Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Into the Wild

I recently reread Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the story of Chris McCandless's travels around the country and death in Alaska. I'd read it a couple times when I was younger and still much more romantic, and completely identified with and admired him. I saw his faults more clearly this time but just want to mention a couple paragraphs which struck me.

This quote comes from the unimpeachable source of an assistant manager at a McDonald's where he worked for a while. "I don't think he ever hung out with any of the employees after work or anything. When he talked, he was always going on about trees and nature and weird stuff like that. We all thought he was missing a few screws."

When I read that, my immediate reaction was that it was the story of my work life and human interactions in general. But the fact is that when I worked at a Hardee's in a university town in my early twenties, I did hang out with fellow employees. I always enjoyed spending time outside, but in my early years I was more concerned with human issues than ecological ones. It was only after I gave up on people and society that I started trying to help other species.

"McCandless's apparent sexual innocence, however, is a corollary of a personality type that our culture purports to admire, at least in the case of its more famous adherents. His ambivalence towards sex echoes that of celebrated others who embraced wilderness with single-minded passion--Thoreau (who was a lifelong virgin) and the naturalist John Muir, most prominently--to say nothing of countless lesser-known pilgrims, seekers, misfits, and adventurers. Like not a few of those seduced by the wild, McCandless seems to have been driven by a variety of lust that supplanted sexual desire. His yearning, in a sense, was too powerful to be quenched by human contact. McCandless may have been tempted by the succor offered by women, but it paled beside the prospect of rough congress with nature, with the cosmos itself. And thus he was drawn north, to Alaska."

Again, I was late getting to this perspective though I think I would have been a much happier man if I'd realized it earlier. During that fast food period, I recall that I was starting to fall for a coworker (we'd kissed and decided we would take it slow). A second coworker (in a relationship with another coworker) came by my apartment to give me a ride to a party, and while there asked if I thought she was attractive. At the party, a third coworker, who later told me she was only there because she knew I would be, picked me up, took me home, and we were together for several months. So, no, I can't claim innocence.

If I were to use the cliche of the love of my life, it was a woman I asked to marry me in my mid-twenties (when I was still young enough to believe in such cliches; her own doubts led to a yes followed by a no), who I reunited with several times over the decades we knew each other. In one of our last conversations, she wondered how she had gone from feeling such deep love for me to such strong hatred. It was simple, really. During those decades, I'd given up on relationships because I'd realized that I could never get the depth of connection I was looking for from another person. I had no passion left to offer her. It was only after I gave up on women that I fell in love with the wilderness.

I'm off to Marquette for the holidays. Coming in the next weeks or months will be a very long and open tale of what actually happened at my Yellowstone jobs during my last couple years there and afterward. After I get that out of my system will come a more general look at my four years in the park and park issues.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I Agree with George Bush (pick one)

One of them doesn't like Cruz and the other one can't understand how anyone can support Trump after all his vile comments. But what I especially agree with is Bush the elder saying that he's getting old at just the right time, although it's different societal changes which make us feel that way. Of course, he's more than thirty years older than me, but fortunately I'm not rich and powerful so I won't have to live as long as him. 

The other day I searched for a name from my past as I'm prone to do when drinking and bored with the internet (I also write posts like this one). I stumbled across a PDF of one of my college yearbooks and then found the other three. I saved them and looking through them has been an amusing memory trip.

A few things I learned or remembered--

I liked to pose for photos with my shirt off in those days, a sight I wouldn't subject my worst enemy to these days. One I didn't remember (it will soon be clear why) was my sophomore year dorm floor photo, an all male dorm, an all hippie floor (most of them were seniors and it was a different place after they graduated). Amidst the bongs and glazed eyes, I wear a towel and a canteen and hold a sign I can't read or recall. The guy behind me reaches around to grab my nipple. By the time my senior year coed floor photo was taken outside the town train station, I was more subdued, sitting in a chair, smoking a pipe, but still baring my chest. 
The woman I planned to marry after college was a cheerleader one year--I didn't recall that at all. I thought I'd had to wait a few years to date a former cheerleader--now there are two!
There's a photo of me and a woman watching a softball game. I told her she was one of the two most beautiful women I'd ever known (the other was a blue-eyed blonde in a bikini when I was a teenager). We had our moments at Senior Serenade (a tradition in which seniors got drunk and then sang at various dorms). It happened to fall on my birthday and I'd just won an election (the college president immediately banned me from meetings my predecessors had attended--my writing had already given me a reputation) so I was primed for a good night. I clearly recall a moment standing in the bar with one arm around this woman and the other around her roommate (who I was also quite fond of) and thinking that it would never get any better than this. It really didn't. After we staggered back to our dorm, I suggested a birthday kiss and we crashed kissing through the doors of a lounge which was full of people.

Although we all look very young, some of us are long dead including a great woman who died of cancer a couple years after we graduated. The rest of us are getting old at just the right time.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Losing Myself

While I wrote some of the following, there was a pigeon lying a few feet away on my window ledge. Because of the angle of the window blind, I didn’t notice her until I changed my position. Might be a metaphor, could be the moral.

For a couple years now, I’ve known that if everything remained the same, 2016 would be the year I wound up homeless. I haven’t seemed to care enough to do anything to change that—I’m getting to be an old man, starting to wear down physically, but especially mentally, from the grinding of the days. Low level depression has often been part of my life but this has been less depression than weariness. The closest I’ve come to hope is that I might die in my sleep before I couldn’t pay the rent.

I’ve been lacking my love of nature, the animality of youth when I ran through childhood woods and later Boston’s parks, the openness to falling in love or learning new ideas, the connection and power of new music. My walks have started to be as much about what’s aching as about appreciating nature.

I had an unrealistic idea that an ex, her dog, and a smaller town might rejuvenate my life but I’ve become so inward and self-absorbed that I have trouble making conversation, and I think I only had one good play session with the dog while I was there for a couple weeks recently. 

At the end of Walking Down the Wild, Gary Ferguson wrote of carrying his dying mother around her yard at her request, and the serenity which he saw cut through her pain as she watched a cardinal, and ran her fingers over the young leaves of maples and dogwoods. 

I can still feel the same way, but first I have to force myself to look. It has seemed that the leaf palette has been particularly impressive this year, and there have been a couple spectacular sunsets and sunrises lately. On this warm morning there was a ladybird beetle irruption outside the grocery store—I think one actually bit me, which was a new experience.

Earlier this week, I walked a favorite four mile loop for the second time in four days after not having done it for months. On the way home I stopped for a late breakfast. As I waited for my food, I divided my time between watching the sun glimmering on the beautiful Lake, the birds at a corner of the roof, and the book I’d just begun reading, Finding Abbey. At the next booth a couple businessmen had closed the window blind and discussed markets and portfolios. As worn out as I may often feel, as much as I sometimes think I’ve wasted some aspect of my life, I’m still glad I lived it my way instead of their way. I just wish I’d done it more so.

I’m in the application process for a couple jobs which would be somewhat life-changing, one a half-time job here at more than double my current pay rate, which would give me the best of both possible worlds of working little and still covering all expenses. I’ve also applied for a few jobs in Yellowstone next summer (even though I think it will be an overcrowded horror show next year for the NPS centennial), and am considering applying for a couple in Glacier when they get posted in a few weeks. I don’t expect to know about any of them until December.

Yellowstone has already had its most annual visits even with three months still to add to the total. I’m not sure what NPS is thinking as they acknowledge parks are getting too crowded at the same time they run advertising and other promotions to get more people to come. And almost all of these extra people coming are ones who know nothing about how to behave around wildlife and have no real respect for wild land. I’ve read lots of complaints online about traffic and crowds in the parks this year—it’s not just a Yellowstone issue; the Utah parks have had big problems and Glacier is approaching a record. Many of the complaints agree with me that the extra money should be used to hire more rangers to actually ticket wildlife harassers, speeders, and other violators instead of “educating” them.

Terry Tempest Williams wrote about Richard Jefferies in her introduction to The Story of My Heart, “He was a lover of beauty. This is what we forget. Beauty is what opens our eyes to love. Love ignites passion and passion is what propels us toward the future wrought with risk and uncertainty.”

In my life, I didn’t have any trouble appreciating beauty or feeling love but passion has always been difficult for me to show in a positive way. I can remember my therapist in Boston once becoming enthused when I’d let some slip out, and how good I felt at that moment, but I’ve generally always felt a need to stay under control and not risk showing how I really felt in order to survive in this society. That’s not likely to change at this point in my life as I drift farther away from the mainstream all the time, but I have to remember to enjoy the beauty.

My fellow former Bostonian and crush Patty Griffin has a new album Servant of Love which seems to get better every time I listen. From the song There Isn’t One Way:

Make your way with little harm
For everything is charmed
Everything is alive
Or it once was

Be thankful for the sun
Be thankful for the blues
For the gold in your ears
For the holes in your shoes

You will never ever, never ever
Come this way again
Be in awe, my friend
’Cause it’s amazing

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I could put my eye out with that thing (and other news)

At the library, books are held in place on shelves by thick hanging metal pieces which snap into grooves under the shelf above--to adjust them, you need to press on them to be able to move them. Today when I was shelving, one flew out and smashed into my glasses. After I finished saying "Holy fuck" I looked at my glasses and found the right lens and hinge damaged on the inside. So I was about half an inch from disaster. This came on the heels of dealing with sciatica which had me wondering if I'd be able to get up from my bedroll on the floor a couple mornings ago.

Thankfully, I never wanted contact lenses due to a lack of interest in constantly poking myself in the eyes, along with a case of anti-vanity. A friend recently got a laugh when I showed her the cracked toenail I've had since I was a kid which I got when I tripped over a pine tree stump as I was running away from a girl who wanted me to kiss her. Rather than risk further injury, I used several strategies over the years to keep most women uninterested--glasses, hairiness, deciding when I was a teenager I didn't want kids, not driving, a lack of interest in money and things, a need for solitude, being more interested in romance than one night stands, and in later years a lot of extra weight. A few got through the defenses over the years, but even those didn't last long.

I've been reading about the wildfire in Glacier National Park which at last report was at about 2000 acres, and has caused several evacuations due to the strong possibility that it may explode. Updates at their news release page.

I recently finished reading a book, The Year Yellowstone Burned, about Yellowstone's 1988 fires which burned over a third of the park and was very interesting for someone familiar with the park's locations. It consisted of a series of maps of the park showing the areas burning on a particular date and anecdotes about what was happening in the park at the time. The only developed area of the park (and several towns on the borders) which wasn't directly threatened was the Lake area. I'm sorry I didn't get there when first offered a job in 1980 so I could have seen the differences.

As for the current Yellowstone, I have applied for a job starting in December but haven't heard anything yet. Even if the conversation goes well, there are several issues which I think are likely to keep me from returning. Either way, I expect this will probably be the last time I apply.

Thanks to Jain for tipping me off to an interview with Doug Peacock at Home of the Brave. It starts out with discussion of his book about the Clovis people, but it was halfway through when it got interesting to me with comments about what you don't think about when hiking in grizzly country, how being a loner gets one through a lack of community, and the coming collapse.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I'm back in Duluth after having a great time in da UP. We visited Lakenenland, a sculpture land fifteen miles outside Marquette.

Capo checked out Peaches' food.

My hostess gave me some yoopernirs.
 I tested them when I got home, and they both work.

Sandy beach and Big Lake photos to follow on the main blog.

Friday, April 3, 2015


In the middle of January I wrote a post about struggling to decide whether to go back to work in Yellowstone this summer. I continued that struggle almost every day until the beginning of April.

When I first started working in the park, I traveled there on buses operated by a Montana company which offered a 24 hour trip from Duluth to Bozeman, arriving in mid-afternoon directly across the street from a nice hotel where I'd spend a few days before and after work seasons. Going in, I'd stock up on detergent and toiletries so I wouldn't have to lug them all the way across country, have a few good last meals, and start adjusting to the higher altitude. Coming out, the pretty town of 40,000 or so made for a gradual readjustment to civilization. It was Bozeman which made me love not only the park, but that part of the country.

That bus company was eventually shut down by the federal government for safety issues, just in time to cancel my planned vacation from the park to New Orleans. Unfortunately, the route was taken over by a Minnesota company which doesn't give a damn about providing good service to Montana or its people. The trip now takes 36 hours, arrives only in the middle of the night (4 AM), and doesn't even stop in Bozeman, one of the most popular towns in Montana, but at a gas station ten miles outside of town. I've complained to the bus company and plan to write to state and city officials in Montana to ask if they can do anything to improve the situation (ideally by supporting another company).

If I decided to go to the park, my plan was to take Amtrak to the Glacier area and then bus my way south. The trip would be longer, more expensive, require a night's stay at a hotel en route, and I'd have to ship the items I'd usually buy in Bozeman from Duluth, since I wouldn't be able to spend any time in Bozeman. I'd arrive at the park to check in unwashed and unrested, having spent the previous night on a couple buses with long waits at stations.

I also had concerns about the job--not so much the job itself, but that being a more menial job than the ones I had in the park previously and knowing the company and how it treats most of its employees, I could easily wind up being told I had to work six days a week (and in that world, overtime doesn't even start until you've worked 48 hours) and I had no interest in being treated that way.

Additionally, something happened to a friend of mine and about a dozen other employees in the park last month which left a bad taste in my mouth. I've been asked not to write about it at this point, but you might be hearing about it in the news. And for me, there were insurance and prescription issues to consider, as well as how much more complicated and expensive it would be to keep my apartment while working in the park compared to when I was homeless and working there.

So as you've probably guessed, I won't be working in the park this summer though I'm still not ready to say I never will again. A friend there called me after he got my email that I definitely wasn't returning despite his months of encouragement and we had a beer together over the phone. If I had happened to run into Lola during the couple days I would have had to stay in Mammoth, I was looking forward to telling her to say hello to the Philadelphia reader who checked this blog, so I'm including that here as a personal aside.

Lake Superior and the largest population of wolves in the contiguous states were among my biggest reasons for moving here and I still appreciate them. But I also miss the bison, the grizzly bear, the pronghorn, the Uinta ground squirrel and many more, all those glorious mountains and views and open spaces, and being in a part of the country where most people (in smaller numbers, another plus) have more of a connection with the natural world. I hope I'll get back at some time in some way.

For now, it feels like a heavy weight has been taken off my shoulders, and I'm greatly looking forward to spending ten days dogsitting in Marquette next month, which will be the closest I've come to having a pet in much too long. When I return it will be time to find another part time job to boost my income out of the red. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

A Little More Evidence that My Time has Passed

The library where I work is doing some very unscientific research on magazine use in the building. For a few weeks they've requested that after looking at magazines people return them to boxes so we can keep track of how often they're being used. I checked the list today and among the titles which apparently haven't been read all month are Audubon, Orion, and Sierra.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Further Evidence of Civilization's Collapse

I received a copy of the alumni magazine from the small college I graduated from long ago. Buried on page 18 of the 25 page magazine, I found this news. Among programs being eliminated due to "low enrollment, low interest among prospective students, and lower marketplace demands" are English, History, and Philosophy. 

No details available yet on the new iphone and Xbox majors. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

To Go or Not To Go

There's an offer on the table for me to spend five months in Yellowstone--it could have been six but the chance to spend a week in Marquette doing some dogsitting and helping a friend is more appealing to me. The job, although not terribly desirable, would be the one I applied for in the location I applied for although I had hoped there was a chance I might be offered a better job which would have saved me the cost of room and board as well as giving me a room of my own. I think that would likely be offered the following year if I wanted to go back.

I would be at Old Faithful which would certainly give me the opportunity to get to know that area better and hike some new trails since I've only been there a few times. But other than the thermal features, it comes up very short compared to Mammoth where I've always lived in the park. No sweeping mountain views, no smell of sage, less wildlife, a lodgepole pine monoculture, and no little town a five mile hike away. But Mammoth was a home I had painfully lost long before I left and at least for now, I don't want to go home again. I'd actually have to spend a couple days there first for training and I think that would be a good amount of time to enjoy the place without constantly seeing several people who would stir regret or resentment.
I shocked another medical professional this week when she learned I was still going through life unmedicated. She said they don't see that often anymore. That's unfortunately about to change for me. Although the doctor didn't think I'd be in danger of a complete system failure if I spent the summer undrugged while a hundred miles from the nearest hospital and probably uninsured, he said if it were him he'd start taking the drug and I'm inclined to agree in hope of avoiding the need for future surgery. From what I've found on the internet, even if I lose my insurance by going (I'm still investigating that), the prescription would be less than $100 a month so I can't use that as an excuse to not go. 

But between that and paying rent to keep my Duluth apartment, working in Yellowstone wouldn't be the big money saver it was in the past. I'd probably clear $1500 at best from the contract. That's much better than continuing to lose money in my present situation but much worse than I could do by staying here and actually getting off my ass and working more than thirteen hours a week. The idea of going back to Yellowstone . . . last summer . . . this winter . . . next summer . . . has been my justification for taking it easy here for so long.

Not even considering the medical and financial factors, the problem is that I'm not sure if I want to go back. Both of the people I most enjoyed talking to in the park are gone now. I'd be facing a new job and a new roommate, each of which could be fine or terrible. Of course, keeping the apartment here always gives me the last choice option of leaving anytime if I need to. Heck, I could just go and take photos for a few days then head home. 

Even if I take the job, I'm not sure if I see it as one season and done to get the taste of my last horrible year there out of my mouth or as a first step to being there most of the year again. All of which amounts to recognizing that I can't predict the future, other than the fact that the number of opportunities I have left to be capable of doing something like this are dwindling with the years. I want to see those mountains and the wildlife again, and probably still have delusions of righting wrongs there, but when spending a week with a cool dog is something I know will be a better experience at this point, I have to question whether going back is worth it.