idea that came to me.

Harrumph.

Connor and Oz are mad at me, now. They think I’ve forgotten them…

It really is a good idea, though.

 

p.s.

Sorry about the late post this weekend – I actually had the one that went up Saturday night written and ready in plenty of time, but when I tried to upload it on Thursday…well…remember the problems with electricity and wi-fi? Yeah, both hit me. And with 8 trillion people in the park every single day, the one Verizon tower I can reach gets a bit, umm, overloaded.

If I can remember to set my phone to upload overnight, I do promise to do another photo post this week.

 

Give The Governor A Harrumph!

I’m a slacker…let’s just get that out of the way early, shall we?

No one who knows me would argue that point. Give me a job – any job – and I will find the easiest and least strenuous way to get it done. Okay, so that also makes me efficient, but the efficiency comes from sheer bone-idleness, not from any drive to actually, you know, work.

Work less is my motto, not harder or smarter.

But mother of God, some of the young kids that are up here working for me…

Even I have to admit that, at some point, slacking can be taken too far. You have no idea just how much that hurts to say, but I’ve learned I have my limits.

You spent how much money to get up here to Yellowstone to live in the park and work? Is it too much to ask that you show up and actually do your job from time to time? The last thing I wanted to do when I took this job was fire people.

Crap, I’m the guy who used every single second of vacation and sick time I got when I worked for other people. Some of these “kids” have already managed to put that record to shame. Hell, the worst of them isn’t even a kid: I get more work out of an 18-year-old college freshman than I do this ostensibly 29-year-old “man”.

*sigh*

And, yes, I will admit to a fairly high level of grumpiness at this particular moment. Sue me…it’s been a long week.

Thank heaven I’m finally sitting in the sun and enjoying a nice Moose Drool brown ale while I write. Oh, by the way, it may help to know that this is a brief couple of hours of sun, and that it has snowed for the last two days. In the middle of fucking June.

And it’s supposed to snow again for the next two days. On my weekend.

Harrumph.

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….

 

You Can’t Outrun Who You Are

IMG_0163Enough’s enough.

I give up.

Take this job and shove it.

I quit.

We’ve all been there. Hell, we’ve all very likely been there more than once. There was this one job, way back in college…

Never mind, let’s…err…not discuss that particular incident.

Bad jobs aside, that “I quit” moment can come all-too often in the other spheres of our life just as much as it does with work. I have, for instance, mentioned my serial bachelorhood more than once, I believe.

But what happens when that moment hits you as a writer? Writing isn’t, for me, a job; it’s who I am far, far more than what I do. So what happens when you face that Johnny Paycheck moment in regards to the words? That’s more than the song, that’s more than walking out on a shitty job, that’s real.

I hit that moment.

Oh, I fought it and fought it. I did whatever I had to to balance the “real world” with the writing. But still everything paled and faded. The words and emotions and thoughts weren’t the same.  I wasn’t even connecting with myself, let alone with a reader.

I’ve said it before: I write this blog for others, but I write the stories for me. When even that fails, something has to give.

I had to give up, I had to shift my focus and my efforts. I had to quit.

I quit the real world.

As writers we always talk about the stakes for our characters. What do they have to lose? What is at stake?

Well, for me the stakes were huge: I had writing to lose.

I gave up everything else instead. I put my life into storage, grabbed a couple of bags and agreed to a deal to live and work in Yellowstone for the next six months.

It’s made all the difference.

The words are back, and the honesty and truth of the emotions. I work my ass off five days a week…I hike and camp and drink my ass off the other two days…and I write every chance I get.

Wait, you thought I was gonna quit writing? Are you nuts?

It’s who I am.

The Bears Of Spring

Edit: crap, screwed up the post time.  Fixedand posted as soon as I noticed…

Last Friday I promised some pictures from a recent hike, so I figured today would be a good day to trot those out.

One note about the hiking and camping I do: in addition to the “normal” stuff you do on excursions like that, my notebook and iPad are never far away.  The extra weight is well worth having close at hand what I need to write.  I will hike for an hour or two, then write for a bit, hike a bit, write a bit…lather, rinse, repeat.

For anyone who has been to Yellowstone before, these pictures are from one of the trails leading to Cascade Lake.  Normally this trail is fairly easy and short, but in spring – with all the snowmelt and damage from winter – it is anything but.  The first 2.5 miles took me over two hours…

First off, however, is a bit of education: since I joke about getting molested by grizzlies, I figured I would offer some perspective.

IMG_0236For your perusal, I present to you fresh tracks – a few hours old – from an adult grizzly.  Not a particularly large grizzly, but big enough.  My foot is in the picture not because it is so beautiful (it is), but to show just how big your average grizzly really is.

As a further note on the topic of wildlife: there is a ton.  They’re everywhere…and I mean that.  There is a lot of bear sign (tracks, scat, scent marking) even right around where we live and work.  There’s even more as you get towards the back country.  We’ve even had the occasional elk and bison wander through the parking lot…which is, while pretty neat, also a major headache.  It is their home, after all…the rest of us are just visiting.

The trail I was using is mostly along and through alpine meadows. The snowmelt means the streams and rivulets are all raging, and are well above any banks they may have.  There is a huge of amount of water involved. Although this makes for pretty pictures, my boots are still drying out!

Why I’m Here

I need life around me to write, even up here in a place to which I came to escape the crowds that were growing in my hometown by the day.

When I have the time – and when I’m not out hiking, camping or drinking – I sit at the tables in front of the store, put in my earbuds and start writing. The hardest part about doing that, however, is not the flood of tourists that come in every day….no, the hardest part is the parking lot.

Oh lord, have mercy! The parking lot here is the funniest shit-show I’ve seen in years. I know they’re all on vacation, but Christ-on-a-stick, does that mean the tourists absolutely have to forget how to drive?

Forget the bears, it’s the damned drivers that are the true danger in Yellowstone. I just watched some asshole park a full-size SUV in a space that was not only too small to begin with, but was already half-filled by a five foot pile of snow. You do the math on the results.

It was like watching John Candy try to put on a wetsuit – I couldn’t stop laughing.

What keeps it all in perspective, of course, is that hiking and camping I mentioned (and, yes, the drinking, too). I was out for four or five hours yesterday on a trail that is not…err…well, technically open. What can I say, the ‘closed’ sign was just gibberish: no hablo ingles.

About two miles in the trail started to skirt this killer alpine meadow (pictures to follow in a post or two). Of course I had to stop and spend some time just drinking in the view. As I was sitting there a herd of 10-12 elk came wandering by about a hundred yards away…

THAT is why I put up with 200-pound women from New York insisting they’ve always worn a small, so our sweatshirts must have the wrong sizes on them…why I put up with 8,000 Chinese tourists fighting to heat noodles in two microwaves, all at the same time…why I put up with Belgian tourists asking me if the bison get cold at night…

THAT is why I came up here.

Now, there is, of course, a caveat to that – as I’ve said before, there’s always a but.

But…it can be pretty challenging to write bitter, cynical sci-fi when you’re laughing at tourists, let alone when you’re exhausted from a hike with nothing but trees, sun and wildlife (and, well, snow and muck and overflowing streams…).

All those ghosts I once mentioned, the ideas fluttering around the back of my mind? Yeah, there’re a handful of those getting louder and louder, demanding to be written.

But, believe it or not, it does get worse. That snippet I posted a few days ago? The end of the whole dang series? I have this growing urge to go back to one of my old stories and re-write it with that kid as my protagonist. Maybe I’ll call it Connor: The Next Generation.

For characters who were only supposed to inhabit ONE book, Connor and Oz show a remarkable ability to keep going…in spite of my every inclination and effort to the contrary.

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…