Archives for January, 2013

It began snowing sideways after midnight, and by dawn, the world was even whiter than the day before. Two inches of new snow lay on the ground, slopped upon the roofs and trees and mailboxes—even the dogs in the street shook their snowy dreadlocked fur and then playfully tumbled back into the drifts. My own…

Sixty-six below zero. That’s the coldest temperature ever recorded in Yellowstone: -66ºF at Madison, near the park’s west entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana. How cold is that? Cold enough to break the thermometer that made the measurement back in 1933. It was fitting then, that we should stop at this momentous site for a break…

Covellite

Never judge a town by its exit ramp . . . . . . because at night, every exit looks the same: fast food beacons and glowing gas stations with trucks steaming in the cold. I spin away from the dark rush of the interstate and down the town’s widest avenue—to the snow-crusted parking lot…

Like people or the movies, snow can be good—or it can be bad.

Bad snow is deceiving: hard and crusty on top yet soft and air-pocked underneath. Bad snow doesn’t hold up under pressure—it breaks apart and shifts and slides. Bad snow causes avalanches.

Inspiration

It’s like riding a bike! This is what everyone says about skiing—that once you learn, you can just jump back on the slopes and swoop down like a champ. I’m not so sure—and I don’t love the comparison. When you learn to ride a bike, you get to have training wheels, and should you fall,…

The Canadians are coming. They’ve invaded America and are taking over our towns and cities one by one. The tiny town of Whitefish, Montana is simply crawling with Canucks. They zip across the 49th parallel to buy up our cheap(er) gas and groceries, and to subvert our peaceful American way of life through seemingly-innocuous cross-border…

I love toponyms (place names), because they reveal so much—and yet so little—about the places they are meant to typify. It was snowing in Minneapolis (Sioux Mni = “water”; Greek polis = “city”) when I boarded a flight for Kalispell, and briefly imagined that Kalispell was the name of some flaxen-haired, rose-lipped pioneer beauty in…

Gale force winds and short skirts don’t mix, but I took the risk all the same. My aim was the great and imposing Scottish mountain called Ben Nevis–the highest point in the United Kingdom (4,409′ ft, 1,344 m). As for wearing a kilt, well, when in Scotland . . . True kilts are made of…

Shetland may just be the most photogenic corner of Britain–the weather is moody and dramatic and the light (if it’s there) is always surprising and cinematic. Though I travel with several different cameras, it’s my phone I grab first–always. Phones may never compete with DSLR for clarity, stabilityf and megapixels, but I find phone pics…

“You’ve come at the wrong time.” This is what everyone tells me. They don’t say, “Welcome to Shetland!” Instead they say, “It’s such a pity you came right now, in January.” Then, like an answering machine instructing you to call back later, they tell me to come back in summer. Some insist that June is…

All libraries smell the same—the smell of very old paper and canvas, old carpet, old air. It’s the smell of old milk and the scent of history and like a hound sniffing the air, I followed the trail to the domed research room inside Scotland’s National Archives. Genealogy is nothing more than serious detective work.…

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive. Robert Louis Stevenson penned that lined back in 1881 (Virginibus Puerisque) and as I drive east on Scotland’s A1—in the hopeful direction of the Scottish author’s boyhood vacation home—I am following his wise counsel. I never actually arrive at his home—the one rented in summertime…

It smelled like bacon. I was afraid to say it out loud, though—I doubt any real food and drink connoisseurs compare the smell of some grand old Scotch to an everyday pork product, but that’s what my nose captured. In the heart of Edinburgh, in a room walled with brass- and bronze-colored bottles, I sniffed…

Loony Dook

New Year’s Day is a strange holiday, with fewer fixed traditions than most. It seems that January 1st is a kind of “anything goes” festival where people celebrate the start of a new year in whatever way they deem best. In my country, so many tend to lounge around at home and watch football, but…

Old Long Since

High above Iceland the man began screaming uncontrollably, “Save me! Save me!” It wasn’t his shouting that jolted me from my transatlantic midnight rest, but the sound of total fear in his voice. I quickly sat up, checked my seatbelt, and then turned around to catch the panic on his face. “Make it stop, make…