Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Time travel

October 8, 2022

Truckin’, like the doo-dah man.

• Editor’s note: It’s a gray, gloomy day here at El Rancho Pendejo, and Hal Walter’s road-trip tale has put me in mind of my own meditation from the spring of 2000, when the vile Crusty County weather had me thinking about snorting that long white line to wherever.

“I have been buggered to near death by the clock.” — Jim Harrison in “The Beige Dolorosa,” from the novella collection “Julip”

“How do I shut this alarm off?” my wife asked some years back. Her sports watch was cheeping incessantly, like a baby bird in a sack of crack.

“Like this,” I replied, snatching the watch from her, placing it on the kitchen floor and pounding it into a flattened silence with a claw hammer. We both laughed, but warily; killing time just isn’t that easy.

Still, when you see time limping along like it does in a snowbound April in the Colorado mountains, scraping the slush off its boots on the welcome mat of spring, there arises a murderous desire to put it out of its misery. So Shannon has begun hiding the hammers as I glare at the clock, as if I could will its crawling hands into picking up the pace, spinning me up some sunshine.

• • •

“We’re going to be late,” I warned my friends Hal and Mary as we dawdled first over stout, then over coffee, in a succession of Bibleburg bistros. It was my 46th birthday, and we were headed to Colorado College for a poetry reading by one of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison. Harrison seems the sort to bark at nitwits who interrupt his work, and I wanted his autograph, not his antipathy.

Jim Harrison laid his Jim Hancock on my copy of “Warlock,” though it was not among his favorite works.

As it turned out, we were right on time, and Harrison was late. A student of Zen Buddhism with his own temporal compulsions, Harrison announced: “I’m not a long reader. This will be exactly 52 minutes.” A koan for a birthday present.

Frankly, I’d have settled for a little less light and a little more warmth. Spring brings Colorado the heavy snows that we used to get in winter like everybody else, and the way my mental batteries were running down under the gray-flannel skies had me convinced that I was solar-powered.

My last escape attempt, a mid-March road trip to a cycling festival in California, was too short and not nearly sweet enough. I’ve been contemplating another to someplace where the locals’ knowledge of snow is limited to what they’ve been able to glean from the Encyclopedia Britannica, but you can’t pilot a Toyota truck to the Virgin Islands, not even in four-wheel drive.

And then there’s the expense. The rising price of gasoline aside, it’s not always possible or desirable to sleep in a pickup, which lacks certain amenities — like a toilet, shower, sink, stove, furnace and elbow room, especially when the camper shell is stuffed fore to aft with a bicycle, a cooler full of beer and a day pack crammed with computer gear and drawing tools.

Even if you pack camping gear and spend your nights outside the truck, you’re doomed to an occasional Motel 666 if for no other reason than hygiene, an impulse that will cost you anywhere from $30 to $60 a pop, depending upon your ZIP code at the time.

So lately I’ve been eyeballing used RVs and wondering whether I’m old enough to own one. This is not unlike like cigar-smoking; you have to be of a certain age to pull it off without looking ridiculous.

Too, as a cyclist who has played mirror-tag with many a blue-haired land-yacht captain over the years, the notion leaves me feeling a little like a Lakota warrior applying to join Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

And the entry fee for the RV lifestyle is a high curb to hop — even an elderly, smallish Toyota RV can run from five to ten large, while free-lance cycling journalism pays on the small side.

• • • 

In the essay “Going Places,” from his collection “Just Before Dark,” Harrison advises: “Do not scorn day trips. You can use them to avoid nervous collapse.” So with a light snow falling and the promise of more on the way, I jumped into my ’83 Toyota 4WD and headed north to talk to a guy who had a used, slide-in, pop-up camper for sale.

As I bounced crazily down our steep, corrugated goat path to the county road — this truck, which under a previous owner carried a camper, has springs apparently salvaged from a buckboard — I realized I’d forgotten my watch. A moment of dismay, then satori; I had more than enough time to make the noon appointment, and there was nothing of pressing urgency requiring a timepiece, so screw it.

So, after checking out the camper — affordable and nicely minimalist, with a cabover bed, a small sink and stove, a pedestal table and bench, and a furnace — I spent the afternoon idling around downtown Bibleburg, where it was not snowing, the roads were paved, and distractions were available in variety.

Drank a pint of Guinness and ate a burger in Jack Quinn’s; looked for Harrison books in the cavernous used-book store Gateways; sipped a tall Americano in a Starbucks staffed by two pleasant young women chattering away like magpies. Then I took my sweet time getting home, and not just because I was following a snowplow and an 18-wheeler up a slushy Hardscrabble Cañon.

Again, Harrison, in “The Beige Dolorosa” from “Julip”: “The clock is the weapon with which we butcher our lives.”

The character who writes this line on an index card — an academic rebelling against the tyranny of the clock as he comes to terms with a vastly altered life — then wraps his watch around the cord of his Big Ben electric clock and dangles both in the toilet, flushing and laughing.

He continues: “The damnable watch still worked. I put it on the floor, stepped up on the toilet seat and jumped, smashing the watch to bits. It occurred to me that I was getting a little excitable, so I took the remnants of the two timepieces outside and peed on them to complete the scene appropriately. I reached back in the cabin and turned off the light, the better to see the stars. They were so dense they made the sky look flossy, almost a fog of stars which had drawn infinitely closer to me than ever before, as if my destruction of time had made me a friendlier object for their indeterminate powers.”

Smash your watches. Pee on your clocks. Go look at the stars.

The endorphin hit parade

February 4, 2022

The winter, it lingers.

Six degrees at 6 a.m. Is it an omen, d’ye think?

Probably not. Just the pre-caffeination brain spinning its wheels like a 1996 F-150 with a bed full of firewood, half in the ditch on a snowy Colorado afternoon.

And yeah, I’ve been there.

Today’s high may be that in name only, so I’m thinking ixnay on the ike-bay. A short run seems sensible, if you will concede that running — with empty hands, anyway — can ever be sensible.

I don’t mind it, as long as I’m not breaking ankles. But running will never be my first choice if the temperature is 40° or better and there isn’t snow on the deck.

The Mitchell High School swim team in 1970, the year we went 11-0.

Last on my endorphin hit parade is swimming. I spent 10 years on swim teams, ages 8 to 18, and swam laps off and on afterward in Tucson, Pueblo, Denver, and Bibleburg, because I was a member of some gym that had a 25-meter pool and why not?

But I got tired of smelling like chemicals and wearing green eyebrows and feeling my hair freeze between the gym and the car every February. The hair freezing is no longer an issue, but the rest of it still applies. A friend of a similar vintage quips, “We all end up in the pool,” but I notice he ain’t there yet.

Plus there’s a weird sonic vibe in the pool area, like you’re stroking through a Louisiana Best Buy with a leaky roof during a hurricane. And you have to see other old dudes bareass in the shower, which should be part of any “Scared Straight” programs the schools are running these days.

“This is what prison looks like, kids.”

“Jesus Christ! I’ve shoplifted my last pack of smokes, honest!”

That right there is a kid who’ll take up running with empty hands. Unless he steals a bike first.

The Cailleach has a long arm

February 3, 2022

Finally, a wee dusting of actual snow.

It was right about the time I started prepping the green chile stew that the Cailleach dropped her knitting atop Hag’s Head in County Clare and muttered, “Right, time that Ó Grádaigh gobshite in Albuquerque got the back of me hand so.”

Just a love tap, mind you. We are cousins, after all. I make it about four inches atop the wall. Still, it will require me to drag this old bag of bone splinters and bad ideas back and forth across the driveway for a spell, muttering about Gaelic deities and the length of their hairy auld arms.

It’s a refreshing 8° at the moment, a lovely temperature for a bit of upper-body work. I’ll happily take it over the -8° my man Hal is enjoying up to Weirdcliffe, where his Innertubes have quit but the woodstove remains on the job.

I remember those Crusty County temperatures, and not fondly, either. Tunnel out from under the covers at stupid-thirty, squeal like a little bitch, dash downstairs to the woodstove and feed it a few chunks, leap outside for more wood (and more squealing), then sprint back inside to melt the ice in the terlet with a good auld Guinness-and-Jameson’s wee.

It was all downhill after that, and I do mean downhill. We lived on a rocky outcropping 10 miles from town, one mile and 430 vertical feet from the county road, and once you got down to the bottom you mostly wanted to go right back up again, to where the whiskey and Guinness and woodstove were.

If I burrowed deeply enough into the covers the Cailleach couldn’t find me. That was the idea, anyway. I have lots of ideas.

Winter is coming?

December 29, 2021

I’ve put more white powder than that up me snout on a weeknight.

I know, I know — don’t tempt the Fates, never let your blog write a check that your ass can’t cash, and so on and so forth.

But sheeeeeyit: You call this “snow?”

The Bread Box is baked.

The appalling lack of precipitation aside, it was not so warm outside today, and not so hot inside, either.

Our $20 garage-sale bread machine seems to have toasted itself after a year of medium-heavy use, churning out a bleak pan of something one might expect to find in the toilet at a dive bar on St. Paddy’s Day if the menu featured a questionable shepherd’s pie and some heavily stepped-on blow.

Thing is, y’see, I have about 20 pounds of Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour on hand. So I may be forced to learn how to bake bread the way me forefathers did, only without the dubious advantage of being knee-walking drunk.

Or I could just buy another Toastmaster on eBay.

Chipseal, choo-choos, and curses

December 23, 2021

Take me to the river.

Yesterday was one of those rare December days in the desert, the sort where you think, “OK, so if we survive the Parade of Plagues we’re all going to be drinking our own wee-wee come summer. It’s worth it.”

I was overdressed when I slipped out midday for a quick 20 miles of rollers, but not ridiculously so. Temps ranged from the low to mid-50s, and the sky was as you see.

Choo-choo-cha-boogie.

Still, there have been Dire Portents of the End Times. My totem, a clockwork railroad engineer who waves from his locomotive-slash-mailbox as I pass, withheld the friendly gesture on Monday. But yesterday he was back on the job, so make of that what you will. Some of us just don’t feel the wave on Mondays.

And one of the cute little girls from next door swore at me like a Vegas Teamster. She’s a bit of a dervish, but usually she doesn’t whirl that way. Mom caught her at it and she was compelled to offer an apology watered down with a grinning decline to make eye contact, followed by a quick ascent of our front-stoop trellis. I suspect a mild case of demonic possession. No vaccination for that.

Speaking of vaccinations, Herself got boosted yesterday, and this morning she feels like she got shot at and hit and shit at and hit. That’s a Thursday Two-fer for you.

Still, better to be poorly for a little while than a long while. This Omicron cootie gets around faster than bad news on cable TV and we have a little old lady in our orbit. Wouldn’t do to fire a round of The Bug into assisted living. That’d be like turning a hyena loose in a Texas Roadhouse.

Speaking of which, who picks the names for these things? I’d just as soon not get croaked by something that sounds like a bush-league Avengers villain hoping for a callup to The Show. Whatever happened to proper plagues like the Red Death? Eddie Poe must be spinning in his grave.

Why the long shadow?

December 21, 2021

Gandalf the Grey? Nah. Gradaigh the Groady.

No, it’s not some dark twist on the old “a horse walks into a bar” joke.

It’s solstice! Short day, low sun, long shadows. Huzzah, etc.

Don’t forget your cap, squire.

I start carrying a cycling cap on rides this time of year. Generally I get a late start, because it’s not exactly toasty out there in the mornings, even in the Upper Chihuahuan Desert. And if I’m headed home into that low sun come midafternoon, I want some sort of eyeshade so I can see who’s trying to kill me.

Likewise on hikes I favor a broad-brimmed hat, either a Carhartt crushable boonie or a Broner fedora if I’m feeling stylish.

For runs I go back to the cycling cap — not the Rivendell, but a beat-up Campagnolo model that is so old I can’t recall where or how I acquired it, since I’ve never been a Campy man. I usually fetch a light Sugoi watch cap along too, and wear one while tucking the other into my waistband. Got to keep the brain-box warm since I don’t drink the antifreeze no mo’.

Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo. …

Just remember to keep moving, like the Earth around the sun, and the Milky Way around the amazing and expanding universe. Don’t crouch indoors like a gargoyle, puzzling out that goddamn WordPress block editor or how long it’s been since your last shot and whether you dare have your great-aunt Fannie over for tea and biscuits. Get out there and chase yourself around.

I know, it’s dark out there. It’s dark when you get up, dark when you go to bed, and in between it’s just dark.

But keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart. While you’re at it, you might pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth. And keep one hand on your liver.

Good night, moon.

Getting wood in Weirdcliffe

February 22, 2021

The fireplace in Weirdcliffe, before we installed a Lopi woodstove insert.

When Texas sank back into the Ice Age, I was reminded of the good old days on our wind-scoured rockpile outside Weirdcliffe, Colorado.

There, the power only went out whenever it was inconvenient. And it usually would stay off for an hour or two at minimum, which was the time it took for a utility guy from Cañon City to flip a switch somewhere.

We learned early on that not much works during winter at 8,800 feet in the ass-end of nowhere if you don’t have power. No water, no cooking, and most important, no heat.

I remembered the joys of a heat-free home from my stint in a 9×40 singlewide trailer in Greeley back in 1974. Its oil furnace was forever seizing up in the middle of a winter night, and there’s nothing that clarifies the mind for higher education quite as well as the backsplash from a frozen toilet when you get up at stupid-thirty to offload a sixer of the long-neck Falstaffs you enjoyed for dinner.

Our private road. I went backwards on this stretch in 4WD one evening. I wasn’t scared or nothin’, but somebody shit on my seat. | Photo: Hal Walter

So on our hillside, we kept ourselves prepared. There were canned goods and jerrycans of water in the hall closet, along with a Coleman two-burner and several 1-pound propane bottles for emergency cookery. And we had several candle lanterns and flashlights at the ready because this shit never happens in broad daylight on a weekday.

But the smartest thing we did was have a Lopi woodstove insert installed in our fireplace, along with buying a chainsaw and ax. When you heat with wood, it warms you twice — while you’re cutting it, and while you’re burning it.

And speaking of getting wood, yes, yes, yes, it’s time for the latest episode of Radio Free Dogpatch.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: I recorded this one in the Comedy Closet, using a Shure MV7 mic and Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. Editing was in Apple’s GarageBand, with a sonic bump from Auphonic. Music by Infernal Hound Sound; sound effects courtesy of Zapsplat. Special guest appearance by Shel Silverstein.

Mardi Gras on the rocks

February 16, 2021

Save your beads, boys. Ain’t nobody pulling off their tops today.

February almost always looks better somewhere else.

In February 2014 I fled Bibleburg for Albuquerque. In 2016, I traded Albuquerque for Fountain Hills.

And this year?

Well, shit. I appear to be sheltering in place, like everybody else.

Well, maybe not everybody else.

At stupid-thirty I looked outside and noted that our neighbor to the west had laid down some tire tracks in the snow that fell overnight. It kept falling, and after sunrise, the neighbor to the east laid down a matching set on the other side of the cul-de-sac.

They both have jobs and munchkins to manage. Me, not so much. I don’t have to be anywhere, and so I’m not going there.

• Lone Star Update: In Texas Monthly Mimi Swartz feels her hurricane reflexes kick in as the power grid is pushed to the limit.

Blather warning

February 14, 2021

Cold? Yah. Blizzard? Nah.

The weather wizards are proclaiming a blizzard warning for the Duke City and its environs, but Boreas seems to have pissed off somewhere. Maybe he’s stalking Cupid.

Anyway, we have maybe an inch of snow on the deck, and some flurries continue, but the wind speed is far short of double digits.

It is colder than relations between Mitt Romney and Ron Johnson, but they’re both as rich as Croesus so I’m sure they’ll get over it.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

February 12, 2021

Red sky at morning, Mad Dogs take warning.

So much for the days of knickers and short sleeves.

I’ve gotten out every day this week, including two short trail rides — the first on a Steelman cyclocross bike, the second on the DBR hardtail — and one short but luxurious hike on a day so warm I could roll up my sleeves and go bareheaded, get a little vitamin D into the old chrome-dome.

A fella has to make hay while the sun shines, don’t you know. The weather wizards predict a wintry one-two punch this weekend, with the Duke City getting the worst of it on Sunday.

In the meantime, we were treated to a colorful sunrise this morning. A warning if ever I saw one.