September 7, 2016
Summer is a busy time for everyone, and I too will admit I did not accomplish as much as I wanted. From the live music to the river sessions, our schedules get so jam-packed that it’s hard to find for solo pondering. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say the phrase, with a sigh, “There’s just so much going on.” But even though our off-season has been more or less snatched from us and the town still has plenty of folks stumbling through the crosswalks with slack-jawed expressions, we’re slowly entering a period of quiet. This long awaited respite will free us up for all those projects and novels we’ve been putting off since Josie’s Ridge opened.
I’ve been working part-time at Valley Bookstore for roughly 10 years, on and off, and I absolutely love writing up “Staff Picks” leaflets. These picks are meant to alert meandering book hunters of awesome reads that might have evaded the bestseller lists. Since I’m currently imbibing my first Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season, (#psl4life #whitegirlsquad) I thought it only fitting that I assemble a small list of excellent reads now that it’s a bit cooler and indoor smelly candles are back in style.
First off, the one book I tend to thrust in everyone’s hands regardless of the season is We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. This thick, literary epic chronicling the coastal town of Marstel, Denmark, is nothing short of brilliant. Packed with characters, juggling different genres and time periods, this high-seas adventure is one that is unrivaled in its ability to captivate readers.
I recently just finished To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, and I cannot recommend it enough. Told through journal entries, newspaper clippings and photos, it’s the ultimate historical love story, chronicling the adventures of a stalwart explorer heading up Alaska’s Wolverine River Valley in 1885 and the ambitious wife he leaves behind. Fans of Ivey’s first book, The Snow Child, will not be disappointed with this high-concept endeavor.
As I slowly catch up on all the TV I missed while I was enjoying the sunshine this summer, Outlander is a show in particular that has me completely hooked. I’ve now begun reading the eight-book Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. Initially, I figured a historical Scottish romance about a WWII nurse who travels back in time to 1700s Scotland wouldn’t really be up my alley. But sure enough, I’m consumed by it. Yes, it’s flowery, yes there’s more nipple play than I expected, but the epic scale and multi-layered characters will no doubt ensnare anyone looking for something to occupy their fall, winter and probably even spring.
In terms of books for younger readers, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is so insanely good that I would actually recommend it for readers of any age. When a robot named ROZZUM Unit 7134 crash lands on an island, she befriends the animals who have made their homes there. Roz learns that her technological abilities are useless in the real world and she relies on her new friends to help her survive the wilderness and find a way back home.
A new favorite of mine is Forrest Leo’s debut The Gentleman, a Victorian-era adventure if Lizzie Bennet were held hostage by David Lynch and Mel Brooks. Hilarious, devious, and totally entertaining, it’s not one to miss.
There are a handful of books that have yet to be released that I’m keeping my eye on as well. T.C. Boyle’s newest The Terranauts (10/25) is the literary author’s first venture into sci-fi, and deals with a group of scientists that are sent to an off-world colony on a research mission. Swing Time by Zadie Smith (11/15) is no doubt going to be another powerhouse tome from the English writer, as it touches upon the friendship and rivalry between two female dancers of color as they navigate the 21st century.
My new book appetite is insatiable and as summer slips out of our hands, I can’t wait to light up those candles, cozy up on a couch and start ignoring the outside world. Well, at least more than I already do.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 31, 2016
When it comes to my passion for cooking and baking, I have the dark, unforgiving Icelandic winter to thank. Being trapped in a remote fjord, we had a surplus of horse meat and as many fresh vegetables as we had rays of sunlight. Working as a chef and baker at the Kaupfélagsbarinn restaurant in the lonely settlement of Neskaupstaður, my passion became experimenting with recipes on my days off and serving them to the staff.
But man, did I crave a fresh salad…
When I returned to Jackson at the end of May I immediately cooked a three-course meal for my family and a few guests. I showed off some techniques I’d learned and luckily no one vomited and/or died. The dinner went so well, in fact, that my parents’ friend Cynthia Engelstad, owner of Jackson Hole Hat Company, called me up last week and asked me to cater a private event for her, this time for 12 people.
The mild weather we’ve been experiencing (thank the weather gods), certainly has a way of making me excited for fall. The moment I can see my breath fog in front of me, my body immediately starts craving things like pumpkin, spaghetti squash, cinnamon, sweet potato stews, butter, butter, more butter, etc.
It is still summer, after all, and I wanted to take advantage of ripe, bright veggies like heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini and big-ass cucumbers.
But take heart, dear reader, as the last thing I intended was a veggie-only, post-Pilates spa menu that’s all about light, simple flavors. Instead I found some ripe mini watermelons at Smith’s and decided to do a play on a watermelon salad and spice it up with some Asian-style chili oil and red pepper flakes to shock the palate on the first course. The heat would be cooled down with cucumber noodles that had been soaked in mint, basil, lime, honey and some orange-infused olive oil. It’d all be rounded out by some fresh arugula.
Since we went vegan (honey be damned) for the salad course, I wanted to go to another extreme for the second course: A summer vegetable galette with cheese, caramelized onions, thyme and a crisp, buttery crust. It would showcase the tomatoes and zucchini, while contrasting their upbeat flavors with the wholesome tang of Irish cheddar and a hefty bleu cheese. Before serving it, I melted down some honey and salted butter to drizzle over the galette.
For the entrée, I brought some Iceland skills to the table. I found delicious wild caught Icelandic cod at Jackson Whole Grocer. This dish married the bright flavors of the first course with the decadent feel of the second. For my Íslenskur þorskur, I sautéed yellow onions and then tossed them in a vat of melted butter, allowing them to simmer for an hour. I carved some russet potatoes into mini bananas, boiled them, and added rosemary and parsley. The baked cod was placed atop sprigs of asparagus that were sautéed in bacon grease. I added the taters and topped the fish with a spoonful of the buttered onions.
The night concluded with individual mocha trifles layered with coffee-infused mousse and Bailey’s whipped cream. I don’t know how I managed to pull it all together, but it worked, and 12 guests went home with full bellies and boozy smiles.
Now’s the time to take advantage of the farmers markets before the sun sets on summer, and don’t be afraid of cooking things down and being heavy handed with butter. Autumn is coming at full force and we might as well get our bellies ready for the hearty meals on the horizon. Gerðu svo vel!
Serves 4; prep time 90 minutes
1 ripe mini seedless watermelon
1 big-ass cucumber (or 2 smaller ones)
4 handfuls fresh arugula or spinach
1 large lime, juiced
1 Tbsp. spicy chili oil
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. honey
1 cup olive oil (regular or infused w/ orange peel)
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. chopped fresh basil
salt & pepper
toasted nuts or seeds for garnish
Preparation: Chili Watermelon Steaks
Slice the ends off the watermelon and stand up. Slice off the rind leaving only pink flesh (no whites). Cut the watermelon into 1-inch steaks and carve into even squares. Place four of the steaks into a casserole dish, dress with salt, pepper, chili oil, chili powder and red pepper flakes. Cover and place in fridge for one hour.
With a spiralizer or julienne peeler, strip the cucumber into noodles. Use only the light-green noodles and discard the rind. Soak the noodles in a bowl with olive oil, honey, mint, basil and lime juice for one hour.
Sprinkle salt, pepper and chili flakes on plate. Place watermelon steak in center of plate and top with a handful of arugula. Using a fork, twirl the cucumber noodles on a spoon and place atop the arugula. Dress the salad with the remaining liquid from the noodles. Garnish with nuts or seeds and cracked pepper.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 31, 2016
Hours after hearing of Marius Hanford’s passing, I stood in Heather Best’s kitchen surrounded by a gaggle of actors and crew members of Riot Act, Inc., the local theatre company run by the invincible Macey Mott, Marius’ partner in crime and love. We gathered in solidarity, sharing stories, eating pizza, keeping spirits high. We all had known Marius for years and worked with him in various capacities. Still processing the news, I leaned against the counter in silence, my mind sifting through lucid memories of Marius.
Marius Hanford IV with his father Marius III, his mother BJ, and his partner Macey Mott. (Photo: Hannah Hardaway Photography)
I had arrived late to the gathering. The others had been there longer, and had already shared many of their memories and tears prior to my arrival. My friend Henry Williams, recognizing my dazed state, asked me how I was, and I said the first thing that popped into my head.
“Marius put my first sword in my hands.”
Kari Hall: “Mine too.”
Heather Best: “Me too.”
Lindsay Burgess: “Me too. My first sword. My first axe. My first gun…”
Indeed, Marius’ local reputation for stage combat was second to none. He had choreographed fights for countless productions, taught high schoolers how to safely throttle one another, and assisted with the shootout on the Town Square as both an actor and a choreographer. He was generous with his gift, and with his humor. In Marius’ hands, the most novice actor could become a weapons master in a matter of hours.
My first experience with Marius was in junior year of high school when he taught my drama class how to fight with rapiers. I remember Luke Metherell and I squaring off in the auditorium, meeting steel to steel, plunging the rapiers into each other’s bowels in the most convincing ways.
This introduction to rapier combat influenced me so much, that I ended up writing an entire novel about cowboys who carry rapiers at their hip. I never got a chance to tell Marius how he inspired that tale, but I have every intention of crossing blades with him again someday. I haven’t forgotten my moves, but I’m sure he can still kick my ass.
While reminiscing with Kari on Heather’s porch, another revelation dawned on me.
“Marius taught us how to fall,” I said.
Falling correctly in stage combat is among the most important things you can learn, and not doing it properly was one of Marius’ biggest pet peeves. Falling requires control, awareness of your space and understanding of where and how you will land. You can’t let emotion get the best of you and allow your hand to catch your weight—you have to trust yourself to fall properly, core engaged, hands outstretched, landing on your “tush.”
“I can only hurt myself,” Marius would remind us mid-lesson.
Marius’s focus was safety, safety, safety. He took care of us, loved us, and never wanted any of us to get hurt. And so he taught us how to fall. During a performance, Marius couldn’t intervene if we messed up. Instead, he waited in the wings, following our movements, making sure we were staying safe with one another.
This rings true now. In the face of this moment of combat, Marius can no longer intervene. He stands in the wings, watching us. We’d do well to remember his words. We should keep control and avoid the urge to throw a hand out and hurt ourselves; we can’t let emotion take over and break our focus. If we lose sight of where we stand in relation to one another, we’ll damage each other and break that moment of theatre magic.
And yet, even with safety at the forefront of his craft, Marius knew how to celebrate those lovely morbid, horrific moments so cherished in stage combat. That man sure loved a good death scene. We will all treasure our memories of Marius, but for me, one particular moment stands out.
We’re in the Black Box at the Center for the Arts. Spring sunlight streams into the room. Marius kicks me in the ribs and I let out a pained cough. His foot rests on my shoulder blade and he gives me a slight nudge. I control the moment, overacting and rolling onto my back. He lifts his foot to stomp on my head, but I move out of the way and stand up. But then Marius punches me, spins me around, kicking the back of my knees. As I’m kneeling, he places his hands on the crown of my head and my chin, and with a maniacal laugh, gleefully snaps my neck.
My eyes drift closed, my jaw goes loose, and I carefully fall to the floor, deader than dead. Scene.
When I open my eyes, Marius stands above me with a stretched-out hand and a smile, ready to help me back up so he can kill me again.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 23, 2016
I don’t necessarily consider myself a visual artist. Yes, writing is more or less visual, and I’ve been on stage more times than I can count, but I’ve never figured my erratic creative exploits could stand with work by the more prevalent artists in our community. Jackson is home to superb painters, photographers, sculptors, screen-printers, etc., who regularly produce and sell art. Most of my writing, however, is done in secret at my laptop screen at Pearl St. Bagels and kept to myself.
Recently Planet scribe and art maven Meg Daly sent me an e-mail inviting me to participate in the JH Public Art’s “Tiny Art Show,” a pop-up gallery displayed in Public Art’s Mobile Design Studio. The show, co-curated by Alissa Davies, took place at the last three People’s Markets at the base of Snow King, but is now over and done with.
I had a fiction project that had been mulling around in my head since I applied for the CSA Jackson Hole art share two years ago. The pitch—a ghost story in a cigar box—was rejected unfortunately, but the notion lingered in the expansive, bizarre archives of my creative mind. When Daly asked me to participate in the show, I immediately went to the stacks and retrieved the idea.
However, since I don’t often get the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of local art luminaries like Ben Roth, Bronwyn Minton, Pamela Gibson and Jenny Dowd, I wanted to pull out the stops and do something personal, unique and challenging. So rather than putting fictional stories within a box, I spent an emotional evening combing through the darkest, most hidden events of my life—the things not even my closest friends or family members were aware of—and bringing them to the surface. Fun!
I wrote out a series of six linked essays, each one centered around one of these defining events, and assembled six wooden boxes, which I then stained and scuffed. Since each of the events occurred at a different moment of my life, the boxes were separated by age. I then went back into my archives (this time my physical archives) and found stories, journal entries, documents, and notes that were written during the time of the secret event. These dossiers were assembled, placed within the boxes, which I then sealed shut. If the patron wanted to read the contents of a box and ultimately learn my secrets, they would have to break it open and destroy the “art.”
When the boxes were complete, I got kind of emotional. Not only had I revisited some of the more difficult moments of my upbringing, but I had manifested them in front of me. For the first time, they existed outside of my mind. And I was putting them on display. Not only that, I was selling them.
Alongside work by the aforementioned artists, I had a feeling my project would be seen as too experimental, too weird and, at $100 a box, too expensive. How do you justify spending that much money when you don’t know what’s inside the box? (Cue the anguished Brad Pitt in Se7en: “OH, WHAT’S IN THE BAWKS?!”)
But the idea was that I would be entrusting the buyers with these secrets, thus the title of the project: “Between Us.” The patron could keep the box safe or destroy it. It would be up to her.
When the pieces went up at the People’s Market, I darted in and around the trailer, spying on Daly and Davies as they explained the project, and watching people’s confused reactions. They picked up the boxes, tried to pry them open, shook them. It definitely sparked people’s curiosity. But I had a hard time promoting the idea, because part of me wanted to kidnap the boxes and hurl them into a bonfire.
Two of the boxes are now in the hands of Daly and her brother Matt Daly. I don’t know what their intentions will be, but it’s somewhat therapeutic to know that there are two people out there who now know what I know.
Whether it will stay between us is uncertain.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 17, 2016
It was 2006 and I was a freshman at the University of Wyoming. As a welcome-back-to-school event, iTunes offered a handful of free playlists and mp3 tracks for anyone with a school e-mail address. For me, Brandi Carlile awakened my eyes to the beauty of harmony, of folk music, and of embracing love and sexuality despite the noise.
Today everyone wants to claim they were the original fans. They heard [insert band name here] play whatever song for the first time at some festival, “The band came into my life at the most incredible time,” etc. Honestly, in 2016 I will take overenthusiastic passion over apathy any day. But why Jackson folks, and presumably many others, feel like they have to justify precisely how long they’ve been doing something or living somewhere in order to look impressive or interesting, I’ll never know. (Hell, I’m guilty of it too. Can someone please fund a psychological study of weird-ass mountain town social habits?) But I digress…
I, like many Carlile fans in the valley, was not able to afford tickets to the Center for the Arts fundraiser last Tuesday. She’s played Targhee Fest a handful of times and made her first appearance in Jackson at a sold-out Mangy Moose show in 2009.
When the Center announced the ticket prices, I was skeptical about the audience. I felt like her local fans, who had probably paid between $20 to $50 to see Carlile over the years wouldn’t shell out upwards of $200 in their hometown. However, the theater eventually filled up for the night of the performance, which makes me happy both for the Center and for Carlile.
Then, a week leading up to the show my roommate Madeleine surprised me with a ticket. I was overjoyed to get the chance to see Carlile again on my home turf. I dressed up, did a little pre-gaming and arrived early.
Since coming back from my isolated Iceland adventures, large crowds of people have been making me somewhat uneasy. Seeing folks I know always sparks a conversation about what the hell I’m doing with my life, which I am always prepared for, of course… But I did “the dance” as they say, and had a great time socializing in the lobby leading up to Carlile’s performance.
Sitting in the center of row JJ, up in the balcony, I admired the sound, which, as always, was impeccable. And as Carlile and the Twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) wooed the crowd with an insanely tight, off-the-cuff acoustic set, I sat in the darkness and bawled my damn eyes out. She honored the space and delivered one hell of a show. After an a cappella rendition of “Beginning to Feel the Years,” Carlile addressed the important role the Center for the Arts plays in the community.
“It’s always good to re-experience the true moments of poetry in a space like this,” she said, speaking off-mic at the edge of the stage.
When she finally reached her closing song, “Pride and Joy,” I was literally convulsing trying to suppress my sobs. Just ridiculous.
Suffice it to say that Carlile’s lyrics have a pretty powerful effect on this gay, Wyoming-raised writer. I walked out of the auditorium lighter, both emotionally and physically. I lost a good three pounds of water weight via my eyeholes. I met the Center’s program director Shannon McCormick, who kindly put up with my requests to meet Carlile, “even just for a second!”
He made it work.
“Well, hey, I’m Brandi,” she said with her signature twang.
“Ha, I know,” I said like a doofus.
I shook her hand and proceeded to gush for a good 30 seconds, singing as many words of praise as I could. She looked exhausted and smiled politely, having gone through her own version of “the dance” countless times. We hugged, we parted ways, and I walked home perplexed, star-struck, kinda drunk.
Having performed at the Center, I know the magic that stage can produce. And as the Center continues to program for the community, I hope folks there book more artists like Carlile. Artists who may not have the biggest name recognition, but can truly transform that stage into something poetic, unique and powerful.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 10, 2016
I’ve never known a bigger dork than Jackson Hole High School science teacher Andrea Overly. Although we haven’t been friends for decades, our two personalities mesh like huckleberries and milkshakes. Both of us were raised in Jackson Hole, but were born on opposite sides of the country. We also have a few things in common that appear trivial—we’re Andy and Andi; we were born just a day (and some years) apart—but have seemingly strengthened our bonds of friendship. Other friends have admonished us: we’re not allowed to huddle in a corner at parties quoting YouTube videos and making weird sounds; we actually have to talk to other people.
Since I’ve always had a fascination with the long lost history of the Hole, I was eager to yank Andi on a hiking adventure, recording our chats along the way. Since she teaches ninth grade earth sciences, we picked a hike up Death Canyon, an area ripe with geological mystery, and a place that has had a profound impact on both our lives while growing up. There was no knowing how many times either of us had leaped from the massive jumping rock at Phelps Lake, how many birthday parties or family excursions had led us up that familiar forested trail.
Along the way, I asked Andi to tell me how our home valley was formed.
“A long, long time ago…” she began.
“…in a Hole not so far away…” I continued.
“…in a Hole that didn’t even exist yet, there were two tectonic plates that crashed into each other. And when two tectonic plates love each other very much…”
“They make metamorphic rock!” she squealed in delight.
I had clearly forgotten a lot of the curriculum from (sigh) 15 years ago.
Andi continued the lesson as we walked, telling me about how the Teton Range rose from the ground as the valley sunk deeper into its shadow. Using terminology that I hadn’t heard since I was 14, Andi went into detail about foliated metamorphic rock, particularly her favorite type of rock: gneiss (pronounced “nice”).
“Dude, it’s so nice…” Andi agreed.
Andi bent down to pick up a grey rock with white striations, saying it was one of the most common rocks to be found on the valley floor. The stripes are created when heat and pressure are administered on parallel sides. We spent most of the hike keeping our eyes peeled for more gneiss.
“The cool thing about the canyon and Phelps Lake is that it was all formed by glacier movement, which is why you’ll find granite down here, when normally in our valley, granite’s found up high,” she explained.
The Phelps Lake jumping rock is an enormous slab of granite that was carried down with the glacier, the lake itself being the remnants from that glacier. Beneath the lake you’re sure to find even more granite, which is a type of igneous rock that was once melted down to magma, and then cooled, crystalizing the minerals trapped within.
We passed a multitude of tourists, smiling families, young and fit couples, older folks with walking sticks and bells. And as they took in the present-day sights, Andi and I were in deep discussion about the valley’s ancient history, which was visible in every direction, but required a trained eye.
Standing at the overlook, smiling and catching our breath as we stared out at Phelps Lake in the alpine breeze, a kind family from Philadelphia asked if we wanted them to take our picture.
“Of course!” we said in unison.
I know that many locals and “locals” (side-eye…) are somehow allergic to popular trials with tourists. But when you remember how old this area is, how much history is involved and how many shoes have walked the same trails over and over again, it’s hard to feel any sort of selfishness or entitlement.
Exhausted with our grueling, single mile-long round trip, we decided we deserved a drink. Sitting on the Dornan’s deck, sipping on our ramshackle bartender’s margaritas, we stared up at the massive igneous rocks that we called home.
We sat in the smokey sunshine with smiles on our faces, two dorks, discussing life and geology, making weird noises. “Mlem,” Andi said, tonguing her straw.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
August 2, 2016
The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is known for championing a tremendous amount of variety when it comes to wildlife. But along with the wide range of large mammals, plenty of bird species and countless insects, there has been a recent epidemic of Pokémon that has invaded Jackson Hole’s quiet township, just begging to be caught, captured, raised and battled. These Japanese-bred monsters, both cute and creepy, have been loitering around various parts of the valley.
I feel no shame in admitting that my obsession with Pokémon began in fifth grade when I first received “Pokémon Red” for my Game Boy (first generation, bitches). My younger stepbrother Caelan got “Pokémon Blue,” an alternate version of the game that boasted 11 kinds of Pokémon that my Red version didn’t have. The only way to “Catch ‘Em All” was to pair up Game Boys with a link cable and trade species back and forth. My love for the game transitioned into my love for the trading card game, which then carried on to my love for the “Pokémon Trading Card Game” for Game Boy Color. It was a vicious cycle.
After plenty of pre-teen rehab, which involved incessant teasing, name-calling and unrelated sexual confusion, I managed to wean myself off Pokémon and enter my teens more or less unscathed. Even after all these years, my knowledge of Pokémon evolution type effectiveness still burrowed out unnecessary space in my memory. I still know which starting Pokémon can learn HM05 (Bulbasaur) and where to find the infamous Missingno (outside Viridian City).
Who knew that my ability to name all 151 original Pokémon (I’m single, FYI) would suddenly come in handy when the new “Pokémon Go” app took over the world?
I was hesitant to download it at first, especially after hearing that the application mined your phone for personal information. Not only that, the app led a young girl to accidentally stumble upon a dead body in Riverton, Wyo., and in Bosnia, the government issued a warning that hunting Pokémon might lead people into areas with active land mines. Fun stuff! But after downloading “Pokémon Go,” I was hooked. My childhood surged back to me in full force. I even got a new pimple on my forehead.
Hunting Pokémon throughout Jackson was a trip, for sure. The app uses a GPS system for wherever you’re operating it and randomly assigns various businesses and locations as “Gyms” or “Pokestops,” where players can train their captured Pokémon or collect items such as lures and extra Pokéballs. Places like parks, museums and churches have a higher chance of providing more items and can also attract more rare and powerful Pokémon.
Since the Teton County Fair was going on last weekend, I figured I might find some interesting Pokémon in the area. Unfortunately, I found nothing but a bunch of Paras and yet another Drowzee (they’re all over Jackson). Nothing like the Pikachu I spotted near Bud’s Liquor Store and the Eevee I caught at the Wilson Pearl St. Bagels two weeks ago.
I checked out the petting zoo first and was surprised that one of the most aggressive non-Pokémon in the area was already captured.
A juvenile male North American bison was roped up and caged within the petting zoo. The man supervising the tent told me it was born in captivity and wasn’t aggressive. However, as children approached the animal to pet its head, the bison rammed the gate with its horns, causing one girl donned in a painted face to erupt into tears.
I could fill an entire column commenting on the irony and questionable thinking involved with showcasing a bison in a petting zoo 20 minutes from where a wild, grass-fed, free-range bison could pummel you into oblivion. I will forever remain mystified by the choice to cage in a petting zoo such a powerful creature that symbolizes the American West and wildness.
As for my Pokémon search, the fairgrounds were a bust. The only unique, docile animal I spotted was a horned Brazilian Zebu, which unfortunately was already captured by the zoo supervisor.
I guess I’ll have to keep searching.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
July 26, 2016
Growing up on Flat Creek, my childhood home was at 818 C in Creekside Village and our unit directly faced the creek. Josie’s Ridge was a stone’s throw away.
I could fill a book with all the dangerous exploits the neighborhood kids and I got into, but floating Flat Creek in a tube was the pinnacle of summer adventuring. There were those days, though rare, where we accidentally floated all the way onto the Lockhart Ranch property and had to crawl our way through muck, willows, and barbed wire trying to figure out how to get home.
It’s been 10 years since I floated Flat Creek. The last time I ventured onto such waters I was a senior in high school. Now this isn’t because I felt like it wasn’t fun anymore; I had just graduated onto bigger rivers. Last week, however, following a Snake River float from South Park to Astoria with my friend Josh Griffith, I received a text from Chris Kirkpatrick. He wondered if I was interested in a 5:30 p.m. Flat Creek float.
“I just got off the river. So yes,” I texted back.
Now, I in no way condone intoxicated river sports. It adds an additional level of risk that can be incredibly dangerous. However, I trusted the people I was with, and figured my vast experience with Flat Creek over the years would prepare me for any disasters that lay ahead. I mean, it’s just Flat Creek, right?
We put in near Inn on the Creek in the north part of town and planned on taking out somewhere near Smith’s. As we entered our tubes and began the float, we passed under some large willow trees. The sunlight broke through the leaves. The water was calm. I was buzzed. It was absolute paradise.
“I should do this more often!” I yelled to my friends.
Then horror struck as we reached the first bridge. I flattened myself out as much as I could and cleared the bridge by a mere two inches. I was about to declare how terrifying that was but there was no time for observations. As a kid, I always thought Flat Creek was super crazy and fast, but as an adult I figured it would be an easy town float. Not the case, folks.
There was not a single moment of relaxation. New obstacles introduced themselves with every twist and bend of the creek. Right when I thought things might quiet down for a second, a massive rock would smash into my butt, spinning me around and steering me directly into an overgrown patch of willow branches. I was already in so much pain and still the creek carried me further down its torture chamber of terror.
One moment of familiarity hit when we neared the “new” post office and Creekside Village. The creek forks into two paths, one of which leads into the willows while the other takes a safer, albeit shallow route along the bike path. Chris’s tube started veering into the willows.
“No, no! This way sucks!” I yelled. But I realized the current was pushing me in the same direction and it was too late to paddle myself out.
The willows encroached on us like a forest from a Tim Burton movie, and plenty of the standard Flat Creek foam was gathering in the nooks and crannies of the willow thicket. We tried to maneuver our way, paddling quickly and using our feet as battering rams to steer us from the spiky edges of the creek. Finally, the side channel spat us out and we were back on the main creek, right by my old house.
When we took out, I was exhausted. Flat Creek made my earlier Snake River float look childish in comparison. Soaking wet, mosquito-bitten, and sporting plenty of scratches and bruises for the road, I was surprised at how badly I got my ass kicked. Chris and I agreed that we used to be much better at floating Flat Creek when we were younger.
“Aw, man,” Chris said. “I should’ve brought my phone. I could have caught so many Pokémon out here.”
Apparently some things never change.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
July 20, 2016
There was something incredibly refreshing about spending the morning with Jed Restuccia and Dale Sharkey at their 50-acre farm in Victor, Idaho. The air was fresh and alive, the buzzing of insects filled my ears, and with every step I could see beautiful produce, young and ripe, peeking its way out of the soil.
Cosmic Apple Gardens is an organic produce farm with 10 acres of cultivated vegetables and around 12 to 15 acres of pasture ground for chickens, cows and pigs. All of the animal and vegetable waste is composted and used as fertilizer for the next batch of crops. Upon visiting, anyone can see there’s a predominant old-world cyclical harmony on the farm, a sense of respect for nature seemingly absent on mass-production farms across the country. The crops are certified organic and prepared with biodynamic principals in mind, meaning Cosmic Apple farmers pay as much attention to the sky and stars as they do to the soil in order to grow the absolute best produce they can.
Currently, Cosmic Apple is fulfilling roughly 210 CSA shares this year (two-thirds of which are Jackson residents), as well as participating in three weekly farmers markets throughout the summer. The amount of produce that needs to be harvested every day can be staggering, and Sharkey believes having hard-working, happy volunteers is the secret to the farm’s success.
“People come here for a variety of reasons—they want to eat healthier, they want to do more gardening—but I see the real culture of [the volunteers] at lunch,” she said. “They become solid and they really get to know each other. They’re out there for five hours with no distractions, so they get into some really interesting conversations.”
Sharkey said the volunteers aren’t allowed to bring phones into the field, because she believes its important to be acutely aware of what your hands are doing.
“You can’t text and pick produce at the same time.”
I walked out into the fields and met up with the day’s volunteers: Josh, Tree, and Jazz. Workshare manager Noah Novotny said it was the last day for them to harvest this plot of turnips, so the volunteers grabbed some yellow plastic bins and got to work. They were looking for eyeball-sized turnips. Novotny handed me a small one to taste. After the crunch, the texture was smooth, almost buttery like an under-ripe pear. It was the best turnip I’d ever eaten.
“You can’t beat that taste right out of the ground,” Jazz said.
“He’s always snacking,” Tree clarified.
“Only the little ones!”
This is Tree’s third summer at Cosmic Apple and farming isn’t just a “fun and cute” thing for her like it can be for other people; it’s hard work and she thrives on it. Her knowledge of the process is extensive, as is her love for the produce she’s handling.
Without phones or watches, the days tend to go by quickly and are always finished off with an incredible lunch prepared by Sharkey.
“It’s the perfect compliment to a hard day of work,” Tree said.
Comprised of everything the farm has to offer at the moment, Sharkey’s lunches are the stuff of legend at Cosmic Apple. On this particular day, lunch was rumored to be tempeh with stir-fried vegetables, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to stick around to sample the majesty.
In addition to lunch, volunteers also get shares of the produce they’re picking, which is a big draw. Sharkey said people come for the share, but they stay for the work.
“They’re really proud of what they do,” she said. “And they know that the harder they work, the bigger their share. And it’s great for me because my kids get to grow up in a place where they see these volunteers working hard and being kind to each other.”
The volunteers arrive at 7 a.m. and work until noon. Earlier in the season, planting is a huge part of the volunteers’ day, while later in the season, harvesting can consume the days. Weeding is a constant task throughout the year, and, thanks to some broken motorcycle happenstance, Cosmic Apple recently got paired up with a star weeder.
Aaron, 20, is from a small town in Kentucky where grew up on his family’s 2.5-acre farm. He and his friend initially planned to motorcycle across the country all the way up to Alaska, but now Aaron’s on his own. He was going to head up to Yellowstone and continue on to Glacier National Park when the front bearing fell off his motorcycle.
“I grew up working 20, 30, 40 hours a week, so this kind of stuff I’m used to,” he said. “Except Kentucky doesn’t have any mountains, so it’s a bit nicer out here.”
He may be a star weed-puller, but Alaska is still his endgame.
Before I said goodbye to the farmers, Sharkey and I spoke about the importance of a positive environment and making sure everyone on the farm, be it farmer, volunteer, guest, animal, or vegetable, is treated with care and respect.
“Once you get that figured out, you can really taste a difference,” she said.
(Originally published in Planet JH)
April 19, 2016
My weekly column with Planet JH is directly to blame for my inconsistency with blogging As you very well know, I live in a pretty remote part of Iceland, and there’s just not a whole lot of “news” that I have to share. I’m usually working at the hotel, doing some catering projects here and there. I spend my time off watching “Masterchef” reruns or, if I’m feeling creative, working on some writing projects!
However, I have been reporting on my Icelandic journeys in my weekly column, “Well, That Happened,”for my newspaper back home, and I’m going to be backlogging some of those entries into this blog. As I upload them, you’ll be able to journey back through time with me and see how I’ve been living. For now, here’s my most recent column made available for all to read.
Living out here in Neskaupstaður, Iceland, nine hours from Reykjavík, I’ve come to embrace that the most beautiful places in Iceland are those hidden away and difficult to reach.
The hotel I work at has recently purchased an old fishing boat named Gerpir, which can hold about 30-40 people comfortably. It’s about fifteen-meters long and has a cozy cabin beneath the deck with benches, tables, and a kitchenette. Gerpir is now part of the Hildibrand Hotel family and will be bring guests into the fjord, Norðfjörður, throughout the summer.
Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining our staff and bosses on a quick fishing tour into the fjord. We’d been spotting two humpback whales—a mother and a calf—for the past few days, and were eager to get some good photos of them. Iceland doesn’t have any indigenous land mammals (the Arctic fox’s origin is still up for debate), so spotting whales can be a big event, even for the Icelanders.
We hopped into the boat and began sailing east in the fjord towards the Atlantic Ocean. Heavy cloud cover made for a chilly adventure, but we were bundled up tight and far too focused on whale-searching to notice. Northern fulmars soared past our boat, curiously flying just feet from where I was standing on the deck. Our eyes were peeled for blows and black backs, and we prayed that the whales hadn’t abandoned us in the few hours since we’d last seen them.
But the expedition was fruitless as the calm waters revealed nothing but eider ducks, black-headed gulls and more fulmars. We switched off the engines and proceeded to dip our fishing rods into the fjord to see if we could catch some dinner. Icelanders have a fishing birthright, meaning they are able to fish as much as they want, as long as their catch is not being resold. Fishing companies have far more regulations and quotas they need to abide by, but if you’re just a fellow trying to feed his family, you can fish as much as you want.
As we pulled wriggling cod from the sea, the clouds opened up and the sun brought the sea to life. Shimmering reflections bounced off the sides of the boat and shadows of the circling fulmars fell across the deck. We may not have found any whales, but there wasn’t a frown in sight.
Before heading back to the harbor, we decided to make a trip into the next fjord south of us, Hellisfjörður, or the cave fjord. Sailing around the bend was awe-inspiring, as the ocean swells crashed against the cliffs with thuds that can only be described as thunderous. It felt like Jurassic Park and I nearly expected our elusive whale to reappear right then and there. The massive mountain towered above us and soon we had exited our populated fjord and achieved utter isolation.
The wind died down. The birds dissipated. The swells began to soften.
In the early twentieth century, a whaling station operated out of the fjord. They pulled in around three-thousand whales before ultimately shutting down around 1915. Electricity was on the rise, and fewer people were using whale oil to light lanterns. All that remains now is a vague skeletal structure on an abandoned beach.
We shut down the engines and bobbed in the waves. I could help eagerly taking in the 360-degree view. Other than the remains of the whaling station, there wasn’t a single sign of human life. We were alone. Steaming coffee and tuna fish sandwiches were passed around. Cigarettes were bummed. Two inquisitive puffins landed in the water next to us. And it was at that moment I realized how thrilled I was to be living in this part of the country.
Yes, it’s sometimes annoying to be so cut off from the rest of Iceland. And I’m often asked why I chose to live in such a remote place in Iceland when I could have easily reaped the city comforts of Reykjavík. Bobbing there in Hellisfjörður, I could have shouted my answer to the world. But, like a fallen tree in the woods, there was no one around to hear me.
A half-mile in the distance, I spotted a blow from our whale friends. I smiled, bringing the coffee cup to my lips, telling no one.
(Originally published in Planet JH)