A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about trees

The Next Twist in the Path

Writer's Block, The Nature of Blog Writing, Photography and What's Next

Fact: I don’t know what to write about today. I could’ve written this sentence every day this week, but this fact didn’t come to me until this morning. Is this what writer’s block is all about? To be sure, I have a lot of material. Life has flowed along since my last meaningful entry (Yodeling Under a Glacier). But, I don’t know, I just haven’t found the lead. Inspiration has been lacking.

So, I’m just going to tell it like it is. I don’t have any eloquent words this week. I feel like if I write this one, no matter how mundane, I’ll be over the hump and perhaps inspiration will strike next week.
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Part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately is that I’m trying to figure out the next direction for this blog. Is there one? Does there need to be one? What do you do with a blog? Do I want to try to write for money? What else can I do with it, other than what I have been doing? These questions have been rolling around in my mind for a while. I haven’t been able to answer them.
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Here’s the tricky bit about writing a blog: In my life, every day of the week could hold great material, be it great photos, experiences or both. It takes a lot of effort to keep the blog current when each day could possibly deserve an entire episode on its own. I don’t want to get into the game of focusing too much on the photos or thinking about what I’m going to write that I miss the experience. Sometimes it is a close thing. My priorities are life moments first, documentation second.
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I do know the experimental phase is over, though I‘m not sure if that changes anything. I’ve been pumping out a lot of material over the last three years. Some of it is good, some of it is not. I’ve found my voice. I catch beautiful scenes with my camera as I’d catch fat snowflakes with my tongue. It’s a beautiful thing.
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I have thousands of photographs that I have collected from all over the world. I uploaded over six hundred of my favorites to my new Flickr page. It took a lot of time. I archive my photos by Year/Month/Major Location. My digital photos went back to 2003, though I have hundreds more in slide/print form. I browsed through my archives for a solid week uploading the ones I found interesting.

You can see them here:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustyvagabond/ For those of you who really dig my photos more than my words, this is the site for you. I’m happy with my collection, I tried very hard to keep it diverse and keep it interesting. These photos are a fair representation of my life and what I live for, namely, creativity in action.
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“Where ya been, Thom? Where ya goin’?”
In late May, I left Alaska for Seattle without any clear direction on where I was going or projects I wished to pursue. With unlimited options and many paths to follow, I felt a few of them out before “deciding” to go to Switzerland in late July. Having purchased the tickets, I promptly took a train across the northern tier of the U.S. from Seattle to Central Minnesota. From there, I visited some old haunts and friends in northern Minnesota. Then I took a bus home to the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan.
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However, life has its own comedic timing. Instead of going to Switzerland, I am going to Alaska. I took a new position as an assistant engineer on the cruise ship I work on. The job starts at the same time as my trip to Europe. Ha! So, I’m going to Switzerland by way of Alaska.
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Unless, of course, some other unforeseen event changes everything again. I don’t know why I ever make plans. The plans I make always change - often morphing into something I never expected. I try to go with the flow. I’ll make occasional decisions about my life, but I’m always skeptical about my choices. There have been too many times that unexpected forces trump my decisions. But, that’s the way I like it.
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Be flexible. Be spontaneous. Just be.

Posted by Rhombus 10:09 Archived in USA Tagged trees nature photography michigan paths zen writing blogging Comments (0)

A Celebration of Green

A Day Hike Along the Indian Creek Trail

overcast 55 °F

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I grew up in the woods. The wilds of northern Michigan contain a thick forest of hardwoods and pine. I spent many days wandering through the trees with my friends, dogs, and by myself. There isn’t much of a horizon up there, just more trees. If you want to see far away, you must visit the shore of Lake Superior.

My background lends me comfort in other woodlands that I may visit. I still enjoy a good romp among the tall trees of the forest wherever I can find them.

I felt that familiar pull to head into the forest several days ago. I was in Sitka, Alaska recuperating from my latest working stint. I knew a walk through the woods would be good for me.

With my friend Annie in tow, we started walking towards the trailhead of the Indian Creek Trail. I used to frequent this trail when I called Sitka home. It had been two years since I had last seen it, and I wanted to reconnect with it.
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Before we got there, Annie spied a couple of gravestones from the sidewalk. We stepped into the dark woods to investigate. One grave led to another. We found perhaps ten graves with stones from various decades ranging from the late 1800s to the 1950s. The graves were spread throughout a little patch of spruce. The graves weren’t in a designated cemetery. They didn’t look like they were cared for anymore. Some of the stones were chipped and leaning. Some of the graves had sunk into the earth.
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I like old cemeteries especially when I find them in an obscure place. They have character, and tell a silent tale of the rise and fall of humanity. I thought it was a very peaceful place.

We stopped briefly at the trailhead to look at the map. I remembered the way, though not the particulars of the trail. The Indian Creek trail is well marked (at least up to the waterfall). I didn’t have any worries about finding our way there or back. We walked on.
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The temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska are among the prettiest I have ever walked through. If I could only use one word to describe them, I would use “green.” The Sitka spruce dominates this stretch of forest. They stand thickly together, towering above the trail. These are old trees, some of them dating back five hundred years or more. The trunks of these old ones are huge - far bigger than I could put my arms around. They remind me of the redwood trees of northern California, though these spruce are not as big as the largest giants down there.
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A thick green mat of moss covers the entire forest floor and fallen stumps below the canopy. Swampy taiga areas dot the forest floor with heads of skunk cabbage growing from them. Tall whips of devil’s club grow everywhere - their broad leaves just beginning to unfurl. Various types of ferns grow from fallen stumps.
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The forest floor is a jumble of fallen limbs and massive trunks scattered all over the place. Some of the newly fallen trees ripped their roots out of the ground when they fell down. The black twisted root system easily stands over ten feet high.

It is a great forest.
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Throughout this forest runs Indian Creek. The melting mountain snow and continuous rainfall feed the river in an unending supply of cold clear water. Several smaller brooks also feed this creek and we crossed several of them by bridge.
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“Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”

Annie and I stopped to take a break after crossing the first major bridge over the river. We sat down, ate some tidbits, drank some water and chilled out for a few minutes. As a photographer, I always am looking for a good photograph. It was here that I made some of my favorites of the year.
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Overhanging the creek was a small mossy patch that looked like a perfect seat. I had Annie take an easy pose that she could hold for several seconds at a time. She needed to hold completely still, because I had my shutter speed set at three seconds. A long shutter speed will blur moving water for a silky effect. I took a few photos, recomposing and trying different speeds until I found the right spot.

I wanted to try to see if both of us could be in the picture. I had Annie sit down in her spot and I looked over the scene to see where I would fit. It was obvious that I had to be in the river. I set my camera up to take a picture every ten seconds for ten pictures. I climbed down a stump put my feet into the icy cold water. It was painful. My feet started to go numb almost instantly, but I hustled as fast as I could to where I thought the composition was right. I turned and held my pose for the camera. It was imperative that I held still. This was not easy, because my feet were in agony. The water was frigid, and it took all of my composure to hold still. I held as long as I could stand before lunging back to shore. I happily yelled out in pain as I climbed out of the water. Cold isn’t strong enough a word for the temperature of that water.

We looked at the results as I warmed my feet. My positioning was just a bit off, but the pictures were great. I had created the effect I wanted to in this picture. To make it perfect, I’d have to do it again. This time, I made mental notes of where I had to be. The water wasn’t any warmer on my second attempt, but I was satisfied with the results.
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I put my boots back on, and we continued along the trail.

This walk had no parameters. Time didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. There wasn’t any destination. We turned around when it felt right to do so. When we were hungry, we pulled out our lunch and put our one beer in the creek to cool. Trail beers get cold in just a couple of minutes in Alaskan streams. As we ate, it started to rain. That didn’t matter either. We were content to enjoy the walk for what it was.

The Fascinating Banana Slug
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Annie is good at seeing banana slugs. She found this one eating a leaf right next to the trail. Banana slugs thrive in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. They come in a variety of colors, waxy pale to jet black. This one was a handsome dog turd brown color.

Banana slugs leave a slime trail wherever they crawl. They move slowly, and it’s interesting to see how far they have crawled over the moss carpet.
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I put my macro lens on my camera to see if I could get any close ups shots of the slug. It was hard to get the lighting right in the gloom. With a little experimentation, I was able to get the right combination of physics and art.

End Game

It started to rain harder. We grew weary with our efforts. The walk turned into a slog, but we made the best of it. We finished our day by stopping at the grocery store for food before heading back to the hostel. We put on dry clothes, cooked a healthy dinner and relaxed. This is one of the best ways I know of to end a good hike.

Author’s Note:

The Sitka Trail Association has done a marvelous job with its trail system. The Indian creek trail is a shining example of what happens when a group of good people gets together and create a good trail system. To find other trails in Sitka, volunteer or support them find them at: www.sitkatrailworks.org
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Posted by Rhombus 13:16 Archived in USA Tagged trees rivers hiking green alaska photography trails forests sitka Comments (0)

Alaskan Atmosphere

A Breath, Mists, Wildlife, Sea Scapes, and Very Large Animals

semi-overcast 63 °F

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I’m trapped in the ether of Southeast Alaska. In this region of Alaska, the simple act of breathing is a pleasure. The air is coldest at the point of entry- my nose- and warms only slightly as it flows down my windpipe into my lungs. At the entrance to my lungs, the cool air spreads evenly into my lung tissue. It feels as though someone just walked into a warm and cozy house after spending several hours out in the winter cold. It smells fresh. It tastes pure. It blows my endorphins wide open. With every breath, I feel alert, happy, and somehow, more alive.
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When I say I am “trapped” here, I mean to say that I am once again working on a ship with few options for escape. To those of you who might have worked on a vessel before, you will understand what I mean. Even if I wanted to gain my freedom, there are only two choices: I can jump off the boat and swim to shore, or I could get off at the next port later on in the week. I think I’ll stay.

Life on a ship is not so bad actually. The work is good, the people are fun, and the seascapes are breathtakingly beautiful.
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In fact, I think Alaska is almost impossibly beautiful. I will never understand the physics behind the mist and fog that forms and flows around the islands, mountains, and rain forest. I don’t think I want to. Physics aside, the results are inspiring.
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If the landscape wasn’t mind blowing enough, then there are the giant animals that wander though these Alaskan scenes. During my first week, I had close encounters with Stellar Sea Lions near the Inian Islands. I watched a pod of Orca catching Salmon in Peril Straight. Near False Bay, I saw Humpback Whales working together to corral herring in a giant bubble net. As one, the whales swam through the net feasting on the herring in an orgy of mass eating.
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It was very exciting. I was leaning on a portside rail, looking out at a school of herring dancing on the water. A quivering ball of herring makes the surface of the water bounce, as though a heavy rain is falling on the ocean. I heard the whales before I saw them. I looked down and with a rush of frothy white water, the pod broke through the surface right next to the ship. I was spellbound.
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On land, I watched grizzly bears foraging along the shore. They were prying mussels off the rocks for their lunch. I spied a wolf pack through binoculars loitering on a beach. The pack had a young pup, and it embraced its playful nature. While the mother and other members relaxed on the beach, the pup ran around between them biting them on the muzzle. In one scene, I saw a murder of ravens, a wolf, and a grizzly bear hanging out near a creek.

The Reid glacier in Glacier Bay National Park is one of the prettiest I have seen. A giant ice cave has formed on its face this year. I love looking at the texture and coloring of this glacier. It has a marbled look, mostly brown and dirty white, but it glows a very subtle glacier blue.
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This past week was perhaps the best welcome back present I could have had. Alaska continues to be very good to me. I feel like my words and pictures can’t really do this place justice. I could use thousands of adjectives from the English language, but none of them comes close to describing what it is like to stand in place and look off to some distant fog covered island. It is one of the world’s truly remarkable locations.
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I’m satisfied with my captivity. If I’m going to be in prison, it may as well be by choice in the wilds of southeast Alaska.

Posted by Rhombus 02:46 Archived in USA Tagged trees boats islands whales alaska clouds oceans mist photography bears wolves Comments (1)

Two Thousand Miles in 22 Days: On The Path Of Sacred Pools

The Road to the Hot Springs, Enjoyment of the Canyon, and The Sacred Pools

semi-overcast 49 °F

On the Path of the Sacred Pools

I awoke at dawn to the smells of cold dew covering the ground of a wet pine forest, and of robins singing their sweet morning songs. I looked out and saw three deer foraging not more than fifty feet away, the pickings were good.
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After rising, I underwent some of the fundamental routines that all mankind embraces in the morning. I set about to French press some coffee, to accompany my breakfast. I thoughtfully watched the deer munching grass, and noticed the light had intensified the colors of the forest around me. I thought about the hot spring that I was going to visit that morning. I vaguely remembered it from a brief visit two years ago. All I could remember was a pool on the far side of the bluff down near the river. The pool had a hot waterfall that dropped about 25 feet into it. This hot spring has haunted me ever since.
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I wanted to take a morning soak. I finished my morning chores, and slid into the driver’s seat and headed east along the valley road. My visual senses were keen. I am usually perceptive to interesting light, and I had not driven very far through the valley before I started to recognize the unique qualities of the day. The sun was still low in the sky, occasionally blocked by the valley walls, and sometimes shining down into it. There were many fast moving clouds in the sky that played with the sunlight. At times, they totally blotted out the intense rays, or partially dulled down the light creating fantastic light on the valley below. There were occasional pockets of mists that would rise through up from the river added to the scene. Finally, the rugged river canyon was very interesting. It was a mix of tall mountain meadows, gigantic boulders, steep rocky cliffs, and the surging river running swiftly at the bottom.
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I saw a scene stretch out before me that I had to stop and take in. Luckily, as this was a scenic byway, there was a small pull off on side the road. I stopped parked, hopped out of Marvin and climbed up to the top of a giant boulder for a better vantage point. I looked down at the river and saw the roaring white water of rapids rolling along side the cliffs. High above the river, the road I had been traveling was bathed in light that Ansel Adams would have loved. Hell, any photographer would have loved the crisp intensity and changing dynamics of that morning’s light. I chose sepia for these images because I liked the warmth the brownish hues added, compared to shooting in true black and white.
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I jumped back in my van and started up the road again, only to pull over at the next spot that I could. I began to see a pattern forming, and since I wasn’t in a hurry, I embraced the beautiful morning. I don’t think the Middle Fork of the Payette ever looked better. Surrounded by tall pines and towering rock cliffs the gorgeous light made the river shine.
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At one point, I looked up river and saw my destination. The billowing clouds of steam from the hot spring rose up along the canyon wall, and I knew I was not far from soaking in that haunting pool. I drove on to the trailhead, parked, and packed a daypack. The air was cool, somewhere around fifty degrees (F), the trail was worn, covered in a layer of pine needles. It felt good on my feet, and I set off down the path to the sacred pools.
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I walked along side of the river, and the sights, sounds and smells were that of a robust river in spring. It was a pleasant walk through the pines. I found the spring area as I remembered it. The hot spring seeps from an exposed rock cliff on the side of the canyon. It runs down the rock in a series of small waterfalls, and is collected into pools made by rearranging rocks and damming up the flow.

As I neared the toe of the cliff, I saw another American Dipper sitting on a rock head high rock singing its morning song to me. I think Dippers and I are kindred spirits. We appreciate beautiful rivers, and we spend a lot of time around them. I took this as a good sign that I had chosen my day’s path correctly and began to look for a pool to immerse myself. There were shallow pools at the base of the cliff, but they weren’t what I was looking for. I started climbing the cliff, and found the best route was up the waterfall that ran down the rocks.
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About thirty feet up, I found what I was looking for. A beautiful pool of crystal clear water, hot, and wonderful. At this point, I figured that this would be a two soak morning. I would spend quality time in this pool, and then move on to the waterfall pool when I tired of this one. It sounds like a rough morning, I know. I stripped down (a bit), and eased my body into the hot water. It was perfect. The builders of this pool had done well for themselves. It was about 15 inches deep, maybe 12 feet long in an oval. It sat above the river on the cliff by about thirty feet or so. The river rushed along below rounding a small bend and giving me a pleasant white noise to listen to. I shut my eyes and relaxed. This was better than I could have imagined, and I was enjoying this moment to its fullest.

I went in search of the second pool. I had climbed across the top of the bluff where the springs originated and looked down on the far side of the cliff. I could see faint tracks of other hikers that descended a talus slope and I knew that was where I wanted to go. I made my way along the edge of bluff, it was precarious, but I was careful and I made it to the trail with little difficulty. I made my descent, and the waterfall and pool grew larger as I grew closer.

It looked incredible. The water collected in a large pool perhaps 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. It was about 15 inches deep and was fed by an amazing waterfall. It was a hot water waterfall. I felt it and started laughing aloud. I eased my body under the waterfall. The deluge of hot water massaged me. It was the best hot spring experience of my life. It felt incredible. I felt like that Irish Spring dude who took his bath under a cold-water waterfall, except I knew mine was better.
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The thing about waterfalls is they are very powerful. It’s hard to open your eyes when you are under one, and I kept mine closed. I eventually sat back against the cliff and looked out and the gorgeous river canyon around me. What a moment. Have I told you I am haunted by hot springs? I could not have dreamed a more sublime experience than what I was living.

After awhile, I knew it was time to prove my meddle. I gingerly made my way down the rocks to the river. I found a spot out of the current that I knew I could get in and out of in a hurry. The air temperature was about fifty degrees. The temperature of the water was much colder. This was winter snowmelt rolling by. Without thinking about it, I stepped into the ICY water, waded to a spot I knew I could submerge myself and lowered myself to my knees. My body went into a spasm and I began to try to negotiate with myself, but before I gained any sense, I dunked my body underneath the surface of the river. I came up fast, clutching myself and speaking in some high-pitched language that only dolphins would understand. I remember thinking to myself, “Do it again. Prove it.” So I dunked myself again, and came up croaking, “Proven.” Then I hustled my way out onto the rocks and scampered back up to the waterfall to soak again in hot water. I’m weird like that.

I spent a couple of hours in that spring. I even dunked myself in the river twice more to cool off between hot soaks. I was purified, and I was cleansed. I don’t think I have ever been cleaner in my life. It felt amazing. My body tingled, and felt wonderful for the rest of the day.

“It is said that if you go to a sacred spot, you yourself become sacred." ~Bear Heart

I felt sacred.

Posted by Rhombus 07:54 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls trees rivers canyons photography hotsprings idaho roadtrips Comments (0)

Ski Bumming 2012: Magnificent Mountain Landscapes

The mountain landscapes, Zen moment #3,268,103, and Woo

sunny 21 °F

There are days when the mountain blooms into a magnificent masterpiece of winter landscape. After a week straight of strong winds and heavy cloud cover (which produced gorgeous blankets of light powder), I woke up to a beautiful bluebird day. The air was crisp and clean, and the snow crunched underfoot as I walked down the street to the gondola. The sky was a deep, rocky mountain azure that made the brilliance of the new snow that much more intense. I was glad I remembered my sunglasses.
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As I rode up the chairlift, I realized that the day was not about skiing; it was about appreciating the magnificent mountain splendor. I made it my mission to admire the mountain from as many different perspectives as I could. After unloading and coasting to a stop at the top of the run, I stopped and marveled at the mountain scene that stretched before me. It inspired awe. I smiled broadly.
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The Statues
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I made a few runs, skiing slowly while focusing on the landscapes. After a week of pummeling winter weather, the trees looked like dazzling white statues against the distant mountain slopes and deep blue sky. Throughout the morning, the lighting continued to change. Not only because the sun continued rise, but small patches of streaming clouds continued to pass over the mountain at various times. These clouds moved at different elevations, sometimes hovering just above the mountain, and other times covering several acres of the mountain slopes. The shifting light patterns were part of the magic.
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Mountain Scenes
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Zen moment # 3,268,103:
Once again, I hiked to the top of Wardner peak. I sat down in the snow bank in my favorite patch of pines to catch my breath. I was digging the trees, and eating my lunch, when, as usual, I saw a scene to take a photo of… I stood up in knee-deep snow and set up the following shot. I hear a soft rustle above me, but I kept my focus and WHAM! A huge pile of snow landed right on my head! The trees gave me the ultimate snow job. I had taken my helmet, hat and gloves off to eat my lunch, so I had snow everywhere. I laughed. It was all I could do. Trees are tricksters! I hung out for another 20 minutes, and not one more chunk of snow fell off any of the trees. What are the odds?
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The Views From Wardner Peak
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Concerning Woo
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I was riding the chairlift the other day when a hotshot skier rocketed by below me. The people in the chair behind me saw him and instinctively howled out a long, “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” The word “Woo” seems to be what we all yell out to vocalize our enjoyment of life. At one time, possibly the early 1900‘s, the word that was used was, “WEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” (picture someone riding a slide or Ferris wheel). So what’s next? In another eighty years, will we be yelling, “WAAAAAAAAAA?” Some of you readers should take this logic to the street and be on the cutting edge of cool. Start yelling “WAAAAA” before anyone else.

I digress.

I began to notice how many times I heard “Woo” being hollered on the mountain. It’s damn near universal. Since I have a lot of time to think about these things, I began to wonder about the various meanings of woo. At the time, I only knew two definitions of woo (and I realized I just rhymed a lot). To woo a lady (something at which I am quite good at if I do say so myself), is to make amorous advances towards someone. Secondly, Woo! The vocalized exclamation of enjoyment.

I went home and looked up woo on the internet and came up with some other definitions: In Chinese, Woo means the number five. While I was thinking of Chinese, I wondered if people aren’t yelling woo, but wu. Wu is a dialect of Chinese spoken in the Yangtze delta.

The next time I was up on the mountain and began to hear the distant calls of “Wooooooooooo!” I started laughing. I imagined them not yelling for enjoyment, but to encourage romance. Or maybe they really like the number five. Or perhaps, they are fans of the Yangtze dialect.

It’s been a good week on the mountain, however the winds of change are blowing once again. Sadly, this upcoming week is going to be my last week of ski bumming here in Idaho. Against my better judgment, I have agreed to go back to work for a month down in Mexico. I know it sounds foolish, but I have recently bought tickets to Alaska in May. I figured it would be a good idea to refill up my coffers before I head out on that (hopefully) epic adventure. May is far away, and for now, I’m going to enjoy these last few days of relishing the life of a ski bum.

Farewell for this week, and I hope to hear you yelling out your appreciation for the number five!

Posted by Rhombus 21:51 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains trees snow winter skiing clouds photography idaho Comments (2)

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