Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Remember those old albums which would have a 40 second track near the end reprising an earlier song? Being here now feels like that, a four month reminder of eight years.

Friday night I went to a dance performance at the university and walking home afterward made me think of the time I’d walked the same route after a Greg Brown concert, singing and enjoying the stars and city lights and dark Lake.

I live on the same block in an identical building. This adds to the strange sense of time reversed. I walk by the apartment where I lived before and see the outside of the windows where first Hijack, then Walden, the dead cats, sat and watched the world. In my new apartment I keep checking the time on the clock on the microwave which isn’t there. When I leave, I look down to say goodbye to Walden and reassure him I’ll be back soon, and when I return I think of saying hello as I reach for my keys.

I haven’t been doing any hiking because I’m trying to rest my feet which I apparently did a lot of damage to with a couple pair of bad shoes intended for normal walkers. I walk very heavily on the outsides of my feet. At this point most steps still hurt. I may try to get out there later this week since the library will be closed for a couple days, and I know deeper snow and colder weather are coming eventually.

I’m wishing I were in Yellowstone—even Mammoth which people told me doesn’t get much snow has more than a couple feet on the ground and more coming. Apparently it's the most people there have seen at once in many years of working there.

My Yellowstone coworker is wrapping up his latest two nation National Park tour and heading back home for Thanksgiving. Earlier I was very impressed by his photos of snowy Jasper; from the latest couple weeks, Zion and Bryce in Utah were especially lovely.

Working on reducing inventory of everything again and doing well at it—this may be my last chance to sell stuff. No idea at this point what I’ll be doing next October when Yellowstone 2011 ends. If I’m returning for the next winter season, I’ll be able to store stuff there; if not, I’m not likely to ship it anywhere again so whatever books are left (down to 90 or so at this point) would likely get donated to the rec hall library. Anyway, heard these appropriate lyrics on an old cassette tape.

Already One—Neil Young

In my new life I’m traveling light

Eyes wide open for the next move

I can’t go wrong til I get right

But I’m not falling back in the same groove

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Long Attention Span Wrap-Up

It had been coming for years, but last autumn I lost almost everything--the apartment I'd lived in for over eight years, my cat, most of my stuff, the town I thought of as home, my credit rating. I was left with my life and a few boxes of memories. By the time February rolled around, I'd spent the last couple months of his life with my grandfather until discovering his body, also discovered a betrayal by my father, and lost the second of the two women who had been the lights and oases of my life for decades. I'd passed most of a human lifetime in a civilization which had always disgusted me and left me feeling despair and isolation. I was deeper than ever in the hole of depression I'd been digging for years and as I wandered aimlessly through cold white fields and woods with eyes turning icy, the temptation was strong to walk deep into those woods and lie down forever. I had made plans to return to Duluth within the week and I weakly tried to convince myself to at least wait until I got home so I could die in a place where I had once loved living.

The thought at least temporarily got me out of the woods and back to my grandfather's gutted home where I'd been sleeping on the floor. There I found a job offer from Yellowstone, not the good job I'd interviewed for, only low paid kitchen help but low paid kitchen help in Yellowstone, a place I'd never seen and never expected to. I didn't actually want the job, but it gave me an escape route and I wanted to see the place so I bit through my tongue, grabbed the lifeline, and held on tightly for the long three months until the job began.

I began the trip as early as I could afford to, spending days back in old favorite Duluth with the Lake and the cat and friends and oft-visited restaurants, and then enjoying days in the new town of Bozeman which would be the pickup point for the last leg of the journey to Yellowstone.

On that ride away from collapsing civilization I was one among two busloads of new and returning employees, a 75 mile trip to the check-in point where after an hour in line, I made it to the counter and was given a note to immediately call the person I'd previously interviewed with for the much better job. This could only be good news and in fact I was offered the job I wanted, and my life was greatly improved for a second time by a Yellowstone job offer.

I had to go to my original location for a couple days which provided the opportunity to realize when I finally made it to Mammoth that my living conditions and coworkers would be much better as well as the job being much better. It wasn't long before I realized that, much like people in the other world, I'd lucked into being part of the upper class in this world, far removed from most of the employees dealing with lousy jobs and overcrowded places to live. I tried to remember them while giving thanks for my good fortune, but I never would have changed places with them.

Continuing a streak of positives, I found myself unexpectedly falling for a woman I had very little in common with in terms of values and lifestyles in that other world. That falling feeling had become unfamiliar to me and was a welcome surprise at first but the exploration came to a predictable ending before really beginning, and led to some uncomfortable moments. The air cleared a bit in the final days, and I'll miss her despite it all.

All the days of these 4 1/2 months run together in my mind--the high desert sun and the rain and the snow, the sight and the smell of 4000 acres of grass and lodgepole pines burning forty miles away, the black bears and grizzly bears, the ravens and magpies, the eagles and ospreys and peregrine falcons and great horned owls, the bluebirds and tree swallows and barn swallows, the chipmunks and ground squirrels, the wolves and coyotes, the snakes, the bison and elk, the bighorn sheep and mountain goats, the forests and mountains and lakes and rivers and sagebrush meadows, the geysers and pools, the grasshoppers, the marmots and weasels, the pronghorns and mule deer, the climbs and descents, the van and car and bus rides, the obsidian and rhyolite and travertine, the group hikes and the solo walks, the silence and deep breaths inhaling peace, the tourists' phone calls of exhilarated memory and envy, the coworkers' reflections in the final days.

But though in many ways it was paradise and a great opportunity, it also could be a very difficult place for me as a vegetarian and a non-driver. When the employee cafeteria offered nothing tempting, I gained weight eating meals of junk food and beer from the only available store's very limited groceries. In the final week, I lost the vegetarian label I'd worn for years--not because I craved meat, but because I wanted anything other than the same damn junk food. And being on the edge of a scenic hiking heaven with no way to get to most of the trails was a difficult experience to say the least--it's the closest I've ever come to wishing I was a car owner. Weekends without group hikes or other planned events could be very long as could Monday mornings hearing of others' weekends.

I'd been here for months before I saw the highlights of a tourist's one day tour--Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, the Canyon. But I saw many places most of those tourists never see, and I lived here, watching the terraces change, and letting the place become a part of me. I had the time to stand by the flowing water, letting the sound bring a smile. I saw the mountains cloud-covered, snow-covered, smoke-covered, and sunlit. I had the opportunity to wander outside to take in the evening air and observe an elk herd, or to simply watch them just outside my window; to look in any direction, morning, noon, or night, and feel stunned and blessed; to sense the power of a bison in his stoic stare, to see the joy and curiosity of romping grizzly cubs and the waiting for death of an elk; the intelligence of magpies and the playfulness of ravens; the real real world, the one that matters and will remain in some form long after all the stock markets have crashed and the highways disintegrated.

I'm leaving only because I'm forced to; I know how Adam felt. I'd gladly stay if they kept offering me places to work and eat and sleep. But though that means I'd like to come back, I can't know positively that I will--I have to survive months back out there among you first. I guess the only thing that will stop me from returning is if my life gets either much better or much worse in that time. I'm hoping to return in late winter for a different job which would carry me through two or three months until this year's job resumes when the spring tourist migration begins again. If the first job doesn't happen, I may return early in May and camp until the job begins and I'm allowed in the dorm.

And then after a second year . . . well, maybe there will be a third. But one of the reasons I picked Yellowstone was because it was the only park which claimed to offer vegetarian choices at every meal. If that is no longer a nonnegotiable requirement for me (and it's still by far my first choice, what I consider the moral choice, and the way I'll dine when in real restaurants or any future kitchens of my own--it's just not practical or healthy for me in this cafeteria lifestyle where I have no control), that opens up the possibility of many other places to work, some with public transit within the parks once I manage to get to them.

I see a hope of piecing together a new pattern as a result of seeing no way to return to the old one. And though I'm really not a travel fan, but rather at heart just a homebody without a home, a felinophile without a cat, who would gladly have never seen Yellowstone if I could still be living in my old Duluth apartment with my cat, there is a lot of beauty out there to see. Like these places for starters.

It's a new world. Time for a new life.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Top 10 albums for a Yellowstone summer

Bap Kennedy--Domestic Blues

Bruce Cockburn--Anything Anytime Anywhere

Creedence Clearwater Revival--Pendulum

Doors--L.A. Woman

Danny O'Keefe--Breezy Stories

Fiftymen--Balances + Sums

Greg Brown--Dream Cafe

Jackson Browne--Late for the Sky

Patty Griffin--1000 Kisses

Rolling Stones--Jump Back 1971-1993

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pacing on the Last Night

For the past two nights, I've sat here drinking wine at the end of a day of music by Patty Griffin and Bruce Cockburn which ultimately ended with two Cockburn tracks being repeated repeatedly--Pacing the Cage and Last Night of the World. Here are the lyrics which kept me coming back for more. You can listen to both songs and more of his best at his website.

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it's pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you've lived too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can't see what's round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage
Pacing the cage
Pacing the cage


I learned as a child not to trust in my body
I've carried that burden through my life
But there's a day when we all have to be pried loose
If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?
The apocalyptic romantic genre was probably created and certainly mastered by Jackson Browne with his Late for the Sky album, but the combination of these two songs from the Anything Anytime Anywhere collection hits that sweet spot as well.

I signed up for that worldview long ago. As much as anything, it's who I am. Recognizing the futility, but never quite able to embrace it, I've raged against the cage and slowly walked the stagecoach road. Wherever it's led me, whatever depths I've reached, it's been better than suburbia. But there hasn't been enough prying loose, nor enough champagne.

If the last night of the world comes while I'm at Yellowstone, there's someone here I'd like to share that champagne with. We'll see how that goes down.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Write Like

Here's an amusing site which claims to analyze text you paste in and tell you who you write like. I'm not sure if it actually analyzes anything or just randomly picks an author, but I could do this all day. When I have time, I'll reenter some and see if I get the same results.

I stuck in a few old blog posts and have gotten 3 Dan Browns, 2 David Foster Wallaces, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, P.G. Wodehouse, Jack London, and James Joyce. Some of those aren't bad company, and for the others, I can only ask, "So where's my royalty check?"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Scratching the Surface

It's a new blog, nothing like the old blog. Here I'm looking to explore the creative, the emotional, the sensual, the repressed, the ignored, and the blocked. I hope at various times it will be experimental, self-indulgent, erotic, offensive, playful, open, honest, and witty. And I hope that at times you won't be sure if it's fact or fiction.

While I search to see if I have anything of my own left to say, it seems a good place to begin might be by looking back at some of the creative works which struck me hardest and deepest in times gone by. Some were works of the moment, such as dance performances and music concerts--these live in hazy memory of the impression and emotion and sometimes drug of the moment. More were turned into products to be purchased with the benefit of being easily reread, rewatched, reheard, reexamined, and reinterpreted. Many of these were books and films, but most of my copies have been resold now and the rest are in storage.

Which leaves the digitized music on my computer as the easiest choice to start with, the former compact discs which were former tapes which were former albums. The obvious drawback of discussing songs you may never have heard is that you miss the context the music provides the lyrics, and often in those golden days, the context the album provided the song. When I can find them, I'll provide links for listening. But in the end, this is likely to be more about memoir, some real, some fantasy, than music anyway.

Taking a look at some of the music I have, I might be writing words inspired by Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bruce Cockburn, Cat Stevens, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Danny O'Keefe, the Doors, Fiftymen, Fred Eaglesmith, Jerry Garcia and bands, George Harrison and John Lennon, Greg Brown and Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Nina Simone, Patty Griffin, Paul Simon, Richard Thompson, the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Tom Waits, Utah Phillips, War, the Waterboys, or Willy DeVille. The starting point for each post may be a song, a mood, or a memory.

Realistically, I don't know how often I'll be working on this writing now, and it will be even less frequently that I'll post something here. I'm not in the best of circumstances to work on this at the moment, and I mean that in both a good and bad way with both many wonderful distractions and also limited privacy/solitude. When the second factor improves, there will probably be a lot more action here. For now, I mostly wanted to steal the blog name, which comes from a Patty Griffin song (Mad Mission), before anyone else did.