When I First Heard “Stakes is High” I was…

(These pictures are of a recent trip to N.Y., the most appropriate images to go with this post)

Love N.Y. in the mist.

Love N.Y. in the mist.

If you’ve been following my twitter account of late (@mattmanguso), you’ve probably noticed I’ve been tweeting about De La Soul nonstop for about two months. I apologize for the onslaught, but at the same time I hope it led to someone clicking a YouTube link and experiencing one of the most eclectic, long-standing hip hop groups, ever.

It all began when I was planning to go home to New York. I love Wyoming, it’s a fantastic place, but it’s been a long time since I saw a concert worth getting excited about (in the two years I’ve been here the only show I was pumped to go to was G. Love and Special Sauce, which was a dope show). Now, every time I go back to N.Y. I always get the shaft when it comes to live music. I always somehow choose the week that has no shows worth going to see. This most recent time was no different, but while perusing the websites of my favorite artists, I noticed De La had announced more dates for their tour. I scrolled down and saw

March 14 – Pink Garter Theatre

Now, there’s a Pink Garter Theatre up in Jackson (some 70 miles north of Pinedale), but there was no way De La (Posdunous, Trugoy the Dove and Maseo) would ever play in Wyoming. It was too much for me to comprehend.

Still, I clicked the “get tickets” link and there it was: Pink Garter Theatre – Jackson, Wyo. Deliriously, I clicked “get tickets” so hard and fast I almost broke my computer and was relieved when everything went through and I had my tickets. I called my girlfriend.

She can hail a cab but she ain't never been to hip hop show.

She can hail a cab but she ain’t never been to hip hop show.

“Do you want to go see De La Soul in Jackson in March?”

“I don’t really know them and I’ve never been to a hip hop show, but sure.”

“OK, good because I already bought tickets.”

After hanging up, my mind had time to process what my girlfriend  had said: I don’t really know them and I’ve never been to a hip hop show.

How. Could. This. Have. Happened?

Forget never having heard of De La Soul, I can understand that (kind of), but never having been to a hip hop show? My God. I can’t even count how many I’ve been to, nor can I remember my first. And my girlfriend is a concert freak.

I began thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) about when I first heard the hip hop group that totally changed how I thought about the genre and music in general. Like most things in my life, it goes back to college.

It was during freshman year and I was trying to make friends. My roommate was a drag, so I spent the first few weeks roaming the halls trying to bump into someone and strike up a conversation (that sounds so much more pathetic than I thought it would). With no luck, I headed back to my side of the dorm and passed by my neighbor’s room. I heard the unmistakable hard, gritty beats of the Wu-Tang Clang pouring from the door. I timidly knocked, introduced myself and said, “Hey, I like hip hop, too,” meaning I wanted to be friends. That man was Tom Ford, and we did become friends.

I’ve always loved Tom: He was from Queens and I was from Long Island, so we always had a slightly better connection than the other members of our crew who were all from north of the city (if you’re not from N.Y. you might not understand that, but just trust me on it). I could write a million posts on the shenanigans the two of us got into, but that’s for another day.

A few months into our friendship we were sitting in his room getting ready for Friday night, which always consisted of watching boxing, followed by A Tribe Called Quest’s “Beats, Rhymes and Life” album, and plenty of beers in between. One Friday night, though, it wasn’t Tribe that come on, it was a new (for me) album. I clearly remember Tom hitting the play button on the tape (that’s right, my man has this album on cassette) and hearing the album begin:

“When I first heard Criminal Minded I was…”

I didn’t know it then, but that album, “Stakes is High,” was “the album” that would change everything I knew about everything. I listened in silence for the first five or six songs until Tom said, “Yo, you ready to go?” I had completely blacked out (there weren’t that many beers, finger-waggers,).

“Yea. Who is this?”

“De La Soul.”

“I never heard of them.”

“Noodles (my nickname), they’re from Long Island.”

The evening’s plans were delayed, and we sat and listened to the rest of the album. I was floored. It was one of those moments where I was immediately in love with everything I was listening to, but also super pissed off that it had taken me this long to hear it.

Love that mist.

Love that mist.

For me, Stakes is High is a flawless album. It pulses with the rhythm of the Southern State Parkway, it chugs along like an LIRR train heading West, it ebbs and flows like the tide at Long Beach.

It begins with a homage to KRS-ONE, it questions what it means to be a “Supa Emcee,” the third track introduced me to Common (The Bizness), it blared out Long Island towns I had lived in and around my whole life (Wonce Again Long Island), it gave me a go-to make out track (Dinnit) and then it just completely grabbed me and seemed to say, “Shut up and listen” (The Brakes).

That’s only the first six tracks, and it just keeps going.

I knew what Dave meant when he said, “I shed a tear cause I’m hearing nothing new or particular,” (Dog Eat Dog), another make out track (Baby, Baby, Baby, Ooh, Baby), the smoothest beat to ever accompany rhymes about Long Island (Long Island Degrees) that reminded me of so many summer days, “Betta Listen” was the song I played for my sister that got her into De La (she’s always loved the line, “her name was Gail from the Union of Dale”) and then came the moment when I realized I was listening to a group of craftsmen at the top of their game, “Itsoweezee.”

I don’t know what to say about this song. It has some of the sickest lines and is a lyrical masterpiece; it’s De La calling out everyone else in the rap game and saying, “top this, if you can.” In my opinion, no one ever has and the song just put me deep into hypnosis.

And, the album STILL keeps going. “4 More,” an incredible love song that only the “right” girl is allowed to hear, “Big Brother Beat” the Mighty Mos Def, enough said.

Then it gets real (Down Syndrome), with Plug One throwing verbal haymakers, one after the other, and landing every one, (“Just because you talk all that glock shit don’t mean you can rock shit.”). I can only imagine it’s like being knocked out by Muhammed Ali; you’re nose is broken, you have a concussion and probably brain damage, but you feel blessed to have been punched by someone with so much skill.

“Pony Ride,” again, a ridiculous beat that is a testament to the mastery of Maseo and a song I’ve repeated so many times I could recite it in my sleep. “Stakes is High,” the title track that is buried at the way end of the album, quite unusual, but which, I think, is only at the end because it conveys all the messages the group is trying to get across (“people try to snatch the credit, but claim the card,” “I think smiling in public is against the law, because love don’t get you through life no more,” “because nobody’s neighbors, just animals,” “no wonder where we live is called the projects,” “gun control means using both hands,” “man, life can get all up in your ass”)  and it just makes you say, “I probably wasn’t listening closely enough, I should listen to this album again, from the beginning” because I don’t want to miss any “hip hop quotable.”

Unfortunately, it eventually does end, but in the best way possible, with “Sunshine.”

This album was it for me; “Stakes is High” is what made this Long Island white kid get out into the hip hop world, strike that, it made me get into The World and explore. It caused me to listen more closely to hip hop and weed out who was rapping for fame and who was rhyming because they had something to say. Rappers weren’t songwriters anymore, they became poets, and that helped me understand Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth and all the other wordsmiths I studied in college. They may not have been using iambic pentameter or other such canonized lyrical standards, but theirs thoughts, opinions and observations were just as valuable.

Stakes is High introduced me to new artists (Native Tongues, Mos Def, Common), the samples brought me back to musicians my mother used to listen to and who I grew up with and made me appreciate them even more.

It was like having a tapeworm; no matter how much I ate, I was never satisfied and just needed to consume more and more and more.

I only wish losing my virginity was as life changing as the first time I heard Stakes is High was, because then it might be a story worth telling, which it sure as shit is not. Sex for the first time was just something that happened, but after hearing De La Soul for the first time, I wasn’t a kid anymore.

So thank you to Tom Ford for introducing me to what is now my favorite hip hop group of all time, and thanks to De La Soul for keeping it alive since ’89 and for coming to Wyoming in 10 days.

Where were you when you first heard “Stakes is High” ?

That's Tom in the back.

That’s Tom in the back.

Arts in a Small Town

I’ve been finding it hard to come up with something to write, so I thought I’d add some pictures from a recent performance from Utah-based Ballet West II.

It’s been a pretty interesting month for the arts in Sublette County. The ballet performance was last week, Tuesday most of the town was thrilled to watch Carey Laine (a resident of Pinedale but an Alabama native) kill it on The Voice and earlier this month I lost my mind when I learned De La Soul, my favorite hip hop group, ever, was coming to Jackson in March.

The arts are great, and it’s been a thrill to have them in Pinedale, especially during this long and drawn out winter.

I also finally purchased a good enough phone to join Instagram. That’s been taking up a lot of my time recently. It’s a lot of fun and that’s the reason the blog has kind of been on hold.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the ballet performance. Enjoy.

IMG_9538

IMG_9500

IMG_9483

IMG_9237

IMG_9159

IMG_9138

IMG_9159

IMG_9132

Couple of Pictures from this Weekend

Took a trip into the Bridger-Teton National Forest out of the Horse Creek parking lot to find a Christmas tree this weekend. I was more concerned with staying warm than taking pictures, so I only got a couple and it’s quite honestly all I feel like doing today because I have an ice skating show to write.

Enjoy!

 

Conifer Stand

Conifer Stand

Snowy and cold.

Snowy and cold.

Searching for the perfect one.

Searching for the perfect one.

Aspens standing tall.

Aspens standing tall.

The grove.

The grove.

Midnight Moon.

Midnight Moon, much later that evening taken in the front yard. 

A Winter’s Tale, or a Homage to Cody

This post is kind of a follow-up to the last one I wrote, which you can find Here.

It was one of the those beautifully sunny, frigidly cold winter days in Wyoming and the gang decided to hold the first ever “SlideFest.”  The idea was simple, head up to the Green River Lakes parking lot and hit the various hills and mounds that surround the area.

With lots of layers, a grill and some libations, we began the day and had a great time. What made it even better was we he had rented a cabin in Kendall Valley, which is one of the most beautiful areas in the county that is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest. After tiring ourselves out, we went back to the cabin and relaxed.

Now, I have a friend named Cody. How do I describe him? To start, he is probably the nicest person I have ever met; he has never uttered a bad word about another person, never gets frustrated or goes on a rant and I don’t think he is capable of anger. For me, he is the essence of a Wyomingite – friendly, welcoming, not much of a talker, handy, strong, helpful, adventurous, quick to laughter but (extremely, if at all) slow to anger. Whenever I’ve had people come and visit me Cody is always the highlight of the trip. One friend said, “Cody oozes modesty, but he could probably destroy anyone on the planet.”

Cody is an avid biker – he almost always wins the gold medal at races – and he is also the kind of person who will wake up one morning, decide to run a half marathon and subsequently crush the competition. One great story about Cody’s athleticism is that he went to a race in Utah, had his bike stolen, went and got another, which was quite a bad bike, was very late to the race, but still managed to win. He’s a machine.

After SlideFest, Cody, never one to just sit around and relax, suggested he and I go into the forest and try to call in some wolves. I was 100 percent in, so we jumped in his car, which is not suitable for backcountry driving – I believe it’s a Ford Mercury or something – and headed into the woods.

We drove for about two or three miles on a non-maintained, snow-covered dirt road until I, always the sensible one, said, “Codes, I don’t think we should go any further. Let’s turn around.”

Three miles in and with darkness approaching, we decided to turn back.

Three miles in and with darkness approaching, we decided to turn back.

Cody began to maneuver his car around, trying multiple three-point turns in hopes of turning around. The engine revved.

“We’re stuck,” Cody said nonchalantly.

I hopped out and began to push. We were freed! I got back in and within inches we were stuck again. Back out, push, freed, stuck again. This went on for some time.

To say I was surprised we became stuck would be a lie. One of Cody’s attributes I forgot to mention is that while he is extremely adventurous and always ready to head into the unknown, he is also apt to get stuck. Without really thinking about it, I can confidently say I’ve gotten stuck in mud, snow, or the like about eight times with Cody. We always get out, we always laugh about it, and really if I was going to get stuck with anyone, I would be glad it were Cody.

Darkness was coming on very quickly and the temperature was dropping. We began shoveling.

Stuck, again.

Stuck, again, trying to get free. 

That didn’t help out too much, but we managed to clear enough of a path and with me pushing, Cody got the car facing in the right direction. He was essentially back on the road when he was sucked into a ditch and stuck, for good.

Our last effort was to put on snow chains, but, of course, Cody’s were already mangled, so we came up with string and other stuff to try and make them work.

A poor effort.

A poor effort.

With barely an pressure on the gas pedal, the “chains” quickly snapped.

“Cody, I’m calling this one. We’re going to have to walk out of here tonight, and maybe tomorrow we can get it out with someone’s sled.”

Cody agreed.

He pulled out his Nordic skis, I strapped on my snowshoes and we began walking. As we headed away from the car, Cody realized why we had ventured out into the wilderness in the first place and put his lips to a predator call and blew.

I looked at him in shock.

“Codes, we’re in the middle of the woods, it’s freezing and dark and we are on foot. Do you really think now is the appropriate time to call in a pack of wolves?”

He laughed, I laughed and we started walking, quickly.

It was cold that night, probably around -25 degrees Fahrenheit, but we were dressed appropriately. We walked and talked, and very quickly both of us realized we were having a great time. I would make a joke, and he would laugh, Cody would ski ahead to survey the scene, and I would come running after him, snowball in hand. We laughed and laughed and laughed, for a mile and then we both realized something horrible – our girlfriends were going to be pissed.

Cody’s lady has been sitting at a bar waiting for him to come pick her up for the past hour, and mine, knowledgeable as ever, had told me, “Don’t get stuck and come back alive.” Little did we know that Cody’s girlfriend was warding off the amorous advances of a one-eyed bartender, and my girlfriend was combing the roads looking for us. Like true jackasses, we hadn’t really told anyone EXACTLY where we were going.

As the horror of two angry girlfriends materialized in our minds, I noticed we were approaching the wilderness boundary.

“Awww, who cares about them! We’re having a blast. Get next to the sign and smile!”

The man, the myth, the Cody.

The man, the myth, the Cody.

We walked the next mile or so, and had tons of fun. As we approached the road, we saw two cars sitting there. We approached, apprehensively, and the windows rolled down. There were our girlfriends, shaking their heads at our buffoonery.

“Hey!” we both exclaimed. “We got stuck and had to walk back. It’s freezing out.”

“Get in, you idiots.” We did as we were told and told them about our adventure. Like good girlfriends, they laughed, and were glad to see us safe and sound.

The next day, we headed back to the infamous spot, with two friends and two snowmobiles, and managed to get Cody’s car out and back safely to the pavement.

Stuck.

Stuck.

 

Freed!

Freed!

 

You Get Back On: Laughing in the Face of Death

There are many ways to die, and with winter arriving in Sublette County, I’ve begun my annual routine of dreading driving on snowy roads and venturing out into the frigid temperatures.

In New York, you read stories about someone getting run down by an out of control taxi cab, falling onto the subway tracks, getting crushed by a crane or even being stabbed or shot. Growing up there, you kind of brush those types of city-deaths off your shoulder and don’t even think about it. In Wyoming, though, the ways you can die were much more different than anything I had experienced before. Take for instance this conversation I had upon arriving in the Cowboy State:

Me: “So, how cold does it get here?”

Wyomingite: “Pretty cold. Last year we had a week where it was -30 degrees.”

Me: “What? That’s crazy.”

Wyomingite: “Sure is. When it’s that cold I don’t even go ice fishing.”

Me: “Ice fishing? Look, if it’s ever that cold just shoot me in the face.”

Wyomingite: “Why would I do that?” (Sarcasm doesn’t really translate too well.)

Me: “It was a joke. I mean, it seems like venturing out in that cold is asking to die.”

Wyomingite: “It can be.  Ralph went out in -40 degree weather to check on his horses during a blizzard and lost his way coming back to the house. He froze to death a couple hundred yards from his front door. They didn’t find him until next spring.”

Me: “…..”

Avalanches, running your car off the road, numerous animal attacks, falling trees, rogue hunters, getting lost in the wilderness; the list goes on and on. But in true cowboy fashion, you have to look death square in the face, realize you survived, laugh at it and get back on the horse. Here are some of the deadliest/funniest moments I’ve encountered while living in Wyoming and the lessons learned.

Running off the Road 

One day, I had to drive up to Jackson to interview some people about the annual Cutter Races (a longtime Jackson Hole tradition where men and women race down Broadway on chariot-style sleighs). It seemed easy enough. There was only one problem: driving through Hoback Canyon in the dead of winter in a Ford Focus without snow tires. Wintertime driving is probably my least favorite activity in Wyoming. Not only is my car ill equipped for such ventures, but the roads are horrendously steep, windy and covered in ice, both clear and black. Not to mention the Wyomingites driving 60 mph in monstrously large trucks during a blizzard, flashing their high beams at you, speeding past and kicking up additional snow that blinds you further. Things can go very bad, very quickly.

I was driving through the canyon, going, at most, 30 mph when I began a descent down a not-so-steep hill when I suddenly lost control. The car began to slide and drift into the oncoming lane of traffic. Not used to such things I did everything wrong; slammed the brakes and jerked the wheel. My Focus kept sliding down, down and down, spun around and I went ass-first into a snowbank. The second the car collided with the pile a semi blew past me. Had I left my house some 2 minutes later I would have hit him head-on.

What always gets me about a car crash is your music keeps playing. This time, it was Fleet Foxes; Come down from the mountain, you have been gone too long…. I sat in the car for a few minutes, dazed, shaking my head and wondering whether it would have been worth it to die for the Cutter Races. Then another realization, I was stuck, with no shovel and in a canyon where cell service is spotty at best. I got out. Looked at my car and began digging with my hands. Luckily, a kind gentleman pulled over, jumped out with shovel in hand and asked if I needed help. Clearly I did and we began digging. As we dug, two more cars came sliding down the hill in the exact same fashion as I had. I looked at the good samaritan and laughed, “Guess I’m not the only asshole on the road today.”

“Shit no,” he said.

We finished digging, shook hands and I was off. I did my research on how to properly drive when conditions are icy and learned to take my time and not worry about other drivers’ speed and told myself if I should ever see another stranger stranded in the snow I too would get out and offer whatever assistance I could.

Pesky Mule Deer 

This one didn’t happen to me, but I was involved.

I was sitting at home one night in the winter, thankful I didn’t have to be driving the 37 miles to Big Piney to cover the school board meeting when I got a frantic call from a frantic coworker.

FC: “Is Andy home?”

Me:  “No, I think he’s going to the school board meeting. Why?”

FC: “Because I think he was driving behind me and a deer ran onto the road and he swerved and his headlights disappeared.”

Me: “Well, did you pull over and make sure it was him, or at least see if the driver was OK?”

FC: “No. I have to get to the meeting.”

Journalism is journalism, be it in a metropolitan daily or a community weekly, and there was nothing that was going to stop my frantic coworker from being late. It was Andy in the car that went off the road, and he was fine. Later, I asked him about it.

Me: “Did you drive off the road tonight?”

Andy: “Yea, a stupid deer ran into the road. How did you know?”

Me: “A frantic coworker called me and thought it was you.”

Andy: “Yea, and she didn’t stop and when I got to the meeting she told me all the interesting stuff I had missed.”

Never rely on a reporter to stop and help you, especially when you work for the competing paper in town, but be aware of the conditions and always keep an eye out for stray wildlife.

Almost an Ice Cube

It was the perfect day to be ice fishing. The sun was out and its rays reflected off of the vast expanse of white and kept the temperature at a pleasant 15 degrees. My associate had already reeled in two fish and we were having a great time. As the afternoon waned, we decided to head home. He roared off on his snowmobile and I followed behind. But as I did, the photographer in me said I should take one parting shot. I stopped the sled, pulled out the camera, snapped and hit the gas to take off. Nothing. Hit the gas harder. Still nothing. Was I in neutral? Was the break on? No and no. What the hell? I looked down to see the sled was sinking into a slushy mixture of lake water and snow. The ice has broken, I thought. I’m sinking and I’m going to be an ice cube in a matter of seconds. There’s only one person out here and he’s already a half-mile away. I panicked and went to jump off the sled to run, but figured that will only make the crack bigger and sat frozen to the snowmachine. I had no idea what to do so I looked around and said to myself, “At least I’ll die somewhere pretty.”

My companion noticed me and sped back.

Companion: “What’s wrong?”

Me: “I think the ice is broken and I’m sinking.”

Companion: “What are you talking about? You’re just caught in some overflow.”

Overflow is when snow melts on top of a frozen body of water and is then covered by a fresh layer of snow. The slightest pressure can cause the underlying, liquid layer to seep through to the top and give the appearance the ice has cracked. Panic is never a good thing, and you should never fall behind the group, especially when you aren’t the best snowmobiler.

Getting Back On 

One of my main goals when I came out West was to not only learn how to ride a horse, but to become proficient at it. Within a month of arriving, I found myself atop one and totally unprepared to follow a cowboy veteran as he yelled “yawww” and disappeared into the sage. Trepidation was the word of the day as I kicked the horse and tried my best to follow suit, not look like an idiot and not die. It went OK, but sadly I did not get the chance to get back on an equine until about a year later. My friend Amber is a born and bred Pinedalian who has been around horses her entire life and who is so comfortable around them it’s almost terrifying. She’s ridden in rodeos, been a pony dancer in the local Rendezvous Pageant and only rides bareback. As we were saddling up, she brought out the horse she would be riding, one that hadn’t been ridden in quite some time, and said, “I hope you guys are ready to see me go airborne.” I thought to myself, why would you knowingly get on a horse that you knew was ready to buck you off?

Me: “So, what do you do if he sends you flying?”

A.: With a look of confusion “You get back on.”

She didn’t get bucked off that day and she was such a fantastic teacher I felt comfortable enough to get my horse into a lope. When we returned to the corral, the animal I had been so nervous to ride couldn’t get enough of me. He followed me around, nuzzled my shoulder and, in some unspoken way, told me “we’re friends now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t buck you off if you are doing something stupid.”

That warning came to fruition very recently. Since that second time on a horse, I’ve become pretty good at it, enough so that people are slightly shocked when they see me gallop by yelling at the top of my lungs. But, unlike a machine, a horse has a mind of its own and will sometimes be grouchy or moody and a bit of a nuisance to ride.

Amber and I went out riding again, but this time her dad came along. Now was my chance to show Jim how good I’ve become – even though I’m not a competitive person I still like to show people when I’ve accomplished a goal. We were heading back to the ranch and were riding the top of a ridge when I lagged behind and then kicked the horse. Everything was going great and felt right, then – and I have to add here that I was in a different saddle and the stirrups were much too short – the horse did a little hop and when I leaned back to absorb the shock, I realized the seat was too low for me. Quickly, I tried to lean into the hop and brace myself in the stirrups, but those were too short, also, and my feet slipped out.

With a total lack of control I flew out of the saddle and over the top of the horse’s head and landed right on my chest. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt. I stood up and Amber and Jim came over to me.

Jim: You know, that was looking really good until you went flying.

I laughed and dusted myself off.

Jim: Hey, do you still have the reigns in your hand?

I looked to my right hand and saw both reigns were securely in my fist.

Me: Yea, I guess I do.

Jim: Great job!

I laughed at the fact that even though I had done mostly everything wrong, I had still managed to do something right and that was a small victory. Even though I was in pain – I’m almost positive I cracked a rib – I got back on that stupid horse and continue to ride him. Even though I hate driving in the winter and have spun off the road, I continue to do it in hopes I get better. Even though frozen lakes or waterways give me the creeps, I keep venturing out, safely. And even though there a millions of ways to die no matter where you happen to be, the best defense you have against death is your brain, the kindness of others and a big, boisterous laugh. With those tools in hand the only other thing you need is the nerve to get back on.

Oh, Turkey Day

Except for Halloween (who doesn’t love dressing up and being somebody different for an entire day?), Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday because it is oh so American. There is no religious connection, it’s not restricted to a specific ethnic background, and the only requirement is you’re an American and are thankful for something.

While the holiday has been exploited and become a contest of consumption (how much can you drink the night before, how much can you eat the day of and how much can you buy the day after), I still enjoy the core of the tradition (a celebration of the bounty of the New World and the realization that there are reasons to be thankful).

My mother has always been the queen of family gatherings where large quantities of food are spread on the table. She’s the best cook in the family, our house was always where everyone wanted to come and there was no way anyone could do Thanksgiving better, though many have tried.

But this year, it was my turn to be the cook/host. I was excited. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy hosting and I have to admit having all that power, I had joyful visions of me throwing my hands up and, like my mother, proclaiming, “All right, everyone get out of my kitchen,” made me giddy. Clearly, I would not have thrown the One Ring into Mt. Doom, but at least I admit it.

First up: the menu. Clearly, turkey would be on it, but what kind. I perused the Internet and found the absolute best recipe for me: Turkey with 40 Cloves of Garlic.

Then, as a homage to tradition, I chose stuffed mushrooms and sausage/rice stuffing (family favorites), and added some sauteed spinach and kale for a vegan guest (I know, I was flabbergasted, too) and the girlfriend handled the potatoes. Dessert was pumpkin pie (me) and chocolate mousse (girlfriend).

The night before, after playing some Thanksgiving Eve, cold weather darts with a friend, I came home and began the White Wine Pan Gravy. Word of advice, always read the directions before attempting the recipe because I hadn’t realized the gravy needed to cook for three hours.

The White Wine Pan Gravy started slow, but turned out great.

The White Wine Pan Gravy started slow, but turned out great.

By 11 p.m., the gravy “base” was down and it was time for bed.

Up at 7 a.m. the next morning and the first chore was the pumpkin pie (I should have done this the night before, but this was really more of a learning experience than anything else.)

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Using a recipe from everyone’s favorite racist chef, the pies were in by 8:30 a.m. Baking at high elevation (7,200 feet) is not fun. I’ve never really enjoyed baking, too much chemistry, but it is pretty important to have dessert, and though the recipe said the pies needed 50 minutes, up in the mountains it took about twice that time for them to finish.

With the pies baking and sweat beginning to develop on my brow from fear  the turkey wasn’t in yet, I began getting the garlic ready.

40, yes, 40, cloves of garlic.

40, yes, 40, cloves of garlic.

While chopping and seasoning and getting the turkey ready, my beautiful girlfriend walked into the kitchen. With my hands covered in garlic puree she delightfully began with the questions. (Note: My girlfriend doesn’t cook much, when she does, it’s great, but for some reason she feels intimidated by my culinary skills and that keeps her out of the kitchen).

After a few questions my blood began to slowly boil ( I know I’m a maniac, and I’m lucky she puts up with me), and then she looked at my hands that were beneath the turkey skin and said, “What’s that?”

“It’s super secret shit. Now, calm yourself down before I crack you with my seasoned paws.”

Again, I know I can be crass at times, but if my mother taught me anything it’s that mean, hurtful things are allowed to be said in the kitchen on a holiday. Thankfully, my girlfriend let it go and I got the turkey in on time.

The rice was already finished, so I moved on to the stuff mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms.

They came out excellent.

As the turkey sizzled while I basted it, I realized it was only 1 p.m. and everything, for the most part, was done. Well, this isn’t so bad, I thought to myself and poured a glass of wine and was coerced into taking a Thanksgiving shot of Wyoming’s own Koltiska.

Delicious yet deadly.

Delicious yet deadly.

At this point, all I needed were my guests. Cocktail hour was set to begin at 2 p.m., with dinner followed at 3 p.m.

Cocktail hour came and went. 3 o’clock came and went. And by 3:15 p.m. I was infuriated. The turkey had been out since 2:30 p.m., and was now getting cold and dry and gross. The gravy was solidifying and the rice and other side dishes were close to burning in the oven. I stood at the door waiting for my guests throwing out threats to anyone who would listen.

2:30 p.m.: OK, they’re running late, but there’s still plenty of time.

2:45 p.m.: What the hell, where is everyone?

3 p.m.: Well, it’s dinner time and no one is here.

3:10 p.m.: You know what I’d be thankful for, punctual guests.

3:15 p.m.: OK, f@#$% them, if no one is here in the next 10 minutes, I’m locking the door, eating all this food myself and they can go somewhere else.

At 3:25 p.m., they arrived. My girlfriend gave me the eyes to “be nice” and I said, “Happy Thanksgiving, dinner is now.”

As people ate and compliments came my way in between large bites, I began to ease up (here’s a hint, a pissed of chef can be quickly calmed down with praise and accolades) and enjoyed the company, the food and the holiday.

So what was I thankful for this year?

Well, a lot of things, but mostly, an awesome girlfriend, a life filled with adventures and great stories, the appreciation that you don’t need to be physically with your friends or family to feel loved and a part of things, another year in a beautiful place and the awareness that the next great adventure is right around the corner. And most importantly, my awesome mother who taught me how to run a successful holiday, and how to always be ready with a snappy, snarky comment at the most inappropriate time.

The Silmarillion and Adventure

I took a hike to Fayette Lake, and it's probably the last time I'll see the ground for a while.

I took a hike to Fayette Lake, and it’s probably the last time I’ll see bare the ground for a while.

Recently, I took a hike to Fayette Lake. Like most of the high alpine lakes in Sublette County, it is familiar and unique at the same time. There was so much sign of elk in the area I expected to come across a herd at any moment, but they must have skedaddled long before I arrived. Despite sighting no wildlife, I spent the time flinging my line into the water in hopes of catching a fish. It didn’t happen (I hate to point this out, but I haven’t caught a single fish this summer. Oh well).

While standing at the lake, I felt my feet grow numb from crossing a stream and began thinking, mostly about J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle Earth.

Prior to the hike, I began reading The Silmarillion for probably the 14th time. I love that book, even though I know once it’s finished I will have to pick up The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings, because, well, that’s the way it goes and it’s hard for me not to finish something once I’ve started it. Another thought began to germinate in my mind: What next? 

More than two years ago I arrived in Wyoming ready for anything and expecting the same. But a wanderer receives no rest, whether it’s intentional or not, and I realized it’s time to leave the Cowboy State and head for some new adventure. But where to?

For a while I’ve been thinking about moving back to New York. I have two godchildren there, my sister is planning to get married and that’s where my family and roots are. Just as the Noldor were birthed in Middle Earth, so too did they return, but was that right for me? I decided it might be and began planning for the long journey home. At the same time, a pit began to grow in my stomach.

It began small, perhaps the size of an acorn, but with every step I took back east, it became larger; growing heavier, sharper, cutting my insides and causing pain. It wasn’t the right decision, and I knew it but I kept forcing it.

At this point, I’d lost all feeling in my feet and decided I needed to get back to my car and I began walking. As I reached the apex of the ridge I felt like I could see the entire country. Behind me, the East, and in the very far distance sat New York, my home, and I could feel a slight pull. Ahead, the West, where the sun had begun making its descent toward the Pacific Ocean, and the place where I was destined to continue to. I started this journey into the West, and I wouldn’t forsake it until I reached the far coast of this country. I would finish what I started.

Holy Crap, I Suck

Well folks, the title says it all.

More than six months ago I gave myself the goal of getting this blog going, writing some interesting stuff and, hopefully, getting recognized. Then, things at work got all shook up, the Pinedale Roundup and Sublette Examiner (the two Sublette County newspapers) merged, and I found myself inundated with work and trying to readjust my entire work schedule.

We finally got things organized here around May, kind of, anyway, and then BAM! summer began in Sublette County and I spent most of my time trying to get my work done so I could get out into the wilderness and have some fun (if you’ve ever lived in Wyoming, or any place where winter is longer than spring, summer and fall combined, then you’ll know how important it is to soak up the warm weather and explore as much as you can before the snow begins to fall, again).

I’m sure that since this post and my last, I’ve lost a lot of followers, but that’s OK, not that fall is coming and the cold weather has begun creeping in, I should have much more time to let anyone who is interested know what’s been going on with me.

Let’s have a quick recap that will hopefully be followed by much more regular posts.

February-May

Insanity ensues as I go from working for one weekly newspaper to two.

May

Spring arrives and the gang and I take that first camping trip of the season to New Fork Lake on Memorial Day.

June

We head up to Blueberry Lake out of the Boulder Lake Trailhead to celebrate Cody and Amber’s birthdays. I swim across the lake, about a mile total, in the buff to officially welcome the summer.

July

Rendezvous baby.

August

I head up to Triangle Lake, one of the county’s most unvisited areas and one of the most difficult hikes I’ve done since the American Legion Peak extravaganza.

September

Hunting season begins, and my first day out in the Wyoming Range is unsuccessful, even though I did get to hear an elk bugle, a first for me.

And here we are. Sorry for the lack of activity, hopefully I get my ass in gear.

Wherein I Find A Focus

It’s been a while since my last post and I apologize. When I first began writing I would shake with excitement as the number of views and visitors rose to be 70 people in one day. Then I stopped posting and people stopped looking. I don’t blame them because I wouldn’t want to keep visiting a site that never had any new content. I apologize faithful readers but for the past month I have not been idle. In fact, I have written probably about 10 posts this past month but, like most self-conscious writers, the writing was not up to my satisfaction and were quickly discarded. Some people have a hard time understanding how I could so easily toss away 1,000 plus words, but for me, unfortunately I suppose, it is quite a common affair.

For the past month I’ve mulled, pondered, considered and contemplated what the hell to write about and then it hit me – Rendezvous. You may recall one of my first posts mentioned Rendezvous and I casually stated “more on this later,” which brings me to my focus.

Last week, I was sitting in my room trying to figure out something to write. I began stroking my face and felt my beard. I looked into the mirror and laughed at myself because I realized I still had more than five months until it was coming off. I felt my hair too, down to my ears already, and thought this is going to be more difficult than last year.

In about my five months July will rush in and bring with it warmth, camping, hiking, fishing, tourists and Rendezvous. Ahh, Rendezvous. It is a marvelous time, a time when the streets of Pinedale explode with street vendors, old timey music, homemade root beer and heavily bearded men dressed in buckskins and strutting through town.

I truly enjoy many aspects of living and working in rural Wyoming; the cowboy culture, the open spaces, the outdoor opportunities, but I live for Rendezvous. There were several reasons why I left New York for the West, but the main reason was for adventure. If there is any group of people, historically or present, who would understand my lust for adventure it would be the mountain men of the 19th century.

Part of the present Green River Rendezvous celebration is the beard shaving an event. Men begin growing their beards at all different stages and then on the last day of Rendezvous out come the clippers and off go the beards.

Last year, I began growing my beard in April. This year it began on January 1.

I’ve done a couple of searches and noticed there aren’t really any blogs about beard growing and Rendezvous and mountain men so, not only have I found something to write about continually for the next six months, but I’ll also be a trendsetter (#selfrighteous).

This post is extremely jumbled and truthfully I am just getting it down because I need to otherwise it will never happen, but from here on out this blog will be devoted to discussing the history of Rendezvous, mountain men and the Fur Trade of the 1800s, as well as the trials of me, my hair and my beard.

This should make Dave Carroll happy because out of all my followers, he has been the one most vocal about me posting and writing.

This is my beard about one week in.

This is my beard about one week in. I promise it will get progressively more outrageous as the days continue.

Year In Review Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the West

The site is live and looking good (shameless self promotion, I know), and I’ve decided the first “official,” non-explanation of why the site is a mass of jumbles should be a quick year in review because, even though it’s technically been about 14 months, I should get everyone up to speed. Also, I ‘m still a bit confused by this site. I’m not pregnant (fingers crossed), getting married (fingers double-crossed), sailing around the world in a 10-foot bathtub boat (but that would be cool), releasing an album (#jokershenchmen), trying to save the whales (“from hell’s heart I stab at thee”), running for office (insert Romney joke here) or doing anything that out of the ordinary. But then I realized I kind of have/am.

One year ago, I was living and working in New York and on a daily basis I was dealing with this:

Rooftop hanging.

Rooftop hanging.

Then, I came to Wyoming and was introduced to this:

Traffic jam in Pinedale. One of the many things I had to get used to upon arrival.

Traffic jam in Pinedale. One of the many things I had to get used to upon arrival.

Needless to say, it was quite a change.
So, without any further superfluous words or thoughts, I present an abridged year in review and other reasons why I’m loving where I’m living.

Sept. ’11 

Raindrops from Hurricane Irene pound against my window as I pack in the darkness with a lamp strapped to my head. I realize I have a ton of stuff and wonder whether or not this is the right decision to make. That thought quickly passes as I receive a text from my former employer asking if I could pick up his mail while he is doing a shoot in L.A. I don’t respond, readjust the car and sleep in Long Island for the last time.

The journey across the country is a blur. I can’t think of a single person who has not turned his face toward the highway and longingly looked to the west (I can only imagine people in the west do the same except they face east) and wondered what short of adventures he would have on the road. I expected philosophical talks in diners with transients, drunken brawls and maybe even a steamy motel room romance with a traveling saleswoman. Two days driving along the asphalt snake-spine of America known as Interstate-80, I realize this journey will be the reverse of the adage “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” For me, it was all about the destination. The journey would begin upon arrival.

Three days into the trip a cold I contracted somewhere in Iowa still ravages my body as I rumble into Nebraska with Bruce Springsteen playing in the background and Lincoln covered in red. While buying Vitamin C, Advil Cold and Sinus, Vicks and other cold remedies coveted by person without health-insurance at CVS, I ask the cashier why everyone in is crimson.

“For the Huskers!” she exclaimed.

“Who are the Huskers?” I ask.

With that, everyone in line and the store turns to me and cries, “Who the are Huskers?!” I’m pretty sure a song and dance erupted after that complete with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, but I may have been hallucinating from my sickness.

Day four and I’m still a little stiff but the cold is subsiding. I have renewed energy as I climb upward into the high plains and see a sign: “Wyoming: Forever West.” This journey is drawing to a close and I’m loving it.

Day five I blow out of Cheyenne like an outlaw and speed through the remaining 300 miles before turning north at Rock Springs. Nothing but anxiety as I pass nothing, nothing, a town: population 50, nothing, nothing, nothing, cows, nothing, nothing, antelope!, nothing, a town: population 20, nothing, nothing. Then, when I am just about ready to swing the car round and head back to New York, the Wind River Range appears on my right, pine trees begin to dot the landscape and I roll into a town reminiscent of the one I went to college in.

I arrive at my new home.

The rest of the month I settle into a new job, a new town and a new experience.

Looking south down Pine Street toward the Wind River Range

Pinedale, my new home.

Oct. ’11

My first foray into western-life starts unexpectedly while interviewing a local artist about photographs she took of disappearing glaciers. Said artist brought a friend along to check out her pictures. Instantly, I was drawn to him.

With a salt-and-pepper beard, tanned and wrinkled face, deep blue eyes and a cowboy hat that looked like it had been stepped and crapped on by every cow and horse in Wyoming he put a strong hand out and told me his name, which I will omit here but will tell you it was and still is the most cowboyesque name I’ve ever heard. We talked, I remembered I had another person I was supposed to be interviewing and focused on that. Before he left he told me to come up to camp and “chase cows and grizzlies around with him.”

Two weeks later I did and this is what happened Cowboy 101.

Not two minutes outside of town. This is new.

Not two minutes outside of town. This is new.

Nov. ’11 

Town council meetings, girls volleyball, fellow reporter Travis Pearson and I become best buds while hiking up to Sacred Rim. I’m still learning how to perfect the art of the news lede. Feeling good.

On the way to the massive Fremont Lake.

On the way to the massive Fremont Lake.

Dec. ’11

Decide to stick it out in Wyoming for the holidays as winter comes in full force but not as strong as usual. Temperatures drop into the negatives, a first for me, and I become acquainted with the local bars and sometimes seedy, always genuine characters who inhabit them.

Who is this guy?

Who is this guy?

Jan ’12

The New Year begins with a first, Welcoming the New Year Counting Birds

I head back to New York for the first time since coming out west and laugh out loud when I see my sister bundled up from head to toe in mere 30 degree weather. The trip is a whirlwind, as it always is because when you’ve been somewhere and come back for a visit everyone wants to buy you a drink, tell you a story and eat up all your time. It’s good to have people who love you.

Back in Wyoming, a local resident comes in and tells me two mushers taking part in the annual IPSSSDR are crashing at her place and asks if I’d like to interview them. I do, Call of the Musher.

One of the IPSSSDR athletes.

One of the IPSSSDR athletes.


Feb ’12

More cold and snow and I tell myself it’s almost over, but it’s not and someone informs me last year they had a foot of snow on July 4. The lady who hosted the mushers invites me on a snowmobile trip through the Wyoming Range and have a blast knowing the excursion is purely for enjoyment and won’t require me to write a story about it.

A snowy meadow on a frigid morning.

A snowy meadow on a frigid morning.

March ’12 

Winter holds tight, but I take part in a classic winter past time, Fishing A Hole.

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

April ’12 

The cold weather begins to break, slightly, and having made enough friends and contacts, I begin collecting camping gear for the upcoming hiking season. Snow falls at the end of the month and I begin to go a bit stir crazy, but Travis and I begin planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park and that keeps me occupied, as well as a celebration of beer, A Brotherhood of Brewers.

Hoarfrost in April?

Hoarfrost in April?

May ’12 

Spring arrives, but I realize it can be just as cold as winter. With a sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees, Travis, Andy, Abbie and I head up to Yellowstone for an experience we won’t soon forget, To the Land of Geysers, Bears and Tourists.

Andy taking in the view of the Lamar Valley.

Andy taking in the view of the Lamar Valley.

June ’12 

School ends and for the month of June it’s kind of a struggle to come up with story ideas. We make do and have some fun in the office being goofballs. Hiking begins full force and I spend most of the afternoons exploring Half Moon Lake, fishing and enjoying the fact the sun doesn’t go down until 9:30.  p.m. I also decide to conduct an experiment – eating only locally grown, harvested and raised food for an entire week. I start by collecting food from local vendors, farmers and ranchers Eating (as) Local (as I can), before putting myself to the test, A Week of Eating (mostly) Local. Mom and Max come to visit and get wiped out by the elevation.

Mom and Max checking out the glorious west.

Mom and Max checking out the glorious west.

July ’12 

Rodeos, Chuckwagon Days, the Fourth and Rendezvous (more on this later). I am more than thrilled when one of my best friends comes to Pinedale for a visit. He is the first New Yorker I’ve seen since January, and the first non-family member to come out west and see what his friend is up to.

My buddy Tom came to visit, only to realize his Long Island pal had become a Mountain Man.

My buddy Tom came to visit, only to realize his Long Island pal had become a Mountain Man.

Aug. ’12 

With the madness of Rendezvous over, I relax and enjoy some hiking and camping trips with friends and fall ever more in love with Sublette County and the west.More friends and family show up for a visit and I meet a new lady, who, after seeing me without an excessive amount of hair, agrees to spend some time with me.

My newfound western friends helped me show friends and family around the county.

My newfound western friends helped me show friends and family around the county.

Sept. ’12 

My life in Wyoming comes to a head as I take a five day hiking trip through the Wind River Range and attempt to summit one its highest peaks, It’s Entirely Possible to Fall Off of a Mountain.

At the headwaters of the Green River on our way to Peak Lake.

At the headwaters of the Green River on our way to Peak Lake.

That’s what I’ve been up to for the past year.

Now that you’re up to speed, keep checking in for all of my newest adventures.

A special shout-out and welcome to all of my new followers, Ali (aligettingreal.wordpress.com) and Cory (corymerchant.com). Check out their blogs, follow and like.