A trail quiz

First, a quiz: which of the following trails have seen human work and construction, and which never have?

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Second; animal trails are very important for backcountry walkers.  They always form the most efficient route from one place to another, the trick is finding enough of the animal mind to know what and where those places are.  Just the other week an elk trail took me to a major spring I never knew existed, despite having walked within a quarter mile of it on close to ten separate occasions.  That seemingly year-round water source reshuffles how I think about that particular nexus of ridges and canyons.  Geology moves water, water realigns animal activity, and some mix of both creates how humans came to see, know, and travel through wild landscapes.  It is a lot simpler, while tired and hot and counting the hours to an iced coffee, to leave the moment while walking a human trail.  Grades tend to be more predictable, footing more secure, routing more homogenous.  All of these have often been on the landscape so long that the antecedent influence of the landscape disappears.

This distinction will be an important one in 2021.  Visitation and general interest in the wild world was climbing in the decade prior to the pandemic.  Having the state of the world throw the virtues of being outside in ones face has, anecdotally and as far as the data can suggest, wrought a large and potentially lasting increase in outdoor engagement.  It has also, it would seem, provided both the time and the impetus for contemplating this part of our national landscape.  

It is easy to forget what Thoreau meant when we wrote “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Wildness here means, in brief, all that which is beyond the scope of human direction and imagination.  The more technocratic nature writers have, over the past 30 years, forgotten (or, I suggest while trying to withhold snideness, never gotten to know) the pragmatic side of wild places.  That regardless of lines we as humans draw on maps or in our laws, animals, plants, the landscape as a whole will continue to do as it wants, and if left largely alone in a big enough space, stay wild.  What each of us may find appealing is as Cronon says a “cultural invention,” but so is everything.  The basic subjectivity our any particular human experience with the wild does nothing to break up either the existence of the wild outside us, or it’s fundamental unknowability.

And that is, of course, the point.

Last, the answers: the first photo is a human trail, with the path cleared through the trees and cut logs being rather obvious; the second and third images are of the same elk trail, about a mile apart; the final image is on an official trail, but this particular stretch has not I think ever seen a tool.  The final three images were all carved by significant yearly elk traffic.  The bottom photo is within a major N-S running valley that is a major migration corridor.  There is only one logical place to put a trail in the alpine section of the valley.  The trail depicted in the middle two photos is ~4 miles long, and save for one steep hill could easily be ridden in a mountain bike.  It travels between a major water source and a series of sheltered south facing hillsides which form a significant bit of winter range for a small herd.  On the first photo, if you go back 200 years I reckon there was an elk, deer, and sheep trail right about where the current human path is cut, and these days I guess that many times more elk than humans walk it each calendar year.

The Maah Daah Hey

The US, and I imagine the world, needs more trails like this.  Strictly speaking the MDH has national park caliber scenery, as it passes through two units of a national park.  Theodore Roosevelt is an obscure national park, getting as many visits in a busy year as Glacier does in an average June, and probably wouldn’t have been designated at all had it not been so intimately associated with the most important conservationist in American history.  And that is the point.  The terrain of the Little Missouri badlands is subtle and immensely nuanced.  It is an easy place to overlook, and as the huge increase in gas pads and roads between this visit (in April 2019) and my first visit (October 2005) indicate, an easy place for the wild mind of the nation to forget, and by extension, neglect.  Long, immersive trails in other such locations would go a very long way towards fostering appreciation of and interaction with the many wild places that are still left, sandwiched between civilization.

That trip two years ago was a big deal.  It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head for over a decade, and is still unfinished.  It was the first big trip after a difficult winter acclimating to life as a parent of two kids, rather than one.  Due to fitness, I elected to walk rather than bike, and that slower pace, in theory less stylistic, made for a slower and more contemplative journey.  There isn’t much flat on the MDH, but even so the walking is easy and relaxing.  Floating the Little Mo is similarly simple right up to the edge of dullness, and thus all that trip I had hours to look and think, even more than usual on a solo backpack.

I’m looking forward to getting back, sometime.

Retirement

A few months ago I spent a day snowboarding.  It did not go as I had hoped.   The reversion to being a kid, and flailing on and off the lift and down the hill, was immediate.  I slid into trees, off on slope angles to where I did not want to go, caught an edge and crashed off of tiny rocks, and had the liftie run over and ask if I was ok, twice.  Whatever I’ve learned over the past 3 decades of mountain biking, climbing, skiing, boating, and backpacking blunted the fear of novelty and let me be aware of exactly how and why I was struggling in the moment, but it did not accelerate the learning process, at least not on day one.  Perhaps I’ve watched too many Jeremy Jones movies.  After a few days contemplation I made the decisive, and I think not hasty, call to retire from snowboarding after one day.  It took me long enough to feel competent skiing, and I am not exactly swimming in free time.   And for me, abundant time has always been requisite for learning any physical pursuit.

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I made the snowboard into a lawn couch, using some skis, cedar 2x4s from an old fence, and some juniper logs.  I’ve become especially enamored with the tight, kaleidoscopic grain of the Rocky Mountain Junipers which dot the ponderosa forests around here, and whose sandy, recalcitrant poise so easily echoes the same trees and their cousins, the Utah Juniper, down on the Colorado Plateau.  For aesthetic reasons, and because I was short plain boards that were long enough, I split one particularly tall and straight juniper log in half and built it into a shelf which now sits in the renovated mudroom, and holds a stack of totes which in turn hold the vital parts of our gear arsenal: climbing hardwear, ropes, and cooking kit in three bins on the floor, then a bin each for tents, pads, drysuits and bags, and then two bins each crammed with backpacks, before a final row of larger backpacks up against the ceiling.  It’s proved a expedient arrangement; get home from a trip, explode gear to dry and clean in the aisle between the shelves and the shoe bench, then put it all away without taking more than half a step.

I belabor this because, especially now as a family, we have a lot of interests, which means a lot of things which in the interest of efficiency need to stay separate but interlocking.  Car camping requires much of the same stuff as a week long backpack hunt; an overnight float trip many of the same things as a chilly afternoon at the bike park.  Flailing to find the right drybags is bad enough prepping for a solo trip.  If the small people are reluctant enough to get out the door, spending 20 minutes to find that tiny pair of black rainpants is simply not acceptable.  Time then isn’t just given over the skill building within the activity itself, the organization and logistics which make all of those activities possible requires a considerable, and ongoing, investment.  In this world new things do not come cheap, and the money to buy the stuff is, measured over years, the least of the concerns.

My mom recently retired, in the conventional sense, from over 40 years of being a psychotherapist.  They also recently closed on a house down the road, and are deep into conversations about what boat(s) will be required for this next phase of life.   It has been quite a few years since this trip, and my postscript summary has not changed; given the combination of ideal scenery, challenge, and execution, I cannot expect to ever have a better backpacking trip.  I could likely replicate the route, or the satisfaction, even the seamless experience on such all-encompassing terrain, and I have done all of those, quite a few times, but I don’t expect to outright exceed it.  At the time I wondered, rather idly, if I might retire from backpacking with satisfaction.  I’ve reached similar positions in climbing, mountain biking, and canyoneering, with a much reduced degree of mastery, and have been content to let them go.  In outdoor pursuits knowledge and experience persist, but fitness and the sharp edge which comes with submersion do not remain.

Perhaps it is that backpacking is the ur skill for all backcountry disciplines.  Perhaps it is that walking is so basic, and physically the area in which I am most gifted.  Perhaps it is the gift of circumstance, that in the Northern Rockies backpacking is the best thing to do, particular when skiing or packrafting or hunting are spread on top.  Most likely it is that backpacking is the most fun of all of these, not in the whoop adrenaline sense of gravity power, but in the less common, enduring sense of variation beyond human determination that, for this reason, is never subject to boredom.  Having gone beyond mastery, and to a large degree beyond novelty, I find myself as much concerned with style and with monitoring the passage of time, revisiting old favorites, as I do with anything else.  And of course I have people around who need to see certain things.

I can’t imagine retiring.

Returning

Last week, in The Atlantic, Ellen Cushing wrote that “…the only thing better than being a genius in a pandemic is being intellectually unencumbered by mass grief.”   This has become the cliche du jour, that (essentially) after a year of official pandemichood in the US, we have all been changed in ways that we are only just becoming able to understand.  I have certainly found this to be the case; as I reread last week’s post I couldn’t help but notice the unusual (even for me!) number of typos and instances in which my brain, separate entity that it often is these days, decided to switch track mid-clause.   As I wrote last week, we’ve gotten this far in the pandemic relatively unscathed.  I’ve actually learned quite a lot, and am confident I’ll look back on the past year with trepidation and fondness, once a bit more comfort of distance is mine.  I am also confident that the fog of anxiety, which was so all-consuming a year ago, when we were figuring out how this was going to work, and this past autumn, when we were waiting to see just how bad things would get, has altered my thinking and functioning in ways that will never be fully fixable.

Friday, March 13th, was the last normal day of school for us.  It had been a good week, a busy week, full of purpose.  A sunny week, until Friday, when it snowed.  I went skiing with a client during the 6th grade field trip, excited that this young lady, whose life had in the past month revealed itself to me as marked by islands on hope amidst a grey ocean of trauma, was moving towards being able to build herself, towards giving herself convincing and sustaining evidence that she would be in control of her life and herself.  After lunch, we rode the big lift to the summit of the mountain and she fought her doubt back down.  Another client would, a month later and over Zoom, reveal his arm in a cast, a fracture sustained on that ski trip which had gone undiagnosed for weeks.   I will always remember leaving school that Friday, jovially wrapped in the ignorance I had pulled ever more tightly around myself in the month before, as the Europe showed the western hemisphere what it was in for, and M filled our freezer with food and our closet with yes, toilet paper.

Here in our middle schools we just squeaked in under the 1 year mark, returning to a somewhat normal schedule this week.   Middle schoolers have not had an easy time of it the past year, perhaps, as a class, they have been the worst off.  This years sixth graders got all of the academic demands, and more, of the move to middle school with almost none of the structural support, and none of the social inducements.  Seventh graders, and especially, eighth graders, are all to aware of what they are missing, and have been deep in mourning for some time.  I have deep theoretical and policy objections to middle schools as such, but putting that aside leaves the pragmatic fact of this deeply awkward developmental period being, insofar as our public schools are primary agents of socialization, predicated upon peers and socialization driving the process.  Middle schoolers struggle to find school relevant absent social exposure, and not just because lunch and social time is the sugar on the medicine of math and writing and sex ed.

On the other hand, 12 year olds are blessed with both a more plastic sense of the world, and being not yet inured to bullshit in the ways adulthood demands.  They are both more capable of moving on with change, and less likely to pass poor reality into the background as something to accept by ignoring.  I’ve been busy this school year, and have now refined using unspecified anxiety and depression as COVID-specific, insurance approved diagnosis.  Many of my clients, especially the newer ones, do best with understanding just how and why their lives are not ok right now, and that they will find it simplest to figure out how to accept, for the moment, the unacceptable.

Acceptance is not the same as forgetting, nor is it a passive process.  I’ve learned this year that streaming Fortnite or Minecraft is a perfectly adequate substitute for in person socialization, if done intentionally.  The same games, and especially the less inherently social ones, can just as or even more easily be numbing.  Regression to the bliss of elementary school, and pruning down ones life to the basics, are in the pandemic entirely healthy, so long as self-awareness becomes involved at some point.  So too increased sleep, though the line here between self-care and avoidance is pencil-line thin.

Big people would do well to remember these lessons.  There will be lots of reasons to be tentative about our exit from the pandemic, and fear and failure and fear of change are, especially after a year spent swimming in ambiguity, just as reasonable as concern that lax behavior will bring about a resurgence in infections.

The B&P mentoring program

Donald Trump has shown, more starkly than almost anything else one could imagine, how deeply structural racial bias and discrimination has been and is, and how it remains in many or even most cases the pivot point for social power in the United States. After the past four years we know more about this, which is to say more about ourselves, than we would under any other circumstances.  Structural bias will in many cases erode away in the face of history, but very slowly, and with the potential for retrograde progress.  It is our responsibility to bend the curve of history, to help social justice along, in consistency and speed.

I’ve been guilty, for a long time, of thinking about wilderness ahistorically, as something which is a precondition for social justice.  I still think this is true, but all too often my assumptions have jumped from wilderness and wild pursuits being physically democratic, insofar as accessibility is concerned, to that accessibility being literally effective.  I grew up spending time outside with my family, going hiking and boating from a very early age.  It wasn’t until I started rock climbing at 12 that I felt ownership over my own learning in the outdoors, and that experience, supported by my family background (read; privilege) allowed me to move on and teach myself canyoneering, mountain biking, hunting, skiing, packrafting, and so forth.  Making the venue and information of and for a given wilderness pursuit accessible is one thing.  Making the self-certainty necessary to teach oneself out there in the wild is another.

That matter is something I would like to help address.

So I’m looking for mentees in 2021, for a small handful of people with aspirations for the backcountry whose background and situation will make achieving those goals more complicated than would be the case for someone like me.  I’m not placing definitive restrictions on the race, orientation, class, or ethnicity who I hope to work with here, but white men are not it.  Yes there has been a lot of attention given to minorities in the outdoors and to social justice within the industry, and a lot of that verbiage has been monolithic and cliched, but the broader point about social justice, that we are neither the agent or architects of the more profound influences on our lives, stands intact.  My hope and intention is to use my experience, something both created and expedited by the circumstances of my birth, to provide an analogous bit of assistance for folks whose place in history would not do the same.

What will this look like?  I don’t know, but am eager to go on a journey with a few folks and find out.  I envision folks having significant and extensive access to my time, over the phone or via Zoom, regarding their hopes, goals, and the personal and skill development they’ll need to get there.  If someone wants to climb the Grand Teton, for example, or packraft the Middle Fork of the Flathead, it is easy to write up a list of hard skills they’ll need to master.  It is less simple to even define the mental aspects and less tangible skills that will be equally essential.  Things like dealing with loneliness and fear; managing layers and bedding during a 48 hour rainstorm; finding a layering system that works to your tastes and physiology.  I envision my roll as having more to do with helping people figure out the most important questions, rather than the more basic process of defining answers.  Perhaps, schedules and COVID concerns allowing, some combination of us might be able to go on a trip, or a few.  If you are based in the vicinity of Helena, Montana, that convenience would allow for more instructional options.

So, if you fit the above criteria and have some adventure goals you think might dovetail well with my knowledge base, send an email to dave at bedrockandparadox dawt com, with Mentorship Application in the subject line, and tell me what your hopes are and how you think I would be effective in assisting you.  This last part is important.  Any reader who has been around a while should be quite familiar with my style, and I think I can assure everyone that my writing does a decent job of representing who I am as a person.  Like any teaching relationship, the person to person dynamic is as important as any more direct factor, and neither of us should waste each others time if it doesn’t seem like we would be a good fit.  That said, in applying I ask for no commitment save to me reading and you writing your words, each with care.

I have no basis for evaluating the interest, but I don’t envision the application period being open for long.  I will update in this post, and notify everyone via email.

Normal

This weekend Little Bear and I did something we hadn’t done for over a year; we made the drive down to Bozeman, hung out, ate good food, visited the dinosaur museum (aka the Museum of the Rockies), rode bikes, and went skiing.  We also made an unexpected, late drive back home through darkness and a few snow squalls after we found the road to the cabin unexpectedly drifted in, which made for a good opportunity to discuss flexibility and managing disappointment.  It was a very pleasant day, a reminder that in central Montana one can ride bikes on dirt and ski deep snow within a fairly short span of time and distance.  It was also an expansion of a world which has felt, logistically and more relevantly, psychologically, cloistered

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Dear Senator Daines..

I am writing you, this morning, in hopes that you will support and promulgate impeachment proceedings against our current President, Donald Trump. After the past two months it is, quite frankly, the very least you can do to make amends.

You carry significant, invisible burdens sir, of that I am well aware. Not only do you currently sit in Tom Walsh’s seat, Lee Metcalf’s seat, Max Baucus’ seat, you used to sit in Jeannette Rankin’s seat. Your place in history has largely taken from you the opportunity to come close to your predecessors in accomplishment. Instead, your career in congress seems likely to fall in line with those of your party colleagues Rick Hill, Conrad Burns, and Denny Rehberg, who if remembered with any specificity will be recalled for their graft and mediocrity. Demographics, and the cultural changes which accompany them, have placed mountain states in a subservient and defensive role. Guarding federal subsidies and rural culture is not illustrious work, something which surely at least partially excuses your thin record of legislative achievement over the past 7 years.

Your first senate election was a gimme, in light of Mr. Walsh’s resignation, after his plagiarism scandal. And it was presumably out of fear that, around a year ago, you hitched your wagon to the presidents. This worked, and it is my hope that the enhanced legitimacy which must come with having defeated a formidable opponent by a surprisingly large margin will allow you to act more freely as a senator.

Montana is at a crucial place as a state; moving towards securing a second congressperson, as well as an economic future which is beyond both extractive industry and tourism, and which preserves both the physical and mental landscape that makes it unique and desirable. While your public land bonafides are inconsistent, I take it at face value from your ads that you know how to shoot a rifle, and have abundant first hand evidence that big wild places are the most valuable and fragile material capitol that Montana will ever have. Preserving this, for my kids and your grandkids, amidst the crux of accelerating population growth, is a task the equal of Senator Walsh’s antitrust work, and of Senator Metcalf’s public lands work.

Which brings us to impeachment. I think it obvious to say that the inevitable crystalized into the present yesterday; President Trump has never been a Republican, he has only ever been for himself, and has been singularly ruthless (by any past standard in American politics) in choosing vehicles to further himself. This is anathema in a republic, precisely because the most democratic aspects tend to encourage immoderation and blatant myopia. Trumpism, as a nostalgic embodiment our the national id, will endure irrespective of what happens in the next several weeks. It is your responsibility, as an elected member of the explicitly less democratic branch of the legislature, to safeguard the future of America and facilitate the quickest and most definitive death for Trumpism that circumstances and history will allow. Baring the President from holding future elective office is the best way to do this. In a democracy the people are allowed to make poor choices, one of which may well prove to be electing you, if you continue to play the dangerous sycophant. In a republic elected representatives are allowed, and are indeed supposed to, steer the ship of state with an eye towards the horizon.

It is time sir, to grab the wheel. This window will not long remain open.

Things I loved this year

Add.; Not long after publishing this yesterday evening I received a text, and then an email, stating that extra vaccine doses would be available to direct care workers outside hospitals and clinics, in other words, me. So I woke up in the dark and waited in line at the fairgrounds and got Moderna stuck into my arm. That medicine went into clinical trials the first day our schools went virtual back in the spring, and is both a great story and a reminder that for all the navel gazing, flatearth mugwumpitude of 2020, contemporary science is quite amazing. Can’t really leave that off such a list as this.

DMR Deathgrips

For over a decade I’ve struggled to see the point of any mountain bike grips which are not either Oury or Ergon. When buying parts for the Marin I wanted to try something new, and ordered a pair of Deathgrips in thin and flangeless. The tactile experience, along with the ease of removal while futzing with components, have been very nice indeed. Nice enough that I recently put another set, thick and flangeless, of my fatbike. I don’t have enormous hands (generally right between medium and large gloves) and the thin versions are both a bit low on cushion and a bit too little to hold well in the rough. These are emphatically a gravity oriented grip, without much squish. But the ribbed thumb section is super comfy with or without gloves, and encourages body english and three dimensional steering. Not necessarily the most versatile bike grip, but a very fun option.

Bialetti Moka pot

Under ordinary circumstances I don’t do much to restrain my coffee consumption, provided I drink it black. Caffeine being after all an almost universal performance enhancer with no socially consequent downsides, and precious few downsides at all. The chemical and psychological benefits have been even more important this year, and the Moka pot quickly makes just the kind of coffee I prefer. This fall especially it has been rare that I don’t fire it up at least twice a day.

My chair

When we moved in 3.5 years ago the little garage out back was in sad shape, and half full of odd junk. The door had long since ceased to work, and the dirt floor became vital that spring, as a record snowpack melted through the walls and flooded down under the door. Boxes stored in there were frozen to the floor for over a month. That summer I built a stone wall between the opening and the alley, demolished the door, and built a wall cutting the interior in half. The dirt floor of the bike room is handy when I spill oil, or don’t want to go back inside to piss, but a nuisance when I drop a bolt. I also dug out the three feet of wooden wall decades of erosion had placed underground, and installed layers of flashing. So now our garage keeps snowmelt out.

Among the items moved out to make way for bikes and the car was an old wooden bakers chair, which rolls, swivels and tilts on an iron base. I didn’t really look at it for another few years, until this February when I restored the base with grease, screws, and wood glue, and the seat and back with pints of linseed oil. I had intended to move it to my office at school, and finished it the weekend before the stay at home order took effect in Montana. Instead it went into the new home office, and I found that the unpadded seat was more comfortable than the succession of old and modern plush chairs I’ve used over the years. It was a happy day when I moved it into school at the end of August, and in October, when things finally got cold enough for the baseboard heater to run hot, the scent of linseed oil reemerged and lingered for days. For practical and now, nostalgic reasons, I can’t imagine ever getting rid of it.

Fire lookouts

Through both planning and luck spent more nights in lookout towers this year than any other to date. Some, like Christmas Eve in a tower just north of town, required advanced planning. Others were vacancies that popped up days in advance, and seizing them just required awareness and being flexible. Picking a favorite is not possible, as every trip was important and unique. Like this one, and this one.

In this case scarcity has always been somewhat the driver of interest, and this year more than most, the silence of the wind and a long view were especially welcome. If a lot of my internal conversation at the beginning of the summer concerned what I would do when the pandemic had passed, my looking back at these photos and memories now has me struggling to think of trips I’d find of more interest or value, and has me psyched to plan more, close to home, for 2021.

The bakery

One of the sadder days of the stay at home order was when our local shut down for several weeks. They had stayed open with much of their usual range for the first few weeks, and taking the usual walk downtown in the afternoon only to find a note saying they’d be shut for at least a while did more than most things, I am sad to admit, to bring home what we had lost. Ever since they reopened I’ve been less likely than usual to shy away from an anise biscotti or slice of lemon sake, and less likely in general to take our little city for granted.

OR Feedback flannel

This is a nice shirt. You would not know it was polyester until it dries much faster (and stinks more) than wool. Fit and build are ideal. Durability is decent. My 14 month old one has developed a few picks at seemingly random times, none of which have impacted presentability from a distance or not been easily sorted with scissors. That shirt still qualifies as Montana formal, and is the rare thing I can both wear to the office and on a hunting trip. Neither wicking nor insulation are quite at the level of true performance clothing, but is ideal for bike commuting, winter walks that turn cold, resort skiing, and everything in the category of lifestyle. At least around here, it counts as a Zoom shirt too.

Patagonia Slopestyle hoody

There are a lot of sweatshirts very similar to this (discontinued) piece, but as is often the case, Patagonia does the details better. The hard faced, brushed interior polyester is both more weather resistant and more cuddly than similar pieces from other companies, and the big three panel hood, roomy but not excessive cut, and pockets (there are zippered, mesh lined pockets inside each hand pocket) make it infinitely practical. I had one years ago, sold it, regretted doing so, and picked up another this summer on Worn Wear (which is a very fun place to browse). Until things get really cold around here, it is my coat every day.

Next year

We would do well to dispense with the cliche of 2020 being a horrid year. This horror is real, and will be with us for decades. In my psychotherapy practice I’ve been flat out since late September, with a wave of tweens whose existing dis-ease has been slapped without regard into the skillet of virtual schooling, social distance, and diffuse, suppurating, omnipresent ambiguity. Just as with heights, every human fears the unknown, and our ability to manage such things is drawn equally from past strength and present comfort. For many COVID created direct distress, through death and loss. For many, many more, it has created indirect distress which has, after nine months, begun to stain the floor of daily practice. The resultant coping skills, maladaptive, appropriate, and in between, unearth the past of our own lives and those who came before us as surely as a flood cuts a new river channel; with an almost instant surety that is ruthlessly un-living.

Put another way, the pandemic has washed bare far more antecedent distress, individual, familial, and societal, than consequent tragedy. Ringing in the new year with another drink and a middle finger towards the virus that must not be named quickly passes from self care into denial.

It is therefore fitting that this was the summer of Black Lives Matter, of a renewed reckoning with the bedrock of structural inequality. It is equally fitting that it was the autumn of Trump and Johnson, pusillanimous and unselfaware dumplings of privilege. The patina of this year will endure for decades, be it Barret in Ginsbergs seat, figurehead of internalized toxic masculinity, or in the middle schoolers who, due to Autism or family trauma, will likely never have slack enough to catch back on, and will in years to come keep stretching the rope which links their childhood entitlement to infinite possibility with the adulthood of their future, and whose breakage will be seen as inevitable, and not the result of some virus at all.

COVID has shown us how all our lives are subject to history. 2020 marched, uniformitarian, turgid, stretched thin to unseeingness, through all of us. Everyone had their turn. Places like Montana, who came out of lockdown largely unrippled, had to merely wait. Those places who did better (New Zealand) or worse (USA) than average did so, in retrospect, for reasons set in motion centuries ago.

This sense of our own powerlessness is not all bad. My enduring memories of 2020 center around an especially crystalline start of spring here, and unstructured evening picnics with the boys on nights M was at work. I’d put the laptop away, commute downstairs to throw dinner, water, and layers in a backpack, and we’d go out into the woods, somewhere to gather rocks, paddle the packraft, cook sausages on a fire. Often we went for a walk. Rarely did we go further than a mile. One time we saw a mountain goat. My own ability to manage uncertainty, never especially extensive outside the most favored and cultivated areas of expertise, was in April worn ragged, and the sense of constancy those evenings gave still today lingers with a clarity that has rendered normal down to a single point of light.

The other most enduring memory of 2020 is all the things I let myself not do. I’ve written about the house we live in, and how it has started to mirror in me patience. This fall, after the rush to seal up the redone mudroom, I mostly let patience soak through me like a lemon drizzle. I made a bench, and finished up insulating the plumbing for the washer/dryer, and the half wall which hides it, but mostly I let things, like half empty backpacks from outings past, pile up, and soon enough my appreciation for what we had done, and our new ability to all four prepare to depart at once and without stepping on each other, make the crumbs of daily life more scrummy.

These are all things I intend to remember next year.

The death of Purple

I’ve cracked three nalgene bottles in the past two decades.  The first was a classic 1 liter in milky plastic, before lexan invaded REI and college lecture halls.  It was ancient and wrapped in duct tape, and split radially when I dropped it in the Sylvan Lake parking lot, which was sad.  I think I was relegated to old juice jugs for the rest of that summers rock bumming.  The second was a few years later, Elephant Butte in Arches, at the flat sandstone base of the exit rap.  I got lazy, it might have been the third lap that day and the 40th that year, and let a single kink in the opposite strand rise 30 feet in the air.  I spent 10 minutes trying to huck a partially full 48oz silo through that loop, tied to the other end, before it shattered into pieces striking the rock.  The third was just the other week, when I gave Purple a stout whack on a tree, to split loose the ice which had layered inside after a 10 degree evening.  Purple cracked, and functionally, was no more.

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We found Purple on this trip seven years ago, in the midst of the talus along the west side of Norris Mountain.  Purple has been around a lot, on my first successful elk hunt, most memorably.  And this is why I’ve always like nalgene bottles.  They aren’t invincible, but they’re close enough, in the face of accidents and hot water and intentional abuse, that over the years deep memories accumulate.  Purple has the sticker from our Double Duck, and the one from that place with best coffee porter, and the stack Jamie sent me after I proofed their gorgeous map.  I don’t quite have any ideas what I’ll do with it, but I’m certainly not ready to just put it in the trash.

Without Purple, we have perhaps nine or ten nalgenes in the house.  Some are hiding in dark corners.  A few sit in the mud room and are used daily.  I believe, years ago, I bought one of them.  Another was a gift.  Several more were freebz at trade shows.  The rest, a solid majority, were found in the wild, taken home, cleaned, sterilized, restickered as needed over time, and adopted.  And for the pleasure of keeping fewer gatorade or smartwater bottles out of the wild, I’ll gladly keep hauling the ounces.