Thursday, November 27, 2014

Above The Kootenai River

Today my thankfulness blossoms from the beauty of nature I have experienced,
and the sense of tranquility and fulfillment it provides my life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Could I Conquer The Kootenai?

Another Phobia

As previously mentioned, I am not a fan of tight spaces.  Low ceilings, caves, small openings, and even getting tangled in my blankets unnerves me (see “Hidden Beauty” from March 2012).  Equally as worrisome to me is acrophobia.  I have attempted on multiple occasions to overcome this affliction, including skydiving, but nonetheless, being at an extreme open height scares the dickens out of me.  I have been to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and I found the view inspiring and the distance above the earth perfectly safe, yet a balcony on a low-story hotel makes me uneasy.

When crossing the Rio Grande River west of Taos, New Mexico, I worried about the possibility of my camera falling to its demise, but fretted for my own security any time a truck would pass and the entire span would bounce.  As a child me parents took freakish delight in my apprehension about crossing the suspension bridge transversing Royal Gorge, more than a thousand feet above the Arkansas River in central Colorado.  In my humble opinion, bridges should not allow anyone crossing it to peer between wooden slats that make up the crossing surface and view the jagged earth beneath it.  Bridges should be solid structures, with high sides preventing any confusion about which side I and my personal property belong and securely shall remain.

Crossing The Rubicon (And The Bridge Over It)

There comes a time when fear must be conquered, when it is time to face the nemesis of our mind, or in my case, the extremely physical barrier between an open bridge and the possibility of what may or may not be my demise beneath it.  The time to embrace my phobia came with a simple logic, “Did I come all this way to see this and then I am not going to enjoy it simply because it terrifies me?”  In the past, I might have easily answered my own question affirmatively, but here in the Kootenai National Forest, stretched across the identically named river and its cascading waterfalls, also so named, no one would know if I braved the crossing or merely looked at the scenery from the safety of the river’s bank.  The only way to know if I successfully cross this narrow, shaky span would be if I document the moment and prove I am embracing my inner crazy.

As I approach, a young couple who appears far less concerned  about the height and stability of the crossing receives a warm invitation to precede me across the bridge.  With only a few narrow boards of width, should I abandon the safe harbor of the river bank out towards its center, the two would have no ability to return to their starting point if I hesitate in my journey from the left bank to the right.  I eventually release my grip and venture out beyond a secure distance, so if they do reappear, I must rush forward or retreat.   As I progress on my uneasy crossing, I find my eagerness barely nudging me ahead, yet off they go, leaving the span bouncing over the cold rapids, and me to face my phobia.  I know somewhere inside I have the courage to ease my way away from the bank’s safe edge, and I eventually swallow and walk boldly to the center without stopping.  The young couple have long since left me alone on the wooden planks and I reach into my pocket and withdraw my camera (its strap clasped tightly around my wrist) to document and prove to the world what I have already proven to myself: I triumph over acrophobia.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Taste of Alaskan

Brewery Bound

During my first voyage to Alaska, I partook in an activity I rarely experienced in my corner of the world: bicycle riding.  Admittedly, I experienced a wealth of activities in Alaska that eluded me in my southern lifestyle, but pedaling through the state capital rejuvenated me and reminded me of my capabilities when I push beyond my comfort zone.  To top off the sights, sounds, and sensations, we ride to the local brewery for a sampling of the fare, and when back aboard ship, I order a bottle to remind me of the brilliance of the day.

Fast forward fifteen years and I find myself again on two wheels pedaling my way through Alaska.  So much has changed in a decade and a half: Mendenhall Glacier receded deeply, my skills on two wheels floundered, and my favorite brewery changed locations.  Nonetheless, I keep cycling knowing the end of the journey brings me to the delightful tastes of Alaskan Brewery.  New seasonal tastes accompany and enliven my encore visit and I am reminded how much I enjoy the tastes that a distance of 3,248 miles enhances.  And although the adage sometimes rings true that one can never go back, I did, and deliciousness ensued.

Saying Goodbye to Summer

I sit on my front porch tonight, surrounded by the remnants of the first snowfall of the season.  Mother Nature keeps her own calendar and unlike mine, she believes winter arrives more than a week before the official start of autumn.  Despite thinned blood, I face her head on and I prop up my feet on the edge of the front porch and bask in the waning sunlight and ignore the thirty-six degrees.  I will enjoy my last unofficial day of summer regardless of her parting gift.  Across the country students have been back in school, some for nearly a month, but I make enchantment in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming as long as the season will allow.  But the foot-plus glistening white blanket Mother Nature cloaked over the ground yesterday signals the end of a glorious summer in this spectacular setting.

Melancholy moments such as this one challenge me not dwell wistfully on the time that passes, but to appreciate every day, every sunset, every excursion, every wildlife sighting, and every twinkle of the night sky that I have enjoyed.  The grandest highlights and the quietest periods of reflection combine into a summer full of memories to rival a lifetime of travel.  My summer home, my quirky cabin, my vast mountains, and my porch view surround me.  My skin tingles from the cold air.  The smell of the forest accompanies each inhalation.  A foraging squirrel squeaks out his success in acquiring a stash of pine nuts for the winter.  And to my right, the final sunset of my summer fades brilliantly behind the bank of trees.  My senses savor these fading hours, and I cap off the farewell to summer with the last bottle of beer in my refrigerator: Alaskan Summer K├Âlsch-Style Ale.  Summer never tasted so sweet.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Mystery Of Sage

Sense of Sage

When it comes to clothes, I rarely shop on the Internet, in fact, I never shop on the Internet.  If I received a one-hundred-percent assurance that my size would be reflected accurately in a single size that never changed from one style to another, if I knew with certainty that every designer used the exact same numbering system for my waist, bust, and hip sizes, if I could imagine effectively that the fabric would feel as soft, or sturdy, or smooth as I imagine it does on my screen, and if each item of clothes would appear as identically flattering when I lift it out of a cardboard box as it does on the web model, I might reconsider my choice to purchase every article of clothing I own only after evaluating its true appearance in a long mirror inside a dressing room previously occupied by equally intrepid online consumers.  And, of course, if I had any idea what color “sage” really looked like in person, rather than the various shades it encompasses on the worldwide web, then I might, just maybe reconsider online shopping.  But I doubt it.

Sage bumps into this same challenge in a variety of areas.  If you wanted to paint a wall in the earthy tone of sage, what would that sample look like from brand to brand?  If you added sage to a recipe, how much would you add, and would sage leaves taste different than ground sage.  Is the sage fresh, or has it been in a spice rack since the 1970s?  If you drive through the desert or cruise through the mountains, does sage even look like the same plant?  Darn it, sage, you are just too challenging to nail down – I just don’t know where you stand in nature, in the hardware store, in my kitchen, or in my wardrobe.

Smell of Sage

Mono Lake, nestled east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern edge of California, feels less like a mountainous retreat and appears more like an aquatic dump.  Its environment and habitat hide a wealth of diverse plant and animal life, but unable to drain into another water connection, the salt content exceeds levels in many western waterways.  When I roll down my car window as I drive around its western edge, I expect an ocean aroma, but instead the fragrance baffles me with its sweetness.  As I continue around its southern exposure, I expect perhaps a change in the wind direction might lift its salty residue into the air, and yet the smells bombarding my nose confuse me.

When I finally pull off the road and take a closer look, or a deeper, unobstructed whiff, I find the culprit in this confusing sensual overload: sage.  The desert plant, while not in bloom, covers the low, dry hillsides beyond the water’s edge and for miles into Nevada and onward toward the east.  Nearly overpowering in its richness, the smell tantalizes me, and now that I am surrounded by the growth, I continue to breathe as deeply as possible, attempting to ingest as much of the aroma into my memory as into my lungs.  And with much success, I continue to recognize the sweet smell of sage years into the future, despite its nuances from the Great Basin into the high ridges of the Rocky Mountains.  Describing it in words, online, lacks the full enjoyment of its effects, the way it lifts above its stubby branches, the way it infuses the air and envelopes the wind, and the way it feels inside and around my being.  Yes, you just cannot understand sage on the Internet; you have to experience it in person.