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It’s Denver… with Rain! 1 November 2011

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Seattle, that is. C– and I journeyed northwest a week ago to explore the only other American city in which we’d consider living (Leadville notwithstanding). Despite what Seattleites will tell you, it’s just as rainy and gray as you’d expect, but somehow no one seems to mind. We sure didn’t. But maybe that’s because we’re from Denver where the slightest hint of moisture in the air sends folks into a frenzy of sorts. We press against the windows watching rain fall as if it were Manna. Suffice it to say, Denver types have a preoccupation with water, and seeing so much of it in one place is a little surreal. Seattleites, on the other hand, attach fenders to their road bikes and set out on rides oblivious to the drizzle. That’s crazy.

The water issue aside, the two places seemed in our limited experience, fairly similar. Yelp and, improbably, Yahoo! Answers seem to agree on that point. Both cities offer a liveable, walkable downtown that extend beyond just the city core into the surrounding neighborhoods, leading me to believe that my upbringing in the suburbs of St. Louis cultivated an irrational fear of urban places. Apparently, in other major cities, taking a stroll downtown won’t get you shot. This is happy news. I’d continue at length about the great migration of twenty-somethings to urban neighborhoods, but that’d be a dreadful bore, so how about the coast?

Seattle sits on the edge of Puget Sound, a body of water which probably holds more liquid than every Colorado puddle combined, but you’ll have to drive a couple hours to reach the true shore. It’s a worthwhile trip if you’re visiting, particularly since involves a ferry journey across the sound. But once you’re out of Seattle, the Washington countryside begins, green as anything you’ve ever seen. There’s an actual rainforest up there, the Hoh, I think. Fog rolls off the mountains; wood smoke fills the air. Is that a bald eagle across the lake?

And then you arrive in Forks. The town has achieved a kind of notoriety (or fame, depending upon your perspective) as the setting for the Twilight series. This has evidently made an otherwise bleak and miserable little city on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula a hot spot for a certain sort of tourist, and if you can imagine imagine Bella and Edward doing anything, you’ll find that there’s tour for that in Forks. We even ran across Twilight firewood. You guess is as good as mine. Too bad the whole thing was filmed in British Columbia, but at least you’ll find a good latte at the grocery’s coffee shop.

Forks leads to the shore,and if you’ve never wandered across a deserted coastline in the Pacific Northwest, then you’ve yet to experience one of life’s great joys. This is America as it was before anyone knew it by that name. The cedars and the Douglas firs run right up to the beach and extend impenetrably back to Mount Olympus. The fog hangs everywhere, a gauze holding back the rest of the world. Only the evolving dunes of the Outer Banks can approach the vast desolation of that landscape. There is nothing to the ocean except wave upon wave upon wave.

Coming to Colorado, I’d wondered whether the mountains ever grew old, whether they became background noise. I can report that they haven’t, but standing there along the shore, I wondered if the ocean, too, could lose its appeal. It can’t. You come to Seattle for the water.

Colorado has a Wyoming: Hiking the San Juans 19 September 2011

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Everyone in Denver wishes he’d spent some time in the San Juans. Just talk to anyone in the hiking community around here and the story’s the same, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to get down there for ages. Just never had the chance.” At six hours in drive time alone from the Front Range, even the nearest peaks aren’t very doable in a weekend. And the 14ers that draw the most folks require at least a day-long hike beyond the trailhead. The rest of the range is similarly remote.

Still, this being Colorado, when I made the trip on a Labor Day weekend, I expected to run into a bunch of other hikers who’d finally received the opportunity to spend some extra time in southwestern Colorado. Except they never materialized. The town of Creede, last stop before the Rio Grande Reservoir and points deeper into the range, bustled with Texans getting into and out of their trucks. I also ran into a costumed bachelorette party which, curiously, included the bachelor too. Stranger things have happened.
Creede’s a curious town, though. Its rise and fall follow the standard Colorado mining arc, but no ski area has resuscitated its fortunes, leaving me to wonder what exactly happens to a mountain town of 400 during the winter. So I asked the girl making a burrito at the cafe.

“Well, there’s pond hockey.”

“No, I mean what do you folks do when the tourists aren’t around?”

“Oh, well, this is a good place to be if you like spending time with your friends and drinking beer.”

“Those are good things.”

“Then maybe you’d like Creede during the winter.”

But this was a post about the San Juans.

I wandered in on my own on a Saturday morning with plans to visit a formation called “The Window” and the less descriptively named Ute Basin. You’d do well to make the same trip. The whole area lies within the Weminuche Wilderness, a protected tract of nearly 500,000 acres that covers Colorado’s most remote and jagged peaks: the Needles range, the Grenadiers, Chicago Basin.

The hike in follows the Los Pinos River, which got me to thinking that Pinos Altos would be a good name for a mountain cabin. Hiking alone, that sort of thing gets stuck in your head. Pinos Altos. A one-room cabin with a wood burning stove, maybe some pelts of varmints hanging from the rafters. The smell of wood smoke.  Pinos Altos would exist in a state of perpetual winter, where the snow was always falling, the fire was always burning, and we were always just returning from a long day of something difficult and rewarding. You spend a few miles thinking about that when you hike alone.

Eventually the trail turned toward the Window itself, leaving the Pinos River behind and below, its meadows receding around the bend. I’d met one man earlier, returning from a solo hike to the summit of the Rio Grande Pyramid. “Trail goes up that way for a couple miles,” he said, “Then you’ll hit a blow down, and if you start thinking, ‘This is steep,’ it is steep, and you should go back around. There’s a cairn.” And we continued.

The Window comes out of nowhere. You see the Pyramid, rising above most everything else, then its arm extending south. But there’s this chunk out of it, plain as day, and that’s the window. Evidently, the whole thing’s volcanic, a bunch of breccia that doesn’t get anyone except geologists excited, and as volcanic rock tends to do, it fell apart. I learned from a retiree the next morning–he ran into me as I was striking camp–that the Spanish used to use the Window as a guide post of

sorts as they smuggled gold out of the San Juans. Moved tons and tons of it, evidently, though some partnership with the Utes. He’d read about it in a book titled “The Window” in Spanish, which he suggested I read if I could remember the word for window. Luckily, Google Translate can.

As you might imagine, the Window is suitably spectacular. The view is a postcard from Wyoming. With the addition of a glacier or two the Needles could pass for the Winds, and it all unfolds before you without any indication of a human presence. The whole of the San Juans surrounds the Window and from every angle the mountains stack up on one another until they disappear beyond the horizon.

This leads me to believe that the San Juans could in fact pass for Wyoming. Nowhere else in Colorado feels so high and so lonesome. Every valley ought to have a town, but look, and a braided river winds its way through a meadow, perhaps on its way to Los Pinos. If I were the Spanish, I’m not sure why I’d ever smuggle anything out of this place—better to sit there and admire it, alone preferably, but good company could work too.

Invariably, a twinge of sadness accompanies a departure from a high point like The Window. The trail descends, the views disappearing along the way. But this trail holds more in store, and as two hikers told me on Ute Pass, it would only get better.

It did.


Another saddle and more views down a web of drainages. Where could they lead? Then along another ridge staring into the Needles. A thousand lakes, it seemed, or at least a few. These were the winds all over again. A trail, trees, lakes, the rolling expanse. Here was Colorado before the mining booms and busts, before Creede, before even the Spanish and the Utes and all that gold.

Past Ute Lake, then Twin Lakes, it had to end. The Continental Divide Trail—the unbroken ribbon from Mexico to Canada—continued north, but my route carried me back to the reservoir, and my waiting car. The hunters camped at Twin Lakes never called out a greeting, and no one else appeared along the trail to greet.

An evening in a meadow, then a frosty sunrise. The hike out through Aspens. A family of stoats and more thoughts about Pinos Altos.

I’m not sure where all the thoughts go when you hike alone, spending that time with yourself. To be in your head that long, it should drive a person crazy, but it never does. It can’t. Too many mountains wait out there.


Cycling Tennessee Pass 26 July 2010

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Three posts constitutes a theme, I think, and if that theme is that cycling is becoming my summer complement to skiing… well, I’m okay with that. I can now legitimately say I ski and ride. That thanks to Colorado’s near-limitless and beautiful road riding opportunities. Really, as someone who enjoys writing, I ought to know more and better words for describing  the scenery in this state, but it defies a thesaurus. It’s jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, arresting, gorgeous, Edenic, paradisiacal. It’s just super duper if you ask me. Thankfully, writing is about nouns and verbs, not adjectives.

But cycling is about places to see and hills to climb and beers to be had afterward. For all that, you need to check out Tennessee Pass–ideally, from Minturn to Leadville. And back. The 60 miles involved may sound like more than enough, but after the first thirty, it no longer matters. It is very nearly all downhill, which of course means that half the ride went uphill. But no matter.

Check out the elevation profile:

Click to view full size. Battle Mountain is that first bump. It's more of a workout than it seems here.

Expect to burn in the neighborhood of 3100 calories. If you’re like me and measure workouts in fast food menu items, that’s a lot of McFlurries–or about three Chipotle burritos. And you thought they were healthy…

The ride begins in Minturn, a town of unclear purpose between Vail and Avon, and about a two hour drive from Denver. Claire and I departed on Saturday afternoon through a festival of some sort, one of those catch-all mountain town-type festivals that feature “local wares,” dream catchers, and bears carved out of stumps. As a rule, everyone who owns a ski condo shops at these festivals. I hate bears carved out of stumps.

Soon enough, because Minturn is about 100 feet long, US 24 heads out of town and turns up the valley following the Eagle River and a now-defunct rail line. Bumps and breaks in the road make this section less pleasant than it could be, but its two miles offer an acceptable warm-up for the climb that follows.

At almost two miles on the dot, the rails and road split way. The former continues its riparian journey and the latter clings to the valley walls, climbing from 8000 to 9200 feet in about four miles at somewhere between 6 and 7.5% grades the whole way. To a skier’s mind, that sounds like barely enough to start moving, but on wheels, gradients in that neighborhood exact a brutal toll on the lungs. The views at least remain a bright spot: the river that continues to fall farther below, 13,237′ Notch Moutain, and a several hundred foot cascade that falls into the Eagle River on the right.

Nearing the summit brings Gilman into view. Improbably perched on the cliffs overlooking the river, the town no longer serves any purpose. The EPA signed residents’ eviction notices in 1984 and declared the properties and the adjacent mine a Superfund site–uninhabitable. It’s not a ghost town in the romantic sense of the term, but in every other way, right down to the cars left in the carports, Gilman lays bare the forces that have shaped the west. If the funding comes through, the whole area will become a ski resort, replete with chalets and overpriced Bud Light. You may wonder how this squares with the area’s toxic status. The government, however, seems less curious.

The highways falls for a mile and a half after Gilman, a welcome and cooling relief that ends with the steel arch bridge at Red Cliff. If you have a camera, you will take a photo here not because anyone will want to see it, but because the bridge is that cool.

The next seven or so miles continue the upward trend, albeit at a less severe angle, leveling off as the road runs alongside the remains of Camp Hale, training ground for the 10th Mountain Division during and for sometime after World War II. Wikipedia also places it as a CIA training ground for Tibetan dissidents, drawing parallels with the Bay of Pigs invasion. For what it’s worth, this seems like one of the more, well, imaginative ideas I’ve discovered Wikipedia in a while. But who knows. It could be true. I could do more research, but rumors inspire more interest than fact.

What is true, is that the 10th Mountain Division spent most of its time skiing and shooting guns, occasionally at Italians, which is what its soldiers were trained to do in the first place. Another leg-burning six miles uphill (Be sure to stop at the “Standard Service” shack on the right for free water.) leaves you at Tennessee Pass’s 10,424′ summit,  Ski Cooper and a memorial for the men who died during that campaign. It also displays the 10th Mountain’s emblem: a fully-armed panda on skis. This Rambo Panda. Rambo Panda on skis.  I make a promise of payment in PBR or the bad beer of your choice if you can find a piece of ski gear that features it.

Descending from Tennessee Pass feels like entering another world. Gone are the cliffs and pines and bordered the road for the last 25 miles. Now, the highway stretches straight as a string across the valley toward Leadville. Fourteen thousand foot peaks loom on either side, and cows mill in bucolic bliss. If this isn’t the valley where every beef manufacturer makes its commercials, I don’t know what is. Feed lots have to suck after tenure at this, the Upper East Side of grazing addresses.

One last push and you roll into Leadville. I’ll save the description for another day, but suffice it to say the town warrants a stop when you’re in the neighborhood–if only because it offers the best happy hour on earth: from 3-7 two PBRs for $1. Drop in after a stop at High Mountain Pies. It’s a just reward for the 30 miles you put in, and the thirty breezy miles you’ll have ahead. But you really don’t need all that fuel. The return home takes half the effort and is twice the fun. Everyone likes going downhill.

Props to Claire for the majority of these photos.

Independence Day Hipsterism? 8 July 2010

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Ian S. downs his glass of Jack Daniels and steps up to the piano, an 1880s Steinway baby grand. It was the first of its kind to arrive in Colorado, its owner says, and the instrument has since made its way to this house in Denver’s Lower Highlands. Ian clasps his hands, addressing the crowd. “I’m going to start with a Chopin waltz in C minor,” he says. “I know, usually waltzes are boring, but I think you’ll like this one.” His fingers fly. Conversation halts in the audience. Ian is a gifted pianist.

He is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and cut-off shorts. This is the Fourth of July in Colorado.

The night progresses, and celebrating America opens a window into the life of a certain brand of twenty-something in this county—over-talented, underemployed and not necessarily disappointed in that. It is, to give a nod to another country about to celebrate a birthday (of sorts), a seeming Frenchification of American young adults. For now at least, work has taken a backseat to other pursuits. It isn’t hedonism per se, but maybe another way of channeling energies? I hesitate to bring the term “hipster” to the conversation, but at the same time it seems to fit.

The internet overflows with investigations into hipster culture, but reading through it, the only insight available is that no one is actually a hipster. But then, no one really likes labels. Who wants to be the “kind of person who…”? It’s too simple to paint with that broad brush. Dave Matthews fans beware. Same to fixie-riders. In any event, let’s stick with the label for these Independence Day partiers if only for continuity’s sake. Hipsters. Of a peculiarly Coloradan bent.

To enjoy Colorado, you don’t necessarily need to wear cut-off jeans. You don’t necessarily have to ride a fixie or a cruiser. You don’t have to listen to music so new it hasn’t even been stolen off the internet yet. But it helps. Behind all that affectation, though, lies thousands of dollars in performance outerwear, mountain bikes, skis, climbing gear and helmets for every conceivable pursuit. The Colorado hipster is a geode best cracked on sunny weekends.

The personalities take on a similar structure. Hipster outside, enormous and diverse talent inside. It peaks out every once in a while, as it did in Ian’s performance, but more often it remains hidden under a bushel basket. A soft egalitarianism reigns. Perhaps it’s too cool to show off. Maybe egalitarianism masks feigned effortlessness.

I don’t really know, but as it appears I’m going to further insinuate myself in this culture, I’ll continue to study it. If I become a hipster, I’ll let you know, but in the meantime, I”ll keep on exploring the twenty-something life here.

Try on the photos for now. No fireworks, but it’s America just the same.

Live Near Mountains 29 June 2010

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Wheeee!

One of the things to like about Denver is its proximity to the mountains. In fact, absent the mountains, this city would have wasted away long ago like another Leadville (which, of course had the mountains and still failed, but whatever). Poor Leadville. It deserved so much more. Denver continues to grow, drawing more and more of the “active lifestyle” crowd that bikes to work and drives Subarus filled with Labrador Retrievers and climbing gear and PBR on weekends.

This, I gather, is how the state’s population maintains its 19.1% obesity rate (cool interactive map if you follow the link), not only the lowest figure in the nation, but the only one to edge in under the 20% mark. Relatively speaking, Coloradans are a thin lot, although this being America and not Malawi, it’s I-eat-bunches-and-work-out-bunches thin, not I-can’t-find-food thin. This is best considered when buying a calorie-free cola for $1.53, about the cost of killing ring worm in an African child. But then again, African children are very far away.

At any rate, I came to Colorado so that I too could burn excess calories for pleasure, flouting all evolutionary expectations in favor of sledding down a snow-packed slope on a Therm-A-Rest on June 27th. Although it’s possible that women desire an expert Therm-A-Rest sledder, in which case I’m still shackled by all that genetic propagation stuff. You are, too, you know. Think about that next time you stand up straighter when an attractive woman wanders into the room. Except, of course, you aren’t quite as cool as the bird of paradise in Planet Earth and Richard Attenborough doesn’t narrate your life.

At any rate, I’d been meaning to talk about the Indian Peaks Wilderness, possibly the closest federally-designated wildness to the Denver area. Struck by a desire to wander around in the woods and stand on top of very tall things, we went there this weekend. So did a homeless man who tied up two hikers at gunpoint and set the Nederland police on red alert. But we missed him. Maybe next time. From the news reports, the offender tied the couple to two trees and wandered away. And evidently he did a bad job it of since the man managed to free himself and run back to town as the assailant did who-knows-what. Total injuries for the event amounted to a couple rope burns and a minor laceration–the fleeing man tripped over a log.

This is why people come to Colorado. Even our criminals would rather wander around in the woods than inflict any real pain. By contrast, folks in Chicago kill each other at a rate that would reel us in from Iraq and Afghanistan right quick. But now that handguns are legal… less death?

So it’s become clear that I don’t really have anything new to say about the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and if you were looking for information about it, I’d try SummitPost.org instead, a much better resource than I’ll ever be. If you noticed, though, I’ve changed the name of this blog to Colorado:Wandered to better reflect the new content. I’ve decided to focus on the things that make Colorado an interesting place to live, with particular relevance to twenty-somethings who enjoy the possibility of moving here. The mountains hold an obvious appeal but there remains more to discuss. My 9-5 job only permits so much leisure, but it’s possible to take in enough to write twice a week.

I’ll try to avoid the humdrum. Check back for novelty.

Photos!

City Life 20 June 2010

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Sunday Night: Jazz in the Park

It’s been three weeks since arriving in Denver and already it seems like so much more time has elapsed. I’ve read that change and novelty tend to deepen memories, making tumultuous days, months or years so much longer. Like childhood: every year took forever—and then they speed up, a sprint to the finish line.

For now, though, the change is in the adjustment to city life and new, more challenging employment. Capitol Hill‘s not a sardine-tin neighborhood where folks pay $1300 a month for a closet, of course, but for Denver this constitutes the most “urban” spot around: the highest population densities, the greatest income diversity, the shops and restaurants right around the corner from my apartment, and–this being Denver–a Whole Foods as well.

Anecdotal or actual, the most recent population trend on the tips of demographers’ tongues has been a return to urban living among middle class and affluent whites. White flight had a certain ring to it, but I’ve yet to hear anything remotely quotable about white… return. An urban renaissance perhaps? Generation X and the millenials are coming back to cities regardless of what you call their move, and it takes little effort to surmise that the suburban boom reached its peak just a couple years back, right before reality pricked the housing bubble. Half completed subdivisions sit empty along the Denver fringe. This city’s not alone in that phenomenon.

But why should they return? What is it about city living that’s fueling an urban renaissance? Why should the 19th century mansion next door have remained vacant for years, unable to attract tenants, while developers built house after house in Highlands Ranch and Broomfield? Three years back, convinced that I’d someday become an urban planner, I studied the growth of metropolitan areas, trying to understand the rationale behind what environmentalists and big-city advocates denounced as “sprawl.”

Myriad reasons emerged: the interstate highway system that carved up central cities and shortened commutes; the mortgage interest tax deduction that made home ownership more attractive than renting, albeit at a cost (in lost tax dollars) more than twice that of welfare; low gas prices that bred a “drive everywhere” culture; a failure to internalize all the costs of new development that instead shared the expense of new water mains and new schools with existing residents. Good explanations all, but they painted suburban Americans as the victims of policy choices, herded into the suburbs without a clue as to why. Rarely does the anti-sprawl crowd admit that suburbanites enjoy(ed) large homes at low cost, big yards, and the safety of their securely upper-middle class enclaves.

At the same time, suburbia lost its sense of place. Who could tell the difference between Shimmering Oaks on the Knoll and Windsor Manor at Babbling Brook? For instance, tell where this is without looking at the location stamp. Subdivisions and neighborhoods ceased to hold any meaning in an ever-rising tide of gabled roofs and two-car garages. It was all suburbia. But a city is not all a city. (Same game: guess this location. Or, harder, this one.) Washington Park differs from Capitol Hill not only in its architecture but in its demographics. Back in St. Louis, you’d be hard pressed to describe meaningful distinctions among St. Peters, O’Fallon and Chesterfield. Point being, big city cores develop at different times and under different circumstances, but the suburban boom took place more or less at once, and a highway exit strip looks essentially the same everywhere. So does vinyl siding.

The role models of generation, the characters in our sit-coms and movies, made urban life look more glamorous. The cast of Friends met at the same coffee shop and dropped by each others’ apartments. Sex and the City made New York its sixth character. The baby boomers, on the other hand saw a sanguine picture of suburban life exemplified by the Cleavers, the Flintstones and the Jetsons. The car commute remained much the same from the stone age to the distant future. Only the 60s could support a show called My Mother the Car.

Living here, I anecdotally point to a vitality missing in the suburbs, a feeling my cul-de-sac lacked. Here I interact with folks on the porches of my street. There’s a street culture, a movement, a buzz. And if airy language isn’t enough, there’s the practicality: I can bike to work in 10 minutes, my grocery store is across the street, and I never drive to a bar. If suburbanites worry about safety, they should check their own streets for drunk drivers coming home from a night out.

The other day, in the middle of making a pasta, I realized I’d forgotten to get mushrooms. Leaving the stove on and the door unlocked, I walked over to Whole Foods—a five minute round trip.

City life is good.

Washington, D.C.–Nexus of Self-Importance 16 May 2010

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The metro, filled with important people--and tourists--going important places.

To return to DC is to return to a sense of importance, important people making important things happen always with this overshadowing sense of importance, importance importance. This stuff matters. When I worked here three years ago, I mentioned to my aunt, an inside-the-beltway lifer, the first time I saw Senators Kerry and Feinstein at a rally near the Hill. “Politicians are the rock stars around here,” she said.

And she’s no doubt right, even to the point that you might well extend roadie status to all the bureaucrats who make the show what it is, for better or worse. Only around here do kids write second grade essays about growing up to work as analysts for the FTC or the BLS, not to be firemen or astronauts. Fizzle pop! goes the magic of childhood under the care of status-hungry, beamer-driving, helicopter parents who hover only from 6:30-7:00 a.m. and then again 7 and 9:30 p.m–the time between commuting and sleeping.

That in part explains why I’ve chosen to move elsewhere: this place isn’t the real world. No city in America so desperately needs humility, yet remains so obdurate in its arrogance. By all rights, the city should share with Chicago the same inferiority complex toward New York, but the Wall-Street-be-damned feeling persists, inflated by the self-deceit that political power constitutes real power.

Time and again, I draw the distinction between this place and all the rest I’ve visited or lived over the years. Rarely, except in DC, will someone you’ve just met at a bar or coffee shop ask, “So what do you do?” in the first question or two. Instead, I’ve found the more common question to be a variation on, “So what are you into?” Or, to fit it into the same structure for contrast, “What do you enjoy doing?”

Witty banter follows, in DC always tinged with the response to that first question. “What do you do?” hides the intended imperative, “Validate yourself. Show me you’re important enough to take up my time.” Because, remember, DC is an Important Place where egos seldom fizzle or pop. The status game lives in the system here, in the form of barstool conversations that feel like job interviews, while in Oregon someone gets laid, with both the dogs watching, in the back of a Subaru.

At what point did DC’s citizens lose their wanderlust? When did the striving and ambition and jockeying begin? I imagine it was a gradual thing, like the realization that Mom and Dad weren’t just wrapping Santa’s presents for him. Four weeks after Jacob or Emily  in third grade said it was all a lie, Mom and Dad fessed up too.  And it was about that time that the piano lessons began, alongside the soccer practices and the homework that denied afternoon romps in the yard, neighborhood bike rides. Striving stifled.

Don’t give into it, DC. Leave open the the possibility that the work of defining life neither begins nor ends with a vocation. Instead explore those peripheries.

Coming “Home” 9 May 2010

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It snowed a week an a half straight in the run-up to my departure from Summit County. All that after two and a half weeks of sunny skies and greening grass. I’d even tried finding a disc to get some ultimate games together before winter returned in a way that no one in the mountains had really desired but that everyone had anticipated. Just the same, my own mountain life has ended, and this will no longer continue as a blog written 9300′ above mean sea level. Today Google Earth says it’s–let me check–a hair under 500′. And a few weeks from now, it’ll split the difference, settling for six months at least in the Mile-High City.

For the time being, though, it’s enough to have come home after this longest span spent away–six months, longer than any other single period outside the St. Louis metro area. Yet since I first left for college five years ago, coming home has meant less and less with each go around, I imagine following a pattern set eons ago with the first crop of students to leave crying mothers behind. This time, with the house prepared for sale, my room stripped and re-painted and all the effects removed to meet realtors’ requirements for sterility, it has transformed into nothing more than a familiar floor plan with a dog I’ve known for 13 years. And a mother. It’s Mother’s Day after all.

House or no house, crossing all those cornfields brings back the supersaturated memories of growing up Midwestern, the Steak ‘n Shakes and riverfront fireworks. Humid afternoons and snows days for six inches the night before. Counting silos out the car windows. If the East Coast has forgotten the Midwest, it has just as much forgotten a suburban sensibility born of hard, tangible work and big family reunions.

Have you ever looked at a map of Illinois? Traced its rail lines and highways to discover the towns built for the sole purpose of supplying grain to a hungry nation? The main street parallels the tracks; the elevator rises higher than the church steeple, yet you watch the Tour de France rapt. What curious towns! What culture! Oh, Languedoc! Ici, je suis ailleurs.

I’m leaving the Midwest, of course, but I want so badly to stand up for it in its fight against irrelevance, its perceived stagnation. But by every objective measure, I can’t. In 2008, St. Louis finally staunched an exodus over half a century old while Phoenix continued to balloon and New York set more population records. The coasts are better educated, per capita incomes higher. I’m left with this vague emotional appeal and the waning grandeur of a city that hosted the first Olympic Games seen in the New World, then looked inward and set about its own destruction. See: Pruitt-Igoe. And for a counterpoint: Peter Cooper Village.

There is hope yet, but yes, for now this is coming home.

Loveland Pass 22 March 2010

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Nothing much to write as of late and no new snow either, so I’ve instead taken to wandering around in the mountains. Living in the high country affords opportunities to walk outside a bit after work, just another reason I doubt I’ll return to the Midwest. As I’ve pointed out ad nauseum, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy living near St. Louis, but rather that St. Louis lies much too far from most every recreational activity I enjoy.

Click any image for a larger version. It’s worth it–usually.

Not much snow in March. Boo to Ullr.

Two guys who passed me, unfazed by the receding daylight.

Two Fourteeners: Torreys in front. Grays in the back. Real tall.

A-Basin: it's all open... finally.

You've seen a similar shot before.

Zamboni Fail 10 March 2010

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Effective Immediately: The Ice Skating Pond has Closed for the Remainder of the Season

Temperatures over the last week have hovered in the forties…

…meaning: Zamboni Fail.

Apologies to everyone I told about the free ice skating. May you enjoy tubing and fudge-making instead.

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