Monday, October 27, 2014

Owning Books, or Am I a Hoarder?


It is indisputable that I own too many books, although simultaneously I believe one cannot own too many books.  But I do have more than I can put on shelves, more than my home and office can hold, and many of my books are “stored” in the garage.   A topic for another discussion is why I don’t use my Kindle.  But for now I admit: I have a problem.  I have agreed, in theory, to get rid of three books for every new one I acquire.   This pledge (which is pretty much all it is, so far) has been approved of at home.
So, I realize that I have two copies of many books.  This is understandable, right?  You have a teaching copy of this or that, both a hardcover and a paperback of a book, a gift of a book you already own, a 25 cent copy at the library sale that you couldn’t resist. Many are the reasons I can rationalize for owning two copies of single book.
Then, I realized that there are also titles of which I own three copies.  Can this be justified?  Well, I can justify it to myself, but probably not to you.  But let’s look at the titles of these thrice-owned texts and see if there is any rhyme or reason to it.  It’s not a long, nor surprising (to me), list:
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald.  Actually there’s an edition of this I would like yet to acquire, with notes by Mathew Bruccoli.
Walden, or, My Life in the Woods, by Thoreau.  My paperback Riverside edition from graduate school is the one with all my notes in it.  I consult it often.
Mt Analogue, A Novel Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventure in Mountain Climbing, by Rene Daumal.  I have the first hardcover English version translated by Roger Shattuck.  When I acquired it in the early 1970s it was the only one in print in English.  I also have a copy in French (symbolic).
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry.  The newest one I acquired has a new intro by William Vollman which necessitated its acquisition.
Starlight and Storm: the Ascent of the Six Great North faces of the Alps, by Gaston Rebuffat.  One at home, one at school, and one recently gifted to me by the great Bernie Wood, book aficionado, collector, hoarder, and friend.
Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier.  Didn’t realize I had three until I found one by accident in the garage.  But I do love this book.  One of my copies is a first edition that I paid pennies for.
Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes: Volume 1--Columbia River to Stevens Pass. Volume 1, Fred Beckey.  First edition, revised edition, climbing partner trimming his library.
Yosemite Climbers Guide, George Myers.  Yeah, I have three of these, too.  I also have two of Steve Roper’s Yosemite guidebooks, both the red and green covers, and a couple Supertopos.  Plus, Tuolumne Meadows which is also in Yosemite National Park. 
When I think about it, none of the books on this list is a surprise.  The situation is precisely as it should be.
Just to check, I searched out an on-line Hoarder’s Quiz on the internet.  This was not a goofy buzzfeed quiz in which they ask what kind of chocolate you like and then tell you your life-expectancy (91 years, by the way, WOOT!).  No, this was a “real” test on some mental health website.  I took care with the answers, and gave the most honest responses I could arrive at.  The result: yeah, “High Risk for Compulsive Hoarding.”
(Photgraph: Jeffrey Vasseur's shelf in his office at Valdosta State University.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

St. Anthony, pray for us!

My aunt, now in her mid-eighties, is recovering from a fall.  A gust of wind blew her off a porch and numerous bones were broken.  Some time after this, she began asking her nieces and nephews what items in her house might we like after she was gone, or seriously down-sized, whichever might come first.

I had no real interest in participating in this exercise, not just because I couldn’t bear the thought of it (which I can’t) but because I myself have begun the process of down-sizing.  At least in theory I have so begun.
In any case, I want very little in the way of new material things unless they are related to skiing, or black shirts, neither of which one can ever have too many.

But my wife says, I have always loved that statue of the saint up in the apricot bedroom.  And I think, that thing weighs 50 pounds, how are we going to get it to Alaska?  That’s a discussion for later.  

The statue itself, by the way, features a tonsured and robed saint holding the Christ child.  I have never understood the logic of this, Christ predating said saint by a mere millennium, plus or minus a hundred years or so.   But, as I was told of many of my many theological questions as a Catholic schoolboy, “It is a divine mystery.”

So I tell my aunt, yes, we are interested in the statue.  “Oh,” she says, St “Anthony.”  We had always assumed it was St Francis of Assisi, but no, St Anthony, of Padua.  I should add here that we already have a family heirloom of this nature: a statue of the Infant of Prague, known by my son when he was young as The Infant of Prod.  Close enough.
“That came to us from Pat Delaney,” my aunt recalls.  “Mr. Delaney owned the diner a few doors north of the bakery [that my grandmother owned and above which they lived] and he was, like us, one of the few Catholics in town.  When Mr. Delaney decided to shutter the doors and move in with his sister in Chicago, he brought mother a package, wrapped in butcher paper.”  My grandmother said, “Well, I’ve seen you’ve brought me St Anthony.”  She didn’t know why she said it, as she couldn’t have known what it was in the butcher paper nor that Mr. Delaney had ever owned such a thing, but neither she, nor Pat Delaney could have been more shocked: she by what he had brought and he by what she had said.

St Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects, lost people, lost causes and “even lost spiritual goods.” I would like a clarification on this last item, but I see none forthcoming.  He is also the patron of no fewer than 29 other causes, among them, amputees, swineherds, and Tigua Indians, just to give you a sense of his range.

The original lost object associated with St Anthony was a book.  A book, pre-Gutenburg, was valuable enough, but this book was annotated by Anthony and the comments were invaluable to him. He prayed for its return and preached about it, and indeed, the thief, for it had been stolen, returned it.  A lost book, with annotations, is a lost cause to which I can relate.  If divine intervention was necessary, I understand completely.  Yes, whatever it takes.
After Anthony’s death his tongue was preserved in a reliquary (but, of course!) where his body was buried, a tribute to his oratory talents.  When his body was exhumed thirty years after his death it was found to have turned to dust.  The tongue, however, the tongue was said to be glistening with moisture (saint spit?).

So, someday, in the future, distant I hope, we will reunite St. Anthony with the Infant of Prod.  Meanwhile I know of more than a few lost causes and I am praying to him for a little intercession.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Iowa City Days

I was transported back to the year I spent in Iowa City by the experience of reading John McNally’s hilarious satire of the writing workshop life, After the Workshop.  Among McNally’s targets are writer’s envy and block, drinking, and posing.  He gives his characters invented names, but the reader will feel he recognizes a few of them from life, and this, of course, is a guilty pleasure.  But the setting is “real,” the real Iowa City, its bookstores and bars, which I know, and its Olympian workshop, of which I know only the myth to which McNally’s portrait adds.
            One time my wife and I were at Prairie Lights, one of the great independent bookstores in the country, when we saw that one of my favorite writers was going to be reading that very night.  We had our oldest son with us, third grade at the time, and somehow bribed him into attending.  On the way up the stairs to where the reading space was I ran into an old friend from graduate school (I won’t identify him by either name or genre, but this is otherwise not intentionally fictional).  This was at least ten years since I had last seen him and we were now many miles from Utah where we had been students together.  Things were already going bad for him before we all left Utah.  He married, and divorced in a matter of weeks during grad school.  He suffered dire health problems that required a kidney transplant, but promised no guarantees.. I never knew who actually graduated and who didn’t; it was hard to tell, there were so many steps in the process.  And I didn’t ask now.
            He continued to tell me tales of woe, not in a self-pitying way but more in a this-was-what-has-happened way.  In truth, he didn’t seem like the same person at all.  I remember him cashing his student loan and hopping on his motorcycle and making a beeline to Wendover, Nevada to play blackjack with every last cent.  I remember his work appearing in prominent literary magazines. His gorgeous wife of a few weeks.   Now he was living in some small town, sleeping on a couch in his mother’s basement.  He had completely abandoned writing.  Words, he said, don’t make sense to me any more.
            I was depressed by this chance encounter and mystified at what I might do to help him, not that he was asking.
            He went to the reading, too.  For some reason, the writer was not happy to be reading.  She was almost hostile, particularly in the question and answer session after the reading.  The whole night was depressing, and, after that, I never saw, nor heard of, my friend again.  And seeing the writer in person poisoned her work for me and I haven’t returned to it.

One time I was watching my youngest kid playing on the playground that is right down town in Iowa City.  I noticed that the adult sitting next to me was a writer I admired who taught in the Workshop,.  I introduced myself, told him I admired his work.  We chatted, watching the kids.  In the end we agreed that he should come visit at the campus where I taught , a small state school across the Mississippi in Illinois, two and a half hours away.  We set it up.
            He arrived late, but happy.  We went out to eat where he ordered an enormous steak, easily the most enormous steak I had ever seen, and he insisted on leisurely eating every bite.  We were late to the reading.  Halfway through the piece he was reading he grew unaccountably bored with the story, stopped abruptly, and said something like, “Let’s just talk.” It was very strange.  And after that night I never saw him again either.

I was in a restaurant downtown, waiting to rendezvous with my wife midday while our kids were in school.  She was in graduate school and I was commuting back and forth between Macomb and Iowa City.  It was hectic time.  I don’t recall the name of the place, down on Linn St on the south end of downtown.  It had large plate windows facing the street. I noticed Frank Conroy, the director of the Writers Workshop at a window table.  He left the restaurant before the woman he had been eating with.  From the sidewalk he stopped in front of the window where his friend was still seated and kissed the glass, passionately, in front of her face.   Then he walked off, smiling, scarf trailing in the breeze.   I never saw him again either, but that was because he passed away not long after.  His writing, I am happy to report, is as lovely as was the man himself.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Liberty Ridge, Revisited

The north side of Mt Rainier, the upper Carbon Glacier where the bodies of six climbers last week found their final resting place is one of the scariest places I’ve traveled.  I’ve been there twice, both times in winter, in the mid-1970s a few years before Liberty Ridge was anointed one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America.  In the winter on the north side the sun barely rises over the mountain and the daylight, such as it is, holds a bluish arctic tint, shadowy, until dark.
The first time we were there we got caught in a white-out high on the Carbon.  The snow was heavy, the visibility non-existent and the tents precariously located in a heavily crevassed area.    That should have been enough to have prevented me from going back.
But I went back one more time in the winter.  On that occasion, Denny Cliff and I made it to Thumb Rock rather easily. The slope above it was diamond hard and we could barely get a crampon point to hold.  The hell with it.  The photograph I have from that trip is one of Denny winding his way through a serac field on the Carbon, the serac a good forty feet tall.  I remember the creaking and groaning of the ice and how quickly we moved through it, scared to death every minute.
I have been thinking about the party who were swept away there.  There is a kind of false security when you’re on a ridge climb: you say to yourself that the ridge is protected from avalanches, sort of forgetting that you’re rarely on the ridge proper.  We’ll never know exactly what transpired. May they rest in peace.

Michael Ybarra wrote a piece on his climb of Liberty Ridge (Alpinist 43) that was really haunting. One of his partners was so utterly depressed by the experience, its brutality, his frostbite, that he gave up on climbing forever.  Ybarra himself did not give up, but would fall to his death from the Sawtooth Ridge in the Sierra during a solo traverse.
I haven’t gone back to Liberty Ridge, but I did go back to Mt. Rainier and summited it by its most popular route, twenty-five years after I first climbed it.  It’s a glorious place, providing, of course, the weather is good and you acclimate okay.  I rather doubt I’ll climb it again, but I do entertain hopes of hiking the trail that circumnavigates the peak, The Wonderland Trail.
One more thing about Liberty Ridge.  On the way out the first time we ran into a party of guys intent on the Willis Wall.  This was January.  One of the guys in our group knew some of them and we chatted about conditions and weather.  The tone of our conversation light and carefree now that we were off the glacier and were only hours from the cars. They knew a couple other guys also climbing on that side of the mountain, Al Givler and Dusan Jagersky.  As it transpired Jack Lewis, Scott Baker, and Tom Boley went on to do a first winter ascent of some variation up there on the Willis.  And, I think Al and Dusan were successful, too.  We had missed the window of good weather by a couple days (thank God, I think now!).
The next year I had become friends with Lewis and Baker and we went in a group of five up to the St. Elias Range where we managed the second ascent of the north ridge of Mt. Kennedy, a 35 day trip accessed in and out on skis.  The trip of lifetime, I thought then, and do now, 37 years later.
We were on the ferry heading back to Seattle when we heard of a climbing accident.  When we got back we heard it had been Al Givler and Dusan Jagersky who had perished on Mt. Crillon.
This summer I am heading to the Sawtooth Ridge in the Sierra, a place I always think of as benign.  But, obviously, it isn’t.  If I hadn’t just reread Michael Ybarra’s Liberty Ridge piece I would have forgotten that was the scene of his last climb.
The  popular climber’s on-line Forum Super Topo has been down for maintenance for few days.  Its placeholder reads simply:
“Climbing is Dangerous. Climb at your own risk.”

Maybe they should just run that for a few months.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Remembering Larry Levis


If there is only one world, it is this one.– Decrescendo, Larry Levis

A Larry Levis poem in the New Yorker, now, eighteen years after his death.  Like a star long extinguished whose light is just reaching us.  I guess that’s an easy metaphor for all the writers who continue to be read after they have left us.  The “new’ poem sure reads like the Levis I knew, but when I read it, I think of Levis the man, not so much Levis the poet, though these roles cannot be disentangled.

I remember hearing about his death:

The phone that never rings at this time, on this day, rings now.  True to its unlikely timing it’s an unlikely voice.  A friend, who is a poet, has heard from a friend, also a poet, that Levis was dead.  Poets in death as in life singing each to each.

I can’t say we were friends exactly or that I knew him very well.  A poet’s poet.  Some of those will have this impulse I’m having and dismiss it because others still will do it better.  And they will.  Good writing wishes to occupy a surface, implying a massive seven/eighths beneath its waters:  This is just the tip of the iceberg, baby.  But this writing isn’t like that.  This is the full extent of it.  Close to all there is.

When I first taught creative writing as a graduate student, new teachers were to attend a colloquium with the director of creative writing, Levis.  We met a couple three times, that many of us, in his office in the evening.  Levis slouched in his chair and spoke softly in fading daylight about poetry.  He talked about “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Williams wading in the pond holding up by the arms a child dying from diphtheria.  After that “The Red Wheelbarrow” would not look the same to me, and a thing once known cannot be unknown again.  He talked until long after dark, never turning the light on.

I was talking with a colleague about the human price of writing.  I remembered an interview with Clapton who had no memory of ten years of his life save for the songs he had written and recorded during that time.  He believed it had been a fair bargain.  Which, I don’t suppose, is the same thing as saying you’d do it over again.  I told my friend that Levis had once been in a writing workshop with Lou Reed.  She said, “Imagine that: two heroin addicts in the same workshop.”  I hadn’t known.

 In our Salt Lake days my wife and I and our friend Skip would eat breakfast together on Saturday mornings and between Skip’s apartment and the restaurant we passed Levis’ house.    One morning in winter, there was Levis standing on his front porch, in a tee-shirt, barefoot in the snow, smoking a cigarette.  The blue tarp over his motorcycle flapping in the wind, ladder leaning up against the side of the house. When we told Skip he just shook his head, “The rest of us are just kidding ourselves, aren’t we?” 

Skip and I had previously agreed that owning a ladder was a marker of manliness. A marker neither of us possessed.  Skip lived in a small apartment and his distant friends, non-literary types from places like Long Island and San Diego visited him there.  One time his guest drank too much, while Skip, under some deadline or another, toed the line of moderation and wrote late into the night.  His friend woke out of a dead drunk sleep, raised his arms above his head as if in triumph, announced, “I am Levis!” and passed out instantly.

Once Levis and I were in the same aerobics class.  We went with our wives and were the only men and least coordinated members of the class.  Levis and I in the back row.  Levis rolling around on the mats laughing at his own awkwardness, the impossibility of it all.  Aerobics with your wife might be a marriage saving gesture.  But for Levis it didn’t work.

I was reading my work in town with a poet.  A sponsored event, readers chosen by juried submission, in a grand setting–hardwood floors polished to a high gloss and carafes of white wine on the Arts Council’s tab.  I was nervous even though, truth be told, I probably knew most of the people in the room.  When Levis appeared I was shocked/flattered and almost simultaneously realized he was there to hear the poet, who was to read first and had been his student.  At the intermission he apologized for having to leave.  “I can’t stay, David, but I’ll buy your book.”  I believed him, too.  But the book took another twenty years and Levis has been gone now almost twenty and I myself am ten years older today than he was when he died.

It comforts me to imagine that he knew how much we all admired his work, even though I, for one, never told him.  Never asked him to sign one of his books for me. No, I was far too cool for that.  I think back to the last time I saw him: but I can’t begin to recall it.  How could I?  I didn’t know then, whenever it was, that it would be the last time I saw him.  I feel foolish, like the last person on earth to realize you can’t know a thing like that at the time: that that was the last time.  Right up against it, the sheer irreversibility of time is surprising, its cruel linearity.  With a little distance it all becomes ordinary and what had seemed a revelation loses its power and becomes once again, a pop-culture sentiment, a line from James Taylor: “thought I’d see you one more time again.”

 I am reminded what a silly exercise it is to read a writer’s work after his death and recast it all in that light.  Death or something like it inscribed in every line.  How could it not be so in a collection called The Afterlife?  Could anything be more obvious than that great artists understand the facts of their own mortality? 

Of course, Levis contains multitudes.  Just as many of his lines are inscribed with life.  I imagine all the words and images in his work, thousands and thousands of them spinning on a great whirling lotto wheel, slowing down and stopping with his last breath on what line, what word?  Would that it came to rest on something like the opening of “The Quilt”: “I think it is all light at the end; I think it is air.”  Would that he were right that time.

I heard they found him at his desk, at the scene of writing.  I heard he was in the bath.  I heard three days before they found him.  I heard five.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Old Friends, Gone

A couple weeks ago another high school friend passed away, the third in as many years. We called him Easy, which he was when we started out.  At some point early on into adulthood things would become not so easy for him, the details of which I am glad to not know. One story about him from those high school days was when running from the scene of an infamous high school prank (today it would be called “multiple felonies”) Easy couldn’t keep up and shouted to his partners in crime, “Leave me to the dogs.”   Which seems somehow telling, as if we all did, in a way, leave him to the dogs. I remember him as a sweet, generous guy, and I’ll leave it at that.
But in the same week, another friend from my past left us, rather mysteriously, too. I found out on facebook.  No obit appeared anywhere, though the funeral home included a lot of photos in which at first I hardly recognized my old friend.   Comments at the funeral home website alluded to the end of his long-suffering, and this showed on his face in most of the photographs. 
I remember Steve Levy mostly for his laugh, which was constant and infectious.  We taught high school together for seven years and spent a lot of time coaching track together, too. Steve had turned himself into a high-jump expert.  One time we were on a school outing to Joshua Tree in winter and I cajoled him up a rock climb on a thing called Moosedog Tower (pictured above), which was ominous looking when we scoped it out in the moonlight the night before we climbed it.  I remember hurrying our rappel off the summit to get to mass said by one of the priests, Father Cronin, I think, the mass outdoors amid a giant rock amphitheater on a crisp winter morning.  I remember having a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which was not being late for Father Cronin's mass.  I still have a lot to be thankful for.  And, I still have a photograph of Steve standing below the Tower.
When I left high school teaching, I left southern California and I never saw Steve again, never kept in touch at all.  He probably never knew how much his friendship meant to me.  Or, maybe he did; I don’t know.
A few years ago (2010) I published an essay in which were included some remembrances of him and I sent a copy of it to him in care of the school where he taught.
Here are the pertinent paragraphs from that piece:

“Sitting out on one of the decks waiting for the telepherique I met another Brit.  He was sitting barefooted in the sun eating some dreadful concoction that he squeezed out of a tube.  Had just soloed one of the big alpine routes, I no longer remember which, and would be heading over to the north face of the Eiger.  He had done the north wall of the Matterhorn earlier in the summer.  His toenails looked like someone had taken a hammer to them and his hair was almost matted.  He was in some highly personal zone into which humanity did not venture often, though he was friendly enough.   
            During this era I taught high school in southern California.  I worked with Levy who, it turned out, was a kind of armchair mountaineer.  He had done a little climbing but not much and we were always making plans that fell through at the last minute.  Levy had been particularly enamored of Bonington, having read the first two of his early biographies—Bonington’s biographies a publishing enterprise unto itself.  I don’t know what it was that Levy so loved about Bonington--perhaps just a distanced appreciation.  Levy would ask me to tell him about the Alps.  And I’d mention something.  But his favorite image was of the lone climber up on the deck of the Aiguille du Midi.  He was like a child insisting on a favorite bedtime story: “tell me about that guy again.”
            Trying to arrange a climbing trip with Levy was impossible--he never came through.  Later in life, after I had children of my own, now for example, I felt I understood Levy much better.  I feel I owe him an apology.”

What did he think of it?  I’ll never know, nor will I know even if the magazine ever reached him.
In any case, I miss him now that he’s forever gone, in a way that had I guessed at years ago would have spurred me more strongly to get in touch. 
Godspeed, Steve, you were good man, and you knew that if there was to be a reward it would be in heaven.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Axolotl in the Coalmine


In my formative years (as if those were over) I took a great literature class at Wayne State University in Detroit: Experimental Fiction.  There I discovered Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar both for whom I have held an undying admiration.  But it is Cortázar for whom I have the most affection.  He is probably most famous for his story “Blow Up” which provided the concept for Antonioni’s famous film of the same name.  The premise of this story is similar to this video of a camera falling from an airplane, if the camera had the ability to narrate:

Or, maybe his best known work is his first novel Hopscotch which can be read linearly or “randomly”--the reader gets to choose. My favorite of his short stories is “The End of the Game.”  In fact it is among my favorites of all short stories.  It is features no speaking cameras (like “Blow Up”) nor does it play with postmodernity.  It is about, simply, childhood.  

But on hearing the news about the probable extinction of the axolotl in the Mexican wild.  I thought first of Cortázar’s story “Axolotl.”  The axolotl is an amphibian and the word axolotl is Nahuatl, and translates as water monster.  Commonly referred to today as the walking fish.  It is native to only two lakes near Mexico City, one of which has vanished completely (artificially drained to avoid flooding) and one which exists mostly in canal form, Lake Xochimilco. A four-month long search in 2013 turned up no surviving individuals in the wild.  Previous surveys in 1998, 2003 and 2008 had found 6000, 1000 and 100 axolotls per square kilometer in its Lake Xochimilco habitat, respectively.

I always loved Cortázar’s story, “Axolotl,” probably because it was among his easiest to understand.  In “Axolotl” the narrator becomes obsessed with an axolotl in an aquarium, until by the end (SPOILER ALERT!) of the story, some kind Vulcan mind meld occurs and the narrator has become the axolotl staring out of the terrarium.  Borges said, of Cortázar "No one can retell the plot of a Cortázar story; each one consists of determined words in a determined order. If we try to summarize them, we realize that something precious has been lost."  Thus, I highly recommend reading the story here in its entirety, it’s not long:

Axolotls were, also, incidentally, a staple of the Aztec diet, but as we all know the axolotl outlasted the Aztec.  And we will outlast the axolotl, but one wonders, by how long?  I doubt that Cortázar could have foreseen the end of the axolotl’s days in the wild, nor that he intended his story as an eco-cautionary tale, but make no mistake: our days in the wild are threatened, too.  If we are the axolotl and the axolotl is us, we can look forward to a future inside an aquaruium. Tended by whom, I wonder?

Monday, February 10, 2014


Sweeney says this is one of the two worst snow seasons he’s seen in 40 years of ski-bumming.  Sweeney is utterly reliable about these sorts of assessments.  It started out okay, but now I haven’t been Nordic skiing in about three weeks.  And I haven’t been at the resort at all.  Last year, also a bad snow year, I had been skiing about 25 times by now.
Who knows? Maybe by going light this year I will extend my skiing deeper into the twilight years.  Could be a good thing.  Besides, last year I skied well into June, so potentially there is a lot of skiing ahead of us.
Usually I read ski magazines before the ski season, or after.  Usually not in February, like now.  I’m looking at Powder from December '13.  There’s an incredible shot of Mount Barille in the Ruth Gorge by Garrett Grove.  It looks enormous through his lens, but when you’re actually there it’s just about the smallest peak around.  His photo shows the northern side of the mountain and it looks pretty broken up by crevasses right about at the spot we were trying to ascend the thing back in 2001.  It wasn’t crevasses that turned us back though—it was the deep sugary snow that we’d sink into as soon as we took our skis off.  It was like that everywhere we went in the Ruth and the trip turned into an exotic ski tour.  I wonder if I’ll get back there; the flight in has more than doubled in price in the decade plus since. What a glorious place.  I mis-typed place as palace, and yes, that’s good, too: a glorious palace.
There’s a short Neil Stebbins piece about hearing riding a chairlift and hearing a mother and daughter four or five chairs ahead singing Waltzing Matilda out there in a whiteout, in The Church of the Ascension.  And I remember one time very early in my climbing life when John and I were attempting Mt Washington on a col cold winter day.  We stopped for the night in a hut and we were cold to the brink of fear.  We began singing Waltzing Matilda, god knows why.  We were singing to hold off the cold.  It goes without saying that we were utterly alone.  We turned back the next morning.  A couple days later I soloed Mt Lafayette, the summit of which, decades later, Guy Waterman would choose for his final breaths on the planet—a deeply sad and moving story (see Chip Brown’s excellent Good Morning, Midnight for a well-wrought bio of this complex man).
Then, still the same issue of Powder, there is Porter Fox’s excerpt from his book on the future of snow.  One of the pictures is of the classic north face of the Tour Ronde above Chamonix and I remember the summer of 1980 when I first climbed there. A roped party had fallen high on the face and flossed off another party.  Six fatalities, as I recall.  After a weak attempt on the Brenva Route on Mt Blanc, John and I found ourselves on the ridge to the summit of the Tour Ronde.  After after tagging it we  trudged back down and then back up to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi to catch the last telepherique down to Chamonix.  One of the longest days ever: full value.
Further in to the same issue I am reading about Arne Backstrom’s fall on skis on Pisco in the Cordillera Blanca.  When I climbed it, in 1984 with Jim Pinter-Lucke, we were just going up the west ridge as a warm-up climb. We had gained the ridge from the north.  I never laid eyes on the south face, and can’t really even picture it.  In fact, most of our summit day was lost in a whiteout, although the summit was unmistakable.  I am saddened to think of Arne’s death in such a lonely place, but also, glad once again for my good fortune in the mountains.
It’s getting on toward 30 days without snow, unless you count the half-inch we got last week, which I don’t.  At least it’s cold again.  And we’re still getting up into the Chugach, but we’re hiking up in crampons and walking down boiler-plated snow, glare ice, and rock (that photo is the snowless summit of Flattop in the photo from yesterday 2/09/14).  And, there’s Sweeney leaving text messages: he still knows where there’s still a skiable line.