Monthly Archives: November 2009

Life: Thanksgiving Getaway

Happy Thanksgiving and much love from snowy Vail, Colorado!!! The slopes are OPEN (okay, at least one slope is open at this point), and the evergreen trees are all lit up with holiday lights. It finally feels like winter here, with lots of tourists in town for the weekend and the rowdy winter vibe that comes along with a slew of people livin’ the dream: bar fights, park-and-pipe injuries, and ski thefts, just to name a few. And the more positive side of things: new talent on the mountain, powder in the trees, and lively après-ski gatherings.

I’m off tomorrow on a trip to Janet’s Cabin, one of the area’s 10th Mountain Division huts. Twenty of us are trekking up on skis and snowshoes to celebrate the holiday in a hut with solar-powered electricity, a gas stove, and sleeping bunks.

Janet’s Cabin is in the Copper Mountain area (pictured above), just a twenty-minute drive over Vail Pass. Check back on “Down and Out” for more photos from this holiday adventure in the upcoming week. Until then…enjoy your turkey and stuffing.

Landscape: Let the Shoveling Begin

What’s it lookin’ like in the mountains? This seems to be the question I’ve started getting again in phone and text messages, in emails. Of course, everybody wants to know if there’s snow up here in Vail, Colorado. If it’s currently snowing. What the road conditions are. And—most importantly—want to ski? The gist of my response right now is: yes, people, it’s snowing. But there’s barely any snow cover. So it’s best to go climbing for a few more weeks, and then I’ll be psyched to ski knee-deep powder with you—in January. I know that’s not a hard-core skier’s response, and you know I love to ski. In fact, I’m planning on getting back on skis this weekend for a hut trip. To be honest, though, skiing isn’t really all that fun when there’s only one lift open, and the mountain is more covered in ice than snow. I’ve been spoiled by this place, you know. I’ll wait for the good stuff to fall and then ski off the mountain within a five-minute walk of my apartment. But there has to be a good base first.

In answer to your question. Right now, out my front door, it looks like this:

Actually, I took this photo a few days ago, but you get the point. It’s snowing. However, you can still see grass sticking through it all. I live just off the West Vail exit from I-70, so the hill in the distance isn’t anything near the scope of Vail mountain, but imagine that the mountain’s not much better, okay?

A few hours later, there was more coverage, and you can see that a few inches have accumulated on my porch. This is a start. It needs to snow like this every day for a few weeks before the conditions are really good. Last night, temps were down to 6˚F on my drive home from work, so the good news is that the ground is freezing, and whatever falls will now start to stick. So call me in a few weeks if you want to go ski. And in the meantime, let the shoveling begin…

Literature: Hornby’s Juliet, Naked

“One thing about great art: it made you love people more, forgive them their petty transgressions. It worked in the way that religion was supposed to, if you thought about it.” –from Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked

Title: Juliet, Naked // Author: Nick Hornby // Publisher: Riverhead Books // Pub. Date: September 29, 2009 // 416 p.

Juliet, NakedI’m allowed to gush openly here about books I love, right? Good. Because when you write about books for publications that are not your own blog, you have to temper yourself somewhat. Like you can’t just come out and say that a book makes you smile from the innermost depths of your soul or that a book is so good, you think it’s better than you’re recent favorite thing in life: matcha green tea lattes sweetened with agave nectar. But since this is my site, I can say wholeheartedly that Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked did make me smile a deep, soulful grin, and it rivaled my best matcha latte. It also kept me up reading late at night with a headlamp on one of my recent climbing trips. This book had me so enthralled that I read it within two days and turned the final page still wanting more.

In Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby returns to the themes for which he is known and loved: flailing relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and an obsessive passion for music. Juliet, Naked’s flailing relationship belongs to Annie and Duncan, a couple of fifteen years who live in the sleepy seaside town of Gooleness, England. Duncan’s obsessively passionate about the work of a musician named Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from the music scene more than twenty years earlier. Crowe quit music cold-turkey in the middle of his Juliet tour and hadn’t been heard of since. But when he releases an acoustic version of that album—Juliet, Naked—it startles his fans into a frenzy and has unexpected consequences for Annie and Duncan.

Nick Hornby is a master of metaphor, and in Juliet, Naked, readers will ooh and ahhh at the way he plays with words. Final thought(s): Juliet, Naked is quirky and funny and smart and—above all—heart-piercingly true.

CLICK HERE for a link to my more emotionally-tempered review of Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked on the Contemporary Literature website.

Photo: Riverhead Books.

Life: Desert Camps

Traci Macnamara makin baconOne of the best parts about getting outside is the dwelling there. Sure, it’s nice to have a stable shelter over your head. A warm shower every now and then. The four-burner stove and refrigerator and comfy bed in my apartment go a long way. But there’s something to be said for setting up camp, both the short- and long-term kind. It’s fun to cook sizzling bacon on a camp stove (moi, at right, makin’ bacon) and roast marshmallows over an open flame. I’ve been vehicle camping on these last few road trips, and even though this has kept me from venturing too far off of the beaten path, I’ve felt way closer to the rock and dirt of living than I do in my Vail, Colorado studio apartment.

On a recent trip to Indian Creek, Utah I camped with a few others on the road near Hamburger Rock. Each of us had a different camp plan. Jim and Arita had the family camp going on, with two tents and a superstar six-year-old who slept in one of them:

Jim Arita Tent Camp

Jay and Mandy camped out of their truck, which has a pop-top camper shell. This thing was very house-like, with a refrigerator and freezer, a two-burner stove (both propane fueled), and a spacious sleeping space:

Jay Hay Rig

I just parked my van…

Van at Ham Rock

…and bundled up in my sleeping bag on the pull-out bed/seat.

camper bed

This vehicle was made for camping and has many fun features, including a table that pops out for dinner parties and several storage compartments that help me stay organized on the road.

Ham Rock campfire

The social aspects of this type of camping generally center around the campfire. Thankfully, Jay and Mandy brought some wood—and dessert. The sweet treat was a banana, partially unpeeled, with Rolo chocolates stuck in between banana slices. We wrapped them up in aluminum foil and set them on hot coals to melt. And within a few minutes, we had a gooey dessert that rivaled the best S’mores out there.

Landscape: Desert Dog Days

gorilla leadDog days. The phrase usually refers to the longest days of the year. Those hot, sticky summer ones when the sun shines on late into the evening. When Sirius—the Dog Star—once rose with the sun. But now, the days are getting shorter, and I find myself still trying to hold on to the summer as long as possible. Don’t get me wrong—I love winter. I live in a ski town, so I get my fair share of the snow. But I’m not ready to shovel myself down the stairs in the morning. Not just yet. My efforts to keep winter at bay have involved making a few recent road trips to Utah, where the sun still burns against the red rock faces and where it’s still possible to go out rock climbing in a tank top.

Of course, climbing sandstone splitters is a joy in itself. That’s me (pictured at right) after leading Gorilla Crack (5.10b). I’m smiling, but this type of climbing is often painful, and I’m still not having super proud leads at Indian Creek (I call out “take” when I get freaked out, and I had to rest on this one several times). The surrounding desert landscape more than makes up for any climbing frustrations, however:

Desert Skull

Seriously. This is not staged. We found this skull near our camp at Hamburger Rock, and even though it looks like something from a movie set, this place is for real.

moto biker

Besides climbers in this area, there are all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts, like this guy here buzzing home to his camp on a dirt bike.

pastel skies

And…at this point, this post is turning into a landscape photo montage. The narrative thread is gone, okay? So, just photo descriptions from now on. Above: painted desert.

Bridger Jack Road 1

And now, above: the road into the Bridger Jack Mesa camping area. Nice and rocky—can’t believe that the van didn’t have any mechanical problems after driving this.

Nanda shadow

Above: walking my friend Sibylle’s dog in the evening. Long dog-days shadows.

Nanda smile

And, finally: Nanda Devi, named after the mountain. I assume she’s smiling here, as I’m sure I was in the desert dry evening air.

Literature: Best Science and Nature Writing 2009

“…the reason science matters: it’s the one method we’ve found to test what we believe against the intractability of what is.” –editor Elizabeth Kolbert

Title: The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 // Editor: Elizabeth Kolbert // Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (Mariner Books) // Pub. Date: October 2009 // 352 p.

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009I’ve never been disappointed by books from the Best American Series. As Houghton Mifflin says, this series is “the original showcase for the year’s finest writing since 1915.” And since these publications were released last month, this is an exciting time of the year for good reading. Although the series includes a number of books (best travel writing, best essays, best short stories, best non-required reading, best recipes?!), I tend to go for its Best American Science and Nature Writing, being the nature buff that I am. In this year’s edition, the topics range from psychology and biology to carbon footprints and electronic waste. Readers will find a lot of hope in these essays about developments in medicine, technology, and science. But, as most of the essays on topics of nature and environment reveal, we need more than hope to solve the global environmental crisis. Ultimately, these essays offer readers the information they need to begin making more informed choices about things such as waste disposal and carbon emissions, for starters. The only hope is in this area is that we start making more of the positive changes now, with this new information fresh on our fingertips. Final word: These writers exude passion for their subjects, and the essays they write will wow readers into a rapt state of reverence for all of the awe and wonder in the natural world.

Click here to read my more in-depth review of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 on the Contemporary Literature website.

Photo credit: Houghton Mifflin (Mariner Books)