Friday, April 11, 2014

Winter on Bald Mountain

I spent a couple of decades of my life taking an early retirement as a ski bum in Idaho's Wood River Valley.  As a youngster I grew up in Maine.  Going out the door of my house I could go across the road, through the baseball field and cemetery and down the hill to the estuary.  Or I could go up the road or down the road.  Behind me lay the woods, which seemed endless, but in fact were really just swampy and not conducive to hiking.  Down the road, toward the main highway (US Route 1) was an old vacant house, overgrown with tall grass.  One day, after years of vacancy, a retired couple appeared and they could be seen moving in.  The fellow got a lawn mower and worked to restore order to the overgrown yard.  It took a lot of mowing.  Then an ambulance pulled up, and took him away.  Heart attack.  My mother became friends with his widow.

This was my life lesson about the thing called "retirement."  Retirement was a chancy thing.  There are no guarantees except for those who create their own destiny.  Some would say I invented "slacker" before the Me Generation became aware of it.  I prefer to think that I invented the hedge fund.  I placed my bets that I would have a retirement by taking it from age 18 to 36.  The odds were good, and I won.

For the record, I paid my own way.  When I say "slacker," I'm not talking about "freeloader," kids.  I paid for my own college.  All of it.  Yes, parents and relatives extended me credit, and I have always repaid my debts.  I rather loathe debt, actually.  I was brought up not to be beholden.  Nobody likes indentured servitude, even if it is an American institution.  I had seasonal work, when it snowed, on Sun Valley's Bald Mountain.  I had self-employment, as a photographer.  When I got serious, at age 36, I went into part-time employment.

For the record, I'm now in wage-earner mode.  A minimum of 40 hours per week, sometimes with overtime that once hit 70 hours in a week.  I plan my vacations a year in advance.  It is the kind of thing the parable of the Ant and the Grasshopper tries to encourage.  The tax collectors love it, too.  I'm helping to fund a global superpower.  I buy U.S. Savings Bonds.

Let's talk about the good old days, instead.

I lived and worked in Ketchum, Idaho, at the base of Baldy.  As my buddy Murray and I searched for housing, one fellow asked, "Coming up to the mountains for the winter?"

"No," I replied, "coming down from 8,500 feet."  That's another story, for another day.  If you think Idaho has mountains, check out Colorado.  I was an aspiring artist, and the above image of Baldy exposed by moonlight with a 4" x 5" camera was printed as a photo aquatint, also known more commonly as a gum bichromate.  It is a permanent photographic process invented in 1858 in which watercolor pigments (not dyes) are bonded to archival paper and was the first instance of color photography.

Did I mention that my winter job came with a free season pass to Bald Mountain?  I was a pinhead.  I'm talking about telemark skiing.  Free the heel and the mind will follow.

Here's Kelly, skiing uphill in the backcountry.  Before I got the job at the ski mountain, that was how one earned the fun of skiing down ... by attaching skins to the bottom of the skis and trudging up for hours, then skiing down in minutes (or falling downhill over and over, depending on the very variable snow conditions).

There was a lot of beauty to be enjoyed in the winter, and by staying active I stayed warm.  But, those who have experienced Idaho know that the seasons just keep getting better and better.  The warming of spring and brief greening of the desert, then the summer when one retreats from the heat to the melting snowfields and alpine meadows, and, as the Earnest Hemingway monument states, "Best of all, he loved the fall."

We'll look at those other seasons later.  For now, here's another photo taken from nearly the same vantage point as that gum bichromate I talked about earlier.  This time we're again using the 4" x 5" camera to create a multiple time-exposure of the fireworks over Sun Valley, Idaho along with the torchlight parade ending at the bottom of Dollar Mountain during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of America's premier ski resort, the location where the ski lift was invented and first installed.  The Sun Valley lodge is over there on the left.

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