Racing A Convertible Rolls in Southern France (Summer, 1977)

 43° 44′ N    7° 25′  E

Man’s capacity for the ridiculous seems infinite.   Take, for example, the race we entered into along the A8 in southern France back in the summer of 1977.   Halfway along our journey from Madrid to our summer home in the south Austrian Alps and suddenly an absolutely stunning woman in a white Rolls Royce Corniche comes up alongside of us just west of Monaco…

“Floor it, dad!”, I yell immediately.   I’m only 17.

My brother fuels the fire and poor dad, pressured as I now appreciate, complies and the race is on!   Like the parting of the Red Sea, there seemed to be very little traffic that morning, as we raced along, high above the seas and through the dark tunnels, the little villages passing by us so far below.

Mom became increasingly angry, but at 3:1, was temporarily outmatched.   After all, our silly ’76 Ford Mustang could surely win.   Well, not really.   And so it played out like a bad chase scene; the beautiful woman seemed so calm and natural in her perfectly paired, fine luxury automobile in contrast to the insanity brewing in our little car.

Kilometer after kilometer, we were taunted.   Seems to me, that it’s best to yield gracefully when so obviously outmatched; maybe learn not to engage to begin with, yes?

The beauty and the beasts… my poor mother excluded, of course.

“Jean Pierre, there was this odd little American car trying to keep up with me.”, she says as she settles into her lounge chair overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from their magnificent villa.

“Now, Monique, really…   We’ve talked about that before.”

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The Train to Erfurt (East Germany; 1980)

50°59’0″ N   11°2’0″ E

My father, a US diplomat,  was stationed in East Berlin from 1979 to 1982 and during that time my brother and I would fly back from college during the holidays and for the summers.   What we saw then and the stories we ‘collected’ seemed ordinary, that is, until we shared them with our friends back stateside.    Here is one:

In August, the son of one of my dad’s diplomatic colleagues invited me along for a train ride to the medieval town of Erfurt; still within the communist-controlled Russian sector, about 300+ km SW of Berlin.   The plan was simple.   Throw a change of clothes into our rucksacks and carry a full case of fine, Budvar Lager to the train’s platform for the three hour ride south.   Burgess assured me that we’d enjoy our tour of the quaint, old town, one that had largely escaped the allies’ bombing campaigns of World War Two.

And so it was that hot, August day as we awaited our train, the only two Americans in a sea of sad and grey East Germans huddled on the old rail platform.   The Wall would imprison these people for another nine years, though at the time it seemed that it would stand forever.

When we boarded the old passenger car, we found one of the worn, wooden benches and placed our prized case of beer between us.  I can still see the others, all quiet and afraid to make contact with the Westerners for fear of being questioned by their internal police  (the Stasi).   Come to find out years later, after the fall of the Wall, that our family’s dossier had grown to an impressive 500 pages!   I’m half-curious to read it someday, maybe…

Lurching off abruptly, the train slowly gathered speed along the old tracks as it began its southwesterly course, the passengers each beginning to lower their windows for circulation.

“Want one?”, Burgess asked handing over one of the almost liter-sized Czech beers.

“Heck yeah!”   and the drinking began.   Something about a beer from a place that’s been in business for over 700 years.

My friend was a Sophomore at Princeton when a careless driver hit him on the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. early that year.    He’d come to East Berlin in a half body cast and was now down to just one arm cast and naturally in great spirits.   A gentle giant, I really enjoyed my two months with that guy.

Suddenly and without warning, the emergency brakes press the train to an abrupt stop and he and I land in the laps of the East German sitting across from us.

“What the hell…?”, I asked.

Wiping off our spilled beers, we saw nothing for a few minutes then, a wave of military helicopters buzzed us overhead!   And more came.   We peered out our window to try to get a better view when one of the older passengers cautioned us back to sit down.   Curiosity now peaked, we wondered what was happening.

We’d exited the thick forests a few minutes earlier and had come into wide open fields and over to the north, we could see a massive cloud of dust, almost akin to Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl.   What on earth was going on?

“Looks like we’re stuck for a while.   Want another?”

“Sure”

Then they came; first the T-72 tanks and then behind them, artillery being towed by troop carriers and then thousands and thousands of infantry.   Absolutely incredible.   Funny helmets, almost looked like those worn by the Brits in WWI, but flatter and wider.   And they continued to come in this ever increasing dust storm.

We looked at each other in disbelief, drinking our Budvars, amidst the local people on this hot summer day, dust now coming through the windows.   The thunderous noise was overwhelming and the ground shook as the tanks came over the tracks in a crescendo of coordinated military activity.

Then the last ones made their way across, the dust settled, and we could see them heading over the bridge, crossing the Elbe River.   And as soon as the chaos had begun, it seemed to have died down just as quickly and the engine noise quieted to an eerie stillness as we all waited.

The older couple sitting across from us barely made eye contact.   In their early sixties, they must have been just a bit older than us when the war ended.   The woman had a distant look to her.  Lord only knows what they had seen in their lives.

Without warning, the train lurched suddenly back to life and we were off to Erfurt once again.   Who knows now who the tail assigned to us was that day?   It would be interesting to read the entry into our dossier, something buried deep within the old Stasi vaults in Germany gathering dust.

It was only recently that I’d put the pieces together.    Lech Wałęsa, the now-famous Polish labor leader, had jumped the fence into the shipyard in Gdansk a few days prior, instigating a massive strike.   For a few, tense days, it looked like his revolution would prevail, a repeat of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  When I recounted that story to the full-bird USAF colonel later in 1996, while touring the Krunichev Rocket Plant outside of Moscow, he leaned over and shared that we had gone to DEFCON ___ for just a short while that day.

Strange how we can be in the bullseye and not even have a clue.   Sometimes youthful ignorance really is bliss.

[Featured image from pixabay.com; no attribution required by photographer (tpsdave/971)]

 

An Afternoon at El Djem الجمّ

35° 18′ N   10° 43′  E

Who was “J. Monti”, I wondered, as I came up to the words and years carved into the ancient stone.   There were two; one in 1914 and another in 1958, the second partially obscured by a subsequent patch of mortar.   Of all of the carvings, why had I noticed these? What mysterious force had caused me to pause here?

I’ve always been fascinated by the North African coastline.  So much history, so many ruins from across the ages.   And with the magic of the Internet, it’s just a matter of making these journeys a priority.   What’s more satisfying and lasting, that fine BMW in your garage, or a series of well illustrated and narrated journals of your travels?

Sitting at the café across from the colosseum that afternoon, my thoughts wandered to an earlier time, 1,800 years ago.   With just a bit of effort, I could begin to imagine the glorious structure restored, with colorful fabrics shading her people, sounds of long horns calling the games to action.   And the carvings…

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Jasmine?

J. Monti…   Who was she?   A nurse attached to some British expeditionary force in 1914? How old was she when she returned?   68?   I imagined a young Lucy in a Room With a View, perhaps she’d received word that her Tunisian lover had died…   Maybe they’d stolen away to this place under a moonless night, if only for a moment. He’d likely carved the first, and she the ones after, with her more delicate and older hands, though the numbers “one” and “nine” look identical.

But the constant flow of mopeds robbed me of this lovely daydream, rudely shaking me into the present moment.

“Monsieur, your lamb kebob.”

“Merci!   Très bien.   Parfait.”, I was desperate for lamb, having spent three of my teenage years living in Ankara, acquiring a taste for this.

With the recent unrest in Tunisia, western tourism had simply vanished leaving  the entire place almost to myself.   A couple of young, Asian tourists asking questions of the menu inside, but I was all alone under the umbrella outside.   Perfectly delightful.

I should have insisted that my driver join me, but I could sense that this would have made him uncomfortable, so I demurred.   Looking around at the contrast between old and new, a feeling of sadness came over me as I thought about man’s inability to simply enjoy this marvelous planet.   Why must there always be conflict among us?

If only we could expunge the Seven Deadly Sins, perhaps then we may finally learn to get along.

Well, I’d enjoy this moment, this chance to simply soak into my day’s setting.  “So long J. Monti, whoever you are.”   Jasmine?   Yes, she had to be a Jasmine.

A Ural in Bolivia

Adventures feed the soul.   When we actively dream, we live.  Plans take form, choices are made, things are sold, and off we go.   Life is so short and if we don’t take time to figure out what fuels us, we’ll continue on a glide path to nowhere.

Drawing, for me, has almost always preceded action.   Visualize it intimately on paper and it will become etched into your mind.

Taking delivery of a Ural motorcycle somewhere in South America and then meandering by the seat of one’s pants seems would be something worth doing.   I had read about two hombres doing this a few years back and it has intrigued me ever since.  Just imagine what the world would look like from a sidecar…

“Oh, but that sounds crazy.   How would you cope when it snowed or rained?”

Exactly.  And perhaps my response would be, “How can you be satisfied seeing the world through the window of a tour bus?”   But, I’m trying to reform.   Read The Four Agreements.   Working not to take the bait these days.  I slip, sometimes.  Please forgive me.

Something quite alluring about a straight road in a remote location, one which disappears in perfect symmetry over to a horizon, one with distant, slightly active volcanos calling you.

The chance discovery of an incredible photo, an impulsive decision to go on pilgrimage, and a profound change in the direction of one’s life thereafter.

“Oh no…”, did I really draw a picture of a Ural with sidecar?

Pencil to Paper | Art as Therapy

 

The moment that pencil touches paper, something magical happens in the brain and suddenly the world’s noise disappears…

We seem to have drifted away from these basics in this busy, digital world.   Pencil to paper, and your thoughts instantly come to life.  Why concern yourself with the quality of your work?  As our 900+ year old friend, Yoda, would say, “Just do“.

 

I have found that drawing slows my world down to a crawl, a nice, slow crawl.  Earbuds in, the world’s noise out, and the mind drifts to a place of your choosing.   As your pencil presses into the paper, your work takes form.   And another line here, one there.   There we go, drifting far away from our worries.

Sometimes, your sketches are quick; left for the other to complete in their mind.   Or, hours go by and your masterpiece slowly grows from the page and you smile and reflect, like the hiker lost in thoughts only to find herself above the trees.

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My design professor came to sit with me for a few minutes at the drafting table to bemoan the current trend towards digital rendering and away from pencil to paper.   I assured him that the long pendulum would eventually come back, that the old ways would not fade completely, that this new technology was just a temporary distraction.

I’ll never forget the two years in the studio.   To have had a chance to peel back a page on my dream, if only for a while.

Go find that worn, leather journal, and make an entry today.

 

 

 

All in a Day

38°38’49.53″ N   106°20’39.76″ W     –     Elevation:  12,046′

There are still places where few humans go.  And in these places, if you dare, you wander into solitude and you realize that before long, you are all alone in a glorious landscape.   Prepare to hike up far away from the last road, through frozen forests, and you will be at the shores of a remote lake.  And as the cold wind howls through you like a tortured ghost you feel alive like you have not felt in years and you are exactly where you should be at this point in time.

Most of mankind is trained to seek the opposite and this to the lone adventurer works beautifully in the grand design.  So many of the cues would direct people here and there when a lonely path exists here, in plain sight.   But in the rush of our modern ways, we brush by these quickly, hardly noticing their quiet invitation to a far more interesting world.

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Photo 1:  The approach into the Collegiate Peaks from Rt. 162.

Since retiring early two years ago (at 55), I’ve impatiently waited for this chance to immerse myself into a routine of exploring these natural landscapes on foot.   So often our world passes by at 60mph when 2.6mph yields so much more of the fine detail of our surroundings.

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Photo 2:  Brilliant Fall colors on roads leading to St. Elmo’s.

Traveling virtually via Google Earth, I discovered some interesting ruins (The Mary Murphy Mine) and a pretty high-alpine lake and so I went.   Leaving well before the sun rose (~ 4:30am), I drove a little over an hour up Rt. 285 until I reached my turn off to the Collegiates; what a dramatic approach!

It was overcast with the sun peeking through, intermittently.   With the fall colors in their magnificent peak, the effect was visually arresting.   Quickly, I ducked off of the main dirt road and went higher into the mountains, up scarier switchbacks.   As the early snows got deeper, the humans became fewer.   Yay.

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Photo 3:  The ruins of the Mary Murphy mine.

Now up at around 10,000 feet, I thought I’d park and hike up the last six miles and 2,000′. Good call (rare, I confess).  And up I went in the thick overcast knowing that I’d pass the ghostly Mary Murphy Mines, the creek waters still green from old mine tailings and now deep into the dark and foreboding forests.

Isn’t this where Hansel and Gretel had become lost?

And higher up I hiked and now the trail was getting steeper and then the faint noise of Jeeps slowly crawling up this insane road grew louder.   Young guys in an open Wrangler.   Looked desperately cold.   Who, in their group planned this brilliant adventure?   Saw them later up at 12,000′, when the snows were blowing horizontally.   Now really unhappy, one turned to ask, chattering, “Dude, how far are you going in this weather?”   I smiled and we talked a while before they continued down the rutted downs, Jeeps bouncing along, one by one.

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Photo 4:  An old mining cabin below the Mary Murphy mine.

Then two hunters in camo following each other also crawling up the rocky terrain, this time in open ATVs.   But they were experienced and properly dressed and they asked if I needed help.   “No.  I’m good.”, I responded, assuring that I was in my element.   Tough looking chaps, but with warm expressions and they disappeared up and into the thick fog.   Soon, their engines faded and I was back alone in my quiet mountain paradise, feeling alive and energized.

Then, as the last of the steep portion of the trail leveled-out, I could sense the presence of the lakes.   Obscured by dense fog, I followed the serpentine path that faded into obscurity.  There, like an infinity pool over to the valley below, the strong winds blasted up and over the lip and across the waters, white caps dancing like a whip, the lake at last revealing herself.

I was all alone.

Now I was feeling colder and knew that it was time to come down.  A couple of hours later, I found my trusty adventure vehicle and came back into civilization, turning left for a quick detour into the old mining town of St. Elmo’s.   I hoped that a large cup of hot coffee would be waiting for me at the country store on Main Street.

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Photo 5:  Main Street – St. Elmo’s; an old mining town with a dwindling population.

Sitting on a log bench, I watched a little girl feeding the happy chipmunks.   The coffee and her smile warmed my core.   And just as I was getting ready to drive back home, there they came, one by one, a column of restored WWII Willies Jeeps!

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Photo 6:  A fine collection of restored Willies Jeeps; parked alongside on Main Street of St. Elmo’s.

The easy thing would have been to pass the overcast day at home.   But, this was much more interesting!

 

 

“Look! They’re back.”

 

Just fed the last, tasty apple to the four mules by the fence when I turn around to see about 20 Mule Deer all looking up, poised all staring at me.   They visit our land a few times a week and we never get tired of having them around.  Yesterday, two came within about ten feet of my wife.

We never feed them.  Ever.

The Colorado Fish and Wildlife people estimate that about 330,000 exist in the wild here in our state.   And what an honor it is when we see them bed down for the evening within the tall grasses on our land.

Sometimes, I’m working on a woodworking project in my garage and I’ll see them approach my window or peek around one of the doors.   The little ones seem to be the most curious.  You can spot them from a distance, but only when they move.   Their funny, white butts kinda give them away!

There is a way to be careful in the tone of voice and in the movements we make, so that they don’t all run away.  And I wonder if they recognize us by now and trust that, at least here on our land, that they are safe.

Yesterday, my wife saw them just outside the dining room window and so she grabbed her SLR, sat on the rear porch in the sun next to one of our two, old Newfies, while the big herd nibbled on the grasses nearby.   She sat me down later that evening and, asked if I’d pour us a couple of glasses of wine so that she could show me the photo essay on our 60″ HD TV.  Sure beat watching the know-it-all Talking Heads…

Here is a small sampling of the photos she took: