Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

I have major father issues.  My parents divorced when I was six or seven, right after I recovered from a year spent in bed with rheumatic fever.  My mom packed us up and we--my two sisters, little brother, grandmother, and aunt--moved from Freeport, Illinois to Estes Park, Colorado.  I vaguely remember my father coming to visit in the summers, but I have no memory of any details.

I do remember that, even as a seven year old kid in second grade, I was deeply embarrassed by the fact of my parents' divorce.  I explained my father's absence to my new friends by telling them that he was an assistant football coach at Notre Dame and had to stay in South Bend for his work.

Mostly, I have almost no concrete memories of my father and the few I do have I have already shared in these pages.  Therefore, I have always been surprised when I hear men talking about their father issues.  I have heard and read reports of men my age with their eyes brimming talking about going to ball games with their old man, going fishing with their old man, learning to use tools with their old man, getting disciplined by their old man.  I have nothing like that in my memory bank.

I know that when I watch a movie like "Field of Dreams," I'm supposed to cry when Kevin Costner "has a catch" with his father's apparition at the end of the movie.  I know I'm supposed to read father/son memoirs that inevitably crop up on days like this and be moved.  I'm not.  I'm also supposed to worry that, since I don't have any of these feelings, I am avoiding my problems by not facing up to them.

That might be so.  But I developed my own coping mechanisms when I was a kid trying to grow up in a house with one little brother and five older women.  Instead of having one father, I had an endless supply of father figures.  I never much gravitated toward any of my mother's dates and subsequent husbands, although Stewart, a salesman from England, taught me about poetry, John Donne in particular.  My Aunt Annie's husband, Carl, acted like my friend.  We talked about politics and business and sports.  He taught me--tried to teach me--to play baseball.  I spent a summer with him in Oklahoma City helping him put in a yard in his new home.  My sister Mary Jo's husband, Dick, taught me how to drive a tractor and a back hoe and generally how to act like a man.  My sister Jeri's succession of husbands combined to teach me how to smoke a pipe while driving a Mustang convertible, play basketball, read Joseph Heller, play guitar, and drink.  I was like a little pack rat and I took something from every man who came along.

The bottom line here is that no one really taught me how to be a father first hand.  I had Jim Anderson, Andy Taylor, Ward Cleaver, and Fred McMurray for that.  All those guys handled fatherhood with aplomb.  They never felt overwhelmed, or when they did it was always a funny kind of overwhelmed, something to laugh about in retrospect.

But being a father is in fact overwhelming.  Sure, one can still find things to laugh about, but not necessarily at the end of every episode.

That's how I feel today.  That's why I'm writing this even though I smashed the hell out of my right middle finger while working on a deck the other day and it hurts every time I hit the letter I or K.  Everybody says that when you get older, your worries get fewer.  That just hasn't been my experience.  When I was a young man, I had the same worries and concerns and dreams as all the other young men I knew.  When I had children, those worries doubled.  When those children had children, those worries tripled.  I don't think my worries are going to quadruple because I will be too old to remember who anyone is once I have great grandchildren.

Without going into gruesome detail, there are many things weighing me down today.  A leak developed in our kitchen while we were in Puerto Vallarta and now we are in a construction site with plastic sheets covering up our kitchen while folks get rid of mold, redo floors, and replace dry wall.  I feel like my house is being slowly raped.  That's the first thing I think about at night when I can't sleep.   I also lie awake worrying about Nate and Ashley in Los Angeles.  I worry about Chris and Christine's latest business venture.  I worry about Franny and Ken and their long term goals.  And of course, I rotate through the grandkids and all the worry that entails.

I just want everybody I love to be happy and wildly successful.  Whenever one of them gets sick, or frustrated, or angry, or sad, I get sick, frustrated, angry, and sad too.  So tell me again, why do we celebrate this day?

Please don't!   You're thinking about all the rewards of fatherhood.  The cute moments.  All the nights watching the kids perform.  The warm memories.  The laughter around the table.  The grandchildren shivering with excitement over new possibilities.  You don't have to tell me about all that.  Those rewards happen all the time.  I can't stop them.  I celebrate them daily, hourly.  So, tell me again, why do we celebrate this particular day?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Yellow Kayak

That is Sammi in the front of our kayak paddling around one of the ponds at Chatfield.  You can't tell here, but Sammi and I are singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and Sammi is about to do her big finish:  "Gently down the STREEEEEAM."  We time it so she gets to that final note just as the kayak lands.  It will be Brooklyn's turn next, then Willa, and then Jaydee.  Meanwhile, the rest of the family is up on the beach commandeering a picnic table which is home base for our impromptu picnic.

Kathie and I bought the kayak around twenty years ago for four hundred bucks so we could have it to play around with in the Tetons.  It was the best money we've ever spent.

I should add here that neither one of us likes getting wet and we are not particularly eager about shooting the rapids on the Snake.  We just like to paddle around the lakes near Jenny Lake Lodge as a way to rest from the other days we spend hiking.  The second day of our stay we always put in at the boat launch at Jenny Lake right after breakfast.  We do one lap alternating between a gentle float while looking for critters and RAMMING SPEED when we are trying to impress the tourists looking out at the lake from the trail.  Our Jenny lap takes about two hours.  Then we pull the thing out of the freezing mountain lake, hoist it on top of the car, and head back to the lodge to hang out on our porch with good books and a bottle of wine.

After our kayak break, we try to head up to Lake Solitude the next day.  The day after that we generally take our kayak to String Lake.  String Lake is actually more like a river that connects Leigh Lake to Jenny Lake, so it has a light current and killer views of the Cathedral Range.  When we get to the top of String, we take a two hundred yard portage over to Leigh and put in there.  Leigh is our favorite kayak destination because once we get past the portage, we have the lake pretty much to ourselves.  Occasionally there will be a fisherman in a canoe and the buggy campsites along the shore will be filled, but that is the extent of human traffic.  Leigh is a gold mine for critter spotting.  We have seen otters playing on an outcropping of rocks, an eagle stripping a fish, two eagles having sex in the sky just off shore (If we had been Native Americans conceiving a child at that moment, we would have named the kid "Two Eagles Fucking"), and once a moose was rude enough to impede our progress by wading across the lake directly in front of us.  The lap around Leigh is almost always a thing of wonder; however, the weather does roll in with alarming speed and we have been caught in the middle of the lake as the whitecaps swamped our little craft.  Those times are always Jack London moments.

We used to put in at Two Ocean Lake on the continental divide, but the put in there is swampy and leech-ridden.  We don't go there anymore.  We did have one memorable morning where we somehow got between two trumpeter swans and one of their babies.  No sooner had we noticed our mistake then one of the big birds stood up on the water, wings flapping, and ran toward us, coming to a skidding stop right next the kayak.  Then the other swan attacked and skidded to a stop in front of us. It was more than a little terrifying.  Mostly, I was trying to figure out how we would explain to the rangers that we just killed two trumpeter swans with kayak paddles.  Luckily, we extricated ourselves from the situation and made a bee line back to shore.

We always spend two days paddling along the south shore of Jackson Lake from Spaulding Bay all the way up to Moran Bay.  Great eagle spotting along this stretch and a whole new view of the mountains.  Once, we paddled up the north shore from Colter Bay to Leek's Marina.  We put our kayak up on shore about the same time a busload of Japanese tourists (I don't mean to sound racist, but the bus was in fact filled with Japanese tourists all armed with cameras) emptied into the parking lot.  When we came back for our vessel, two of the tourists were in the boat, holding our paddles, pretending to row, while one of their friends took pictures.  We politely told them that our kayak was not part of their tour and quickly got back on the lake.

We also put in on the Snake right below the dam.  Sometimes we team up with Jim Friend and his red canoe and go all the way to the Pacific Creek access.  One time Kathie and I floated down to Oxbow Bend, played around, and paddled all the way upstream back to the dam.  Paddling upstream on the Snake gave us both a more reverent regard for Lewis and Clark paddling and portaging all the way upstream to the Columbia River and their boats were probably heavier than our yellow kayak.

We don't use the kayak for family picnics at Chatfield any more.  It got to be such a drag hauling the thing on the top of our car with the Wyoming winds buffeting us all the way, that we asked the folks at Jenny if they would let us store the kayak there over the winter.  They were nice enough to say yes.  The nine hour drive to the Tetons became a lot more pleasant.  I'm sorry that Sammi and I won't get to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" at Chatfield anymore, but I'm hoping that sometime in the not to distant future we can all go to the Tetons together.  Her big finish would echo off the canyon walls impressively.

Here's what I'm hoping will happen when we arrive at Jenny next month.  We will be greeted with smiles and hugs like always.  I will ask for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot on ice for our porch and when we drive into Bluebell's driveway, some enterprising bellman (Connor are you reading this?) will have already put our little yellow kayak along the side of the cabin.  I can't imagine a better welcome than that.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You know what our motto is here at camp. Hubris or Ennui, take your pick.

The Two Great Greek Sins

Since Trump has pulled us out of the Paris Accord, I've read at least two analyses of why the GOP has abandoned its once firm belief in climate change.  The articles attributed the position change to massive amounts of money coming from fossil fuel champions like the Koch brothers and also to "Democratic hubris."

According to these articles, it was hubris that led President Obama to issue a flurry of executive orders that recognized the threat of climate change to our planet and future generations and attempted to put in place policies that would ameliorate that threat.  So what happened was that even though the majority of Republicans are aware of man's role in climate change, they reflexively blocked any legislative attempt to get it under control because those attempts were Obama initiatives.  Voting for ANYTHING Obama wanted was, in effect, treason against Republicanism.

So, in his second term and saddled with a Congress completely under Republican control, Obama abandoned any hopes for partisan consensus in the legislature and started issuing orders.  Now the Republicans had another reason to block any attempts at climate change mitigation:  They were standing firm against Obama's hubris and by extension the arrogance of the Democratic Party on all issues relating to the environment.

We can take that a step further and look at the plethora of Trump's executive orders as a "Fuck You" to anything Obama accomplished.  It makes no difference, for instance,  that Obama's recent detente with Cuba has injected billions of extra dollars into our economy--dollars that mostly help out farmers mind you--has helped normalize relations with one of our neighbors, and has helped the living conditions of Cubans.  Forget all that.  Detente with Cuba was an Obama thing.  Let's dismantle it.  Paris was an Obama thing.  Let's dismantle it.  Clean air and water is an Obama thing.  Let's get some good old American brown clouds back, just like the good old days when America was great.  Obama pissed off middle eastern powers by pointing out their records on human rights, let's stop that right now and assure Saudi Arabia that they can do whatever they want to their people because we won't lecture them anymore, especially if they give tons of money to Trump's going concerns.  We will, however, lecture our allies in NATO.  We will, however, be horrified at Cuba's human rights violations (of course, we have to find some first).  Let's make sure everything we do teaches Obama a lesson for having hubris.

My question is that in the face of the GOP's inflexible position on every issue, is there anything Obama, or any Democrat, could say or do that would not have FoxNews yelling "hubris?"  When confronted with an individual or a group willing to reject fact, logic, and the underpinnings of western civilization if they get paid enough, shouldn't we attempt to fight back?  Climate change is real.  Fully 95% of the scientific community understand it is real.  They have the data to prove that it is real.  And because they have that data, that proof, they tend to scoff at the notion that climate change is a hoax perpetrated on the world by the Chinese in order to get an economic advantage over the US.  That doesn't strike me as hubris.  It seems more like realism.

I've got two YMCA stories to illustrate this point.

A few years ago, right after Al Gore stormed the country with "An Inconvenient Truth," Dennis, a FoxNews Republican and small time entrepreneur, walked up to me as I was getting dressed after my shower, and told me that Al Gore and his push for climate change awareness was the biggest threat to American sovereignty.  It was undermining a healthy business community, costing jobs, making us less competitive with China, etc.  He further said that "An Inconvenient Truth," both the book and the film, were examples of communism at work.  I, of course, asked him if he had read or seen either version.  Guess what his answer was?  He certainly was not going to waste his time reading liberal spin.

"C'mon, Jim, don't you know you can spin anything?"  His tone was almost fatherly.

"Yes.  All I have to do is watch FoxNews to know that," I answered.  That was the end of our conversation for that day.  We would have more.  Was my flippant dismissal of a FoxNews speaking point an example of my hubris?  I don't think so.  It was almost nothing like Oedipus' refusal to give way at the place where three roads meet.

Another time.  Dennis again.  He came up to me while I was getting dressed (I can only assume that FoxNews Republicans like confronting people just when they're stepping into their shorts.) and asked me if I wanted Socialism (insert Gasp).  I laughed and said no.  I think capitalism works, but like the Pope, I think the excesses of capitalism, something that our (ahem) exceptional country is so good at, are evil.  Yes.  Evil.  I then asked him to give me an example of something, anything, that Obama had instituted that constituted Socialism.

"Well, everything," he fired back.

"That's no answer," I said.  "Give me one thing that in your opinion is creeping Socialism."

"Opening the borders," he instantly responded.

I finished up packing my stuff and slung my backpack over my shoulder and started walking out of the locker room.  Just as I was about to turn the corner, I went back (I couldn't help myself) and said to Dennis and the other FoxNews types gathered there in various stages of undress, "That's why I envy conservatives.  You get to believe anything you want.  You never let facts and logic get in the way.  Oh, and have a nice day."

I'll bet Dennis and the rest checked my comment off as just another elite liberal arrogantly telling everyone else what to believe.  If I had pointed out that Obama had not, in fact, opened borders and furthermore, opening borders has at best a tenuous link to Socialism, would I have been even more arrogant, more filled with hubris?

The alternative to hubris is ennui, a listlessness bred by indifference.  The constant lies, the misinformed certainties, the worship of the bottom line over anything else, all those things are designed to create indifference, ennui.  Everything is so up in the air that any reaction other than indifference is too depressing, too infuriating.  I can see the whole country slowly settling in for the "banality of evil" that Hannah Arendt described so eloquently.

If Obama's executive orders, if things like the recent Women's Marches all over the country, if our shared outrage is hubris, thank god for it.

It might be our only hope.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Mar-A-Lago West

I think a lot of my discomfort over our new president is with where he chooses to spend his weekends.  Instead of jetting down to Florida to play golf, mingle with his well-heeled guests, and occasionally leak top-secret info to visiting Russians, he should instead head to Jenny Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.  I'm convinced it would give him a new perspective on some of his signed presidential orders and it would certainly force him to look at the environment differently.

In the spirit of full disclosure, let us get some facts out of the way.  There are some similarities between Jenny and Mar-a-Lago.  They both rely on immigrants from Central America on temporary visas to get the work done.  Of course, Trump's Florida resort extends their head hunting to Middle Eastern countries when the pickings south of our border get slim.  Both resorts do manage, however, to help their housekeeping staffs get around walls both real and imagined.  Also, even though I've never been to Mar-a-Lago, I suspect it, like Jenny, is populated by mostly white people.  I've spent two weeks at Jenny for over twenty years now and I don't think I've ever seen a guest who was a person of color.

Come to think of it, one rarely sees non-white people, if you don't count all the oriental people with cameras around their necks, in National Parks.  Here is a case in point.  Katherine once used the outhouse close to the canoe launch at Colter Bay.  As she was walking in, a black woman dressed in hiking clothes was coming out.  As Katherine made a move to use one of the stalls, an elderly white woman warned, "Oh, don't use that one.  A negro was just in there!"  The white lady was taken aback when Katherine informed her that she was scum.  Sad to say, that so far has been our only encounter with a non-white vacationer in the Tetons

The comparisons between Jenny and Mar-a-Lago stop there.  There are plenty of differences that would probably give Boss Tweet pause.  First of all, there is the whole business with tweets.  Not happening at Jenny Lake.  In order to get enough bars to make some kind of a connection on a smart phone, you have to find a relatively open, unforested spot away from the cabins and hope to find a signal.  Once you do find a signal, you have to keep moving because signals come and go in the middle of a national forest.

Even more problematical, there would be nothing to tweet about.  There are no televisions at Jenny.  That means no FoxNews, no bottom crawls telling viewers the latest thing to be furious about.  The Donald would go crazy.  No more pacing up and down in his room ranting about fake news.  No more getting his intel in thirty second sound bites.  There is an old lady who delivers The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today each morning, but all of those involve reading and precious few of the articles in those publications (excepting USA Today) are illustrated.  There would be nothing for him to think about, no deals to make.

Jenny is in a national park.  That is another thing that is anathema to our President.  Just across String Lake from the lodge is prime fracking territory if it weren't for those annoying mountains.  There is no property for sale and if there was, the park service would not allow him to build a tower emblazoned with the name TRUMP all over the place.  And even if he could, the park service would frown on private golf courses running along the bottom of the Cathedral Group.  It would be the whole liberal bias (DISGRACEFUL) running rampant through the national park culture that would drive him up a wall.

To add insult to injury, Jenny Lake Lodge is completely powered by the wind turbine farm you might have noticed along I-80 between Laramie and Rawlings.  I mean here is Jenny, residing in the largest coal producing state in the country, relying on something as ephemeral as wind power.  There ought to be a law and if Trump ever figures out how to govern, there just might be.

Finally, Jenny is a pretty egalitarian place.  Just look at the photo above.  It doesn't shout posh luxury.  Sure, there are lots of wealthy people up there, but nobody seems to notice.  Everybody looks the same after a ten mile hike.  Everybody's cabin is spartan, old, weathered, with the same two rocking chairs on the porch.  Everybody spends time sitting on those porches in the late afternoon.  Everybody's views are at the mercy of the trees that keep growing and getting in the way.  You don't get to tell the park service to cut down a tree that might interrupt your view of The Grand.  Our cabin, Bluebell, started out with a great view of Mount Rockchuck (Wyoming for marmot) that is now being impeded by a stand of lodgepole pines.  Everybody's cabin will have a mouse from time to time.  Sometimes, you might end up with a bat.  Hey, it is a national forest.  The only special treatment is directed toward the critters.

The dining room is the most egalitarian place of all.  There are five prix fixe menus that rotate.  Boss Tweet would have a hard time.  There might be a small steak on one of the menus, but there are no ketchup bottles on the tables.  I doubt if there are any on the entire property.  There are no power tables to preside over.  And even though there are a number of "famous" people who show up, none of the guests seem to care.  They are all too busy getting advice from the wait staff on the best hike for the next day.  Harrison Ford lives in the area and he called up the main desk once to see if he could get a late dinner reservation for his rather large party.  The time he asked for would have made the staff work late and there really wasn't a table big enough to accommodate his party, so Angela told him to try elsewhere.  I mean, how cool is that?  Presidents Clinton and Bush have dined at Jenny, but I'll bet they had a hard time convincing Angela to give them a table and I'll bet none of the guests even looked twice.

I'm a pretty typical Jenny guest.  If Trump and Melania and company were sitting at table thirteen (that's as close to a special table as Jenny has), I wouldn't feel compelled to run over and get an autograph, or tell him what a fine job he was doing.  I would, however, be appalled if he tried to order a steak well done and drown it in ketchup.  For me, that would be a deal breaker.

Vail Associates bought The Grand Teton Lodge Company a number of years ago.  It was one of those mergers that business types would say made good sense (I guess), but most of the guests I knew were outraged by the whole corporate scene trying to invade our space.  One of Vail's first ideas was to build a conference center on the property that would act as a draw for corporate events, board of director getaways, society weddings, etc.  It would be the kind of space for corporate meetings complete with power point presentations, white boards, continental breakfasts, name tags, and team building exercises (Just as soccer is impossible without traffic cones, business must be impossible without team building exercises.).  But the long time guests at Jenny were having none of it.  We wrote letters, made angry phone calls, and were getting ready to storm Vail's corporate headquarters.  I'm proud to say that Vail caved and allowed Jenny to retain its charm.

Donald Trump just wouldn't fit in.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Desperately Trying To Think About Something Besides Politics

The String Lake Bridge

That is Katherine on the String Lake Bridge standing beneath the Cathedral Group in Grand Teton National Park.  We have a professional photograph of this same scene (sans Katherine) framed and hanging above our kitchen table.  It is possible to spend two weeks at Jenny Lake Lodge hiking a new trail every day without ever getting in your car.  We've tried it often, but the lure of the art galleries in Jackson and the need to haul our kayak to certain distant put-ins have always put a crimp in our plan.

The String Lake Bridge is notable because it is only a quarter mile from our cabin door and marks the beginning of most of our favorite hikes in the park.  From the exact point where Katherine is standing  it is a twenty-one mile loop up Cascade Canyon, into the North Fork, on up to Lake Solitude, up and over Paintbrush Divide, down past Holly Lake and finally back to the bridge.  Luckily, that trail is more often than not snowed in when we visit, so we've only made that circuit four times.  Snow or not, we always make the eighteen miles up and back to Solitude.  Making it up to Solitude every year is how we assure ourselves that we are still young.  We know there will be a time when the staff at Jenny Lake Lodge will fervently ask us to reconsider the hike and then when we still take our eighty year old selves up that trail, the front desk will undoubtedly alert the park rangers to keep a lookout for our bodies crumpled somewhere along the trail.

Actually, that has already happened.  We started out at eight one morning for the Paintbrush loop.  When we got back at five that afternoon, the relief on the faces of the folks behind the desk was palpable.  It seems that just after we left, there were reports of a mother grizzly and cubs foraging along the trail on the way to Holly Lake.  The rangers closed the trail just minutes after we set out.  We made it back, tired but still in one piece.  We did hear some major growling on the way up, but we just attributed it to overactive imaginations.

You can also access the String Lake Loop, the Jenny Lake Loop, and the valley trail that goes from one end of the park to the other, all from that bridge.  It serves as a milestone on the return trip from any of those hikes.  The last mile of a hike is always the worst.  You're exhausted, you are out of water, and your feet are beginning to hurt.  It feels like the trail head is just around the next curve, but it never is.  But there is a moment when the trail crests above the river rushing to feed Jenny Lake and the bridge is just visible.  When that moment comes, I feel just like a trail horse must feel when he can smell the stable and I start walking faster, thinking about the drink I'm about to have while I recover on the porch of Bluebell.

One year Katherine and I hiked up and back to Solitude on our first day.  Two days later, we did the whole loop.  We were feeling so good about ourselves that we went back up to Solitude on our last day.  That was also the year we did Jackson Peak for the first time (If I'm  not mistaken Jackson Peak is the summit where Rocky jumps up and down just before he has his fight with Drago.).  We also did Heart Lake in Yellowstone, The Lewis Channel, Hermitage Point, Amphitheater Lake, and, oh yeah, the loop around Emma Matilda.  That's right at 150 miles.  That's why, in spite of the amazing food and wine at Jenny, we usually come back home weighing less than we did when we left.

But we're getting older.  I can tell by the look on my kids' faces when they watch me, or when they roll their eyes and repeat things that I don't catch the first time.  This year, I am happy to report, it looks like there will be too much snow on Paintbrush to do the loop without crampons and ice axes (no way).  Jackson Peak is too precipitous.  There are too many grizzlies at Heart Lake, and Lewis Channel is just too buggy.  Our 150 mile vacations are history.

We will do Solitude, but that last stretch up through the camping zone and into the lake will be a lot harder than it used to be.  We will both be huffing and puffing.  But after that we will settle for pleasant little loops around Phelps, Bradley/Taggert, Bear Paw, String Lake, and Jenny Lake.  That will be more like fifty miles in two weeks.  Not bad for old people, but nothing to brag about.

Mostly, we will spend a lot of time hanging out on our porch, driving into town for lunch at Bin 22, one of the best tapas places I know, and checking out the art at Rare Gallery.  As one gets older, one must make adjustments.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bear Sightings

Above  is a photograph of a rather large black bear looking to catch a fish at Phelps Lake.  I remember the moment quite well.  It came as a fitting conclusion to a hike that was filled with such sightings.

Phelps Lake is on The Rockefeller Preserve in the Tetons and we always start our vacations at Jenny Lake Lodge by making it our first hike.  It works well as an reintroduction to the mountains we love so well.  It is about a six mile loop around the lake that the Rockefeller children used to play on when they vacationed in Jackson Hole.  Since the hike simply circles the lake, it is relatively flat with only a few uphill sections.  It gives us a chance to catch our breaths before we tackle more ambitious treks.  It provides wonderful views of the middle Teton with The Grand and Mt. Owen peaking out in the background.  And it never fails to offer a wildlife encounter or two.  We usually see a fox at the beginning of the trail.  There are, of course, plenty of deer and a few elk hanging out in the woods and almost without exception, there is a bear hanging out down by the lake far enough from the trail for comfort.  After the hike, we usually reward ourselves by heading to Teton Village for something to eat at The Mangy Moose.

The bear sighting pictured above was a little different.  We were hiking with Barbara, who came up to stay for a couple of nights, and the bear encounters commenced at the start of the hike.  We were walking up the beginning of the trail when we met a family of hikers hurrying back toward the trail head.  "There's a bear and her cub on the trail just ahead," they informed us, a little out of breath.  So, we had a decision to make.  We were looking forward to the hike and didn't really want to turn around.  On the other  hand, it would be embarrassing to get mauled by a bear on our first hike of the season.  I, being the brave outdoorsman I am, decided that we could just be patient and kind of follow the bears up the trail.  Bears, moose, elk, and the like prefer using the man made trails to bushwhacking through the dense undergrowth off the trails.  I'm not sure how they survived before the army corps of engineers built the first trails in the park.

Sure enough, we followed the mama and her cub all the way to the far end of the lake without incident and there were enough bear sightings of the two foraging to provide plenty of breathtaking moments.  When we got to the other side of the lake on our way back down to the trailhead, things changed.  I saw Barbara walking briskly back up the trail toward me.  "Bear!" she said.  I looked ahead and there was definitely a bear smack dab in the middle of the trail looking back at me like he was daring me to get closer.  This was not a mama bear and he was busy marking his territory with giant claw marks raking down the trunks of trees.  The sight, like every bear encounter, took my breath away.

Well, I wasn't about to turn around and retrace my steps that close to the trailhead, the prospect of a beer or two at the restaurant within reach.  I  held my ground and tried to look big and brave, all the while avoiding eye contact.  (Important tip:  Bears are like groups of old white Republicans walking down the street in ill-fitting baseball caps.  Avoid eye contact and move to the other side of the street.)  The bear finally mosied off the trail and down to the water's edge where he proceeded to decimate a few trout.  It was a great moment and I managed to get a few photos before we moved off.

I'm writing this memory in a valiant effort to forget about political stuff.  That's what is so great about going to Jenny every year.  I can fast from the news for two weeks, eat great food, drink from a remarkable wine list, hike those wonderful mountains, and commune with a few wild beasts.  They are so much better than the tame beasts I have to read about on a daily basis while I'm at home.

Running into bears makes you forget all your other troubles and just concentrate on the moment.  We had our first close up bear encounter some twenty years ago at Surprise Lake.  We were sitting on a rock on shore eating our lodge packed lunch when I looked up from my piece of chicken to notice a mama bear and her cub walking directly toward me.  I got up, grabbed my food, and backed away.  I told Katherine to do likewise and she did, but she noticed that I had left my camera on the rock and, unaware of the bear, went back to retrieve it.  She raised up with the camera in hand only to come face to face with the bear!  I mean, they were almost touching noses.  You would have been impressed by her aplomb.  She backed away slowly and let the two bears pass.  Another thrilling moment and she saved a very expensive Nikon to boot.

There was another encounter with a cinnamon black bear that we of course thought was a Grizzly on the trail to Amphitheater Lake.  We just turned a corner when there it was eating berries under a giant lodgepole pine.  Another thrill.

More often than not, there will be a bear wandering around the cabins at Jenny.  That's why it is a bad idea to have open bags of food available in your cabin while vacationing in a national forest.  Usually, it will just be an occasional mouse that attacks, but sometimes it might be a bear.  I was sitting on our cabin porch having a gin and tonic when I got up to look around the side of the cabin.  There it was.  A mother bear and her cub were walking right past my kayak and up to my porch.  I grabbed the gin and tonic (I figured bears like berries and gin is made from juniper berries.)  and went inside to watch the bear slowly walk past our porch headed for the main lodge.  When she was safely in the distance, I refilled my drink and reclaimed my porch.

We will be up there in just another month.  I can't wait for our reunion with all our friends at Jenny, both staff and guests.  I can't wait for the reunion with the mountains and lakes and the alpenglow that colors Teewinott at dinner time.  And I can't wait to show those bears that we have come back for more.

Friday, March 31, 2017

All my favorite sitcom characters were Trump voters

One of the many ways I can tell I'm getting old is that I would rather watch reruns of old television sitcoms than watch a new show.  I've never seen an episode of "West Wing," never watched "Parks and Recreation," and have no intention of seeing "The Young Pope."  I would list other examples here, but I don't know any of the titles.  Instead, I watch reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show" on the Sundance network.  That's on Thursdays.  On Fridays I watch reruns of "The Bob Newhart Show."  Wednesday means "MASH."  Since I have committed all those shows to memory, I can watch without having to pay attention.  That's one of the other signs of old age.  It is increasingly difficult to pay attention.

Yesterday, I watched the episode of Andy Griffith where Opie and his young friends get into Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  In the course of their play, they run into a derelict old bum living in a cardboard shanty outside of town.  The guy is a good story teller and he feeds Opie's desire to be the best Robin Hood he can be.  At the bum's urging, Opie and his gang run to their homes and abscond with left over fried chicken, maybe a ham or two, and one of Aunt Bea's prized apple pies.

Andy and Barney quickly jump on the Mayberry crime wave and discover, after one of those father-son things between Andy and Opie, that the kids are enabling the old bum.

Andy, being the wise father we have all come to love even though if he had been a registered voter back in November, he would have most assuredly voted for Trump, goes out to the old guy's cardboard camp with the kids and confronts him.  He assures him that he could get a job doing road work, or night watchman work, or security guard work and start off on the road to financial solvency and redemption.  The old guy wants no part of it and runs off, leaving his cardboard mess and a couple of partially consumed hams behind.  Opie and the rest of the gang are shocked and disillusioned, but wiser.  They have learned the important lesson that you have to earn your own way in the world and the people who don't are lazy liars and cheats.

I was probably 12 when I first saw that episode and I took the lesson to heart.  Watching the same propaganda at 68, on the other hand, was infuriating.  I started thinking of all the other shows of that era that used the lazy bum trope.  Beaver had a few run-ins with the homeless, all of whom were lazy and shiftless.  Ward came to the rescue just like Andy and exposed those bums and their hypocrisy.  Jim Anderson on "Father Knows Best" certainly ran his share of bums out of town.  Uncle Charley taught Fred McMurray's three sons about the value of self-sufficiency.

I loved those shows when I was a kid.  I still do.  But the message behind those shows is nothing more than right wing propaganda.  No wonder Ronald Reagan won an election by making us all outraged at "Welfare Queens."  No wonder that part of being a "compassionate conservative" for George W. Bush was giving tax breaks to the wealthy so their largesse might trickle down to the undeserving poor.  No wonder Mitt Romney excoriated the "takers" in a speech to his base of billionaires.  And no wonder pseudo-compassionate people like Paul Ryan want to eliminate anything that smells of income redistribution in an effort to help the poor develop the skills they need to not be dependent on the rest of us.  What a guy.

In one of the most horrible conversations of my life, I was talking to a couple of dear friends who were outraged at the idea of helping the homeless because they knew that a large number of the homeless were making more than 50 grand a year and didn't have to pay taxes!  God!  If that's true, being homeless pays more than being an Uber driver.  I asked them how I can tell, when I drive past a group of homeless gathered around a Sterno can and leaning against their shopping carts on the corner of Lawrence and Park Avenue, which ones are making the big bucks so I can be sure not to give them any money.  They didn't have an answer.  Neither does "The Andy Griffith Show."