2009 December Archive | Amber Jean

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Monthly Archives: December 2009

About my tree…

Christmas treeTook me twenty minutes to find the biggest tree I’ve ever attempted to stuff into my little 18’ x 28’ cabin. I always pick a tree from a crowded bunch.  That way the remaining trees gain elbow room and sunlight while the harvested tree has a gimped up side (or two) that I can shove into the corner.  Once lit, the tree stays lit day and night until take-down-time.
The magical traditional Christmas markets in Germany inspired me to collect my first few tree ornaments when I was seventeen.  I earned my exchange student tuition and airfare by painting bronzes for Harvey Ratty and Pamala Harr. A few graphic design jobs picked up on the side supplemented my savings.  Regardless to say, shopping funds were limited but I couldn’t resist picking out a few handmade beauties.  Memories of my first Christmas away from home flash vivid with sound, smell, and a mix of nostalgic emotion when I hang the miniature wooden Nutcracker ornament (complete with a mini moving nutcracker jaw).  Lordy was that really more than two decades ago?!   Hot spiced wine, roasted nuts, cold cheeks, festive little lights and a skyline framed by old European town square architecture are a vivid postcard memory of the romantic holiday spirit I experienced in a country 1/3 the size of my state back home. 
cathedral-of-st-peter-bremen-d099[1]Beyond the magic markets, Christmas was elusive and  homesickness leered.  My host family’s tradition meant that no trace of Christmas entered the house until Christmas Eve when the tree and presents were placed while we attended the Christmas program at the Bremer Cathedral.  A featureless sky was caught between between buildings in a snowless city.  I felt small, cold and a bit overwhelmed in the large cathedral where a priest spoke from his elevated box.  My host family engaged in a raucous frenzy of simultaneous gift unwrapping back at the flat where the tree had been put up complete with real candles. 
A second celebration with the Münck family later that night gave me another whole flavor and depth of Christmas.  I was their guest in a small country church where I sang “Silent Nacht” with a reverence inspired by midnight mass and the knowledge that I was singing the song in it’s native tongue.  Afterwards I gulped greedily from the starry night, thankful for a relatively expansive patch of sky pierced by the humble church steeple.  The Münck’s gave me a string of freshwater pearls.  I blushed when I unwrapped the underwear set.  Big white navel-swallowing undies with a matching undershirt had been gifted “to keep me warm” since I rode my bike everywhere.  I never wore the undies out of fear of embarrassment in the off-chance I got run over in the city and discovered dead or wounded in “granny panties.”

The Longest Night


I danced naked with girlfriends around a big campfire to celebrate the winter solstice.  Each gal wore a pair of colorful fingerless gloves knit by me during the post surgery convalescence.  We left our boots on (and our hats, coats, clothes) but we were naked in spirit.  The solstice meadow is a special place on my mountain made more special by the ritual we shared on this winter’s eve.  Fueled by a bit of wind, the fire got wild and crazy.  We tossed our meaningfully crafted wood sculpture offerings into the flames, held hands and opened our hearts to the spirit of the longest night.  Giggling gleefully, we kicked up our heels and the snow while we spun about under the stars.  Goofy gutsy glorious girl stuff.


Tragic Death

My thoughts have been preoccupied with the untimely loss of an exceptional human being.  Guy was a cross between Buddha and a leprechaun; he radiated a delightful spark and spirit emulated from his connection to Mother Nature, his depth of character and his passion.  Somehow just meeting him felt like a blessing.  I walked away from a simple encounter with Guy wearing a grin and feeling awestruck – not so much by Guy’s accomplishments (which are legendary) but rather by his uncluttered simplicity which stemmed from his enlightened embrace of life.  He was wise, humble and content.  Guy inspired us.16465_369452205321_645865321_10205158_4375214_n[1]

Last week his special spirit was snuffed when an avalanche swept him off a cliff while participating in the annual Hyalite “Icebreakers” climbing competition.  I felt like puking when a friend told me Guy Lacelle died that morning in our local ice climbing haven.  Full of shock and disbelief, my heart wept for JoJo (a long time friend and climbing partner of Guy’s) and for Guy’s wife Marge whom I don’t know but feel a connection to simply because Guy shared pictures and stories of her.  Later as the full tragic story came together in bits and pieces, my sorrow and shock was deepened by compassion for the other climbers; Adam – Guy’s partner that day, Sam and Josh who were climbing above.  

I want to admit also, that I am uncomfortable with the fact that the tragedy occurred here, in our own ice climbing “backyard.”  Guy was from Canada.  He climbed all over the world.  Somehow the tragic loss would be more palpable if it happened somewhere else – anywhere else; another country, another state.  My thought is purely selfish.  Anywhere is still a “backyard” for others.  But the fact is, Guy was a special guest…here.  On a purely selfish note; I feel disheartened and a bit let down by Hyalite even though I know how ridicules that sounds.  However I am heartened by the love, respect and care in which the local community handled the tragedy.  I talked with the sergeant in charge of Gallatin County SAR (search and rescue).  He told me it was an honor to be involved – an unforgettable day that felt like he and others had recovered a Viking.

I am too choked up to write more.  Let me share a letter written for The Bozeman Daily Chronicle by my dear friend JoJo:

“As an organizer and emcee of the recent Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to Bozeman, all the great folks that traveled from across the country and Canada to be here, and the entire outdoor community for all your love and support in the face of the tragic loss of our dear friend and mentor Guy Lacelle. Guy (rhymes with see) was lost in an avalanche on Silken Falls in Hyalite Canyon on Thursday, December 10th.13839_211159663674_537883674_2980831_5672382_a[1]

Guy, originally from Ontario and living in Prince George, British Columbia, was the greatest and most accomplished waterfall ice climber to ever live, experiencing routes around the world that may never be surpassed. But more importantly I, and scores of others, knew Guy as the most wonderful and inspiring human being we’ve ever known. In 18 years of loving and being loved by this man, I’ve never known anyone to be as ethically pure, morally strong, competitive yet compassionate, such a committed conservationist, and so caring of others and animals.

Last Thursday Guy and 23 others were engaged what we call the Hyalite Ice Breaker. Simply, I designed this as a like-minded event where old and new friends simply go out and try to climb as many routes in Hyalite as they can. Whoever does the most gets only their name inscribed on a special ice axe on display at Northern Lights Trading Company. It is a celebration of the partnerships, bonds and experiences found while ice climbing in the Hyalite Canyon. Guy truly embraced the Ice Breaker more than anyone. He was here for weeks in advance to re-connect with friends and climb and strategize. He was competitive but not in a "I’m out to beat you" sort of way. He just loved the gamesmanship of it. And like the true gentleman and hero he was, he only enjoyed it if you where having fun right along with him.

When Guy’s wife Marge told me on Friday morning that Guy and his family would want the Festival to continue, it gave me the emotional strength required to go forward. After all, if there was one thing I knew about Guy, it was that he would be heartbroken if he knew anyone did not have a good time nor didn’t get to experience the joys of ice climbing because of his expense, even in dying.

Yet I need to acknowledge the local community again for embracing that spirit and helping us make the most of the weekend. Personally I wouldn’t have made it through three more days without you. Thank you to all the participants for your enthusiasm in the clinics, many of you trying ice climbing for the first time. It would have been easy to cancel the whole thing, but seeing so many of you energized by the sport over the next three days made it all worthwhile. Thank you for attending the wonderful public tribute at the Emerson Friday night. Thank you for the respect and care during the private reception we held for Marge and her family at the Emerson Grill on Saturday. They too are humbled and grateful for the love and support shown by the Bozeman community and look forward to returning soon.
Many people have asked on how they can donate to the memory of Guy Lacelle and his family. Without hesitation they requested any donations be made to the local animal shelter, Heart of the Valley. Please follow the "Donate Now" links at www.heartofthevalleyshelter.org. Please be sure to check the "In Memory of" option.

Thank you all.
May you all have a happy and safe holidays with your loved ones.”

Joe Josephson – Livingston, MT

“Mr. Fuji”

Named after an All Star wrestler, “Mr Fuji” took his attitude and left the roost to join the flock in the home of a Wyoming collector.  Personally I like this fella’s attitude, the challenging glint in his eye, and the energy in his wavy “do.”


Sparks below Zero

Fourteen degrees below zero this morning.  I have climbed frozen waterfalls in double digits below zero and actually had fun doing it but today I can hardly muster the gumption to open the door and let my dog out (let alone accompany her for a walk in the woods).  I’m alternating cups of tea with little bowls of oatmeal, fighting flu symptoms and feeling sluggish after a restless night.  I need motivation.  Wish I could pull motivation like a bright eyed bouncy bunny out of a magicians hat.  Instead I feel like the novice blundering magician with a stuffed up nose digging around the deep darkness only to come up with a mismatched sock, a fuzzed out old toothbrush, and a stale marshmallow.


I have a serious case of Monday morning tail-tucking inertia.  Wait!!  I found something!!!  A sweet little spark to share on this cold toe slow mojo day:  One of my newest Patrons sent a “thank-you-for-inspiring-me” note.  What a wonderful warm fuzzy feeling.  Love, love, LOVE it when a spark flies from my world into someone else’s and ignites a fire.  He said I could share bits from his note with you:

“Hello Amber,
You inspired me to pick up my oil paints and paint my first oil painting since High School. My first cat Moxie died a few years back at 19. I’d been looking for a picture of her I took that I thought would make a nice painting. I had grabbed my old portfolio so I could decorate my digs in Billings. What do you know, the photo I’d been looking for all these years fell out. So image then I brought out my old paints and easel and bought a canvas. There it sat blank all summer while I worked on other painting (the "compound").
Anyway, when I received your lovely print of the cat that looks just like my 2nd cat, I framed it, put it up on the shelf in the kitchen and decided "now was the time" to give it a shot. Well except for struggling with some ancient very stuck lids on my oil tubes I managed to sketch it out and paint the whole thing (18×24) in one night.  So here I am THANKING YOU Amber for a little inspiration.”

Gee.  Golly.  Gosh.  Always tickles me to hear about someone brushing the dust off their hiking boots and hitting the trail after bumping into a story from my life…or getting out the chisels which lay ignored in the closet…or wrestling the old stuck lids off oil tubes and gathering the gumption to paint. 

Thank-you for sharing your painting with me Howard.  Your kind note goosed my gumption.  Ta Da!!  Stay tuned for the rabbit ‘cuz I’m feeling the magic now…

The Gift of a Gut Pile

Temps have warmed into the double digits for the first time in days.  Yesterday after tackling a batch of work at my desk, I bundled up and ventured out for a mini-hike in the woods with Zaydee. 

Crisp Crunch Crisp Crunch

I love the sound snow makes at zero degrees.

MountaintopJack Frost has been busy decking the woods like Martha Stewart  might deck the halls.  Sparkles galore.  The forest feels super clean.  Tantalizing little critter tracks are carefully placed accents in a fluffed up room cleared of clutter.  The cold air bit my cheeks while I strolled through the picture perfect landscape.  Something ahead looked slightly out of place.  Green gray, it lay like a pillow in the trail.  A rock?  Too smooth.  Too exposed.  Unless?  No…the bears are hibernating and not rolling rocks right now.  ‘Tis the season for gut piles but this wasn’t a pile.  There wasn’t a mess.  Just the misplaced pillow and not a couch around. 

I approached. 

The pillow was full of grass.  A deer’s stomach. So it was a gut pile…minus the guts, fur and gore.  Sounds gross but there was something oddly beautiful about the cleanliness, the color, the shape, the placement.   The only clue was a dot of blood here and there in the snow like carefully placed red candy Christmas cookie decorations.  Cliff has five deer hanging outside his cabin.  None of them have stomachs.  So here amidst the perfect Jack Frost winter white landscape, a beautiful wild creature with long eye lashes breathed it’s last.  Birds feasted.  So will I.  (Cliff keeps me in meat). 

Frozen hard as a rock, the stomach lay in the trail where I  walked carefully with trekking poles; careful not to stumble or fall thus risk ripping my own stitched up innards. 

Life is beautifully odd.