Wednesday, December 30, 2009


This is not a Best 10 list. In fact, there are 21 pictures here. Nor is this even a Best Pictures list. Some of the pictures are out of focus, under- or over-exposed, or otherwise flawed. But these are the pictures that tell me the most about my 2009. As such, it is a personal list; the lessons learned are personal, the people had personal meaning to me (and unfortunately not everyone who meant something to me in 2009 is represented here), and the events were peculiar to a time and place that revolved

I write this as an aid to me, to remember the meaning of 2009. I don't really expect anyone else to follow these pics to the end, but of course you are welcome to do so. So here follows, in chronological order, my 2009 in pictures.

Taken on the side of Mt. Shuksan, the wind rolled down from the top blowing spindrift into our faces, with a temperature of about 15 degrees and falling with the sun. I took a long hard push at the front, postholing with every step. It was not exciting climbing, it was a put-your-head-down-and-slog kind of climbing. Looking up was disheartening, as the ridge never seemed to get closer. It was a time to live in the moment and enjoy the sheer physicality of the effort with no tangible reward (the ridge was as high as we got, with the final rock pyramid of Shuksan still above us). I and my partners Lewis and Stanislov were truly, in the words of Lionel Terray, Conquistadors of the Useless.

My older brother Jim flew the two of us in his club's Archer III from the suburbs of Arlington, VA to a small airport 60 miles south of Cincinnati. As my older brother, I had always looked up to him to be the competent one. It was comforting to see that it still held true, that my faith and trust in him all these years was deserved on many levels. I was reminded of the first time I saw my ex-wife at her work, and how competent and professional she was. She was good, and so was my brother Jim. Skill is the perfect application of knowledge and experience, and it's wonderful to see demonstrations of such by loved ones in situations great and small.

My Dad is on the left, his cousin Gene Meese is on the right. My Dad is, unlike me, interested in everything. Combining his interests of genealogy and World War II led him to uncover Gene's story. Gene's plane was shot down over occupied Europe in World War II. Safely parachuting towards the ground (several crew members did not survive the initial onslaught and subsequent breakup of the plane), he noticed numerous people running towards him. He did not know whether to expect friend or foe, and he certainly didn't guess the truth until almost down. All of the people running towards him were women; they wanted the silk in his parachute to make clothes! He made a run for a neutral country, but was caught by German soldiers and imprisoned in Stalag 17. He helped dig a tunnel that later hid several Russian soldiers slated for execution. Gene is a reminder of the depth of human spirit, and that we are all capable of great things.

Just eight years ago, Gene Meese received a letter from the mayor of the small town in Denmark in which he had landed. In it was an invitation to revisit the town, and a picture of a now 57 year old wedding gown. The gown had been sewn from Gene's parachute.

The siblings, all together at a stage production of Stalag 17 in Plainville, Ohio where Gene Meese was being honored. We've all led differing lives on various paths, but we've always been close despite the distances. I think we're all pretty proud of each other. The boys are all the same height; whenever a picture is taken of us, we all try and stand on our toes at the last second to look taller than the other. Kenny's timing was obviously off on this one!

My car, in front of Bellingham's old City Hall, on June 1st, as I left Bellingham. This is the beginning of a journey of unknown distances, destinations, and duration. Within the space of a few weeks, an idea that had been building for quite some time suddenly came to fruition.

Due to weather, I had only one day of climbing at my first stop, The Needles in California. But it was a spectacular day! Brie had led the hard pitches on glorious Sierra granite, and snapped this photo of me setting up the rappel. I take pleasure in being competent, at being skilled, and I am at last gaining a level of competence in climbing that adds tremendously to my enjoyment. I'm not worried about the past, because it is done. I'm not worried about the future, as I know I can handle it when I get there. I can just enjoy each moment as it arrives.

This picture compliments the one above. I am (again, finally) able to enjoy the physical movement of climbing. My feelings about climbing have included fearfulness, frustration, depression, antipathy, frustration, combativeness, diminishment, frustration, and apprehensiveness. I would also experience frustration. Climbing is the only sport I never took to naturally--I expect to be better than most at anything I try. I'd like to say that climbing made me a "better" person, but it didn't. It wasn't until I learned a few major lessons elsewhere in life and became a "better" person that in turn my attitude changed towards climbing.

Sam and Brie have been the proverbial friends in need. When I needed them, they were there. I love seeing friends smile.

Along with her Mom, I helped Stephanie on this, her first rappel. I enjoy teaching--not to show off my knowledge, but I get such a kick out of seeing someone's eyes light up with understanding, and then in applying that knowledge in accomplishment. School teachers are able to provide half of that equation; unfortunately teachers are able to see all too infrequently knowledge gained in a classroom subsequently applied in a student's life. Knowledge is one of those precious resources in life that in giving away doesn't diminish or divide, but rather multiplies.

Tuolumne, in Yosemite National Park, is a climbing mecca. Unfortunately an injury had made enjoyment impossible for me--or at least enjoyment of climbing. But climbing, while a major goal on this trip, is not the only goal, and thus a glance at the sky gives as much enjoyment and admiration as a perfect rope-length splitter granite crack. Okay, maybe not that much, but you get the idea!

I just like this picture. I am a member of several tribes that wander the earth; one of those is the tribe of climbing creatures, an example of which is shown here.

The last protection is quite a ways below, but I am climbing with confidence and grace. I am on a path to become the climber I've longed to be. That doesn't mean that I'm getting stronger; I'm not a great climber and never will be. But though far from perfect as either climber or person, I am (occasionally) pleased, and that's all that matters.

In two days we had gone from strangers to trusting our lives to each other and having fun. Experiences--and people--like this are what I had hoped to encounter.

My first time up amidst the Tetons showed me the potential of climbing that existed in this area. My nights after this were filled with dreams of rock and ledges and ramps and ropes.

A dawn view of a small part of Jackson Hole reminds me that the world at my feet is as full of mystery and beauty as the world above.

The sun sets on our den-for-the-night before our ascent of the Grand Teton. On this trip, I have found comfort in the oddest, most unexpected places. There is beauty and richness in the most simple of surroundings.

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he's always doing both."--Zen Buddhism saying If someone looks at me, as I do Susan, and can't tell whether I am working or playing, then I am living a good life.

A dipper, the only aquatic songbird in North America, can be seen in the upper left. I had read about dippers in Teewinot: A Year In The Teton Range by Jack Turner, and had since been on the look out for a dipper in the wild. In his various books, Jack challenges our views on wilderness. Managed wilderness is not, as it turns out, wild at all. And when I re-read his works and better understand them, I might post a few more insights.

I play hard, but I am also very, very good at relaxing. My father can pick up any instrument and play. That talent has skipped me, though I love music and had long wanted to play something. In the beginning of May, when The Trip was but a dream, I decided it would be a good time to start learning, just in case the trip did come to pass. A guitar was an obvious choice, so I found a local teacher on Craigslist, bought a used guitar, and began lessons. A week after I began, the trip fell into place and I was shortly on the road. Six months of practice has been enough to re-confirm what I had already known: I lack the music gene. But I enjoy the tunes I can occasionally wring from my reluctant guitar. I sometimes house sit for a friend just outside of Jackson; the above picture is taken at her country cabin. My melodies may not be as sweet as the meadow's songbirds, but I do think they sound better than rutting moose.

Never taunt a goat. Never.

Battered and bruised. Sometimes the bruises come from unexpected sources, as in this case; but most of my scars are self-inflicted. When I got knocked down, I didn't know where or who I was. I am still finding out.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Accidental Aftermath: An Interlude

After being released from Washington Central Hospital, Susan and I drove to Bellingham to stay at Kari's house for ten days until a scheduled follow up appointment back in Wenatchee. Friends came to visit and talk, and it was great to see them all again. My speech was obviously slowed and some words seemed to be just out of grasp, but worse was not remembering details of the conversations a day later. The only thing that seemed to come easily was sleep—fourteen hours or more a day!

The drive from Wenatchee to Jackson was interminable, even with an overnight near Spokane; Susan did a great job of driving the distance. The next few weeks were a blur of sleep and...what? Not much else. As I wasn't moving much, I had almost no appetite. Even recovery was a passive activity. Motivation was severely lacking.

My head seemed to return to normal gradually over those weeks and months; the last effect I noticed was in trying to read aloud—I could read to myself at a normal pace, and I could speak at a normal rate, but there seemed to be some mechanism just not in synch while trying to read aloud. The words would just not form. Concentration spans gradually lengthened to where books again became enjoyable.

Physical effects gradually diminished as well. Being able to roll over or be on my side while sleeping brought major improvement in comfort. My broken ankle, although the slowest injury to heal, was always the least painful, even in the hours after the accident.

Climbing was my raison d'ĂȘtre and I had no Plan B; no work, no other hobbies, and a relationship gradually growing distant. But I was still among the fortunate ones; the accident could have easily been much worse, and I had maintained my own health insurance after leaving work. The bills for those few days in the hospital totaled over $22,000. No insurance and my trip would have been severely curtailed.

I wish I could say that the recovery phase has been good for me, and that I've learned value in slowing down and that I took the time to learn Spanish, or organize my photo albums, or done something. But I didn't learn any lessons, other than that recovery sucks, plain and simple. Even the blog has suffered; what might be a chance to further the craft of writing took a holiday. I view the blog as a way of keeping track of the various places I visit, the people I meet, and the events experienced; nothing worth writing about has occurred in the past few months.

The one exception to “nothing” was attending a Wilderness First Responder (WFR, pronounced Woofer) class from November 30th until December 8th in Jackson. With only one day off, the class was 8 hours a day of first aid techniques especially tailored to meet the needs of those who travel a bit off the beaten path. This is the type of training Susan utilized in the hours between my fall and the arrival of the E.R. doctor who was part of the evacuation team, and even until arrival at the ambulance and advanced medical equipment. The information in the class, the presenters, and my fellow students were all stimulating, and did wonders for me personally, in just getting me up and motivated to do something every day. The class gave me additional insight to the care I received from Susan in those first critical hours and the ability to in turn provide that same care to someone in a similar situation. The class also gave me renewed appreciation for the professional manner in which Susan acted. She was, in a word, awesome.

As I write this, 2009 is drawing to a close. I am in South Florida visiting family for the holidays and will return to Jackson the first week of 2010. As soon as I return to Jackson, I'll leave again for warmer climes, this time to Vegas to see Sam and Brie until I need to return again to Jackson for a doctor's appointment on January 20th. At that point, almost 3 ½ months after the accident, I should be able to begin walking without the hard boot. I have tried not to look ahead to that day...but it's getting close enough to let myself fantasize about long walks in the snow, some cross-country ski trips, and gradually increasing both the distances and slope angle till I'm back amidst the vertical world.