Grin and Bear It

I had a dilemma this weekend. On the one hand, I have a well-documented fear of running into (okay, getting mauled by is closer to the truth) a bear someday when I’m out hiking. On the other hand, I have a deep respect and admiration for Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s probably my favorite actor. So, his new movie, The Revenant, about a guy who tangles with a bear and barely (bearly? ha!) lives to tell about it: to see or not to see, that was the question.

The answer was “to see.” And I’m glad we did; it was a really intense and emotionally compelling movie. Great story, amazing cinematography, and what I deem an(other) Oscar-worthy performance by Leo. Give him a damn statue already!

I’ll just be sure to include bear repellant in my backpack next time I hit the trail.

At least the bear is keeping him warm now.
At least the bear is keeping him warm now.

The rest of the weekend was pretty low-key. Saturday, we helped my parents move some furniture between the upstairs and downstairs, and then between their house and storage unit. Including a couch, recliner, and thousand-pound coffee table. Perils of owning a pickup truck! You become the de facto moving company for friends and family. Which is cool. We both woke up a little sore this morning, but are feeling fine now. We also binge watched Making a Murderer, at the urging of many a spirited Facebook post and workplace discussion. I’m thankful for the suggestions, because Tara and I got completely sucked into the real-life drama involving Steven Avery, his nephew Brandon, possibly (probably) corrupt law enforcement officers, inept defense lawyers, and a Wisconsin town that gets one hell of a lot of snow. If you haven’t yet watched this 10-part Netflix documentary, what are you waiting for?! Do it. Especially if you’re a fan of Serial. (Bonus: everybody who speaks sounds like they just walked off the set of Fargo.)

So not guilty. Maybe.
NOT guilty. Maybe.

I may write a separate post on the show, as I’m super curious for feedback from others.

When we were in Ely over New Year’s, I stocked up on Snap-E-Tom at the local grocery store. I fell in love with this tomato chile cocktail last summer in Park City, when I picked one up on a whim. It’s like a saltier, less sugary V8. With a kick. Naturally, none of the local stores around here sells it. Ridley’s only had thirteen cans left on their shelf, so I brought them all back, but they are not going to last long. Especially after we made Bloody Marys with ’em yesterday morning. I guess this means every time we visit Ely we’ll be coming back with a cooler full of both Basque chorizo and Snap-E-Tom.

snap-e-tomI’d better quit trying, and falling in love with, new things outside of a 50-mile radius from home.

Tara, of course, being the exception to that rule.

Oh Give Me a Home, Where Lots of Bears Roam

Ever since Tara moved in, we’ve been at (playful) odds over where we’d like to live. Not tomorrow, or next month…we’re going to be in the apartment for a few years, there’s no way around that. We’re talking in the long run, when we are able to buy a house together.

Tara, being a small-town girl (livin’ in a lonely woorrrlllddd…oops, sorry), has long advocated we buy rural property in the country, while I’ve pushed for an urban home in the heart of Portland.

“We can have chickens,” she says.
“We can have chicken from that trendy new bistro down the street,” I reply.

She pushes for solitude and open space, while I say it would be cool to be able to walk to Mississippi Studios to catch live music.

“We’d never find a parking space,” she warns.
“We could get eaten by a bear walking to the mailbox,” I counter.
“I hate traffic,” she says.
“I hate getting eaten by bears walking to the mailbox,” I say.

We have been at an impasse since Day 1.

That impasse might finally have broken over the weekend. We were invited to an “End of Summer Party” by a former coworker named Jessica. Her address was Brush Prairie, Washington. OK, there were numbers and a street name in there as well, but the important takeaway here is Brush Prairie. This area is rural by Clark County standards. Of course, by Ely standards it’s a freakin’ metropolis, but whatever. Saturday evening, we hopped in Tara’s truck and made the drive to Jessica’s house.

Turns out it was much more rural than we expected. We drove through Hockinson – the area Tara keeps pushing for – and continued into the foothills. Soon, the paved road gave way to gravel, and we found ourselves in front of a cute little house in the middle of the forest. It was surrounded by tall trees and featured a babbling brook that spilled into a pond. The scent of pine and wood smoke filled the air. It was like camping, but instead of a tent there was a cozy ranch-style house with a wraparound porch and a jacuzzi. Jessica’s got a chicken coop and a greenhouse and a garden and, best of all, complete and utter privacy.

“This is wonderful!” I gushed. “Umm, what kind of wildlife do you have out here?”

This was my subtle way of asking whether she had ever encountered a bear out there. I love animals, but I’m not going to lie to you: bears scare me. I used to hike alone quite often, and always in the back of my mind I feared rounding a bend in the trail and running into a bear. My fear is not unfounded: this is bear country. We may not have grizzlies, but I wouldn’t want to tangle with a black bear, either. Especially a mama black bear with baby black bear cubs.

Turns out there are bears out there. They’ve even come right onto Jessica’s deck. I glanced around nervously because I was standing on said deck when she made that pronouncement, but there were a whole bunch of other people there and music was playing so I felt relatively safe, despite the fact that the aroma of grilling meat was wafting through the forested (and apparently bear-populated) air.

Jessica's property.
Jessica’s property.

Despite that, I fell in love with the place. And came around to Tara’s way of thinking. There’s a lot to be said for a quiet little oasis in the middle of the woods. The privacy. The quiet. The fact that we would be surrounded by nature. And if we do want to check out that trendy new bistro, we’ve got cars to whisk us into the city. Portland really isn’t that far. Especially by those aforementioned Ely standards.

The downside? We grabbed a flyer for a neighboring property that was for sale. Asking price? $400 thousand. It would take a small miracle (or a big inheritance) to be able to afford something like that, so we might have to compromise. There are other areas in Brush Prairie and Hockinson that aren’t quite as secluded, but still plenty rural. They’d probably be more in our price range.

So congratulations, honey. You win.

I’ll just load up on bear spray for those walks to the mailbox…

Howdy, neighbor!
Howdy, neighbor!

Californians and Snow Don’t Mix

Sometimes, life’s little detours can land you in unexpected places. And once in a blue moon, a change in plans can save the day.

This morning, Tara and I decided to drive up to Mount St. Helens. We’d been to Johnston Ridge last month, but decided to take the longer – and more scenic – route to Windy Ridge today. It’s about a two-hour drive from our house. Skies were sunny, the temperature pushing 72 degrees. A perfect June day for some sightseeing and a picnic lunch.

And then, two-thirds of the way there, we encountered this. 

What do you mean, the road to Windy Ridge is closed?!

You know, I often compare myself to Clark Griswold. And sure enough, this was one of those quintessential Griswoldian moments. Remember when they drove across the country in National Lampoon’s Vacation and arrived at their destination – Wally World – only to find it closed?

Yeah. Kinda the same feeling.

Unlike Clark, I did not buy a BB gun, kidnap a park ranger, and force him to open the gate so we could see Windy Ridge. Instead, Tara and I decided to explore a remote forest road that led in a different direction. We decided it would be an adventure. Besides, we still had that picnic lunch in the car – we figured we’d just find a nice, scenic place to stop and eat and make the most of the day.

This is where things get weird. On the drive up, I was telling Tara about an article I had read yesterday in Reader’s Digest. It talked about how people get themselves into dangerous situations by taking unnecessary risks. I specifically mentioned the example of a couple that took a wrong turn while driving and ended up stuck in the snow miles from civilization. So when, twenty minutes into our drive, we rounded a bend and came across an elderly couple from California whose PT Cruiser was stuck in the snow, it was a little uncanny.

We hadn’t passed another vehicle the entire way. Had, in fact, almost turned around a few hundred yards sooner, at the first sign of snow blanketing the roadway. But we pushed on, and it’s a good thing we did. These folks from Los Angeles – 65 and 69 years old – were completely clueless. And very relieved to see us.

“We’re from California,” they told us. “We don’t know anything about driving in the snow.”

Yeah. No shit.

Being the good samaritans that we are, we tried to free them by pushing on the car from behind while the guy gunned it, but the snow was so deep there was no clearance underneath, and the tires were spinning helplessly. They were good and stuck. And, incidentally, about twenty miles from the nearest outpost. With no cell service up there in that remote part of the forest. We decided to drive them to civilization so they could call for help. A few hundred yards down the road, we spotted a camper pulled off to the side, so we turned in to investigate. There, we came across an ornery old guy in a folding lawn chair with a satellite dish and a bag of Doritos. When we pulled up, he looked like we were bothering him.

“Do you happen to have a tow strap?” Tara asked.

He did. And a couple of shovels, too. But he had just sat down to eat his lunch and was in no mood to help at the moment. Turns out he was out there hunting bears, by the way. The forest is teeming with them. And cougars, too.

I’m telling you, this elderly couple might have been toast if we hadn’t come along when we did.

Grizzly Adams did let us borrow the shovels while he ate, so we got busy trying to dig the car out of the snow.

Californians and snow do not mix.

When I woke up this morning, I never imagined I’d be shoveling snow!

Fortunately, his tummy full, the bear hunter returned with his four wheel drive pickup truck and the tow line. They hooked it up to the rear axle of the PT Cruiser, and pulled it to safety. Crisis averted.

“I’ve got one request for you,” Grizzly Adams told California Man. “Don’t do that again.”

And with that, we all parted ways, each of us with a story to tell. In my case, a blog entry to post.

A few miles later, Tara and I found the perfect spot for our picnic lunch.

This riverbank made the perfect picnic spot.

Truth is, we were both a little antsy since we had learned that entire area is crawling with bears and cougars. But we kept a watchful eye and were able to enjoy our turkey sandwiches without being mauled by either beast.

Oh, and Mount St. Helens? Even though we didn’t make it up to Windy Ridge, we finally got to see it from another spot in the road.

Not as close up as we’d planned, but still breathtaking.

Watermelon Sucks and 9 More Tidbits

A while ago, I was tagged by Jess Witkins to come up with 10 Random Facts about myself. Variations of this game have existed for years; in 2009 it was all the rage on Facebook. That being the case, you’d think I’d have this down pat. I even pulled up my FB list to see what I’d written then (there were 25 to choose from), but I’ve either already blogged about a lot of those things or they’re no longer relevant. This is why it’s taken me so long to respond to Jess’s challenge: I’ve actually had to think about this post! Sometimes, thinking is overrated. Luckily, I was able to come up with some hopefully-interesting (and definitely random) tidbits to write about. Without further ado, here are ten random facts about me, in no particular order other than descending.

10. I once predicted an earthquake. I was living in San Jose at the time, and one afternoon I had a strong feeling there would be a pretty decent-sized earthquake somewhere in northern California within the next twenty-four hours. I felt shaky, nervous, and lightheaded; the feeling was so intense that I actually announced this prediction to my coworkers. That night, there was a magnitude 6.5 quake off the California coast that caused minor damage in some of the northern coastal communities. Believe me when I say, that freaked me out. The next day at work, I had a room full of very impressed people who looked at me a little differently. Because of that experience…

9. I suspect I have borderline psychic abilities. I just don’t know how to channel or develop them. When I make a concerted effort to concentrate and focus on something – like, say, what somebody I’m talking to on the phone is wearing – I usually miss completely; it’s only when I let my mind go “blank” that I can snatch something out of thin air that turns out to be true. That happens a lot. I used to work with a woman whom I was highly in tune with. I would ask her, for instance, how badly the cut on her finger was because I’d “envisioned” she cut it the evening before while chopping vegetables, and she would stare at me in amazement, wondering how I knew that. Excellent question. Maybe it’s all just coincidence…but in my heart, I don’t believe that.

8. I can’t drink soda out of a can, and I despise plastic. I’m all about glass, baby! And it’s not just because of the environment: I think beverages taste funny when they’re served in aluminum cans or plastic bottles. When I first started dating my ex-wife, her dad always bought Coke and Sprite in glass bottles, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Too bad they’re hard to find these days. I always pour my drinks into a glass first, unless I’m out hiking or driving and it’s just not feasible. Dear wine industry: if you ever convert to plastic bottles, I’m switching to beer.

7. I voted for George Bush Sr. in 1988. You might be thinking “so what?”, but trust me – this is something I’m embarrassed to admit. I’m a pretty liberal guy and a staunch Democrat, so why I voted Republican in the first Presidential election in which I was old enough to participate is beyond me. I guess my political ideologies were still taking shape at the age of 19. That, and Dukakis didn’t inspire me. To his credit, the elder Bush wasn’t a terrible President, and is in fact a fairly likable guy. To my credit, I’ve voted Democrat in every election since.

6. I kissed a girl for the first time when I was 6 years old. And I liked it. Her name was Julie Love (perfect, huh?) and she lived two houses down. We went up to her bedroom and made out. Kinda young, huh? I wonder how either of us knew what we were doing (but, umm, we did). A few days later, we got “married” in a pretend ceremony outdoors (though the reception was sparsely attended). I remember having crushes on girls as early as Kindergarten. I’ve just always been very attracted to the opposite sex, I guess. Even when I still played with Legos.

It looks like it's smiling at me. Taunting me, even...

5. I hate watermelon. People always think I’m kidding when I say this, but it’s true. I’ve just never developed a taste for it. It’s not for lack of trying; I pick up a slice nearly every summer, thinking this will be the year that I like it! But I never do. Maybe it’s a melon aversion – I can’t stand cantaloupe, either. I find both fruits cloyingly sweet. Oddly enough, I love Jolly Rancher watermelon flavored hard candies. Go figure. On a similar note, I hate boxing but love boxing movies. Consider that a bonus random fact.

4. I was editor of my high school newspaper…for one issue. My favorite class in 11th grade was Journalism, and I loved working for the school newspaper. I was one of the few people who took it seriously; I came up with an anti-censorship expose on Tipper Gore’s PMRC-related campaign to slap warning labels on records while other students were writing about the new vending machine on campus or Mrs. Brown’s knitting hobby. For the last issue of The Minuteman, the teacher booted the student who had been editor all year and gave me the position. I loved that. Proudest moment of my high school experience!

This was me in high school...minus the cigarette and booze. OK, minus the cigarette. (Courtesy of

3. I used to dress like Sonny Crockett in high school. Yeah. White pants and everything. What can I say? I loved Miami Vice. It was my favorite 80s television show, hands down. Sadly, it took me awhile to realize that dressing like Don Johnson didn’t make me Don Johnson. Least proud moment of my high school experience!

2. I’m sort of afraid I’m going to be eaten by a bear one of these days. I love to hike. I usually hike alone. The forests around these parts are home to numerous bears. Add all of that up, and you can see why I have this fear of ending up in the digestive tract of a large and furry Ursus Americanus one of these days. I was out picking huckleberries in a remote forest a couple of years ago, and it was getting late, and I saw what I perceived to be bear tracks on the trail, and I freaked out a little. Inside, anyway. Didn’t breathe easily until I was safely back in my car. The odds are pretty good that I’ll at least spot a bear in the distance one of these days, a fact that makes me want to pick up a can of bear spray…or a gun. I’ll never stop hiking, though. I love the wilderness far too much to let the possibility of a bear attack sway me from hitting the great outdoors.

1. I’m a surprisingly optimistic person. Other than my conviction that I’m going to get eaten by a bear someday, I am a very upbeat and positive person, the quintessential glass-is-half-full personality. This surprises me. By all accounts I should be the most jaded and cynical dude on the planet. I’ve been through the wringer with my exes, have twice lost jobs through corporate downsizing, and am terribly upside down in my mortgage. Despite all this I’ve never been happier, and always believe that each new day brings a fresh start and a wealth of possibilities. More than anything, I feel that I will be happy and successful in life…mark my words. Studies show that optimistic people live longer, healthier lives. I might just make it to 100 after all.

There you have it! If you’re up to the challenge, go for it! I’d love to hear random facts about you…even if you just leave me one in a comment.