The Solitary Bee

This is an excerpt from a piece called “The Natural State” by Emma Marris, appearing in issue 02 of Beside magazine.

“We keep the outdoors wild by remaining humble and aware, by embracing the wildness all around us, by fighting to protect nature both remote and nearby — by feeling awe not only for the grizzly bear but also for the solitary bee.”

At this point in my life, the majority of my encounters with “wild” happen in places far removed from what we traditionally consider to be wilderness. Not that I’ve abandoned the broad, remote places on the map. I long for them. But I also love my views from my front porch, and from my bird feeder. From the banks of the river running through the heart of Missoula, and from trails shared with joggers and dog walkers. They are all equally wondrous to me. They are where I am always, as Jim Harrison writes, “in search of small gods.”


The Biggest Guitar

Malcolm Young, one of the founders of AC/DC, has died. It’s a sad thing. AC/DC has been among my all-time favorite rock n’ roll bands since forever. They are a band that no matter how I’m feeling when I put one of their records on, I’m instantly reminded of why I fell in love with music in the first place. They are pure, distilled, no bullshit rock. Malcolm was key not only in the writing of their classic riffs, but in also being the anchor of the three-legged rhythm foundation that allowed his brother, Angus Young, the freedom to go off on lead guitar.  I only saw them one time: August 19, 1986, Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, WA, Who Made Who tour. Queensryche opened (Rage for Order tour). The Tacoma Dome is an awful venue but the show was epic.

Still, my favorite AC/DC story has nothing to do with the band. When two friends and I started our first band, in the summer of 1983, our drummer at the time was an absolute tyrant. He was a jerk, and would berate our guitar player, my friend Mike, relentlessly: his playing sucked, his solos sucked, etc. He didn’t like his guitar either, which, if I recall, was a Peavey T25. “Why did you get that piece of shit?” he’d say. “You should get one of those really big guitars. You know, like the ones AC/DC play.”

What’s funny about this is that the guy didn’t realize that the Young brothers were barely over 5′ tall (Angus is 5’2″, while his brother Malcolm towered over him at 5’3″). So any guitar they played was going to look gigantic on their tiny frames. To this day I often suggest to Jimmy, my friend whom I’ve been playing music with for 16+ years now, that what he really needs is a bigger guitar.

RIP, Malcolm.

The Comforts of Home

I’ve spent time recently with two books which, though different, are similar in a particular theme: hardship. The books are Rainy Lake House: Twilight of Empire on the Northern Frontier by Ted Catton, which I read and reviewed for the Missoulian, and In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by the always excellent Hampton Sides, which I’ve been listening to via an Audible download. Both books are excellent works of historical narrative nonfiction. Both detail groups of men facing extreme hardships in the name of exploration and, ultimately, survival.

It amazes me how much the world has changed in such a short time. How recently it’s been in overall global history that much of the world we know in minute detail now was a vast unknown, and that journeys that take hours by automobile — or, even more amazingly, via aircraft — were trips that were undertaken with little expectation of return. As Americans we have become so soft. I can’t help but scoff at people whimpering about a little change in weather, maybe some wind and rain, or a blast of arctic air … weather they are only forced to endure in the tiny space of time it takes to get from their car and through their front door, or from shop to shop. Jesus, just the idea of shopping in the first place! When I’m irritated and hungry and there’s no food in the house, it’s not like I have to go find something to kill and eat, I’m minutes away in just about any direction, at any hour of the day, from a caloric overload that could have meant life or death for people not too many generations past, in the very spot where my fat ass is currently planted.

What does it mean to our souls, the price we’ve paid for such comfort?

And yet, the other night I was awake in the wee hours of morning. I have this app that generates various sounds for “white noise,” and it was set to simulate the ocean shore, with rain falling, and wind. I was warm, comfortable, and feeling really fucking grateful I wasn’t coiled up in a soaking fur sleeping bag on some slab of ice bobbing around in the arctic sea, frostbitten and starving. It sounds romantic in a way to hear those tales of adventure, particularly from the mouths of those who survived and went back for more, but I’m sure even the best-told stories still don’t quite capture how badly it all totally sucked.

The Jeannette’s abandonment, depicted by maritime painter James Gale Tyler, courtesy of Vallejo Maritime Gallery of Newport Beach, California

Seven Days

I recently participated in a social media theme where I posted a black and white photo once a day for seven days, with no explanations or people in the images. I thought about digging up great landscapes and exciting things I’ve done for it, but opted instead for shots from what my actual life is like. Mostly slogging through the day-to-day, where the most gorgeous non-human vista I encounter is more likely to be a good plate of breakfast than anything in nature. Conclusion? I need to get out more.