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.

Old dread

These words, two months ago, have proven to be good guidance, and underline one of the more astounding things about my 2020; that I haven’t been sick at all.  Not with COVID, we’ve been quite cautious with that, but with a cold or a flu.  Between working in schools and having plenty of stress upon occasion, I can’t recall the last winter, to say nothing of a whole year, without at least a little illness.

When it comes to stress I must be doing something right.  Given the volume of stress this year, and the omnipresence, I haven’t had a reasonable alternative.

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Our daily routines hadn’t changed that much, back in September, which was a handy benefit, as local COVID cases have escalated drastically.  We had more new ones last week than we had all spring and summer, which has only served to reinforce habits, most of which existed BC (before COVID).  I’ve altered my arrival and depature at school, avoiding people even more than I used to.  We only get takeout, and eat it outside.  We don’t see other people, which again, isn’t that far from things as they were before.  We go on vacation, cook our own food, and sleep outside.   In all of this we are fortunate.  Precious few habits and dreams have been definitively out of reach this fall.

The combination of small people and the cold, long evenings of November have made things more difficult.  Easy refuge at the library or kids museum are not options this winter, and our children’s energy does not fit easily in the house for too many hours at a stretch.  30 pound humans get cold easily, and we just happened to come home last month, after a week in the desert, to two feet of snow and temps below zero.  Since then the snow has melted, fallen again, and melted, and I’ve put serious effort into training the children, and to providing ways to make being out in the dark and the cold appealing.

The snow melting has made that much easier.  Little Cloud is finally runbike obsessed, and several good wrecks on ice patches have yet to dampen his enthusiasm.  He’s also, verbally and conceptually, come to know what hunting means.  Long walks through deadfall are beyond him, but short walks to a nice tree where you can cook sausages and ramen over a fire (top) are great fun.  On that outing I was somehow the only one to step on a cactus.  Being out in the moment isn’t just a vital way to put kid energy to good use, it is an essential distraction from how thoroughly our leaders and neighbors are failing us.  Optimism grows more easily in starlight.

Shame

…shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.

-Judith Butler

Trump is, unfortunately, not only America’s problem, which has in the past 3 weeks been one of my larger sources of comfort.  One could, this month, read only the New Zealand Herald and be perfectly informed on Biden v. Trump.  The best summary of US ballot initiatives I saw was in, of all places. Le Monde.  And it’s easier for me to think of the news sites, worldwide, which haven’t been closely covering our ongoing fiasco of succession the past two weeks than those which have.  Insofar as Trump is, along with Brexit, the most visible crest of the reactionary wave which has swept over much of the world recently, and insofar as he’s been an emboldening influence if not outright inspiration for the Bolsanaros and Jansas, his antics are a clear and vital interest for most of humanity.  As another commentator wrote; “I think we all feel the hand of history on our pussies.”  

Trump is a horrible person.  The question is not why he is, or why so many people embrace his horrid policies, but why so many people have embraced him, as a totem and lodestone.  In this he has a lot in common with the previous president born in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, who also understood that the politics of personality have in the US so much to do not merely with symbolism, but with an idealist instantiation of national identity.  The US president is king, not in fact (though TR and Trump have disconcerting commonalities when it comes to executive power), but in spirit.  Just as TR embodied the agency America was afraid of losing in 1900, Trump embodies the supposedly uncomplicated world back before the rest of the world reminded white men how pervasive, difficult to shirk, and evil their bias is.  

The appeal of this is, obviously in retrospect, not just confined to white men.  It is one thing to embrace Obama winning the Nobel for being elected.  It is another to sustain a nuanced conversation about how policing in America is both systemically biased and has for decades been eroded by an expanded mandate without matching increases in funding and support.  US abortion policy (and evidently, abortion policy elsewhere) is, now more than ever, explicitly in the interest of sustaining the patriarchy, something which does not prevent the many Coney Barret’s of the world.  4 years ago Trump’s election was a specific backlash against a black president, and the possibility of a female president.  That backlash is still strong, as 75 million voters reminded us.  Wanting to keep the world thus simple is on the wrong side of history, as nearly 80 million voters and a female vice president can tell us.   The question for the future is not whether the patriarchy will give up their grasp on the world, but when, and how much those holding on will let crumble in the process.

The mighty 5

Last week we did what we used to do every fall, and spent a week in the Colorado Plateau.  In this we’re fortunate; the number of things we did differently, because of Coronavirus, amounted to almost nothing beyond wearing masks into gas stations and always getting restaurant food to go.  Camping, biking, climbing, backpacking on the Colorado Plateau: in many respects they’ve changed a lot in the decade since we lived either in or near it and were out there on a weekly basis.  But in many ways they have not, and while the pandemic has likely contributed to the changes, perhaps significantly, those impacts were easy to not see while camped in the sand looking up at the milky way, and after the last 9 months, that constancy and nostalgia was restorative.

Things were undeniably busy, and while generalizing from one experience is always problematic, it is a useful leading indicator.  Parking lots at Bryce were entirely full, even the more obscure ones.  Thunder Mountain was as dusty and blown out as any trail I’ve seen.  Every pullout on the spur road to the White trailhead on Gooseberry was taken.  We started the walk down to Fence Canyon in the Escalante at 430 in the afternoon, and passed at least 30 people, 3/4 of them dayhikers, on their way back up from Neon.  On the other hand, we saw almost no one on every one of our adventures, save the on the trail to fence and while in the national parks.  Places like God’s Skateboard Park and the Golden Cathedral look much as they did a decade ago, in spite of more footprints in the sand.

Zion, and specifically its shuttles, did look quite different.  Since reopening this summer the park has been significantly limiting traffic on the shuttle buses, which have for decades been mandatory for going into the heart of the canyon, and on who restrictions are mandatory, given that at busy times they’re routinely standing room only and packed beyond capacity.  I logged on mid-Zoom meeting to snag reservations for two days in October, and out of distraction stuffed up the numbers of seats reserved.  After 3 minutes, when I went back to get more for one date, they were already booked solid.

The perhaps intended result of this restriction on traffic, and on those without the willingness or ability to plan ahead, was a stream of folks walking and riding bikes up the road into the park.   LB and I rode in on the day we were short seats, and that 40 minute pedal up a cool and mostly empty road was far preferable to the next day, where we spent almost the same time waiting in line to get on the bus, me using first proximity and then silent farts to keep the loud folks from Tennessee a full six feet behind us.  Zion has long been the standard bearer in the park service for shuttle use, with Bryce close behind.  Grand Canyon muffed their implementation long ago by failing to build a parking/orientation/shuttle complex in Tusayan, and the list of parks for whom shuttles, or obligatory shuttles, are sorely needed has been growing by the year.  Even Capitol Reef, which even recently was sleepy even by national monument status, is this year running into parking lots which are vastly exceeded by visitors, even in non-prime times.

After our trip abroad I believe COVID has injected significant momentum into the growth in the outdoors which was already underway.  (By 1000am on a Saturday Great Basin, the definition of far from anything in the lower 48, had parking lots filling up.)  The extent to which remote work will in the next years become widespread is likely being overstated, but it ought to be the hope of many smaller western cities and towns that the movement in nonetheless significant.  This is the answer for sustainable growth, the third way which is neither extractive industry nor pure tourism.  These people will want to be local to some parks, and within a day or a simple weekend from many others, and along with the greater group of now-enlightened tourists they will want a quality national park experience.

In the very near future having a quality park experience will become the educated and crafty exception, rather than the rule, and the resultant cynicism about rocky, tree-y disneyland is as of today a vastly underestimated liability for the parks, longer term.  Zions shuttle experiment, essentially a quota, showed definitively that such an approach can both provide a better (though still very busy) experience and motivate plenty of people to get in under their own power.  It reminded me just how more congruous biking up a paved road is for the park experience.  And hopefully, it will provide impetus for more parks to take similar action, wholeheartedly, and very soon.

The best trail

Last month I bought a new bike, my first brand new one in almost a decade. That one, nine years ago, was the first generation Salsa Mukluk, the first broadly available fat bike not called Pugsley. It has, because it still works great, a lot of things my new bike does not: straight steerer, one choice in headset size, external cable routing. I bought the Mukluk as a frameset, meaning I got a frame and fork in a box, bought everything else I didn’t already have separately, and put it all together. This also is an increasingly dead way of getting a bicycle, with few of the options I considered last month available frame only, and none of those making economic sense on the face of it. The new economy of scale gets you all the relevant components for less than the price of the frame over again.

And scale is another thing that has changed in the bike industry this year. I almost missed out, and ended up hunting down a shop in Mississippi which had a San Quentin 1 left, in XL. Numbers I’ll cover in a later post, save to mention that I called that shop, again, at the beginning of October to inquire if I might get my new bike before we left for the Colorado Plateau in a few weeks. I did barely, as they had sold through their whole 2021 stock in a matter of days, and were weeks behind in building them. And no, they could not (due to warranty reasons) just send me the whole mess to sort out myself. So 52 hours before we left a very large box arrived, and I had that time to assemble, alter, trouble shoot, figure out that I’d need a new headset to mount the rigid fork I’d purchased, make a trip to the local shop out of utter confusion at what headset that would be, then finish component swaps and tubeless conversion, atop packing all the other stuff we’d need for 11 days away from home.

The new bike worked great, and having it stowed day to day on the roof rack, rather than on a hook in the bike room, took me forcefully away from the discontent and the fiddling which bridge a new machine, eventually, into familiarity. Instead I rode it on an almost daily basis, often in dirt circles around camp, but also on the practice loop at Gooseberry, up the road to the lodge in Zion, on a pump track in West Salt Lake (wiggle break on the drive home), and down Thunder Mountain, the best trail in the world.

Thunder Mountain is on the west side of the Paunsaugunt, with Bryce on the east. It starts in rolling, sand bottomed ponderosa forest, snakes its way through liminal drainage heads to the ridge, above, before plunging down a few sets of steep, loose, and very dusty switchbacks and ridge drops in the process of going north to the ridge next to the road. At which point I was late, and at which point one encounters a trail sign. 1.4 miles that way, to the road, and untold miles the other way, into the unknown. Over a decade ago I experienced that unknown, and had a cold night out as part of my trouble. On this trip I tucked into the subtleties of the descent to the road, glad that it was very quick, and that my new bike came alive on it’s first full force outing.

Everyone loves a new bike, it just takes a while to finally know each other.

Hiking Kant into the 21st century

Even professionals dread Kant.  His style, especially in translation, is notoriously turgid, but the primary difficult with him is the same as with any writer pushing the edge of what language can do.  Another way to put that would be, pushing the limits of what humans can understand about the world and themselves.  Indeed, Kants most useful idea is that understanding and the world are at once the same and inextricably separate.  And this is the idea which we can take into the backcountry.

Understanding and the world are the same because, as individuals, the shape of our minds and the nature of our experience determines what we can see, what we can know, what we can experience.  Historically, this is the beginning of that horribly generic term “relativism”.  The struggle with Kant is to not allow routine to flatten this idea into sameness.  Just because we cannot see beyond our experience does not mean that things (in themselves, to use his phrase) do not exist beyond that experience.  It takes discipline and profound humility to keep the inherent limits of both individual understanding and human communication at the forefront of ones daily mind.

A prosaic example, and the one I find most difficult to verbalize, is reading and moving through terrain.  Ones experience creates possibility the first time you look into a basin: where humans might have built trails, which animals are around and how they might use the area, how the geology, climate, and flora will dictate lanes of travel.  The sheer size of any basin makes definitive understanding impossible, but (move on to Hegel) the best case in wild navigation is not found in maximal understanding of the world (which is impossible) but in maximal understanding of the self.  Sensory experience turns inward and knowledge of the self and instinctual apprehension of the terrain meld, facilitating both animal-like decision making and acceptance of pace minimally influenced by effort.

The new dread

As with, I imagine, most of us, a big part of my day has to do with the numbers. How many new cases in our county, the counties of our friends, our state, and eventually, our world? Anxiety promotes the parochial, and throughout the last six months a major source of comfort has been how little impacted Montana has been by Covid, and how within Montana, how little impacted Lewis and Clark county has been. The above numbers say that we’ve had 275 cases, total, in our county of 70,000. Until the past week, we’ve had exactly one day with new cases out of single digits (and that was a day with 10), went all of May without a single case (duh?), and from mid August to mid September had almost as many days with no cases as with any.

*Numbers and chart from NY Times

Of course, three weeks ago we started back to school. “Went” doesn’t really capture the backfires and potholes of the past month. I was back in my office at school, for the very first time since Friday March 13th, seeing clients both in person and virtually (Zoom, phone; reliable internet still being a dicey thing around here). The week before Labor Day students new to the building trickled in for orientation, families electing to stay virtual got their teacher assignments, and once everything had only just fallen into place, school started in the new normal mode on September 8th. In Helena proper we’re one of the few districts in Montana who did not go back with all students in the building all the time. The first half of the alphabet comes in Monday and Tuesday, the second Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is given over to industrial cleaning of the schools, teachers working out what is going on with virtual instruction, and for Little Bear, who is in kindergarten this fall, virtual show and tell (reportedly hilarious and disorganized). Indeed, between when I got started writing this and when I was able to return after a block of sessions, the news let us know that our school district reported its first positive cases over the past weekend.

The timing and inevitability surprised few, I would hope.

The question is not how we’re going to manage this pandemic in the long run. That has been evident for a while, and hinges on an election where we hopefully choose to face the future rather than shelter in the past, a prospect which seems hardly certain during the most fearful time of my life. The question is how we’ll manage the little things, day to day, which add up over weeks and months to almost everything. I’ve had a hard time since March in recapturing the relevance which used to permeate my job as a school therapist, and I have to be optimistic, about the remoteness of Montana, about all that everyone at school has tried to do, about our prospects for learning hard lessons from this, as a country, society, as a planet. Little Bear doesn’t know what he isn’t getting in two days a week at school, and probably more than makes up for it by sharing a classroom with his teacher and 3 other students. I know what I’m not getting, having put my job into the nexus of society which has been willfully eroded by those who insist on bars staying open and weddings taking place. I open to any paper from Montana, see the muddled data and articles about parent groups protesting restrictions on football audiences, and wonder how much of the spike we see today is riding out of the storm, and how much is humans as cattle, facing away from the blizzard and walking to certain death, stoic in momentary comfort.

Anxiety is a slippery thing, all the moreso when it is global in reach. In 2020 few people want to name it, and as populous places in the northerly parts of the earth walk towards winter I find it hard to assume that the dread waiting for us under the wallpaper won’t become our collective delusion, as society decides, for lack of leadership, to deny just how wrong things are. Normalcy and coherence is possible, now, but without public data and without guidance and modeling families and households will make it up as they go, reacting to stress as a deer to flies, in step with their neighbors over all the wrong things. By choosing to deprioritize schools we’ve elected to ignore narrative and community, exactly the wrong lesson from the pandemic.

Doors

So we have this house.  We live in it, coming and going and back and forth every day, but don’t have as many pictures as we should.  The fear I saw in it, three and a half years ago, remains almost solely in my memory.  The sagging roof line along the sun porch remains, but the bushes which ate up half the yard were dug up and hauled off years ago the peeling paint along the eves and the bare window sills given a fresh coat.  

After three years, the birth of a child, and the other starting school, we’re beginning to know the house well enough to see what we want it to be.  So last month, while my parents were here to take the small people away from a day of noise and dust, we bashed an old window out of the side of the pantry/mudroom at the rear of the house and I made four cuts, as plumb as the last three years have taught me, for the new door.  About a month later we pushed through two busy days of cutting, chiseling, and general detailing, ending with a big window where the old door had been, and a new set of mini french doors (23 7/8″ wide, each) where the window and part of the wall had been.  We still have a lot of painting to do, and a lot of bench, shelf, and table building after that, but the guts and flow of the new daily entrance to our house got sealed up the night before the first frost of the coming autumn.

The house has begun getting inside me, as we have the house.  This project dug into the original layer of the building, into dimensional 2x4s with a live edge, presumably milled from ponderosas felled on site, into layers of thick pine siding, into hand forged nails of at least 5 different sizes.  We found floor joists sitting on nothing, and poured concrete into gaps, tying the new door sill into the footer.  We found an old door sill, buried under two new ones and hidden by a bit of exterior decking, a groove worn in the middle by foot traffic predating the first world war.   We’ve trimmed old windows (salvage we purchased from a similarly old home down in Butte) who sashes were almost as hard as metal and flowered pine into the air, scent trapped since the 19th century.   It felt portentous, moving a back door that has stood in the same spot for over a century, and as I’ve pulled out layers of stubborn timber, and then used old stuff to frame up and patch in the new openings I’ve accumulated endless splinters.  Much like the desert gets into, and then back out of, you I discover new splinters in the 48 to 72 hours after a project day, as puss pushes previously invisible slivers up toward the surface.  

It’s a cliche, living towards the very edge of middle age wanting nothing more of a Saturday than an uninterrupted 10 hour shift moving a wall. The children, when they aren’t observing so close as to be underfoot, or trying to swipe hammers and screwdrivers, do well being entertained, but would prefer to go on a float trip. Often I would too, particularly after burning hours wrestling with a wall that is out of square, level, and plumb all at once. But as far as novelty is concerned I’ve been on a lifetime of float trips, while in ripping a straight line and driving trim nails true I am only getting started. In life situation, temperament, and locale (a neighbor just listed their house for 52% more than they paid a few months before we moved in) we are not tied up in every project going only towards increasing future value. It allows M and I to be playful and, to a certain extent, impractical. One, or at least I, can’t learn without messing things up. And the house has a lot to teach us. Fortunately, when it comes to timing in life, I’m in a good place for listening.

Especially now, when I don’t have to worry about nights below 40 degrees overlapping with big holes still in the house.