Friday, September 6, 2019

Boy fishing, two miles up

Lower Mohawk Lake is just at the tree line at elevation 11,861 in the White River National Forest. After our three-hour climb, I went to put my feet into water that was cold from snow melt. 

I walked around some boulders and found a boy, maybe age 13, at the water's edge and organizing his fly rod.

"Are you getting started or finishing up?" 
"Getting started." 
"You casting from right here?" 
"I was thinking about it."

Not wanting to get between a boy and his fish, I moved 30 yards 
down and found a slope that got me close to the water. I took off my boots and socks and waded in. It was alpine cold and it felt good.

I waded back to shore and sat on a rock to let my feet dry. I could see a pair of cutthroats lazing in the clear water below me.

The boy had waded into the water and was casting out toward the center of the lake. I called, "Hey buddy." He looked. 

I held up two fingers. Two fish. 

I pointed to the rocks in the water below me. Right here. 

I held my hands about 10 inches apart. This big.

He nodded and waved and turned to cast his fly toward the rocks below me. I watched him work his line for a couple minutes and then left him to his business.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Morning Greetings

It can get boring to show up at work and greet your friend with the same old "Good morning, Aaron" or "Good morning, Joe" every day. 

Somewhere along the way, somebody changed it up and threw in a

Which turned into "Howdy, pard."

Thus started the daily ritual of non-conventional morning greetings. Whomever spoke first, the other guy had to counter. The exchanges sounded like this:

08:00 AM greetings:
“’Morning, marshal…”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Three Heat-Moons

Like three William Least Heat-Moons, Jill and Lauren and I were sticking to Colorado's blue highways.

We drove southwest on US 258 just north of Bailey, heading toward a rendezvous with Michelle's ashes in the San Juan Range. Now, though, it was time for some lunch.

“Scoob,” I said, “Punch up Yelp and find us some grub."

After a minute, she said, "Crow Hill Cafe. About 10 miles ahead."

We found the turn-off that took us past High Country Trucking, the Platte Canyon Fire Station, and into a row of storefronts leaned against a hillside. Our

options appeared to be a pizza joint, a liquor store, the Bailey Depot Feed and Supply Company, and an abandoned gas station. Nothing that looked like a cafe.

"Keebs, are you sure?"

Friday, August 9, 2019

Boundary Threshold

In The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell gives us a map. On this map, there is a boundary – a threshold. It’s pretty soon after the “denial of the call to adventure.” In stepping across the threshold, the

hero moves from the “ordinary world” into an extra-ordinary world. 

Think of Skywalker: “I can’t go to Alderaan! I have moisture-farming to do here on Tatooine.” Then he meets Obi-Wan. Then they cross the threshold and off they go on a journey. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019


For some of us, it wasn’t our first time in a wilderness area. For others, it was all firsts. The plan
this time was for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – a million acres of forest, rivers, and lakes left behind after the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet 17,000 years ago. 

Last year, it was fathers and sons in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. This summer was husbands and wives in northeast Minnesota. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lime and Rum

His guayabera hung cool and loose as he spun her to “Santiago de Cuba” on the jukebox. The cinderblock walls were painted aqua and cornflower yellow. The roof was thatched. They were sweeping each other off their feet, likely to finish the night at her place, or his.

A breeze came off the bay, making the oil lamps flutter. She tasted of rum, and he of limes. His hand cupped the small of her back as he dipped her to Benny Moré's piano guajeo and she laughed. 

His hands were large and not soft. They first appeared soiled, but his fingers were stained not by earth, but with ink. As he turned her across the dance floor, the lamplight reflected what seemed to be fine filaments of silver braided through the ink stains.

At the anvil, these would be the hands of the blacksmith. Holding a chisel or a brush, the hands of an artist. At the small of her back, the hand of a lover.

By the time the moon rose, the salsa had quieted and there was only the sound of the surf.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nets of Ink and Paper and Stone

I drove a hundred miles south and they drove a hundred miles north. Dave and Marvin and I covered a lot of ground, before and during a three-hour lunch

One topic was remembering those who came before us. Great-grandparents, or second or third greats. Their names and dates get cut deep into stone, but the elements are implacable. Mountains don’t survive, so what hope has a headstone?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hawk: Skirmish on the Ouabache

A piece of short historical fiction, published in "The Tomahawk & Long Rifle" (Vol 44, No 1),
the official publication of the American Mountain Men.


My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. In the dark I could hear horses snorting and the jangle of bridles. Mother lit a oil lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s cabin. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They peeled his top knot, cap’n. Set the roof afire and took the missus captive.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Moccasins Felt Familiar

"The Moccasins Felt Familiar: An Outsider Recounts His First AMM Camp Amongst a Brotherhood of Men" 

Published in "The Tomahawk & Long Rifle" (Vol 44, No 1), the official publication of the American Mountain Men.
If Larry Mayes had his way, I’d have run into the AMM camp naked, hollering about a band of angry Shawnee in hot pursuit.

“It’ll help you get your mind into the period,” Larry said as we stood at the rear of his truck. “Here’s the scene. You’ve been held captive. You escape. You run through the woods until you find us.” He gestured up the dirt road toward a ridgeline. “You run into camp bare-assed and that’s where I hand over your clothes.” He seemed satisfied with his scenario.

I pointed into the bed of his pickup. “You mean the clothes in that box? The one that says, ‘Clothes for Joe’? I appreciate your sense of drama, Larry. But I see my pants right there.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Inhaling and Exhaling

My eyes are always seeking the raffle of turkeys along a tree line, the doe and her fawns gleaning corn in a harvested field, or skeins of geese moving from nesting to feeding, or back. My eyes will find the solitary red-tailed hawk hunting from its perch on a tree branch or a power line or a fence pole. I’m rarely at the right place at the right time to see the hawk’s patience pay off.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fathers and Sons and Brothers in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness

Here is a three-minute highlight of a six-day, 50-mile trek into NW Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. 

We're submitting this as one of two entries to the 2nd Annual Public Land Owners Film Fest, sponsored by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Haleakalā National Park in Three Acts

"Haleakalā National Park in Three Acts" is a three-minute exploration of three different landscapes in one national park. This is an entry to the 2nd Annual Public Land Owners Film Fest, sponsored by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Ancestor #1717

David Anson Root (1849-1936) was our 
great-great-grandfather. One of his prized possessions was a nautical telescope crafted by Negretti & Zambra of London, sometime in the late 1800s. The telescope is single-draw, with a tapered brass tube and covered in a hard-grained Moroccan leather.

Much of what I know of this great-great-grandfather, I have my cousin Daniel Root to thank. A table of consanguinity shows that Daniel would be my “first cousin, once removed” -- my mother’s cousin. I'm happy to keep it simple, though.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

27 Minutes Later

I traded notes with Martha Hoover on a Sunday morning. After the fourth email volley, I told her, “MasterClass should offer you Wolfgang Puck’s first-born in exchange for doing a ‘Martha Hoover Teaches...’ video.”
Photo: IBJ
Yes, I know... Wolfgang is near 70 and he’s probably out of the kid-making business. Plus, his first-born is already grown and is probably shaving by now. Plus, Martha Hoover wouldn’t have time to mess around with any little Pucklettes. She’s busy.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Steven Pressfield Dot Com: An Author's Site with Meat for Writers

Barbara Shoup at the Indiana Writer's Center recently shared Tina Jordan’s New York Times article about the websites of bestselling authors. Publishers usually insist, Jordan says, that their novelists maintain a web presence. So she visited the sites of the current bestselling novelists and reported back on the most interesting thing about each one.
We writers might hope to find a few tools or useful tips from these successful novelists. Many of these sites, however, provide not much more than Q&A responses to overworked questions like “Where do your ideas come from?” or “How do you do research?” I couldn’t find any insights into the hard-hitting questions like “Is it better to write with a pen or a pencil?”

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

In the Bob Marshall Wilderness

A year of planning, six days and 46 miles on the Continental Divide Trail, and 16 minutes of memory. 

Strings and cello and fiddle harmonize with the landscape, and carry the emotion of being in the wilderness with friends, fathers and sons, and brothers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Today's Special

These old boys ambled toward their table next to the corner windows in Miss Shelly’s Place. The sign by the two-lane just called it “The Place.” Underneath, the words “Country Cooking” had “Country” highlighted in quotes, as to make clear.

Inside, pies and cakes were lined up on the counter, each under a glass bell. The chalkboard listed today’s


Biscuits and gravy, two eggs, two strips of bacon, all the coffee you want -- $3.99.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Two crosses, one with plastic flowers, are in the grass on the corner across from where this guy just got T-boned. I could see it coming. The courteous people just ahead of me were leaving a gap to let a small yellow Nerds-to-Go van make a left turn.

I looked in my side view and saw a Black Kia coming along in the third lane at what looked like normal speed. Neither one

of these guys could see they were on an intercept, but I could see the whole board. No amount of horn-honking or hand-waving was going to help.

They say that time gets distorted in moments like this. It’s

true. Pieces on the board are in motion, slow-motion. The outcome is inevitable. If Jill had been sitting next to me, she would have said “what’s wrong?” in response to what would have sounded from me like a slow, drawn-out combination of a groan and the word: “Nooooohhhh.

The Kia laid on his brakes but it was a done deal. He hit the little yellow van a solid one. It got the van up on two wheels and spun him once, the van driver now facing me. I watched him as the little truck teetered and started to roll.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Imogene Pass

It was 27 years ago that I saw her see God. Twenty-four years since her mother Anna brought her ashes up here and spread them in this alpine meadow. It was now August and it had been 22 years since I'd been here to visit the bronze marker her mother had set at the foot of this boulder at 11,600 feet.

Before she died at age 21, Michelle took time to write down her wishes. She didn't want to be buried. Her daddy's horses needed the land to graze. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted to rise with her smoke back to her God. She didn't care what they did with her ashes, but she wrote, "A field of wildflowers near Ouray, Colorado is a wonderful memory for me."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Pursued by a Book

The picture on the magazine page looked like snowy TV static. Beads of sweat formed on my brow as I stared at the pattern. You remember Magic Eye 3D pictures, right? If you focused your eyes past the image on the page, a hidden three-dimensional shape was supposed to reveal itself: a sailboat or palm trees or winged birds in flight.

These 3D pictures were all the rage in the early ‘90s. Newspapers featured them in the Sunday funnies. They showed up as plot elements on TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends. Three different Magic Eye books spent a total of 73 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Even the gentlemen’s magazines were getting in on it.

This may have partially explained the beads of sweat as I sat in my studio apartment, the summer of ’92 at age 31, trying to defocus my eyes on a magazine page with the banner:

“HEY! This page has bodacious 3-D Ta-Tas.”

After 10 or 15 minutes of crossing my eyes and moving the

page back and forth, I couldn’t see anything but what looked like a close-up of beach sand.