Camping – Thieves!
October 30, 2009, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Olivia has looked mighty shifty lately.

Olivia has looked mighty shifty lately.

In the desert you need lots of water.  We had six jugs of it, three of which we stored under a bush near our campsite.  When you camp, you need wood.  Although our wood was pretty terrible for starting fires during wind storms, we rationed it out and had some left over for our second night in the camp.  We left it for the day next to the extra water under the brush.

O! How innocent we were!  Naïve Panglossian waifs, wandering the cruel and villainous world mercifully free from the hidden knowledge of human sin!  Traipsing about, as if our private property would be respected by the slithering bands of rapacious brigands that surrounded us.  Under our very noses they lurked, but we could not smell their porcine stench!  Near to our tent they sniffed and leered, coveting our water and shitty logs.  In our blind stupor of guilelessness, we left our things freely in the open, instead of securing them responsibly.

When we returned to the campsite, our wood and water was gone.  Someone had taken it.  Banditry!  Robbery!  We were enraged.  I was so filled with inflamed with boiling rage that I sat on the bench and sulked.  Emily, irrational with wrath, walked calmly to the camp host to inquire about the matter.  The host was confused, professed ignorance, and hypothesized that the fire pit cleaner had taken the stolen goods.  He was clearly a co-conspirator, receiving kickbacks for looking the other way!

We luckily had stashed some water in our car.  Though we were in danger of dying of thirst, we had about three jugs to get us through the night.  We had no wood to make a fire to eat food.  As I howled and stomped, uncomprehending the injustice that had befallen me, Emily walked over to a neighboring campsite and borrowed some wood.  I did not recognize the wood, so I approved its use.


God approved.  The wind went away.  And we ate Frito chili pie, greatest of the camping delicacies.


Tasting the delicious Frito Chili Pie.

Recipe for Frito Chili Pie

1 Can Chili – Spicy

1 bag of mexican blend shredded cheese

1 bag fritos

Cook the chili.  Place fritos in bowl.  Cover fritos with chili.  Sprinkle on cheese and stir.  Feast.


Arches – Angry Red Planet.
October 30, 2009, 2:03 pm
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Petroglyphs at Arches.  I've loosely translated this as: "That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die."

According to my translation, these petroglyphs read: "That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die."

When I told Emily we would be visiting the most famous arch in America, she sort of looked away like she does when I mention that I played Dungeons and Dragons in middle school or that I wore only sweatpants until 6th grade.  To reach it, you have to hike up long flat outcroppings of sandstone slickrock, following a trail marked out by cairns, or piles of stones stacked by park rangers and sweaty hippies as a public service.



Delicate Arch sneaks up on you.  We climbed up a path that clung to the edge of a cliff, when we turned a corner and suddenly stumbled into it.  It is much larger than it appears on Utah license plates and Ken Burns documentaries.  Our sense of discovery was sabotaged by twenty teenage schoolgirls wearing a variety of sweatshirts for colleges they clearly were too young to attend, giggling and gossiping.  Two scavenging ravens flew with the group as it walked past us away from the arch.  Fun fact: Ravens mate for life, so whenever you see one you can usually find its mate nearby.  They were following the food.  Or the girls were all satanists.



Although initially suspicious, Emily recognized and enjoyed the arch.





Landscape Arch

Canyonlands – An Island in the Sky.
October 27, 2009, 9:06 pm
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Canyonlands National Park

Nothing can prepare you for the mammoth scope of Canyonlands.  It mocks your tiny size and your weak little body.  In point of fact, it does not care whether you exist at all.  It has stood for millions upon millions of years, thrust upwards in a time before mammals even existed.


Canyonlands, like Arches, is filled with “geological anomalies.”  One of the craziest of these is “Upheaval Dome” which looks like a massive crater with a mountain growing inside.  Scientists speculate that it is either salt crushing upwards out of the rock or that it is the remnant of a killer meteor.


Canyonlands National Park is separated into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the Rivers.  The most accessible, featuring a number of dramatic vistas and knee-shaking cliffs, is Island in the Sky, a broad mesa, 1,000 feet high, separated from the mainland by a narrow land-bridge.  The rock was carved through millions of years by high speed winds that still slice through your clothes.  The Island in the Sky district is only 30 minutes from Moab, yet it feels isolated and desolate.  Another 3 hours south of Moab is The Needles, which lies at the other end of the vastness pictured at the top.  It is named for tall spires that point out of the rocky floor of the canyon.  The Colorado and Green Rivers run through the base of the canyons.  The Maze is one of the most inaccessible places in the United States, requiring serious MacGuyver survival skills to penetrate.  Lacking survival skills of any kind, let alone those of the Duct tape + Condom + vinegar = explosion variety, we kept to Island in the Sky.


Mesa Arch in Canyonlands

We camped nearby at a BLM site.  We had collected supplies from Moab, and felt confident of our chances in a fight against nature.  However, our first Man v. Wild challenge soon appeared.  How does one start a fire in 15 mile an hour wind?  In the end, the soup was eaten only slightly warm.


While training for the British SAS, Olivia learned how to survive in the Scottish fen for a month with only a fountain pen and a picture of the Queen.

As many of you know, while working on the Obama campaign I lived in a tent above the Pontiac field office.  Granted, the tent was set up inside the living room of a two-bedroom apartment one floor above.  Still, this little green tent has defeated John McCain.  We questioned whether it could stand up to the winds of Canyonlands.  At night it felt like a haunting.  The wind bashed against the sides of the little green tent, demanding entry into our warm abode.  Several times I awoke with a start, having dreamt that some mad Utahan was attempting to force his way inside.  It was only the wind.


Emily preparing her nest.

Arches – an alien planet.
October 13, 2009, 10:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


We drove into Moab last night, and spent the last few hours of daylight exploring a sliver of Arches National Park.  The function of millions of years of rain, wind, and ice, these monstrous rocks and swooping cliffs look like Mars on Earth.  No national park is better than any other.  It would be false to say Rocky Mountain National Park was more beautiful than Jean Lafitte Batataria Wildlife Preserve.  However, I think it would be legitimate to say this is the fucking weirdest.


We will be gone for several days, camping and hiking in Canyonlands National Park.  I might not be able to update until we get to Sacramento this weekend.  This, I hope, will give you something to look at while we are away.



the "Three Gossips"

the "Three Gossips"




Colorado – The bugle of the Elk.
October 13, 2009, 10:36 am
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A bugle of the elk is an eerie sound.  It sounds far off, even if you are right next to him.


An Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park

My favorite memories of my childhood have nothing to do with cities.  They are of summers spent in a cabin in Northern Wisconsin.  It was built of logs with my grandfather’s bare hands on the shore of Butternut Lake.  Fishing with him, and how his rough hands grabbed at the sunfish in the little white bucket.  Watching a garter snake eat a toad near the woodpile, terrified at the toad’s scream.  My mother moving reluctant turtles from the middle of the road.  The outlines of majestic loons on the lake at dusk.  Spotting a family of black bears near the outhouse.  Catching crayfish with my brother, repulsed by their deformed little faces and marveling at their articulated bodies.  Swimming with my father in the lake and watching the minnows dance away from my grasping hands.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve never felt completely comfortable in a city, though I have enjoyed living in them.  A city fosters a kind of identity politics that the wild lacks.  Boosters and home town people trumpet the individual identity of the city.  We use the city as a proxy for our own personality.  “I’m from Manhattan, so I love real estate” or “I’m from Detroit, so I am used to pain and forever hope that we will rise again” or “I’m from Gary, Indiana and I just want to leave.”  A city reflects your personality better than other cities and so you want to live there.  The drawback to this is that even the most welcoming city can push people away.  While I’ve loved living in a city, seeking out the soul of a place, I have never felt like I belonged to one.  Even though I feel ownership and a deep love of Detroit, I’ll never achieve the level of authenticity I feel pressured to have.  I was not born there, and I have never lived in the city itself.  Nor do I have any particular claim to D.C. or Chicago.  In fact, I have lived many different places in my life and belonged completely to none of them.

A grove of aspen.

A grove of aspen.

In the new documentary about the National Parks by Ken Burns, someone interviewed notes that when we visit a National Park we feel ownership over it.  By virtue of it being a federal entity, and a national idea, we feel that we have a special part of it.  This is not necessarily true of a state park, they said: if you come to it as a visitor, you will not feel the same sense of responsibility over it as you would a National Park.


When I am outside,  I know I belong.  I am never an outsider.  Maybe it is because I spent my childhood outside, among the smell of the pine needles, the trickle of sap from a trunk, and the crawling insects I would collect in jars.  Or maybe everyone feels that way, and that is what makes it special.


Our hosts in Denver drove us out to the Rocky Mountain National Park.  There, just feet from the side of the road, sat a herd of elk.  Cars lined the roadway, as people peered from opened windows or exited the car to take pictures.  In the middle of my own astonishment at the beauty of the animals and my own picture taking, I forgot about the cars.  I forgot about myself.  I forgot about not having a job and not having a place to live.  I forgot about my mountain of debt.  I forgot about how we had to find a place to stay the next night, about how we were going to get across Nevada.  All that I cared about in the world was a bull elk in front of the mountains, bugling at his harem, nudging them to stay away from several other bulls straggling to the outside of his herd.


Male elks bugle to attract females.




Taos – Mediocre Novelty T-shirts.
October 13, 2009, 2:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

We went to Taos, about 2 hours north of Santa Fe, as searchers.  We came hoping to find two things: a celebrity sighting or a novelty t-shirt.  We left with neither.

Taos Plaza

Taos Plaza

Taos has become a favorite for celebrities of a certain obnoxious type.  As Emily described it, Taos is a happy medium between the the hokey southwest flavor of Santa Fe and the competitive out-doorsy ethic of Colorado.  Men wear powerful mustaches and flannel jackets without flinching.  Women don big safari hats and drive Subaru Outbacks with authority.  Taos is the home to Val Kilmer, who is now probably too fat to live here, Julia Roberts, and Donald Rumsfeld.  Although we treated ourselves to a dinner at a very posh establishment, we did not see any of these beautiful people.

Is this Val Kilmer in disguise?

Is this Val Kilmer in disguise?

In our minds we see a t-shirt.  It has a wolf howling at the moon.  It has some purple in the design.  It looks a little airbrushed.  Perhaps there is an elk or an Indian feather.  We began our search for this shirt in all six of Taos’s novelty t-shirt stores.  Although we found many gaudy possibilities, none met our exacting standards.  We did find many shirts and trinkets that depicted Kokopelli, the humpbacked Hopi fertility god who is, for reasons beyond understanding, ubiquitous across the Southwest.   There are Kokopelli hats, shirts, mugs.  Kokopelli sells motels, cars, and time shares.  The Hopi and Zuni usually depicted Kokopelli with a gigantic phallus, as he was their fertility trickster and it stands to reason he was all about knocking up ladies.  The Kokopelli who bids you to sleep at his motel room, however, does not boast an erection.  I can’t help but feel that it might be more effective if he did.  Instead, he is emasculated.

Donald Rumsfeld hitting on Emily.

Donald Rumsfeld hitting on Emily.

Santa Fe – Climbing the Mountain.
October 13, 2009, 2:26 am
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Atalaya Mountain, minutes outside of Santa Fe.

Atalaya Mountain, minutes outside of Santa Fe.

Santa Fe lies at the feet of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains.  The Atalaya mountain is just one of the hump-backed peaks.  The southern face of the mountains tend to be rocky and arid, grown over with desert plants baking in the sun.  The northern face looks more typical of the Rockies: a thick canvass of evergreens.

Olivia was confused why a penguin would be in the southwest American desert.

Olivia was confused why a penguin would be in the southwest American desert.

We hiked up the mountain to the peak overlooking Santa Fe at an elevation of over 9,000 feet.  Overfed from our trip and underexercised, we labored under heavy breath and sweat to the top.  The elevation did not help.  For the first time we could feel it affect us.


The winding, switchback laden trail tricked us with false peaks. We would defeat a particularly steep rock scramble, looking forward to finally conquering the mountain, only to find that the trail shifted left or right and took us even higher.  But as you invest the energy, so your defiance at the mountain increases.  The more it frustrates you, the more you must make it suffer.  And how does one make an immovable object that has stood for millions of years suffer?  You stand on top of it so that you are taller than it is.*


*It is important to note that the trees do not find this particularly intimidating.