Saturday, March 11, 2017

retreat to Encampment

What water and sun are to the body, prayer is to the soul.
 - St John Chrysostom

outside in the light
the river prays without ceasing
trout rise and offer metanoias
to change without ceasing

In late summer last year, clergy and laity of the Metropolis of Denver beat a retreat to the Encampment river in WY, at a quiet conference center by the edge of the smallest wilderness. That starts in the hills beyond the lake.

There was some praying thinking teaching and learning done. However the real point was of course to go whistling and fishing..
Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven.
We head into the wilderness for meditation, carrying only water
(and the knowledge that the staff at the conference center is cooking a fine dinner for us).

Long reaches of thin water in the wild canyon, real pretty but not much cover for fish. We found a few handsome fellows even so.

I was fishing my $20 outfit, a South Bend 359 cane rod and Langley Riffle reel from the same era, each $10 off ebay. We won't count the hours of semi-skilled work I spent to recover them to fishable condition, since that was in any case another form of prayer.
I have rescued what I could of the past from the teeth of time.
- John Aubrey, 1697

At closing we talked about what Orthodox Christianity can mean after some thousands of years. I suspect it had not before occurred to the cradle Orthodox to think much about it. The converts like me however mustered tirades of eloquence. We had each spent years or decades thinking about it and had plenty to say.

On the way back, Fr Lou, Fr Dimitri, Greg and I had not had enough fishing yet, so stopped at Meeboer lake near Laramie. Brilliantly clear water over vividly green weeds produces bright silver dark-backed rainbow trout, we caught a few. I walked downwind to where the Wyoming breeze had raised 2-foot white cresting riffles.

There was a pod of huge trout feeding over the weeds in a little sheltered bay. Threw damselfly nymphs nada, Peter Ross nada, dragonfly nymph nada, caddis in all 3 stages nada, scuds nada, assorted desperation flies nada. The Hare's Ear emerger finally tempted one about 25", and the hook pulled out straight after 2-3 lumbering great jumps. Never seen that before except on the cheapest nastiest hooks. All the HE emergers I had were tied on that same hook, tried another and had another take hooked briefly and lost the same way.

Even after all these years and all the fish that have passed through my hands, I find it is still possible to be blinded by big fish lust. Pray harder, dammit. Even so going fishing is always a holiday and high day: the mistakes I make here don't matter and the sun and water are enough.
Fishing was fine, but fishing comes to an end
I'm coming down the mountain again. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

snow days

Last week I achieved an ambition of twenty years' standing, to ski to the top of the Blue Ridge forest road.

This starts from the valley at 8 500 ft, goes up an old forest road to 10 600 ft, a good pull. Twenty years ago when we arrived in CO, I could not ski more than half a mile without falling over. At that point it was more a fantasy than a goal as such. Then we had small children and I never had time to ski all the way up, though there was some excellent training to be had pulling them in a pulk.  Then I started getting up early in the morning to make my attempt, but those efforts were stopped a couple of times by bad snow conditions, deep wet heavy snow, like skiing through congealing concrete. Another memorable time I made it almost two hours up, then hit a whiteout blizzard. That was decided in favor of prudence (that delightful girl, who grows increasingly attractive as I grow older), and turned back.

There are probably only a few years left that I'll be physically capable of this trip. When a day of opportunity opened up on the Christmas week trip up to Snow Mountain Ranch, I seized it.

The first few miles were well packed and good going. The snow gradually got deeper and softer and less stable, with fewer tracks. After two hours I was on my own, breaking trail up the hill in 3-6" of fresh, real pretty but hard going. The skinny track skis would sink in, compress the snow, then slide off to the left or right into the soft stuff. The way down was even worse, couldn't control my edges at all, fell 6-8 times which is more than I've fallen in the past five years or more. Good exercise for the humility muscles though a tad bruising.

Making tracks:

Tracks to be made:

Somewhere up in the forests a couple of blue grouse exploded out of the spruce in a whirring of wings, like pheasants in camouflage feathers. I have hunted the elusive grouse many times over many miles, but never yet saw one while hunting. These looked plump and healthy, more strength to their wings. Above 10 000ft or so and over 2 hours it became necessary to take the occasional panting photo break.

Finally made it up and took the second selfie of my life. The road did not in fact go to the high point. Next time I'll bring a backpack and snowshoes, to buck up the last few feet.

Here is an attempt at the video vista.

A good day. Three hours up, two hours down, followed by total collapse of stout party. I'd taken only an expired Clif Bar and water with me, expecting to be up in 2-3 hours and down in one. The Clif bar was marked best before six months ago. Apart from being frozen solid so I had to smash off chunks and suck them until chewable, it tasted fine. One of the chunks fell into the snow. I grovelled shamelessly to find it, digging like my dog Artie in the snowfields. By the end I was well and truly bonked.

Last week there was an accidental snow run, a couple days before this scene.

Hectic day at work and did not check weather before heading out for a late lunchtime run. Foolish me believed the forecast which had said 28 for the high, fine for a run when properly dressed. It looked sorta foggy grey and cold out the office window, plus I was feeling tired and unwilling to tolerate the first few miles running cold until reaching operating temperature, so added a windbreaker over the 100wt fleece. Tights are the same Pearl Izumi Amphib used for x-c skiing, good down to zero or so. It was certainly not 28, nor anything near that balmy. I regretted not having a hat and buff as all that skin was burning cold for several miles. No gloves either, so had to pull the fleece over my fists and run like a prizefighter, indulging the Rocky fantasy. Actually as an effete skinny pseudo-intellectual my fantasies are more on the George Plimpton side. Grey low skies with swirls of snow, nothing much sticking but in the air with the fog and mist. Checked the weather after the 5 miles and 40min or so, this is what it actually was:

Notice the wind chill at -12.. that might be the coldest I've ever run in. The windbreaker was running with sweat on the inside, but the fleece kept me warm and only slightly damp.

#1 son is at school in Minnesota. He easily aced my cold-weather story. One morning returning from 5-7am swim practice, the wind chill was -44. Between the pool and the cafeteria his hair froze hard enough that some of it broke off. We are mere pikers in CO I guess.