Nye's Polonaise

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“Looks like a dive,” the hotel doorkeep says. “But it’s been voted the best bar around for years.” Nye’s Polonaise Room is on the Mississippi, its brick edifice moistened by the pillow of cold air that rises off the river.It’s a low-ceilinged cigar box of a lounge, narrow and lit by red bulbs. The floor is made of two-inch Saltillo tiles and the bar is solid walnut, darkened by elbows and spilled drinks.

Esquire magazine has called Nye’s “The Best Bar in America,” and it’s been featured on Good Morning America and Rachel Ray, but I’m unaware of this, and arrive with no expectations.

The band kicks up. Crammed like Chuckie Cheese animatronics against the far wall, they fill the entire end of the room. And they’re good. Ten of us perch on glittery naughahyde barstools, hunched over our beers. It’s never too loud to hear each other talk.

“Special guest!” the singer yells between songs. “Dude from the other side of the bar!” A guy with a handful of brass rises from a chair and saunters past the oxblood-colored high-backed booths, their headrests slick with years of hair oil. The band has three full drum kits, a sax, an electric guitar and now a trumpet.

I motion to the bartender like hailing a cab. Old, large, broad and bland, he waddles down the gangplank of his bar toward me. White mustache. Close-cropped white hair. Black pants. White shirt. Pocket protector. He peers around the playboy game machine squatting on the

bar. “Yeah?” He says.

“Local beers?” I ask. Seems wise not to waste words in this place.

“Grainbelt Lager,” he says. “Summit.”

“What’s the difference?” I ask.

“Well one’s a light, regular beer and one’s a heavy, bitter beer,” he says. He puts his fingers to his lips and twiddles them against each other when he says bitter.

The fat lady next to me looks amused. “Do ya order much beer?” she asks.

“I have some experience ordering beer,” I say.

“Here’s the deal,” she says. “First ya gotta understand whether you like your ales or your hoppies. Cause your ales are like standard old American beer. But your hoppies are like…” She puts her fingers in front of her lips like the bartender and clicks tiny imaginary castanets. “Bitter,” shesays.

Strange mix here. Young hipsters in Carhartt hats and combat boots right alongside the good people of Minnie—middle-aged black men in simple clothes, my beer steward and her equally robust companion, both in size 40 denim pants and dark blue shirts. My walrus of a bartender. They’re all as abrasive as soapbubbles, clustered like

stuffed animals in their booths, thickened by the Minnesota winter, insulated from the cold and from self-consciousness by their Baltic earnestness.

The band wraps up a final song. “Good night mutha fuckahhhhhhs,” the singer falsettos. Someone claps, a single pair of hands like high heels on an empty stage. The lights come up. I finish my beer and settle up, step into the cold and back across the Mississippi, to bed.

2011 High Mountain Fun Fest

imageWe forgot food. We forgot a wallet. I forgot to put sunscreen on. When we got back to the car we were ravenous and I had a D-shaped tan on my forehead from wearing my baseball cap backwards all day. whatever. So worth it. After 10+ years we can still walk together for eight hours in the mountains, discover new things about each other, and laugh our asses off. I love my wife.
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Mitchell Lake in the morning light.
 
 
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Lil Mountain Ash talus hopping to gain Audubon’s Southeast Ridge
 
image High on Audubon’s Southeast Ridge
 
imageCold chillin’, Gorgeous day. Too bad we forgot to bring anything to eat.
imageThe bench at 12,600 just above Audubon’s SE Ridge. Ash: “If i were a marmot, this is where I’d want to live.”
 
imageMarmot Mecca, Audubon.
 
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 Strangely succulent on Audubon’s southeast haunch.
 
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Ascending Paiute’s East Ridge.

 
imageFinal few steps to the summit of Paiute.
 
imageEscape from Paiute. We were starving.
 
imageReturn journey by way of Blue Lake.

The second killing of my dog

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“Every act of mourning conceals a betrayal, a second killing of the loved one by letting them go.”

Damned if we didn’t run. From the dead dog. The long hours. The slough of a cold spring. We took refuge in the simplicity of a truck, the sweat equity of ascent. In the great hammock of Colorado’s highest alpine valley we found room to let go.

That was our betrayal, I suppose. The second killing of ol’ Doc. As soon as I thought it I recognized the silliness of it. Here was a dog who once ate six waffles off a countertop while we were out, and pretended like nothing had happened when we got back. He wasn’t one for guilt.

We gave him a $26 prime rib as his last meal. It was Lil’ Mountain Ash’s idea. We walked to the butcher counter and gauged the meat by its giganticness, as Blender would have done. The guy behind the counter, sweet guy, told us in painstaking, very loud detail how to cook it. We didn’t have the heart to tell him we’d just huck the damn thing into the mouth of our dying hound. Which is exactly what we did. He ran with it, through the bedroom and onto the deck, where he ate like it was a race.

Not long after, his head rose and turned toward his haunch, like he had an itch, but by then he was no longer in control of himself. His body stiffened and he fell to the floor.

I quickly pulled his head into my lap. His mouth was wide open, his tongue thrashing. He kicked and bucked and drooled and peed on himself and me. As the seizure passed he began to run, nails clattering sideways on the hardwood in a vain attempt to carry himself away from the pain. Eyes open but unseeing, he slowly drew still, and came to in lap, suddenly aware of my voice, of his smell, his state. He looked into my eyes, searching, open. I had no answer. “It’s OK,” I said, over and over. I think he knew it wasn’t.

He never lost himself. Not in the pain, not in the confusion after his seizures. Within hours he was back at the woodpile looking for rats. Doing what he loved. And he still looked at his family with love even when he knew the game was up. There was no fear, no suspicion of betrayal. No abandoning of the Blenderness that was his alone. This was his greatest gift. He was who he was, and he never apologized or forgot it.

I’m home again, wandering through the graveyard of my own backyard. He’s so close, his little body nestled in his blankie just a couple of feet down, beneath the roots of our favorite tree. Gone forever. I won’t hear the grunt and wheeze of his evening settle, the stamp of his feet asking to go out in the morning. Maybe now I can accept the bit of murder in acknowledging that.

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Home. As comfortable as our real bed, but with a better view.
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The unbeatable bin system.
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Wine and cheese in the Nest at sunset.
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Sunrise in the Nest, Dolores, CO.
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Lil Mountain Ash doing her thing.
imageGarner Canyon.
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Dwarfed by Dolores Peak.
imageNarrow escape from Challenger between thunderstorms.
imageDescending the rubble pile of Dolores Peak with a view of the Wilson Range and Telluride to the east.
imageNavigating San Juan Scree on Middle Peak.
imageSunset over the San Luis Valley from the upper pools
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Moon carving on the old theater in Rico, CO.
imageBeers at the Enterprise Bar & Grill, Rico, CO.
imageThe Enterprise Bar & Grill, Rico, CO.

R.I.P. friends...

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Lying on our great room floor with Blender, I pull his head to mine and smell the musty incense of dust and fur that I’ve waken to each morning for a decade. Our vet tightens a tourniquet around his leg, inserts a needle and his lumbering, ragged breath falls still. I cry until my tears soak his soft, silk ears.

In a valley in western china there’s a rumble, a rising fear, and in the settling snow a friend lies in state like a glacier king, surrounded by the ruins of the mountain that fell down around him. A world away my phone rings. A voice cracks. “He’s gone,” she cries.

From this airplane I see a creek bed like a beetle’s track in the tidy geometry of Colorado’s farm country. No telling when it last flowed, or why it dried up. Though the water is gone, the memory of it remains in the channel it carved. Our house, half empty now, is filled with the spirit of our forever-gone friends: Climbing packs and old ropes still sparkling with Joshua Tree dust from our time with Jonny there; the flame in our wood stove a whisper from the earth to which we gave our gentle hound.

Some evening when our eyes are drier you’ll haul out the big cutting board and slice limes into new moons. I’ll walk to the cabinet, the worn wood floor cool as clay beneath my feet, and uncork our best tequila. We’ll soften our throats and talk, not about what we’ve lost, but about what we loved.

R.I.P. Blender

Intuitive hound

Beloved assistant

2000-2011

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R.I.P Jonny

Inspiring man

Kind soul

1973-2009

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