Sunday, August 16, 2020

On the Beach: Pandemic, Week 20


We walk Gleneden Beach every day.  It’s never crowded enough to make social-distancing a big issue.  We do see, particularly on weekends, groups of people for whom this is not a concern, but they are easily avoided.  This day we see the red Coast Guard helicopter flying low and making a couple passes.  Then, a low-flying plane making the same loop.  One of us says, “There’s only one thing they could be looking for.”



Jock Glidden passed a way this week.  With George Lowe he made the first ascent of the fearsome north face of Mt Alberta in the Canadian Rockies in 1972.  A route which would take the life of Tobin Sorenson, the gifted alpinist from Southern California, and which has, in the nearly fifty years since, seen fewer than a dozen ascents. The black and white photographs published in Ascent were grim and I remembered that some of them showed that Jock or George had painted some kind of lightning bolt or dragon on his helmet.  I would paint an imitative yellow bolt on my own red helmet, an artifact long since lost to history.

            I was honored to meet him in 1995 when he was seven years younger than I am today. He was suffering from increasingly debilitating effects of Parkinson’s. He chose to stop eating and drinking and went out on his own terms.  85 years old.



A fatal bear mauling in Alaska.  Scant details.  All known circumstances—location mostly–leave open the possibility that the casualty could be a friend of mine.  Hope, Alaska has around 200 residents. I send out some queries. Finally, after a few hours spent fretting, my friend answers safe.  The man was a friend of his and the whole community, small as it is, is on edge and in mourning.



The news that a dear childhood friend has passed away.  The guilt for not having seen him in a couple years. The way he hung on for eleven months after the doctors said his body would give out. His sister told me that in his last days she asked if he wanted to see or talk to anyone.  “He said he just wanted to sit and smoke as much as possible for as long as possible.”  His terms. The way the world keeps spinning but I sense a hitch in it, that tiny missing tooth in the great flywheel, that space formerly filled by my friend, Dennis. 



We are accosted (literally) on Road’s End Beach by an angry man with a stick.  It’s 7:30 in the morning, we are sitting on a log drinking coffee out of a thermos. According to the police this guy is a local who believes he owns the beach.  “You’re in my yard, man.  This is my yard.”  I describe his behavior as menacing, not quite threatening.  We hustled back to the car, nature’s spell broken.  Thinking maybe a can of bear spray could be a useful multi-task tool.



Body washes up on the shore somewhere just south of us near Otter Rock. At first the public’s help in identifying her is requested. She is wearing a lacrosse shirt. Then, after she is identified, as 58 year old woman from Portland, the police issue a statement that says no further information regarding her will be released.



By walking 45 minutes we can get to place on the beach pretty much completely uninhabited. We are walking back at the end of the day and because it’s the weekend there are places where we have to detour around the large groups, the squealing kids, the kite-flyers, sand-castle-builders, the leash-less chihuahuas and inexhaustible retrievers, the Nike exec on his beach chair with his sockless loafers and laptop.  And finally, the lovers. We avoid them all.  And then: the newly married couple beaming with joy as the wedding photographer records the moment. And then, yet another wedding, ceremonial, with music, and kids running around.  The couple and their witnesses, the celebrant, and all the guests lit-up in the fading golden light as the sun nears the horizon.



The lousy week comes to an end. But we are reminded, in its last hours, that people continue to love, to look to a better future, to move forward into it.  We will, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

That One Night We Thought We Were Immortal: Remembering Dennis Archer 1952~2020

     Pharoah Sanders circa 2016, a Christian Weber photo*


Dog days of summer 1974.  Nixon is being impeached. A television news broadcaster commits suicide on live tv.  Mama Cass dies of heart failure at age 32.  The Detroit Tigers dynasty has run its course and beloved hometown hero Al Kaline will hang up his cleats at season’s end, outlasting Nixon by a couple months.  The war in Viet Nam is waning, at least as far as American lives lost goes; our allies though lost 120,000 soldiers that year.

            The war is something we have thought less and less about since we escaped the draft a couple years earlier.  Dennis drew a low draft number and was ordered to report, but showed up with a last-minute medical excuse signed off by his pacifist family doctor.  I had an untouchably high draft lottery number.  Rosemary, Dennis’s girlfriend, couldn’t be drafted of course, but I remember that her brother Tom, who shared a birth date and therefore a low number with Dennis, had to join the National Guard to avoid going to Viet Nam.  We had all known each other since middle school days.


Our nights often began, and sometimes ended, at Misko’s, where a shell of beer cost thirty-five cents and the jukebox hadn’t seen a new record since about 1962. Misko’s was a neighborhood bar that featured hand drawn posters of the owners: “the fighting Misko brothers,” amateur boxers in the 1950s.  One of their sons, Charlie, a year older than us, tended bar. Charlie had played football at one of our high school’s rivals and sometimes I’d sit at the bar and reminisce about what then already seemed like the old days.

Obviously there was nothing happening at Misko’s.  There never was. We were like bored children, whining “there’s nothing to do.”  I was vaguely aware of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, reputed (and disputed) to be the oldest jazz club in America, reputed also to be the scene of Miles Davis’ getting off heroin (disputed, by Davis himself, though the story never died).  I knew Coltrane, everyone, had played there.  I put a dime in the pay phone and asked who was playing that night.  Pharoah Sanders. We didn’t know who Pharoah Sanders was, but that didn’t matter. 

Dennis was a classically trained viola player who played in orchestras as long as I had known him and yet, his musicianship was part of his life never shared with me. In the winter he would bring his viola into Misko’s because he didn’t want to leave it out in the car in the frigid air. He endured interminable remarks suggesting the case held a machine gun–these were The Godfather years.  He was probably the only classical musician who ever hung out in Misko’s.

Okay, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. We’re in. How do we get there?  It’s on Livernois, can’t miss it. We were off.

I remember that I drove, which was unusual, as I hadn’t always had a car.  The fact that I did is what allows me to pinpoint the year in memory. 1974 was the only summer I had that car in Michigan.  And, also, my last summer in Michigan; the following spring I drove west until the road ended and didn’t hardly look back.

I can’t remember if we expected to be the only white people in the place.  We should have. But we felt more accepted than merely tolerated.  Yeah, you’re white, we’re over it.  (Note from the future, i.e. now: white privilege much?)

The club was small and dark and the room was almost empty.  We sat at a table directly in front of the band, ten feet from Pharoah Sanders himself.  He was backed up by a drummer, stand-up bass player, and a guitarist.  Sanders was wearing some kind of khaftan, a gown really, and he looked like  some old testament prophet about to summoning the angels with a sacred instrument. And then he blew that horn.

To say that we had never heard, or experienced, anything like it would be an enormous understatement.  It was almost as if the music was inside us, or we were inside it.  Something was happening.


Writing in 2016, Nick Marino described Sanders this way:
“A free-thinking astral traveler and spiritual gangster, he’s the official saxophonist of your soul’s awakening.

His definitive song may be “The Creator has a Masterplan,” a thirty-two minute vision quest that journeys from moments of pastoral beauty to demon-purging squall –just like life itself.”


That was what was happening: our demons were being purged.  We were hearing a long mad riff on “The Creator has a Masterplan.”  ** Dennis was out of his chair much of the night, moving—you couldn’t say dancing exactly—to the music.  It was as if you could see those astral planes opening up a direct line of communication between Dennis and Sanders’ horn.  Dennis looked as if someone had nailed his feet to the ground so that he couldn’t fall over as he rocked and bowed and howled.  In between tunes Dennis threw all his money at the stage.  If he could have spoken it would have been in tongues.

At some point, we noticed we were the only patrons in the place.  At some point closing  time passed.  We were outside of time.

And then we were out on the street, as if having awakened from a dream.  I drove through the deserted Detroit streets back to our lives which I now knew were unnecessarily ordinary.  Dennis and Rosemary lived in a rundown house just inside the Detroit border.  I vaguely recall that the rent was $100 a month.  I don’t remember dropping them off or what he may have said.  Probably just, “Yes.”  Or something equally succinct.

Dennis and I would stay in touch, but not see each other in person very often in these intervening forty-six years.  He suffered from poor health due to various habits to which he was faithfully wed.  His sister told me that when it was near the end she asked if he wanted to see or talk to anyone.  “He said he just wanted to sit and smoke as much as possible for as long as possible.”

The doctors had given him six months but he took eleven more after that, a fact from which he derived much pleasure.  I have hundreds of memories of him, most great, a few confounding. But if I had to choose one, I’ll take this one, the night he and the music and Pharoah Sanders were mysteriously and mind-blowingly all one beautiful alive thing.***

Shine on you crazy diamond~


* This photo is placeholder until I can access my archives and find one of Dennis and me.

** You can heard this tune on the album Karma from 1969

*** I wrote about Dennis previously in the  essay "The Purposes of Ascent" in my book of essays,                     Warnings Against Myself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Outtakes from my MFA Res presentation, "Fragments, Last Words, Becoming Books."


“I saw a hundred thousand blackbirds just flying through the sky/
And they seemed to form a teardrop/
From a black-haired angel’s eye/
And that tear fell all around me/
And it washed my sins away.”
~ from “Everything is Cool,” John Prine

The critic Jayson Green and his wife experienced the most terrible tragedy when they lost their two-year-old daughter to a random accident.  Green was telling John Prine that his song “Everything is Cool” was a kind of comfort to them at that time, as if their daughter was speaking to them from beyond.

But Prine explained to him that the song wasn’t written about death or even grief. “Well, there’s only two things,” Prine said “There’s life, and there’s death. So, it’s a 50/50 shot.”

I thought this was great, that Prine had reduced all the complexities of life to their simplest terms.  But the more I thought about it the more I wondered if it weren’t even simpler than that. Every breath we take while alive brings us that much closer to death.  So, aren’t living and dying one thing?


During the pandemic I didn’t have access to my office to retrieve my copy of Larry Levis’ posthumously published poetry collection, The Darkening Trapeze.  A few weeks ago, I bicycled to campus.  I saw no signs of life there.  No cars in the parking lots, an eerie emptiness.  A moose walked through the library parking lot, talking its time, as they always do.  It’s not unusual for moose to be on campus.  But now, there was a kind of strangeness to it, as if nature had taken back the campus, as if this were a post-human world, or a toxic zone, like Chernobyl has become.


I took a class with Levis, but there were only two people in it, so Levis said we would just meet in his office.  The class was the Teaching Colloquium for graduate students.  We met at his office late in the afternoon and Levis would just talk and we would listen.  I don’t think he even mentioned anything about teaching.   He just talked about literature, poetry mostly.  I think he may have believed all teaching just sort of naturally radiated out of the teacher’s love and knowledge of literature.  Levis talked past sunset, never remembering, or bothering, to turn on the light in his darkening office.  It was like listening to a bed-time story.

Aisha meets Sontag

Aisha, my wife, tells the story of learning about Susan Sontag.  A high school student, she and a friend were visiting the friend’s brother at Portland State and he gave them a copy of Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation” from The American Scholar.  She remembers the shock of not being able to understand a single sentence of it, yet felt its allure, power.  She didn’t know what lay on the other side of that door but knew that she was walking through it.


I was seeing a cardiologist for my atrial fibrillation.  The doctor is reading my chart for the first time.  He speaks English with a strong German accent.  “Ha! he blurts out, “You do not have to worry about your heart, you will die from cancer!”

I haven’t wanted to write much about twice surviving cancer, less even than I am doing at this very minute. 

We have a lot of trees on our new property and Tony was recommended to us to take care of them.  He came out to give us an estimate and we liked him immediately.  Later that same day we saw him at the beach donning his wetsuit for an early even surf session.  I mentioned this to the neighbor who had recommended him.  “Oh, yeah,” he said, “Tony’s a pro surfer.  You should google him.”

So, we did, and, yeah, Tony is a sponsored pro surfer.  But what caught my eye was the news story about Tony being attacked by a Great White Shark, right off the beach here.  Luckily, he was paddling out with his legs up in the air.  The shark just grabbed the board and swam off.  The newspaper wanted to take a photo of Tony and his shark-chewed surfboard.  But Tony wouldn’t let them.  “I don’t want to be known as the guy who was attacked by a shark.  I just want to be known as a surfer.”

Which is why I don’t want to write about cancer.  Don’t want to be defined by that (even if I am).

Scientists examining the surfboard estimated the shark to be 16 or 17 feet long and to have weighed about 4,000 pounds.

Richard Ford

Ford famously spit on Colson Whitehead after Whitehead said in a book review that Ford’s characters are indistinguishable from one another, among other observations.  This is a particularly punk move because Whitehead is much younger, much stronger, also Black, and could have squashed Ford like bug, but couldn’t really because Ford is too old.  Ford is reported to have said, “You spit on my book, you spit on me.”  Later Whitehead noted, “I would like to warn the many other people who panned the book that they might want to get a rain poncho, in case of inclement Ford.”
But: You spit on my book, you spit on me.  As if he and his work are one thing.  This is actually the opposite of our strategy in writing workshops in which we draw a pretend line between the work and its author and claim to be critiquing only the work.  Which isn’t really possible, is it?
Ford also is known for having taken a firearm and shot holes in the book of another reviewer (Alice Hoffman) who panned him.  He mailed the book to her.  All this behavior is childish, of course.  But, I don’t know, maybe there’s something here, something understandable, his unbridled blind passion for his own work.


 Photo from Josef Capski's notes on In Search of Lost Time made from memory as a POW in a Nazi prison camp.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

High Places, Sacrifices, Mysteries


                                                      Since then, at an uncertain hour,
                                                      That agony returns:
                                                      And till my ghastly tale is told,
                                                      This heart within me burns.

                                                              ~ “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge began “Kubla Khan” with a preface, a disclaimer of sorts, so I’ll take license to begin similarly with an apology.  Yes, I know much of my work tends to trickle down to the same inevitable conclusion. I’ve become the Mariner compelled to repeat my story, to dwell on the loss that has most shaped me.  Believe me, if I had a choice, I would choose otherwise.
Cockloft: a small loft just below the roof.  From cock (rooster), from Old English, cocc, + Old English loft (sky). Apparently roosters love to roost up high and this is the highest place indoors, in the house. 
In Norse cosmology, Aasgard is translation from the Old Norse meaning “an enclosure in the air,” a place associated with the gods and located in the sky. Valhalla, from the Old Norse meaning “hall of the slain,” is a  majestic enormous hall located within Aasgard, ruled over by the god Odin.  The Valkyries were dispatched by Odin to the battlefields to select from among the dead those who would live happily among the gods in Valhalla.
Our son found work roofing with two brothers who went by the names Skeeter and Slim, who were not toothless rednecks, but perhaps aspired to be.  They gave Macklin the name Rooster, because of his reddish hair and complexion.
Loteria is a Mexican card game somewhat like bingo.  The cards themselves are beautiful, folky. Teachers would use the cards to play a game with their students, asking questions from which the students guess to which card the phrases refer.  For example, the teacher would say, “El quele cantó a san Pedro no le volverá cantar.” And the students would answer, “El Gallo!”
 “He that sang to St. Peter will not return to sing again.” The Rooster!
The Enclosure is a high point on the north side of the Grand Teton, at 13,285 feet some 80 feet lower than the main summit.  So named because near its top early climbers found a small horseshoe-shaped rock-walled enclosure, conjectured to be a site the native peoples used for vision quest ceremonies.  A nearby couloir was later named Vision quest Couloir.  Getting to the Enclosure would have been a formidable task for any climber.
My sons and I took a road trip from Illinois to Wyoming in the summer of 2006.  We did some bouldering, rock climbing, and even some alpine climbing.  Probably the most memorable climb for me was the ascent of the Diamond in the Snowy Range accompanied by Macklin.  His brother was on a nearby route in a party of three.  As memorable as that climb was, there was another: high in the Tetons the three of us roped up together. We got a few pitches up when the rain began, loud splats on the helmets, and I decided we should bail.  Before we began the rappels we found shelter under a rocky roof, a cockloft of sorts, and ate our meager lunch.  The boys, who were 12 and 14 at the time, began to tell me outrageous jokes, forbidden (!), one after another, rapid-fire.  Jokes they would never dare repeat aloud in civilized society.  We howled in laughter as the rain fell around us.  Finally we stepped out from under the rock and began the rappelling. I can’t remember what I used for rappel anchors, or even the name of the peak.  I only remember the laughter.
The Inca believed in human sacrifice, child sacrifice: the famine may end, the emperor may be smiled upon by the gods.  In 1999 the mummified bodies of three children were found in a hollowed out chamber just below the summit of Volcán Llullaillaco, a 22,110 foot peak in the Andes. DNA samples revealed the three had been plied with large amounts of coca and alcohol.  It is believed that in this drugged state they simply passed out and never awakened, succumbing to the rigor of the journey, the thin air, and the freezing temperatures.
In 1978 Johnny Waterman disappeared into the crevasse field beneath Denali on a climbing trip he was radically under-provisioned for.  He had previously climbed an unthinkable route on nearby Mt. Hunter, solo, over 145 days.  People naturally said he had a “death wish.”  Who is to say?
 . . . the rigor of the journey, the thin air, and the freezing temperatures.  In his Evening Sends essay taking stock of the last decade of climbing headlines, Andrew Bisharat notes the passing of at least a dozen young climbers, a litany of the self-martyred, “icons who pushed limits of alpine climbing, who are no longer with us.”  To what god did they sacrifice themselves, to what ideal?
Likewise, five years earlier, John Waterman’s brother William had disappeared in Alaska without a trace. 
Guy Waterman, the parent of two missing sons, chose to end his own life in winter on the summit of Mt Lafayette in the White Mountains near his home.  He planned the event carefully, took some drugs, curled up on his side, went to sleep and surrendered, by design, to the cold.  He was sixty-seven years old, my age as I write this.
I happened to have climbed Mt. Lafayette.  In 1972 my friend John and I hitchhiked up to New Hampshire from Boston where he was in school.  We attempted to climb Mt Washington—this was early winter—but the first night we were so bitterly cold we headed down in the morning. Nearing the road John slipped on some ice and badly sprained his ankle.  We ended up camped below Mt. Lafayette and I hiked up it alone, mostly enshrouded in clouds the whole day.  I sometimes think of that day in conjunction with Guy Waterman’s sad end even though eighteen years separate the events.
My father’s father died a few years before I was born. He and my grandmother had been in and out of tuberculosis sanitariums for much of their adult lives.  My aunt called it “the san.”  My dad didn’t talk about his father much and I remember asking him what his father had actually died from.  “He was just,” my father said, “worn out.”
“Roosters wear out if you look at them too much.”  So said Garcia-Marquez in “No One Writes to the Colonel.”  Some times I think that about Macklin, our Rooster.  Was he just worn out?  At 22? “Close to the western summit,” Hemingway famously wrote of Mt Kilimanjaro, “there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”  Likewise, we can’t explain how Macklin found himself alone, in Willow Creek, in early winter, and how he drowned there.
When our loteria card is called, will we know the answer?  What visions were seen by the novitiates in the Enclosure?  Will our sacrifices be received by the gods?  Will St. Peter greet us at the pearly gates? Who among us will live happily forever among the gods in Valhalla? 


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A Fearful Symmetry: Notes from Isolation

                                       How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
                                      And come home in the evening and have nothing to say 

                                                           ~John Prine, Angel from Montgomery

I haven’t written anything related to the self-quarantining because I haven’t anything to add.  I’m simply living out my days as we all are. I feel our voices are mostly interchangeable in this moment.

I am wondering why the loss of John Prine, a COVID-19 casualty, has hit so many of us, so  hard.  I remember when I found a copy of his first album and Mike Schohnhofen was suspicious, as if you really needed to have permission to own this album, that some secret handshake ought to be required.

When you’ve suffered loss, relatively recent and unexpected loss, facebook memories can be a mixed blessing.  Yesterday a photo of Macklin and me, Easter dinner at Alyeska after a day of skiing, 2009.  He was such a giant that whenever I see photos of him and me together I think of those Wordsworth lines, “The child is father to the man.”

Our days are routine, patterned, the same. We’re lucky: lots of work to do, paychecks coming in. We take long afternoon walks, but in a place where social distancing is very easy—it’s not the most beautiful place.  After six weeks we decide to change the routine and walk to a beautiful place.

I found out that I knew all the words to all the songs on that album.  It took his death to unlock them in my brain.

We know this will entail some proximity to human beings, but we think we can keep socially distant.

So on our way down to the Turnagain Arm there aren’t so many people.  The trail dumps us out at the beach and there are always people right at that spot, usually easy to walk away from them, and we do.

Shortly into the hike we come across a dead moose, rather small, been there a while.  We saw one many years ago in this exact spot.  Some kind of winter death.

Then we noticed that the hillside had slid in dozens of spots.  Big alluvial fans of wet dirt a couple feet thick.  We had never seen this in our ten years of hiking this beach.  What did it mean?

Then an apparently injured raven hopping around very close to a family of four.  I worry about this bird.

The tide is way out there and in between us and the water a terrain of ice floes and erratics resting on the mudflats, melting, moving, alive.

We find a spot to lay out the blanket, eat our sandwiches, wash them down with cold beer.

Aisha naps. I am reading a story by Lauren Groff called “L. DeBard and Aliette.” I chose to read it based on its selection to Best American Short Stories.  I didn’t know that it was set during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.  This book has been on my shelf for years, yet I’m only reading it now during the pandemic.

This beach is close to the airport and the large planes arriving from the south circle way out to the west over the water, out of sight, and then come back to land perpendicular to the coastline.

The small planes come in from the west, too, but they’re coming from villages, off the road system, a tenuously tie to civilization.

“The plague hits New York like a tight fist.  Trains rolling into the boroughs stop in their tracks when engineers die at the controls.  After 851 new Yorkers die in one day, a man is attacked for spitting on the streets.” ~ Groff, writing in 2006

We pack up and head up the trail.  No sign of the raven, which is a good sign.  But the people.  Too many.  They approach, indifferent to social distancing.  There are too many.  No masks, no sense of space, too close.  We are doomed, I think.  We are emotionally exhausted when we get back to the car.

At the onset I thought covid was corvid—the crow family to which ravens belong.  Maybe I confused eating bats with eating crows, a subconscious transposition.

John Prine aficionados don’t agree on what his best song is, though many say it’s “Hello in There,” a heartbreaker about the loneliness of growing old.  He wrote it in 1971, the year I graduated high school.  The lines that get me now are:

            Well, it ‘s been years since the kids have grown
            A life of their own, left us alone

You don’t hear that song in 1971 and recognize your fate there, but, well, here we are.

On April 8, 2020 799 people died of COVID-19 in New York.

“Eating crow is a colloquial idiom, used in some English-speaking countries, that means humiliation by admitting having been proven wrong after taking a strong position. The crow is a carrion-eater that is presumably repulsive to eat in the same way that being proven wrong might be emotionally hard to swallow.”~ wikipedia

That night I look at facebook memories again and there ten years to the day is the photograph of the first dead moose we saw on that same beach.  “What immortal hand or eye,/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

Looking forward to bumping elbows with you all in this strange new world we are just beginning to find our way into~


Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Peter Boardman's classic The Shining Mountain

If you’ve read my earlier post about acquiring a new-to-me copy of The Shining Mountain, you know that I felt fated to read it again, immediately.  I don’t recall reading it for the first time, but most likely it was in this same American edition which was published shortly after Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker were lost on Everest in 1982.  The first British edition was published in 1976 shortly after the climb of the west wall of Changabang with Joe Tasker, the book’s subject.

So, as I read, I must have known Boardman was dead, but somehow I don’t remember this fact as affecting my reading of the book. 1982. The year we were married. Thirty-seven years Boardman and Tasker didn’t have.  It may be that in 1982 death was more of an abstraction to me.  Not so now.

The Shining Mountain is one of the most explicitly self-conscious expedition books, before or since.  I think this is due partly to Boardman’s acute consciousness of he and Tasker as a two-person team, with little margin for error and wholly self-sufficient.  His climb on Everest the previous year was one of those enormous old-fashioned, well-financed, and well-publicized expeditions.

My gloss on the passages (which speak best for themselves) is in italics.

I was still diary scribbling notes onto bits of paper. I had left my diary on the moraine at Advance Camp, thinking that if anything happened to us on the Wall, then at least someone might find record of what had happened to us up to that point. Also, I censored it–I didn’t write about the occasional disagreements Joe and I had, or worries I felt about the route.  I thought, “ What if this is the last thing I write and somebody read it?  I think things done in the strange world of an expedition, once recorded, become inflated and can be easily misunderstood by the non-mountaineer or uninformed commentator, eager for ‘the reasons behind the tragedy’. Joe was intrigued by my assiduous writings:
“I wondered why Pete wanted to preserved the situation, rather than use every conscious minute to savour them.  He was usually full of apt literary quotations and when I told him that Graham Greene had said that a writer’s greatest problem was not trying to remember, but trying to forget, he             thought that I had made it up to excuse my laziness in keeping a diary” (73).

It is often presumed that journal writing, because of its immediacy to events described, is a kind of primary truth.  But of course, experience mediated through language is always . . . mediated.  The gap between language and “the truth” can’t ever quite close.  Every word choice is a construct.
            I love that Boardman didn’t disclose his disagreements with Joe in his journal, yet chose to reveal them to the public in what would become the book.
         And then there’s Joe’s “living in the present.”  He would later publish two books and one wonders if he changed his view on this subject and kept a journal or recalled events and feeling s later “in tranquility.

The icefield had a symbolic aura about it, and entering it was like entering other secret places–there was the same air of privilege and mystery about it, I had the same feeling about the Spider on the North Face of the Eiger (80–1).

This is Peter quoting Joe. These secret places with their aura of privilege and mystery.  A big part of the allure.

I noticed he [Joe] had only clipped into two of the three angled pegs I had placed so apprehensively before.
            “Why have you only clipped two, Joe?”
            “They look all right.  Two should be enough,” he said
I hastily clipped into the third one.  Pegs always give an illusion of safety if you have not put them in yourself (132).

Love this last line.  It’s weirdly true.  Theoretically, we should trust only what we place ourselves, right?  But we tend to trust fixed pins and bolts, foe example, whose efficacy is quite unknown to ourselves.  Pete, here is like “I placed them, I know how sketchy they are!”  My friends Charlie at some point vowed never to rap off any anchor that ne didn’t place himself. And, every time I’ve climbed with him, that’s been the way it is.

Hurry up, there’s no time for taking photographs.” It was the first time Joe had sounded angrily impatient.
            “Don’t worry, “I shouted back, “You’ll be glad of them when you are an old man!” (135).

Just heartbreaking.  Because they never became old men.  But then, how often do I look back at my climbing photographs from 1982 or ’76?  They are among my most valued possessions, what I’d hate most to lose in a housefire.  And yet, I never look at them.

He was down it half an hour before I was, as I descended the last dangerous section, I looked down at him collecting our fallen belongings, envying his safe world of the glacier.  At last I was stumbling over the lumpy avalanche debris at the foot of the slope.  “Nothing can kill me now,” I thought as I walked across the glacier to help him (168).

We all know the  “Nothing can kill me now” feeling when we reach safe ground after an ordeal.  And yet, for most of us, we don’t stay in the “nothing can kill me now” zone.  We are slow learners.

As I strode through the main street I started to feel, for the first time, unkempt and strangely dressed.  But no one was noticing me and I felt confident.  So this was the outside—were its preoccupations off-centre or were mine? Did I need it?  It was twilight, transistor radios were blaring and naked bulbs were flickering dimly in the shops and sweet-meat stalls. It was crowded, and I had to jostle past through the crowds of shoppers, pilgrims, and beggars, carts and dogs.  My senses were stormed by a confusion of images, intense, momentary ‘takes’ freely flashing by the corners of my eyes.
            I walked into the rest house.  Joe was there, looking washed and rested.  I was still carrying with me the wilderness of mountain life and the aura of one of the newly returned amongst people (178).

Re-entry into “the real world.”  There is that zone between the vertical world and the world where we can once again, smell the grass, taste the ice cream, and feel the pounding of a hot shower on our wasted bodies.  The mountain world and everyday life can be separate universes.  I remember aching to be in the mountains, that I had been so far away from them.  Then I remembered it had only been two days.


• Peter Boardman’s body has been seen a couple times on the windswept ridge of Everest where they were last seen.  But Tasker’s has not.

• The Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, established in their names, has been awarded annually since 1984.

• The most recent winner was Kate Harris for her Land of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road.