journal . stories . life

10 ~ December 2023

November 2023 Backpacking; Beau and Jess

Humans are surrounded by man-made buildings, objects, and environments, and it can become harder and harder to remember our intimate relationship with this beautiful blue planet. But magic can happen in the fleeting moments in which we notice the natural world—the sunset that causes us to catch our breath, the murmur of wind rustling through trees, the sharp, clean smell of rain on grass or the tang of salty air near a shore, the feel of sand or dirt underfoot. These moments reconnect us not only to nature, but also to our own nature; they carry with them the recognition that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Nichols, Wallace J.. Blue Mind (pp. 183-184).

I am beginning to understand what a gift and blessing it is to have gone through life with a need and desire to be out in wild nature on a regular basis. Out there with the dogs I witness the simple beauty in each day - the winter sun on the pines, the patterns in the dried grass and wildflower stalks from last season, the magnificence of the peak towering above my camp. It eases the difficulty of growing old, to have something you have always loved close at hand, wherever you are. It just takes a walk to the nearest natural area to rekindle that affection.

My November and December were busy with telling stories, but I managed to get away for two overnight backpack trips - one in early November and another on Thanksgiving week. This is the time of year that it feels so good to take the edge off of a frigid night with the heat from a campfire.

On the second trip I heard a bird chirping in the very early morning, at 2:30am. I knew right away it was a young mountain lion, who can make vocalizations that sound like a bird. Birds don't sing in November, and especially not in the middle of the night. Listen to the video I linked below (not my video) for an example. In the morning I checked the snow around camp and only found deer tracks. I figure it must have been somewhere on the ridge above.

The dogs were restless that night, and wanted out of the tent at least five times. I usually shine my flashlight out to look for eyeshine before I let them go. Now I will be more admanent about doing that every time.

In November and December I was up to 22 tellings in eight different elementary schools. I had found good stories for both months. Now my quest starts for another one to tell in January.

Click speaker icon to hear sounds on video.

above: at 17 seconds young mountain lion chirping like a bird (not my video). From Wild Woodland's youtube page:

November 21st Backpacking, 2023 (72 years old!); Jess, Hayley, and Beau

More journal notes:

November 6th: The hard hike to the ridge done; then a couple of hours exploring our overnight home, where we found a panhole with at least 10 or more gallons of water!. Now I will set up the tent and make dinner. It is perfectly quiet, just a slight breeze at times.

November 2023 backpacking; a campfire is the rose of winter!

above: wind on the second day as a storm front moves in

(click on photos below for larger image . . . - Esc or clicking outside of image will close it)

November 6: Beau and Hayley have been backpacking with me all their lives. They still love it, but I give them some Rimadyl when we get home, for their understandable aches and pains. It takes some effort to carry their food and water up the steep climbs to ridgetop camps, that are my favorite place to go. I am pretty sure both elder dogs like where we go also, the way they stand on high points and gaze off into the down country; some of their ancient wolf instinct coming through.

This kind of adventure just doesn’t get any easier as the years go by, for me or my old dogs. I was pretty gimpy myself when I got out of the truck after driving home. The first thing I did (very first thing) was down a couple of pills of extra strength Acetaminophen. (generic Tylenol).

I know our trips will end someday, at which point I will have a lot of outdoor gear to donate or sell. Right now I prefer to celebrate the last one successfully completed, today, and hope there will be some more ahead. It is the same attitude I have about dancing; gratitude for the last good Saturday Night. It is a lot easier to live centered in each day and moment, when you feel them trailing down.

But what a joy it is to see how much youthful wild-hearted elation Jess has up there the day through. She is very intelligent, and I don’t think it is my imagination that she is saying ‘thank you Dad, for that,’ the way she snugs close to me in the truck all the way home. In the eleven months she has been in my household we have developed a strong connection, the same as I have for Beau and Hayley. Absolute Love.

above: November 2023 backpacking

Click speaker icon to hear sounds on video.

above: discussion of bird chirping in the middle of the night (mountain lion)

November 9th: It does my heart good to see how much absolute pleasure little Jess has in our adventures. It is true that having a good dog(s) can make you a happy man.

above: Jess November 2023 backpacking; 14 months olds

November 21st: I felt strong climbing up to the outcropping. Got the tent set up and now need to collect firewood before 4:30 pm dusk. A fine way to spend my 72nd birthday (today): out in the wild in solitude and silence, and surrounded by my dog friends.

November 21st: So quiet tonight, not even a breeze; but very cold. I brought my winter coat, thankfully. Was feeling chilly at dark but a good dinner plus coffee and sitting by the campfire cured that.

The dogs are worn out. All three have their fleece sweaters and are asleep in the tent.

Coming up here alone feels like laying my heart bare. By acknowledging how truly alone I am, physically and emotionally, it seems like I open myself to the spirituality here in nature and wildness. Some may call it divinity, in and through the mystery and the beauty. And yes, it does feel like there are angels nearby. I have heard it said, but don't remember where, that walking over the earth, paying attention, in appreciation and gratitude, is a way of praying.

above: November 2023 backpacking trip

4 December ~ 2023:I have decided for my December stories in the classrooms to tell about Charlie Marion Russell's life, and the changes he lived through as the buffalo herds declined and the native Americans lost much of their land and freedom. Charlie listened to his grandmother's stories about the West, (Charlie's paternal grandmother was Lucy Bent, sister to William Bent who opened Bent's Fort on the Santa Fe trail), and he left home at age 16 for Montana. Charlie worked for many years as a nightherder for big cattle operations. He was a natural extrovert, who made friends easily, and loved to spend time in saloons spinning tales. Charlie was a friend of the native americans, and lived with them at various times in his life.

Between now and when I start telling my stories I am going to read a biography of Charlie's life, which will a wonderful way to spend these December evenings, on the downstairs couch with the border collies.

My first stories will start in just a couple of weeks, because of the noschool gap over Christmas. At the end I will show photos of Montana and Charlie Russell's paintings. One of the very clever teachers suggested I try to connect my tablet to the big 55 inch monitor they have in all the classrooms. I bought a usb-c to hdmi cable and found it was remarkably easy. All it takes is to plug it into the hdmi 2 connection, and the kids can see my photos on the big screen. All the classrooms have the exact same monitor.

painting: Charles M. Russell, In the Wake of the Buffalo Runners, 1911, Oil on canvas, Private Collection

above: Spellbinders Story; Charles Marion Russell, Cowboy Artist

13 December ~ 2023: Next week I will spend with just the dogs, and very little human contact after Wednesday. That might sound bleak, but after 23+ years living alone I am absolutely used to it. Plus it is very enjoyable to take walks with the border collies and open my heart to the spirituality of the winter season. Of course I don't know for sure, but it does feel like angels are closer by this time of year, right there with me and the dogs as we walk along the river and through the thickets of willow.

I am making up for my upcoming solitude this week though. Monday the 11th through Tuesday the 19th will be telling stories in schools twenty times, to about 25 total classrooms (during some tellings they combine classrooms together). My topic this month is the life of the Cowboy Artist, Charles Marion Russell. What a thrill it is to show the kids his paintings at the end of the story on their large 60 inch monitor I connect to my tablet. For the older kids I retell a Christmas Ghost Story that he picked up during one of his visits back to visit family in St Louis. Charlie went to Montana when he was 15 and lived there the rest of his life. Yesterday a 4th grader came up afterwards and told me I inspired him to learn more about the West, and visit his Grandfather's Ranch who has Bison. Many of the children want to tell me about their camping trip or their dog afterwards, which might be an indication my visit touched something they cared about. I wish I could listen to all of them, but have to say my time is up. I am tremendously honored the teachers give me a half hour to share stories with all these classrooms every month throughout the school year. There is no doubt it is one of the best things I will ever do. (This is my 16th year of telling stories in schools). I can guarantee you this much, my 30+ years of working for a thankless bureaucracy pales in comparison. It felt so good to retire and walk out of there eight years ago without even a glance back.

above: Spellbinders Story; Charles Marion Russell, Cowboy Artist

16 December ~ 2023: It is a heart-stopping thrill when I hear the fiddler play the first notes of Seminole Wind, a John Anderson cover. My task then is to find a willing and skilled partner - sometimes it works out, sometimes not. On this night it did. Seminole Wind, in my opinion, is the best country song ever written. I feel absolute freedom and joy when triple stepping to it around the perimeter of the dance floor with my athletic partner. In dances like this you get so much in the moment and flow that time seems to slow down. How grateful I am to have experiences like this!

above: at the dance hall; December 2023

23 December ~ 2023: If I found Mom had nothing planned on Christmas and Holidays, I would make sure I dropped by for a visit. I had lived by myself long enough by then to understand that being alone at those times is not ideal, but being forgotten makes it worse. We would do her grocery shopping if she needed it, and then always stop at Borders bookstore in Longmont for coffee and cookies and long conversation. She listened to me describe my backpack trips and then dancing on the weekends. I was honest with her - said how great it has been for me to have stopped drinking alcohol in the year 2000, but if I had been smart I would have stopped twenty years before that. We became close friends during those visits, and would joke and laugh together a lot.

It also became a tradition for several years for my two daughters to come down from Ft Collins and pick Mom up to have Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Downtown Denver, except for the one time we drove to Cherry Creek to eat at a different restaurant. Those memories are precious, because of how much fun we had together. Mom and my two daughters seemed to have a similar goofy sense of humor.

When Mom passed away her beloved cat came to live with me. Kitty got along with the border collies and had her spot on the edge of the couch nearest the wood stove.

above: Mom, Mollie, Kitty, and Maggie

We woke up to morning snow on Christmas Eve! That doesn't happen very often. After tending to the chickens I put on my winter boots, coat, and gloves and the dogs and I loaded into the truck and drove up to the foothills for a walk in the snowy woods. It made them and me very happy.

#christmassnow #rockymountains #bordercolliesoftiktok #johndenver #aspenglow

Christmas eve morning, 2023

Christmas 2023

Christmas 2023

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart"