Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We Have Come To Journey's End

This will be my last post. I'm not taking down the blog, in part because it's important to me to have Wiley's memorial out there in cyberspace. But, quite frankly, blogging is just not fun anymore.

I loved writing about the adventures Wiley and I had, but it's not the same now that he's gone. I can't write about the kitchen. When I weigh in on a political matter that's important to me, I attract random know-it-alls who post tedious comments based on the title of a post rather than its content. Where's the fun in that? And I don't want to have one of those whiny, Facebook-esque much a-blog about nothing exercises in navel-gazing.

Plus, hiking season is just about over, so I doubt I'll be taking anymore exciting solo sojourns into the wild. That's why I'm ending with this one: my hike to Lone Eagle Peak.

Ever since I moved here and bought a book detailing local hikes, I've been obsessed with hiking to Crater Lake and Lone Eagle Peak. The photo of the latter in the book had me entranced.

Work and weather made it tough to find the right two-day break to do it, but Jerry my hiking referant at work warned me the window of opportunity was about to close for the season.

So yesterday I set off, starting at the Monarch Lake trailhead at about 8,300 feet above sea level, where the fall colors are at their peak:

The trail itself has the same rating as Byers Peak in my book: difficult. But the first half was a lovely walk in the woods, with consistent but gentle elevation gain and a few exciting "primitive" bridges over rushing streams:

The trail follows Cascade Creek for much of its 7.5 miles (one-way, to Crater Lake. With side trips I'd estimate my total mileage for the two days was about 17 miles). Paralleling the aptly-named creek, I passed many waterfalls:

The second half of the trail, and especially the last third, is much rockier and steeper, but quite frankly not as heart attack-inducing as Byers Peak. My guess is the two trails merit the same rating because Byers is short but steep and relentless while Lone Eagle is longer and still has about a 2,000 foot elevation gain.

In any case, here's a view of Lone Eagle Peak. To the right of the spire-like monster, along the ridge, is the remnants of Peck Glacier. To the left of the peak is Fair Glacier, barely visible through the trees.

I set up camp at the edge of Crater Lake, right at the foot of Lone Eagle Peak, pleased to have the place to myself. At dusk, as I was drifting off to sleep (I tend to rise and to sleep according to the sun when I'm in the wild), I was startled by the sound of Large Animals. There were two, possibly more, Things all around the outside of my tent. I peeked out through a small window and saw a moose walking past about ten feet away.

No, I didn't take any pictures. There were signs at the trailhead warning that moose were in "the rut" and would be aggressive, and that anyone who happened upon them should leave the area immediately.

Since they had happened upon me, I was just staying put and not venturing out of my tent. Eventually, after they drank from the lake and one of them apparently vomited (at least that's what it sounded like) they moved on.

As the full and total darkness of the wild descended around my tent, I realized I'd never camped alone in a place with real predators... Iceland, southern Chile, the Faroe Islands, Norway... these are not places known for hosting many apex predators. I'm not saying a moose is technically an apex predator, but there are black bears and mountain lions in the area I was and, well, an aggressive 1,000-pound moose on the loose might as well be considered capable of kicking my ass.

In the dead of night, probably around 0200 I'm guessing, I awoke with a start (I sleep much lighter in the wild, too). I was immediately aware of something walking outside the tent. It half-circled, then retreated (possibly when it heard me sit up and grab my trekking poles, which I planned to use to defend myself double-saber-style). Then it came back and made a full circle. Eventually the sound of paws in dry grass faded.

I'm sure it wasn't a bear or a moose, since its tread seemed too light and it was utterly silent but for the grass rustling. I'm guessing it was a fox or coyote, though I wouldn't rule out the possibility of it being a mountain lion. In any case, it didn't smell anything appetizing in my tent, so I was spared the drama of having to go all kung fu on an animal who was, after all, just doing what animals do.

I woke at dawn to find a thin, glossy coat of ice on the outside of my tent, even though I'd been toasty warm inside, swathed in layers of flannel and fleece. (The elevation for my campsite was around 10,350 ft.)
After investigating the environs of Crater Lake for a bit, I hid in my tent while the moose passed through again and then packed up and set off the way I'd come.
Here's another shot of Lone Eagle Peak, on the right, with the incredible wall of cliffs to its north, crowned by rock formations that look like cathedrals. My book pointed out that these cliffs inexplicably have never been named... I propose, with a nod to the great Waterboys song, "Church Not Made With Hands."

So there it is: Lone Eagle Peak, crossed off my to-do list. Despite how much I was looking forward to this trek, I have to say I didn't enjoy it. The trail was pleasant enough, and well-maintained, and the weather was near-perfect for hiking (sunny and in the 60s... though personally I prefer hiking in the 50s), and the scenery was gob-smackingly gorgeous, from the yellow stands of aspen to the magnificent cliffs and glaciers, as well as the imposing Lone Eagle Peak itself.

Maybe it was because I was wearing a full-on backpack for the first time in a long time (I'd been using a day pack on the shorter hikes Wiley and I took) and, oddly enough, the difference in weight between my pack ready for an overnight and ready for a two-week international jaunt is only a couple pounds (the difference being food).

Maybe it was because, of a dozen people I met on the trail, nearly all of them were with their dogs, which made me miss my little buddy even more.

Or maybe it's because I've got a lot of stuff going on now, things I haven't been blogging about but find very stressful. In any case, the hike was a trudge, a slog, a put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-and-get-it-done march. It was on the trail that I decided this blog has run its course. Thanks to all who read along, posted comments or e-mailed me. I've appreciated you sailing along, but now it's time to disembark. Take care.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sarah Palin Wants Polar Bears To Die

I knew that already, but if you are at all concerned about animals, please check out the first-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate by the Humane Society Legislative Fund (hint: they're not backing McCain). In addition to an objective run-down of both the prez and VP candidates' records on animal welfare, the link features a rather awkward photo of Barack Obama holding a poodle. Neither one looks very comfortable, but that's beside the point.

Props to my bro for sending the link.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thank You

I just wanted to thank everyone who has posted a comment, and so many others who have emailed me, offering support and happy memories of Wiley. I know there will be a day when I can remember all our great adventures together and the unconditional happiness he gave me for so many years, but it is not today.

Probably won't be tomorrow, either.

In any case, I gave Wiley's remaining treats to my favorite line cook Jerry, who has two dogs of his own, and will be giving his bedding and bowls to Bridget and Brian. This morning I also made a donation in his memory to Best Friends Animal Society. I told them to use the money where it's needed most but, all things being equal, it would mean a lot to me if they could use it to support one of their programs helping stray animals overseas. They do a lot of work helping people in poor countries or anti-pet countries establish shelters, and they've also gotten pets and strays alike out of war zones and disaster areas. I like to think that another feral street puppy in some dumpy country somewhere might get the chance at a better life in Wiley's name.

This morning I woke up early, as usual, and not knowing what else to do took myself for a walkies. At work, I had the opportunity (a few times, actually) to yell at my assistant for truly careless mistakes, and I learned that it is not possible to cry and have a Gordon Ramsay moment at the same time.

I opted for the Gordon Ramsay moment.

The retired Swiss chef who comes in on the weekends to do prep work told me about a dog he'd lost, and how for weeks after the dog had died, he would still go to the door every morning with leash in hand, waiting to put on his pet's collar until he remembered. He told me it will take time to get over Wiley, which I know, and to let myself mourn him. Everything else can wait, he said.

Then he told me to go home and have a drink.

Well, I'm drinking... Aveda's "soothing" herbal tea, to be exact, and listening to Sigur Ros, which always fills me with peace.

When I was at the kennel on Thursday morning, Bridget gave me a print-out of The Rainbow Bridge poem. I didn't want to say it, but I thought "oh, no." Most of you know how much I hate poetry, especially the gooey, sentimental sort, and those of you familiar with the poem know it's definitely in that category. I've read it before, but hadn't seen this version, which claimed to be "inspired by a Norse legend."

Suddenly the poem seemed less lame to me, though I had to research the connection. (Okay, I googled it.) Turns out they're stretching the inspiration for Rainbow Bridge to be Bifrost, the bridge separating Midgard (our world) from Asgard (kinda like heaven, only with more drinking), and it's apparently the same bridge the warriors judged worthy of Valhalla cross on their merry way.

That amused me, because one of Wiley's early names, and one he occasionally deserved when sufficiently crazied-up, was Fenrir.

If you love the Rainbow Bridge poem and take comfort in it, hey, God bless. Me, I'm sitting here listening to my elegiac Icelandic "post-rock" and imagining Wiley running amok on Bifrost, barking his "bacon bark" until Heimdall finally relents and throws him a piece of roast beast.

And that thought makes me smile.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wiley in Pictures, Part Three

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: Wiley really loved going walkies here, with all the different trails and the deer and squirrels, which he loved to chase... and which sometimes chased him back. A few of the deer seemed to think his charge was part of a game and answered in kind, startling him more than once.

January 2006, Milwaukee shore of Lake Michigan: Wiley was often camera-shy, so I love any photo that got him looking into the lens.

Autumn 2007, Dutchess County, NY: Did someone say salmon? When it comes to my cooking, Wiley was my greatest fan.

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: Dr. Virago actually took this photo when she came to visit me for graduation. I love it because it captures Wiley in his "crazied-up" state, when he would bark for no reason. I'm sure he had a reason, we just couldn't understand him.

Wiley in Pictures, Part Two

December 2007, Mills Mansion grounds, NY: The above is one of my favorite photos of Wiley. I took it as he was recovering from a bad kidney illness and my vet and I weren't sure he was going to make it. I just like the trees, his pawprints in the snow and the calmness of the photo.

October 2005, Milwaukee, WI: Yes, I bought Wiley a Darth Vader costume. He seemed to enjoy wearing it much more than the rather lame pirate outfit I'd bought the year before. He liked the cloak in particular, and sometimes I'd put it on him just to go walkies, as it seemed to make him feel like more of a badass.

April 1995, Moscow, Russia: Still recovering from mange (you can see some raw spots on his paws) but no longer green.

April 2007, Rustbelt: This is another favorite shot of mine, taken in Dr. Virago and Bullock's home, where Wiley lived for a couple months while I worked in Las Vegas. This really is the dog Wiley was: alert and happy.

Summer 2007, Dutchess County, NY: Wiley and Dash play hide and seek.

Wiley In Photos, Part One

April, 2008, Four Corners: Barking in four states at once.

Autumn 1997, Orange County, NY: Bark loudly and carry a big stick.

AAutumn 2007, Rhinebeck, NY: The Buster Block, one of Wiley's favorite toys.

August 2008: the last two photos taken of Wiley. Above, with me at the 14,000-foot-plus summit of Mt. Evans. Below, looking west from the summit, perhaps spying his next adventure.

In Memoriam: Wiley, 1995-2008

Wiley passed away unexpectedly just after 8 a.m. mountain time on Thursday. He was thirteen and a half years old.

Although I was not present at his death, he was cared for and comforted by Brian and Bridget of Four Paws Animal Resort, and for that I am deeply grateful. When I arrived minutes after his passing, they told me how quick and apparently peaceful the event had been. I take heart that he did not die alone while I was at work, and that he did not suffer greatly.

Wiley was born in Moscow, Russia, on a cold winter's day in early 1995. His parentage, like his earliest days, remains a mystery. He was found by a colleague of mine begging outside the American embassy. He was about four to six weeks old, hairless and green. Mange had claimed his fur and someone, either as a prank on a hapless street puppy or as some kind of homegrown anti-mange treatment, had painted him green.

My colleague took him home, intending him to be a friend to her fully grown dog... which was terrified of Wiley, then a feral monster that enjoyed biting anything he could sink his teeth into.

Unwilling to return him to the streets, she asked if I would take him. As it turned out, my Rhodesian Ridgeback Kosmo, then a strapping two-year-old, was the only thing Wiley feared. For a while. Kosmo was exceptionally patient with Wiley using him as a chew toy, and Katya, the young Russian woman I hired as a dog nanny, was able to quickly housetrain and semi-domesticate him.

Wiley's original name was not Wiley. It was Dodger, after the street ruffian in Oliver Twist. He didn't take to the name, however, so it was soon changed to reflect his uncanny resemblance to a certain cartoon coyote. It also began a long tradition of nicknames for him, including Mr. Kittenheads, Smalls, Plush Mammal, Wilbur, AdventureDog and many, many more.

From the first day I knew him, I realized Wiley was an exceptionally intelligent dog, able to understand a number of words in both English and Russian. He was a great communicator all-around, with several variations on his bark to indicate what he wanted, whether it was the percussive, incessant warning he needed to go outside or the seal-like yelpy bark that said "bacon! I smell bacon! Gimme bacon NOW!"

Wiley grew into a healthy Siberian Laika, a Russian breed of dog related to the Finnish Spitz. I had always assumed he was just a mutt, but several Russians pointed out that only purebred Laikas have a black cross shape on their tail. Whether he was a Laika or not, as soon as his mange was cured, Wiley grew an impressive five-layered coat.

He may be gone, breaking my heart, but his fur will be with me forever, as well as in the carpet and car seats of any place he's been.

When we returned to the States, Wiley quickly learned to acclimate to his new country. True to his Russian street puppy roots, however, his favorite food remained fish skin. In Moscow, vendors used to sell whole fish on a stick, like a kebab. People would toss the stick, bones and skin on the street after eating, and I'm assuming their cast-offs formed a large part of his early diet.

Wiley had his first known brush with death while living in Madison, WI, when he mixed it up with a badger who unceremoniously slashed an artery on his muzzle. It would be just one of several meetings with the emergency vet.

After a year in Orange County, NY, we moved back to Wisconsin, this time to Milwaukee, in 1998. A frequent rabble-rouser at the dog park on the northwest side, Wiley loved to start something with a bigger, aggressive dog and then run and hide behind Kosmo, who reluctantly settled the confrontation with a deep-chested woof or two.

We moved to the south side of Milwaukee, known as Bay View, in 2000, and Wiley and Kosmo quickly made themselves at home in a spacious house, a park bordering Lake Michigan and Seminary Woods, an area of forest untouched by development. It was here that Wiley scored his only two recorded kills, both rabbits, though he would probably insist he also got a possum and a squirrel.

While I underwent chemotherapy for cancer, Wiley and Kosmo were my dearest supports, never complaining if I spent hours immobile on the couch instead of taking them walkies, or forgot to feed them because I had lost my own appetite.

It was living in Bay View where Wiley had his second brush with death... an 18-pound tumor growing in his spleen turned out fortunately to be benign, but the sheer size of it required risky surgery. He pulled through like the little scrapper he always was, and even tried to pick a fight, still wobbly from anaesthesia, with a golden retriever in the waiting room.

Wiley was an extremely emotional and sensitive dog. He would show shame when Kosmo had an accident (his own mishaps were rare), for example, or tune into whenever I'd had a bad day at work and follow me around the house, staring in concern with his big dark eyes.

One of my most poignant memories of Wiley is what he did a few days after Kosmo passed away at the ripe age of 12 back in 2005.

For years, Wiley had loved to steal Kosmo's rawhides, amassing a great pile on the rug in the dining room and then laying on them while Kosmo barked pitifully for them to be returned. In the last few days of Kosmo's life, both dogs ignored their rawhides and soon they littered the house. One day, shortly after Kosmo died, Wiley very purposefully gathered all the rawhides in a pile on the rug in the dining room, looked at them for a long time and then looked at me as if to say "it's not fun anymore" and then walked away.

In the years we had together as a duo, rather than a trio, Wiley grew into his own. He could be walked without a leash, loved to go hiking and perfected his "lemme back this thing up" butt rub dance. While he got along with few other canids, discriminating on a dog-by-dog basis, he loved people, and one of his best friends was a neighbor's cat named Dash.

We met Dash when we moved back to New York in 2006. While I missed Lake Michigan, we quickly found hiking paths all over the Hudson Valley, and I would like to think that, though I spent many hours at school away from him, Wiley enjoyed his daily walkies deep into the woods.

In late 2006, when I went off to Vegas to learn fancy cookin' techniques, Wiley moved in with Dr. Virago and Bullock, where he was spoiled rotten. I approved. He and I were reunited in April of 2007 and, while I don't think he recognized me at first, we quickly fell back into our buddy routine.

Even more than Kosmo, who was sweet but dumb, Wiley became my best friend, understanding much of what I said to him (or at least playing along) and always sensitive to my mood.

One of Wiley's favorite things to do was go buh-byes, or ride in the car. For the last year or so of his life, he had to be helped up onto the seat, but once aboard he'd proudly stand with his head and shoulders out the window, ears perked and bright eyes alert for interesting things to bark at. In the past few months, he often sat with his chin on the door frame and just his nose out of the window. Looking in my sideview mirror and not seeing that little black nose is something I will never get over.

A brief but serious kidney illness in late 2007, as well as advancing arthritis, were signs of things to come. But despite his age, Wiley was still active, hiking and making friends with neighborhood dogs more readily than he had earlier in life. He even made it to the top of a fourteener less than a month before his death.

Although briefly ill earlier this month, Wiley appeared to have made a full recovery when I headed out of town for a couple days and left him in the care of Bridget and Brian. There was no indication that he was ill, which made his death on Thursday that much more sorrowful.

When I had to put Kosmo down, my vet at the time said something to me that really resonated. Dr. Rosene said: "If they didn't give us so much in life, it wouldn't hurt so much to lose them." Kosmo's breeder, when I gave her the news, also told me "I'm glad he was in your life, and that you were in his."

Both of those sentiments have given me some comfort. Wiley gave me so much, especially in his later years and especially after we moved here, away from friends and most diversions. I always said he was the best thing to come out of Moscow. I'm glad I was able to save him from the streets. I'm glad he was my friend, my hiking partner, my bed warmer and my li'l buddy for so many years.

I hope wherever he is now that he knows he always was, and always will be, a very good boy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gallery of Regrettable Food

I know I'm a little late to this, but for those of you who haven't checked out the Gallery of Regrettable Food, here is a good place to start.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Derision 2008: Brilliant

I have been a Tina Fey fan for a long time (Amy Poehler, t00) and if you haven't seen it, their pitch-perfect send-up of Palin and Clinton is flawless. Enjoy.

SleepingBanshee Hath A Blog...

Please join me in welcoming my pal SleepingBanshee to Blogistan via the most excellently titled Chocolate on My Trousers. Check out the wicked cool headboard she made...

I covet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Final Un-Neighborly Note

My landlords, who live about three hours away on the other side of the Divide, came to the building today, in part to apologize profusely to me for the unauthorized showing and for the apparent theft of my laundry money, and to tell me that they had fired the listing agent because she was given my lease and contact information way back in June and, in addition, was apparently a royal bee-yotch to them when they called her after getting my angry message.

They also said they're going to pay me back for the missing money. So there's that.

But more than anything, they came to deal with the aftermath of Mr. Absentia and Glub.

And wow. What an aftermath.

Warning: reading one part of this may make you physically sick. That's what happened to me when I found out Mr. Absentia and Glub were not only jackasses, they were evil.

One of my landlords was nearly in tears when she said in only two months they had completely destroyed the place. I surmised as much, but I wasn't expecting her to say "they left everything. Their kitchen stuff. Their furniture. Their checkbooks."

Checkbooks? That's kinda weird.

But it makes sick sense when you hear what she said next (this is the part that made me nauseous):

"They not only left their kitchen appliances, they left them plugged in and turned on."

Yes. Turned on, including a coffeemaker with an empty pot. Turned on and left that way for nearly two weeks.

I guess it's a testament to the quality of their appliances that nothing caught fire, but I am sick to think that for nearly a fortnight, as I slept, left Wiley alone for hours while I was at work and went on with my life, there was a massive fire hazard above my head.

My first thought was that idiot Glub must have been in charge of turning things off, but then I realized something... if you wanted to burn a place down and make it look like you didn't mean to, why not leave things like your checkbook?

That's right. I think those scum-sucking bastards intentionally set a fire trap assuming the place would burn down and somehow cover their thick-legged tracks.

That's when I got really sick to my stomach.

My landlords said they're going to pursue them for the rent, for the damages and so on. Good luck. Who leaves behind a checkbook unless it's a fake or stolen identity? I'm just sayin'. Both of them moved to Colorado about the time I did. They didn't have any friends or family in the area. I wouldn't be surprised if "Chris" and "Danny," as they called themselves, are grifters. At least "Chris," aka Mr. Absentia. I don't think Danny is capable of anything other than figuring out where his next meal/cigarette is coming from.

When I got home tonight, still a little quesy to think those worthless monsters had set a fire trap above my head, I saw all the stuff my landlords had removed. Pretty much an entire apartment of furniture and super-tacky art, crappy appliances and, ooh, look! some cookie cutters!

Yeah, I took the cookie cutters since they were sitting high on other stuff and not actually in the dumpster, though I may not keep them. As I was sanitizing them, I kept thinking over and over how they nearly burned down the apartment and could have killed Wiley (I feel pretty secure about me waking up and being able to get out if the smoke detector went off, and to take Wiley and my laptop with me, but what if he was home alone when the fire broke out??).

Then I fretted about "Chris" being an IT guy for one of the local resorts (not the one I work at, thankfully). I've been using a Verizon WiFi card on my laptop to do all my banking. What if he hacked into it and has stolen my identity and ruined my credit?

I know it's a long shot and I sound kind of paranoid, but I'd rather be a nutball than someone with ruined credit. I'm calling my bank tomorrow morning to see what they suggest I do.

Of course, I'm also worried about their dogs. I know it may sound stupid, but if they had so little regard for possible loss of life setting a fire trap in a fully-occupied apartment building (well, occupied except for their unit), how can they possibly treat their animals humanely?

I'll probably toss the cookie cutters so that I'm not reminded of those two khoi every time I use them. Or maybe I'll wind up keeping them... as a reminder to trust no one.

By the way, all the drama and stress of the past few days, from Wiley being sick to Mr. Absentia and Glub's attempted arson, have led me to the conclusion that Fortuna is waaaaaay too interested in my life right now. So I'm going to lay low and not post for a while and hopefully slip off her radar, because the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom and Fortuna is that Fortuna devours the other two whole and spits out the bones with a grin, you know?

Since I don't want to end on a down note, check out this awesome Cake Wrecks blog my homey Laura sent me. And no, none of my stuff is on there!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sheep Wranglers I Have Known...

After spending my day off yesterday at the vet (Wiley is on antibiotics and doing much better though is still a bit fatigued) and getting my tail light bulb replaced and the check engine signal looked at and other less-than-exciting errands, today I decided we'd go on a road trip.

I had in my plans the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, an 82-mile or so mostly dirt and gravel road that winds its way through the Flat Top Mountains, a range to the north and west of the Continental Divide and Rockies proper. Probably the most notable thing about the mountains is that they include Trapper's Lake, an area of allegedly pristine wild beauty that is said to have inspired the National Wilderness Act. It was a 20-mile detour on a road undergoing grading or some other kind of construction, so I skipped it.

The Flat Tops also boast an apparently wicked hike-along-a-knife-edge-ridge called The Devil's Causeway, but with a recuperating Wiley in tow I didn't even attempt it.

On the road to the byway, itself pretty scenic, we passed a rock formation that made me think aha, this is what the Devil's Towelette should have looked like up close!

The Flat Tops themselves aren't that impressive, especially when one lives in the shadow of both the Divide and Byer's Peak.

Here's about the most interesting shot I could manage on a gray and overcast day, with some of the not-so-flat Flat Tops in the background:

By far the highlight of the day was running into (not literally, fortunately) a herd of sheep tended by Actual Cowboy, or at least Actual Sheep Wrangler, Gabriel.

Gabriel spoke no English, but my Spanish clicked on and we chatted for a couple minutes until the Iron Curtain came down. It's like my brain has a meter whenever I try to speak German or Spanish. After two minutes, the synapses reroute themselves and I hear an internal voice say "nu, davai... tolko po-russki." My entire vocabulary and thought process switches to Russian and, like being trapped in a Siberian gulag, I can't get out. It's awful. I think Gabriel thought I was choking as I tried to form words en espanol but could get out only halting Russian.

Damn you, Putin! (totally not his fault, of course, but he's my favorite kozyol otpushcheniya... it's funny what Russian words are ever present in my head, such as how to say "scapegoat," "you are difficult to believe," "go to hell, jerk" and "we won the cold war.")

Anyway, Gabriel was adorable, as you can see in this photo:

He just may be my second favorite Sheep Wrangler ever, after the wry guy Loki whom I met back in May. And, quite frankly, Gabriel had the more impressive entourage, with not three but five sheepdogs. Two wily, wiry little border collie-lookin' dogs and then three... uhm... not sure. They were not the gigantic Anatolian Shepherds that Loki had, but they were dang-all big.

Looking at the photo above now, I think that they were some kind of Anatolian Shepherd-Golden Lab mix. You know, like an Anatoodle or something. (And yes, I know "Anatoodle" implies an Anatolian-Poodle mix, but it's just more fun to say than an Anador Sheptriever.)

Derision 2008

If you haven't read this article on "rednecks" from the BBC, you need to. I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it, but you need to read it for a number of reasons.

- First, a big spanking to the BBC (though those Brits would probably enjoy that) for continuing to search out people and events that make America look like the land of the nutball and/or obnoxious cowboy dolt.

- I found the author's belief that the "liberal media elite" doesn't use the word "redneck" to "protect" rednecks' feelings to be very interesting. For starters, it's my understanding that the term "redneck" is just like the terms "queer" and the "n-word," which I dare not type lest the PC Police shut down my blog. Although the terms can be used within a community as identifiers or even affectionately, when those words are used outside the community to describe individuals inside the community, or the community itself, they are pejoratives (ooh, big word! Sorry, y'all!).

And, speaking from personal experience, there is another reason the "liberal media elite" does not use the word "redneck." When I was a music journalist a few years back, I reviewed a Green Day concert during the heyday of their song "American Idiot," which references "rednecks" in a pejorativ- oops, sorry, in a real mean way, them uppity sumsabitches. If you know anything about print journalism, you know the writer rarely writes the headlines, just the body of the article, and we rarely see the hed until it's in print. Well, when writing the headline, a well-meaning copy editor (the folks who write the headlines, among other things, like fact-checking and trimming) decided to toss in the word "redneck."

For the next week, I got very little work done because of the deluge of calls, e-mails, letters, death threats, local talk radio attacks on me, etc. When I said hey, I didn't write the headline, and I didn't see it till the next morning, when it was in the paper, and what's more I wouldn't have used that word, the attacks only got worse because I was then "a lying coward" and a "pandering liberal elite."

So I believe the "liberal media elite" shies from using the word "redneck" because it wants to get some work done and not spend its time fending off attacks from, well, angry rednecks.

- I find it interesting that, according to the author, rednecks are "suspicious of authority." Really. Perhaps being a little more suspicious of authority's lameass claim that Iraq had weapons of destruction mighta done them a li'l more good 'n' gotten a few less of their boys 'n' gals killed or maimed or messed up in th' head over there in eye-rack.

- Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the BBC story to me is that it's true... I'm not talking about the tiresome, sweeping generalizations or tedious attacks on the "liberal media elite" (zzzzzzz...). I'm talking about it pointing out Sarah Palin's appeal to a large number of Americans. Because, and this is where my heart breaks, I believe the lasting legacy of the Bush Administration has been to demonize the intelligent and the educated and make intellectual curiosity a crime against patriotism.


What's wrong with being smart, or working to be smarter? With going to the best schools your hard-working family can sacrifice to send you to? With working your ass off to learn and absorb as much knowledge as possible, to embrace Marie Curie's suggestion that "nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood"? Where's the crime in learning from history and developing the ability to reason?

You could hear it in every speech at the RNC, and in the tone of McCain's campaign... as an aside, I was going to vote for McCain back in 2000 and believe, had he actually been elected back then, the country would have been in better shape all the way around. But now that he's sold his soul, he can kiss my highly-educated vote good-bye.

And, for the record, I am not an Obamamaniac. I'm not wooed by his eloquence, though I do like the idea of having a president who can pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly. I don't think he'll get 20% of his agenda accomplished, and since, for me, plagiarism should be punishable by death, I'm not a fan of Biden, either (Obama's lifting of a friend's speech a while back is a lesser crime).

Once again, this November, I will be voting for the lesser of two evils.

But this is all on my mind because yesterday I registered to vote. That was interesting in itself. I went to the county courthouse with my form, printed from Colorado's state website, my passport, my Social Security Card and my Nevada driver's license, which I still have because it's still valid (I hate changing licences every time I move, which gets expensive) and because it is the Best. ID. Photo. Ever. I look like a model.

I give the clerk my application and ask "do you need to see my passport or Social Security Card?" She says no.

She reads over the application and hands it off to someone I can't see behind a cubicle wall. Then, suddenly, words are said and she comes tearing back around the corner.

"You're gettin' your Colorado ID today, right?" she asks, her tone suddenly anxious.

"You mean a Colorado driver's license?"

"Yeah. You're gonna get that done now, right?"

I say no, because there's nothing online that says I need one to vote, and on the application itself, it asks for your Colorado driver's license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number (I provided the latter).

This is, by the way, the same friendly clerk I met in February when I went to get my CO license plates. Now she was suddenly Regan (not the president... the chick in "The Exorcist".)

"You are committing a felony trying to register to vote without a Colorado ID!" she shrieks at me.


I wait for red lights to start flashing and alarms to go off and to be dragged off by armed thugs. Instead, the matronly chick behind the cubicle comes out, arms folded over her chest, and glares at me.

I say there is nothing on the website that says I need a Colorado driver's license to vote, that I have been living in Colorado since February.

"If you attempt to vote without a Colorado ID you will be committing a felony and face imprisonment," interrupts the Chick From Behind the Cubicle. She actually sneered at this point and added "That's right on the website."

Now, I actually read the damn voter registration info and didn't see anything about needing a driver's license. I thought there must be something I'm missing here, so I tried one more time, talking over her when she tried to interrupt me again.

"I just want to clarify that in order to vote, I need to have a Colorado driver's license. Is that correct, yes or no?"

"You need a Colorado ID!" they shriek in freakish unison.

"Ok... is there anything other than a Colorado driver's license that qualifies as a Colorado ID?" I ask, thinking that not everyone in Colorado drives.

Cubicle Harpy thinks it over and then says "Well, if you had something like a passport, you could use that."

Well, shucks, I don't have "something like a passport," I have an actual freakin' passport, which has been sitting on the counter in full view the entire time I'm having this conversation.

I hold it up and ask "so this is okay, even though it's issued merely by the federal government and not the state of Colorado?"

Yes, by then I was irked.

"Is it valid?" Cubicle Harpy snaps.

I told her it was, and could barely contain myself from adding that it was full of entry stamps and visas not only to socialist countries, but even a few Islamist countries and countries with real funny letterin' that just don' look right.

"Fine," she snaps and retreats to her cubicle with my registration form. How much do you want to bet she threw it out? We'll see come November. If I'm denied the right to vote when I go to the polls, the gods help her.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Well, At Least My Rage Now Has a Focus (And I Don't Mean a Spiffy Economy-Sized Car)

There's a new chapter in the Not-Quite-Breaking-and-Entering saga that began yesterday.

No one so far has called me back, except for the realtor who left his card on my kitchen counter. He left a voicemail in what I call TalkRadio tone... you know it... aggressive, patronizing, self-righteous and bulldozery.

Here's the transcript:

"Look, I don't owe you any advance notice to show the place. You gotta sort that out with [the listing agency]. That's not my problem. And we didn't take your quarters. We didn't even go into the place. I opened the door and saw the dog and that you're not keeping it up and it doesn't show well so we didn't even go in. I just left my card on your counter to let you know I opened the door. We didn't take your quarters."


For the record, my voicemail to him was concerned and somewhat terse, but not obnoxious.

Also for the record, my quarters were on a small glass plate immediately next to the door, and he had to walk about twelve feet, past Wiley, to put his card on the counter. So yeah, it would have been easy for his client to swipe the quarters, literally without setting foot in my unit.

I also don't appreciate his accusation that I'm not keeping up the place... It's actually much neater and cleaner than most places I've been shown.

I wasn't expecting a "gosh, sorry my client is a klepto, let me pay you back" but I also was not expecting him to come out swinging.

Then again, this is Colorado, the land where citizens are comfortable in their belief that they are entitled to do as they please and everyone else is wrong. And just look at his picture:

Hmm... he doesn't show well, does he?

(Disclaimer: business card posted above for entertainment purposes only. I know that none of you would be so petty and immature as to take the information displayed and sign him up for annoying e-newletters, magazine subscriptions and telemarketing-driven cruise sweepstakes. Just like you wouldn't call him from a public phone and, when he answers, just happen to trigger the air horn you keep in your pocket ... and why do you keep that thing in your pocket, anyway?)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Won't You Not Be My Neighbor?

First, the reason that steam is actually coming out of my ears (metaphorically, of course, because "literally" would be really odd and probably mean my brain was on fire and I was incapable of basic brain stem function, nevermind typing a rant).

My apartment building is for sale (it was before I even moved in). My apartment unit has a lockbox. My lease states that my landlord must give me 24 hours' advance notice before entering for repairs or just to see how I'm keeping the place, and that any realtor showing the place must make "every reasonable effort to contact me" at least 24 hours in advance orally or in writing.

Well, Wiley has been sick with the poops the past couple days, so I've been keeping him barricaded in the kitchen while I'm at work. I get home tonight and he is cowering in a corner (granted, he may just be feeling lousy, but...). There is some realtor's business card on my kitchen counter and all my laundry money is gone. I keep it on a small glass plate by my door. There was five or six bucks last I looked, when I did laundry a couple days ago. Today? Empty.

Yeah, my unit was shown with no advance notice whatsoever. Nothing in writing. No phone calls. And the jackasses who traipsed through my place stole money from me and stressed out my sick dog. If I were to learn that they physically hurt him (he was not his usual happy self, though again that could be from being sick) I would personally draw and quarter them. With a dull blade, so that it hurt more.

Speaking of quarters, it's not the amount, it's the freaking principle.

After checking to see that nothing else was missing, far as I could tell (and noticing that the jerks left my bathroom light on), I called my landlord's cell and home, the listing agent's cell and office and the number of the guy who showed the place.

Of course, this being Sunday night, no one answered, leaving me to stew in silence.

Have you ever experienced this? I know I may sound like I'm overreacting to not getting advance notice, but the fact that they stole from me and may have treated Wiley badly really presses my buttons. A stranger enters without permission and without notice and steals personal property... that's burglary, no?

Doesn't this incident violate the terms of my lease? Anyone who's had a similar experience or has some knowledge of the legal implications of this, please let me know. If you don't want to comment here, email me.

Now, deep breath, Pirate. Take another deep breath. There will be no running through of anyone with your sabers, however badly you long to hear steel sing through bone and flesh.

Let's take a third nice, big, deep breath and remember that, while you can't do laundry tonight, after a little walkies Wiley did pick up the fuzzy pink Barbie slipper that the Dread Pirate Iron Bluebird gave him and initiate some playtime, so whatever happened earlier he is apparently not too traumatized...


A little better.

In more scintillating, less infuriating neighborhood news, Glub and Mr. Absentia, my upstairs neighbors, are gone.

It's quite a juicy tale, actually. A couple weeks ago, as I was coming back from a walkies with Wiley, Glub, wandering the yard aimlessly like someone institutionalized either for dementia or extreme lack of ambition, approached us.

"We're movin'," Glub announced with typical eloquence.

I asked where to and he claimed Mr. Absentia's mom, in Georgia, had worked out some business deal to sell her homeopathy practice. She could get $200,000 for the thing as-is, or $400,000 if Glub and Mr. Absentia did a couple weeks' worth of organizing and painting, so they were quitting their jobs (well, Mr. Absentia was... I never saw Glub do anything other than be, well, glubbish, at home) and heading south.

(By the way, no, Glub and Mr. Absentia are apparently not a couple... both are divorced and speak frequently of girlfriends... whom I never see... hmm, maybe they are a couple. When the thought crossed my mind, I was interested that the next thought loping across the sun-kissed meadows of my mind was that their relationship would make more sense if there were a couple, because Glub is the passive, do-nothing glub and Mr. Absentia is the glib jackass who treats him like crap, which makes more sense in the context of an unhealthy relationship than of two single guys living together as friends or even just roommates... that was followed by another thought sashaying across the faded vaudevillian theater of my mind, which was wow, how appalling that the second thought should even lope across the sun-kissed meadows of my mind and how even more disturbing that further contemplation should lead me to the conclusion that yes, people in bad relationships put up with a lot more crap than most will take from a mere friend or roommate, and doesn't that bite the wax tadpole?)

And no, no rum is involved in this post.

Anyway... Glub's entire purpose for telling me they were moving, aside from gloating over the prospect of an easy $200,000 in his cargo shorts pocket (though I wonder how much Mr. Absentia really will give him, if anything), was to attempt to sell me Mr. Absentia's king-size waterbed or his own "normal" king-size bed.

Uhm, no.

I asked Glub what the landlord had said and he told me they weren't going to tell him. Nice. I said "you're going to lose your security deposit," and he shrugged, noting "the dogs destroyed the place, anyway."

Gee, thanks. From the bottom of my responsible-dog-owner-who-has-t0-jump-through-hoops-every-time-she-rents-and-pay-exorbitant-nonrefundable-pet-deposits heart, thanks for being a jackass and ruining it for the rest of us pet owners.

The next weekend, they had a little U-Haul trailer in the parking lot, one which couldn't fit much more than a king-size waterbed and which was, by the time I saw it, already full of clothing and Mr. Absentia's endless array of sporting goods (they had his three kayaks strapped to the roof of his Suburban). No waterbed, or "normal" bed, visible.

Then they were gone.

Both of their grills are still on the balcony above me, as well as the igloo-style doghouse. They did apparently take the dogs, but who knows? I hope the dogs are okay, because, despite their idiot owners, they were sweet animals.

Here's where it gets really juicy...

About a day and a half after they left, I went out just before dawn because Wiley heard the call of nature. As I stepped out of my building, I saw a strange car parked in the lot (it's not really a lot, just six spaces) with the motor running and a guy in the passenger seat scowling at me.

As I stood there with one eye on him and one eye on Wiley doing his business, I heard someone come thudding down the stairs from the second floor... a guy came out of the building and stomped past me, ignoring my "hello."

You know how some people just look mean? He was a tall, skinny, grizzled carny-lookin' guy with a rattail mullet, filthy, un-ironic trucker hat and deep smoker's lines on either side of his face.

When he opened the driver's side door of the car, he said to the other guy in a tight-jawed growl "the fuckers are gone!" then got in and drove off.


Whatever that was about, and why Glub and Mr. Absentia left in such a rush, I don't know. I just know, whatever they were up to, I'm glad they didn't burn down the building or in some other way wreck my life, such as break into my apartment and steal my laundry money.

Oh, wait a minute...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

We Live in an Exponential World

Mad props to The Queen for sending me the link to this fascinating compilation of statistics about the world we live in, and the world we are entering.

I think Bill and Ted said it best when they said: "Whoa, dude!"

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Devil's Moist Towelette

Here's a shot of The Devil's Towelette taken on a rainy day recently. This is pretty much how it looks from most places in the valley, a view far more impressive than seeing it up close was.

It's the thumb-like rock sticking up from the left side of the saddle of the ridge, roughly in the center of the photo:

And here, just 'cuz, is yet another shot of Byers Peak as rainy, snowy clouds rolled in this evening:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What's In a Name?

Check out this fascinating site, which I found through BBC News. The site, Public Profiler, tracks more than 10 million surnames throughout 26 countries (it has a Western European/American focus, though Japan, India, Argentina and a few others are included).

It just launched and is getting a lot of traffic, so it may be super-slow or even give you a runtime error, but it's pretty neat (and free!).

For example, I got a shock... while I've found historical evidence to suggest German, Scottish and/or Irish origins for my last name, it actually occurs by far most frequently in... Poland.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Devil's Towelette

Another day off, another item checked off my to-do list.

I did a seven-mile hike (round-trip, so nothing crazy) entirely above timberline to a geologic feature right on the Continental Divide. It's sort of a miniature version of Devil's Tower in Wyoming, and I meant to type The Devil's Towerette for the title of the post, but I found the typo so amusing I left it as is.

Wiley, by the way, was a little stiff this morning so after a brief walkies up to the rodeo grounds I left him snoozing on his bed.

The trailhead was at the former site of Corona, a hotel that once stood at the spot where the old railroad came over the Divide. The road that leads up to it now is based on the old railroad grade, and traveling it in my Ford Focus, dodging potholes the size of Wiley and even bigger rocks, cringeing every time I scraped bottom, I couldn't stop thinking about the men who built and maintained the thing (until they realized hey, maybe we should just bore a big-ass tunnel straight through the mountain).

I mean, winter brought snow up to 30 feet deep, and here, winter is October through June!

The Corona hotel and other buildings are long gone, but here's a shot of the approach to the trailhead, with the Divide I'd be walking along looming in the background:

From the trail itself, here's a shot looking west into the valley where I live and work. My apartment is roughly in the center of the photo, though no amount of "embiggening" would let you see any detail. On the near horizon, that big mountain on the left that's taller than all the others is Byers Peak, the 12,804-footer I climbed a couple weeks ago:

One nice thing about The Devil's Towelette hike was that it started at 11,664 feet and ended at 12,235 feet, so there wasn't much elevation gain, and most of it was right at the beginning, up a series of steep switchbacks. From there it was relatively level walking along the Divide itself, which tickled me silly.

Here's a shot of the trail heading north:

I knew from my guidebook and from people at work who've done the hike that there wouldn't be much of a payoff. Although The Devil's Towelette can be seen from nearly anywhere in the valley and looks rather imposing, from the Divide it blends into the cliffs behind it, as shown below:

In case you're going "Towelette? What Towelette? I don't see no stinkin' towelette!" here's the same photo with it outlined in red:

To be able to see it without the cliffs behind it, you have to go all the way down the saddle and get almost to its base. Quite frankly, I see it (from a distance) every morning from my bedroom window, and thunderclouds were moving in, so I decided to turn back without getting a better shot.

While I was on The Devil's Towelette Trail, the real fun of the hike for me was not the destination but being above timberline without having killed myself to get there (like the Byers climb) so I could actually appreciate its beauty without gasping for breath. Also very cool: seeing the pikas. Usually I just hear them squeaking to each other around the rocks, but today I saw a few of them with their mouths stuffed full of vegetation for winter (just around the corner!). They are adorable.

I also saw what I think were northern pocket gophers and a long-tailed weasel... I'm not too sure about the weasel, because I didn't think they hung out above treeline, but it was too skinny and fast to be a yellow belly marmot and too, well, weaselly lookin' to be anything else I know. Whatever it was, like the gophers and the pikas it was frantically gathering food. By this time next month, the trail likely will be impassable with snow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Peak-Baggin', My Way

Wiley and I summited the 14,258-foot Mount Evans today. That's right, we bagged a 14er as the locals say. Without even breaking a sweat.

Because we drove all but the last quarter-mile.

Mount Evans is, as far as I know, the only 14er that has a summit you can get within shouting distance of in your car. The road that leads to the Summit Parking Lot is billed as the highest paved road in North America, not to be confused with Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, the highest continuously paved road in North America (though it tops out at less than 13,000 feet, you can drive Trail Ridge all the way through the park and over the Divide).

In any case, the Mount Evans road is a bleepin' high road, one of the most precarious I've been on because it's narrow with no rails and a lot of hairpins and blind curves and inattentive tourists.

It had been on my list of to-dos for a few months now, but only last night did I look at my guidebook and notice it closes for the year on Labor Day because of the snow. Yikes! That's next week!

So off we went early this morning in hopes of getting back in time for a physical with my new doctor (now that I have health insurance again... yay America for its universal health care! Oh, wait a minute... Let me put my reality boots back on so I'm firmly anchored to the ground.)

Here's the summit marker:

And if you think I'm developing an obsession with photos of the US Geological Survey markers yes, yes you are correct. By the way, I uploaded all superlarge files that you should be able to "embiggen" by clicking on the photo... please let me know if you can't, as it's been an issue in the past.

Here is a view from the summit looking north. Summit Lake, which interestingly enough is more than a thousand feet below the summit, is in the foreground. The mountains in the background are, I believe, the string of peaks on the Divide that loom over the valley where I live. If you are able to embiggen the photo and get really really close to your monitor and squint, you may be able to see the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park in the very distance, on the right.

Below is my favorite view from the summit, looking west towards what I believe is the Mosquito Range.

Yeah, the shot below is essentially of the western view again, but when Smalls crowded into my camera's view to stare intently at some ravens circling around the snowfield, I just really liked the way his ears lined up with all the peaks.

And finally, here's a view looking south. In the foreground is what's billed as the world's highest observatory (I thought the ones in Hawaii and Chile were higher up, but I don't go around with a tape measure). Just in front of it, you may be able to make out a structure that blends in well with the landscape. It's the remnants of what was once "the world's highest snack bar" but exploded in 1979 due to either a faulty propane tank or one hell of a bad burrito reaction... They preserved as much of the rubble as they could and turned it into an observation platform.

And again, if you embiggen the photo and squint, that mountain on the far right, far horizon is Pike's Peak. This was the last shot I got before the skies darkened and it started to hail. Wiley and I made it down the 130-foot elevation gain to the parking lot, which I'm sure is billed as "the world's highest paved parking lot," and made it back to our side of the Divide just in time for my physical.

Re: the physical, it was the first I've ever had by a doctor dressed in denim shorts, sandals and a t-shirt (it's a different world out here). It was also the first physical that included checking my blood oxygen saturation level to make sure I'm not hypoxic or anything because of living in this altitude.


On another altitude-related note, yes, I know it was only a quarter-mile each way, with a mere 130-foot elevation gain, but both Wiley and I virtually jogged up the trail from the parking lot to the summit, passing tourists left and right as they bent over gasping for air. I thought it was cool to see how living at 8550 feet above sea level has granted us some semblance of superpowers when heading upward from the world's highest paved parking lot.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Rocky Mountain Randoms: The Mamma Mia! Edition

I'll get to why I need therapy in a minute, but first:

- I wasn't able to get a good picture of Elk Mountain from a distance when Wiley and I hiked it last week because I approached it from the northeast. Today I happened to be driving toward it from the south and was able to snap the photo below, which gives you a better idea of its size and shape... it's the big lump in the middle of the background:

- As many of you know, not only am I not a fan of eating chocolate, but it's also not my favorite thing to work with. While I eventually got confident about tempering it in Vegas and at school, my tempering tries here have been hit-or-miss, largely because the kitchen is comparatively small and gets so hot that to get it tempered I have to go in and out of the walk-in.

That said, on Friday I got out my chocolate mold and tried tempering in the morning, when only one oven is on and the line cooks aren't around yet. I also tried putting the bowl on top of ice for a few seconds at a time to get it cool enough. And behold!! While the strawberries I dipped in the same exact chocolate at the right temp bloomed within minutes (dang it!) the dark chocolate caramels I made with the mold came out beautifully and didn't bloom or lose their sexy sheen or leak or anything:

(Tempering chocolate, for those of you who complain I use too many fancy-pants pastry terms without defining them, is simply the process of controlling the size and shape of the fat crystals in the chocolate so that it has a lush sheen, sets quickly and can set thinly and then break with a clean snap. Chocolate that doesn't set, gets dull and/or looks moldy isn't tempered... the mold is just "bloom," when the fat separates from the rest of the matter. It's fine to eat.)

I'm most proud of getting a good temper because none of the chocolate we have in the restaurant is good for seeding... due to the heat of the kitchen, it's all bloomed.

- Here's another dessert I'm working on to add to the menu instead of my strawberry-basil creation (the season is really over for strawberries). It's Grand Marnier frozen souffle with local raspberries, chocolate tuile and hot fudge sauce that the customer can pour on top of the souffle.
While I like the plating, I recognize that the tuile is too fragile and cumbersome for the pantry cook to deal with in the middle of service, and two of the line cooks who saw me tinkering with it said they thought the plate was too white (empty). So I'm thinking of changing the tuile shape and adding a sauce to the plate, though I still like the idea of the hot fudge in a cruet (as long as I don't have to eat it!)

- Now, to the meat of the matter... I drove an hour and a half to go to the movies today, because I've been really wanting to see, yes, Mamma Mia! for the sole reason that it stars both Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard.

Well, uhm...

I should have known it was not the movie for me when I arrived in the theater and sat down in the first row of stadium seating and the chubby middle-aged woman with hair down to her butt, sitting at the opposite end of the row, shrieked "I'm saving this row! Those seats are saved!"

Nevermind that she and I were two of about a dozen people in the entire theater. I sat down on the end and told her my legs are too long to be comfortable elsewhere (which is actually true). She gave me the lazer stare of death. Whatev, sistah.

She was joined by several other chubby, long-haired, rather intense women (who, by the way, didn't fill up the row. So there.), all of whom had clearly seen the movie many, many times.

I got a little anxious because hey, I'm chubby and long-haired (tho' not that long-haired) and I really hope I don't look like that much of a stereotypical spinster. But these women, well, they reminded me of the rabid Barry Manilow and Josh Groban fans I used to have to deal with when I was a music journalist. Scary.

The string of trailers deepened my unease. They were all for movies I had no intention of ever seeing, even if trapped on a plane with a chatty seatmate.

The movie starts. Yes, I knew there'd be singing. I mean, it is a musical. But it soon became apparent: I was watching a foreign film. You know how sometimes you watch a foreign film that's been dubbed, so it's in English but you don't understand the culture the produced it, the pace is different than you're used to in American movies and you start to feel dumb for not "getting it"? Yeah, well, that's what I mean.

Don't get me wrong... Colin Firth did his usual charmingly uptight Englishman thing, and the scene where he plays guitar was the sweetest bit of puppy-dog-eyed-hottie-strumming since I saw Mike Huckabee rocking out on bass during the primaries.

And Stellan was of course great, and seemed wildly amused to be singing and dancing, as if he was just tickled silly to have hoodwinked fans of his Serious Work in to see a movie based on Sweden's other great export.

Don't get me wrong on that, either... I like ABBA's dancy songs (not the ballads), and rank them up near Stellan, IKEA and Prinsesstarta in the reasons to be glad Sweden so thoroughly resisted falling under Nazi occupation*.

(*Sorry, kind of an in-joke with myself... when I went to the Norwegian Nazi Resistance Museum in Oslo, the guy staffing the desk joked that next time I was in Stockholm I should check out the Swedish Nazi Resistance Museum... there isn't one. The Norwegians are pretty proud of their anti-Nazi efforts, and rightly so... if you're ever in Oslo, you have to visit the museum. It's one of the best-designed and most intelligent I've ever been to. Stockholm, to its credit, does have an awesome sewer exhibit in one of its natural history museums, or at least it did when I was there a few times in the mid-90s.)

Anyway... despite the calming, charming and reassuring presence of Firth and Skarsgard, the rest of the movie frightened me. Way too much perkiness, and vamping, and kissing, and improbably good-looking pan-ethnic people on a remote Greek island despite clearly not being Greek. Why was the mom on that island 20 years ago to begin with? Why was the mom in her 60s and the kid just 20? If she had sex with three men over a month-span, surely she could have figured out which one was the father, no? I mean, was she that stupid? If it was set in present-day, why were all the flashbacks of 20 years ago to the mid-70s?

Aside from being confused by the plot, scared of the manaically aggressive cheeriness of the film (do we really need to see Meryl Streep, or anyone, for that matter, jumping up and down on her bed in soft-focus, slow motion? Why? Why??) and disconcerted by the Spinster Brigade beside me singing along and laughing way, way too loud over the lame slapstick humor, I just really felt out of place.
I desperately wanted someone to get beheaded (onscreen or in the row beside me would be fine), or to be sent off on a doomed mission, preferably on horseback, or for something, anything to explode in a massive fireball. That would have put me at ease.

Instead it was two hours of candy-colored fluff and farce (the brainless kind) that I just didn't connect with. Apparently I was the only one in the theater who felt that way, as much merriment was had by all the rest. Part of me wanted to stand up and shout "hey! I like romantic stuff! The Princess Bride is my all-time favorite movie! I love Pride and Prejudice! The book and all the screen adaptations, dammit!" But the rest of me just slid lower in my stadium seating chair.

If you do go to see Mamma Mia! (the movie) and find yourself having the same reaction, please take my advice and leave before the end credits. Because at the end, (spoiler) all the leads come out in full spandex, spangles and platform boots that Liberace would have found vulgar to dance and sing one more time.

I could have gone to my grave remembering Colin Firth as the utterly perfect Mr. Darcy and Stellan Skarsgard as the deliciously low-key bad guy Cerdic or somberly sexy Father Merrin or even the doomed sub captain Tupolev... instead the image of them cavorting clumsily in red sequins and spandex is burned indelibly into my mind.


On the drive home I listened to Alice in Chains. I felt a little better.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Must-See Feel-Good Movie of the Year!

Mad props to my pal Laura for e-mailing me "How To Sing Puppies To Sleep." Make sure your sound is on!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Day Slightly More Exciting Than Necessary

Yesterday (Tuesday) Wiley and I headed up to the Troublesome Valley area, adjacent to the Never Summer Wilderness, which gives me the opportunity to use two awesome placenames in one sentence.

We drove there because I was determined to check another summit off my to-do list: Elk Mountain, 11,332 feet above sea level.

I followed the driving directions in my guide to hiking in the area, which hasn't let me down. Until Tuesday.

After turning off the paved county road onto a recreational road the book described as "a good dirt road," I had to check how recently the book was published (2006). It took me more than an hour to go ten miles over rock, mud, puddles of unknown depth, more rock, and some stretches of rock between the rock. I had to get out several times to move rocks (and one fallen tree) that were simply beyond the abilities of my already-straining Focus.

Oh, and did I mention the road was a steady, steep rise with several hairpin turns?

I kept arguing with myself to turn around, no no, it will get better around the next turn, turn back, etc. I reached a point where it was simply too narrow, with a dropoff to one side, to turn around safely, so I forged ahead.

It was then that the engine light lit up the dashboard.

I was hoping it was just my car's recurring problem of "running too lean." The engine light has come on a few times in the last two years, and three different mechanics in three different states ran diagnostics and reported the engine was running too lean, which essentially meant I was getting better gas mileage than I should, or at least that's how they explained it. I did go almost 200 miles on five gallons of gas the day before.

Anyway, I was also aware that, at nearly nine years old with 105,000 miles on it, my car is reaching that age where Bad Things Happen.

I decided to press on, since cell phone reception, should I need a tow, would be better higher up instead of on the side of a mountain.

14.7 miles later, I got to the turn-off for a logging road described by my guide as, you guessed it, "a good dirt road." Perhaps it had been, in about 1984, but I doubted any vehicle had been on it since the Reagan administration. It was overgrown and deeply rutted, so I decided to park my car and continue the 1.5 miles to the trailhead on foot.

On the walk uphill along the alleged "good dirt road," it was still morning so we were in shade. But not for long. And once out of the trees and up through a steep meadow to timberline, there was nowhere for us to hide from an unexpectedly strong sun in a cloudless sky.

Wiley started breathing really heavily and licking his lips, so I gave him water. Then I gave him some more. I decided, as the creature that was physiologically younger and did not have a kidney problem, I could handle being dehydrated but I didn't want to risk him dying on me on the trail. So I wound up giving him all the water I'd brought, two quarts parsed out over what would be a six mile hike, most of it in the sun.

On the way up, we discovered, I guess, why it's called Elk Mountain:

The hike from the trailhead to the summit has just about a 800 foot elevation gain (not counting probably another 600 feet along the logging road we walked) but it's all in a short, steep climb at the beginning.

We were just shy of timberline in the meadow (trees on either side of it but nowhere near us for shade) when I really thought I should turn back. Of course, you know me, I pressed on, Wiley doggedly following behind and stopping to lay down now and then.

The summit at last!! Here's the official marker:

And here is one of my all-time favorite photos of AdventureDog, looking quite adventurous. I always tell him I buy him IAMS Active Maturity dog food for "his mature yet active lifestyle" and I think this photo is proof that the ground-up baby seals or whatever they put in that purple bag works.

Not bad for a dog who will be 14 in February, eh? Behind him in the distance are the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here's another shot from the summit, looking north toward the Never Summer Range:

According to my guidebook, which was losing credibility with me by the minute, from the summit we were to follow the ridgeline down into forest, past a plaque dedicated to a 19th century rancher/hunter captured (and released) by the local Utes.

Uhm, ok. Down along the ridgeline we went, into the forest. No plaque. No trail. The guide had warned "the trail appears and disappears" but there was nothing. I don't fancy myself some awesome tracker, but I have followed trails all over the world, and let me tell you, there was nothing to follow.

As an aside, I think the terrible road conditions and the disappeared trail are largely because Elk Mountain is not one of the popular peaks, and it's probably gotten neglected by a budget-strapped National Parks Service, what with RoMo (Rocky Mountain National Park) and other star attractions so close and vying for the same limited funds.

Of course, its very obscurity was one of the things that attracted me to Elk Mountain.

Finally, just as I was considering going back up to the summit and retracing my steps back down through the meadow (to be honest, I was thinking of just rolling down the hill...), I saw an overgrown trail on the far side of a tangle of fallen trees. A little further on, I saw two bright blue slashes of paint on trees framing the trail.

Eventually, the trail opened up to this... look! another tertiary igneous dike! It's kinda hard to see in the photo, but it's there, trust me (the rocks lining the draw have fallen down from it). The trail took us along its top for a while before we arrived at a second meadow.

Here, my guidebook instructed me to walk 50 paces along the ridge, then turn right and go across the meadow, back into the trees where I'd see the trail, follow it for some ways and eventually pick up an old logging road back to the trailhead.

I walked the 50 paces, turned and headed for the trees. I saw blue slashes and the overgrown trail ahead of me, but I stopped.

And this is where it gets weird. I just had a really bad feeling about the trail. Like it was not right, and I shouldn't follow the blue slashes or my guidebook. I can't explain it, but I was suddenly very creeped out (medical diagnosis: dehydration was making me all nutty in the head again).

I've had similar experiences when hiking and I always listen to my gut, so I decided instead to make a sharp turn into another clearing almost in the opposite direction of where the blue slashes were leading me. I'm actually really good at landnav on an instinctual level that I can't explain, other than being able to "smell" the right direction. It's weird, I know, and interestingly, it doesn't work in the Southern Hemisphere, where I am hopelessly dependent on my compass. But here and now, I followed my nose.

After about a hundred paces through the brush, I found ruts in the ground and realized I was on another logging road. I followed it for a little over a mile, watching to see if it intersected with any other roads or trails. It didn't. Then, ahead of me, I saw the trailhead gate where I'd started.

That's what I don't understand. I ended up where I was supposed to be, but only by walking in the opposite direction advised by both my guidebook and the mysterious blue slashes that I thought marked the trail. Part of me figures the marks were randomly left behind by loggers and the trail was so overgrown in general that I just didn't see my way and the guidebook's way were one and the same.

But another part of me wonders where the hell I would have wound up if I'd followed those blue slash marks...

In any case, Wiley and I made it back safely to the car and I opted for the "alternate" driving directions in my guidebook, heading west instead of returning over the rocky road. The other road took me about 30 miles out of my way, but it was used by ranchers and was, by every measure, "a good dirt road."

After drinking copious amounts of water, we're both fine. The engine light is still on, but my car has not exploded. And I have checked off another summit on my to-do list.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yesterday, with snow hanging around the higher elevations and the trails/backroads on the muddy side, Wiley and I went on a road trip.

We drove up to North Park (but not all the way to Wyoming this time) and then turned east, onto the Cache la Poudre Scenic Byway... Cache la Poudre is the name of a river that has its headwaters near those of the Colorado River, only it heads east instead of west.

I believe "Cache la Poudre" is French for "Hide the Pudding!" but perhaps I am mistaken.

In any case, the views were spectacular, including of the Never Summer Mountains, the only volcanic range in the Rockies and recipients of the best mountain range name ever. Here's a shot of a few of them, the spiky ones on the left being my faves:

Once on the east side of the range, the scenery changed dramatically to dry and rocky and reminiscent of the Capitol Reef area in Utah. Eventually, the road led to Fort Collins, a dry, dusty, somewhat downtrodden college town that really didn't impress me, although its over-gentrified cutesy downtown strip of trendy eateries and boutiquey spots was ridiculously crowded. In the early afternoon on a Monday? Really?

I drove south and picked up Route 34 to head back over the mountains via Rocky Mountain National Park:

I figured that, by the time I got to the park, it would be nearing dusk and a good time to spot an animal or two.

And hey! Whaddya know! Here's an elk:

Yes, that's the road he's standing right next to (photo taken without zoom). I saw a couple dozen of them, usually one bull and three or four... uh... ewes? does? bitches? whatever... elkettes in a unit grazing right by the road. Not as big as moose, but pretty dang huge, and beautiful.

Needless to say, the tourists were acting like paparazzi who've just spotted Brangelina having a food fight. I snapped the photo of the bull above while I was stopped in my car while the ranger ahead of me argued with a guy in an SUV with Texas plates about why he needed to get himself and his kid back in the car and stop trying to pet the elk.

I mean, really.

Up above timberline, on Trail Ridge Road (full disclosure: the last couple times I've mentioned TRR, I've screwed up the name, calling it Timber Line or Timber Ridge or Trail Line. But it's definitely Trail Ridge Road. I know because I bought a cool t-shirt on clearance at the gift shop and that's what it says...), things were looking a little dramatic with the setting sun and low clouds:

I like it.

I'm not sure which particular mountain the above is a shot of, but I took it from near the highest point of the road before descending back to my neck of the roads and letting Wiley, who spent the entire day with his head out the window, take a much-needed snooze on his bed.

Sightseeing is exhausting!