Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yellowstone 2011 Preview

I've known the dates for a week or two but finally got them in print yesterday. I'll be back in the park in mid-March, work three months at a new job (also in Mammoth Hot Springs), then switch back to the job I had last year for four months until mid-October. How the new job works out will probably determine if I'll be working more at the end of 2011 or if there will be a Yellowstone 2012. The first couple months should be pleasantly quiet because the hotel will be closed until mid-May. The NPS and private full timers will be around but the only temp employees working will be the group I'll be in (Reservations) and the folks running the cafeteria for us. It will be fun to watch the place wake up, and then have a summer where I know what to expect as far as the job and life in the park.

Considered traveling for the first couple weeks of March since my current lease runs through the end of February, and also checked to see if there were any interesting Yellowstone Institute classes in early March, but I think I'll wind up just paying another month's rent here since I'll probably be on the road in October and a month's rent here will be cheaper than a couple weeks of hotel rooms. I expect that I'll head out March 10th or 11th and spend a few days in Bozeman before going to the park, but haven't made definite plans yet.

See ya in the mountains.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be a Jerkwad! Save Civilization!

Earlier, I walked over to a table in the library where a teenage girl was sitting having a conversation, pointed to the sign on the wall next to the table (QUIET STUDY AREA), and told her that if they wanted to talk, they were in the wrong part of the library. Which was remarkably polite because what I really want to do in cases like these is to grab one head firmly in each hand and ram them into each other.

She said they'd move and thanked me for being a jerkwad. This kind of self-absorption pretty much defines public life nowadays. From talking in a library or at a movie or concert to strolling across a street in the middle of a block in front of cars to blocking sidewalks to blasting earphones to SUVs and snowmobiles, the dominant zeitgeist is a celebration of irresponsible arrogant ignorance. There, I'm a cranky old jerkwad.

And of course, I've left out the ubiquitous prime offender, the cell phone. And there's a reason I saved the best for last. After I'd heard the same cell phone ring and ensuing voice for the third time since I've been sitting here, another cranky old jerkwad came over and asked me to turn it off because it was supposed to be a quiet area. ;-) Naturally, after I figured out what he was talking about I proudly told him it wasn't mine and that I didn't own one. He snarled, "Well, whose is it then?" and we walked off together to find heads to ram together.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Life in Black and White

I was listening to Nina Simone a few days ago, including some songs which were recorded in concert shortly after Martin Luther King was killed: Sunday in Savannah, Why (The King of Love is Dead), and Mississippi Goddamn. Her comments ran from a gentle introduction about how she’d like to change Savannah to Atlanta but didn’t think he’d mind, to listing those who’d died recently, to “I ain’t about to be nonviolent, honey.”

Tears came to my eyes as she brought back that time. I can’t honestly say exactly what I remember and what I’ve filled in over the years, but I know I was a precocious and passionate kid. Later in that horrible year of Kennedy (again) and My Lai and Nixon and Wallace and Chicago, I had a letter published in Newsweek supporting the two athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists in a Black Power salute at the Olympics during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. As Nina sang, we were close to the brink, and whatever childhood I had ended long before I became a teenager along with any illusions about the future of the human race. Had I been older, I would have told you which way the wind blew whether you needed me or not.

During my freshman year at college, I attended a play with a black woman. It wasn’t actually a date; she was just a last minute replacement for my girlfriend who was too wasted to go with me. Onstage, in colorblind roles, a black female student was about to kiss a white male student when from a black female student in the audience came the cry, “Don’t do it, Joni, don’t kiss him!” I wished I really was on a date because I wanted to stand up and kiss the woman I was with just then.

A year or two later, the college’s Black Student Union held some cultural/historical event which had low attendance, and a letter to the college paper accused people of being racists for not showing up. I replied that most cultural events on campus had low attendance which had nothing to do with racism. Whites thanked me for writing it, and blacks called me, yes, you guessed it, a racist.

Now a silly professor, who looks a bit like a too neat Mark Twain, wants to turn Nigger Jim into Slave Jim—I think a writer’s words should never be changed, whether from a great American novel or a trivial blog. But if we’re going to change the meaning of the book, let’s not just whitewash it, let’s at least make it lively. Slave Jim! How dull! I say we make him Black Panther Jim with a cache of weapons in the tent, or Rastafari Jim smoking ganja, slowly floating away from Babylon.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dear . . .

Had my interview this morning for the second Yellowstone job which will be working in reservations--it's kind of relaxing to have an interview with someone you've worked with, knowing that unless something goes very wrong you're getting hired. I asked if "extreme" hair had anything to do with length; she said it meant blue or pink, so I guess my old hippie plan is safe. No lip or tongue piercings allowed (presumably for slurred speech on the phone reasons), but it'll be OK if I decide to go for an ear. Remember when one ear meant you were gay and one meant you were straight? I guess the tongue . . . nah, we won't go there.

We just need to figure out my starting date which will likely happen this week. Training for the new group starts in mid-March but they'd apparently like me to start before then. I'm not sure I want to. I'd like to get back to the park and it would certainly be cheaper than traveling for two weeks after I leave here, but I think I'd like to go through the same training as everyone else. Even though I already know some of the material, there is plenty I don't know and I'd like to experience the whole thing because this is the job which will likely determine how much of the year I'll be living/working there in the future. Plus, I don't want to give someone bad info now and then have them call me back at the other job and recognize my voice. "Hey, you're the dirty SOB who put me in that place I hated!" Anyway, this year I'll be there at least 7 months after being there 4 1/2 months in 2010 so it's moving in the right direction.

We're having a cold spell here and the Lake is as beautiful as ever. I wish I were photographing it for you. I wish that every day when I come downtown I were walking to and from along the Lakewalk as I used to and that when I wasn't by the Lake I was in the snowy woods, but I'm resting my foot as much as possible. I don't think it's getting any better yet, but at least it's not getting worse.

I'm down to about 75 books and still trying to pull a few more before making my selling trip to St. Paul. Checked at Amazon to see which ones are still in print. Went through my pile of Wild Earth and am getting rid of half of them. What a shame that magazine isn't published any more. On the other hand, I'm checking online and making a list of the contents of issues of Yellowstone Science and will pick up copies when I get there.

I'm in the midst of spending about $1000 on dental work before going back to the "wilderness". It seems cheap after that place I went to in Boston last spring where they came up with a list of about $6000 worth of stuff they wanted to do. Pull this, replace those, nah, not doing any of that.

Started thinking about what comes after Yellowstone in October. If it turns out I'll be returning to work in December, a two month Greyhound pass costs about $550. Pretty cheap way to get around to all the places in the country I haven't seen yet (Northwest, Southwest, San Francisco) and revisit some of the favorites I haven't seen in a long time (New Orleans, Marquette, Burlington, Brattleboro, Portland). And I'm sure that would give me plenty to write about. If I won't be returning in December, I suspect I may not be returning at all and will have to look for a new home. Bozeman, Missoula, back to Duluth, dodging rangers and bears in the backcountry? Well, I'll let you know when I do.

Hope everyone's well, and thanks for the fruitcake.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Van Morrison

I sold most of my CD collection before I bought this laptop and as a result have wound up rebuying, ripping, and reselling a few which I decided I was sorry I’d sold. My Van Morrison collection was actually all on cassettes, so in order to get rid of them I bought a Greatest Hits set (in typically cantankerous Morrison style, these 3 CDs apparently didn’t have room for some of his actual hits such as Blue Money) and have found myself listening to it repeatedly in the past couple weeks, just as I repeatedly listened to a Bruce Cockburn collection at Yellowstone.

I saw Morrison in concert once, in Boston on a split bill with Bob Dylan. I remember that Dylan dominated the show and that Morrison seemed to give a fairly perfunctory performance, letting other band members often carry the show. But from all I’ve read about both performers, it could easily have been the other way around the next night.

My music collection tends to be split fairly evenly between those I bought because of the lyrics and those I bought because of the sound. Morrison falls firmly in the second category—joyful, excited, lush, romantic, saxophone, harmonica, driving r & b, soul singing with a jazz sensibility.
But lyrics have their place and my first memory of his songs is Brown Eyed Girl:

Cast my memory back there, Lord
Sometimes I'm overcome thinkin' 'bout it
Making love in the green grass, behind the stadium
With you, my brown eyed girl

My first serious girlfriend was a brown eyed girl who worked at a motel near the stadium where the New England Patriots played. The motel and the football team are still there but I lost track of her more than 35 years ago.

Morrison’s another of the spiritual seekers whose music I was often drawn to—George Harrison, Cat Stevens, Mike Scott, Bob Marley. Morrison’s words are a mix of Paganism and Christianity—naturally, I go for the Nature worship but even at their most explicitly Christian the lyrics usually don’t bother me because of the sound. For me, a song title like Whenever God Shines His Light doesn’t sound very promising. But it’s a great upbeat song which ends with variations of the repeated line, “Put your feet back, on higher ground,” which could repeat for a couple more minutes and I’d be perfectly happy. I don’t know, maybe it’s about climbing mountains.

Most of the slow songs are intense and moving also, such as Vanlose Stairway and Celtic New Year. But to be honest, there are some songs which are every bit as lethargic and ponderous as you’d expect from the titles.

Sometimes it sounds like he’s been following me around Duluth and Yellowstone:

When I recall just how it felt
When I went walking down by the Lake
My soul was free, my heart awake
When I walked down into the town

The mountain air was fresh and clear
The sun was up behind the hill
It felt so good to be alive
On that morning in spring
--from The Beauty of the Days Gone By

There are four songs on this set with God in the title and many more on the same subject, but they’re not all about transcending this world. For instance, some words from Precious Time--

It doesn't matter what route you take
Sooner or later the heart's gonna break
No rhyme or reason, no master plan
No Nirvana, no promised land

Because precious time is slipping away
You know you're only king for a day
It doesn't matter to which god you pray
Precious time is slipping away

Say que sera, whatever will be
But then I keep on searching for immortality
She's so beautiful but she's gonna die some day
Everything in life just passes away

Sounds like a bummer, doesn’t it? At least from the dominant death-denying modern viewpoint. But this is another up-tempo tune with a saxophone playing what sounds a bit like the theme from The Benny Hill Show. I’ve been known to play it three times in a row. If walking didn’t hurt so much, I might be dancing.
Brief clips of all songs available here at Amazon.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Health & Wealth

I’m not going to dwell on this stuff but since I’ve mentioned it before I’ll update. I’m done with the primary issues surrounding my grandfather’s estate/will. Did I get the full amount I would have gotten if the will of a 104 year old essentially deaf and blind man hadn’t been changed by other people? No, but close enough that a lawyer would have been pointless and I was eager to be done with the people involved, get rid of a lot of anger I carried around for most of 2010, and try to get my debts settled quickly.

The part of the issue which lingers is that the delay kept me from paying the people I actually owed, and now I have to deal with sleazy collection agencies which bought the debt for pennies on the dollar, hoping to make a profit on people’s troubles. I’ve settled with one of the three (none of which had ever been able to contact me as I roamed the country last year). The second suggested an agreeable amount but then hung up on me when I refused to give them payment before I had a written agreement. The third couldn’t find any record of me when I called them. The internet has plenty of similar horror stories about these companies, so the problem may not be solved before I get to Yellowstone, in which case I won’t be able to get to my bank for a cashier’s check until I leave next fall (if I leave then), and may wind up with a frozen bank account. Let the anger go . . .

I left Yellowstone with plans for buying bear spray when I returned there and doing a lot more solo hiking in 2011 and have since read three books on hiking trails in the park. Now I’m wondering if I’ll be able to do any hiking at all without causing more damage. A podiatrist confirmed my diagnosis of plantar fasciitis and threw in flat feet. I also walk very heavily on the outsides of my feet, a condition which seems to have gotten worse in the past few years, so I undoubtedly need custom insoles but for now I bought a $30 pair with strong arch support designed for helping the first two conditions. My feet still hurt but the insoles do seem to make walking feel more natural again. Hiking season is still four months away so I’ll hope for improvement.

When I was rereading The Fool’s Progress recently, there was a scene where Abbey’s character wonders if his old truck will make it across the country, but thinks he’ll walk the rest of the way if the truck fails. “If a man can’t walk he might as well be dead.” Very un-PC (naw, Ed?), I thought, while completely agreeing. Your mileage may vary, as they say. I’ve been walking a long time now, for business and pleasure, and not about to start driving again at this point. So I’ve been considering this future inability to walk (and carry) for a few years now as my knees have been deteriorating. You can be sure the irony of it coming to a head (foot?) as I have 2,221,766 acres to walk around in isn’t lost upon me. Well, I’ll see how the second Yellowstone job turns out this year and if there is health insurance in my future (seasonal employees are eligible if they work enough weeks in a year) and take it from there.