Carry the zero

27th July 2022—WHITEFISH, MT

Took a down day on our week in Montana, what PCT through-hikers would call a zero. Everyone left for the lake but I insisted on staying behind to read. Soon regretted my decision. Dabbled in Philip Glass and a fake beer rereading Cloud Atlas. Trying to put myself in the headspace I was in when last I read it, that July we left for our yearlong stay in Europe, 2015.

The rental we’re in holds up to 22 people and is for sale, $5M USD. Sadly Dawn and I have stayed in so many places like this we’re hard to impress now. We make comments like “wish there was a deck on every floor” and realize we sound like assholes, and probably are.

Actually got cold with the air conditioning and set my book down to visit the hot tub. The hills right there off the deck, curved contours like a woman lying on her side. The parts of the mountain where the ski slopes are cut in look like lime-colored stripes against the dark green trees, a lizard’s skin pattern. Puffy clouds you only get in the summer in mountain towns like this. Clouds formed through the friction of atmospheric pressure, invisible hands kneading dough.

The mountains have the look of a small town in the Austrian Alps where we stayed that summer, red-timbered lodges and farmhouses dotting green mottled slopes. The sound of yak bells and children screaming down the alpine slides makes me think of our own kids, makes me long for them.

The kids painted my toenails back in Moab, I think it’s the first time I’ve had that done. They are white and the paint has held firm, makes me smile each time I notice. I’m nostalgic for our time together and glad for my nails to stay that way, I might start doing it myself though the idea of me painting them feels odd.

Came back inside, toweled off. Savagely ate a peach. After eight days now the three-hour horseback ride we took through Bryce Canyon has finally left the last of its rawness on my rump. Dawn still references her mule on a daily basis (“Cardi B”) for the fear of god it put into her. Mine (“Ranger”) was reasonably well behaved but required me wrangling him away from the shrubs each time we passed one on the trail. Our guide said we couldn’t let them eat the greenery because it was too dusty and made them sick. I learned pretty quickly that riding an animal like that is a battle of wills. You need to assert your command over them, though I tried to be kind and comfort Ranger for fear of my own life, tbh.

Perhaps the idea for a story (or the discipline required to write one) is like a rare butterfly flitting by. Once you spot one, you only have a limited time to catch it before they fly away. That has a romantic ring to it but I’m sure it’s nothing like that at all. More like actual work.

All alone still in this big house treating myself to some John Coltrane. These horns and cymbals could fill any space it seems, the bigger the better.

The cousins play new country music over the shared speaker system our first night and I try to be zen about it but after a couple of hours my soul erodes. I say all we need now is some Trump flags and we’ll fit right in. Once you pass into Idaho and Montana Trump signs pop up with slogans like God & Guns, Kill the Queers and so on, and it’s like a slug trail attracting more mollusk types with their fragile shells and their mealy mouths.

Last night it stormed so bad we all took turns going out on the deck to watch. Not just the lightning and thunder but super strong winds making the whole house creak like a boat. Dawn and I stayed up in bed with the lights out watching it from our master bedroom, the best view in the house. Dawn snagged that room because she took the time to book the rental and felt entitled to it (and in the past, whenever we rented a place her brothers would always grab the best rooms and leave the scraps to us).

She was sad this morning that Lily didn’t call us back last night so we took a walk to shake it off. I said this is a great place but it’s funny how you wind up taking stock of all the rentals you stayed in before and comparing them. And she said something about the fact this place only has one deck, and I joked yeah, they don’t have any artisan salt in the pantry either.

Categories: Memoir, prose, writing

Tags: ,

16 replies

  1. I passed through Whitefish on a cross country bike trip in 1994. You could tell it was a cool place with a hippy vibe, but still just a small, nondescript western town. I’m sure it has exploded much like Moab has. I felt lonely and went to an evangelical church in hopes of some positive energy. People were ‘filled with the spirit’ during the service and there was much praising and weeping. Lots of people there were missing a thumb. My sister in law suggested that our families vacation together. We’ve never done that, and I worry that it will wreck the closeness we as a family always feel when we go on vacation. Although Sophie is now dating so we may start seeing her S.O. coming on trips in the near future. That will shake things up, certainly. Still, it sound like y’all are having a good time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, cool story Jeff! That must have been cool to be here so long ago. I bet your prediction about Moab is accurate too. We just got back from a morning hike on a nearby multiuse trail with some folks on mountain bikes, quite nice. Will be cool (I hope) for you to vacation with Sophie’s dates in the future. That’s terrain we will soon know ourselves. Life is good! Hallelujah 😜

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A tone poem – in words.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Montana’s lovely. To visit. I like what you wrote about writing. I find it’s both fleeting moments of inspiration and hours of hard work. I like chasing those butterflies, but it’s hard to write them down when you’re on the move. Enjoy your digs Bill. Sounds like fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ilona! Nice to hear from you, happy August. Yeah not the biggest fan of MT in hindsight. Can’t shake the frat boy, Trump vibe over there. C’est la vie. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kill the Queers? really?? Jesus. (Although I suspect the actual Christ would have hated that sentiment.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If it was an exaggeration, it’s not much of one… We’re enjoying the summer and I made short trips to Berlin and München, so I’m happy to be traveling again. You’re missing some great beer gardens!


  6. Love that photo. You (presumably) on 50′ stilts.
    Can’t tackle America’s Tumor, but Moab, well that’s another matter.

    “Moab is my Washpot” was Stephen Fry’s first volume of memoir. It comes from a Psalm, apparently, and appears in passing in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. It’s about washing the dirt off your dusty feet, the titular washpot being the receptacle that catches the dirty water.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Moab is my Washpot, how cool is that. No we didn’t visit the Tumor as it were, just went in that direction. Been there done that! Glad you like the photo too, that was from the canyon rim at Bryce Canyon, a stupendous place. And yes, they call them Hoodoos. We’ve had that conversation I think.

      Liked by 1 person

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