18 March 2018

Lookout Mountain: take one

Sunday, 03/18/2018

Today Salem and I have decided to go on a bike ride to train for our upcoming bikepacking trip to Glenwood Springs, which we're planning for July. We've done a few jaunts together here and there around town, but haven't done any serious climbing yet... so we are going to tackle Lookout Mountain. I found it on Strava; it is popular with local cyclists, so it seems like a pretty good route to try.

We go to REI in the morning to buy a bike rack for Salem's car, which he's been meaning to get for a while, and then (after stopping for some coffee and chai at Starbucks) we put it on his car and get our bikes all loaded up. Since we're training for a bikepacking trip, we both bring two rear panniers; I also have my handlebar bag. We don't fill the panniers completely up, but we do put a little bit of weight in them--bike locks, full water bottles, that kind of thing. We'll slowly increase the weight on future rides until we're training with all of our camping gear and everything that we'll be taking with us in July. I tell Salem that the Lookout Mountain route is pretty popular, so we'll probably be passed by a lot of people on fancy road bikes. My excuse for being slower than them will be that I'm carrying a lot of weight on my bike. Yep. Always blame your equipment when you can.

We park near Crown Hill Lake in Wheat Ridge, then head west on 26th until Simms, move over onto 32nd, and keep to 32nd into Golden. We pass by the Coors factory on our way into town, and there is something ominous about the industrial buildings looming over us. I kinda like it and its spooky tunnel. It smells really bad around back, though--like rotten fruit or something. When we get to Golden proper, we cut straight to 19th, skipping the roads with bike lanes in favor of a more direct route. The sun is hidden behind clouds--which is probably a good thing, because I didn't bring any sunscreen or anything. I've got arm warmers on, but I'm still in shorts; it's not too cold (...........yet). The climb itself starts without much ado over on the southwest side of town.

Salem stays right on my wheel for the first 2/3 or 3/4 or so of the climb. I set a pace of 5 or 6 mph, sucking periodically on a water bottle full of a homemade sports drink (water, honey, electrolyte salts, and grape juice--it is almost sickeningly sweet, but I need all the energy I can get). I've never gone up this climb before; I think it lasts for something like 4 or 5 miles, so I try to pace myself. It's not a race or anything, after all. The scenery all around us is breathtaking. There's still snow lingering in the shadows of red cliffs, brindle with evergreens. I hope the footage I'm taking with my helmet cam turns out all right.

The gradient is manageable, though it isn't easy. Strava says it averages about 5% over the course of the climb. It gets steeper when the turns switchback up the mountain, but evens out on the straightaways. We are passed by a few cyclists--all of them riding fancy road bikes, as I predicted. Specialized, Cervelo, Orbea. Someday I'll have a bike like that, too--but for now I'm happy with Bike Rothar. She might be slow, but she's dependable--and dang comfortable to boot, and that's more important to me, anyway.

At some point, a bull terrier comes running up to me out of nowhere and keeps trying to jump up on me. He's not being vicious, but I have to come to a stop a few times to avoid running over his feet. We don't see his owner anywhere, and can't figure out where he came from. He has a collar on, but no tags, no identification whatsoever. At some point, a motorcycle passes us, and the dog goes chasing after it, leaving us behind. There's a cliff on both sides of the road--rising above us to the right, and dropping below us to the left. The dog is right in the middle of traffic, galloping around blind corners... I think to myself that he's going to be hit by a car and killed. He certainly has no fear of cars, which have to slow and serve around him. He comes back after a while, unable to catch up with the motorcyclist, and chases after Salem's rear wheel. Fortunately, another quarter mile up the road or so, its owners drive past, spot him, and stow him safely in their car. It is a relief to see him rescued.

I stop once or twice on the way up--to blow my nose, flip my map, etc.--but I try not to linger too long. I want to make it to the top without any serious breaks. Salem passes me and stays ahead for the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the climb. Toward the top, I can tell that he's slowing down to let me catch up. I take advantage of his kindness and sprint (...if you can call it a sprint...) past him so that I can be the first one to the summit.

Salem and I pose for a selfie together at the summit. Salem is snazzy in orange; I am a dork with a Bike Depot jersey and crazy hair.
Once at the summit, we take the required selfies and settle down for a quick lunch by the Buffalo Bill museum. It's really cold and windy up here, so I bundle up in a rain jacket and rain pants. Salem busts out the fancy cycling jacket he splurged on yesterday at REI. (We go to REI a lot...) I've forgotten to bring my full-finger cycling gloves, but am saved by the pair of gloves I accidentally stole from Margy when I last visited her and Dad in Alaska (I'd left them in the pockets of my rain jacket without realizing it). Thanks, Margy--I promise I will return them next time I visit!

All in all, the ascent lasted somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half (I wasn't paying super close attention). The descent takes, oh, idk, like 15 minutes? It is super fun, though. The speed limit on that road is 20 mph... we go between 25 and 30 most of the way down. I film the whole descent, so we'll see how that turns out, too.

When we get back into Golden, I take my rain pants and rain jacket off--and instantly regret it, as a cold front kinda rolls in, but I carry on without because I really don't want to stop again. We ride the gently rolling hills back the way we came, and the sky spits rain and sleet at us. Thunder rumbles in the distance. A pretty significant headwind forms, too, making the rest of the ride feel tougher than it otherwise would be. There's a hill, near Simms and 26th, that seems more difficult to surmount, in that moment, than the entirety of Lookout Mountain... but we push through. Salem lingers behind me a bit, due to the headwind (his bike setup is somewhat less aerodynamic than mine), but not by much. When we make it back to his car, it's gotten really cold, and the sky in the distance is a foreboding gray-black. One of Salem's brothers calls us as we head home, making sure we're not on Lookout Mountain anymore. Apparently Golden is now in the middle of a hailstorm, and we only just missed it. How incredibly lucky...!

We part ways after Salem drops me off, but not before he acquires some cake and protein shakes at a grocery store. (Cake is a very important cycling staple.) The first thing I do when I get back inside is take a long, hot shower to warm up, and then dig into a bowl of vegetable pasta that I made this morning.

Today was a great day. I'm so glad I have a cycling buddy in Colorado now. In all the terrible winters and emotional turmoil, I'd forgotten how much I love this sport...


Today's stats

Distance: 27.6 mi
Time: ~2.5 hours
Avg speed: 10.8 mph
Max speed: 30.6 mph
Elevation gain: ~1880 ft

20 February 2018

What is Hypersomnia? | Jam Everywhere Vlog, Episode 4

Trying my hand at this video blogging thing again.

[I will be adding real captions to the video (as opposed to the auto-generated ones) and putting a transcript here in a few days.]

Also, welcome to my written blog, if this is your first time here. Highlights of this blog before this point include:

21 January 2018

Alaska, Penultimate Day -- friendship and Flattop

25 August 2017

I spend most of the morning puttering around the house, performing small tasks to get ready to leave: packing my bags, drinking tea, finishing up some laundry, eating breakfast, putting things back to rights. In between each task I slip into the garage to spray layers of workable fixative onto my watercolor paintings: last year's Christmas present to Daddy and Margy, "Sourdough Mountain," "Backyard Birch." No matter how many layers I add, I cannot seem to make the postcard water resistant enough. Even though I've already put a stamp on it, I decide to make an envelope for it (using the cover of a magazine advertising the Alaska state fair) to better protect it for its trip to the lower 48. The envelope is in various states of assembly as I wander the house, periodically taking breaks to check for messages from my friend P. or faff about on the internet. I put two stamps on it, just in case--and extra tape. Happy Birthday, Jenn. I love you.

My painted postcard next to the hand-made envelope for it (with the addresses blurred out for people's privacy, though my sister has moved from there since then).

At some point I ask my Grandmother what she thinks about the current political climate, and thoughts spill out of her as if they'd been pent up for a while. I appreciate her honesty, her forthrightness. We do not argue. I try to find the common ground we stand on. Sometimes I wonder if we're talking about the same things. I'm not exactly sure how we can watch the same man speak and have such wildly different impressions of him. But I respect where she is coming from. The conversation peters naturally out.

At some point she humors me and allows me to read her some of my poetry. I read her Keepsake, and she says, "it's a message." She sees it as a story of healing. She seems to approve. I try another one--Celsius--but she is not sure about it, cannot seem to glean a meaning from it. Poetry isn't really her thing, after all. I try one more, this time a sonnet, composed more recently. She makes a noise halfway between curiosity and approval. I am pleased. There is more in that small noise than some express in paragraphs.

Early evening and P. arrives with his friend D., fresh from Oregon. It's been a year or two, but our last visit was so short it still feels like eight. It is good to see him. I don't feel estranged from him, despite the mostly-silent years stretching out between us. After all, I am back in town, and he is right there. Everything is different, yet nothing has changed. Friendship with P. is a fundamental physical constant; proximal distance changes only one's experience thereof.

We head off in his truck to Flattop for a hike. On the way, we pass a road that was named for P.'s family. I wonder what it's like to be so deeply rooted to a place. It it not something I've ever had a personal concept of.

It is a cloudy, humid Alaskan summer day, and we almost have the most popular hike in Alaska all to ourselves. I try to summarize eight years of my life while we meander up the mountain. Turns out that D. is a PhD-MD; he knows what I am talking about when I ramble on about medications and tests and diagnoses. So much of my story hinges on my August 2016 diagnosis of idiopathic hypersomnia. He is pleasant to talk to--but I am not surprised, because he is P.'s friend. I deduce that they met at science camp. I am halfway right: P. met D. through D.'s wife... whom P. met at science camp.

D. stops at the top of blueberry hill to sit and soak in the view as P. and I continue to the summit. P. and I talk about so many things--poetry and people and the strange and sad and wonderful pieces that make up our lives. He asks me about my faith, at some point, and I find myself telling him things that I don't know if I've ever told anybody else. Certainly not all at once, honest and lithic and raw. He apologizes to me for a decision somebody else made, years ago. The apology is so sweet and so pure that it dissolves what hurt remained of it. P. has a kindness rooted deeply in him, which better embodies the Love he worships than a dozen bishops with a dozen paterissas and a dozen golden hats.

If that one injury were the sole cause of my lapse in faith, P.'s apology would have brought me back into the fold in an instant. As it is, I remain an agnostic distance from the God I once believed I knew. I say, if God is merciful, and loving, and kind, then he will suffer me to try and find the truth as best I know how. Yeah, P. says. I think so too.

We make the summit. The boost in endurance gained from coming down to sea level from Denver makes me feel great. This hike was just what I needed.

P. and Jam taking a selfie with the Chugach range visible behind them.

A partial panorama view from the summit, including parts of the Chugach range.

Another partial panorama view from the summit, including more mountains and a sliver of sea.

Yet another partial panorama view from the summit, including a view of Anchorage and an oceanic horizon.

We head back to the house and P. and D. stay a while for dinner, socializing with Margy's friends, with whom they seem to have a lot in common. I am pleased that Margy's friends seem to approve of my friends. I hope they maintain a connection after I'm gone. They all seem like wonderful people. Before P. goes, I give him leftover food and ply him with promises. Next time I'll make it up to Eagle River. Next time I'll set aside more time to see old friends. I look forward to next time. I beg him to tell everyone that I missed--especially my godparents--that I'm sorry I missed them, that I'll make time to see them whenever I come back this way. I hope that there is a deep implication that I love and miss them wrapped up in these promises, as I lack a means to express this sentiment in the moment.

Everyone slows down as the evening progresses; my dad lingers in a strange sort of half-asleep state, unable to do much more than sit on the couch with half a grin and a handful of silly comments. Folk peel off one-by-one, heading home, heading to bed. I give my grandmother and Margy hugs and tell them goodbye as they head upstairs. I am the last to settle down, to attempt a nap before my early morning flight. I set the alarm on my phone for 02:00. Sleep does not come easily.

20 January 2018

Alaska, Day 8 -- museum visit and Backyard Birch

24 August 2017

I don't have a very long post for today, but I do have some pictures. Yesterday (the 23rd), I didn't do anything particularly interesting, so I'm skipping it.

Today starts with brunch at the Snow City Cafe with Grandmother and Margy. I get a chai. It's way too sweet for me, but at least it's pretty.

Snow city menu, the leather notebook I bought in England (Oxford, iirc) and carry around in case inspiration hits, and a tall glass of hot chai with a flower pattern on the top in cinnamon.

After this, Margy goes back to work and Grandmother and I head to the Anchorage Museum together. Grandmother is very sweet and buys my ticket. We spend a lot of time in the museum looking at a photo exhibit that depicts contemporary native Alaskan people in the context of their daily lives, next to a little quote from each person. It's fascinating. We spend the time we need to read every caption and study every photo.

In the children's section of the museum, there's an infrared camera setup. I think it's funny how my glasses make me look like a jawa in the resulting image, so I snap a pic.

My favorite might be the exhibits of native Alaskan artifacts. These masks really capture my imagination, so I can't help but take a photo (without flash, of course!). I can't remember what tribe made them anymore... I think these might be masks from a bunch of different tribes all put together in the same display.
I really enjoy the rainbow of flowers outside the museum, as we walk back toward where we parked.

After we return home from our museum excursion, I settle down to paint some more with my watercolors. My sister's birthday is coming up soon, so I decide to paint her a postcard as a present. I find inspiration in a trio of birch trees from Dad's backyard. Rather than painting truly en plein air, I sit inside at the kitchen table and look out the window.

I hold up the watercolor painting next to the trees that inspired me. I took several creative liberties, of course, in my version, such as removing houses and cars and fences and so forth.

A close-up of my watercolor painting, "Backyard Birch," depicting three birch trees, fall foliage in the back, and some raspberry bushes with sparkling berries.

Later that day, I go for a walk with Margy and Dad and the puppy, and we walk right past a huge moose just chillin' in the park. It wouldn't be an Alaska vacation without a close encounter with a moose, I suppose.

15 January 2018

Alaska, Day 6 -- jaunt into town

I originally was going to write a blog post for every day I spent in Alaska last August but... well, I mean, it's already January, and I've only got 4/10 days posted, so I really doubt that's going to happen. I do have a couple more written up that I never ended up posting, though, so I'm going to go ahead and post what I have. I'll just have to make another trip at some point for more material.

22 August 2017

Today I decide to take dad's mountain bike into town. My primary goal for this excursion is to make it to Blaire's Art Supply Store to get some fixative spray for the watercolor of Sourdough Mountain that I promised to Grandmother. Most of the dirt I rubbed into it while painting has come off by now, but I'm gonna try to save what's left of it with the spray. Grandmother slips me a little cash, as I head into the garage, to help me buy it. She didn't need to do that, but I accept it gratefully nonetheless.

I have to cobble together supplies from what I can find in the garage--I end up using bungee cords to strap a day-pack to the bike's rear rack, and filling an empty Dr. Pepper bottle with water for the trip. I spend a lot of the morning searching (in vain) for a tire pump. While gathering supplies, I keep going back into the house to look at the google maps directions again, in an attempt to memorize them before leaving the safety of GPS behind. Finally loaded up with raincoat, bike lock, notebook, pen, wallet, compass, a letter and a postcard I want to mail to friends back home, the aforementioned water bottle, printed google maps directions, two mandarin oranges, two boiled eggs, and two of those squeezy pouches of fruit and yogurt that I like to carry around when cycling, I head off.

First I try to patronize a bike shop google said was down the street--but though I find what I think is the shop, I can't find an entry door. I give up and head to a gas station instead to fill the tires there as best I can, lucky that the tubes happen to use schrader valves.

I know I'm supposed to turn onto Old Seward Highway, but I forget if it was a right or a left. Good thing I looked at the map a few times before I headed out, so I know that town is north of me. I use my compass to pick the correct direction. In Denver, the mountains on the horizon are always to the west--it is difficult to orient myself here, where going west takes one toward the sea.

I start out cycling in the road. I am used to Colorado, where riding on the sidewalk is not only dangerous, but illegal. People keep passing too close and honking at me here, even though I am as far right as possible. Eventually I give up and move onto the sidewalk. The sidewalks are paved with the same material as the roads; they seem to seamlessly transition from sidewalk to off-road multi-use path and back to sidewalk again. Riding on them is not so bad, even though crossing driveways and side-streets always makes me nervous. Anchorage is much more spread out than other places, though, so there is more distance between crossings, which makes it a little less obnoxious having to stop and yield at each one.

I blast past my first turn, of course. I've left my glasses at home, in favor of using sunglasses, so it takes me a little more effort to read street signs. I'm something like 40 blocks past the turn I needed when I realize the street numbers are decreasing and not increasing. I turn around and start to backtrack to correct the mistake, but decide that I don't really want to go that much farther out of my way if I can help it. Instead, I take an exploratory ramble through some side streets until I find a way to C street, then head north from there. After that it is a pleasant jaunt through lush, wet, forested parks and past quiet industrial areas and hotels until I reach my next turns, which I do not miss...!

The art store is cute, and has a cafe inside. I take a look around everything first, finding myself as tempted as usual when browsing this kind of place. I do pick up a field watercolor journal for future en plein air endeavors, but am able to talk myself out of buying a plethora of things I don't actually need. I find the fixatives and pick out a workable matte spray--partially because it specifically lists "watercolor" in its usage instructions, partially because it is small (I don't need a lot), but mostly because the brand name is my family's name, and I find this amusing. I then ask the barista for directions to a post office while she's ringing up my purchases. She gives me some convoluted directions to a place about 3 miles away that she'd looked up on google maps. I take the address she writes down for me, but when I head out I think I see a UPS store in the distance, so I wander on foot for a block or two, hoping to find some place that sells stamps and a blue post office box without having to go too much farther into town.

I try to reach the UPS store I saw, but after detouring around a construction site and a long gray building, I come across a Carr's, so I go in there to get a book of stamps and an additional snack. I ask them where the nearest post office is, and they point me to one right across the street--no more than two or three blocks from the art supply store. Not sure how google maps missed that one.

After mailing my cards, I drop into a bookstore called Title Wave, which I find on the other side of the long gray building. I wander the shelves, trying to find whatever I'm in the mood for today. Since I don't have my glasses on, I need to be a little more deliberate than usual--browsing for too long would give me a massive headache. I ultimately decide on poetry. When the poetry section yields nothing new or interesting, I wander over to the Alaska-specific section. One of the books I crack open here falls immediately open to a poem about Kennecott, and I think, well, this might be some kind of sign--but the poem itself turns out to be awful. The rhyme is forced and trite, the meter terrible--I can't stomach more than a few lines of it. The other poems in that book are equally horrid. I put it back and peruse a few trailside chapbooks before finally settling on an anthology called Alaskan Art & Writing, copyright August 1981, number 21/22 of the quarterly Northward Journal. It's a poem called "Splitting Wood" by Ann Chandonnet that sells it to me: page 55. I like most of what I read therein and pick it up for $4.95 (no sales tax?) and head back home.

The ride back home is much nicer--more off-road path, less curbside sidewalk. I don't miss my turn onto 104th this time. It is small--barely an alley over some train tracks--so I understand why I missed it the first time. After I pass the gas station where I fill my tires, though, I get lost... can't find the turn into the right neighborhood. I go back and forth over a decently steep hill before I finally have to call dad and get directions. Turns out I'd been second-guessing myself too much after my other mishaps of the day--I couldn't find the turn because I wasn't going far enough down the road. But wandering through neighborhood streets and climbing and re-climbing the hill is more exercise, which I really needed, and it feels good, though I'm getting hungry. When I finally make it home safe, there is spicy sausage and cabbage to eat, and all my errands have been done. All in all a successful day.

epilogue/bike review

Dad picked up the mountain bike for about $100, and it shows, though my complaints are not too bad: handlebars need adjustment, chain needs grease, gears need adjustment, too. Well, and the saddle is awfully uncomfortable, but that's more of a personal preference thing--I found the perfect saddle for me in Dublin years and years ago, and haven't found a better one since. I'm glad I only rode about 20 miles today; I'm too spoiled to the comfort of my Surly Long Haul Trucker, Bike Rothar. I'm not sure I would've enjoyed much more than that.

09 October 2017

Alaska, Day 4 -- ghosts of Kennicott

20 August 2017

A white 14-passenger van trundles along from McCarthy, navigating washed-out road with thankless aplomb. Grandmother sits up front; the puppy occupies the doorwell. I sit somewhere in the middle. Tall banks of dirt rise and fall alongside us, gnarled with ferns and evergreen roots. I eavesdrop on my fellow passengers, who talk about where they came from, where they're going, what their absent friends are up to, who's seen which episode of Game of Thrones last.

We are headed into Kennicott, a town abandoned when its mines became unprofitable in 1938. Named for the Kennecott glacier to the west--some accident of history to blame for the degenerate vowel--this town has spent more time abandoned than inhabited, it would seem. Though the Forest Service has been restoring some of its old buildings, and putting on tours for tourists (like us), the spirit of this place is still one of quiet and strangely dignified decay.

To the left, the debris fields of the Kennecott glacier. To the right, the ghost town of Kennicott. Grandmother, in her bright orange coat, looks out at the mountains.

We meander through the town, browsing local shops and scattered buildings, restored to miniature museums. Grandmother and I watch a video about the ore processing plant we are preparing to tour while Dad and Margy keep the puppy occupied outside. We wander through the general store, flipping through blown-up copies of vintage photographs and random surviving forms and manifests. I learn that when this town was first established, the Kennecott glacier loomed over it, squeezing its development into one claustrophobic corridor. Decades of ice melt is what opened up its west flank.

Margy explains something, via gesture, to Grandmother as we look out over the mountains from the balcony/deck behind a coffee shop.

Kennicott's west flank. In between us and a ridge of snow-capped mountains lies a vast gray expanse of dirt and stone, layered atop a hidden, surreal landscape of glacial ice.

Someday I hope to hike the glacier, but today we've come to tour the town. And the centerpiece of the tour is the ore processing plant. (The mines themselves are an arduous, full-day hike away, and long-since closed, besides.) Margy stays behind with the puppy while Dad and Grandmother and I join our scheduled tour. It is a bit of a hike to the start of the tour--not for me, necessarily, but certainly for Grandmother (working with half a lung less than the rest of us), and an elderly gentleman with a bad leg. Dad slows and unassumingly takes up the rear, ready to aid in case of a fall. I stay toward the back also, scanning the gravel for chaff left by the mines: scattered stones streaked with iridescent shades of green, and blue--colored thus by copper-rich minerals, malachite and azurite. I pocket one or two particularly pretty stones, each about the size of my thumbnail. I feel a strong, barely-conscious urge to wash my hands after considering what heavy metals and other elements comprise the dust that I've been sifting through.

The crumbling, red, 14-storey ore processing plant looms over Kennicott. Most Kennicott iconography depicts this building, from some angle or another.

View of the ore processing facility from the top, where the tour enters.
Slightly blurry selfie of me in one of the hard hats provided by the tour, layered over my Army surplus jeep cap. I am not sure how to categorize the expression on my face.

Our tour guide is younger than I am. Though he is engaging to listen to, I drift in and out of paying attention. I am more focused on snapping photos of everything I can, from every angle. I use up a whole battery and have to switch to my final spare. Most of the photos turn out to be terrible--dark, blurry, indistinct, whatever. But I enjoy taking them. I enjoy hanging back from the group; I enjoy the excuse to stand in certain places, walk off a ways, look under or go on the other side of things. One other person in the group seems equally preoccupied in taking photos... but awkwardly with an iPad, for some reason. The gentleman with a bad leg is also an armchair scholar, and the tour, more often than not, is less a lecture and more a conversation between the guide and him.

I hold two samples of copper ore--on the left, the colorful, shiny, 80% pure ore they found in the area mines; on the right, a dull, adulterated sample of what your typical copper mine produces.

A workbench area inside the processing plant. A row of empty window-frames lets in summer sunlight.

It seems like the type of place that ghosts hang around in. I can't decide if the ghosts would be angry or just... tired. Tired and homesick and cold.

We part ways with the tour after exiting the processing plant, 14-storeys down ad hoc ladders and stairs constructed by afterthought. The tour continues further into town, but Grandmother and Dad hurry back to catch the five o'clock van back into McCarthy, and I follow.

I think a meal commenced after this. A conversation long in coming. A series of small but significant revelations. Pregnant silences. A truce.

Some time later that evening, after the sun should have set (but didn't), I wander off to try my hand at painting en plein air. I sit on a large rock by McCarthy creek and look out toward a mountain and... come up with something.

I refill my water pen in the creek as needed, and try to get used to how watercolors behave in the saturated Alaskan air--as opposed to the thirsty air of Colorado. At some point I accidentally flip the painting into the dirt... but kind of like the texture that the accidental grit affords it. I paint until I lose my light, and I paint some more after that, until I realize that the light has faded to where continuing to paint will make it worse, not better.

Me, sitting on a rock in my purple gore-tex, reenacting my painting the next morning now that I have Dad handy to take photos for me.

My final watercolor piece, resting against the rock I was sitting on, along with my watercolor tray and the watercolor pen I was using.

Me holding up my watercolor piece the next day, lining it up with the landscape that I'd painted.

(Later I show my painting to N., and he identifies it as Sourdough peak. I'm proud of myself, that I was able to paint something he recognized just by looking. After all, when it comes to watercolors, I'm still pretty much making it up as I go along.)

The light is gone when I slip back into Ma Johnson's, and Grandmother is asleep. I move quietly to avoid disturbing her, resting my painting on the beside table, putting my stuff away, and gathering supplies for a shower without turning on the light. Only after I've thoroughly warmed my hands and feet and core with hot water am I able to slide into bed and drift to sleep.

26 September 2017

Alaska, Day 3 -- in media McCarthy

19 August 2017

Today, I decide not to take any medicine. This allows me to drink a little alcohol--at lunch, a very dry English cider with a skull on the bottle; at dinner, a hopped cider from the Square Mile Cider Company (my favorite cider of all time). I spend the day in languorous trance: limbs heavy, thoughts muddled, movement slow. It is not uncomfortable, but it is not exactly pleasant, either. It is how I used to move through the world... before I found a medication that worked. Strange how "normal" is not, in fact, a constant after all.

There is nothing in particular planned today. Margy and I start the morning with chai from the Potato. It is pleasant: complex, and not too sweet. We wander up and down the muddy roads. We breathe McCarthy in. I make sure not to go anywhere without my camera swinging from my shoulder.

Grandmother stands next to a gate wrought from artifacts and junk. It makes no architectural sense, and I enjoy it very much.

Close up of copper ore held in place by rusty screws. It is part of the gate. Something about it makes me feel as though magic might be real.

Close up of another part of the gate. It is the metal skeleton of an antique child's bike, suspended in decaying metal circle.

A red building. "McCarthy General Store" in spindly black font. A cow skull, for some reason. The store has a sign on the door that simply says, "shut." I don't think this place has been used in quite some time.

Rusted remains of a typewriter or cash register, slimy with moss and rain. Antique junk like this is everywhere you look in this little town, rotting away wherever it was left.

Red cabin behind some kind of... wall?... constructed from (what I think are) angular fuel cans.

Mountain looms over antique yellow building.

At some point we rendezvous with N., who takes us on a tour of the old hardware store building. Upstairs, the rooms-cum-offices are littered with reminders of school trips and internships and art projects that once took place there. I find a wall of haiku.  

Moisture-warped poster containing several ink sketches of flowers and a haphazard smattering of three-line poems--English haiku/senryuu.

I absorb all of them. I'm in a pensive sort of mood. They aren't the best poems I've ever read, nor are they particularly skillful examples of haiku/senryuu. Nevertheless, they make a connection. I pick my three favorite and snap closer pictures of them to remember them later. I don't know the authors' names, or I would attribute them correctly... but, nevertheless, here they are:

I see the fly land
And swat it with ease and grace
He did nothing wrong

The ice looked hollow
standing on infinity
the whole earth melting


melting ice
its own body


Later, we go on a walk. The puppy cannot do without one--and neither can I. We walk further down the creek we'd started exploring yesterday. We find moose tracks and bear tracks. I am looking closely at the multicolored stones that line the creekbed, and I lag behind Margy and Dog and Dad.

Bear tracks. Puppy paw for size reference. They are not particularly large, for bear tracks... which is probably for the best...

Stones of McCarthy creek.

I am carrying, in my pocket, a piece of volcanic rock. I took it from a parking lot on the Big Island of Hawai'i (a parking lot, mind you, and NOT from Volcano National Park, which would have been illegal--not to mention disrespectful). It burns in my pocket with the wrath and fire that wrought it, half an ocean away.

They say taking volcanic rock from the islands is bad luck. They say Pele will curse anyone who carries pieces of her away. Tourists mail thousands of pounds of rock and sand back to the islands every year to try and break the curses they didn't believe in until, well, they did. Some say a disgruntled park ranger started the rumor--others that it is considered disrespectful by the native culture. I find it hard to believe that no minerals would find their way off the islands in export, blessed in transit by the priests of capitalism... and can't see how my acquisition would differ in principle. But it doesn't matter. What matters is I carry the stone in my pocket, and it remembers nothing but fire.

My eye catches on a smooth gray stone, streaked white with quartz. I am compelled to pick it up. Basalt, I think: forged in fire, just like the chunk of scoria I am carrying. But this stone remembers more than that. It remembers glacial ice, and river-water, and rain, and snow. It is calm. It soothes.

An oval impression remains in the soil I plucked it from. I press the piece of Hawaiian scoria into it--a perfect fit. I invite Pele to make her acquaintance with whatever Athabaskan spirits might still dwell here, appealing to pantheons that do not exist to release myself from curses I don't believe in.

I pocket the new stone. A fair trade.

The day winds down slowly, twilight lingering long after night would have fallen, were we further south. I wind down slowly with it, and fade to sleep as darkness falls.