The Appeal of the Difficult Undertaking
Hiking Mount Elbert, learning where to buy an entire stuffed giraffe, and my book makes a cameo in a fantastic film.
Last week I climbed my first fourteener, Mount Elbert, which stretches 14,439 feet into the Colorado sky. It’s the tallest fourteener in Colorado, and the second highest in the continental United States, after Mount Whitney in California, which beats Mount Elbert by 55 feet. Although this hike is labeled a class one “easy” hike, because it doesn’t require you to rappel off any cliff faces, I’m here to report that it is actually difficult—a 10.5-mile roundtrip with an elevation gain of 4500 feet.
The comments on this Gaia GPS page judging it “difficult, but not technical” seem more accurate to me than the label “easy.” Though if you ask my teenagers, they’ll tell you it was a cinch. They sprinted up the peak like mountain goats, beating me to the top by over an hour. Occasionally they’d crackle over the walkie talkie to ask why I was so slow. Meanwhile, I was shuffling up the vertical ridge, occasionally indulging in a puff of canned oxygen, which comes in a refreshing pink grapefruit flavor.
We started at 6 a.m. to beat the potential afternoon thunderstorms, and I made it to the top by about 11, where I found my family hanging out with the crowd at the peak. It was beautiful up there, where you could match each individual cloud to its shadow on the mountainside below, and a joyful camaraderie reined, with people taking photos for each other, sharing a cardboard sign with the altitude printed on it, and cheering for others who made it up.
I have lived in Colorado for most of my life, and I’d never climbed a fourteener before, in part because there are so many nice 13,000-footers to climb, and they are less crowded. Also, I’m leery of participating in arbitrary goals. I haven’t joined the swarm of peak baggers who race to make it to the top of all of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners, I haven’t run a marathon, and I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, trying to write a draft of a novel in a month. (My novel writing pace is like my mountain climbing pace: slow and steady.) It always seemed to me that goals should be individual, tailored to fit the goal-maker exactly. But I think I get it now—there’s a special feeling that comes from joining others to complete a difficult task. The fact that they’re around you, doing the same hard thing, helps you make it to the top.
And there are some of us who don’t know what to do with ourselves if we aren’t working on our next difficult, potentially doomed project. So for my next book, I’m joining in. I told this summer’s crop of new students at the Mile-High MFA where I teach that I’m writing a book on the same schedule that they are. That means four packets of 7500 words or so per semester, and eight book annotations (which I’ll complete book reviews for), culminating in a draft of something book-like in two years.
On Mount Elbert, there was a person in a bright orange jumpsuit who climbed ahead of me all morning at a languid pace. I could see them inching their way up the mountain—they were so easy to spot—and they served as a gauge of my progress. So let us all be the person in the tangerine body suit for each other, as we embark on our next difficult task. Let me know if you are working on something major and I’ll cheer for you.
The Assorted Whimsy Portion of The Tumbleweed
Have you ever wondered how much it would cost to purchase a taxidermied giraffe? Neither had I, until I encountered this specimen at The Antique Warehouse in Hudson, New York, a sprawling complex featuring 40,000 square feet of antiques and oddities for sale.
This stately fellow will set you back $45,000. But if you already own some kind of castle large enough to fit this 16-footer and a conveyance roomy enough to transport him, price is probably not an object. If budget is a concern, you might try this next beast instead, labeled “full hippo,” which made me worry about whether I was about to encounter any partial hippos. He costs $25,000:
Those of more modest means need not leave empty handed. This showy white peacock can be yours for $3650:
If you ever want to redecorate in a way that creeps out your guests with total “The Most Dangerous Game” vibes, now you know where to shop.
The Book Recommendation Portion of The Tumbleweed
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is unflinching in its portrayal of America's treatment of Black and Jewish citizens. But it also shows how two dynamic communities band together to make their own justice, provide their own social safety net, and even furnish their own utilities by tapping into pipes when the city fails to provide running water. It is full of colorful stories of speakeasy proprietors, snooty bigwigs, hapless rabbis, stone-cold gangsters and intimidating cobblers. In the end, McBride braids all these stories together in a way that is cohesive, satisfying and hopeful.
The Happenings & Links Portion of The Tumbleweed
On Saturday, September 30, I’ll be participating in the Counterpath Indie Author & Press Book Fair at Counterpath Press in Denver, along with many other writers with books published with small presses. The amazing Hillary Leftwich is organizing it. Admission is free, and there will be books for sale and readings and even a dance party in the evening.
My talented friend Lisa Molinaro has been a script supervisor for decades, working on television and movie productions including The Sopranos, Succession, and The Menu. She has long dreamed of writing a film and becoming a producer, and now she’s done it, working to realize her very own short film, The Scream, starring Natalie Gold. What’s especially cool is that Lisa made sure my book Mixed Company appears on the bedside table of this woman whose “needs aren't met,” who “is screaming inside” and for whom “sleep is a pipe dream.” In other words, my ideal reader. Thank you, Lisa! I’ll be sure to let Tumbleweed readers know when and where they can watch the film when it’s ready.