i travel a lot. but it would be a bit of a stretch to say that my traveling is “vacation”.
it’s not that i don’t enjoy the destinations, or have real moments of relaxation, it’s just that when i travel, it’s usually with a purpose. and that purpose does not involve sitting still or vegging out.
so this year, now that i have a travel companion… we took a real vacation.
anna maria island, florida. it’s a small island south west of tampa, with caribbean clear water and white sand beaches. they say that it not very well known to outsiders, but it’s where floridians go to get away.
the beaches were uncrowded and beautiful. it was truly relaxing.
yea for real vacations! i think i’ll have to take one of these more often.
but don’t get the wrong impression….. i still had to “work” a little to keep my sanity….
on special occasions, when my ipod decides to look kindly on me and bring me a gift by way of shuffle, this abrupt chorus of fiddle will perk my ears and lift my spirit. merle haggard’s “big city” always brings vivid images to mind. images with which i am quite familiar.
like i’ve said before, i go to wyoming at least twice every year. and this year’s no different. well, okay, so it’s a little different this time; to accompany me, i have a friend (who also happens to be a girl, and more, my sweetheart).
and so it was… a perfect storm of relationship and forward progress. it was time for elle and me to see wyoming together…
elle works a regular job, so time is of the essence. as a consequence, she had to fly, whereas i drove. no matter. it may be too early to ride 24 straight hours in the car together. maybe not, but i was okay with not finding that out just yet.
i love my time alone in the car on the open road. lots of time to think. time to allow shuffle on my ipod to make me laugh, cry, contemplate, remember.
i arrived at the jackson hole airport on time, unlike for my brother only a year ago. i came up from the south, and avoided the painful crawl of yellowstone.
elle couldn’t believe she was finally here.
she’s had to listen to me “sell” the mystical land of wyoming to her for the past four years, with no way of judging for herself.
“so what’d’ya think!?” i asked when i first saw her.
“ohhh aaaannnndddrrruuuuu!!” she exclaimed, as she so often does.
so we left the “bustle” of jackson and the parks, and headed straight for green river lakes.
the upper green is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by my calculations, so i figured it was worth a quick look.
it did not disappoint. elle was floored. but we were heading into the heart of the wind river mountains the next day from a different point of entry, so we had move on.
we awoke at soda lake, near pinedale, like i’ve done so many times before… alone.
for breakfast, we watched a bald eagle soar across the surface of soda lake.
we quickly made our way up skyline drive to elkhart park, where we were to meet mike and ellen.
ellen brought her horses, jazz, comanche, and pistol pete. this was to be a genuine pack trip, though elle and i would be on foot.
quick backstory on my friend mike… although a very compelling novel could be written on this guy.
when i first moved to pinedale, wyoming, my publisher, rob, was giving me a run down of the newspaper, the town, and it’s people. he made a very specific command for me not, under any circumstances, to take any info or quotes from a guy in town named mike ramsey. he said it was because mike was always full of, you know what. but i knew there had to be more to it.
big mistake, rob.
not more than a week later, i was enjoying a cold beer at the brew pub, and who do i get introduced to? none other than the “infamous” mike ramsey.
if you haven’t gathered yet, i’m the type that immediately becomes intrigued when someone makes a point to tell me not to do something without a very good explanation. now this can be good and bad. luckily, this time it turned out to be good… i think.
we hit it off, and over the next few months we would spend hours in the car together looking for bears and telling stories from the backcountry. whiskey was often involved. it took a while, but in spite of me being a texan and a dumb kid, i think mike started to enjoy my company.
and now, over five years later, i still see him every time i’m in his neck of the woods. for some reason he still puts up with me.
something else about mike you should know; he spent over twenty five years guiding hunters and fighting fires in the maze that is the wyoming wilderness. the wind river mountains, teton wilderness, the gros ventre, yellowstone… he’s the guy you want with you if you want to make it out alive.
so months ago, when we talked about planning a pack trip for this summer for us and the two ellens, i knew it would be unique and memorable for all.
off we went. into the wilderness. from elkhart, we took the pole creek trailhead.
it was july 4th weekend, but there were still plenty of snowbanks. elle was very excited to see snow in july…
the scenery was breathtaking.
and then we made it to photographer’s point. easy to see why it’s called that.
freemont peak towered in the background as ellen and mike enjoyed the view.
then, possibly the highlight of the trip for elle, a ride in the mountains on pistol pete.
just five or six miles in, we made it to our first camp at eklund lake. we went up to mary’s lakes, but there were no suitable corrals for the horses, so eklund it would be.
buster was a perfect camp dog. and i swear he ate better that weekend than i typically do on a good week back home.
that’s definitely one of the joys of packing in your food and gear on horses… usually i only carry what i can on my back, so as you might imagine, i eat a lot of peanut butter and ramen.
elle and i posed with our “bear spray”. large caliber pistols and shotguns are better deterrents in my opinion than traditional pepper spray when you’re in grizzly country…
we took the horses to feed in a nearby pasture, and i think elle made a real connection with them.
it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in the mountains, so we relaxed, and enjoyed the quiet.
the next day, due to an ankle injury suffered the night before, elle and i decided to only hike up to mary’s to fish. we would also stay at eklund as our base camp for the next few days. no need to push ourselves to hard. we were on vacation after all!
our time in the winds was over. elle and i had to start making our way north to jackson, closer to the airport. sadly, she would have to leave the next day.
we decided to spend the day in the tetons. so we hiked jenny lake.
…elle’s favorite spot… the view and the fact the she had to leave soon made her cry. i wished i could make it all better for her, but i couldn’t. i wished i could just make the world right, but i can’t. so we decided to just enjoy what we could, while we could. that seemed to help…
i no longer identify with certain parts of mr. haggard’s tune, like i have in the past. i mean, i’m pretty blessed with what i do for a living. i often get to go to the mountains, and it’s hard for me to say that i feel like what i do is “hard work” with a straight face. don’t get me wrong; work is work. but i’m fortunate to love what i do.
however i kept getting the feeling that elle could really identify with parts of the song. you know, parts about too much work and not enough play, or dirty cities, or working every day since age 20, etc. it made me sad for her… but it also made me really excited. see, she has such a unique appreciation for this place that i love so much. i’m excited that i got to be there to see it light her eyes, to watch it grow in her, and ultimately to see it make her cry.
it reminded me of my first experience in wyoming one magical summer almost ten years ago. i’m happy to be with her as the magic of the memories start in her now. and i was starting to enjoy the fact that i now could again identify with a song, through her eyes.
our time together was over… it was so hard. normally i’d be happy to push someone off onto their plane… anxious to have wyoming all to myself once again. but those days have passed for me.
after i saw elle off, i drove up through yellowstone to cooke city, montana.
yellowstone lake was surprisingly calm.
with no cell reception and a heavy heart, i made it all the way up to cooke city and lulu pass.
i climbed as high as the snowbanks would allow in my new car. this forester had to be tested, and i’m happy to say it passed.
when the car wouldn’t go any farther, i got out and went on foot to the highest point around to get a better view of where i was…
and it occurred to me that it was time to move on.
in more ways than one.
so i left montana as quickly as i came.
on the way back i watched a mother grizzly with two cubs lumber across the hillsides.
they started to get a little too close, so i moved on…
on a whim, i decided to take union pass back to green river lakes. it’s a relatively deserted 4×4 road through beautiful and rough country. a place that i’ve found myself stuck many times before. where you may not see anyone for days.
when i finally arrived at the lakes, the area was shut down for camping due to a menacing male grizzly.
so i camped near pinedale. and i forgot all about the big city that night.
i went back out to green river lakes the next day. squaretop mountain greeted and seemed to call to me.
so i decided to leave the comfort of my car and hike deep in to the base of squaretop…
it was a dramatic journey. the clouds began to form out of nowhere, as is their mood in the mountains. a sow grizzly with two cubs had been seen recently near the trail, so i kept my .45 loaded and my hand near it’s grip.
only five or six miles in, i reached the park that sits at the very foot of squaretop.
the mood grew eerie. and i grew increasingly lonely.
i felt dark days from my past crowd in on me. i knew it was time to lay them to rest.
on my way back, far off in the distance, i noticed something large bobbing in the upper lake.
as i approached, i began to see that it was a moose swimming across the lake…. what a sight…
it started to rain as i neared the trailhead. melancholy crept in with the changing weather.
but i had a feeling this too would pass.
there was a lot going on in my heart and head on this trip. different than any other time i’ve been up there.
but it was good.
i know it was good… all of those thoughts to wrestle and subdue…
as i approached my car, i turned back for one last look. and i noticed a man fly fishing by himself.
i took a picture of him because it was beautiful.
but also, because it made me sad. the solitary life – that life that i’ve known so well, and that i loved.
and i thought to myself that all things must pass. all things must move on and grow.
and i let go of it.
and i was happy.
happy that i had a wonderful woman, my best friend waiting back home for me.
note: i’m really excited about this post for a few reasons: first, because i’ve been trying to finish it for a month, so it will be nice to have it done. second, i am anxious to share mine and elle’s experience because it was so amazing. and third, because i hope it is the first of many posts that will be full multimedia extravaganzas! i have incorporated writing, photography, video (both hd and iphone quality), and music to capture a mood and create an enjoyable viewer experience. i hope it works!
so this year, my Christmas present to elle (and myself for that matter), was a trip to seattle and portland to see laura veirs. if you haven’t heard of her, do yourself a favor… seriously.
laura was kicking off her july flame tour in her city of residence, portland, oregon. july flame is her brand new album, and i can say that it is by far, one of the best albums of the last few years.
elle originally turned me on to laura by strategically placing some of her tracks on the various mix cds she made for me over the years. but i didn’t really start getting into her until recently. laura quickly latched on to the audio pleasure centers of my brain, and i am now a life-long fan. you know those artists that you can tell immediately that they have the talent, relevance, and longevity to remain in your collection forever? well, she is one of those…
for your listening pleasure, laura’s title track from her newest masterwork. enjoy!
okay, enough gushing about laura… on to our “january fan” adventure!
we landed in seattle late thursday night. we walked about downtown and found a great little italian joint, il bistro, that served food late.
waking up early friday to a typical seattle winter morning was surprisingly refreshing…
we sampled local beers and seafood at lunch in the market, and talked of quintessential seattle matters, like kurt cobain. ha ha ha.
we left seattle after lunch and began our thousand mile journey up the columbia river gorge, down the oregon coast, over to portland, and finally back up to the olympic peninsula.
our first stop was in seaside, oregon, friday night to catch some sleep.
we awoke saturday morning to the kind of weather locals dream of this time of year; 50 degrees and clear skies.
i got coffee, elle got tea, we walked out to the ocean. it was breathtakingly exciting and serene at the same time.
my heart leaps in my chest when i think of the look on her face that morning. i think it had been quite a while since elle had seen the ocean… i was so glad to share that with her.
after seaside, we snaked our way down the 101 to ecola state park. famous views of cannon beach awaited us… a real treat.
a track from another great album of laura’s, slatbreakers, also turns my mind to this fantasy we lived for a few short days…
the light was fantastic as it danced across the surf, illuminating rocks and waves without discrimination. it’s amazing how nature seems to have such an appreciation for aesthetics. i guess God too is a connoisseur of beauty…
correction: the creator and purveyor of beauty.
cat power’s the greatest was our soundtrack as we inched along the ancient forests of the pacific coast. oh that life could be this sweet always… but then i guess times like these would hold less weight…
we then parked and explored cannon beach for a while by foot.
probably mine and elle’s favorite tune from july flame…
oh laura, you’re a freakin’ genius!
elle finally took her shoes off to feel the sand in between her toes and let the cool tide wash over her feet.
we finally made it to portland around dinner time. it was the famed night for our show, the july flame tour kick-off! we didn’t know what to expect.
and oh what a pleasant surprise it was… the artistery, the venue, was a home-turned-into-an-artist-studio on the east side of the city. we walked in to find a young man on a laptop checking names. he stamped our hands as we bantered a bit, letting him know that we had come from nearly two-thousand miles away.
we cautiously walked down the narrow stairs past post-modern paintings and sketches, and followed the sweet sound of portland folk.
on the stage was justin power, a portland local. he was fantastic.
we made weird he-man self portraits in the bathroom…
we met justin in between acts and gave him our appreciation… he went to his van and gave us an album with him and the portland cello project. if you can find a way to get your hands on it, i highly recommend his music as well!
led to sea came on next, a one woman performer, songwriter, violist and multi-instrumentalist, l. alex guy. she too was fantastic, but elle and i lost our spots in the crowded basement, so i didn’t get pictures of her until later when she played with laura. watch out for alex as well… she is a very talented songwriter…
then along came laura…
she had been sitting in the back at a table where people could purchase merchandise. elle and i kept contemplating going over to talk to her, and we easily could have, but we didn’t want to be one of “those people”, gushing about how much we love her music.
“she looks pregnant,” elle said.
“don’t be rude,” i quickly returned.
well, she got up and strapped an acoustic guitar around her bulging belly and cracked a joke about how she was leaving monday to start the european leg of the tour, being 6 months pregnant.
i looked at elle and smiled. i’ll never doubt your prego radar again, i thought.
laura rocked it in her mostly-quiet way. the lyrics dripped from her lips and fell like honey into our ears. us and the fifty or so others that stood silent in the artistery. it was truly magical. a time that i know elle and i will never forget, judging by all of the glances we gave to one another as laura played on…
the next morning we woke to a lazy portland sunday. we saw mount hood for the first time. a rare site from the city in winter. a lenticular cloud hovered over.
then the rain started again. we headed north on the 5 toward the olympic peninsula.
giant trees and ferns guided us through this primeval landscape.
we camped within earshot of the sea outside kalaloch, just off the queets river. it was raining so hard that we stayed all night in the car. we played gin for hours, laughing in the dim glow of an ipod.
as we rounded the northern end of the olympic, lake crescent came into clear view. the light was less than ideal, but the view still made us gasp.
it’s funny, we took this trip on a whim not knowing where the road would take us. and up until this adventure we found ourselves constantly asking one another, “can i call you mine?”
it’s really fitting that this question is repeated over and over in the chorus to july flame, a song that we never knew until this trip. because as we drove and listened and saw everything we experienced on that long weekend, we both gained a confidence in each other and ourselves that has given us an answer to our question.
i’ve said it before; i don’t share my sacred places. there are a select few places that i go multiple times a year to get away, clear my head, and recharge my batteries. big bend national park is one of those places.
wyoming is as well. and as it was, i entertained company (my brother) in october. it was a new experience. and a good one. i’d even say refreshing.
so again, a few weeks ago, it was time to share.
my girlfriend elle had a birthday coming up. i wanted to do something special for her…
“let’s go backpacking!” she said.
and so it was. big bend, here we come!
elle had a great birthday, she said. and i had more fun than i ever imagined… sharing one of these places that i thought was mine.
i think i’m beginning to like this “sharing” thing…
wyoming is not a place i share with other people. i do it alone. that may sound like a prick thing to say, but it’s true.
i go up there to experience solitude, peace, fear, loneliness.
this trip was a little different though.
i arrived to jackson hole airport late on tuesday afternoon. i was supposed to be there by 3 that day to pick up my brother.
the inbound flight from austin arrived on time, so he took a taxi into jackson to get a beer. i told him i’d meet him there as soon as i could. the traffic coming down through the parks was miserable. it seems they always scramble to make improvements to the roads just before the ground freezes. thanks.
i finally made it to snake river brewery, after dark. but the alone time in wyoming didn’t seem to bother my brother.
after a hug and a few beers, we were off. it was dark, and i have a spot in teton park that i always go to camp when i arrive late.
we woke up the next morning to a cool autumn breeze, and my brother’s 34th birthday.
two months ago he called me. “there’s a fare sale to jackson hole. $89 each way from austin,” he said. “you planning on going soon?”
“well, yeah. i was planning a fall trip. september or october. why? you wanna go?”
i started to get excited. no one had ever expressed this much interest or determination to go to wyoming with me since my mother visited 5 years ago when i lived there.
i was excited at the prospect, but then nervous. could i share this place with others? would they understand it? no matter.
most guys have the idea that if they’re spending any time in wyoming and montana, they better have a fly rod or a pair of skis. and i think they’re right. it is world class skiing and fishing, after all. no snow yet, so my brother brought a friend’s rod.
we took a drive one evening up the beartooth highway outside of cooke city, montana.
regarded as one of the most spectacular drives in north america, the beartooth runs from red lodge, mt to the northeast entrance of yellowstone national park.
the beartooths are one of the highest elevation and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation. the road itself is the highest elevation highway in wyoming (10,947 feet) and montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the northern rockies.
we fished the lamar, the snake, the yellowstone, among others. to no avail. it may have been too late in the season, i guess.
the fires in northwest wyoming were in full force this time of year though. they even closed a few of the roads in yellowstone, preventing me from returning to the lamar valley. very sad.
but the drama of it all was truly impressive.
the fire on the banks of jackson lake at dusk. breathtaking.
the next day, there was an unavoidable haze that covered the sky and mountains. but again, to the naked eye, it struck as a little bit of a downer, but the dramatic effect can be artfully employed with a camera.
it was my brother’s last day. he had a flight out of JAC in the afternoon, so we found a section of the snake river, just 10 minutes from the airport. he wanted to give it one last go.
he didn’t catch anything, but i was happy. i think i got a few shots of him in this unreal landscape that will draw others in, and take him back… anytime he wants to go…
i’ve never shared this place with anyone before. but it was really nice to do so. to see the look on someone else’s face the first time they see the sun rise over the lamar valley of yellowstone, or the moon as it hovers over the tetons before dawn…
the way the fiery autumn leaves shimmer in the cool breeze. awaking in the cold to the sound of bull elk in rut, bugling. or the sound of wolves.
it’s all so beautiful. i’m glad i had my brother there to share it.
i hope there’s more sharing of this place in the years to come. i’m ready for it.