A Little Bit About Me
I have seen Death. I have spoken to him. And he has gone away.
Born in Connecticut. I can remember when I was ten or eleven years old, begging my father to let me skip the start of school and stay down at the shore for the hurricanes where we had an old cottage close to Long island Sound. He'd grudgingly acquiesce, and I'd stay with my best friend ever, Buzzy. He and I used to play baseball by the hour. We did so much together. This hurricane was going to be a good one, we knew. 1955. Hurricane Carol? I had been in the eye of several hurricanes, which is an amazing experience and I was excited about this one. Buzzy and I were sitting in his parents car, a '55 Studebaker, up on the tallest hill around. We could see our cottages starting to slowly get flooded as the waters rose. Me and Buzzy and his sister in the back seat. His Mother and Father in the front. We were all listening to the radio. The announcer said, "There's a gust to a 105 miles per hour. Yeayy! And there's one to 110!" Buzzy and I cheered. Then, all of a sudden, the whole car picked up in the air and it blew forward about 15 feet. The announcer said "And there's a gust to 125mph." This time, only dead silence in the car.
Schooled in Vermont. The college had its' own ski area. There were fish in the streams. Deer in the woods. And girls! Oh yeah, was a darn good school. Many nights of northern lights. A very special girl I met was from Colorado. Her father had taught ski jumping and he was on the ski patrol like her mother. She was going to be on the Olympic team but a tourist ran her off into the woods at Stowe and she wrenched her knee. We had the same majors, literature on one side, but skiing on the other. The main one. She taught me how to ski. Even hurt, mostly all I ever saw of her was her butt disappearing over a rise way out in front of me. And we made each other graduate. And she told me, Go West Young Man, Aspen is the place to be. I did. And it was.
Getting There. I drove my old black VW across the big, beautiful, country of America, seeing places I had never seen before, beauty I had only dreamed about. I wasn't on any freeway. Traveling. Meeting the people. Seeing the Big Country. Sleeping out under the stars. I stopped in that town she told me about, Aspen, and it was love at first sight.
Aspen. Only one paved road. All the others dirt. A mountain that would prove to have some of the best skiing in the world. Others nearby, and a guy could stay in new powder three days after a storm. A bar full of characters, miners, maybe a few construction workers, and ranchers, real cowboys, guys that would check their guns at the bar. I saw that. One of them kept his favorite saddle horse tied up just outside the door and when he couldn't swallow any more, he'd barely mount that horse and head off into the hills to sleep it off. And in winter, powder and skiing that would rival anywhere in the world, and with world champion skiers, like Toni Sailer, Anderl Molterer, Stein Eriksen and others, to watch in their races and hang out with afterwards. Aspen was my paradise.
I have seen the Beauty
Work? After a while, one has to justify their existence, I suppose, and the wife of my life appeared and then a job that I could love. Ashcroft Ski Touring was the name. My back, her cooking and a rich old man's money started up the first dedicated ski touring area in the United States. 1971. I can still remember the phone number 925-1971. That was easy because we got married September 25 1971. We lived a mile and a half from the end of the road and I can remember skiing along the open meadows on beautiful starry nights with a very very faint shadow beside me, star shadows from the heavens above. I'd go shopping for the restaurant she ran, mistakenly stop in the pub on the way home, shoulder my eighty pound pack and ski up the snow covered roadway that led to the house. Maybe ten below zero. A sky full of stars. Our only neighbor kept 200 huskies for dog sled tours and sometimes they would start to howl. I'd lay down in the snow, halfway home, and gaze at the stars, listen to the howling music, Castle Creek just down below me, still singing in the cold winter air and the occasional hoot of the Great Homed Owl. Sadly, it was too much for a beginning marriage and after three years of running the area, we parted. She went on to do very well and I went on to explore this world. I worked back in that valley for the summer a few years ago, 2012, just to see the changes and many people would come up to me and say we just walked down the river trail. It's the most beautiful trail I've ever been on! And I'd say, yeah, I made it in 1971. We had our fun.
And always the Ocean. Always, the Ocean called softly in the background. I had spent my youth growing up alongside Long Island Sound in the summers.
Some years on the Oregon coast. Traveling with a friend, bringing his newly purchased 45 foot salmon troller out of Bremerton down to Astoria. Going down the Washington coast in the middle of the gray whale migration. Instead of cruising at eleven knots, we slowed to less than eight and steered by hand. Whales all around, sleeping on the surface, swimming alongside, mothers with babies looking up at the boat and us. Now and then you could feel the hull vibrate as a whale rubbed along the keel. We put out a sea anchor for the night part way down the coast. It was an incredible ocean sunset into an ocean full of whales. All around were the spouts and the grunts and whale noises as the water slowly turned the color of the sky and you couldn't tell them apart. A full moon came up from the land, rising over the tiny remnant Olympic rain forest, a little part that hadn't been slaughtered yet.
Down in Baja by the Sea of Cortez, camped on a quiet beach, nobody else around. Swimming naked in the warm starry night, a tiny campfire my beacon on the shore, laughing and splashing as much as possible, as the unusual purple colored phosphorescence, caused by phytoplankton, streamed in rivulets down my body and all around me.
A ten day kayak trip in British Columbia, across the Inside Passage into the islands, following the Orca, paddling in the middle of Orca pods, awe on all our faces as they surfaced beside us, in front of us, in back of us. Black bears grazing on the beach. Eighteen of them one day. The hemlock forest drips on my tent high on a bluff with the dark waters below. I awaken to the sound of whales. I open my tent flap and look into the foggy black murk as they come closer below me and suddenly there they are! Seven or eight shapes delineated only by the yellow/white phosphorescence as they porpoise past in the pitch dark night.
In a funky bookstore in Astoria I find a book by one of my most interesting college professors of many years ago. I take it home to Arch Cape, randomly open it, and read about the dying of the light and all that is associated with that and the meaning of the words and the candle flame that forms just after the sun goes down in the ocean, right in the center of where the sun was, and how sailors spending their lives on the ocean have never seen it and I watch the sun that night sink into the ocean from my yard, and just as he described it, a flame appears in the last light, just like the flame of a candle, and flickers for a few seconds, and is gone.
In a fifty four foot fishing boat two hundred miles off British Columbia watching the once glassy ocean change in front of an ever strengthening northwest wind into massive rolling waves 30 to 35 feet high, their tops five feet of wind chop. Now and then a set of 40 footers would come through. The captain came out and said, "If you're going to keep fishing, you're going to have to tie yourself off." I replied, "If I come in, can I have the helm?" And then I had the helm, surfing down those waves' faces. The anemometer blew out in a gust at 93 mph.
The Land again. Across the western third of the Arctic on a river in a canoe with my friend, just the two of us, by night sleeping by the river, by day floating through the amazing beauty of the North, 450 miles and almost a month. Dreamtime.
Most of my life was in Colorado. Walking the hills, pack on my back, meadows watered by last winter's avalanches, carpeted with flowers in a riot of colors and kinds. Rainbows in the moonlight. Diving into crystal clear mountain streams and lakes. Hot springs bursting forth from the earth in dramatic wild empty places. Thunder storms that would take your breath away, and lightning that struck me crossing a snowfield at almost 13,000 feet. Mountain top vistas. I remember standing on one and seeing almost 200 miles down into Arizona, recognizing mesas I had stood beside. I saw the golden eagles, the deer and the elk, the pine marten, the marmot, beaver and porcupine. White ermine, ptarmigan that turned white in the winter like the snowshoe rabbit, the lynx and the bear and the moose. And all their companions and prey.
I remember the wonderful colors of the aspen, groves so full of soft yellow light you could hold out your bare arm and it would be colored a golden yellow. Then the snows would start, dusting the tops of the mountains, a beautiful white, sparkling against the rich endless blue of the blue blue sky. The dark green almost black fingers of conifers highlighted by their golden aspen neighbors, stretched their fingers toward the peaks, their tops still far away. And the leaves would fall and my favorite time of year, winter would come bringing storms and stillness. And skiing. I lived for that powder which always seemed to come at night, light and fluffy, rooster-tailing out behind you as you skied wherever you dared. At times, as you walked, sparkles of tiny snowflakes would be created in front of you in those wonderful sunny winter days. And on the clear nights, a sky full of stars, and then moonbeams, moonlight on the snow, so bright you could read a book by it. Fun, excitement, so much beauty, living to ski, living the dream year after year.
Escape. And for a while as this country grew industrialized by the military and the corporations, I lived in another country, trying to get away. Five times across the equator, the Line, usually in small freighters, I'd found my paradise far away. And one of those times, coming back to the States, north of the equator, but still a thousand miles from any land, I was standing at the bow and saw five to seven whale spouts not too far away. That really drove home for me that whales are ocean travelers, utilizing all of our ocean, not just the coasts where the whale watch boats hung out. And on October 25, 2006 in a hotel in Colorado I had a dream which became The Whales of Change. I formed a company, Big Blue Research Associates, and for seven years tried to get this idea in front of the people who could see it and financially take it on. The Bransons, the Turners, the big guys. No luck. I know it works and it's good for the whales and the ocean and for all of us. There's an intro dvd you can watch on this site...
And I have seen the Beauty disappearing, faster and faster
The Cancer. But all along, whenever and wherever we were, we knew something was wrong. We seldom spoke about it. I had started out as a little baby in World War Two, and I can remember the blackouts, some weird sirens, the threat of an attack that never came, thank God, to my house, but destruction and death certainly came to many many people around the world. I was too young to know that then, but I remember the fear. Much later I lived in the house of a German woman who lost her husband in that war, and had her three sons killed in that war, and she told me about the Americans coming into her town and grabbing the babies and swinging them over their heads, smashing them into stone walls.
Atom bombs ended that war. I got older, and the Korean War came along. People fighting in a beautiful mountainous country killing each other as fast as they could. American generals again wanted to use the Atom bomb. And I got older and along came the Vietnam war. I got drafted. I remember being trained how to kill men in their own country. Women and children too, hell they'd grow up and have babies who wanted to fight, wouldn't they? I saw the prejudice. I saw the hate.
Dwight Eisenhower, America's leading General, and President, warned about what was coming, the American Military Industrialism. Flourishing today. And I was part of it. I could hardly wait to get back to the beauty and the safety of my mountains. But when I did, I realized things were changing.
A Nation is bound, not by the real past, but by the stories it tells itself: by what it remembers and what it forgets. A Nation is not built on truth. Colin Thubron
My Reaction. I left my Aspen, where Money was replacing Joy. I went searching. For love. For the ocean. In Oregon with many wonderful times with a wonderful girl. And back to Colorado. And off to Maine. Where my still longest and best friend, Paul Raynor and I got together and wrote the book Peekaboo Us. Paul is a wonderfully talented person, in building and in art, and in many other ways, and we put down our thoughts and feelings in this intense work. Now after seeing ideas from it in many movies, I have let this be the force that has caused me to create my first website. Twenty five years after we created Peekaboo Us, in 1989, this work finally gets to see the light of day. And it is as timely now as the day it was written.
Moving On. I left the coast of Maine and the ocean and the lobster mania now that the cod were gone, and I went back to my mountains, this time in Silverton at 9,300 feet. Southwestern Colorado. I was fascinated by the country and by the people. People who lived like their fathers had, hard working in a hard country. Dangerous. So, concerned, I wrote books of a disappearing way of life, of the miners, of the highway men who kept the highway open most of the time despite the dangers of the many avalanches. The narrow gauge train one hundred years later. The people were disappearing and an American way of life, so I wrote about them. Out of respect. To honor them. An oral, pictorial Americana. And with a wonderful contractor I built a house there and across the street was my neighbor, Dolores LaChapelle. We had always sort of known each other, but now we became fast friends. She was one of the most amazing women I have ever known. First ascents in Canada, teaching school in Aspen in the forties, to ski the powder, living on the hill in Alta with her world renowned glaciologist husband, Ed LaChapelle. Author of many of her own books, internationally known. A brilliant woman. We talked daily, went places together, I had a jeep and we shared the high country together, beautiful, wonderful times. One day she said John, let's do a book together. So we did. Her very last book. Return to Mountain, Tai Chi between Heaven and Earth can be found on this site.
Changes. But the changes kept coming. The snow wasn't falling. The woods were full of motors. The streams were empty of fish, even some of the rivers stopped flowing in the height of the hotter summers. Smoke filled the air. Fires from all of the western states. Logged off forests. Burned off forests. In 2012 I stood at 13,000 feet, sweating in the highest temperatures I had ever seen in any mountains anywhere at that height. My thoughts of standing on top of the fourteener peak in front of me vanished. The land I loved more than any was disappearing in front of my eyes. That really hurt.
I looked around my home, America. And I realized the country I had grown up in, the life I had lived, was gone. My life couldn't be done again. And it made me cry. And it was with tears in my eyes, that I wrote these other words. I pray I am wrong. I pray that what is happening doesn't. But in my heart of hearts I know it is happening. I know it will get worse. Unless we do something. I really believe I am on the wrong planet. Maybe I volunteered. I don't remember. But while I am here, I would love to make a difference. What a Great Opportunity we have stretching out in Front of Us! Together. From Trevor Blake, let each of us find our Joy, our Peace, our Love, and then Success, followed by Laughter, Gratitude, and Growth! Forget the corporations and their buddies in what used to be a government and a democracy. Let us rebuild our Nation and this time let us rebuild our Nation on Truth.
Let's Go, People!