Incidental things…non-photographic

BOOK: Nearing the end of Half The Yellow Moon by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (and don’t even try to pronounce it unless you know Nigerian!)

SONG: From the song You Can Call Me Al on the Graceland album (Paul Simon) the song says “there were incidents and accidents…hints and allegations.” It has been going through my head for 4 days…

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Vast, wild, unbounded nature is so huge that it can’t do anything but still the soul. The distance between big and small – transient and enduring…somewhere in there are the problems of today.

I apologize for the lapse between posts. The incident with the bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz took over my psyche and absorbed the energy I could and did give to keeping up with it and the people I have so come to love working with, The death of any among us in this tribe is a visceral loss. The unfolding of the pain that is associated with it continues to grow, and in fact, this was a very big incident and there are many allegations outstanding…

I am, however, at this very moment, sitting in Teton National Park with mountains on one side of me a a chattering chipmunk on the other…so I thought I would write. The boys are out looking for great photos and I had to do grocery shopping. Peter kept trying to slip in “and laundry” and I did not even begin to bring that one to a head. He said he was kidding…. At any rate about an hour after they left, I drove into Jackson and ate pumpkin-ginger spelt pancakes with cinnamon spiced walnuts and real maple syrup and my drank my second cup of delicious coffee. I wandered through the little area around the cafe and ended up buying a desperately “needed” little zipper bag made by a local artist with very cool skulls screen painted on it. I got 3 books with real pages and finally found the coat I have dearly wanted in colors that weren’t nauseatingly combined for flash effect. I have had my Columbia jacket for about 15 years now and I had begun to recognize its serious flaws when newer and more beautiful and sleeker and warmer ones were being flaunted before me. This will not take the place of my maxi length super thick black wool coat, but it will give me something more effective in between. I was having a very spend-y day.

The trips to the grocery are unique in this journey as you can buy all you need in half an hour, but it takes over and hour to makes spaces, empty the melted ice from both coolers and decide which space is best for a couple days of meals!

We moved in and out of very cold temperatures and the return to Teton National Park is almost like getting to FL. I have bare feet and a short sleeved shirt on (no shorts tho – still with the long pants, just not the heavy duty ones!) Sitting in the sun was hot…but cloud cover that crept in and out immediately reminded me that I was not in FL at all. Of course there were only aspens and pines – no palms.


Yellowstone was everything everyone says about it…huge, beautiful, awesome, inspiring… The photographer’s conference went really well for the guys and they had plenty of time for going out indepentently and having their own custom-made adventures. They got to hear presentations by very well known and respected photographers and were generallly inspired by all parts of it. I went out with them on a couple of the adventures, but do not have the real motivation to do the 12 hour days they did. Age kept them from doing it daily, but there was every-other-day temptation that generally won them over again and again.

My perspectives fell into the more mundane realm, although I am proud of some of the photos I took. So I have decided to share thoughts on how I have marked time – I actually measured the time lapses in relationship to clothing changes through a given day, required by height or absence of the sun.

Sunrise was freezing – literally and icily so. We had frost on the camper and chairs and needed a scraper to get the ice off the windshield one morning. Being in a mummy bag set to tolerate 15degree temps was HEAVENLY! Mine ties around my head so that the only part of me that was screaming for mercy was my face. My feet were warm. My fingertips had full sensation. My silk longjohns are still perfect and they are the same pair that Tony and Gretchen gave me when I went to Armenia.

Underneath us, beside the thin piece of plywood that supports our bed and the 4″foam mattress, I added another sleeping bag for insulation. The bed is elevated about 4.5ft above the ground, so the cold air gets to circulate completely around our vulnerable little bodies. It was sort of like putting a plucked chicken in the freezer and see it all shrunken when if finally came out. On top of the mummy bags, we had a down comforter sandwiched in between 2 cotton insulated blankets. We were working on supporting some heft!

My limitation in keeping myself within this happy place after I woke up and really was longing for that hot cup of coffee Peter makes for me, was my bladder. Getting out of the warmth was just a complete lack of kindness for my body…and if you did not want to have to go the 30yards to the camp bathroom (and wanted just to go and pee in the corner of your little site, you had to do it before the sun came up. I did occasionally (really actually quite often) envy the space and independence of those mammouth campers and RVs. We, in contrast to them, are a cotton canvas house elevated above a metal box. Insulation was not an item in the pop-up camper budget design. My 1/8″ indoor-outdoor carpeting on the floor of it is like a plastic conducter of cold. These are not the thing you take on a northern adventure unless it is all you have and you truly believe that being cold is a good thing.

Starting layer for a day includes: longjohns (serious ones – not “cute” ones); thin socks covered by thick socks; a pair of thick pants (not poly!!!); an undershirt (cami over the longjohn shirt); a thick shirt (thermal is good) and a sweater (also ‘real’ as in wool or breatheable bodywarming thread/yarn.) Wrist and legwarmers are good. Soft but biggish scarf for neck and a really warm, ear-covering hat. A pair of thin gloves should be covered by a thicker pair. OK.. Off to the bathroom. “Peter get that coffee ready,” I say through my choked back sobs…I have not been able to hold myself up for a pre-dawn pee and so I have to go the distance.

By 2pm, you will have peeled back the sweater and the legwarmers…keep the wrist warmers. Hat’s off. Scarf stays. The only reason I don’t wear a scarf to bed is my fear of strangling myself in the night. By 4pm you might take off that second shirt, but don’t put it away. You will be putting it back on before 6pm. If you are going to have a campfire or a walk…put everything you took off back on and take your bearspray and headlamp, and enjoy yourself. Good luck on the some-mores. You might as well spread bacon grease all over yourself and invite Mama Bear and her cubs down to the fire for some of those tasty human snacks they apparently find quite delicious.

Being in bear country, for the cloth house people, means you have to be fastidious with making sure that all scented items, foods and even your water are locked in the vehicle. So, getting to the coffee box in the morning is Peter’s challenge.

Then there is the incident of my fear of combusting in a big ball of propane explosion. We have 2 tanks on the front of the camper. Right under the head of our bed as a matter of fact. It took me a bit to get used to having them on for the gas stove, but I worked through that in favor of starvation from a diet of cold canned Dinty Moore stew or Spam. However, this year we knew we would be in some places where self containment would be necessary and heat would be required. We have done that in Big Bend, but the temps have not been so low and so ongoing. So Peter installed a gas heater. We debated about the Big Buddy or the Little Buddy. And now we know that “size matters.” Whether we are consumed by a small explosion or a big one is really moot. For the next trip I will be going with the big one. We were both fearful of leaving it on overnight. We have a Carbon Monoxide monitor, but neither of us trusted it. We “vented” the place by unzipping the windows in a couple of places…but in retrospect, we have so many places where we can see the light of day in this structure, the venting was simply a vestige of our fear…not our factual awareness of our conditions.

We had one night when we braved it an left it on overnight. Of course we hoped that this would allow us to wake up to real warmth. We are so very silly!!!!! While it was 27degrees outside, it was definitely warmer inside…a scorching 41 degrees. And WE thought that was great!. Here back in Tetons, the overnight was 50 and the indoor, electrically powered heater kept us at a really comfy 65.

The boys will be back soon…I just noted the time and simultaneous necessity for putting on medium socks, pants thicker than soft silky rayon but lighter than ski pants. Long sleeve shirt back on, scarf in nice wrap and thinking about those wrist warmers – why did I take them off? Where did I leave them? I will pour some wine and have bought a bunch of roasted chicken parts and some corn to have for supper. I think I will try to finish my book, ponder the excruciating pain of the Biafran campaign for independance which is what my current book is about. I told the woman at the bookstore the 3 previous books I had read, including Contagion (the accounting of growth of viruses and world shifts governed by disease patterns – a bright, saucy little page-turner). She took me directly to a choice of 3 books that are just funny. I bought one of them. It is next on my list.

Be well wherever you are and be in touch when you have the time and inclination. I love you all.