Monthly Archives: August 2007

Life: In the Woods

Home.  Sweet. Tent.I’m writing this post offline. In my tent. In the Roosevelt National Forest. I’ll upload it tomorrow from the Boulder Public Library, which has become my office—of sorts. It’s true. This is where my life has brought me: to the woods, the library, the YMCA, and the couches of my generous friends.

It’s my fifth night in the forest now, but the most I’ve stayed is three nights in a row. How does one live in the forest, you might ask? Well, I’m not the best one to ask because I’m not living in my tent full-time. Just part-time. And I don’t know how long I’ll last. But so far, organization, ingenuity, patience, and friends with real houses have been helpful. I hope to elaborate more on these principles in upcoming posts, which will cover riveting topics, such as: how does one shower or write or have a social life in the woods?

I don’t know why other people live in the forest. They do—I keep meeting them. But I have several reasons:

Number 1:
First of all, I like the woods. I prefer them to the cities and the suburbs. I’d rather commute through Boulder Canyon than be stuck in rush-hour traffic. At five o’clock, I’ll have you know, people aren’t rushing out to their tents in the woods. It’s great.

 Yyyouuowwwwahaah!Number 2:
The second reason for my living in the woods is that I’m on a tight budget these days. As in, it’s so tight, that it’s almost non-existent, and I can’t afford to pay rent until I get paid (October?). But I hope that I’ll still come out to sleep in the woods, even when my bankroll’s fat.

Number 3:
I want to do meaningful work. This is a very important Thoreauvian principle: the less you work doing pointless things, the more leisure time you have. And the more leisure time you have, the more time you can devote yourself to non-pointless things. Ultimately, I would love to get paid (well) for doing the things that I love to do, but I haven’t figured out how to make that happen yet.

In the meantime, I’ll sleep in my tent and scream like wild when the thunderheads come rolling in (pictured, above right).


Landscape: On the Fly

St. Louis On the FlyDearest “Down and Out” readers: Thank you for your patience while I’ve been road-tripping. As promised, I’ve returned with some photos—all taken on the fly. Seriously. I took photos while driving to see how they’d turn out.

Last week’s road trip spanned 1,273 miles. Together, my beat-up 1992 Toyota Corolla and I whizzed through parts of Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and—finally—Colorado. I crammed the car full of belongings for my move to Boulder; the poor thing’s crowding 183,000 miles, but it’s a good vehicle—even though I’m afraid to drive it over 60 miles per hour. This speed is good, I found, for thinking and for dreaming and for taking photos out the side windows.

Just so you believe that I took these while driving—I caught my hand and camera in this photo taken on I-70 West in Missouri:

Seriously.  On the Fly.

Big Clouds:
I-70 West in Missouri. There’s something super-attractive about massive open spaces; maybe this is why I like it so much out on the road.

Big Clouds

Forever Corn:
I-80 West in Nebraska. Nebraska went on and on and on like this, seemingly endless stretches of corn.

Forever Corn

Colorado Sage:
I-76 South in Colorado. Yee-haw. The West is the BEST.

Colorado Sage

Thanks, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed the results of this somewhat dangerous/inspired/novel (for me) photographic technique. Leave me a comment, if you’d like…and let me know which photo you like the best.

Literature: Kerasote’s Merle’s Door

“His deep brown eyes looked at me with luminous appreciation and said, ‘You need a dog, and I’m it.'”

-from Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door (Harcourt, 2007)

Cou CouI’ve never really been a pet person; it’s not that I don’t like animals but rather that I can’t imagine taking care of one with my life so much on the go. These days, I wonder if I’m even doing a good job taking care of myself. But Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog gave me those nesting urges; it made me entertain the possibility of a long-term relationship—even if it were with a dog.

Merle’s Door is the story of author Kerasote’s man-to-dog friendship with a stray pup he picked up while rafting in Utah. It’s also the story of how human and dog cultures have grown together; it’s the story of how they clash. Kerasote’s dog Merle isn’t the only freethinker in this story—it’s Kerasote, himself, who responds to Merle’s needs for adventure and domesticity by installing a dog door in his Kelly, Wyoming cabin. Merle is free to come and go as he pleases through the door, and the result is that man and dog learn to relate to each other on more equal terms. Kerasote draws upon fascinating research about animal behavior, and he shifts between humorous, thoughtful, and tender moments in the book. Kerasote keeps the story rolling smoothly around every turn, and he gives substance to the places that he and Merle explore together. In this book, the natural world has a taste and a texture, a sound and a smell.

I would not have thought that I could become so engrossed in this subject matter, but Merle’s Door was a book that I didn’t want to put down. The story of Kerasote’s relationship with his dog was so beautifully told that it had me considering what my life would look like with a dog in it. If that dog were Merle, I might like to consider the other things that would have to come along with it, too…a cool cabin in the woods…more geographic stability…evening ski sessions with an eager companion. Not bad ideas, those.

Life: Go West, Young Woman, Go West.

The getaway vehicleOh. Crap. I’m breaking out of the writing lockdown. Tomorrow. Early. The getaway vehicle? A 1992 Toyota Corolla, white but a bit rusted out. I tried to stay put, but I’ve reached my Louisville limit: 14 days. The car is packed, and I head out West tomorrow morning. Sunday night: Omaha. Monday night: Denver, where I’ll be breathing mountain air and driving underneath an endless sky.

I’m embarrassed to admit how easily I was lured away. I had planned to stay in Louisville for at least another month to plug away at my writing and to hang out with my parents. Yes—some writing has been done, and I’ve picked up some online writing work, but the real clincher came when a guy e-mailed me on Thursday afternoon to offer me a very part-time job selling ski passes in Boulder. I would also earn a free ski pass for the upcoming season. And he wanted to know if I could be in Broomfield for a meeting on Monday night. Um. Okay.

The packing today went rather quickly, since I have not fully unpacked anything in the past year. I just tossed everything out on the floor of my room this morning and started stuffing it into bags. It worked.

fast packer

I will admit that I’m a bit nervous about my finances (always) and otherwise just hoping that The Van starts when I decide to go to Limon to pick it up, hoping that I figure out a safe and sane living arrangement, hoping that I continue to pick up more writing work, etc. I haven’t had to give plasma yet…

That’s the latest. Give me a honk if you see me out on the road!

Landscape: Skyscape

Pastel HuesWhen I fly on a plane, I’m one of those people who requests the window seat—and if I don’t get one, I end up leaning over from the aisle seat to see what’s going on in the sky. I love to watch houses and people and cars turn toy-sized, and I am more easily entertained by the skyscape’s changing light than I am by those little TV monitors that are now regular features of long-distance flights. Earlier this week, I had to take a quick trip to Denver, and I watched out the window as the skylight shifted from blinding white in the Midwest to soft pastel hues by the time we landed. We passed over thunderheads and wide stretches of farmland; we descended through gray skies. I returned to Louisville in time to watch a melon-colored ball of light set behind the hills. Just in case you haven’t been on a plane lately, here are some reminders of the Earth’s beauty from above:

The thunderheads:


The wide stretches of farmland:

Wide Stretches of Farmland

Louisville’s melon sky:

Louisville’s Melon Sky

Far above all places that have captured my imagination is Antarctica. And several of my favorite photos come from my journeys there. I can’t resist adding to this post an image of my most-loved place; I took it from the window of a C-17 military cargo plane just as it was crossing into Antarctica from the Ross Sea area (south of New Zealand). The Transantarctics are jutting up below…ohhh….ahhh:

C-17 ooohhs and ahhhhs

Keep looking closely; there are plenty of things to see out there, as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, “…nature is never spent.”

Literature: Harlin III’s Eiger Obsession

“Dad used to say, ‘Death is a part of it all.’ I say it’s the ugly part. But it’s why I’m here, why Eiger climbers come.” -John Harlin III, in The Eiger Obsession (2007)

Out ExploringJust a few comments here today about a recent mountain/adventure/outdoors buzz book: John Harlin III’s The Eiger Obsession: Facing the Mountain that Killed My Father. Knowing that I do enjoy reading books on these topics—whether they’re classics or new releases—my mother bought the book in advance of my return to the U.S. last week and gave it to me as a gift when I arrived. Reading a book about the mountains just makes me want to return to the Alps—and thankfully, Harlin III’s book transported me on a little literary journey to these places that I love.

In The Eiger Obsession, John Harlin III tells the story of his father’s obsession with climbing a new route—the direttissima—on the north face of the Eiger, a 13,025-foot mountain located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Harlin III is nine years old when his father dies on the mountain, and he struggles as an adult to confront his own passions for climbing. The book is a history as much as it is a personal narrative, and Harlin III’s explorations of larger issues such as climbing’s risks and the activity’s often-tragic consequences are well done. Only a few moments in the book seem overly sentimental, which is a credit, I think, to this author’s skill in rendering a story that moves beyond its subjects when they could easily become too sappy.

After reading the book, I’d have to say that it’s a good pick if you’re already interested in mountain/adventure/outdoors books. I couldn’t help but wonder if it were the type of book my mom would buy and read for herself. Um—I doubt it. I don’t think that the book has universal or near-universal appeal, but it is a must-read for anyone keeping current in the mountain literature category.

Landscape: An Urban Adventure

Urban Beaching ItSometimes adventures go awry. The idea is there, and the plans, too. But the scheme gets tweaked maybe only an inch in one direction or the other…and then the real fun begins. I arrived in Manhattan last week with an open schedule (besides the usual re-visit to Otto Enoteca), and I was in air-conditioned-apartment mode until Ace came up with an idea: the beach. And he had plans, too.

We hopped in a cab and headed for the 34th Street/Midtown Heliport, where we would take a 4-minute ride on the New York Water Taxi to a beach Ace had heard about just across the river. In Queens. Its official name happens to be Water Taxi Beach. We had swimsuits and suntan lotion and bottled water, and we were ready to feel the sand between our toes.

New York Water Taxi

First glitch: we missed the water taxi and had to wait an hour for the next one. But, okay, no problem. We eventually made it to Queens…only to find that the beach was closed for the day.


We inspected the beach, anyway, which was enclosed in a chain-link fence. It looked like a big truck had just come in and dumped sand in a parking lot. No swimming and no pets allowed. A bar and some tables had been set up for happy hour.

Fenced Out

This beach is supposed to be a happening spot during the summer; I tried to imagine what it would have been like if water-taxi-loads of young urban professionals had been there. The sunsets. The fruity cocktails. The dark suits. I could see it—but we were stuck on the outside of a chain-link fence for another hour without a ride back to Manhattan.

Making Waves

Of course, we made it back to Manhattan, even though our best option was then to get dropped off at Wall Street and take a cab back to the East Village. The day ended up feeling like an exploration. As the whole thing turned out, I think that I probably had a better time as it was than if we had just showed up at a real beach and settled into the sand.