The People You Meet


Last Sunday I headed out for a hike to the top of Mt. Sentinel in Missoula, taking a trail that runs about three miles or so up the backside via the Crazy Canyon Trail. It was a hot day, and, at the height of the afternoon, a sweaty trip. I was roughly three-quarters of a mile or so from the top when I saw another hiker, headed toward me down trail, stopped at and studying one of the few signs one encounters. We exchanged hellos in passing, then he called out again after a few steps. He was looking to loop around back to where he started, and he’d started out on the front of the mountain, taking the steep trail straight up to the M, and from there on up and over the crown. After asking a few questions, I learned he was from Illinois, and that the hiking directions he’d received were for him to descend down to the Kim Williams trail. Basically, he’d made a right where he should have made a left, and he was well out of his way. Further descent would only make it worse. Considering where he should have turned was directly on my route, I offered to show him the way, so we retraced his steps together.

The man’s name was Dave Rigby. I asked him what brought him to Missoula. He paused, then asked if I’d heard about the young man who disappeared in Glacier about this time last year. I said I had. He told me the man was his son, Jacob. Jacob’s body had been found at the base of a tall cliff after several days of searching.

Dave was in Missoula for the week, staying with friends, to get acclimated to the elevation. His other son would be flying in on Thursday, then together, with members of the search and rescue people who looked for Jacob, they would be hiking to the spot Jacob fell for the purposes of holding a memorial. It is a sad story.

We spoke of the outdoors. Dave gave up hiking about 40 years ago, he said, due to problems with his knees, but is an avid kayaker. He said it has been a difficult time, but he recognizes that at least his son died doing something he loved and was passionate about. We talked of sons, and being fathers. When we got to the spot where the trail splits, I directed him on his way. We shook hands. I took his picture, he took mine.

I had a book with me I planned to read a couple passages from once I reached the top; The Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service. At the summit of the mountain, I read the first poem; it seems appropriate to reprint it here.

The Spell of the Yukon

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.


Glacier is a rugged place, but so is any other place. It’s important to be careful, and mindful, whether we are out in the wild or crossing the street. But we can’t let the fear of what could happen get in the way of living. I admire Dave and his mission to honor his son. I was happy fate allowed our paths to cross.


You’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

The other day Julia entered my office with a magazine in her hand, opened to a particular article. “Read this when you get a chance, it’s really good.” It doesn’t matter what the article was; in this case it was an essay from Harper’s called “The One in Front of You: A Consideration of Charity” by Sallie Tisdale. She was right. It was excellent.

That happens all the time. Our interests probably overlap more in nonfiction than fiction, though Julia does read a number of the same novels I do. Between us we accumulate a healthy pile of magazines as well. Stuff like Harper’s, Mother Jones, The New Yorker (though it seems we’ve let our subscription to that lapse; I need to look into it), and Believer. I like outdoor mags too, like Outside, and I regularly get copies of Men’s Journal when I travel. Julia takes a few fashion magazines, I pick up Mac magazines and the occasional sports-related one too. We read a ton of this stuff and are constantly passing articles back and forth, or discussing them. Much more-so than we do stuff we read online, probably, and we discuss articles we read probably more than we do novels.

Which makes this post I saw in my tumblr feed particularly disturbing. Here’s a screenshot, but check out the link.

Those freelance rates are freakin’ ridiculous. As Akimoff says in his post: “I once thought freelancing offered a good return on hard work. I no longer believe that.” It’s depressing. Journalists, especially good ones, deserve to make good livings. The research and sharing of solid, factual information is a bedrock of our society, and it’s being washed right out from under us.

It reminded me of a recent article I read (via the Independent, a local weekly I used to do some freelance work for) about how our local newspaper, the Missoulian, has recently seen “four seasoned reporters” leave. That disturbs me. First, because I have friends who work at the Missoulian still (and a couple of the folks mentioned in the article are acquaintances of mine; it’s a small town), and second, because I value solid journalism. In a case of “if I’d known then what I know now” at 18-20, I might have become one.

Everyday folks still want their information, they just don’t seem to want to pay for it. When a news outlet, like the Missoulian, puts up a pay wall, people freak. Yet, if those same people aren’t buying papers, how do reporters get paid? Ad revenue via classifieds is way down because a) people don’t read papers, and b) sites like Craigslist have taken that business. I’m not going to argue that newspapers and other “old media” haven’t done a shitty job reacting to a changing environment when it comes to information delivery, I’m sure they have. But it seems to me much of this is another case of our tendency to want the lowest price, all the time, and we’re shooting ourselves in the feet. Is there really an excellent source of mainstream news and investigative reporting available to people? What I’ve seen, and heard, for the most part, certainly isn’t.

I fear the future of how this stuff shakes out, much more than I worry about the state of books and publishing. I love the magazines I read, and I think some of the best writing available is happening in this arena. Certainly the writers of many of my favorite books, nonfiction at least, have come from these ranks. Maybe it will all get figured out, I don’t know. I just know that nobody I know ever clicks the ad links and such that websites show. Hell, most people, with the right browser plugins, never even see them. So I don’t know where these organizations are going to get their money to stay solvent. I just hope they do.


Been a Long Time Running


I think the last post I made here I apologized for being lame about posting, and that I would be doing so more frequently . . . and that was a month ago! But I really feel I need to make a priority on updating here, for no other reason than that the discipline is good for me. I still hit tumblr quite a bit, but that isn’t really blogging; mostly just pictures I post straight from my phone, or reposts of things other people have posted. So you can always see what I’m up to there. Same with Facebook, though that pretty much just gets what tumblr gets.

I do have an excuse, though. As I’ve mentioned before, I travel a lot for my day job, and it got crazy busy in March. Since about the middle of March, I’ve been to the following places (or at least these are the airports I’ve flown into, then driven somewhere within an hour or two of, in some cases):

  • Sacramento, CA
  • Seattle, WA/Portland, OR
  • Atlanta, GA
  • San Diego, CA
  • Boston, MA
  • Rock Hill, SC
  • San Jose, CA
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Seattle, WA/Vancouver, BC
  • Birmingham, AL

That’s a lot of travel, by any measure. Makes it hard to keep up on a lot of the stuff I enjoy. My workout routine has suffered, my writing has suffered, maintenance around the house has suffered, etc. But I do get to read a lot. And I see parts of the country I normally wouldn’t, and get to meet people I may not otherwise. So there is some sweet in the bitter, but all in all . . . it can be tiresome. I’m home this week and next to catch up on some stuff (because work trips tend to generate office work as well, and I’ve fallen behind on some of that stuff), then I’m off to Buffalo, NY and someplace in Wisconsin as well. And I think I have to go back to California soon too. In other words, no sign of letting up. So I haven’t just been slacking off, believe me!

I’ve taken quite a few pictures but haven’t done much to process anything but stuff I’ve done with Instagram. Who knows if/when I’ll get to those, but even some of the Instagram stuff has turned out okay. I’ve thought about putting together a little gallery of shots from these trips; we’ll see if that happens or not.

Keep your eyes here. Hopefully I won’t be such a stranger. And drop a comment if you’re still checking in.

They all start out at Missoula International….


What I’m Reading


Besides the 20-30 partially-read collections and anthologies I’ve got going as a result of my Short Story a Day project, I thought I’d mention the “regular” books I hope to get finished up in the coming week.

Red, White and Blood by Chris Farnsworth — FICTION

Book Three in Farnsworth’s Cade series, about a vampire who throws down on behalf of the POTUS. This is one of the few authors I will drop everything else to read a new release from when one comes out, because they are just a blast to read. This one is no different.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed — MEMOIR

Haven’t decided how I feel about this one yet. The writing is compelling enough, but the subject matter . . . I don’t know. I’m 60 pages in so far. Memoirs are hit and miss, and this one is brutally honest, no doubt about it. If nothing else, I think I need to read a couple memoirs by male authors after this to balance things out.


Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm — NONFICTION

I’ve been picking my way slowly through this one over quite a while now. I need to just nut up and finish it. It’s very difficult to read, as it deals with a time period of my life that wasn’t that easy, in a town I was living in the middle of while everything the book describes was going on. Doing what so many of these people succeeded at, only failing. It hasn’t been an easy read.


Next Up:

Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man’s Quest to Preserve the World’s Great Animals by Jay Kirk — NONFICTION

Got this for Christmas and have read the introduction. Can’t wait to dig in deeper.


Anyone else reading anything good?