Early June 2017. We had been at the ranch a few days and Cannonball and Larry had been on the periphery, the ranch’s latest inhabitants. My sister-in-law knew them from school bus stop mornings on the Denio route, where she is the substitute bus driver and otherwise helps carry that school along. They accompanied two children of a farm worker to the stop, but when the family pulled up stakes the dogs were left orphaned and my sister-in-law took them in.
It was the big water year and we had taken advantage, floating on the Black Rock Playa and the Quinn River. Places water flows only rarely, ephemerally. It was a year since Coco had gone on, and Dusty three. Cannonball and Larry, orphans, were a little adrift at the ranch, in limbo, and with a day free we decided to take them out, but with the caveat that we weren’t going to get too attached. They were a pair, had never lived inside, we weren’t ready.
We went out to Elephant Mountain. We’d hiked its flanks many times before, but never gone up to the summit and so we continued past our usual parking place on Paiute Creek farther up the road that bisects the wildernesses. Larry who then went by Yo-yo, and no one had ever learned Cannonball’s name, so she went by Girl (a name she is still known by in some quarters), and they were very nervous in the front of the pickup with us, they had never or rarely ridden in the front before and they didn’t know how to behave themselves, or exactly what to do.
We stopped and started to climb. The day was overcast and Cannonball and Larry kept us good company. From the north, Elephant Mountain looks just like it sounds, like an elephant charging toward you. We climbed between its ears and up the back side of its skull. It was not a long hike to the top, steep but mostly just a nice desert walk. We stopped for a break and got to know each other well. Cannonball launched herself into us and Larry climbed up on my lap finally and settled in. With him there, I had a chance to see if he had his male parts, which he did, but not for long, after we told my mom. Then we headed onward, up the mountain.
At the summit there was a marker stone and a wide view of the desert and mountains. We sat comfortably in shadow of the harri mutil, the stone boy, that lonely pile of rock that separated range lines, or was made by lonely Basque boys dreaming of their green home, or, who knows? Yo-yo informed us in his kind and wise way that his name was not Yo-yo, but Larry. Cannonball richocheted. Renee hand-stood. When we started down we drifted apart, as we often do in trackless desert, and Cannonball and Larry accompanied Renee on the way down—fortuitously because I crossed paths with a small rattlesnake among the wind-carved rim rocks.
We arrived back at the truck in good spirits and parted on friendly terms. Us back to Reno. Larry and Girl to stay at the ranch.
Soon thereafter we came back to the ranch and met Larry at the door of our little studio there. Cannonball had dumped him for my mom, and, especially, her four-wheeler. In no uncertain terms Larry let us know he was going with us.
After my mom’s surgery, Cannonball, still Girl then, was lost again. With plenty of time at the ranch to acclimate to living indoors, she has fully joined the crew. She and Larry are back to being soulmates. And now they are here, sleeping alongside me while I write this and nurse a bit of a gimpy foot, looking forward to our next explorations!
by Dan Montero
I've embarked on a project for 2019. One of grand, nay, epic dimensions. What is this mighty endeavor, you ask. Well, I decided back at the beginning of the year that I want to write a haiku for every day of 2019. Every single day ... even the ones we don't get out to play!
Why haikus? I don't know exactly, I am very attracted to the conciseness, the strictness, and I seek to convey in the short lines a complete story or image. Haikus probably don't need too much explanation, but the article on them at the Poetry Foundation is a nice entryway. However, I have just been interested in the form for a while in my usual not-very-regimented way. (Indeed, after reading the article I find mine to be more narrative based and probably not very haiku-like.)
The project does have a bit of genesis, however. Last year I set as my goal to write a journal entry for every day. That was an interesting experience, but not one I wanted to repeat. The repetition of journal entries sort of became rote and I was pretty glad to see that over. But I wanted to do something, and I struck upon haikus. I had gotten interested in them more deeply in 2018, and had also found a simple little app called Haiku that helps draft them. This isn't to say it was planned, however, and in fact the first haiku written for the year isn't January 1, but January 7. That was the day I had the idea to do this, and so then I worked backward to 1 before moving ahead. The goal isn't necessarily to write the haiku on the specific day (although as I learned very well last year, if you let it go too far it becomes very hard to reconstruct), nor do I expect them all to be perfect or unchangeable. I just want to capture the flow of time in this way.
Please let me know if you find this project interesting and if you'd like to see more examples. I don't want to clutter my feeds too much with this, but if there is interest I could figure out some sharing options. Also, if you want to share a haiku (or anything) please do!
Job’s Sister, the name is enigmatic, the terrain exotic, the form sinuous. At 10,8233 feet elevation, it is the second highest peak in the Lake Tahoe Basin, only sixty feet lower than Freel Peak, its nearest neighbor. It has spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, the desert mountains to the east, and the Sierras to the south. But none of these are the reason why I love the place so much.
The first time I visited her was November 23, 2005. Less than a month earlier we had learned that my father had brain cancer, he had already had surgery to remove the tumor and while he hung on to life, he was a husk now, lost, slipping away quickly into the ether. It was the day before I would go to the ranch for Thanksgiving--the first in my life when I would be there and he wouldn’t—and I had some free time so I decided to explore.
Earlier in the summer, before the news about my dad, I had camped near Markleeville and the Freel/Job’s Sister/Job’s area had caught my eye. I had little idea about it, about the names of the peaks or their elevations or their trails or anything, but something about the white wind-whipped summits called to me. So, on that pre-Thanksgiving day, I set off with Dusty and Coco to explore. I didn’t start early. When I found a dirt road from Luther Pass that seemed to go toward the mountains, I pulled over and stopped. It didn’t look like my Honda Civic would make the first steep rocky grade, so I parked at the turn and started walking up the road toward the mountains. (It turns out the steepest and rockiest part of the road is the very beginning, but I had no way of knowing that then, nor was I sure the Honda would have liked it much anyway.)
My companions were in fine spirits, and it was a beautiful clear late fall morning. We climbed up along the road through pine forest and leafless aspen groves and then left it behind as we cut up past mountainside springs and through steep pine forest. It had snowed that year and there were drifts in places among the trees, but for the most part it was still a dry year and the way was clear. An advantage of walking with no plan and little forethought is that each turn, vista, path, et cetera is a revelation and a leap into the unknown. And the unknown was what I was leaping into: the unknown of helping to care for my father, the greater unknown of what life would be like when he was gone. He had been the rock and the support for everything in my life and it simply had never occurred to me that I might lose him. I, recently back from the East Coast, more or less new to walking alone, more or less tethered in Nevada, more or less employed, seemed much more like a balloon ready to float away than my father who, other than a stint at UNR and the Korean War, had never been away from the ranch for more than two weeks at a time in his life. I couldn’t even begin to imagine losing him. And yet the reality was that I was going to lose him, had in fact already lost him. He was still breathing, but he was gone.
I don’t remember the exact route we followed, it definitely wasn’t a trail, but I know that we climbed, straight up the big ridge toward the treeline and the big rock escarpments jutting from the otherwise coarse ground slope. One step at a time, up, up, up. Climbing becomes hypnotizing in a way, moving a step forward when going up a steep slope becomes the sum total of reality and existence for me, and in the midst of a big climb there is no future or past, no advance or retreat—there is only climbing. So much so that it was almost a surprise when I crested the ridge at what I now know is the crest summit between Freel Peak and Job’s Sister that I call the Dragon Spine, but that doesn’t have a name on any map I know.
Just as suddenly, the world transformed. Light seemed to pour from the granite sand, shining through wind-sculpted drifts pressed against the lines of the mountain and the wind-shaped junipers across the slope. And, from there, looking like nothing so much as a giant ramp, an exorbitant jumping off point into the future was Job’s Sister, pointed east, toward the desert, toward my home. It seemed a place both out of time, and also the launching point for time.
I didn’t climb Job’s Sister that day, I didn’t stand at its summit until the next summer. The day was late, we were tired and we had a long walk all the way back to the highway, but I went down in good spirits, the future seemingly just a little bit more manageable than it had been at the beginning of the day. I have carried Job’s Sister with me since that day when I walked toward it as I walked into the unknown and returned just a little bit more confident in my own ability to handle what was coming, whether I wanted it to or not. That was the beginning of my love affair with Job’s Sister (and with Freel, and with Job’s), an affair that I hope will never end as long as I continue to make my way along the unknowable path that is the course of a life.
by Daniel Montero
We have made a little spot alongside Pyramid Lake’s Monument Rock. The water level is very high now. there is almost no beach, and we have spread out our picnic in the shade of some trees along the shore underneath the bulbous northernmost of the two monument tufa structures. We settle in and Renee reads from Michael Branch's new book, How to Cuss in Western, to me.
We have been sick all weekend, irritable, if not grumpy, and the apartment a little too small but the states of ourselves a little too degraded to want to be outside. So we’ve hung on, but then, not sure if we’re feeling better or not, but not really caring either way because we are stir crazy, we decided to excursion out to Monument Rock on Pyramid Lake. It is one of our favorite Pyramid Lake places, high up on the northeast side with great views of the whole span of the lake from the Pyramid and Anaho Island, up to Tohakum, and the Needles up on the north end catch the light. Not only is it a beautiful place, it has a rich personal history for us as well, we’ve camped here many times, on bike tour or just for a night escape from Reno. We saw Perseids here one year with a group of friends, lying in our sleeping bags on the (much larger then) beach watching flares of space rock trace across the sky all night long.
But for one reason or another we haven’t stopped for a few years and it was a great pleasure to see the lake up high and the dry tree skeletons in the water again. There was a car when we arrived but the people left immediately and we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. We had our picnic and then left our things in the shade and wandered down along the shore, walking more in the lake than out.
Tufa is for me an extraordinary structure. It is hard, but appears soft. Fully mineral, but with a sense of movement to it that seems organic. It has geometric structure, but geometric structure as imagined by Gaudí, not by Euclid. Speaking of, I don’t know if Gaudí ever saw tufa, but if he had, I bet he would have loved it. The water was clear and the lake almost entirely still on a windless afternoon and so walking in the water with the tufa below was textural overload, a sense of walking in a dreamscape. We stopped out near the favorite of the tree skeletons that have been in that place for years, high up on the sand when I last walked by, but now protruding appendages from an otherwise still water. I've found a child's swimming kickboard along the shore, almost new despite its journey here, and when I resolve to go out to my favorite of the skeletons, Renee tells me I should use it. I don't think the water will get deep, but it does, and I do end up following Renee's directions and kicking myself out to the tree where i climb up onto its bone white truck and balance on its smooth surface. Pyramid is like that, a place whose very austereness is a sort of sensory overload when the mind tries to make sense of it. The whole overwhelms the particular almost completely. At least until you start to see the detail, and then you realize that all of this giant landscape is equally overloaded and you are just a little part of if, tiny, nothing.
We wandered among the afternoon, read in the shade and generally played on a Sunday afternoon. Toward sunset we climbed up on the tufa mounds and watched shadows ascend, filling the places the light had left for the day. Just another play, another day. From away the Monument Rocks look like full masses, but both of them have open spaces on their tops. Up over the lake, under a dome of open sky with the lake ranges as the audiences to our play in the amphitheaters, we are consecrated, ethereal.
The sun gone but our spirits balmed we started back toward Reno, toward our conceptions of the future, while behind us the lake slid into night.
I was just chilling, hanging out on my sofa between my work shifts. It was a dreary spring afternoon. The sky was gray and threatening, then it started rumbling and thundering overhead. I opened the backdoor so I could have a better listen. I sat back on the couch, closed my eyes and listened to the rolling booms.
Slowly at first, the rain moved in though it quickly gained intensity and turned into an outright downpour. I got so excited, jumped up off the couch, grabbed my camera and ran to the front door to get a bit of video of the awesome rain storm. I opened the door wide, stepped out and started filming.
I filmed for a few moments then heard a large bang behind me. My first thought was “whoa that was loud thunder,” then quickly realized not thunder, but door. Next thought, “oh shit I didn’t unlock the door when I opened it,” I had planned to leave it open. But, as I forgot, the backdoor being open, will blow the front door shut. Oops!
Yes, I locked myself out of the house, in my socks, in the pouring rain, and I caught it all on film.
Thankfully awesome Dan came to my rescue.
As I drive home from work this bright evening I'm a bit stressed as it is 7:00 pm and we are driving 5 hours to the ranch. I look up and low in the eastern sky there is a bright white marble floating peacefully against an electric blue blue backdrop.
To the south there are airy feathered clouds, which are just now turning a slight peach from the setting sun. Most of the clouds have two long arms that reach out in a half circle. They look like they are trying hug the world. If they stretched out and curled around a bit more they would turn into hearts. I would love to see a sky full of floating, wispy hearts. The sky is starting to turn all shades of pastel; peach, pink, lavender, teal. All soft and light, not the neon colors of some of our more brilliant sunsets, but soothing colors that so gently kiss the world goodnight.
I turn back to the white marble slowly rising above the skyline. Is it full tonight, it looks like it could be?
Damn! Look at those stars!
It is such a dark, black night. However, it is tempered slightly by the blue moon rising from the east. The moon is just starting to creep over the horizon, it feels a bit blinding against this charcoal colored backdrop.
Dan and I are out for an evening walk to enjoy this blue moon (second full moon in a month), rumor has it that it's going to be the last one for awhile. As I walk out of the yard I notice Orion, big and bright, hanging high in the sky. Other than Orion I don't take the time to make out other constellations. I just take in the expansive sky glittered with millions of tiny stars.
We walk, the blue moon rises higher and higher in the sky. We stop for a moment and play with our moon shadows. We dance and twist our arms and legs, letting our shadows warp and spin in the night. The moon lights up the sky, becoming more luminous, making it more difficult to see the numerous stars.
For folks who just started following us, click the link below to learn more about the observation and description project:
by Daniel Montero
Going through some old things tonight I came across the phone pictured above and was reminded of how it wandered into our lives.
Bicycling along an apparently endless Arizona highway with just a bit of an uncomfortably narrow shoulder and way too much heavy traffic through a cacti-forested rolling countryside did not make for a day of idle landscape appreciation. But one of my favorite things about riding a bike is that it speeds us beyond the limits of our body, but slows us to a manageable speed. Fast enough to feel movement; slow enough to be in the world. One of my ways of being in the world on a bike, especially on a busy highway, is to look at what is discarded or lost in the reckless pursuit of the future and headlong flight from the past that is such a great part of modern human existence. Odd things, banal things, disgusting things, precious things, they all find themselves lost along the concrete ribbons that tie, some might say bind, most lives into intricate bows and byzantine knots. Roads crash lives of strangers violently into one another on occasion and carry some people away from all they have loved. And a zillion things in between. So it was with some triumph that I spotted the little leather lump that became, once I'd recognized it as something worth a second look, the phone pictured above. Its power was nearly dead and service gone, but there was a message open, in Spanish, something to the effect of, “she knows!” And then the phone ended up here, alongside the road, I imagine as the revenge of the one who learned, or an act of the contrition of one of those who did the thing of which knowledge was news. Or something else. But it ended up here, along a highway, in the company of the fringes. Rubbish. Litter. Or the things we find.
Related somehow to this post if you’d like to read more.
by Daniel Montero
When we have a day, we love to wander along Washoe Lake's shoreline. We have done it in many seasons and with many different water levels from bone dry to, well, see our kayaking videos! With a Saturday afternoon upon us, we decided to revisit it.
Even with this miserably dry winter, the levels are still astoundingly high! We walked on the lagoons behind the lake a little, and then along the dunes, but in most places there was almost no beach to stroll, just a narrow line of sand between the dunes and the water.
Washoe Lake. It is so familiar, and so foreign. Floating on the Black Rock, down the Quinn River, and on the upper meadows of Washoe Lake, ephemerality has been on my mind a lot. Walking on the shores of a brimming Washoe Lake in an otherwise dry looking snow year. Seeing wave wash along with the mountains mostly barren is a striking juxtaposition and powerful reminder that without replenishment, our waters will disappear, until the rain and snow refills us to overflowing.
And a modest proposal
By Daniel Montero
What a difference a year makes! Marlette Lake Road climbs from Carson City’s Lakeview neighborhood up to Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. The road might not even be called Marlette Lake Road, on Google Maps it is labeled Tanks Road, and meets up with Franktown Creek Road, and then higher still, there is a Marlette Lake Road mentioned, but I am going to call it all Marlette Lake Road, because, well, I can. I stumbled across it by chance, although Renee spent her teenage years here and remembers the road as the hardest mountain biking road in the world.
Last winter on a Sunday afternoon I decided to go down to it and see how far I could walk just in snow boots, without my snowshoes. It was a sunny, but windy day, and the fresh snow blew in swirls and gusts all around me. I climbed up as high as the first meadow (around 6,200 feet) where someone else’s snowshoe track I had been following filled in and I decided to turn back to visit Washoe Lake State Park.
This past weekend I decided to return to the road. This time I embarked in sneakers and decided I would turn back wherever I made it to snow that was higher than my shoe. I passed the place I had turned back last year with nary a snowball in sight, and only reached the first road drifts at 7,600 feet, and this hard packed and only in spots. This year, I also have a companion, Larry, and despite the dryness of the season we walked together in companionable high spirits. We had lunch in a sunny glade alongside Hobart Creek Reservoir in what I have decided to call a “late, late Sierra fall.”
After lunch, we climbed the granite point east of the reservoir, a point on my Topo Maps that is called called “point 8208,” but that I think deserves a name, being the highest of the rocky outcrops on this far eastern ridge of the Carson Range. So, without further ado, because his father’s sheep camp was in the area, I propose it as Robert Laxalt Peak. If there is another Robert Laxalt Peak, well, then, my apologies, but I like my name, especially thinking about these rocky knolls and ridges being the places where he would drive around looking for his father, maybe he clambered up here looking for Dominique, or just for the heck of it.
We sat on the little summit for a little while, watching the afternoon advance from a sunny and warm place in the granite fortress.
"It was late afternoon and the shadows long when I started the walk down to my car," Robert Laxalt, Sweet Promised Land.
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Sweet Promise Land, Robert Laxalt
By Daniel Montero
“Up and down the rugged mountain side I searched, with always increasing interest and always augmenting gratitude that I had come to Humboldt and come in time. Of all the experiences of my life, this secret search among the hidden treasures of silver-land was the nearest to unmarred ecstasy. It was a delirious revel.” Mark Twain, from Roughing It. While in this passage Twain is really setting up a joke, I can’t help but feel what he feels in this passage when I am in Nevada’s desert mountains.
Especially in the two Renee and I visited in the late spring of 2016: Star Peak in the Humboldt Mountains and King Lear Peak in the Jackson Mountains. Both of them are true guideposts to this vast part of Northern Nevada and had long beckoned us, especially the imposing volcanic rock faces of King Lear. I grew up looking at it across the desert valley. It always was there on the periphery of my life and with its imposing faces and with its suggestive and romantic name, it always lit my imagination.
Star Peak, and the Humboldt Mountains, was famously visited by Mark Twain and written about in Roughing It. While Twain had only comic luck in his prospecting attempts in the mountain, the mountain did have important mineral discoveries, and it was from the heart of this, the ghost town (well, not even really a ghost town although there are some mining remains and stone foundations) was where we started the hike, going past the big tailings, pits and shafts of the Queen of Sheba Mine. It was a beautiful spring day and we climbed the mountain in grand fashion and high spirits, with Twain’s “unmarred ecstasy.” On the descent it was hot enough that we shed our shoes and soaked our sore feet in the cold rushing water of Star Creek. Many many stars on this one!
After a rest day in between, we set out with a friend to climb King Lear. It is a glorious majestic and steep climb (well, Star Peak was no slouch in that either). We approached it from its western face, off of Jackson Creek Road, and despite sneezing fits with the newly emerging summer pollen, we also climbed it in grand fashion, especially the breathtaking cliff faces of the upper summit climb was, as Twain wrote, “a delirious revel.”
From the summit the vast Black Rock Playa spread out below us and peaks ringed us, including, off to the southeast, Star Peak, but peaks, peaks all around. King Lear is of course, a literary reference. But why King Lear? In Nevada Place Names, Helen Carlson refers to its Shakespearean origin, but to me that only begs the question. Why among all of Shakespeare's hundreds of characters, why King Lear, why the betrayed father driven mad? I don’t know the answer to this, but in the imagination of Gloucester, who, blinded, believes he will jump from the heights of the cliffs of Dover, there are descriptions that do seem to fit King Lear Peak:
“There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined deep:
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear
With something rich about me: from that place
I shall no leading need.”
And later, Edgar’s description to the confused Gloucester:
“Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.”
I can feel some of King Lear in these descriptions, but I don’t know. Does anyone out there have any ideas?
We started down into the afternoon and, as a writer for the WPA Guide to Nevada wrote in the 1930s about the Jacksons: “At sunset in this silent land, light changes so swiftly that one evening may be filled with 100 variations of color and pattern. Occasional quivering mirages project themselves against the hills.”
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