Montana Wolf

Friday, April 24, 2015

Death by Mouse

Road-ready La Perla is my definition of spring. While lilacs and new-born foals are ecstatic seconds, my bottom line is the open road. Roadtrip dreams that took a nightmare turn last week when I began to fill the freshwater tank. Water in, water out ... through the bottom of the rig. Niagara falls where it shouldn't be; the tank was empty within minutes. Online search prompted me to hope it was a joint or connection to the freshwater tank as opposed to a cracked tank. I hoped for an cheap fast fix when I dropped her off at the RV repair. Verdict: mice had chewed through the waterline. Not bad I thought: waterlines were cheap. Very bad, I found out. Getting to them --- lowering the water tank, disconnecting propane lines that crossed through the area, replacing lines and putting the tank back --- was four hours labor. It was going to cost $500 to fix what the little gray fkers did. $19 in parts. And there was more. The suspension system needed to be replaced. The wheels needed a bearing pack. The water pump had a slow leak. And the roof ...


It took a couple days for the greenback reality to sink in. La Perla needed several thousand dollars worth of attention. I couldn't go there so I allowed the work she needed to be roadworthy: all systems working and the trailer in safe towing condition. $1600.

Just do it.

When I picked her up I was shown the parts that were replaced. Truth was, I was dangerously close to a serious accident with worn bolts in the suspension. It was one thing to look at the shiny new ones affixed near the tires; quite another to hold the rusted worn ones in the hand. I was danged blessed. And I reckoned I had the mice to thank for it. I would not have taken La Perla into repair had it not been for the water tank. It's not a stretch to say the mice saved my life.

Okay. I take back the f-word. But I can't have a $500 waterline job every year and "Death by Mouse" is not a preferred epitaph. There's no Hobo option. It's pretty clear he was distracted by the multitude of outbuildings and woodpiles. Yesterday I picked up some botanical rodent repellent. It's called Fresh Cab. It's balsam fir oil, a botanical pesticide mixed with fragrance oil and plant fibers. It's from a company called Earthkind and has a money back guarantee. La Perla smells like a forest.

In the spirit of Plan B I bought a couple of mousetraps, just in case my mice take a liking to deep woods' fantasies. I'll wait to use the Victor traps. It wouldn't make sense to attract Speedy Gonzalez with cheese and peanut butter while trying to repel him. Sadistic I'm not.

Axles, roof, awning ... La Perla needs more attention up the road but I'm alive to do it. I hope Teak and Hobo like balsam. May The Wild Road Home be finished soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Truth Be Told: The Granite Mountain Hotshots

She stood apart. I imagined the ancient alligator juniper always had, but this Spring Equinox day her prowess was even more pronounced as she rose from charred landscape; stood stately along a wash that flowed with recent rain. Almost two years had passed since the Doce Fire swept through the urban Granite Mountain Wilderness, compliments of a cowardly shooter and incendiary targets. The fire ripped over mountain ridges destroying 6,767 acres of wild lands. It was my US Forest Service supervisor who contacted the Granite Mountain Hotshots to alert them to the tree's significance. At least 1000-years old, she and another alligator were the largest in the country. Flames would have taken this tree had it not been for the Hotshots named for her Wilderness. While some secured a fireline and removed ladder fuels at her base, others climbed with water bottles to dowse a burning limb. They strode away hoping for the best. Days later the Hotshots would abandon the safety of their mountaintop black zone and perish in a firestorm on Yarnell Hill. One of twenty would survive; the lookout, affectionately called Donut, would live to tell the tale. Or not.

"Oh my gawd Dave --- Yarnell just blew up." Summer temp employees for the USFS, we were collecting campground fees with an eye to the surrounding forests in the wake of lightening-fed thunderstorms. We had already called in one lightning hit when the Yarnell inferno, thirty miles south, turned on a dime and moved towards town. In its path were nineteen men who had mysteriously descended into a incendiary dry brush box canyon. I was haunted. I didn't buy the shallow explanations. "Fog and friction?" God's "other plan?" Convinced of deeper truths, I sought information and wisdom from sources who intimately knew hotshot culture and had faced climactic situations. I came to believe that someone ordered those men out of the safety of the black on Yarnell Hill. So it was, with these intuitions, I hiked to the tree. I longed to sit under her seventy-foot canopy, in quiet reverence with the unspeakable events that had unfolded on Yarnell Hill. This Grand Dame was one in a long line of arboreal entities with whom I had sought solace over the years.  I don't have to tell you, she was riled. She wanted to know, as did the world, What happened to my boys? I penned a thirty page article and put it away. I moved to the Pacific Northwest but the final line of the article persisted in my brain: There is no grace without truth.
Lawsuits were filed; I waited for revelations to surface.

I made a return sojourn to the tree last month, Spring Equinox, March 20th. Fifteen months after my last visit, I was surprised to find a stone and mortar monument at her eighteen-foot diameter base. It was a memorial to the Hotshots but it seemed too big, too close, strangely out of proportion. It didn't mention the historic and biological significance of the ancient tree. I couldn't help but wonder if their memory was better served by the myriad photos of them laughing, hanging from her branches, building a human pyramid. Or by the symbolic kerchiefs that hung at her base; the quartz heart geoglyphs that etched the dirt.

I climbed to a vantage point above the tree. Ravens drifted against the azure sky, a falcon with a kill perched on a far-away boulder. Someone had planted a crystal-like angel on the hilltop, her wings spread, as if protecting the tree. It was solar powered, I guessed to illuminate the night. An angel dreamcatcher I mused, to catch the truths that passed in the night. To snag the answer to who gave the fate-full order to descend into hellfire.

I traversed down the hill and back to the tree. I sat spread-eagled on a horizontal limb and leaned back, my eyes on her branches above. I was lost in reverie about the time I heard bees. Lots of them. I followed the sound to the tree's inner sanctum, where several limbs spread apart and begged to be climbed. No more. I smiled. Angels come in many forms. Grandmother Tree had bees to protect her. She was doing just fine.

Stirred several times to tears, the day brimmed with the spirits of the men who saved her. All the while I kept hearing her voice: We are closer to truth. And we were. A story broke within a month. Donut had confided to his Wildland Division Chief Daryl Willis last October that he had listened in on the Granite Mountain Hotshot radio channel and heard an argument between Superintendent Eric Marsh and Captain Jesse Steed. Eric supposedly ordered Jesse to bring the men to his position, down the hill to Boulder Springs Ranch. Jesse resisted the order to lead the crew out of the ridgetop black where they were safe. But the power dynamics were complicated. Jesse was Superintendent that day since Eric was assigned Division Supervisor. Jesse was a natural leader and seasoned ex-marine; Eric was a founder of the Hotshots; both were revered by the crew. We know who won that disagreement. The final exchange:

"We're not going to make it," said Jesse.
"I know. I'm sorry," responded Eric, as he rushed toward his crew.

They deployed their emergency shelters in a very tight area as flames bore down, devouring forty years of dried thickets at the rate of one hundred yards in nineteen seconds. It takes nineteen to twenty-five seconds to deploy a fire shelter. 

The ancient tree was correct in her foretelling. Some truth has shaken free, but Donut and his confident/Daryl Willis have not come forth. Imagine a closed clam with a lawyer perched on top. If Eric Marsh was below the mountain at the Boulder Springs Ranch, why was he there and why did chain of command not know he was there? Was he ordered there? Someone knows the how and why.

The plaque at the base of the sacred tree ends with these words -- 

"... This tree represents their devotion to the job and the survival of their memory. It is in their honor, all twenty of the crew members, that this plaque and the alligator juniper are dedicated to their legacy. Esse Quam Verderi." 

Esse Quam Verderi: To be, rather than seem (to be). 
Paraphrased: it is better to be something than to pretend to be something.
An interesting choice as it pertains to truth. 
What seems "to be" is that the truth of June 30, 2013 remains elusive. 

There is no grace without truth.

Night time visitors.

Solar powered angel overlooks the tree.

One A-J expert says she could be as old as 1800 years. 

Recovering landscape

Cross at the base of the tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rapt in Down: Eclipsed

Do you think I woke you at 5:05 so you could ignore the spectacle? Muse can be a rowdy bitch.
The eclipse was due to climax at 5:05. The auspicious wakeup hadn't escaped me but I had glanced outside to a no-star drizzly morn. Even if clouds miraculously parted, I would never make it. This was to be the shortest eclipse on record, total fullness to last just five minutes. I might drive miles, climb a hill and see nada. I nestled my lazy self between the covers intent to close my eyes. It didn't work.

as she first appeared - like a skein of yarn
Up I popped. I donned down and a wool hat and headed into the Puget Sound morn. If nothing else I would listen to that eerie silence that accompanied vanishing planets. I placed my ass atop the soggy cold picnic table. I bargained that several inches of rain had rendered the splinters soft. Teak barked into ebony at invisible threats; Hobo's silhouette appeared on the rooftop. All was dark except ... except ... there it was ... the eclipsed ghostly moon through the trees. I gazed full on at the ochre pearl before launching from the table. I grabbed my camera and pointed my slipper-clad body down the gravel road. Apparition, indeed, to anyone up at that hour.

She remained visible. I strode towards her, mesmerized, like some mysterious tide she beckoned from afar. She held me rapt, squeezed
every ephemeral moment, as storm clouds heaved and tumbled, closed in and magically separated.

The shadow across her blood red brow receded. I turned my back as dawn slowly -- or was it quickly -- crept up from behind. Luna, lost to my horizon. Me, fondling the metaphor of parting ways.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Oops. Still Here

Bald eagles power glide 'oer the Skagit River. They seek the winter salmon, intent to fill their gullets on sandbars newly sculpted from recent floods. Their chirps and cries have burrowed into my soul. On these pewter days in the pacific northwest, they are the brightest sensory occurrence around. Their flash of ebony and brilliant white a saving grace.  

I have been lived in the fertile Skagit Valley for a year now. When I arrived, I figured to be here three months, to finish the sequel to Drive Me Wild. Twelve months later there's no sequel. Three books have released with my essays (planned); I completed a 2014 edition of New Mexico's Sanctuaries, Retreats and Sacred Places (not even on the radar), and two interviews aired with travel guru Rick Steves (out-of-the-wild-blue). Exhausted and rubbing up against May, I stayed the summer to rest, explore, kayak and hike. On the August day I began the sequel, I slipped while bouldering and broke my elbow. (Christina, you're not on sandstone anymore.) My fingers fell short of paper and keyboard. Forget about lifting the hitch. mmm-hmmm. I was staying, no choice, as I followed suit with the locals and danced the gray away. New friends, live music, historic bar, laughs aloud ... complete with a purple cast.

October. The cast came off, but there was no cast-off. As much as I longed to lay down in a Rocky Mountain neon-yellow aspen forest, as much as I missed the contrast of night and day and sunlight's sting upon my flesh, I was here. Still am. 

There will be no solstice fire because of rain. I have become a candlemaniac. Gray days demand new rituals, yet twenty-four hours from winter solstice, I don't know what those rituals are. My water-born neighbor says I otter not fret. To trust the unfolding. So it is I find solace in the snow geese that lift off regularly across the valley. Soaring, agitated, and instinctually certain their wingbeats will not collide with purpose. 

As my elbow healed, the end of the sequel gelled. The book is underway, buoyed by a fresh overlay of patience upon the soul. Meanwhile, yikes! Moss grows on La Perla's white frame. Will I wash it off, or hook her up and drive to arid climes? Tomorrow is the shortest day. Sol (sun) stice (to stand still). The ebony night may guillotine the sun, but as sure as evergreen is ever green, light returns to spark the sleeping seeds; to gently nudge our spirits toward the spring. A soggy reminder on the Skagit River that a rolling home gathers no moss.

La Perla on the Skagit River

Solstice Blessings to You ...
may our energies merge on behalf of this miraculous planet home

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Solo Power

The sun had not yet surrendered to winter gray in the Pacific Northwest; she rose into an azure sky through a frigid blanket of air named the polar vortex. I donned long underwear and loaded the kayak, despite friends' pleadings not to hit the water alone. I understood their concerns, but going solo brought me closest to spirit. Me, my camera and binoculars, no chatter, free to follow instinct. Besides, I was never alone. The drive into the Cascade Mountains was soul balm; fifty elk lazed in a meadow, their frosty breath puffs sparkling through the sun.

I arrived the wooded shore of a small lake on the flank of Mt. Baker. As was usual for a nippy, shoulder-season day, no other humans were around. The weather showed her raucous side as gusts kicked up whitecaps. I reckoned the high altitude windchill to be around 25-degrees. Yes, I assured myself, I would put in. Yes, I would head into the wind to the east end of the lake. For a strength-building, elbow re-hab workout, but mostly because that's the end of the lake that called to me.

I wore one glove, freeing the other to press my camera shutter. Gusts stopped me still, despite digging hard into the water to paddle. Then the wind momentarily died. I raised the binoculars and confirmed that the three distant white objects were not pelicans swept far afield by the approaching storm. They were Trumpeter Swans. Accustomed to their sedate behavior on winter valley feeding grounds near home, I'd never seen them on a high altitude lake. Here, they took on mythical proportions. The wind cranked up and blew me backwards. I paddled between gusts to stay in place, shooting shot after blurry shot.

I had halved the distance between us when the sun suddenly spotlighted their pearly plumage against shadowed trees. They floated, cloud-like on the water of their protected little inlet. Three graces, I whispered, come to dispense Caritas (Latin) or Charis (Greek).  Writers and poets throughout the world had referred to the Three Graces as the emanation of the Goddess: Aglaia, Brilliant; Thalia, Flower Bringer; Euphrosyne, Heart's Joy. This, the power of solo. That space to give the invisible an opportunity to materialize.

They were, on this blustery day, what my soul beckoned. -- the grace defined since pre- Christian times as "beauty, kindness, mother-love, tenderness, sensual delight, compassion and care." I gained access to their still inlet in time to see them lift into the sky. I sat in their wake as their wingbeat blessing rode the wind.

Calm Between Gusts

The Graces circled three times and disappeared onto the opposite end of the lake. I leaned back into the kayak seat, breathing the pocket of repose. Cattails rustled. Stunning Hooded Mergansers dodged and dove.  Mystery and mythology merged; all hearts beat as one.

Alas, the mountain spine readied to devour the waning sun. Shadows nudged as the short day pushed me towards riled waters. I stroked towards home, a paddle-pushing wind at my back.