Monthly Archives: January 2010

Life: More Burning Bus Love

At the end of a recent post dedicated to my sister’s new-old 1979 Westy, I mentioned this thing, this Big Burning VW Bus Love. It’s funny, the obsession. Once you get a van, you start dreaming about things like installing a radio so you can talk to truckers, or remodeling the interior, or driving off into the sunset without leaving a trace. You also start noticing that people smile and wave when you drive by, or flash a peace sign. And you find yourself taking out your camera more frequently to photograph other admirable rides. Here are a few of those photos that others afflicted (or not) with this Big Burning VW Bus Love might enjoy.

Above, right: a sighting in NYC’s SoHo. And below, my friend Andy’s van in Boulder, Colorado, with mushroom tea inspired psychedelic paint job:

Carolyn C. from Denver recently took this photo while in Hawaii. This guy’s living. And so is his dog:

My sister passed along this photo of a pretty sweet Westfalia kitchen setup:

Even though her kitchen isn’t that great, she’s already built a reputation as a superstar tailgate hostess:

And of my van? It’s pretty much frozen in place for the winter. I went out and fired the Old Lady up earlier this week, where she’s resting in her winter parking spot:

I did some scraping, kicked off the icicles, dreamt (briefly) of warm-weather adventures…and then just felt the love.

For serious geeks only:
The Verdier VW. Haven’t heard of it? Click here for Wired mag’s article “Reinventing the VW Microbus for the Eco-Age.”

For a “Down and Out” guided tour of Andy’s rainbow VW, a 1966 split-window, click here.

Literature: Coleridge on Chamonix

In the Alps, the British Romantic poets found a landscape that infused their thoughts and inspired some pretty spectacular verse. Even though Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) never actually went to Chamonix, France, he wrote a poem about the place as he imagined it: “Chamouny; The Hour Before Sunrise, A Hymn,” published in 1802. I’d bet that Coleridge’s buddy William Wordsworth contributed to this poem, as Wordsworth traveled through Chamonix in 1790 and regularly collaborated with Coleridge. I’ve picked out some excerpts of the poem and paired them with some photos of the Chamonix skyline for your viewing/reading pleasure…

Deep is the sky, and black: transpicuous, deep,
An ebon mass!

But when I look again,
It seems thy own calm home, thy crystal shrine,
Thy habitation from eternity.

O dread and silent form! I gaz’d upon thee,
Till thou, still present to my bodily eye,
Did’st vanish from my thought.

Entranc’d in pray’r,
I worshipp’d the INVISIBLE. alone.
Yet thou, meantime, wast working on my soul,
E’en like some deep enchanting melody,
So sweet, we know not, we are list’ning to it.

Awake, awake! and thou, my heart, awake!
Awake ye rocks! Ye forest pines, awake!
Green fields, and icy cliffs! All join my hymn!

My favorite times to be in the mountains are at dawn and at dusk, and I think that Coleridge’s poem gives justice to the beauty of being in a place like Chamonix—even if he only went there in his mind.

Photos: Chamonix and Mont Blanc massif at dusk, taken while rappelling off a peak in the Aiguilles Rouges (Glacier des Bossons and Mont Blanc, at right); stormy morning with the Aiguille Vert and Les Drus at left; same morning, view of the Aigulles further to the west; sky opening over the Chardonnet, my favorite up-valley peak; and a bad-weather day above Lac Blanc, in the Aiguilles Rouges.

To read Coleridge’s “Chamouny; The Hour Before Sunrise, A Hymn” on, click here.

To read more Coleridge at, click here for The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Landscape: Shrine Pass

I spent the past two days at the Shrine Pass recreation area for an Avalanche I course. Shrine Pass is just below the summit of Vail Pass, elevation 10,600 feet. So–perhaps needless to say–it was cold, and I had on enough layers to make me look like the Michelin tire guy. But I learned a ton and got to take in some of the beauty that’s all around up here:

It’s difficult to pay attention to your instructors when the views are like that, eh? Soon enough, the clouds came in, and it started snowing. Friday night, Vail reported four new inches of the fluffy stuff, and this morning’s report added another nine inches to that.

The front deck analysis (above) isn’t quite as scientific, so I’m rushing out with my skis right now to check it out…

Life: A New Addition

When I bought a beat-up 1970 Volkswagen van in the summer of 2003, my family members thought I was mentally unstable.  My mom told me that I couldn’t drive it in her suburban neighborhood.  But now that my New York City sister has purchased a lime green 1979 Westfalia, there’s been a sudden change of heart.  My dad (pictured at right) thinks driving around in her van is just groovy.

And my mom (pictured below) has been sewing curtains and seat covers for it.  Am I jealous?  Or jaded?  No, not really.

As I see it, the weirdness of my van purchase softened the hearts of my parents to old VWs, so my sister’s recent purchase didn’t seem so odd. Nothing like breaking trail for a sibling, right? And my sister (fourteen months older) did plenty of that while we were growing up. She got in trouble more than I did, so I figure that I owe her plenty as an adult. Therefore…this post is devoted to her, The Sister, and the new addition:

This autumn, while I was cruising around in my van (with no heater), she was out cozily exploring the fall foliage on Long Island:

And now that I’ve parked my Old Lady for the winter (due to the lack of heater issue), she’s out taking weekend beach trips:

Adventure’s relative, I suppose. What one person thinks of as a grand adventure might be a nightmare to another. My van purchase represented the beginning of a wacky-adventurous time in my life, and now I’m psyched to hear about my sister’s new mobility. She didn’t have a car before this in NYC. So now we can swap stories of weekend getaways, breakdowns, repairs, and–ultimately–this big burning VW bus love.

To see a photo of my van, affectionately called the Old Lady, see my website’s splash page:

Literature: Men and Wolves

Title: The Man Who Lives with Wolves // Author: Shaun Ellis, with Penny Junor // Publisher: Harmony Books // Pub. Date: October 2009 // 288 p.

Over the summer, one of my co-workers gave me environmental activist Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf as a gift. Published in 1963, Mowat’s book is a classic narrative of living among Arctic wolves. It’s also witty and caustic, written in true Farley Mowat style. This book sort of piqued my interest in wolves, so when I saw Shaun Ellis’s book out in November, I jumped at the chance to read it. In The Man Who Lives with Wolves, Ellis (star of the Animal Planet show Living with the Wolfman) writes about his deliberate run-ins with wolves. These encounters have scarred his body, strained his personal relationships, and pushed him to the limits of mental and physical exhaustion. Ellis, for example, ran for two years with a wolf pack in Idaho’s Nez Percé—eating fresh carcasses alongside them, protecting their pups, and learning how to communicate in yips and howls. Ellis’s writing style is less entertaining than Mowat’s, but his message about the importance of wolves in a balanced ecosystem is just as important as Mowat’s was when he introduced this topic to a modern audience. Both writers dispel the cultural myth of wolves as blood-thirsty creatures who maim and kill without reason, and Ellis’s story of his life among the wolves becomes the larger story of humans and animals living together on this planet. “Everything has a place in this world,” Ellis reminds us, “and we can’t be naïve enough to think we can safeguard ourselves if we let another species fail.”

To read my more in-depth book review of Shaun Ellis’s The Man Who Lives With Wolves on NewWest, click here.

Landscape: The Back Bowls

It’s official: Vail’s Back Bowls are finally fit for skiing. Last night’s 8-inch powder dump spread itself out evenly over a good base, making today’s skiing the best so far this season. While taking Chair 17 up (at right), I was getting excited about dropping into the Sun Up Bowl for some decently deep powder turns. China Bowl, the Mongolia Bowls, the Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls, and the Siberia Bowls were all excellent fun today…despite the occasional reminders (read: rocks) that it’s still early in the season. Vail is only reporting 92 inches so far this season, with a 33-inch mid-mountain base. I’d say we need at least another 24 inches of snow before skiing in the trees would be sane. And even though Blue Sky Basin opened up yesterday, the steeper faces (such as Lover’s Leap/Iron Mask area) need quite a bit more snow.

Off and on today, big powder flakes were coming out of the sky, and then—in an instant—the clouds would break open to blue skies. Here’s China Bowl, looking good:

Even the Sun Up Bowl looked spectacular today with blue skies above it and tiny specks of people making their way down the mountain:

To put things in perspective, here’s one of my ski buddies:

Nice hockey stop. I took the above photo in the Sun Down Bowl this morning, where we arrived early enough to still carve out some fresh tracks in the fluffy stuff. Anyhow, getting face shots isn’t a bad way to spend the first week of a new year. Happy Twenty-Ten, folks!