Thursday, December 24, 2009

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

Rattlesnake Creek in January
Taken 1/3/09 in Missoula, Montana

Looking back at the year 2009, I can only say that it's been a strange and sometimes wild ride. I started my new job on December 1st, 2008, so there was no time for any holiday outings either last Christmas or New Years.

The beginning of January I was able to get Kevin out on cross-country skis. We headed up Spring Gulch at the trailhead to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, just a few miles from home. Kevin never quite got the technique required to manage skinny skis with no metal edges. He prefers downhill skiing. I did get a good shot of Rattlesnake Creek with its banks covered with snow. One of the few photos I'm proud of from 2009. I'm sorry to say that was the only ski trip I took all winter.

Mid January found me taking my first (and so far only) business trip out-of-state. My boss, a co-worker and I flew from Missoula to San José California, then rented a car to drive on to Monterey where we had meetings with the staff at the Defense Language Institute. That trip got off to a rocky start when our plane was unable to land in Seattle, but flew on to Portland instead, which really messed up our connections. Still, we made it to Monterey and had a good time there. I'd driven through Monterey before--years and years before--but had never spent a night there, so we were able to do a bit of sightseeing and wonderful eating while in the area. Our hotel was just at the end of Cannery Row, so I had to reread Steinbeck before the trip. It was worth it.

Toward the very end of January, Kevin stopped by my office with bad news. My former partner, Gary Pitts, had moved to Denver in May, 2008, looking for a more urban experience and higher pay. Apparently Denver was not the promised land, and in late January, Gary committed suicide. He had taken our twelve-year-old diabetic dog Rocky with him, and while there was nothing more I could do for Gary, I could do something for Rocky who was now in the hands of Denver Animal Control. Having secured their agreement to release the fellow to my care, Kevin and I headed out, driving to Denver and back in one long weekend. Along the way we stayed overnight with a good friend in Big Timber, Montana, and once in Denver we stayed with Gary's best friend from New Orleans days, Miss Lurline, AKA Terry Hurley and his partner Al. When we picked Rocky up, I wasn't sure he'd make the trip home alive. He was in pretty rough shape. Who knows how long he'd been alone in Gary's apartment before Animal Control rescued him, and while Rocky wears a tag noting that he is diabetic, Gary hadn't left any instructions as to how much insulin he needed. I'm happy to say that eleven months later, Rocky is doing fine, has a thick black shiny coat and a great disposition.

Spring came and went with no high spots, and thankfully no more low spots, and eventually Summer arrived. The one major change in our lives was the addition of yet another rescue. A friend had found a male MinPin running loose in an industrial area, tried unsuccessfully to find an owner, and asked if we would take care of him while she advertised a "found dog." We readily agreed, and Major, as we named him, became part of our family, albeit one we had to watch constantly as his preferred activity was to run away.

We made a few trips up to the cabin, but never spent the night there, and didn't take the camper out for any overnights either. In August we did have a visit from my old Berkeley friend Sandy Stedinger and her husband Jon. They had been camping in Glacier National Park, and Sandy was able to spend an additional week with Kevin and me while Jon flew home to San Diego. Sandy and I put the canoe in the Bitterroot and floated from Lolo to Maclay Flats one afternoon. That was the only time I had the canoe in the water all year.

Canoeing the Bitterroot River
August, 2009

In September, I got to drive a University van and took a delegation of five academics from VietNam to Glacier National Park. We had good weather for the whole day, a seventeen hour drive that took us to Holland Lake, Hungry Horse Reservoir, lunch at the Isaac Walton Inn in Essex, East Glacier, then up and over the Going-to-the-Sun highway across the center of Glacier Park. Four of the five VietNamese were from Can Tho University in the Mekong Delta. They were studying the effects of climate change--a field of study that is vital as the Mekong is disappearing as the waters rise.

Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park
Taken August 30, 2009

By early October, I was climbing the walls and Kevin insisted that I had to take some time off work for some R&R. With that encouragement, I agreed, and we put all four dogs in the truck and took off for Mount Rushmore. Kevin had never been to that presidential site, and I'm always up for a road trip, so why not. I've written up the first five days of that trip in my blog, and will eventually post the final day, but long story short, early October 2009 was the wrong time to take a vacation--at least in the frozen northland. I've taken to calling the trip "The 2000 Mile Sunday Drive," but a Sunday Drive should never include rain, snow, blizzards and wind, wind and more wind. Especially when you're driving a 3/4 ton, four-wheel drive pickup loaded with a 3,000 pound camper. We got about 7 miles to the gallon on the trip and saw more snow covered roads than I care to see in a one-week period. The storms covered Wyoming, and my first (and so far only) view of Devil's Tower was of a huge pillar reaching up into the low-hanging clouds. Fortunately, by the time we reached Rapid City, the snow had stopped falling and Mount Rushmore was glorious with bright blue sky and white ground.

Part of my rationale for the trip was that it would allow me to continue collecting photographs of the 56 county court houses in Montana, and I insisted that our route would have to include the few Montana counties I had never visited. By the time we got home, just in time for record cold temperatures (near zero in mid October), I could say that I have now been in all of Montana's counties, and I have photographs of the Court Houses from about 2/3s of them. Major got away from us three times during the trip--he almost got to find himself a new home in Cody, Wyoming--but all six of us returned safely to Missoula. (Thank you, Kevin, for all that driving.)

Black Roses on my Birthday Cake
Taken 10/17/09 in Missoula, Montana

Just after returning from the trip, I turned 60. Hard to believe I'm that old--but I'm not sure what 60 is supposed to feel like. I think I'm much younger than my father was at 60, but I never talked about age with him, so who knows. And speaking of birthdays, today, Christmas Eve, Kevin turns 55. Just a kid--a kid who got stuck with having a birthday the day before Christmas.

The Missoula Gay Men's Chorus presented our fifth annual Christmas Cabaret in early December, and I sang bass as usual. This year I did not sing any solo, but enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow choristers and the response of the full house. This was our most traditional concert in ten years of singing together, and also, I feel, our best performance. I wish you all could have been there.

This Christmas finds us spending a quiet time at home, just the six of us. We wish you and yours a most joyful Christmas, fully keeping in mind the reason for the season. We ask you to join us in prayers for Peace on Earth, and for the safety of our soldiers and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, may 2010 bring you happiness, health and a truly wonder-filled year.

Love, laughter, hugs and kisses.

From our home to yours
Rocky, Bryan, Gypsy, Minnie, Kevin, Major
Taken 12/24/09 in Missoula, Montana