Monday, March 5, 2018

Holy Water

"Holy Water" appeared in the anthology ON FOOT: Essays on Hiking in the Grand Canyon from Vishnu Temple Press.

Loose rock/stones on North Bass Trail, with soft dry dirt underneath, but not too steep. Down under the North Rim, away from the ponderosas, out in the hot Arizona sun, through thick manzanita, Gambel oak, scrub oak, locust (my old spiny enemy!) and the start of the pinyon/juniper tree mix, switch-backing into White Canyon proper, I stop and listen: Running water! A stream off to the left! I wasn’t sure I’d be blessed at the beginning of the trip and so have loaded up with six quarts in my pack, enough to (maybe) get me through the first day and a half. Which it’s about time to sample. And—that was quick—my first stupid mistake of the trip manifests: the four Arrowhead bottles of ‘spring water’ I bought back in Kanab are not just spring water. No, I open one and it bubbles and fizzles out.
Aghast, I check the label. Oh. Oops. 'Sparkling' spring water. I’m not a fan of tonic water unless it's in a gin and tonic, and I could still drink it but, well, here I am at real spring water right off the mountain. Meaning I'm dumping this sugary stuff right now. I know, I know, I hope Mother Earth forgives me. Who knows what kind of mutation I’m creating here, some two-headed lizard or something, which could be waiting for me five days from now when I come back. But I do it.
Hopefully this is my only big mistake. I usually have one every trip, but my consolation in this case is to sample the water of White Creek right now: Just scooping my hands into the water and raising it to my mouth. Cool, clean, deliciously pure. Or purely delicious. A wonderful treat after expecting basically arid desertness, and I’m tempted to lighten my load and just drink as I go, but who knows? Better to play things safe here in the Grand Canyon. I refill the bottles.
The trail parallels the creek down into the drainage bottom, shrubbery and small cottonwoods as well as a few brave ponderosas providing shade over boulders and rocks, and then climbs up onto red dirt PJ flats. And though some uphill is required to do this, walking on the trail is actually faster than jumping boulder to boulder. Weather today: mostly clear blue sky, with some high welcome Simpsons clouds. Birds: goldfinch, chickadees, and a big hawk circling above, not even flapping, just riding the hot air up and up. And flowers, still, at the end of May: reds, yellows, whites. Lunch break, check the map, and based on the fact that I am now at the Red Wall Descent (unmistakable because of the straight up and down red walls) I’ve only gone 3.5 miles! I re-check, using a big landmark, Emerald Point, up on the Rim, directly across. Lining up the map, yes, I appear to be where I think I am. That can't be right. Hike all day, downhill, to only go 3.5 miles?? Time and Space seem to have no meaning down here. That means no Shinumo Creek tonight, which I’d thought a possibility, or maybe just a hope, because of its perennial water.
The Red Wall, always the narrowest section of the side canyons. One misstep and I could go crashing down over the side! But, after some almosts, I’m down in the creek bed again, though water seems to have vanished, drizzled down underground. A few nice flat sandy open areas though, and HUGE red rock walls rising up, with a HUGE natural sandstone shell echoing even normal voice levels 200 yards away. A cathedral. In shade too—a relief from the hike over the hot flats, though still warm. Big contrast to last night up at Swamp Point where I froze my butt off!
Packless, I explore upstream, and find more blessed running water: just a trickle, but with some sandstone pools big enough to strip down and throw water on the ole corpse. Then kneeling, cupping and raising the hands. Feeling ghosts of others who have done the same here. Drinking water as a tradition. Drinking water as a spiritual experience. Quenched, at least temporarily, I sit in a last remaining sunny spot, naked, communing with dragonflies and butterflies, plus some fat black bumblebees.
Back in camp, feasting on Triscuit cracker-wafers, with Tillamook Monterey Jack cheese, working away at a huge chunk I've brought. Even cheese and crackers becomes a spiritual experience down here. Backpacking as spiritual practice. And for dessert, Fig Newtons! I’m stuffed, though it’s not really that much food. Weird how while backpacking I exert way more energy than at home, but eat less and feel better.
But the thirst. Drinking water all day and still this thirst. Gulping it down from my bottle. My urine was clear last time I checked, so not dehydrated yet. Out here even just laying on my sleeping bag is dehydrating. The air cooling some, but not too much. Sunlight reflecting on the clouds. A bumblebee buzzes by. Birds chirping, three different kinds at least. Crickets, spring peeper frogs, and....goats? No, frogs, bigger ones, farther upstream, echoing off the sandstone amphitheater. A frog chorus. Going to be a wonderful star night, if I can stay awake. And my friends the bats come out, flipping around. I doze off for a little bit but wake with darker sky and bright half-moon, cold, putting on my long underwear and zipping up my bag. Perfect—warm, but with cool night air on my face.
The next morning, after donning my pack, and in keeping with my tradition of thanking wonderful camp sites, I raise my hands to heart in prayer position, and bow deep at the waist, then turn and hike down between the narrow red walls. And I'd thought that there would be no more water until Shinumo Creek, but White Creek starts back up! Yes, with even a flat sandstone rock area and a dripping waterfall! Opportunities in life like this cannot be ignored—I must stop and stand under it! I de-pack and de-shirt, sticking my head into the drip. The water just slightly cool, not quite brisk. Goosebumply. A minor miracle. I raise my face, open my mouth, and gulp as much as I can.
This, alas, turns out to be the last of White Creek, as the path comes out of the Red Wall narrows and onto the Tonto Platform. Flatter ground, following the now-dry creek bed. It's hot. And dry. Ugh. Cactus, mostly prickly-pear, some even blooming, but also hedgehog, spiny green penises. And another old enemy: cat claw! Arizona: where everything wants to bite, poke or scratch you. But around lunchtime, another miracle: a small shady rock ledge. Thirty-degree difference in temperature under here! Feeling very lizard-like, I lunch and doze. Then more hot desert hiking, though soon heading downhill again, another steep descent, switchbacking over dark brown shale, and—finally!—a glimpse of Shinumo Creek! Glorious snaky shiny moving water in the desert. Coming down into the main campsite next to it, I drop my pack in the shade and get in on my hands and knees, like an animal, dunking my head and gulping cool clear water.
Plenty of time, the sun still up, and the campsite still in full-on sun. Packless and light, I head upstream into the narrow side canyon on a small trail, wanting a nap more than anything, sun-groggy, but once I'm walking, curiosity takes over. The trail becomes more like a game trail, and actually ends after maybe a mile. A determined person could bushwhack farther, but this section of creek is deep enough to be considered a swim hole, so I'm determined to get naked and swim. In the desert, if there is a swim hole, one has a moral obligation. And lo, it is good. Refreshing and lovely, though once I find a nice rock ledge to sit on, keeping my feet in the water, my lower pale body in the sun, getting some air and sun on the man parts, I immediately start to doze, listening to water burble.

Back at camp, I set up near the creek, and dine on more cheese and crackers, dreaming of the decadence of river runners carrying coolers and coolers of iced foodstuffs, barbequing steaks and veggie burgers and drinking lots of cold beer. With plenty of sunlight still available, I’m tired, wanting to sleep really, but go down and do my best imitation of a crane, standing knee-high in the water and observing small fish jumping out, catching mosquito-looking bugs hovering over the water. One brave fish actually throwing itself onto a rock, trying to catch flies sipping at the stream edge. Plus, a stillwater pool of tadpoles, not moving much, just floating, maybe feeling the changes coming on, the appendages starting to grow. One big one hanging out at the edge, facing the dirt, as if hearing the call to crawl out of the slime. That's how I felt in high school.
Back in camp, air mercifully cooling down, sky deep blue, wispy pink cloud lines, then dark. Fat moon already glowing. Rapids both up and downstream. And here come the bats! I lie naked on my sleeping bag watching planets and stars appear. Sky clear, no clouds. A light down-canyon breeze, warmer than the cool air settling in the creek bed. And more frogs! Another spring peeper choir to sing along with the crickets. What's missing is coyotes. Would be nice to hear them singing too. And wolves!

Morning sun almost over a nearby butte, which makes me think I must have slept a long time, but no, only six o’clock. Time flows differently here in the Canyon. Sad to leave Shinumo Creek and its good water. Not sure if I’ll be near it down at the Colorado or not. I can always filter river water, but I'd prefer this pure creek soma. Not quite goodbye, though. First, some creek crossings which, earlier in the year, with snowmelt off the North Rim, could even get sketchy-dangerous. Even now, a wrong step, a slippery slip, could put me face down with a heavy pack on, so I stay mindful.
And, even though I’m expecting it, I’m still surprised to come on Bass Camp, maybe because I was expecting some kind of structure, a shack or something. In fact, it's a cave-ish area under a big north-facing perpetually-shaded overhang. This Bass guy was one of the big (white) explorers back in the day, and owned a ranch over on the South Rim (which the Bass family still owns and runs), and had guests and customers over to this side, for hunting, and maybe just as the first tourists. This 'camp' still includes a collection of old toolsan axe head, three different pick heads, a stove, some pry bars, plus a bunch of glass fragments from really old bottles, all laid out on some benches. The hard thing to believe, although the guide books say so, is that Bass had an orchard here, with apple, peach, and fig trees, whereas all that's here now is some mesquite and cat claw, on sand. Can peach trees grow in hot desert sand? But how amazing would it be to sink my teeth into a nice juicy peach right now?
This is the last place to fill up my bottle and dunk my head before the push for the Colorado. And the sun is a hot bastard. I dunk my t-shirt and floppy hat in the water, as well as my head, for some evaporation action as I continue on the trail, which soon splits: The path-most-traveled heading up and over a pass to, supposedly, sandy beaches. I'm sorely tempted to just stay on the path-less-traveled following the Shinumo, but I’ve heard rumors of women in bikinis on those beaches. That is, the possibility was mentioned, and it has become a Great Promise. Maybe I’ll even encounter one of those all-women groups. Good odds! Surely one would want to rebel against all that women's empowerment energy and invite a scruffy backpacker dude into her tent. And anyways, why couldn't that be empowering?
But first, up 700 feet—a good dry run for the hike out, and yeah, it's hot, and yeah, it's uphill, but in fact after a half hour, lo! Thar be the mighty Colorado down below! A shiny, wide, deep green strip curling through red-brown and black rock, two sets of mild rapids visible, and glimpses of white sandy beaches (so it's true!), with a flotilla of rafts even gathering above the top rapids! I descend, switchbacking through shale, watching them take the whitewater one by one. Lordy, that looks so much more fun than hiking in the desert with forty pounds on my back right now.
At the bottom, another fork: One way going down to the main, bigger beach right below, where the rafters usually camp, but there’s another smaller beach just below the top rapids, and I love the idea of a beach of one’s own, though that lowers the chances of being invited for dinner and beers by bikinied vixens. Sigh. I hike the extra mile upstream, and find a little trail that weaves down onto a beach, with bonus little shady cliff overhangs. I drop pack and shed clothes asap, heading to my baptism. By the way, that sand is blazing hot! No stopping now, though! I get on a rock bluff, the water clear and deep below, and dive.
Holymotherofgod it's COLD! My appendages, all five of them, throbbing. But I swim! Not too far out: the strong fast current a wee bit scary. Would be really cool (and dangerous) to go all the way to the other shore, but that's just not possible here. These little beach areas are hemmed in by tall rock ledges, especially on the south side.
I reach the shore and pull myself out of the depths, out of the water, and rise, naked, reborn. This is it, the holy land. Cliff walls and mountains rising up all around. The wide green Colorado, rapids and clear sky. The enormity of this Canyon, and this River that carved it, and the Time it took. Hallelujah!

Monday, February 26, 2018

she is (poem)

Appeared in the the print zine DIRT, January 2017.

she is

she is a forest island in the desert
she is a hidden spring
and ferns
and pools of water

she is wind
in which hawks and crows

I am her tower
on this rocky butte
this old burn-scarred mountain
looking for fire

feel her moving around me
in my cot at night
humming metal
bats clicking outside

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle

 Kill All Normies:

The online culture wars

from Tumblr and 4chan to the alt-right and Trump
by Angela Nagle
Zer0 Books 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-543-1

Irish writer Angela Nagle has gone to the dark side of the Internet to research Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan adn Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, delving into toxic online cultures and websites of the conservative misogyny and racism. I can't imagine what spending what spending a lot of time in the /b/ section of 4chan, looking at "things you can't unsee" could do to anyone's pysche, but Nagle did it, and wrote a series of articles for, among other places, The Baffler, in which she comes to the conclusion that Trump's victory is, at least in part, due to the 'alt-right', and therefore the Right, winning the culture wars.

Her theory is based around the idea of transgression, the over-steeping of societal mores or morality for sexual pleasure, and/or to rebel against authority, and/or for the simple pleasure of irreverence for its own sake (or the 'lulz'). Since maybe the Marquis de Sade up to the 1960s, Nagle claims that transgression has been the domain of liberals, but that starting in the 90s, liberal concern with political correctness and identity politics (rather than actual politics), conservatives have moved into the role of the transgressors online. The problem, according to Nagle, is that this, or rather these (and she goes into various of them and how they sometimes don't get along) subcultures have not only ended up influencing the mainstream conservatives, like the conservative website like Breitbart, run by Steve Bannon, who went on to support and advise Trump for a while, but that they're (liberals) are making conservatives look like the voice of reason to regular people, or at least Trump voters.

My favorite 'chapter', which originally was an essay, "From Tumblr to the campus wars: creating scarcity in an online economy of virtue" in which she skewers identitarians, sometimes simply by quoting, at length, some of their ideas about gender choice, and reminding readers how some of those demanding respect and the right not to be 'triggered' are the very same who shout down free speech and even physically attack those who think differently.

I'm with Nagle, I share her progressive politics and her disdain for the so-called liberal identity politics and its disdain of free speech, its disinterest in, say, our country's economic policies, and, say, that the Democratic Party's foreign policy isn't much different from Republican foreign policy, i.e. we're invading other countries with impunity and killing people. But Kill All Normies is just not, unfortunately, a good book.

Kill All Normies is short, 120 pages, making it more like a pamphlet, and collects essays by Nagle, some of which appeared at The Baffler (and which you can find for free online if you want). I had thought that the book would expand on those esssays, but no. They're in slightly different form, but not much. And, while they touch on interesting ideas, and introduce us to interesting-if-horrifying people involved in the alt-right movement, they, and the book, read more like what in graduate school is called a 'lit review,' which is the first stage of writing a longer thesis, in which you summarize a source in a paragraph or two, collect these summaries in one document, with the idea of expanding on the sources later, of adding more, especially of one's own ideas and thoughts. Instead, in Kill All Normies, all of the chapter/essays paragraphs and ideas go by quickly, sometimes (many times) with no real context or connection to the paragraphs around them. I'd quote a paragraph here, except it would only appear as it appears in the book, without much context.

In addition, Nagle doesn't seem to care about citation too much. Quotes and summaries and even unique ideas are used and, while she will give a person's name, she often will not tell us who that person is, or why they're an expert, or even which text of theirs she's quoting from. Nor is there any kind of Works Cited or References page, nor even an index. Plus, when she's talking about a text, she annoyingly uses the past tense rather than the traditional present tense (unless they do that in Ireland?) Which is partly on her, though also partly on her publisher, Zer0 Books, which claims to want its books to be "intellectual without being academic." That's fine, but not having some kind of way for readers to check sources is intellectual sloppiness.

In addition, Nagle seems not to understand certain texts and writers except through the lens of alt-righters, nor even to have even read those texts. For example, she states more than once that the animated tv show South Park is conservative, maybe picking up on a Time review a few years back that claimed the same thing, but it's not, it's just irreverent: the writers of South Park with make fun of everybody, conservative or liberal. Nagle could use that in her argument that the alt-right has co-opted the use of irreverence, and therefore anything irreverent nowadays is concervative, but she doesn't.

Also up for critique by Nagle, slightly, kind of, are the philosopher Nietsche and the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (though I swear she never actually cites his name in talking about it). Her argument being, because again I don't think she's read them, that if/when the alt-righters quote from them and/or espouse an anti-mainstream/anti-the-masses attitude, doing so must means that those texts must be conservative, when an anti-mainstream philosphy/attitude is shared by those on the far Left, like me, and, I thought, her. And if I'm wrong about that, well, this is where Kill All Normies would have benefitted by a more detailed, and longer, analysis.

Is Kill All Normies still worth reading? Yes, even if as a sort of lit review of sorts, as a way to explore this huge topic (or, topics), though you'll have to do your own research to find some of the texts and people she talks about. Nagle's main idea, discussed above, is important: conservatives are winning the culture wars, and those who control culture control politics. She offers no solutions, but you'll get a glimpse into at least some of the reasons how and why Trump won (Hint: it's not Russia).

Angela Nagel's Baffler essays

Friday, February 2, 2018

Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon

Appeared in the zine GRAPH in January 2017:

What if you left your clunky hot boots behind
Or just tossed them once and for all over the Rim
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon this time

Smooth redrock Esplanade water tinejas shining
Going slow with a backpack filled to brim
Now that you’ve left your clunky hot boots behind

Almost step on a snake basking in the sunshine
Still May-torpid doesn’t move just tiptoe around him
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon taking your time

Redwall Descent into Narrows and petroglyph designs
Spring water stream deep enough to swim
So glad you left those clunky hot boots behind

Grit rock and soft sand for your sole dodging yucca and cacti
Out to the Colorado and another (freezing) swim
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon outside of time

Crawling naked out of the muck out of your mind
What a wonderful place in life to begin
Leaving your clunky hot boots behind
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon for the first time

—for Heidi

Friday, January 5, 2018

Essay by Hayden Carruth

Essay by Hayden Carruth

So many poems about the deaths of animals.
Wilbur’s toad, Kinnell’s porcupine, Eberhart’s squirrel,
and that poem by someone - Hecht? Merrill? -
about cremating a woodchuck. But mostly
I remember the outrageous number of them,
as if every poet, I too, had written at least
one animal elegy; with the result that today
when I came to a good enough poem by Edwin Brock
about finding a dead fox at the edge of the sea
I could not respond; as if permanent shock
had deadened me. And then after a moment
I began to give way to sorrow (watching myself
sorrowlessly the while), not merely because
part of my being had been violated and annulled,
but because all these many poems over the years
have been necessary - suitable and correct. This
has been the time of the finishing off of the animals.
They are going away - their fur and their wild eyes,
their voices. Deer leap and leap in front
of the screaming snowmobiles until they leap
out of existence. Hawks circle once or twice
above their shattered nests and then they climb
to the stars. I have lived with them fifty years,
we have lived with them fifty million years,
and now they are going, almost gone. I don’t know
if the animals are capable of reproach.
But clearly they do not bother to say good-bye.