Countdown to Christmas

astoriaNobody likes to think about Christmas in July (except maybe my mom), but I can’t wait this year. That’s because that is when the movie The Revenant comes out, based on the book of the same name by Michael Punke. When I saw the trailer my head almost exploded. I bet I’ve watched it twenty times. It’s one of those movies that feels like it was made specifically for me. Trailer linked below, if you dare….

The story is a fictionalization of the true life of mountain man Hugh Glass. I first heard of him in my friend Matt Mayo‘s book Cowboys, Mountain Men, and Grizzly Bears: Fifty Of The Grittiest Moments In The History Of The Wild West. Not a lot is known about his life, but that he was attacked by a grizzly bear, severely mauled, left for dead, and essentially crawled back to “civilization” (a remote fort) where he recovered and lived to roam the wilds again is true.

I’ve also been listening to Peter Stark‘s excellent book Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier. It is, as is everything of Stark’s I’ve ever read, excellent. I love all this stuff about the exploration of the frontier back in the day.

When I finally get to go see The Revenant, you know I’ll be wearing this hat my mom got me for Christmas last year, as seen in this photograph from January.


Get Outside, Just Not Around Me

mwgangI spent the last couple weeks driving around listening to the audio version of Ed Abbey’s classic The Monkeywrench Gang. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as the guy reading it, Michael Kramer, did a fantastic job. But it didn’t help my growing surliness — likely a symptom of age and a faltering tolerance for bullshit as much as anything else — as it relates to sharing the wilds with other people. And that is stretching the term “wilds” so thin it’s practically invisible. My last rant on this subject turned into something of a false alarm, but it doesn’t change the fact that this time of year more and more people are using my beloved river access site, and making a mess of it. Cigarette butts, random garbage, etc. Hell, even their mere presence can irritate me, even though I’m not so myopic as to not understand they have every bit as much a right to be there as I do. A couple twitter friends and I were discussing something similar last week. I had mentioned I feel it is a failing on my part that I’ve not yet visited the Grand Canyon. My friend Jeff, aka The Southwest Dude, weighed in with some suggestions for areas of the park that were a little less traveled, information I find critical. I pointed out then, as I have been saying for over a year now based on my last visit to Yellowstone National Park, that one of the greatest things about our national parks is that they are so accessible to everyone. At the same time, one of the worst things about our national parks is that they are so accessible to everyone.
selfie-stick-1I recognize that it sounds like I’m some kind of outdoor snob. I suspect I probably am. I thought about this a lot last May, when work took me to the Bay Area, and I ventured into the Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. This is a beautiful cathedral of magnificent trees, regularly overrun with people. There are signs all over requesting visitors be quiet, all of which are ignored, at least they were when I was there. I also saw for the first time in person the much maligned “selfie stick.” This guy was walking around, his camera on the end of this thing, pointed at himself, filming his progress through the park. Not filming what he was seeing, the camera was directed at himself. It was bizarre. I followed him for about 10 minutes or so, somewhat dumbstruck, just to see what he would do. He just kind of buzzed around, making like he was looking at stuff, but mostly just looking into the camera, moving its angle around, etc. Then I realized how monitoring his actions were spoiling my experience, so I just paused and let him go on about his business while I refocused on my own enjoyment of the area.

There is no right way or wrong way to experience the outdoors (unless you’re a litterer, of course), so I know I need to lighten up. Just because I can’t get enough time outside, and get depressed and quite angry with myself when I don’t make more time for it, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be just a casual experience for others. I don’t understand people who don’t like the outdoors, but that’s their prerogative. I should be pleased to see people out and enjoying themselves, because getting out in it is the only way to build a connection that inspires action to protect it.

Sometimes it’s just hard to share.


Treehugging Dirt Worshipper

books_ponderosaThere’s a bumper sticker I have pinned to the wall above the little desk here in my writing/photography/nap-on-the-futon studio that says, “Treehugging Dirt Worshipper,” which, when asked, is how I spiritually define myself to hay-heads with the gall to ask. To prove this, here is my second review for the Indy (here is the first) in the last few weeks of a book about trees. This one is Ponderosa: People, Fire, and the West’s Most Iconic Tree by Carl E. Fiedler and Stephen F. Arno.

An excerpt:

These sections deal in fascinating politics. The authors pinpoint how current arguments about fire and logging, beginning in the early 1900s, continue to cycle through the years. They spend most of the space detailing the history of the “fire-industrial complex”a cool term modern critics use to talk about the whole fire management puzzle, including who benefits from the strict suppression of forest fires. Reading these sections, I’m struck by all the drama and what a deep, engaging story it makes. The history really has it all: strong characters, corruption and betrayal, all played out against the backdrop of the wild, American West.

There’s a reading next Tuesday night at Shakespeare and Co. I’m going to do my best to attend. It should be interesting.


13 Miles of Inspiration

I got up before dawn on Sunday morning to drive out and set up a spot to watch my mom dash by as she ran her first half marathon, two weeks shy of her 70th birthday. I was, and am, very proud of her.

She was a little surprised to see me.

She was a little surprised to see me.

All my life she’s been there to cheer me on, whether it was little league baseball, soccer, even late and loud nights watching my obnoxious rock bands. It was nice to be able to cheer for her for a change.

It was exciting watching the runners. I’ve done a couple 10K runs in the past, but it’s been a couple years since I really did any running. I’m inspired now to take it up again. Thanks, Mom!


Ten Things About Summer

Once again we’ve managed to blunder right into the middle of my least favorite time of year. I’m no summer guy, I like fall best, and winter, and spring. This year it has been particularly brutal. Temperatures (record highs!) into the 100s over the last two days of June, then searing heat through our first week of July, have threatened to make me surly. I remember a couple years ago when it got hot before the 4th the warnings being delivered via The Man were about being careful on the rivers because they were still running dangerously high with winter run-off. This year, the water is frighteningly low, and we are already into “Hoot-Owl” restrictions for fishing, something that doesn’t happen until late August, typically, if at all.

But damn it, I’m not going to complain. In my new approach to life I want to be just a shining ray of golden fucking sunshine to everyone around me, so rather than go on about how much the heat sucks, I’m going to HTFU, be thankful that I have the means to get away from it if I really need to, and instead focus on what I DO like about summer. To that end, I give you ten wonderful things about this deadly season, in no particular order….

  1. Sun rises in the wee hours that stretch long into golden, lingering, gloriously late sun sets
  2. Breezy summer dresses
  3. Bare, dirty feet padding through the grass
  4. Fish popping the surface of the river from below, me, half-submerged nearby, with or without my fly rod
  5. Blockbuster movies
  6. Noisy splashes of color that coalesce into birds at my feeders
  7. The smell of first, second, and third cuttings of alfalfa
  8. Pretty girls on cruiser bikes pedaling through downtown
  9. Mountains of produce that would suggest the impossibility of hunger
  10. The burly inspiration of the buff, bronzed, and bitchin’

Anyone else have favorite things about summer, or are you all just a bunch of haters?


Turns out it was just a Baby Ruth floating in the boat

Deep Roots

books_hawthornI have a new book review in the current issue of the Missoula Independent that hit newsstands last Thursday. It’s a cool bit of nonfiction called Hawthorn: The Tree That Has Nourished, Healed, and Inspired Through the Ages by Bill Vaughn. You may read the review HERE. I enjoyed the book very much; dig this excerpt for some insight as to why:

Still, for all the delight I gleaned from the copious historical details and minutia scattered throughout the rest of Hawthorn, it is in its ninth chapter, “A Tree for All Seasons,” that the book really claimed me. And it has little to do with wit or literary talent. In chapter one, Vaughn describes his home on the Clark Fork near Missoula as “the same sort of redneck backwater where I spent my motherless, feral boyhood.” I naturally assumed it was somewhere upstream, maybe around Turah or possibly even Clinton. I mean, who around here wouldn’t? It didn’t take long, though, for me to deduce that the area he was describing was actually very near where I live, about halfway between Missoula and Frenchtown along Mullan Road. A little exploration up and down some of the side roads in the area and I soon discovered that Vaughn’s Dark Acres is actually, as the crow flies, at most a mile from my own manufactured home in an ugly subdivision, the likes of which he also references in the book.

This is one of those books that probably doesn’t get a lot of attention because it’s kind of quirky. I think it’s fantastic, full of odd bits of history and information, delivered with both intelligence and humor. It’s well worth your time.

Rage Spike

3:00 PM UPDATE: Turns out it was AN INSIDE JOB!

After talking to my mom, who suggested that maybe the willows had been cut intentionally, I called the local FWP office and talked to the manager who handles Council Grove, Mike Hathaway. Turns out they did indeed do the cutting, or at least it was done in their name via an Americorps volunteer, who also performed the initial planting. The tops of the trees were starting to die, and they were being damaged by the wind, so they were cut in hopes of encouraging root growth. Mike and I also discussed the fact that people were still obviously accessing the river via that closed spot, even though there is available access about twenty feet away. He asked my opinion as to what I thought should be done next, etc. So it was a good conversation. I told him I felt a little guilty for feeling the outrage, and he told me I shouldn’t. “Get a group of us managers together,” he said, “and you’ll hear plenty of stories of just the kind of vandalism you suspected here.” So while I briefly thought that maybe people DON’T suck, it turns out they actually still do.


Whenever I’m not traveling, every day I take Darla the Adventure Dog for a walk at a river access location nearby called Council Grove. It is actually a primitive state park. During poor weather, or cold weather, we practically have it all to ourselves. As summer rolls in, it sees more and more use. It’s beautiful, with copious wildlife, primarily birds. It is an easy place to love, and sauntering there is often the highlight of my day. I know it is for Little D as well.

A few weeks ago, along about a 40-50 foot stretch of riverbank, where the edge has broken off and collapsed into the flow of the river when it runs higher than normal, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks people posted several signs that read as follows:

Willows have been planted in this area to restore natural habitat, prevent flooding, and stabilize the river banks. Help keep Council Grove a great place for both wildlife and people by not disturbing the vegetation on the banks, keeping your dogs on leash, and accessing the river at suggested river access points only. Thank you for your cooperation.

I’ve spoken with the game warden a couple times when I’ve encountered him down there, and he’s a nice enough guy. He realizes most people don’t keep their dogs on leashes, and isn’t really a hard-ass about it. But as it gets busier, he needs to enforce it. I understand. Most people take the risk. It isn’t a big deal.

They planted at least 20 or 30 willows along that bank. There is a perfect access spot right adjacent to the closed area, with a sign indicating it as such. I was out there Monday the 15th, and the new growth looked good. The next day I left on a work trip, and wasn’t out there again until the afternoon/evening of my return on the 19th. In the intervening time some fucking asshole had come along and cut off all the willows and absconded with them. They range in size from a bit bigger than my thumb to as small as my little finger. All gone.

click to make bigger

click to make bigger

Who the hell does something like that? Some jerk-off mad at MFWP? And they’re too dumb to realize it’s everyone else they’re hurting too? It is the kind of senseless vandalism I just don’t get. Leaving cigarette butts and beer and soda cans and shit like that pisses me off because it’s lazy. This fills me with rage. What sucks is they will likely never be caught either. What a waste. I’m making tons of effort these days to try and get my head straight and be a better person and all that, but stuff like this (not to mention racism and mass shootings and free trade agreements and oil rigs headed to Alaska and on and on… ) really makes me wish for a freakin’ pandemic or something. Truly.

Well. Rather than close on a bad note, here is a collection of Darla the Adventure Dog in action at Council Grove. She’s always happy so long as some rambunctious puppy isn’t all up in her grill.



And here are just a couple other shots I’ve taken there recently.