The Pirate Wolf – Chapter 1: Beulah’s Report

It’s a few hours before sunrise, and if you stand in the forest with your eyes open, adjusting to the darkness of this moonless night, you might notice something. There! Movement behind the thick stand of evergreen trees off to your left. Is it a hundred yards away? Ten?

You hear a rustle from the right. There is a bush moving, just a little, then it stops. It sounds close. No more noise comes from the snow-covered ground. But now you don’t need to hear it. You can feel yourself surrounded by something. A presence that gives substance to the gloom. Your spine tingles and your stomach shrinks.

In truth, it’s a good thing you’re not really standing there in the black. You would be surrounded by hungry wolves.

On they come, flowing past the trees, like water coursing a stony rapid. They meet in glens and again separate around the pines, never pausing, focused on a single point not far off. As they close on their target, they spread apart, encircling around and beyond it. They begin to tighten their group, barring escape.

Four deer in a small clearing look up. A mother and three yearlings. They feel the presence too late. Yellow eyes stare at them from every angle. They shudder in panic.

Finally, a wolf, the alpha, steps forward to speak.

“Hello there!” he says. It is Lark, the pack leader. “Have you seen our latest trick?”

At this the wolves jump toward the deer and form a line in the open clearing. Some of them jump on top of each other, scrambling raggedly on each other’s backs. They form a standing triangle four wolves high, with Lark on top. He somersaults to the ground in front of the bemused deer and presents his paws in a kneel. “Ta da!”

One of the yearlings claps his front hooves, the other two look at him and shake their heads. Beulah, the mother deer, rolls her eyes. “Oh, please, Lark. You stole that from the raccoons.”

Lark lowers his head to one side. “It’s a coincidence, I swear it,” he says. “Oh, by the vie, you kids hungry? We got some prime cutlets here. Parmesan.” One of the other wolves steps forward and shrugs off an ill-fitting backpack. Lark pulls open the zipper and noses out a box of frozen dinners.

“You stole that, too,” says Beulah accusingly.

“Yeah, from people,” Lark agrees. Everyone in the forest knows the code. You take only what you plan to use, and not something already claimed. But with humans it’s different. You can rob them of all sorts of things.

“There’s this small group of them camping near the Greeley Ponds. Not using their bear box.” He chuckles at this. Humans can be such morons.

The young deer sniff the boxes curiously. “Kids! Get away. It’s probably chicken,” Beulah says. “We have other sources of protein.”

“Yeah,” Lark says. “You just have to eat a whole meadow of it. And you guys are pretty fast twitch, too.”

“It isn’t proper!” Beulah protests.

“You could get totally jacked, is all I’m saying.” He tears open the box and tosses a few cutlets to his pack. They dive in.

“Ugh, you guys,” Beulah says with a shake of her head. Her three boys bend their heads and go back to munching the new ferns starting to pop up through the receding snow. Spring is coming earlier than usual. “Hey, they didn’t happen to have any coffee with them.”

“You know, I didn’t happen to smell that,” Lark says, his jaws dripping with half-frozen spaghetti sauce. “We’ll send a Scout there to see if they crack any open at dawn.”

“Which one?” asks one of the wolves. Four of them are named Scout, and aptly so. They’re the ones who keep getting the assignments to watch for people. By now it’s a running joke whether the name defines the job, or vice versa.

“Oh, how about Little Scout this time?”

There is murmuring among the crew, but they agree. Little Scout is now catching some sleep back at the den. All the wolves know his reports are unreliable, if somewhat fanciful. They suspect he’s discovered the magic effects of mountain teaberries.

“Remember what he told us about the road the other day?” one of the wolves says.

“Yeah,” Lark says with amusement. “A whole line of trucks painted like the forest.”

“Like we couldn’t smell these things three valleys away,” laughs another.

“Ridiculous,” says Marcella, the wolf pack’s matriarch.

Beulah looks up. “No, we saw that,” she states.

The wolves look up, slowly chewing the last of their cutlets. “Have you been getting into the teaberries, too?” asks Wheat, one of the larger wolf lads. He is ironically named, with the darkest fur, almost black. The rest laugh.

“We did see it. Three nights ago,” Beulah says. “They had one of those spinning birds on a truck. Painted the same.”

The wolves knew the spinning birds well. Their loud rumbling shook the mountains, and their sound could be heard long before they were seen circling like giant hawks overhead. It couldn’t be chance that several of their pack had been struck with metal rain whenever these thunderous contraptions hove into the sky above them.

Little Scout hadn’t mentioned it, but they had laughed him out of the cave as soon as he started to give his report of these green vehicles rolling into the valley like a train.

“Are you certain?” Lark asks. The pack gathers around him. Their trust for Beulah’s nose, eyes and ears far outweighs that of Little Scout, and many of their other Scouts, for that matter.

“Tis true,” she says. Her spring meanders tend to stick close to her den, on a hillside just above the Mad River. She saw the trucks, maybe seven or eight of them, with their spinning bird on the largest one. “I couldn’t range far enough to tell you.”

“No matter,” Lark says to this. “But have you seen them leave?”

“Not that I’ve witnessed, no,” she says.

The wolves look at each other with fresh concern. It is strange to see such a concerted human activity going on this early in the season. The moon has completed more than three full cycles since the longest night, and the road is still traveled mainly by people in cars. These rolling boxes bear cut planks of trees on each roof, that the humans use to slide in ridiculous fashion down the snow-covered hillsides. Until the snows recede completely and the trees begin to gather water from the ground, the road is the only way in and out of the valley, at least for the people.

If the trucks and their flying machine haven’t been seen heading back down it, they’re still here.

“Thanks, B,” says Lark. Wheat and the rest of the wolves nod. “We need to talk with Little Scout. Quick Scout, we’ll need you to go find out about that coffee instead.” Quick Scout, an almost white wolf with black paws, barks and darts out of the clearing. Wheat picks up the bag. They nod to Beulah and run in the other direction, toward their den.

Beulah looks at her three growing boys browsing the young fir saplings. The wolves are known to be fierce protectors of the valley, and what bothers them should bother all. It hadn’t occurred to her to be concerned until seeing Lark’s furrowed brow. She feels a new pressure, like the barely detectable breeze before a gathering storm.

“Boys,” she says. “Let’s head back.”

Why Not Be Awesome?

This morning an interesting question was put to me at the gym: “You think that jacket makes you awesome?” The jacket in question; my 2015 Boston Marathon jacket. I considered a bunch of different answers, but in the interest of immediacy, I just went with, “Yeah,” as I headed for the door.

Now, maybe the person asking has several reasons to be awesome himself, but just chose not to wear it this morning. Maybe his car is emblazoned with bumper stickers declaring his membership in country clubs, his awesome grandkids, his service to his country, or his political persuasion, etc. Or maybe his Facebook profile is thick with “Likes” of all sorts of favorite movies, albums, stores, cars, and whatnot. In all likelihood, we can bet he’s got something, somewhere that he shows off on a regular basis.Tom in a whitewater kayak

And why not?

There’s something wrong with a culture that suppresses declarations of awesomeness. If I choose to be awesome, and you choose to be awesome in a different way, why the heck would we begrudge each other the chance to show it off?

Is it our American-ness that causes this? Or is it a global human trait? In this country at least, we’ve been on a depressing lowest-common-denominator cultural spiral for a long time. I mean, let’s face it; our culture has become like a Ford Taurus. Nothing special, does the job, doesn’t cost too much, doesn’t attract attention, or rock the boat.

(I mean, seriously, who thinks America produces a true luxury car?)

We don’t celebrate anything unless we can profit from it. We don’t create anything without a profit motive. We watch television shows about people jumping off rooftops (again, with a profit motive), or cunning political machinations, celebrities getting ‘fired’, entrepreneurs sniveling before loudmouthed capitalists, and even a long-running cable series about guys who write television ads. We don’t sneeze unless we can show a positive P&L.

Here in Boston, you see that with the negative reaction to the proposal for the 2024 Olympics. Remember when we used to celebrate the fact that athletes from every country competed on the field in a metaphorical pursuit of global peace? Remember when we launched fireworks and light shows just because? Now if it doesn’t sell enough Coke, iPhones and Adidas gear, the pencil pusher in all of us runs a spreadsheet to see if the margins are worth it.

We’ve become a nation of boring, no-fun, uninteresting, joyless people with no time to celebrate and no tolerance for those who do. We’re only focused on the financial payoff. “Money makes the world go ‘round.” “Greed… is good.” “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” It’s like the 1980s never ended. There’s plenty of wealth, but we’re impoverished in every other aspect of life.

Balance sheets and negativity should be left at the workplace. Wherever your awesomeness comes from, I say wear it, declare it, & share it. I guarantee it won’t be from something where you ran a financial projection before you started.

The Bishop Family Weekly Update: December 14, 2012

The Bishop Family Weekly UpdateWeekly? We’re calling it weekly? But it’s once a year, right? Well, yes, strictly speaking, we only publish our weekly update once a year, but it’s coming out during a week, so what’s the problem? Got ya there.

The Bishop Family Weekly UpdateSo what went down this year? Let’s start with Connor. This sharp little guy is in his second year of school and is kicking serious butt. The words are really starting to flow, too, as people who don’t know him are starting to understand his speech. That’s huge.

He’s also a mountaineer. He climbed the entire Flume Slide Trail in NH and has also hung bear bags, built mound fires and can dig and use a cathole. Okay, Daddy helped.

Oh, he runs. And swims. Unassisted. When the training wheels come off in the spring we’ll have a triathlete.

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The Last Mountain

The Last Mountain - Hiking The New Hampshire 4K's With The Kids | MyLeftOne“Did you come up the auto road or the cog railway?” the woman asked my son Connor on the summit of Mount Washington. He didn’t have many words at age three, so he simply pointed down the mountain and said “There.” She followed his view down toward Tuckerman Ravine, which I had just climbed on foot from Pinkham Notch, with Connor on my back.

It’s a question I’d heard before, when my daughter Riley was three. That time we were at the Lakes of the Clouds hut for the evening. Again, the answer was neither; We’d hiked the southern Presidentials with her on foot for part of the way.

Yes, I’ve been climbing 4,000’ mountains with a pre-schooler in a backpack.

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Running The Gauntlet: Three Races In Three Weeks

This is a big week for me.

Rye on Mount Lafayette | Finishing the NH4KActually, it’s a big three weeks. First, I completed New Hampshire’s list of 4,000 foot mountains on Saturday. Mts Lincoln and Lafayette were number 47 and 48, all done while carrying a small child most of the way, and there will be a trip report on that later.

This hike was a day after I ran 9 miles in preparation for the Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, NH, taking on the famous hills on Wheeler Road. But the biggest challenge was the next day, Sunday morning. I was scheduled to go out and run 20 miles.

Can I do that the day after a 9 mile hike that gained 3,200′ while carrying 60 lbs much of the way? Is that physically allowed?

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Baxter State Park: A Crossing Through Pogy Notch

View of Mount Katahdin from Sandy Stream PondI call it “The Look”.

All parents have seen it. Sometimes it’s disapproval, sometimes condescension, sometimes it’s support, and sometimes it’s surprise. Our kids do something where other people are present, and we see The Look. Someone’s eyebrow raises, a lip curls, a nose flares. Behind it is a thought, usually something like, “Are you going to let him do that?”.

In my case, someone’s jaw drops open, and the thought is more like, “You must be kidding.” I love that.

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Connor Never Gets A Trip Report

I’ve Been Mean.

Connor on Mt. LibertyOn my hiking trips to the White Mountains, Riley and Connor get equal treatment on who comes with me. On some trips it’s Rye, on others it’s the ConMan. Rye has been with me on some of the most glorious trips, like the three-day overnight to Zealand and the Bonds, the Kinsmans, and the South and Middle Carter trip. She’s also been on some of the more strenuous adventures, like last year’s Southern Presi traverse and the Dry River Wilderness.

But Connor’s been on some epic trips too, like Owl’s Head, the Wildcats, and the Willey Range. He’s done a lot of the grittier stuff, like a rainy trip to Mt. Hale, enduring the fog on Mt. Eisenhower, and an overnight on Waumbek where the temps got into the 30’s. He’s climbed the North Tripyramid Slide and the Flume Slide, as well as the steeps of Wildcat Ridge and East Osceola, where he waited while I found a way into the car without keys.

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