With the smoke and the fire and the stars at night

Up again in the morning bright

With nothing but road and sky in sight

And nothing to do but go...

—old hobo poem

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Confessions of a Social Media Dropout, or the Irony of Saying Goodbye

I'm not Catholic, but I can picture the confession going something like this:

Forgive me, for I have erred. I once had a Facebook account. I quickly realized my error and deleted it after just a few posts. I did fine for awhile, but I got bored and started a blog. It's been a few years, and I justified it by saying it was like a journal of my life, one I could look back on and reflect on at will. That was fine, but I instead found myself looking at the world through a blogger's eyes—what would make a good photo, a good story? The blog began to direct my life in subtle ways, kind of like the Heisenberg Principle.

At this point, I have erred hundreds of times (over 400 posts), and even when I tried to stop, I found it impossible, it always called me back, even though a small voice in the back of my mind would always ask, why would anyone care about what I'm doing any more than they would anyone else? I even realized that my own family didn't read my blog, but I couldn't stop. It was almost as if I was using it to justify my existence. (Bear with me, after all, this is a confession.)

As a writer, I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I got to where I tried to tell my story in small snippets through the blog instead of in depth, and it wasn't really anything like the story I could be telling. Sometimes, when not on my blog and the internet, I would actually write books (20 and counting, under three pen names). I found that when I was writing a book and ignoring social media and the huge distraction called the internet, I felt better and had better concentration and enjoyed life more. But it always called me back, like all good addictions do.

Well, I woke up this morning and decided to reactivate my Facebook account, even though I hate the shallowness and narcissism displayed by many on that platform, as it tends to breed such. Are blogs any different? Maybe not so much. 

It was then that I knew I was in a downward spiral and needed intervention. I think that some higher power intervened—a higher power called coincidence, as I don't have the hubris that comes with thinking any higher power gives a whackamole about me, in fact, I don't even believe in higher powers, thus the irony of this confession—but I'm getting sidetracked. 

The coincidence was that I saw a link to the following TED talk, and it gave a lot to think about, especially the part where he talks about Facebook hiring gambling experts to make the site more addictive and how constant distractions actually destroy our ability to think deeply. I really really recommend the talk, as well as his book, "Deep Work."

And so, on that note, this will be my last blog post. I'm now going to spend my time writing books, going for walks, and petting and howling with the dogs. In fact, I'm ditching the entire internet from now on, except an occasional email to a few good friends (who I actually know in person as real human beings). If you watch the video, you'll know why. 

This feels like a really good thing for me. I'm old enough to remember how life was before the internet, and it's beckoning me back. Some of you have become like old friends, but in reality, we wouldn't even know each other on the street, and isn't it better to have real friends? I will say that I have made a couple of really good real friends from this blog, and that's been a good thing. (Now if I can just keep myself from checking to see if anyone has read this...) 

Thanks for everything and happy trails.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Almost off to Montana

The historical Radio KPRK tower in Livingston, Montana

I had a visit with an old friend today, a local vet who I've known for many years. I took one of the dogs in for a checkup before getting his teeth cleaned (Spanky, who is now 15), and mentioned that I would soon be going to Montana to work on a mystery ("The Beartooth Cafe") set in Livingston.

Spanky the spankable

She mentioned she'd been a vet in Helena for several years before returning to Colorado, so we got to comparing the two states, and decided that, since Montana has more rattlesnakes, as well as grizzly bears, Colorado won hands down.

 I actually think that the Colorado Rockies are especially beautiful, although the area around Glacier NP is pretty nice. But each state has its own beauties and charms, as well as downsides. For example, Colorado's gotten very expensive and is one of the fastest growing states in the Union, whereas Montana's cheaper and it's easier to get away from the crowds there.

I'll be spending a month in Livingston in the Paradise Valley, an hour north of Yellowstone, so I hope to see a grizzly or two (from a distance), as they don't usually go into hibernation until late November, when I'll be coming back (to where exactly, I'm not sure). The park will be closed except for the highway through the Lamar Valley, where the wolves tend to hang out more, so I'm hoping to see a few.

I'll also be learning about flyfishing, as my main character takes up the sport (catch and release only). It should all be great fun, plus Livingston has trains, which I love.

Some very generous friends gave me a very nice Nikon, so I hope to get back into the photography mode while there. In the meantime, I'll make the most of my last days here in Colorado, where the fall colors are almost gone and winter is just around the corner.

The Bitterroot Mountains near Hamilton, Montana

Monday, October 24, 2016

An Impossible Book

Life can get pretty slow in the stopped lane, which is where I currently am, hanging out in Colorado, though I'll head for Montana in a couple of weeks. As the snowbirds head south, I've been told I'm going the wrong direction. :)

In the meantime, here's another book for your Kindle, though the audio and print versions are in progress:

If you've read my book "Uranium Daughter," this one is more of that genre, as opposed to my mysteries. Here's the blurb:

Is it impossible to be lonely, or is loneliness an impossibly difficult thing?  
In the first part of this book, Chinle Miller wanders the desert and mountains with her dogs, exploring nature and an inner life of solitude, until an event happens that shakes her life to its core—her best-friend and cousin Janie is killed by a grizzly in Alaska.
Grieving and becoming more and more fearful and obsessed with bears, Chinle heads north, stopping in the Yukon, then finally making her way to Alaska’s Chugach Range, where her cousin was killed.
There, after learning more about Janie’s death, she begins a new journey, one that takes her to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest for a life-saving encounter with a Kermode, or spirit bear, as well as meeting a First Nations native who reveals what she must know to find her true home.
Half-journal and half story, this unique book will take you to the deserts of Utah, the high peaks of Colorado, the wilderness of the Yukon and Alaska, and into the depths of the Coastal Mountain rainforests of British Columbia. 
You’ll find that, in a way, it’s impossible to be alone, as we’re always surrounded by life—and yet, as humans, we do get lonely, and it’s an impossibly difficult thing, but a condition with a cure, for, as Chinle writes, “When you stand in the immensity of the natural world and realize how utterly insignificant you are, only then are you truly free.”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Rattlesnake Cafe

Well, time for another mystery, this one just out on Amazon for your Kindle or ereader (print and audio versions will come later). 

It's set on the Dolores Triangle, and if you like Bud Shumway mysteries, I think this one's a lot of fun—all tongue in cheek, of course. Here's the PR blurb:
When ex-sheriff and watermelon farmer Bud Shumway agrees to help out his friend, Sheriff Hum Stocks, as a deputy for the winter, he never guesses he’ll soon be deep in the rugged and wild Dolores Triangle, trying to solve not only the mystery of a skeleton wearing knee boots, but also the murder of rattlesnake-hunter and wannabe rodeo clown, Chicken Bottoms.
Set in the Dolores Triangle, that area defined by the Colorado-Utah border and the Colorado and Dolores rivers, this mystery will have you mystified and on edge as you follow Bud as he dodges invisible black-ops choppers and deals with friendly bullsnakes, dangerous rattlesnakes, a retired game-show host, rivers that rise without warning, a mule named Otis, a secretive Air Force officer who’s a possible imposter, and a young filmmaker making a documentary about his rocketeer friend. 
All this, along with learning to ballroom dance, a skeleton that disappears into thin air, and a body wearing Hello Kitty slippers, and you’ll soon see why Bud wishes he’d never set foot in the Rattlesnake Cafe.
And of course, back home in Green River, Bud’s bumbling replacement, Sheriff Howie, is never far away, as long as he has a phone and can call for advice on everything from dealing with train wrecks to his first police sting in the nearby state park campground. 
In any case, you’ll find out who really killed Chicken Bottoms, and it may not be who you think. 
You can order a copy here. Happy reading!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Almost Snagged Again...

Perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. Maybe the greater urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else. —Steinbeck

Someone's castle in Green River, Wyoming
Seems like about every fall I start feeling the need to prepare for the winter, and this often comes in the form of thinking I need a home base of some kind. So, I start looking at the real-estate ads of wherever I might be at the time. 

The myth that owning a house brings security is one many of us Boomers have been indoctrinated into our entire lives by a very effective conglomerate of businesses that make their money from people owning homes, and there are lots of them, including places like Home Depot and Lowe's, banks, insurance and real-estate agents, furniture stores, interior decorators, etc.—even doctors, who treat all the stress-induced illnesses that come from being tied down by a big illiquid "investment."

Vernal, Utah
It's a myth that's hard to kill, even after the big meltdown of 2008. (I was watching the market closely and sold my last house in late 2007.) It's also a myth that the Millennials aren't buying into, literally, even those who can afford to. They don't want to be tied down, a sentiment I can identify with.

I've owned four very nice houses (with the bank), and I do understand the arguments for owning, but lets look at this list of what something takes to be a really bad investment:
To be really terrible:
  • It should be not just an initial, but if we do it right, a relentlessly ongoing drain on the cash reserves of the owner.
  • It should be illiquid. We’ll make it something that takes weeks, no – wait – even better, months of time and effort to buy or sell.
  • It should be expensive to buy and sell. We’ll add very high transaction costs. Let’s say 5% commissions on the deal, coming and going.
  • It should be complex to buy or sell. That way we can ladle on lots of extra fees and reports and documents we can charge for.
  • It should generate low returns. Certainly no more than the inflation rate. Maybe a bit less.
  • It should be leveraged! Oh, oh this one is great! This is how we’ll get people to swallow those low returns! If the price goes up a little bit, leverage will magnify this and people will convince themselves it’s actually a good investment! Nah, don’t worry about it. Most will never even consider that leverage is also very high risk and could just as easily wipe them out.
  • It should be mortgaged! Another beauty of leverage. We can charge interest on the loans. Yep, and with just a little more effort we should easily be able to persuade people who buy this thing to borrow money against it more than once.
  • It should be unproductive. While we’re talking about interest, let’s be sure this investment we are creating never pays any. No dividends either, of course.
  • It should be immobile. If we can fix it to one geographical spot we can be sure at any given time only a tiny group of potential buyers for it will exist. Sometimes and in some places, none at all!
  • It should be subject to the fortunes of one country, one state, one city, one town…No! One neighborhood! Imagine if our investment could somehow tie its owner to the fate of one narrow location. The risk could be enormous! A plant closes. A street gang moves in. A government goes crazy with taxes. An environmental disaster happens nearby. We could have an investment that not only crushes it’s owner’s net worth, but does so even as they are losing their job and income!
  • It should be something that locks its owner in one geographical area. That’ll limit their options and keep ’em docile for their employers!
  • It should be expensive. Ideally we’ll make it so expensive that it will represent a disproportionate percentage of a person’s net worth. Nothing like squeezing out diversification to increase risk!
  • It should be expensive to own, too! Let’s make sure this investment requires an endless parade of repairs and maintenance without which it will crumble into dust.
  • It should be fragile and easily damaged by weather, fire, vandalism and the like! Now we can add-on expensive insurance to cover these risks.  Making sure, of course, that the bad things that are most likely to happen aren’t actually covered. Don’t worry, we’ll bury that in the fine print or maybe just charge extra for it.
  • It should be heavily taxed, too! Let’s get the Feds in on this. If it should go up in value, we’ll go ahead and tax that gain. If it goes down in value should we offer a balancing tax deduction on the loss like with other investments? Nah.
  • It should be taxed even more! Let’s not forget our state and local governments. Why wait till this investment is sold? Unlike other investments, let’s tax it each and every year. Oh, and let’s raise those taxes anytime it goes up in value. Lower them when it goes down? Don’t be silly.
  • It should be something you can never really own. Since we are going to give the government the power to tax this investment every year, “owning” it will be just like sharecropping. We’ll let them work it, maintain it, pay all the cost associated with it and, as long as they pay their annual rent (oops, I mean taxes) we’ll let ’em stay in it. Unless we decide we want it.
  • For that, we’ll make it subject to eminent domain. You know, in case we decide that instead of getting our rent (damn! I mean taxes) we’d rather just take it away from them.
Cassie pondering the silliness of missing a dog house.
One way to stay away from trouble is to not make enough money for a bank to finance any such shenanigans, but it's getting easier and easier to find people who will do an owner carry. 

Weezee thinking of all the bones she could stash away if we'd only stay put in one place.

In fact, I found a nice little modular on its own pretty lot in Smalltown, Utah, and the owner has said he would do an owner carry. 

I'm very tempted, as it's only $42,000 (the price of a car these days) and it's in very good shape, but then what would I do? 

Fall is in the air in the Colorado high country.
I'd have a yard to care for and a house that needs maintenance, and all those things that keep you from running away from home when you want to. And even if you do manage to get away, it's always there in the back of your mind, wondering if everything's OK, even if you have someone looking out for it.

So, when I get tempted, I just read the above list and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I'll make it through the winter just fine, camping where it's warm or renting someone else's house, where I can leave when I want to. 

Not all roads lead home.
That's the real meaning of security to me, not getting tied down and having to pay for something you no longer want and can't sell and being stuck. And if you run the numbers, it's actually cheaper to rent in most cases. Don't believe me? Read this.

It might be cheaper and make more sense to own an airplane.

There may be times when owning is good, but they're minor compared to the list of reasons not to.

People forget to add in all the interest payments, insurance costs, maintenance, taxes, and transaction fees when figuring out how much they made and just look at what they sold it for compared to what they paid. And even after your house is paid for, you still have lots of recurring expenses (new roof, taxes, etc.). And don't forget the numberless hours you spend taking care of it.

I've decided homeownership is for the birds, and even they leave the nest every year and fly away.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I Took Up Smoking for Awhile

Nutty cowdogs keeping an eye on the herd from inside the house. Hamilton, Montana

When I took off on this trip, my original plan was to go to Canada, maybe even Alaska, as my cousin Mike had flown there from Phoenix and wanted to meet up. He has a townhouse in Fairbanks where I could stay, so all I had to do was get there. He wanted to take me up the Haul Road (Dalton Highway), where he was one of the original ice road truckers at the age of 18.

The heli camp for fighting the Roaring Lion Fire near Hamilton

But as I gradually made my way north, I recalled how far 3,000 miles really is, how many wheel revolutions, and when I made it to Montana, I began to tire of driving, even though some days I drove fewer than 100 miles.

My enthusiasm waned more and more the further I drove, until it set in as a full-blown mental and physical ennui, and I wanted to go no further.

My last view of the fire, heading south

I wanted to get out of the smoke from the Roaring Lion Fire, but it took several hundred miles, so a lot of my photos are very hazy.

The Bitterroot Mountains through smoke

I spent some time in Hamilton, where the wildfires made me feel like I'd taken up smoking (maybe the reason I felt so ambitionless), then I slowly headed south, cutting across Montana's Big Hole country ("Land of 10,000 Hay Bales"), a beautiful area not far from Dillon.

Wisdom, Montana in the heart of the Big Hole Valley

Land of 10,000 hay bales

An old Mormon stacker, still in use

I then cut across to Soda Springs and Montpelier, Idaho, then on to Kemmerer, Wyoming, site of a huge power plant and also the site of the first J.C. Penny store. 

Kemmerer, Wyoming

From there, I visited Fossil Butte National Monument, then went on to Green River, Wyoming and Flaming Gorge country, not far from my childhood home of Craig, Colorado.

Fossil Butte National Monument
Fossil Butte
Sandhill cranes near Green River, Wyoming
Rail yards in Green River

Flaming Gorge

Camp spot near Vernal

In Vernal, Utah, I stopped at the Utah Fieldhouse, much changed since the days I visited as a kid, with even more dinosaur fossils and displays.

Vernal had the most beautiful downtown display of hanging flowers ever.

Then it was on south, cutting through the scenic Indian Canyon, after watching the Duchesne River flashflood.

I'm currently in the little railroad town of Helper, and I really like it here, but I suspect it's partly because it's serving as a port in the storm.

I've condensed a month of travel in this and my last post, and when I arrived in Helper, I'd gone exactly 3,000 miles. I would've been in Alaska if I'd gone north, but I would still have to return.

Right now, just sitting by the campfire sounds pretty good—or better yet, in a hot tub somewhere. 

I think winter's coming a bit early this year, for me to feel like hunkering down this early. Or maybe it's from all the smoking...

Sign in Hamilton

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Roaring Lion Fire

My vantage point on the fire from the Bitterroot Stock Farm

Sometimes I think I have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe it's the opposite, depending on if one likes excitement or not (generally, not). Or maybe there's just more going on these days.

Firefighters said they'd never seen a fire blow up so fast. It was estimated to be burning several hundred acres of forest per hour.

Yesterday, I noticed smoke coming from the mountains southwest of Hamilton, Montana (I'm a few miles north of town), and I watched in fascination as what became the Roaring Lion Fire (named after Roaring Lion Creek) blew up from a few acres to over 1,000 acres in a matter of hours. 

 It was incredible to see 200-foot tall flames torching the trees one after another, and though I've seen a number of wildfires, this was by far the fastest moving. All night long I could see huge flames on the ridge when I would wake. Fires usually set down after dark, but this one didn't. (That's not the sun in center of the photos below, but a very hot fire.)

I don't know what today's status is, but by yesterday evening, over 500 houses had been evacuated, many with horses and livestock. The entire valley is smoked in today, partially from another fire (the Cedar Fire) that's burning on the other side of the Bitterroots. 

Reports are saying the Roaring Lion Fire is currently approaching 4,000 acres and a number of houses have burned.

Sky over Hamilton, Montana

There's something about Montana that seems to be in the smoke crosshairs in the summers. Maybe it's the central location between BC and the western states, or maybe it has something to do with airstream currents, but I have yet to visit in the summer without getting into smoke somewhere in the state, even when the fires were elsewhere. 

A smoky sky to the east over the Sapphire Mountains. Today, the mountains are completely gone.

There have been times it seemed the entire state was smoky. Today, it looks like a low fog over everything, but tomorrow calls for high winds, which will blow the smoke out and also fan the fires, making even more smoke. So far, there's been no loss of human life, though I'm sure the animals have suffered. 

I'll stick around for a few more days, hoping the fire is soon out and the smoke lifts so the beautiful Bitterroots come back, though some things will never be the same.

UPDATE: I left Hamilton and drove over Lost Trail Pass into the Big Hole and to points south on my way back to Utah. The fire is slowly being contained and is over 8,000 acres and has burned 16 houses as of August 8th. It took a few hundred miles, but it's nice to be out of the smoke.

Late afternoon
The fire burned all night.

The same scene before the fire