Monthly Archives: March 2008

Literature: Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym

“…it seemed that her love was unrequited, but what did that matter? Anyone who loves in the expectation of being loved in return is wasting their time.” –from Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym

The Devil and Miss PrymIn 2008, I told myself that I’d read more fiction, generally, and more Paulo Coelho, specifically. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, but it’s already April, and I’ve only finished my first Coelho novel for the year: The Devil and Miss Prym (2000). This book is subtitled “A Novel of Temptation,” and it reads like a modern-day morality tale in which the forces of Good and Evil are pitted against each other. The story takes place over a seven-day period during which a stranger visits the remote village of Viscos and offers its inhabitants enough gold to sustain itself indefinitely in return for the murder of one of its members. The stranger first confronts the young Miss Prym with the proposal and puts her in the position to decide whether or not she will tell the village members or simply walk away with a portion of the gold herself. As in Coelho’s The Alchemist, this story is simple and general enough so that readers will easily identify with struggles that the main characters are experiencing. Overall, I found this book to be a meaningful read, as it challenges us to look at the ways in which temptation shows up in our own lives. The Devil and Miss Prym will inspire readers to look at the ongoing tensions between Good and Evil in their current situations, and it tells a captivating story in the process. One thing I like about Coelho’s books (the Harper Perennial editions, at least) is that they contain “about the author” and “about the book” sections at the end. Coelho is a fascinating character, himself, and on the topic of learning some of life’s lessons through reading fiction, he says:

“I don’t think that life’s lessons are in books or music or whatever. I think that true lessons are in experience. So when you read a book or listen to music or talk to someone, you share some of your thoughts and have the feeling that you are not alone.” –Paulo Coelho     

Landscape: Vanscape II

Tom Tom’s Volkswagen GraveyardVanscape: it’s what you get when you view a Volkswagen van against the backdrop of some stellar scene. I think that I made this word up a few months ago when I drove my 1970 Volkswagen to Utah for a few weeks (to view the original post, click here for “Down and Out” on Landscape: Vanscape?). At that time, I drove the van along Utah’s super-scenic SR-128, visited a friend in Moab, camped in Arches National Park, and then camped and climbed at Indian Creek. It was a good trip, and I’m always plotting return visits. On my recent return, I took some time to catch a few photos of what I’d consider to be the ultimate Volkswagen graveyard, a place called Tom Tom’s in Moab. As far as I’ve heard, Tom Tom’s is no longer operational; you can’t just show up and barter for parts. At one time, I think that you could, but then Tom Tom evidently passed away, and people started complaining about the mess. Or what they considered a mess.

Rainbow Vans at Tom Tom’s

So supposedly Tom Tom’s is now a museum, but as long as I’ve known about the place, I’ve never seen it open. Seeing all of those broken-down vans makes a van owner like myself sort of fearful. I don’t want my van to end up like that, but at the same time, I know that most vehicles that old are on the verge of being left behind. I’ve thought about it many times—pretty much every time I hand over stacks of cash to a VW mechanic, I think about driving mine into the desert and leaving it there. Or better yet, starting it on fire and watching it burn. Tom Tom’s is a testament to the fact that other van owners think of doing the same things and that some of them do.

Traci’s van at Arches

For now, I’m thankful that my Old Lady is still chugging along, as she was above in Arches at sunrise. I’m waiting for the snow to melt here in Vail before bringing her out and getting back on the road.

Life: Back at Bridger Jack

Waking up at Bridger JackWith nearly 20 inches of new snow here last week in the Vail Valley, it’s hard to believe that spring is starting to happen out there. But a recent getaway to Moab/Indian Creek confirmed it. Yep, there are places—right now—where people are wearing flip-flops and climbing outside in the afternoon sun. My motorcycle-diva friend Karen (waking up in tent, at right) provided the impetus for the journey. Her friend was running in a race in Moab, so we decided to rally there for some adventures. This fall, she took a three-month Pacific Northwest motorcycle trip (trying to stay on backroads as much as possible), so I trusted her in the driver’s seat for the afternoon. We cruised out of Moab on Spanish Valley and then headed up into the hills. There was still some snow up there, and a few places where I had to dismount so that she could navigate through patches of ice, but the view of Castle Valley from above was well worth the bits of walking that were required.

Motorcycle diva

Good coffee stops aside, Moab isn’t one of my favorite places in the world. But I dream about everything that surrounds it. Deep red rock canyons, crack climbing, coyote songs, and spacious desert vistas: these are the things I crave, and a night camping at the Bridger Jack Mesa gave me enough of a fix…for a little while. Of course, I’m already planning a return.

Bridger Jack Mesa

The climbing the next day at Indian Creek’s Pistol Whipped was painful and as humbling as ever. I went out with two guys who seemed to float up that stuff effortlessly, as if a 5.12 finger crack were a warm-up. Struggle: I suppose that enough of it is important to keep life fresh, and climbing in the desert will probably always put me back in my place.

Literature: The World is Too Much With Us

“For this, for everything, we are out of tune…”

The Sea“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours,” says William Wordsworth in a sonnet he wrote in 1806. The poem’s opening line suggests that the reason why we’re disconnected from Nature is that “The world is too much with us.” I’ve been quiet on “Down and Out” for about a week now, which is abnormal, and I think that Wordsworth identifies one of the life-tensions that has been causing that silence. And it’s not just my tension—it’s a tension, I think, that most people in—ahem—civilized societies experience. It’s the tension between work (what Wordsworth would call “getting and spending”) and pleasure (what Wordsworth would probably call taking long walks in the woods). Not all of us associate pleasure with Nature, but Wordsworth has a way of seeing deeper meaning in natural experiences, seeing the beauty for instance in “The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon” or in “The winds that will be howling at all hours.” If we’re “getting and spending” all of the time, Wordsworth reminds us, we’re missing out on the other things that this world has to offer. Wordsworth ends his poem saying that he’d rather be a pagan so that he might be able to take some solace from the glimpses of beauty he sees in nature. Saying this was quite radical coming from Wordsworth, who was known to be conservative in his later years. I’m posting this poem today as a reminder of what it means to be “in tune,” as Wordsworth would say, with what in Nature is ours:

The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! / The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; / The winds that will be howling at all hours, / And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; / For this, for everything, we are out of tune; / It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; / So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, / Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; / Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; / Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.  

-From The Complete Poetical Works, by William Wordsworth, with an introduction by John Morley. London: Macmillan and Co., 1888. Posted online at

Landscape: Mountain Kitsch

Ute Trail MotelIt’s embarrassing, I know, but for some reason I like kitschy run-down motels, the kind you can find in don’t-blink towns like Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado. On the recent girls-only weekend, we opted to stay in this one, the Ute Trail Motel, located right off the main road through town. defines “kitsch” as “something that appeals to popular and lowbrow taste and is often of poor quality.” I find that definition funny; I mean, does this mean that I’ve got lowbrow taste and a penchant for things of poor quality if I’m finding something beautiful in this scene? I’ll admit—and you can see from the photos—that this motel is no Four Seasons. But help me out here, folks. Anyone else out there finding something redeeming here? (If so, or not, leave me a comment and let me know what you think).

Early Eve

Maybe it was the sign, the cowboy riding a bucking bronco that made me love the place from the start, or maybe it was the billboard advertising that rooms with kitchenettes were only $60 a night, or maybe it was the way that the neon lights blurred into the evening sky.

Later that Eve

Yes, that’s it, the way the fluorescent pink letters melted into the mountains, and later, into a black void studded with stars.

Life: Devil’s Thumb Getaway

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” –John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley

Skate shadowJust as I’d been itching for a little roadtrip, some of my gal pals from Boulder planned a girls-only getaway to Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado. The stats: 7 women, 3 dogs, 2 hotel rooms, and a Nordic center with 125km of trails and 5,000 acres of terrain. Whoa. And to relax, an evening spent soaking it up in the naturally steamy mineral pools located nearby in Hot Sulphur Springs (aptly named, eh?). Devil’s Thumb Ranch is this amazing place that seems to be out in the middle of nowhere, a posh lodge and spa. But we were there to Nordic ski, so we set out in the afternoon and had a blissfully sunny time cruising over trails that wandered through aspen groves and offered wide-open views of the mountains all around.

Devil’s Thumb Nordic trails

Definitely some of those I-love-Colorado moments cropped up. I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately, but it was good to share them with these sassy ladies.

Sassy ladies

Over a Mexican dinner, the life-stories started coming out. One of the women had just spent six months in Guatemala and was plotting a return. Another had fixed up a crumbling cabin in Leadville. Another was getting up early the next morning to help out with a Special Olympics event at Copper Mountain. Collectively, this was a group of skiers, climbers, hikers, runners, ambitious travelers, women who did multiple sets of one-armed pull-ups and were generally doing things to Save the World (a slight exaggeration, but you see what I’m saying). The weekend’s reminders: it’s good to live fully. And it’s good to be around other people who are out there doing that, too.