One More to the Gut from 2014

I’ve been quiet around here lately; I’ve mainly just been focusing instead on getting through all the holidays amid all the changes that have occurred the back half of this year. Today 2014 is getting in one last nasty shot at us, as we are saying farewell to our big old loyal dog, Bernard. At 14 or 15, he’s had a hell of a good run, way longer than most big dogs, but it still sucks. Frankly, a couple months ago I would have been surprised to see him even make it to Christmas. But last night, whatever he had in him that was enabling him to move around, albeit shakily, gave out, and his time has come. I’ll miss him.

The Big Dog

The Big Dog

A year-and-a-half ago we were a four-dog house. We are down to one, with the two cats still hanging in there as well. It’s been a bumpy road.

2015 will be better.

One-Sentence Journal, Weeks Forty-Two, Forty-Three, and Forty-Four

I’ve taken the better part of the last couple weeks off from posting at all, just to get my feet under me again. In particular it’s been a few weeks since the last One-Sentence Journal, but here’s to just picking up where I left off with minimal fanfare.

  1. 11/03/2014:  I started sorting through the boxes of old family photos tonight with an ultimate plan to scan and compile them somewhat, and it was a fascinating trip down memory lane.
  2. 11/04/2014:  I know everyone said how life-changing this Bikram yoga thing is, and I was at least quietly skeptical, but I have to say I’m amazed by how helpful it’s been concerning the shitty events of the past week.
  3. 11/05/2014:  Another election and more proof that the fraction of the public who actually vote pretty much go against their best interests in an effort to give everyone else the shitty country they/we deserve.
  4. 11/06/2014:  On a whim, Julia and I looked in on some studio space and it looks like it might even work out for us….
  5. 11/07/2014:  People freaking that Winter is Coming next week, supposedly, and it is hard for me not to irritably point out to everyone that it is November in Montana, a month that every day spent not frigid is a day stolen from true winter.
  6. 11/08/2014:  Took the longest hike of the year so far, seventeen miles in the Rattlesnake, and it was a perfect reminder of how restorative time in the woods can be.
  7. 11/09/2014:  Winter hit hard overnight with snow and cold, and by the time a last minute change in plans to do a yoga class this afternoon came, I couldn’t rally for it.
  8. 11/10/2014:  Dad’s obituary hit the paper today, on the anniversary of what would have been his 74th birthday.
  9. 11/11/2014:  I know I’m a cynical bastard, but it never ceases to amaze me how a holiday like today, Veterans Day, overwhelms social media, and I wonder how many of these folks posting their platitudes to “heroes” even knew it was Veterans Day before their feeds blew up and they jumped on the jingoistic bandwagon.
  10. 11/12/2014:  Ah, the season of vehicles failing to start in the morning is upon us!
  11. 11/13/2014:  Julia and I signed the lease on a studio I previously shared with three other photographers in the same building as the Bikram studio, back when I wasn’t even making an effort really to BE a photographer, to use for her fashion business and my photography, and it is a kind of dream come true for us to have a space right in the heart of downtown Missoula.
  12. 11/14/2014:  Quote of the day heard from across the room, without context: “So, are you swollen right now?”
  13. 11/15/2014:  The instructors say that some days a yoga practice can only be spent flat on one’s back on one’s mat, and that damn near sums up how it went for me today; I’m quickly learning that if there is a weakness in the mind or body, this is a discipline of exercise that will find it, every time.
  14. 11/16/2014:  First American Falcon practice in several weeks and I’m not too modest to admit we played well enough to have destroyed just about anyone if it had been a live show.
  15. 11/17/2014:  Test shooting in the studio tonight in preparation for a photo shoot with Vogue magazine aspirations using hand-stapled zine-quality gear.
  16. 11/18/2014:  Today was our first “official” shoot in the new studio, a collaboration between Julia’s DonkeyGirl fashion designs and some local jewelry makers called Moth+Muse, and while it was long it was a blast to spend an entire day submerged in creativity.
  17. 11/19/2014:  I look forward to having the confidence in my technical prowess for photography as I do other pursuits, because I tend to fret too much over whether shit is going to work out every time I press the shutter.
  18. 11/20/2014:  I was concerned that the images from the shoot on Tuesday wouldn’t be quite what the Moth+Muse women were after, but after going through the shots with one of them in the studio tonight it seems she is as pleased as I am with the results.
  19. 11/21/2014:  Signing off work for the week begins a string of vacation days that won’t end until December, when I board a plane on the 1st bound for Canada.
  20. 11/22/2014:  Heat, humidity, and effort rose up to smack me silly in the Bikram class today, and I’ve spent the rest of the day quietly suffering for it.
  21. 11/23/2014:  Good modern country (Nikki Lane, Whitey Morgan) and an unanticipated afternoon to myself in the new studio made for a solid Sunday on a day when it seems all of my joints are protesting me being anywhere but prone.


Update From the Front Lines

IMG_9583A couple weeks ago I mentioned this big health and fitness program I was poised to undertake, and I’m here to report I’m still going strong. I haven’t stuck to the food plan as well as I would have liked, but have done okay considering the circumstances of everything else that has gone on. I’ve been good at getting my walking and hiking miles in, at least until this week when the freezing cold wave set in, but I’ll be braving that yet this week regardless. I did get out on one final epic hike on Saturday before winter arrived: 17 miles up into the Rattlesnake and back, the last few of which I did by headlamp. That was great, and the only thing it cost me was one Bikram Yoga class. With the rough emotional trip hopefully behind me, or at least manageable, renewed focus on my training table between now and the holiday should get me where I was hoping to be when this first phase is complete.

That Bikram stuff is the revelation here, though. I’d heard from so many people how life changing it is, and there really is something to that. I’ve gone 12 times in the last 14 days, with 13 more planned over the next 16. Then I think we (Julia and I) are going to take Thanksgiving off and start another 30 day challenge right after that, making it 60 days in all. It might be the hardest day in, day out physical thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done a lot of weight training and things like that before, but just the environment in that room (it’s 103° and humid), and how every posture is working so many parts of the body at once (if you are doing them right, that is, which in most cases for me I’m still NOT), it’s really staggering. Everything is soaked with sweat afterwards.

I like the instructors, I like the camaraderie of the people involved (something I didn’t expect to like and feared I’d struggle with), and I like how I feel afterward. I don’t know that I like it while I’m doing it yet, but I do like the times when I have a breakthrough, or “get” something I wasn’t previously doing correctly. And the emotional part of it really helped get me through what has been a very difficult couple of weeks. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve done for myself in years.

So far, so good. I’ll report again here in a couple weeks.


A Final Word

Scan 1Today, November 10, 2014, would have been my dad’s 74th birthday. His obituary is in today’s Missoulian. It links back to a larger version that I placed on a page here on my site, where it will stay as long as I have this website (who knew obituaries were so damn expensive to run in the newspaper?!).

My dad would have rolled his eyes if I kept at writing these things, but I’d like to make a couple final points. Whenever someone dies, particularly in a tragedy, we are reminded to take the time to say and do the things we always mean to but never get around to with those closest to us. Now I’m not saying my dad’s death was a tragedy, certainly not in the sense that half a family being killed in a car wreck is for those who survive. His illnesses were tragic, but that’s part of life too. Some of us, whether from genetics, shitty treatment of ourselves, bad habits, or just bad fucking luck get sick. We all live hopefully long, happy lives, and we die. It was his time. I’m at peace with that. In the end I think he was ready, even if as recently as last spring he told me he wasn’t ready yet. You know how it is, when spring comes, and summer blooms behind it, we all feel invincible again, don’t we?

Still, close as I feel I was with him, I have regrets. For example, I remember our last conversation on the phone, maybe a week or less before he died. We talked about me coming up to split some firewood for them; there are some large pieces needing split there now, and he was talking about getting a final load for the year of larger pieces that would also require splitting. Cutting up firewood is one of my favorite things to do, yet we agreed that it would make the most sense to just wait and split both old and new at the same time. Perhaps that was the most efficient approach, but it didn’t take into account the chance that I may never see him again. As we rung off, I told him I would see him soon, and he said he hoped so. And now I won’t.

That’s the hardest, weirdest part about it all, adjusting to the fact that I won’t ever see him again. That, if things go well with my own health and longevity and avoidance of accidents, I am looking down a road of more adult years left without him than I actually got to spend with him in the first place. That does feel tragic to me, and wasteful, and I wish I’d done better.

I was up at the folks’ place yesterday, visiting my mom (who is doing well), and picking up some stuff she had set aside for me. It was pouring rain, a precursor to a night that featured the season’s first snow. There is a black plastic lawn chair in front of Dad’s shop. He would often sit there as I dragged stuff for him from the old garage to the new shop, or while I tried to make something work on the tractor under the withering onslaught of his impatient instructions. Or even where he’d sit while we did nothing but shoot the shit. Seeing it there yesterday, empty, through sheets of rain from inside my car, was a powerful image. The kind of image that in a movie would seem overripe with purpose, and kind of heavy-handed in trying to convey an emotion (the camera focuses on the empty chair, then pans away, the music swelling as the screen fades to black….). He was there, and now he isn’t.

But no more feeling maudlin; we all move forward as we must every day. I would just urge folks, as people always do, to take care of one another, be thoughtful, and to always be kind to one another.


One-Sentence Journal, Weeks Forty and Forty-One

Once again, two weeks in one post, because things have been a little busy. . . .

  1. 10/20/2014:  A quote I read in an essay by Zadie Smith says, “The worst possible thing for an artist is to exist as a feature of somebody else’s epiphany.”
  2. 10/21/2014:  I like the cut of her jib.
  3. 10/22/2014:  Quote of the evening, offered without context: “Let me slip in behind you so I can get at the garbage.”
  4. 10/23/2014:  I never fully realized just how many other average people love open roads and travel until I started using Instagram.
  5. 10/24/2014:  I took the day off the day gig today and spent an enjoyable early part of the morning tramping around under gray skies shooting my witchy friend Julie for a looming photo project.
  6. 10/25/2014:  Julia and I met my mom for breakfast in honor of my late grandmother at one of her favorite places; we didn’t speak of her, really, and it wasn’t maudlin, which is exactly how I would hope anything in my honor would proceed.
  7. 10/26/2014:  There was no band practice today as Jimmy killed an elk and needed to spend the day packing it out, a task I envy, though my day spent in the woods was certainly every bit as enjoyable.
  8. 10/27/2014:  If there is a hell, the buffet is Taco Bell.
  9. 10/28/2014:  Survived my first ever experience with Bikram Yoga today, and still managed to be functionally upright later on to do a photoshoot for some of Julia’s new DonkeyGirl stuff.
  10. 10/29/2014:  If this evening’s saunter taught me anything it’s that when I head out on Monday, I best be packing my headlamp.
  11. 10/30/2014:  Dad died today.
  12. 10/31/2014:  Going to see my son’s band play an event at a skate and snowboard shop, a show he dedicated to “the original Sid La Tray,” provided the perfect therapy for overcoming a couple rough days, particularly during the one song I joined them onstage for.
  13. 11/01/2014:  Humbled by the outpouring of well wishes from all corners in the wake of my dad’s passing away, and also feel very fortunate to share a life with such a fantastic woman.
  14. 11/02/2014:  In the span of less than 24 hours little Velcro’s tumor infection flared up gorily again, putting her in such distress that we made the gut-wrenchingly difficult decision to have her put to sleep.



Sidney Robert La Tray: November 10, 1940 – October 30, 2014

Early Thursday morning I got the call I’ve been anticipating, and dreading, for the better part of ten years: my dad had passed away a little after 5:00 AM. It was one of those things where the vibrations of my phone woke me, and when I picked it up and saw it was from my Folks my heart sunk. I just knew, you know? It was my mom; she’d been trying to call me for an hour or so, but my ringer was off. I regret that I hadn’t been available right when it happened. Julia and I quickly got up and joined her at their place up Six Mile; one of my sisters was present (the other lives in Iowa), as was the coroner. I held it together until I got there, greeted my mom and sister, then went into the bedroom where my dad was still in bed. He’d died peacefully in his sleep, which we are all thankful for. I stood in the dark and touched his foot through the blankets. I could see him in the darkness well enough, his head back, mouth slightly open, hands folded at his chest, and I didn’t turn on the light. I sobbed pretty hard for a couple minutes, then joined my family to wait for the arrival of the funeral home people to take him away.

I don’t know what else there is to say at this point. I will be writing an obituary, but this isn’t it. I could sit up all night writing about him and still not cover everything I would like to say. At some point I will look for more photos of him that I might have, but there aren’t many. I’ll get my hands on the pictures boxes at their house and scan a few. He was a damn find looking man in his day, and people deserve to see that.

This blog has lasted as long as it has largely because of him, and of my mom. I know he enjoyed reading of my travels. He particularly liked the photographs of wildlife, and he often asked me to come up and photograph the menagerie of critters my folks have had at their place. He liked to cuss and grouse about the animals, and the hassle, but if I were to say one thing about him, it would be that I know he loved every critter more than he would ever admit.

He was a complicated man, and there are stories I’ve heard of his younger days that I’ve tried to pry out of him with varying degrees of success. His relationship with my mom — a marriage of 50+ years — was complicated, and his relationships with my two sisters were, at times, rocky. I had my minor disagreements with him here and there, but I know I speak for all of us that, even at his most ornery, there was never any question that he loved us all. His knowledge of the area, and the number of people he knows, never ceased to amaze me. There are traits in me that I recognize from him. Some I embrace (“You be goddamn careful!” or “Don’t slip and bust your ass!” or “If you get pulled over, just act ignorant; you should be pretty good at that…”), and others I try and keep under control, or surprise me when I catch myself (impatience, stubbornness, etc.) acting in ways I’ve wrestled with him over more than once.

I have a pile of regrets that try to haunt me, but I’m doing my best to ignore them. I felt we had a great relationship. His health had been steadily deteriorating over the last ten or twelve years, but he would also bounce back, sometimes miraculously, and we often had discussions of the things we would do when he “got better.” At the end, though, I’m certain he was ready to go, and went willingly. There won’t be a funeral or anything like that, he didn’t want one. I’d been to his mother’s funeral with him a few years ago, and he was too ill to get out of the car and serve as a pallbearer. He was quiet that day, but also expressed how much he hated the “whole fucking thing.” Many years before I’d also accompanied him to the funeral of his father. I remember when the procession headed from the church to the graveyard, I was riding with him. We took a detour to a bar in town, and went in and had a drink together. One of only three specific times I can remember doing that. He told me, “I don’t care that that son of a bitch is dead.” He laughed, mirthlessly. “The poor old bastard is better off. He never did a goddamn thing for me, and I don’t care.”

Well, Dad, to your credit, and against all odds considering the world you were raised in, I care about your passing. You did everything for me, and I won’t forget it. I’m proud to be your son, and I’m proud to have given your name to my son. I’ll miss the hell out of you.

My dad, June, 2013

My dad, June, 2013


Several Thousand Words About October

Fall is my favorite time of year, and October 2014 has been gorgeous. With the month winding down, I thought I’d just share a gallery of images I’ve made this month, some with my Canon, some with the iPhone. Hope you click a few to see them bigger. . . .