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The Circle Cliffs at Sunset.

Calm revelry. The solemnness of plenty…plenty space; plenty scenery; plenty nourishment of body and soul; plenty libations – perhaps too much at times. Like last night, when I went deep into my cups of whiskey and put a meteoric dent into my stash of beer, while all but polishing off the pint of brown German liquor in a feel-good, guitar-molesting celebration of the past winters’ demise.

I slept well and warm and deep into the late morning – waking only out of bladder-damning urgency and finally rising only when “The Blue Moon,” my crusty old Sierra Designs tent became too hot to ignore or wallow in any longer.

A bluebird Utah spring morning awaited me. The sky is now swept with high, thin clouds that I saw form seemingly from the crosshatched etchings of morning jet traffic o’erhead. Yesterdays winds have died down into soft, friendly breezes that remind me of perfect summer days on a baseball field or fishing with my father on a creek in Northern California. The wispy gusts are barely enough to turn the pages of an upturned book sitting atop my kit box. Good thing too. I am intent on whiling today away in relaxed thought, reading from a selection of books and magazines that I ‘ve brought along for just the occasion. Some people have Hawaiian beaches or Vegas pools to read by, but I prefer to soak in words amongst the hot rocks, high crows, slumbering snakes and time-stuck junipers of the Utah desert.

My library lives in a canvas bag given to me by the Back of Beyond Bookstore in Moab some years ago when I bought a few Abbey’s. For a long time it held my tangle of bungees and ratchet straps, all necessary for boating and camping excursions. It has now been restored as a proper book sack, but somehow I don’t think that it minded its old occupation at all. In it are books like Steve Earle’s “Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive,” The Short Stories of Earnest Hemingway, Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (an old favorite normally left at home due to its enormous heft, but brought along on this trip to better mentally prepare me for next month’s journey to Jeffers’ hangout – Big Sur, CA), “Beyond the Wall”, by Cactus Ed Abbey, and other self-help books like “The Ultimate Desert Survival Guide,” “Camping’s Top Secrets” (frustratingly out of date and off base in back country principle at times) and a four-wheel-drive guidebook for Southeast Utah which is useless on this leg of the trip as it appears that I am officially now in Southcentral Utah by guidebook standards, along with the Utah Gazetter almanac map book, Monday’s Aspen Times (mostly read and put to use as fire starter by now) and another hopeful tome – The Holy Bible, by God.

This bible is the very same blue-jacketed version that I’ve had since pre-puberty. Grossly, I should point out that at the age of 12, with nowhere safe to hide such things, I attempted to preserve my first visible pubic hair in the sanctified pages of my personal bible. I was aware of history even at a young age, it appears (but not of deep irony, it also appears.) This is the same book that nearly started an Anderson family war the last time that I visited my parents in Ohio, when my mother insisted that I take my old book back into personal possession after years of sitting dusty and unread on their shelves. I bullheadedly refused to take the book with me when I was to return home, accepting only after it was clear that I had deeply offended mom’s constitution.

***

The canyon wrens chitter and chirp as they flash up and down the cantaloupe walls of the Circle Cliffs, sheer and scalloped, pocked with holes that hide their nests. A pair of large crows cruise the thermals high above the cannonade, watching me watch them. Their caws pinball off of the canyon walls, quadrupling their number in an echoing fade.

All is bright and warm and perfectly ordered on the desert floor. The ancient junipers quiver lightly at their spindly tops while their stone dead brethren lie below in grotesquely twisted silver and black poses. The pinon pine holds firm against the transient breezes, but grow imperceptibly towards skies that hold no aide.

Occasionally, a bee will buzz by, launching the otherwise docile Hondog into scurrying, snapping flights of fancy. If he were an Indian dog – which his ancestors surely were – his owner might call him Bee Dancer. I just call him Dummy.

The desert flies are springing to life before my eyes. Each day we are visited by more and more of them, though never too many of them. Yet.

Somewhere within a ten-foot radius of my camp chair, a small green scorpion skulks. I rousted him last night when I collected an old juniper branch for my fire. Putting myself in the tiny shoes of the scorpion I realize that I must have been a terror to it – an inexplicable giant coming from out of nowhere, effortlessly lifting away his hallowed home. Now I fear his retaliatory nature, especially when stoned and of a mind to remember such things as vengeful beasts in the dirt.

Sage, cactus of a dozen varieties, ephedra, cheatgrass, yucca and other unidentified flora appear to be emerging from their own winters dormancy. The first big rain storm will likely catalyze this place into a raging bloom. Already the small white flowers of the cliff gardens are shimmering in the sun. The soil here is a rich rust. It turns brown only when churned by foot traffic of the blade of my shovel.

Deer, elk, and rabbit scat are everywhere, as are cow pies. The topography is greatly pleasing to the mind. Short, rolling barrancas carved by drainages formed by eons of runoff build in height until they meet the sweeping cliff base crown of vertical stone spires. The lung-colored spires are long, tall extruded rectangles of sand stone, segmented by shadowy cracks and topped with uncanny facial forms that change personality with the shifting of the sun. The watching wall. It curls to the east, behind me now, for a mile of two until it runs into the Oyster Shell Reef section of the Capitol Reef National Park, which in turn bisects the Waterpocket Fold.

This is heaven. My angels are wrens with harp string wings. My gates bear no pearls, but rather a wall of red stone. God is a scorpion looking for a new home… or a giant to sting.

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The pebbled dirt road underfoot is dampened to the point of congealed saturation. A morning storm has cast its long shadow over this sunless Sunday morning. This after a day of intermittent storms chased us from easy chair to the relatively confined shelter of the truck several times since sun up.

It is not so much the rain, you see, for that is mostly a refreshment in the nearly 100° late summer heat of Southeastern Utah. But rather, it is the random, bold swaths of lightening that have chased us from our idyll. Hondo the dog has spent most of the past 24 hours – only the second day that he has ever spent in the desert – cowering in a black, hairy ball atop of Sharon’s retro puffy ski vest in the back of the land cruiser. There were not many thunder storms in Monterey, California, where he spent the first three years of his existence. And it’s a damn good thing too: the one storm that I recall lit the entire South Coast region afire and threatened to take out Big Sur in its entirety.

This is our first desert camp, officially, in about three years – a shocking gap of time to me. There was a trip four years ago to the Utah/Colorado border, but required a 1500 mile jaunt each way with less than a week all told to do it in. Now, I am back living in the Colorado mountains. Getting here is just a half day drive. I thank the lords of spare time for the chance to do it. This is my place.

The coffee has finished brewing. It is an instant mix that I am sure will taste thick and alkaline compared to the luxury of the French Roast at home, but a nice cup of warm joe sounds appealing under these moody morning skies. Especially with a little brown liquor as a sweetener. Nothing like a good strong cup of coffee before a long walk…

 

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Stoveside, Emmacabina

I’ve gone native, given into the wild nature of the surrounding mountains. My hair grows in strange shoots and uneven chunks. A course beard stands defiantly away from my jaw. A brushy mustache has outgrown its banks and now curls east and west towards my ears, respectively (or not). Every passing day sees my visage grow woolier and more feral than the previous one.

Glory be and hall-e-lu-ya! It is the first positive grown that my person has seen in a rack of moons. And why not? There is no suit that can fit my form of spartan employment these days. This is the face of Offseason, Colorado.

I am, for all intents and porpoises, cabin bound. The ancient pine timbers that frame my dreams draw out my formerly recessed follicles and harrow my shorn cheeks like wooden magnets in the chilly November nights. Every morning I awake to find that my head has sprouted anew, seemingly in every direction at once.

This new wool is my winter coat – a self-defense mechanism triggered by the plunging temperatures and stout winds that sweep down from the Arctic. To NOT humor my Neanderthallian instincts would be to invite frostbite, mange, and other forms of cellular petulance. This new, old look has done wonders for me in ways other than just serving to preserve my threatened pores: Babies and other young children people run from me upon first sight, saving my weekends for more important things than baby-sitting duty, for which we seem to have been tabbed for increasing increments.

Bill collectors flee as well. They must sense my humorously “fierce” appearance over the phone, for it seems that the bastards have resorted to using robots programmed to call me at all hours rather than risk a human agents’ professional sensibilities by allowing their ear to be accosted by someone who would allow a mug as handsome as mine to moss over so incongruously,

It’s OK, though. As of tomorrow, they’ll shut my phone off for non-payment. That’ll teach the greedy dicks to call me for their money….

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The Honorific and the Doomed?

Sunday morning in the Mile High City, and I am drinking at a Saturday Night pace. One hand grips a creamy brown pint of Guinness draft (or is it draught?), the other – a jigger of polish vodka laced with concentrated orange juice. It is game day in the old cow town, and I am bound for it.

I arrived this morning at 11am, a  good hour early after a winter-time traverse from our mountain valley went more swimmingly than anticipated due to unexpectedly clear roads.  Colorado is in the throes of a snow less glut, a situation that has just about everyone in the entire state racked with a piercing anticipation – whether it be the blunted, edgy skiers, the vacant hospitalitarians, or the dream-shattered vacationers – everyone here has some stake in the good business of bad weather.

The sparsity of road-borne precipitation was much to my favor today, though – which I am grateful for. It is my first winter drive to Denver since my return after having moved from here out to the unfrozen coast of Central California four years ago, and even though I figured the road to be clear for the most part due to the dearth of ill weather, there was no accounting for the two mountain passes between, which are typically pummeled by snowstorms from late-October to nearly June. I’ve been on Highway 70 in times of great distress. The 100 year storm of October, 1999, comes to mind – when the road was scattered with stuck and wrecked cars so badly that it resembled the infamous Baghdad highway that was carpet bombed by the Air Force in the first little Bush Family Gulf Excursion

It was then that I rode this track in a frozen state of amused terror as Johnny “The Mernick” Mernicki flogged his twenty-year-old, 2WD Honda Accord, with five fired-up bachelor party-goers (and all of the attendant indulgences that can be partaken while squeezed sardine-tight into a squirrley Japanese coffin during a  historically significant weather event) over Vail and Loveland passes, weaving an impossible path through snowdrifts and automotive casualties. I recall with pickled irony, watching a tow-truck off to the side of the road, yanking a Hummer out of a ditch as we somehow navigated our way through the heart of the storm.

But clear it was on THIS fine day, and here’s toasting that.

So here I are, ahead of schedule, downing cheer at a fancy bar in an elegant, but unfortunately named hotel – The Brown. If there is one word for a color in the English language that refuses to inspire class, it must be the word “brown.” Though, the staff sure does do a hell of a job striving to prove otherwise.

The Visio above the ornately carved whiskey bar broadcasts the Kansas City/Green Bay game. It is the first game started by new Chiefs QB Kyle Orton, who previous to assuming the title of sacrificial mule, was the starter for our home team Broncos over the course of several frustratingly semi-productive seasons.

A 1-5 record to start the season while hot-stepping it on the lid of the bubbling cauldron of inexplicably miraculous phenomena — one Timothy Richard Tebow — in the soup of the Bronco quarterback hierarchy doomed the earnest, but uncharismatic Orton to the Hard Pine of Destiny, who then handed him off to the caroming Chiefs.

It is either his terrible luck, or his own redemptive fate that proposes that his biggest game of the year will likely be next week, when, if the Broncos lose to the Bellichick/Brady machine today, Orton will be tasked with leading his new team against his own personal shame wagon, with a chance to exact some bitter revenge and dash their playoff dreams.

If it comes to pass, that game will be a Shakespearean affair – the old, ineffectual king who had been deposed by the usurping, anointed savoir. The honorific and the doomed. But which is which?

Above all, if the Donkeys blow it here today against the mighty Patriots –  as expected and heavily wagered – the Broncos/Chiefs season-end catharsis will be interesting, and that, in a nutshell, is the meat to the question of why people care at all about the game of football.

At least two generations of Shipp’s have just arrived, decked in blue and orange, at the Ship bar. The time to sail is Nye. Away from the rocks!

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(From the Laidaway Journal, 2011-12)

What awaited me at my alternative-reality job.

Sensory overload. Temporary dissonance…Bold sound hits me from for and aft at once. The Grateful Dead blare away at their masterwork, side two of “Workinman’s Dead,” from the old cabinet record player behind me that, much to my wife’s chagrin, serves as the keystone piece of our living room furniture layout. Meanwhile, the laptop fronting me loudly plays a video of a hiking expedition in the John Muir Wilderness led by Ian Elman and Tim Bluhm of Yosemite Mountain Guides, Tim’s day job. Only, rather than montage to the dulcet sounds of The Mother Hips, or Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Brokedown in Bakersfield, Ballpoint Birds, or any number of Bluhm’s musical pursuits, the producer has used some crotchpop guitar anthem as a music bed, ramped up to eleven on the annoyance scale. Just now the UPS truck rolls past my cabin window, eliciting a focused, piercing primal rage from deep within the beer-colored goat dog that was otherwise snoozing next to the old desk where I, er, work…

Jesus, how can anyone concentrate in these conditions? And look at the time! Almost 1pm. And to think that I blew off a real job interview to sit around wild haired in my felt pants, slack-jawed, reading  internet reports about another wave of Wall Street riots led by a suddenly emboldened faction of American anarchists in Oakland.

Ah, the life of the unemployed! So gloriously uncomplicated by someone else’s deadlines, plans and expectations… if you take away the desperate hunt for sustainable income. And unless you have your own inner set of these drivers and motivators, which I do. This leads to mental dissonance. The Guilt is strong here. But, better to have guilt and career anxiety than erosional ambivalence, I say. Keep the tracks in sight rather than treading off aimlessly into the wilderness of goalless existence.

In an alternative reality, I would just now be returning from my 11am interview with a plastic surgery outfit in Glenwood Spirngs. The gig offered was a managerial position at a “health spa”operation, likely a recovery center for recently sculpted patients: a twisted menagerie of burn victims, identity shifters, re-breasted MILF’s, the morbidly obese, and other misshapen stomach turners.

The more that I thought about the opportunity over the past week, the more that I became convinced of how fundamentally wrong it was for me in particular. How many men do you know of that run medical offices anyway? And in Glenwood, no less. A longer drive from my compound in Emma than the snowy wintertime commute to Aspen, and generally for 15% less pay across industries than upvalley jobs.

The real deal breaker for me was the prospect of being tethered to a sterilized desk with an Ark-full of vain, greedy headcases far away from the world-shaping political and cultural action of Aspen. Deeply ironic. At least spotty AV work in Aspen is something to inspire thought and foster a sense of worldly comprehension, even if it does require long stretches of destabilizing unemployment and grunt work when there is any.

No, I suppose that I’d rather sink further into this terrible red hole this off-season and start digging out again after the ’12 hits than to waste away semi-profitably in the infirmary of a human chop shop.

November 3, 2011

Great-Granma Tullis’ Desk

Emma

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Well, there it went. One hundred and twenty minutes of silver truth. An imperceptibly flickering accounting of an old story told right and then told right again. We can only hope that our future selves tell our sagas with as much clarity and poignant zeal for the original nut.

The Rum Diary. My favorite book. Written long ago, shelved due to a series of tremendous strains on reality. Reawakened decades later, just before that last fat nail was pounded by the terror of a second helping of Bush and a debilitating habit of self-medication.

I’d heard about it through the grapes, kept abreast of it’s long development cycle for several years through sensationalist internet chat rooms and gossip magazines. Then it appeared in my town… HIS town,  at a sudden screening in a film festival up town. Attendees had to sign gag orders. No habla Rum, see? One guy (or girl, the mysterious, and now credibility-vacant “ZG”) spoke of the midnight splash. His words were not encouraging. Still, I refused to give in. The book was too good. The makers too talented, too dedicated to the Truth.

When the local theater brought it in, I proposed a party, a celebration of the arrival of another Hunter Thompson story told in light.. Nobody could come. Fucking musicians. Always playing music. Days past, pained days, days of knowing that there was something out there vital to your interests that was going unaccounted for.

Finally, tonight I acquiesced. To hell with Halloween, I’ve got a film to see. Out of my way. Give me hot corn in a bag and a cup of ice to pour my hooch in! .

And she played. She played like an old violin. All the notes were still vital, though some of the strings had been lost to time. Depp has created a masterpiece if you ask me. Not many other people will think so. They’ll pan him for his age in relation to the original Kemp character, but I say screw them. He’s the only person on this earth who could get that movie made the way that it did, so sure he gets the part. And not every masterpiece is perfect, that is the point of great achievement. Mash a series of paint globs onto a piece of cloth and there are bound to be some organic matter stuck into the works.

I’d see it again, if I were me. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a double feature: back to back screenings. I need time to let all of the words soak in…

So it goes when your heroes are ghosts.

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Emmacabina Journal
Oct. 20., 2011

I was awoken deep in the night by an intermittent tickling sensation, one that from my semi-lucid state of detachment seemed to be callously afflicting the most tickle-prone regions of my defenseless face.

Initially, perhaps out of a perverse sense of self-preservation, I chose to exert my manhood and just ignore it, figuring that by subconsciously undercutting and diminishing the urgency of the sensation, the problem would go away, much like one turns up the stereo to avoid the temporary crisis of a bad knocking in the motor of a car.

However, after a few more increasingly twitchy episodes, my consciousness was torn reluctantly away from the moors of a pleasing dream of sex, revenge, and world peace, and dropped smack down into the land of itchy reality. No longer able to avoid confronting my tormentor,  I cracked a nearly crusted-over eye into the darkness of my cabin home, and set about reeling in my wildly gyrating focus until I could ascertain up from down.

My cat Cotton, a devastatingly effective assassin of rodents and amphibians, and a known habitual abuser of high-grade Hawaiian catnip, was standing triumphantly on my chest, slowly — almost lovingly — reaching out at me with his ninja-trained paws, using my cheek as a mouse pad, my nose as a joystick. My waking eye froze him in the act. We stared at each other for a few long seconds, his outstretched right arm making my one operable eye cross-eyed, until a powerful creepiness  overtook me and I was forced to glance away to break the spell. His prying gaze was that of a sentient seer. The way he studied me made it seem as if he were attempting to peer directly into my soul. It was awkward. “Sonabich. Whachuwan?” I asked discombobulatedely, unable yet to think, let alone speak in complete sentences.

I got up gingerly, having gone to bed after a spirited, late evening session of full court basketball. I tested my tricky right knee with a half-lunge, confirmed its cooperation, then limped over to the kitchen to fetch us each a glass of milk: one to wet down my gurgling guts, one to assuage whatever weird instinct it is that makes cats desire the milk of almonds, coconuts and cows.

Casually, I looked over to the microwave oven to get a sense of what time in the night it was. I like to try and intuit the time. It is a little game that I play with myself, at times a fairly big challenge since other than a predictably materialistic period in the seventh grade,  I’ve never worn a watch. I guessed somewhere between the closing of bars and the opening of gyms.

But that was not true at all. Rather than read 4:00 am or 1:36 or some such, or even the fairly common indicator of seconds remaining, ala :15 – an indication that someone (i.e. me) had aborted a nuking preemptively. But rather than a quietly winking time of day, or time remaining until full radiation was to have been achieved, the bright green microwave clock had a whole different message of timeliness for me: THE END, the blocky digits on the panel read. They did not blink. Just, THE END.

“Well then,” I thought, suddenly curious about the ongoing status of my vital signs. “So this is how THAT goes. The jig is up. The end as I know it is foretold on the face of a Sears appliance.”

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