The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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River Rafting and Other Diversions

English slang is much more graphic than its American counterpart. Fortunately, it’s beginning to creep into the vernacular here in the States due to the Irish, Scots, and Welsh who are settling in various cities in the United States. For example, if I call someone a wanker, there is a fighting chance he’ll know I’m insulting him (in a friendly male sort of way, of course), especially if he’s a soccer player. But if I call him a tosser, there’s a chance he’ll think I’m referring to his drinking habits. And if I call him a sod, he’ll assume I’m comparing him to a sod farmer. Not that it matters much. It’s how the insult is delivered that makes the difference, something I learned from George Bernard Shaw in Poison, Passion, and Petrifaction.

This is all by way of introducing the term charley horse, which my dictionary thinks was derived from the name for old lame horses kept for family use. How this became associated with extreme cramping of the quadriceps muscle (or whether this is only an association I make myself) is unclear, but I do sometimes feel like an old lame horse when my quad cramps during deep sleep and I wake up screaming, and then start hopping around the bedroom like an insane, one-legged rooster. Last night the pain was so excruciating that in clenching my teeth between bouts of swearing, I managed to chip one of my incisors. My agony increased when I realized I needed to do a BM. Imagine, if you can, a one-legged rooster braying on the toilet while he takes a dump. Oh life, why do you make me do such ridiculous things?

We went rafting this morning on the Colorado River. It was a rather tame adventure, so to spice it up, I started playing around with our guide, who was being overly friendly. When he asked where I got the tattoo around my ankle, I told him that the Little Wienie Tattoo shop did it. After a few more of these exchanges, he realized I was making fun of him and told his buddy what he thought of me as he prepared the raft. As fate would have it, he didn’t see me sitting on a rock within earshot. It’s always interesting to know what someone really thinks of you.

The high point of the rafting adventure wasn’t going down the rapids, but in swimming beside the rubber raft with my life vest. It was so cold at first I couldn’t breathe. Then my arms and legs froze. Floating between the tall walls of the canyon was unforgettable, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Near the end of our river trip, the guide and I started to recognize similar qualities in the other. It turned out he was a hippie himself, but more of the modern variety. He hadn’t yet been introduced to the older type, like myself, whose function in life is to pull everything inside-out and stand it on its head. By the way, does anyone know what happened to Ken Kesey and Abby Hoffman? Nothing was sacred to those guys.

To complete the day, we took the La Sal Mountain Loop road that goes through Castle Valley, the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and then just below the La Sal Mountains before returning through the south side of Moab. It’s a wonderful hour-and-a-half drive with constantly changing vistas until you reach the Moab Valley, where there are miles of rusted trailer homes, feed lots for horses, rusted cars, and the kind of junk that accumulates at the edge of unzoned, unregulated American cities. What’s funny is that these folks see themselves as quintessentially American.

It’s how it is in the United States. Great natural beauty adjacent to the lowest forms of human ugliness.

June 14, 2009   1 Comment

Moab

On a crazy whim, we rented an expensive cabin fourteen miles from Moab on the Colorado River which flows rough and rocky a few feet from our deck, lulling us asleep at night. The complex has its own winery, restaurant, horse stable, and swimming pool and is so over-the-top I can’t believe I sprung for it, but I still love the sound of the river. I don’t care how much they charge me for it.

Because of Arches and Canyonlands, the city of Moab is a tourist destination, overflowing with bikers, motorcycle enthusiasts, hikers, ATV fanatics, rafters, campers, and visitors from the States and Europe. We did a fairly hard hike in Canyonlands today (though the guide book said it was moderately easy), where we had to scrabble 100 feet up a rock face to get out of the canyon. As I was climbing up on all fours, panting like an animal, I met a German couple about my age, who gave me a smile and proceeded to walk leisurely down the same incline with metal-tipped hiking sticks. I yelled “Gut getan” and “Tschüss” after them, so impressed I was with their mountaineering skills. Only the woman deigned to respond, and, for some reason known only to the gods, I got the sillies and had a laughing fit on the spot.

June 13, 2009   Comments Off on Moab

On the Way to Moab (Rockies Mountains)

I-70 cuts through the Rockies from Denver to the western end of the state. Parts of it—especially through Vail—are like driving through the Swiss Alps. Other parts are monumentally round. Still others resemble stupendously tall Gothic cathedrals. There are even vineyards and wineries near Grand Junction in the west. I remember driving through this stretch of highway (in the reverse direction) during a blizzard two years ago with practically no visibility and the locals in their trucks passing me as if I were standing still. I think it was then I decided that Coloradans are the worst drivers in the world. I’m laughing to myself as I write this. We didn’t take one photo of some of the most gorgeous mountains in the United States.

June 13, 2009   Comments Off on On the Way to Moab (Rockies Mountains)

On the Way to Moab (Brighton, CO)

Driving from Minneapolis to Denver means being in the car for 14 hours and traveling 900 miles. It is a zen experience, like an all-day sesshin, that empties your mind of everything but very fast forward motion. Although it’s slightly unpleasant, I like it, because it creates a “gap” in my experience, a small rip in the fabric of my mind, separating me from my immediate past. This small tear allows me to see myself anew—the person who is really looking back in the mirror—rather than relying on the old images stuck in my head. It’s probably why Rembrandt kept painting himself. He didn’t want to miss one facet of his face as he aged.

Brighton

Anyway, the idea was to get as close to Denver International as possible, so we stopped at an old railroad town named Brighton, which has now become an exurb of Denver. Although it has rows of new apartment buildings, a megamall, and strip malls along the major roads, Brighton is a pleasant place with a sense of history. My funniest encounter was at a local coffee chain named Dazbog Coffee that was started by two Russian emigrants from Leningrad. When I told the manager that I always avoided Starbucks and asked about her other competition in the area, she pointed west across the river and said that there were two new coffee houses over there in old churches that had decimated her business. I didn’t comment. It’s how it is in the United States. You can always count on a competitor to eat your lunch, or in this case, steal your coffee business.

This encounter had one positive outcome (besides the fact that the espresso was good), which was that I discovered the city of Brighton had built a extensive walkway along the banks of the South Platte River. Since the Platte is sandy and unruly, and creates bogs and swamps along its banks, it provided a pleasant hour-long walk that got the cobwebs out of my head the next morning before driving to the airport.

June 13, 2009   Comments Off on On the Way to Moab (Brighton, CO)

On the Way to Moab (Lincoln, NB)

Lincoln, Nebraska is a pleasant spot to while away a few hours on the way to somewhere else. There you can spot an old farmer delivering boxes of eggs from his battered pickup to an organic vegetarian restaurant, follow an overdeveloped Husker football player as he hulks along the sidewalk, chat with the friendly proprietor of a licorice shop as you sample each of her wares, have a meal at one of the trendy, upscale restaurants in the restored Haymarket District, or see an exhibition of first class paintings, such as those of Larry Roots, at the Modern Arts Midwest exhibition space on the upper floor of the building next to The Loft at The Mill. One is always temped to put down Midwesterners for their lack of taste, but it would be mistake to do so. Lincoln is as cosmopolitan and pleasant a place as Calgury or Freiberg.

June 12, 2009   Comments Off on On the Way to Moab (Lincoln, NB)