Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

Evolution or Devolution? The Mountain Dude’s not in the Mood

This is the third installment of a new series.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I met an older woman, lean and tan and fit, hiking above Lawn Lake. She’s a mountain woman who’s been hiking forever, unfazed by steep trails, wildlife or the presence of an unkempt grumpy Mountain Dude.

“I believe in evolution,” she said. “And I don’t mean growing a longer snout to eat burrowing bugs.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean, evolution is happening, like it or not. You can either help or hinder. That’s our choice.”

“Do you mean stop acting like children, grabbing all we can, as fast as we can and fuck everyone else?”

“Hmm. I don’t like the F-word.”

“Sorry. I’ve been thinking about something similar.”

“Cursing is a choice. We choose our words. Otherwise we’re unconscious.”

I was beginning to regret our conversation.

She sat on a rock and opened her pack. I expected a baggie of gorp but she had some jerky instead. She held out a strip to me. “Elk,” she said.

Elk jerky as a peace offering? That’s a start.

We chewed our jerky in silence.

“Don’t be so afraid,” I said. “The world isn’t that bad.”

“Who said I’m scared? Aren’t you scared?”

The residue of the world was all over me, still, from the towns and cities I came through to get here. Civilization. The people, the tourists, the park ranger, all indifferent or demanding, they just get in the way.

“I’m not scared. But I’m concerned.”

“’It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.’” She sang this in a mock cracked voice.

“Dylan?”

“Who else?”

“I have trouble getting past his whole Christian period.”

She chewed and looked into the trees. “Yeah, but he was…is… on the side of evolution.”

“Is it really either/or?”

“Pretty much. We will evolve or die off. Some fight it. Many fight it, these days. Most people it seems. It’s fashionable to fight it and be proudly sinking.”

“Fuck ‘em,” I said with a little too much emphasis on the F-word.

She stood up. “I told you I don’t like that word. What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ve been cast aside,” I said. “And I can’t shake it off today.”

“You’re angry.”

“And you’re rigid. Life can only disappoint the rigid and righteous.”

She gathered her stuff and moved off down the trail.

“And cursing doesn’t mean shit,” I said. “It’s just expression.”

Suffice it to say, we agreed to disagree. Or at least I did.

Later, I pitched my tent and sat watching darkness fall. One thing about the mountains. Once the summer sun sets behind a ridge or peak, the temperature drops immediately. That’s unlike the humid eastern mountains where the heat lingers in the thick air. That heavy heat has no where to go, the valleys trapping it, forming puddles of swampy June air. Up here, in a high Rocky Mountain valley, it’s easier to shake it off because the air is thin and much of the heat just lifts away.

At least that’s what I tell myself. But I’m no scientist.

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The Mountain Dude: “Why is Everyone so Angry?”

This is the second installment of a new series.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I watched a National Park Ranger talk down a tourist from Ohio who was enraged that you couldn’t just stop your car in the middle of a busy road to take a picture of deer in a meadow. The driver clearly did not want to consider parking forty yards away and hauling the bulk of himself and family out of the car for a clearer look and contemplation of the beauty at hand.

I emerged from the trees where I had been watching the deer and contemplating the beauty at hand. “That was really hard for you,” I told the ranger after the car harrumphed away. “You just want to be liked.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, nothing. Why are people so angry?”

“I think they just want what they want when they want it.”

We watched the deer, unhurried and silent, eating in a sunset meadow backed by 12,000 foot mountains.

“The internet,” I said. “We’ve confused convenience with an advance in civilization.”

“That’s a bit of a leap.”

I had to concede that he was right. It’s one of the traps of wandering alone most of the time. You’ve already filled in all the logic between observation and conclusion and take it as given, very tidy in your own head. Hence, tourist is angry in national park because of the internet and it’s illusion of easy attainment. I often get that puzzled look from people when I present my conclusions without my logic. Not that they want to hear my logic either. Still, I try.

“Guy from Ohio and his family want to get off their couch and have a vacation. They research national parks online because that’s getting back to nature. They read reviews and read about wildlife and stupendous scenery. They miss the parts about crowds and altitude. They use a GPS. They have no adventures on the way, except when little Daisy drops her plastic tray of gas station nachos and the flourescent cheese sauce gets on the upholstery. Dad is pissed. They get here to discover traffic in the gateway town. Straight-up traffic. And it’s hot. Then they go to the hotel to watch TV. The WiFi is spotty. The continental breakfast is free and there are as many sausage patties as you can eat. By the time they get out of there, it’s 9:30 or so, the same time that every other family is leaving their hotels. They discover another traffic jam at the entrance. Then there’s no parking at the lake they want to see and they have to take a shuttle which is packed like a New York subway at rush hour. On the way back to town, they see these deer, these beautiful tranquil deer grazing with a backdrop of awesome mountains. They slow down and stop to take pictures. Then you, the ranger, comes to move them along.”

“We’ve made it too easy to get here. Now we do crowd control all summer.”

“It’s supposed to be hard to get here. Instead of a physical challenge it’s a game of patience.”

“You don’t seem challenged.” He looked at my backpack. “Where are you camping?”

“Up there,” I said and gestured with my chin to the mountains.

“In the backcountry?”

“Where else?”

“Can I see your backcountry permit?”

I fished it out of my pocket and he looked at it.

“This is supposed to be displayed on the outside of your pack.”

“I don’t like the sound it makes when it flutters.”

He thought about this a second. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll let it go.”

I started off, away from the road, down the trail.

“Hey,” the ranger said. “Be careful up there.”

“You be careful down here,” I said as another car slowed and stopped so mom could lean out of the passenger side window and take a picture of the ranger in the meadow with deer in the background.

“Move along please,” the ranger said. “You can park right over there.”

“Jesus Christ,” the mom said and dad gunned the engine and the car leapt away.

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Switchback

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JJ watched the parking area from the trees.   It reminded him of another time when he watched and decided, back when the cops were looking for him at college. Was that even real, or just something he imagined?

He could just see the top of Cody’s dirt colored pickup truck over the guardrail. He couldn’t see the Camaro at all. He checked his pocket for the key. Still there. He couldn’t see Tess or Cody and hadn’t heard their voices in awhile. He would wait. They were waiting. The flaw in his plan of going over the guardrail and hiding until they departed now became apparent. They could wait in the truck. He was outside. Night would come, it would get cold, and he would be fucked. JJ could always see the first few steps of a plan clearly, but beyond that…

Lila always said that about him. Too impulsive, she would say, never thinks ahead. Destructive to himself and those close by. If only she could see him now.

But JJ always answered that he was flexible and could shift on the fly. It was good not to be tied to any long range plan. This flexibility, this adaptivity, it complemented his destructive side like the beautiful sunsets caused by the ash of a volcano eruption. Just keep moving with fresh hope before the daunting despair sets in. So, after about an hour, he started walking down hill, picking his way through the trees and fallen timber, zigzagging along the path of least resistance. He knew he would come to the road again, lower down, since it switch-backed up to the pass. Just when he thought he should be seeing the road, he heard a tractor trailer grinding up the hill and saw it’s bulk through the trees. A minute later, he reached the guardrail and hopped over. Time to hitch a ride.

He had hitch hiked before and he tried now to exude the vibes and demeanor of a sane person, perhaps in trouble, but not unhinged, someone who good people wanted to help. Hitch hiking, like ringing someone’s doorbell, was dying in an increasingly paranoid and self-centered 21st century America. But, this was Colorado, where things were freer and easier, or so it seemed. Right on, bro, and where ya headed, dude. JJ stuck his thumb out.

It wasn’t long. The first car slowed as it approached, driver peering at him, scanning for weapons or a maniacal expression, then stopped just beyond. JJ trotted over to the passenger door and opened it. Marijuana smoke billowed out. And on cue, the longhaired thirty-something Colorado pseudo hippy leaned over and spoke. “Need a ride, man?”

JJ loved Colorado.

“Yeah, please,” JJ said. “Just up the hill a ways. My car’s up there.”

“Right on.”

He hopped in and the driver pulled back onto the highway.

“Listen,” JJ said. “After the switchback, you’ll see a bright blue sports car in a pullout. I need you to get right alongside it and let me out quick.”

“Is it car trouble?”

“People trouble.”

“Alright man. I don’t wanna get hurt, though.”

“No worries. They only want me and my signature.”
“Right on.”

They slowed and made the switchback, then climbed toward the pullout. As they approached, JJ could see that both cars were there, Cody’s truck parked about 10 yards behind the Camaro. Tess was outside the truck, looking down the hill, over the guardrail. Cody was in the truck. “Ok”, he said. “Pull up quickly next to the Camaro then get outta here.”

“Awright, here we go. Good luck.”

JJ used the key fob button to unlock the Camaro as they pulled alongside. He opened the door and jumped out.

“Power to the people,” the helpful hippy yelled.

JJ heard Tess yell but he was already in the drivers seat and starting the car. He put it in gear and roared off, passing the helpful hippy and roaring uphill. He looked in the mirror and saw the pickup pulling out and passing the hippy too.

2017 Hyper Blue Metallic Camaro vs. ten-year-old dirt-colored pickup truck on curvy mountain roads?

See ya later.

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Jumping the Guardrail

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The plan was, they’d drive back to town, JJ and Tess in the Camaro, Cody following in his pick-up. They would meet the attorney who facilitated the auction sale of the ranch ASAP. In the meantime, Tess would not leave JJ’s side. It was unspoken but understood that JJ could always run for it, but the next meeting with Cody would be very unpleasant. Besides, where would he go? They took his wallet and he had no cash or card.

As they drove up the valley and entered cell coverage, JJ’s phone vibrated and he looked at the screen. Eight text messages, all from Lila.

“Who’s looking for you?”

“No one,” JJ said. He had 4% battery in the phone, and no way to charge it. Most of his stuff was still in the hotel in Fort Collins.

“Must be someone,” Tess said.

“The lawyer. The bank. Checking in.”

“Checking in? By text?” Tess grabbed his phone. “No texting and driving,”

“Hey!”

“Oooooh, look at this. A lady friend coming to the rescue? Lila? That there’s a nice name.”

“Give me that!”

They were heading up toward the pass at the head of the valley, climbing up the long switchbacks as the scrubland of the valley turned to forest. There was a steep drop now on the passenger side. Tess rolled down the window and backhand tossed his phone out, well over the guardrail.

“What the fuck!” JJ swerved into a pull-off, a scenic vantage point with a view of the valley below. Cody’s pickup skidded to a stop behind them. JJ was out of the Camaro and trotting back down the highway along the shoulder, looking down the slope at the loose rocks and trees. It was pretty steep and rugged. The phone was a goner. It would take hours and too much luck to find it. And even if he found it, it was likely cracked and broken.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Cody was watching him from the parking area. Tess was out of the Camaro.

JJ looked up toward Cody and Tess. The Camaro caught his eye, hyper-blue and metallic, reflecting sunlight even while dusty. Why had he rented that thing again? It was garish and flashy, so obviously a compensation or cry for attention. He had the keys in his hand. JJ pointed the fob at the car and pushed the lock button. The tell-tale beep. Then he jumped over the guardrail and managed a controlled slide down the bare rocky hill toward the pine trees. JJ rode the little landslide of rocks and dirt, dust rising, turned to the side, leading with his downhill leg. He put his hand down once on something sharp, some mean and pointy mountain plant. Otherwise, he reached the trees intact and looked up toward the road. Cody and Tess looked down at him but showed no signs of pursuit. They stayed like that as the dust blew away and settled.

“Where’re you gonna go now, Fucko?” Cody yelled. JJ looked around. He moved down a little more to get in amongst the trees. He crouched down behind two trees that grew close together and peered between them, back up the slope. Cody and Tess were gesticulating and appeared to be arguing. JJ crouched and moved parallel to the road, staying in the trees, about forty or fifty yards, so he was below the pull-off were the cars were parked. Then he crouched behind another two trees and peered back up. They were still there, off to the left, arguing.

JJ hunkered down to wait. His heart pounded and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath in the thin air. He would just wait and see if they stayed or if they went.

Or, if they came down for him.

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Confrontation in the Valley

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Cody said, “So how’re we gonna make it so you’re gone from our land?”

They stood, the three of them, on the deserted ranch in the mountain valley.

“Cody, listen,” Tess said.

“No, you listen. You hijacked this guy to buy our land back. You took advantage. You saw the opportunity. Good for you. Good for us. Now you think you have feelings for him. Or your ashamed or some such shit.”

JJ said, “Wait, I think we…”

“Shut the fuck up! This here’s a family matter first.”

Tess said, “Yes, I took advantage. But, he’s a really nice guy.”

“You’re confusing nice with scared as shit. This fucker don’t even know where he is.” Cody turned to JJ. “Where are we?”

JJ looked around. Mountain ranges flanked the valley. There was that sense of vastness, glorious and daunting, he always felt in the West. The sky was way up there, far above the land. It was impossible to not feel small and limited out here.   Right-sized. Humility, uncomfortable and undeniable, was forced on you. They were always talking about humility in AA, how humility was the key to sobriety. Well here it was, for real. God’s presence was everywhere, if there was any God at all.

“I’ll tell you where we are,” JJ said. “We’re on my ranch. That’s where we are.”

Birds chirped nearby and the muffled roar of a distant wind grew from way up the valley, way up high.

“And how’re you gonna sign it over,” Cody asked.

“I’m not. I’m keeping it.”

The wind from the heights was coming down the valley now. JJ loved how you could hear it miles away, hear it growing like an approaching train, then it was upon you, sometimes little more than a breeze, sometimes a serious gust. You didn’t know which, but you could hear it coming. Sometimes it missed you entirely.

“Jason,” Tess said, “This here land’s been in our family since…a long time. Our people used to live here. Our parents are dead and you did a good thing buying it from the bank.”

“He wants it for himself,” Cody said. “Maybe I can convince him.” He walked back to his truck and got in.

“Jason, listen,” Tess whispered. “He’s crazy. Just tell him what he wants to hear and then we’ll work something out.”

Cody started the truck, put it in gear, and, engine revving, lurched toward JJ’s rental Camaro. The truck looked like it would drive right over the Hyper-blue metallic sports car, like a fullback breaking through the line and pancaking some defensive back. He skidded to a stop just short of the car. Cody rolled down the window. “Last chance, fucker. We can go back to town all together and straighten this out. Or you can walk back and think more about it. ‘Cause if you don’t tell us what we want to hear, I’m crushing this fuckin car.”

“Cody! No!” Tess ran toward the truck, stopped halfway and looked back at JJ. “Please,” she said. “Please just let us have it.”

“Last chance, sucker,” Cody yelled, revving and lurching the truck closer.

Options scrolled through JJ’s head. A lawyer, letting them have it, renting it to them, buying time, turning the tables…

“All right! Stop!”

“And?”

“I’ll sign it over.”

“He’ll sign,” Tess yelled. “Cody!”

Cody stared at JJ, calculating. Then he shut down the truck as a cold gust finally reached them, rustling sage and shrub, and rolling tumbleweeds down the valley.

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Sucker?

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Morning. JJ and Tess, a woman he hardly knows, camped at an abandoned mountain ranch. His land. Her land. Whose land?

They leaned on an old fence, eating Pop Tarts. A vehicle approached down the long dirt road to where they were camped, a cloud of dust rising behind.

“Oh shit, that must be Cody,” Tess said.

“Who’s Cody?”

“Just my angry twin brother.”

Oh great. Angry brother. Cody. Twin. Twin telepathy. What kind of gun toting maniac was coming down the road?

“How does he know we’re here?”

“He doesn’t. Or he does. He just comes here.”

“He comes here? For what?”

“To get away,” Tess said. “He doesn’t like people much.”

An old Chevy pick-up came to a skidding stop and just sat there with the engine running. Cody drove angry. JJ couldn’t see him clearly for the glare off the windshield. But he knew Cody was looking at him. The engine shut off and made little ticks as it cooled. Some birds chirped and tweeted from the brush but no one moved. It was midmorning and warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky. Finally, the door opened.

Cody was Tess with a buzz-cut, only his eyes were harder, solid blue ice where Tess’s were liquid blue. “Who’s this guy,” Cody asked.

“This here’s Jason,” Tess said.

“Is this your boyfriend?”

“No, not really,” JJ said. “We only met a couple days ago. I mean, we’re just friends. New friends.” JJ walked toward Cody with his hand extended. “Nice to meet you.”

Cody looked at the hand like JJ held out a putrefying fish. He looked at JJ’s face. “What are you two doing here?”

Tess walked forward and got between JJ and Cody. “Cody, this here’s a miracle! Jason bought the ranch at the auction. He bought the ranch for us!”

JJ and Cody both looked at Tess. Cody stared with disbelief of the, “here’s some more of Tess’s bullshit” variety. JJ was just trying to keep up.

“I felt something,” Cody said. “Yesterday. I knew something was happening out here.”

The twin telepathy. Fuck.

“Um, yeah,” JJ said. “I bought the ranch.”

“I’m sure it was out of the goodness of your heart,” Cody said, looking at JJ over Tess’s shoulder. “What’re you up to?”

If JJ were honest, he’d say: “I left Massachusetts because my best friend was getting together with my erstwhile girlfriend, who was my other best friend. I tried to write a memoir but instead started drinking, which is really bad for me. I flew to Colorado on the advice of a guy named Shaboo and kept drinking. I’ve been here before, trying to find myself, so I thought I’d try again. Instead I found your twin sister in a blackout. She convinced me to visit the bank where we put in a bid two minutes before the auction ended. Phone calls were made and the remainder of my lottery winnings were transferred from my bank. I signed some papers and here we are.”

Instead, JJ said, “I dunno.”

“Well here’s the deal, man,” Cody said. “This ranch has been in our family since the 1800’s and no fuckin’ boytoy of my sister is going to own it. Where are the papers?”

“Still at the bank,” Tess said.

Cody looked around and seemed to notice the Camaro for the first time. “What the hell kind of car is that?”

“That’s a Hyper Blue Metallic Chevy Camaro,” JJ said with a renter’s pride. He would keep his dignity through all this no matter what, he vowed.

Cody snorted. “Jesus, she saw you coming a mile away. The plates should read, SUCKER.”

Tess said, “It wasn’t like that, Cody. He offered to help.”

Cody chuckled and walked to the Camaro, appraising. Tess whispered to JJ, “It wasn’t like that. We’ll figure something out.”

“I’m sure we will,” JJ said. “Things always work out for me.”

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Detoxing in the Mountain Air

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Withdrawing from alcohol. A mesh of electricity humming just under the skin, complete with unpredictable twitches, some lunatic doctor behind the one-way glass delivering voltage. Also, the feeling (the certainty!) of impending doom and imminent threat. Shadows behind rocks are crouching gargoyles, vigilant and silent. There is a lurking monster behind that tree right over there, some stick figure, an upright mantis keeping very still. And this woman, Tess, next to JJ in a sleeping bag under the mountain stars. They are camped on his land apparently, JJ’s land, in this valley in northern Colorado.

JJ lays on his side, shaky and alert, watching the trees and rocks, and wonders how the hell this happened. He knows the what, where and when. With the last of his lottery money, he bought this old mountain ranch that had once been in Tess’s family. But how? Why? Whither?

Next to him, Tess shifts in her sleeping bag, the nylon rustle amplified in the deep quiet. Is she asleep? JJ can’t get comfortable in his sleeping bag. He’s warm, he’s cold, he’s hot. Clammy nylon sticks to his cheek. His breath is fetid and there is a weird smell coming from his body, like the smell of an examining room in a hospital, some antiseptic cleaner trying hard to cover up the smell of human excreta- sweat, blood, urine, etc.  Also, there’s this rubber glove smell coming from God knows where. He must be getting better if he can catalogue these smells and place them in a hospital. Though, of course, he does feel more like a patient than a healthy human. He is detoxing.

This woman, Tess. Something is off but he can’t put his finger on it. She certainly smiles a lot. That’s never a good sign. She’s attractive, at least physically. Fit and glowing and endowed with…endowments. But, there’s an aura of disaster and chaos around her, an untethered feeling that infects JJ. He feels the same way when watching news footage from the scene of some explosion- whirling police lights and silhouettes moving and milling in a smoky background. You kind of want to be there, to see it, to have a part in it. To help out. That can’t be good. What did Dr. Shays once say to him? “Your attraction to a certain kind of person is automatic. It is machinery that you can’t see working. It chooses what it needs and by the time you catch up, it’s too late. You’re being ground up.”

JJ’s machine likes chaos. That’s why he could never stick with Lila. She’s crazy, but not crazy enough, too grounded to feed the beast.

But this Tess. She’s not right but she’s also very…very…alluring. Mysterious. Unpredictable?  More like erratic.

A voice, muffled coming from inside the horizontal lump of sleeping bag next to him. “Are you thinking about me?”

JJ shifts onto his back and looks into the vast mountain sky. Stars and stars and stars.

“Yes,” he says.

Tess sighs and again the voice muffled, coming from somewhere hidden, beneath the surface.

“That’s good,” the voice says. “That’s really good.”

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