The Day of the Thousand Thousand-foot Waterfalls

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The Day of the Thousand Thousand-foot Waterfalls by George Sibley

By George Sibley Photo credit: Mark Stemm It was a miserable morning in a transcendent landscape. We huddled in the rafts under a steady businesslike rain, learning about all the leaks in our waterproof gear, while looking out and up to waterfall after waterfall, waterfalls coming freefall in 500 or 1,000 foot leaps over the great limestone walls in the lower Grand Canyon. Shifting convocations of mist, fragments of clouds drifted through and died against the walls; occasionally rocks rattled down the walls, startling us and plopping into the river; but mostly we just huddled stunned by the wet chill and that great gray dream of beauty as hours, miles passed and the waterfalls kept appearing around each turn and bend of the river till we were no longer amazed, and just wondered when or if it would stop raining – but not really hoping for that, knowing that the waterfalls would also stop. We’d been lucky that morning; we’d woken to a threatening sky, but … Read More

Down on the Ground with Sense of Place – at 50 Years

GeorgeOld Gold

‘Sense of place’ is a term that gets used a lot today, but like all terms that get used a lot, its meaning gets as spread out, shallowed and lost in its own debris as a snowmelt stream in October. Wallace Stegner might be credited with formalizing ‘sense of place’ as a concept; he discussed it in a short essay titled ‘The Sense of Place.’ But he also brought in enough observations from Wendell Berry to think the credit should be shared. Starting from Berry’s observation that ‘you don’t know who you are if you don’t know where you are,’ Stegner charges us all to come to know more deeply where we are – …the kind of knowing that involves the senses, the memory, the history of a family or a tribe…the knowledge of a place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or … Read More

Down on the Ground Among Aspens

GeorgeOld Gold

Down on the Ground Among Aspens   A lot of ‘Indian Summer,’ when you just have to be outside, gets invested in the woodpile. Most of what passes for my adult life, I’ve burned quite a bit of wood, using it for anywhere from 20 to 100 percent of the heat in the motley of places I’ve lived.  The 100 percent wood heat was for a 16×20 cabin up in Gothic my family and I lived in as winter caretakers for the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, quite a few years ago. That was toward the ‘living rough’ end of the civilization spectrum; we had electricity most of the time, but we heated entirely with wood, and our plumbing was a spring about 50 yards from the cabin and an outhouse about fifteen yards from the front door. Four of the best years of my life. The 25 percent wood heat is what we do today, where we live in Gunnison. … Read More

Down on the Ground with the Garden

GeorgeOld Gold

Published in Colorado Central Magazine August 2020 Down on the Ground with the Garden May and June are dominated here by the garden. “Gardens,” I should say; when we moved into our Gunnison home 20-some years ago, we were unimpressed with the expanse of bad lawn that came with it, and we resolved to annually convert at least 50 square feet of bad lawn to garden space. I lack my partner Maryo’s experience with plants, and undoubtedly some of her dedication – I mean, she grew tomatoes in a community garden in Chicago right by a bus stop, which involved defensive measures like painting the tomatoes with a flour mixture to make them look diseased to random hunter-gatherers. But I signed on as the project heavy-lifter, being no lover of monocultures, and now we have little gardens – some kind of growing together – all over the yard.  We have mostly made our average of 50 square feet a year, … Read More

Down on the Ground Hiking with Hobbes

GeorgeOld Gold

This was written in the summer of 2019 on what turned out to be my last hike with this good friend for many years; he has since, as mountain people are wont to put it, ‘gone on up the mountain.’   Down on the Ground Hiking with Hobbes   Sumer is icumen in Loude sing cuckoo!   There are unquestionably serious things I could be writing about this month – water management, forest management, Repugnicans and Democranks, et cetera.  But it’s summer, peak of summer, and here in the mountains the shortness of the season is countered by its sheer intensity, as if every living thing above 7,000 feet elevation were dropping all other activity in order to raise to the blue morning sky a big vulgar Orffian hymn of rejoicing (Loude sing cuckoo!). I just have to join in. Besides – I have a good ridiculous summer story – one that could only happen (legally anyway) in Colorado and … Read More

Friends to Cross Passes With

GeorgeOld Gold

First published as part of the second edition of Dragons in Paradise, in 2014.  Friends to Cross Passes With   It was getting dark, and snowing harder, and I was wondering if they were actually crazy enough to have come out on this fool’s adventure. Was I going to get to the cabin and find out that they’d done what I’d seriously considered – looked at the thickening sky that afternoon, felt it get still and warmish the way it gets when it’s going to snow, and done the only intelligent thing and stayed home?  This was way before the cell phone era; I had no way of contacting them. Should I turn around, go back home while there was still a little light and what was left of my disappearing track to follow…. But I didn’t. I operated on past experience indicating that they were as stupid or crazy as I was, and so I plowed on across the … Read More

Grendel en route from Poverty Gulch to Mendicant Ridge

GeorgeOld Gold

Mountain Bluebird

Presented in April 2016 at the Gunnison Arts Center, as the opening for a writer’s workshop. Thanks, David – and thanks for the invitation to be here tonight. Greetings to all of you, and welcome to Western. It has been wonderful to watch David and Mark Todd and other Western faculty bring “Writing the Rockies” from a small summer gathering of western writers, to a focus event for a fullfledged MFA program that helps enlarge our collective sense of the American West in the larger American experience, even as it is developing individual skills and capacities for articulating this mountain west in which we find ourselves – or, speaking for myself, keep working to find ourselves. My assignment tonight, as I understand it, is to try to tell you, as a fellow writer who’s been here for a while, something about where you really are, when you are here at Western in the Upper Gunnison River Valley – real places … Read More

Partnering with a Border Collie

GeorgeOld Gold

Partnering with a Border Collie by George Sibley   Barring strange accidents or chance, I’ve partnered with my last dog – mostly because my last dog was such a superior partner.  She was a border collie, Zoe; and Zoe was actually the only dog I’ve ever really been invited to partner with, however unworthy I was at it. There were a couple other dogs in my life when I was a kid, but they were just family pets. Bred for petdom. Border collies aren’t bred to be pets; they are bred for intelligence and bred for work, and they more or less insist on – I would say, deserve – a working partnership. And my partnership with Zoe was not really a “fulfilled” partnership because I didn’t really have any work for her to do that was worthy of her skills and willingness. Our daughter brought her into our lives; Zoe was a gift from her godfather, Steve Allen, a … Read More

Dancing in the Streets Crested Butte Style

GeorgeOld Gold

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.                                                                                     – T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”               In a strange mix of grace and craziness, a group of costumed women doing the stately Morris-dance lead down Elk Avenue a much less stately mob that is howling imprecations at a huge puppet on trial for its life, toward a big bonfire into which the puppet and a lot of old skis and grudges will be thrown. Or a midwinter parade comes down the street with masked and costumed krewes letting it all hang out (or as much as is possible in February) before the hibernation into Lent. Or a few hundred people dress up in red costumes and masks and dance to suggestive music in celebration of an event most of the celebrants weren’t around to know about. Or the floor of the Eldo literally bounces to the … Read More

Sawmill I: Working the Gate between Worlds

GeorgeOld Gold

  First published in High Country News, Sept. 16, 1985; the sawmill job had been in the late 1970s.   Sawmill I: Working the Gate between Worlds   In the realm of interesting things that confuse me and confusing things that interest me, the relationships between trees and humans are high on my list.  As with almost all plant-and-animal relationships, we humans come off as dependents – we need the trees a lot more than the trees need us. At the most basic level there’s the oxygen they pump out. They aren’t the only source of oxygen on earth, but they are certainly an important one. This is some mutuality to this dependency since they need the carbon dioxide we generate – and we have become substantial generators of carbon dioxide; studies currently indicate that most tree species are appreciating this and are doing what they can to take care of all that extra carbon dioxide. But in all our … Read More