May 27 2013

Alone With A Stranger

Something has changed and I could feel it before even opening my eyes. There was energy in the air, like static electricity and it was everywhere. Winter has been clinging to every particle of soil in an attempt to maintain its grip on the landscape even snowing for the last few days, but this was April and something new was taking place. Normally this time of year I find myself slowly putting my ski equipment away, packing away all the cold weather clothing and reflectively watch the snow melt and recede into my memory.

This month nothing is going in the direction that we are accustomed to, it’s continuing to snow and the temperatures have remained slightly chilly this spring. Soil would begin to appear beneath the trees in the woods, the sun warms the landscape just before clouds silently slip over the horizon engulfing the skies and the snow gently falls on the melting snow blanketing the rotten old snow in a fresh, healthy shade of white. The snow continues to fall and the air remains colder than normal frustrating all of us who are itching to see springs arrival.

Falling Snow Early Spring

Willing winter to disappear and bringing forth the birth of an overdue spring isn’t doing it, as the seasons really don’t listen to us humans with our pathetic miniscule and selfish needs. The seasons move along at their own lazy pace, deciding for themselves when they are ready to move on. Impatiently, we struggle to fight off the urge to give in and pull the equipment back out of the closet to hit the trails for what could be one final ski of the year. Experience has proved that letting the season pass, quietly remembering the last wonderful ski trip with all its amazing memories is a far better way to move on to spring than heading out on this horrible snow. Floundering in the soft, melting crud that offers no purchase to my kick wax would only prove to be a futile attempt at reliving that same great day I last experienced on the trail.

Late Spring Snow

Late winter, early spring the snow continues to fall. Nowhere is any dark soil to be found, this winter that refuses to fade away relentlessly dumps more snow each day driving fear into our hearts that spring may never come. Even now with all this fresh snow it just isn’t worth pulling out my ski’s, this wet powder only covers the chopped up cruddy ice that lays just beneath it and would give way to the trash beneath at the hint of any weight. Staring out the window or standing on the porch, I watch this stranger whom I’ve never met maintain a stranglehold on my world. I’m over it, I want winter to end, the soil to dry up, the leaves to unfold on the trees, and the flowers to bloom.

The end of April comes and goes but the snow stays, weighing down branches in the trees, weighing down the thoughts in my mind. Never mind that the temperature has risen to just above freezing, the snow continues to fall. To what end this season will come is anybody’s guess, the strangeness of the season is so foreign to us all. Alone I sit and wait for this madness to subside and anticipate the return of a more rational spring to step in and push aside this craziness that consumes my life for the time being. In time, the snow will melt leaving the land to itself once again. The soil will dry and the clouds will fade away to a strengthening sun. The mosquitos will return and annoy all in this land while we duck, swat and wave at invisible and imagined insects that are seemingly constantly attacking our heads. The trees will turn green and the flowers will bloom, spring will arrive and the world will be right. Time will pass and we will forget what it felt like to go through the experience of winter’s intrusion into our spring, shortening our summer and erasing our perception of what was once a predictable change of season. Alaska just reminded us that though we know what to expect from this land we must always remember that everything is subject to change.

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Dec 15 2010

Frame Of Mind

There was a time that all I wanted, every waking moment was to be outside skiing. It never mattered what the weather was like or how cold it was, it was everything just to be there, as if I was going to be left out of some great secret that I couldn’t miss out on. This was only a couple of years ago and not so much a part of my wonderful and distant past. 

Now today I am quite particular in that it is no longer quantity but a question of quality that I seek. I only want to go out skiing when I was sure that the experience would be fantastic and memorable. I haven’t forgotten that every moment is special and unique, since yesterday is just as real to me as is today and tomorrow.

I look outside and peek at the temperature and have to really motivate myself to step out the door. The days of ultra-extreme cold and having a choice to go outside or not to go outside has seemed to validate my new found laziness.

Why trudge through a foot of freshly fallen snow? My skis are never visible sliding along beneath the snow, grinding along at an agonizing slow pace as sweat soaks through my layers of clothes, I can just wait for an extra day as dog sleds and snow machines break the trail out for me.

I spend almost fifteen minutes putting on the four layers of clothes and boots to be ready to go outside for a couple of hours of skiing, and another ten minutes to undress and hang up all the clothes to dry.

Tomorrow is suppose to be around -45 degrees Fahrenheit so I ski’d today while it was only -22 degrees, it was still cold but considering the idea of not being able to ski for the next couple of days while waiting for the temps to come back to a respectable grade, well it seemed the logical choice. Some people say why go out at all then, why put yourself in to such uncomfortable conditions if your so miserable. 

I still laugh at them and their unexperienced comments, not knowing how amazing the world is and actually living in it. Yet even now throwing these questions and thoughts back and fourth answering the questions just as easily as asking them, they still promote thought and they show that I have a complex attitude towards the winter. The idea that today is the warmest day of the week is ridiculous until you remember that tomorrow will be -45 degrees, and there I am on the trail unable to move my face or mouth. 

There are times that I am jealous of my dog, while we are out on the trail and it’s terribly cold, my lungs are burning and I can’t feel my tongue but my dog is oblivious to the cold, bounding through the trees occasionally stopping to bury his face in a small drift of snow attempting to find some weird odor buried below the surface. Then there I am sweating and freezing at the same time, muscles exhausted from the work watching my dog laughing and playing as if it is a fine summers day. The colder the air gets the more course or “grabby” the snow gets, gliding is reduced a great deal making it more difficult to ski efficiently and the trail becomes very long, but for a dog it’s perfect for flopping on his back and flailing relentlessly. 

When the sun is low on the horizon and there are very few clouds the light filters through the trees and reflects off of every grain of snow. Just hearing the sound of my ski’s on the snow, my poles stabbing into the snow to push off with, and the sound of my breathing, nothing else stirs and this world is perfect.  

I am complex in my choices of days to go out and experience my world and sometimes those choices are the opposite of how I feel but once I’m out there on the trail and regardless the weather, the experience is always unique and unforgettable.

My choices of when I go out on the trail are confirmed as preferring the nicer days and I am becoming better with this considering those days are days that most people wouldn’t even open there doors if they don’t have to. The fact that I’ll still go out on the miserable days only because all the other days are even more miserable shows me that the spirit of following my heart is still alive and well. 

Breaking trail is slow and tedious but incredibly rewarding, looking back on a fresh set of tracks and setting the line of the trail is amazing, especially knowing that on some trails like the Nugget Creek Trail Loop, those tracks will be there all year and anybody else who ski’s that trail will follow the line I set and ride the tracks I laid on that trail. Finishing the day under the light of a headlamp really sets a tone on these short days, with only a few hours of sunlight the times to be on the trail are short and dark. Pulling up to the cabin with the headlamp on and the glow of lights flooding out of the windows is a warm welcome and fulfills a need for accomplishment that overwhelms me sometimes and times like these that leave me smiling far after the snow has melted from my ski’s.

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Nov 17 2010

The Addict

It’s always been like this for as far back as I can remember, no matter the drug I have always been a slave to my own compulsive behavior. It has never been the drug that decided my fanaticism, be it backpacking, hiking, climbing, running. I am always faced with the same results of being completely consumed by my need and this time is no different. I sit in the dim light on the couch as it snows outside, my eyes are closed and I can see every flake of snow like a heartbeat gently falling to the ground, landing on snow that preceded the next. I can hear the flakes as they cascade to the ground crashing into the branches and needles of the pine trees that surround my world. My obsession grows every day, the need to be out there and feeling every motion and movement, the experience.

Impatience and irritation nag at me as I try to get ready, too much time is being wasted I should be out there already. The ski’s are leaning against the wall, both pairs of them eagerly waiting on my decision to which pair I will choose to take out today. Freshly waxed and shiny clean they stare at me through the residual smoke left behind by the iron I used to melt the wax on to the base of the ski’s. I spend many hours a week waxing and working on my ski’s ensuring they will be at their best when we get out on the trail. I save my change, skip meals, don’t buy new clothes just so I can afford to buy fresh wax and have extra cash on hand in case I need to replace a broken pole or damaged ski.

The snow is still falling but it’s too soon to go out to ski just yet. There’s more snow to come and going out now will increase the chance of damaging my ski’s on rocks or tree roots buried just beneath the fresh snow that has yet to pack down. The itch is getting worse, the desire is deafening, I can’t sleep or eat. The snow keeps falling.

I imagine slipping down the hill on the narrow road that leads from my cabin down to the valley floor. Step over the railroad tracks and coast down to the Dunbar Trail, the source of my addiction, the first trail I ever skied. The Dunbar leads away into all the days of tomorrow, the imagination cannot register what it means to travel beyond what has already been traveled on. My breathing is increasing and respiration is rising, thoughts of new tracks on a fresh layer of snow makes me feel at edge, twitching, craving, yearning, hunger. Madness seeps into my veins as I sit idle staring out the windows as the temperature drops to -18F and the sun sets. That is happening far to often these days, the sun is long set before 4:oo and I haven’t even started planning the next high.

Rambling thoughts flow through my mind as I wait out the deep cold and falling snow. Pacing in circles, boots sit in front of the floor heater, ski’s are in the corner, clothes draped lazily over the dining room table chairs. The dog watches me uneasily as I mumble to myself, staring at the couple of inches of ice formed on the bottom of the window frames. Snow covers the ground in ever increasing blankets of softness, featureless and formless, perfect. This is an all consuming addiction, all encompassing and all that matters. All that is and all that should be hoped of is only a few feet outside my door and what matters is that I want what is out there, to feed my cravings and save me from the driving inside of me.

A days waiting and the falling snow fades back into the clouds as the sun slowly bleeds through the thinning gray mat of the sky. The afternoons light is a glorious glow of amber as the sun bounces its light from the ground back into the ice crystals floating in the air. My ski’s so readily fall into my arms, the poles trail behind. Soft steps leaving deep impressions in the powder create a gentle crunching sound as I set the ski’s down, step in and lock my boots into the bindings, strap my poles to my hands. I step up to the edge of the driveway, turn right and casually begin the glide down my narrow road back to the trail, all I smell is clean.

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Sep 15 2010

Going Home

Originally I was a Californian, and then I became a Las Vegan of which I was happy to be, and lavished in the baking sun of the Mojave Desert. Then it happened at great expense and to my own fault I became an Alaskan.
Though the decision to become an Alaskan was made fairly quickly, and without much thought, it was a move that had an incredible impact on my life.

For me moving to Alaska became a great pilgrimage, artistically as well as spiritually. I was deeply involved in my landscape photography and writing. I would feverishly hit the road attempting to photograph as much as my brain could absorb, completely unaware of how overwhelmed I had become by the world I suddenly thrust myself into. Gone were the great expanses of nothingness, micro worlds of fauna and nature tightly bundled in the desert to survive, exploded in savage freedom among the rolling hills and flat river deltas of Alaska’s interior.

I waited until my first winter to focus on my artistic mind, to narrow down the band width of expression that had become so jumbled in my mind.
With winter came the simplistic reality that I had been craving and began actually flexing my creative senses. Now it began to dawn on me that this is where I was supposed to be and vowed that in time I would open my gallery and write a book about what it is like to photograph in Alaska. So many books out on the shelves show all those wonderful images of Alaska’s incredible bounty of nature and wilderness without talking about the experience (both physical and emotional) and what it took to get those images.
I wanted a book that talked about the drive and less about the destination.

Then a life altering change took place that redirected the path I had chosen for myself, divorce.
Divorce removed all my artistic passion. My willingness to express any words on paper or shoot a single frame of film had drowned and sank into the depths of the depression I was experiencing. I was abruptly forced into enslavement in the common workforce of the everyday man.
Such a man, that I went to great lengths to leave behind, but there I was working two jobs seven days a week for a couple of years trying to make ends meet. Once the opportunity came to actually have a couple of days off a week I jumped at it and reveled in the time away from the drone of humanity.

In time I migrated further and further back into the wilds around me again, running the local trails, backpacking everything I saw.
The craving was growing inside me again. In winter I exploded with love for the world around me, passion welled up from within some lonely place in my body and oozed out in a rebirth that at times left me in tears.

Cross country skiing allowed me to travel further back on trails that few people if any travel when it’s twenty degrees below out, but I was breathing in the silence and emptiness of a place devoid of humanity. If and when somebody approached, another skier or (and most often) a dog musher the interruption was like a freight train blowing past me.
I started seeing things differently, in a way I haven’t seen things in quite some time. It even took a year for me to realize that my mind’s eye was looking at everything as an opportunity to photograph, that I was experiencing a want to describe what this world offers us if we just take the time to stop and stare at what’s in front of us a little longer.

Maybe I have become more mentally stable as time has gone by, separated further and further from that dark period in my past. Maybe my mind is forgetting the pain and returning back to me that person who I once was minus the whole marriage thing.
Time is affording me the opportunity to get back to the world I belong in, and if I don’t begin to place one foot before the other, I’ll lose the path all together, so here I go…….

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