WALL STYLE | Amber Jean

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Another Birthday


I woke depressed. Put a bit of Bailey’s in my morning tea…thought about crawling back into bed with a bad case of the blues but pulled on my snow pants and boots instead. Early morning hike uphill in old snow; I followed previous boot tracks, searched for sun, purpose, and answers. Sun up. Soul down. A gamut of emotions wadded like a mess of yarn the cat played with. Thoughts of time…how strangely elusive and yet evasive time can be. Just a few seconds can change everything. A few years can pass in a blink and a couple deep breaths.Two years ago today, I was climbing ice with three of my favorite people down in Cody, Wyoming. We’d really whooped it up with friends the previous night, celebrating ice and life. Our spirited group danced crazy and wild in the spinning dots of a disco ball at Cassie’s, the big cowboy bar. I got carded twice…not bad for the eve of my 40th birthday. The skinny bright-eyed bartender with dyed hair, wicked tight jeans, and a red lipstick grin pointed me out to every lady who came in, “Would you believe she is 40 years old?!!” The women looked me over in good natured disbelief. One woman commented that ice climbing must be “good for the skin.” I laughed and remarked that hanging off frozen waterfalls in a biting cold winter wind is a recipe for chapped lips and ruby-red numb frozen cheeks. Must say, it’s hard to imagine it could be good for the skin. A tall cowboy bought our festive whirlwind gang a round of kamikaze shots. We left the bar at closing time, piled (was it seven?) bodies into Joe’s little car. I had the most room in the driver’s seat. Good tunes blared; Joe drummed on the dashboard as if he were on a stage powered by an admiring crowd of thousands. No one wanted to call it a night, so I took them for a ride. First I aimed for the hills above town. Stars and bluffs with town lights below, then back downtown to spin cookies in the cemetery before a jaunt down the highway into the big well-lit tunnel near the river in the canyon. Someone, (I think it was Brian) was trying to climb out the sunroof to "surf." Everyone yanked him down while I kept my hands on the wheel and the car steady. Plans to poach a hot tub at the fancy hotel were hatched but smashed when a cop pulled us over sometime before 4 a.m. and asked me to “walk the line.” My friends watched intently from inside the car, dark eyes visible through a pile of limbs. Grins lost. Music off. I passed the test but puked the following morning at the trailhead after the curvy drive up the canyon to climb a couple hundred feet of ice. What a perfect birthday. Today, life has the acute weight of transition…grief for endings; fear of new beginnings, and a bit of confusion along with the anticipation and excitement that skip hand-in-hand with the unknown. As dawn light hit the horizon my feet slipped from one old crisp boot track into another. I was keenly aware of my ability to hike. Six months ago, a few seconds and one loose rock changed the life of my dear friend LizAnn forever. She can no longer hike, or climb, or feel anything from mid-chest down. Joe and Leslie, who shared the same rope with me on my birthday ice climb two years ago, had been with LizAnn that fateful afternoon. A few days ago (Sunday), the four of us shared drinks, laughs, and other emotions while soaking at a natural hot springs in the same valley where LizAnn broke her spine. Leslie was visiting from Jackson. I took her up Pine Creek where we climbed a 180 foot frozen waterfall before meeting the others at the hot springs. On our way to the springs, we drove past the intersection where the incident command center had been set up for the rescue. Leslie and I spent countless anxious hours there, the memories so vivid it could have been last week instead of six months ago, yet lifetimes have been lived during the emotional and physical healing journey with LizAnn. Sunday was also the first time LizAnn had seen Mt Cowen since the accident which occurred in a steep gully on their descent after summiting the impressive peak. Chico had been a favorite hot spot for LizAnn, we soaked there often after adventures. The pool is not overly handicapped accessible; we lifted her in and out of the chair into the pool. Once in the water lounging with a drink in her hand, LizAnn appeared like the rest of us; a vivacious lively little thing laughing in the steam. The intricate web woven tight by tragedy was enriched and deepened by love, compassion and our common propensity for passion. Living fully. More thoughts of time, of seconds and years occupied my mind and teased my heart earlier today…but my mood has lifted, and my time to ramble run out. I’ve some celebrating to do!

Cow Punch’n



I pulled on some silky long johns, blue jeans, and thick socks as the sun rose. Truck gage said nine degrees above zero. Sipping tea, I drove along the Yellowstone River up Paradise Valley in fresh untainted early morning light to Tom Miner Basin. Zaydee and I saw wild sheep along the dirt road. Domestic sheep with playful little lambs kicked around like jumping beans in the corral on the ranch near the river. Snow sparkled; the river flowed between frozen chunks, the jagged Sawtooth Mountains pierced the blue sky horizon. The ragged ridgeline just this side of Yellowstone Park is just the kind of jagged that makes me itch to climb but today was about cows and dogs. Vern greeted me with his classic grin, the kind of boyish up-to-no-good mischievous glinting grin exceptionally suitable for good natured cowboys. We headed out to round up the cows so we could switch their tags. He’s been training three Border Collies since June. Have you ever seen a good cow dog work? Truly a sight…pure joy, plenty of smarts and subtleness…the impressive connection between dog and owner…dog and cows. Luke, a beautiful trim classic tri-colored Border Collie, rounded the cows up and herded them into a pen. He responded well to commands from Vern. No barking, just keen management through movement. No panic, rather Vern would tell Luke to "lie down" periodically and then "walk up” behind the cows and keep them moving at a slow controlled pace. Duce, broad-shouldered with red, brown and white markings, worked the cows once they were in the pens, moving them from one pen down a chute to another.If you can get past the poopy butts and slinging snot, cows have a quirky calm beauty to their eyes framed by long lashes. Big ears, soft furry foreheads, plump bellies, angular little asses…cows have the ability not to look too far into the distance. The cows we worked today are one year olds, so they are still kind of cute. Our job was to switch out their little calf tags for big cow tags. Just like children on the first day of school sporting new clothes too big, the cows’ tags were over-sized, flopping from fuzzy ears. “They’ll grow into them,” Vern said with a chuckle.We got worked a bit while trying to get them into the trailer. The chute would have made it easier but it was full of snow. We chained the truck up before Vern backed the trailer up the hill to the pen. Vern is gentle but firm…not a proponent of chaos and shouting. I like the way he thinks and appreciate his ability to try different things until finding what works for that particular moment…those particular cows. They are learning, always learning…young cows…bright eager dogs…light-hearted cowhand, in a graceful and klutzy dance full of poop and sunshine. Earlier in the day while riding in the truck, Vern dished some lessons learned when dealing with women. He said the easiest way to deal with a woman is to admit a mistake when something wasn’t working. “Don’t take it personally and simply try something else. Too many men take it personally,” he said.I wonder. But I can say working in the studio is similar to Vern’s approach on the ranch. Studio life is a constant graceful and klutzy dance where humbleness, fortitude, invention and the willingness to try new things allow an environment where one continues to learn and grow…trying not to take things personally yet opening up all of my person to the process. I wonder how things would go if I had a couple of smart working stock dogs to help herd my ideas and a firm gentle wise cowhand to keep things clipping along.


Water Babes


February 9, 2009 

Early Saturday morning I woke after 3 hours of sleep to pack and gather my things for the annual weekend ski and slumber party with the “Water Babes” at Big Sky Ski resort. The “Water Babes” are a group of exceptionally talented involved women who all work in conservation, management, activist and scientist-type jobs pertaining to water resources and fish. They are brilliant, radiant, fun, and funny. I am a “Water Babe” by default, not because I work in their field but because I am friends with two Water Babes who invited me to the first annual ski/slumber party gathering four years ago. While sipping my 2nd glass of wine that evening after our day on the slopes skiing together, I declared myself a “Water Babe” pointing out the fact that I am on the cusp between Aquarius and Pisces…which is fish and water…and thus…well? Why not?! We’ve continued the gathering…ski tickets provided by Tammy, a “Water Babe” who is also a ski patrolperson on weekends, thus provided free lift tickets for each of us.Once again, we had a blast…laughed a lot, made plenty of turns on sunny slopes, soaked in the hot tub and ate (and ate). Potluck dinner and breakfast with eleven women guarantees absolutely no shortage of food, sweets (two batches of brownies and two pies), and enough wine to take a bath in. We shared stories, tears, and kamikaze shots at lunch. The kamikazes happened after I suggested a shot for M’ellon who was a bit teary since she felt like she had turned into her mother when she felt tentative and shaky on the slopes. The “shot” turned into a round of shots toasting dear M’ellon and our mothers). M’ellon might have actually skied better after lunch. We were blessed with blue skis, good snow, and sunshine.Afterwards we plopped ourselves into the condo’s big hot tub. The single young mail occupant who was in the tub when we arrived left shortly. I am having a hard time getting over his inquiry about whether we had any YOUNG gals in our group who would be joining us…! (We could teach that clueless pop-bellied twenty-year-old a thing or two!) Late that night I joined a few of the gals for a walk in the moonlight. My sparkly blue velvet jammies (a gift from my niece many moons ago) were not exactly warm but the walk was refreshing. I love the crisp crunch sound of super cold snow. Lone Mountain punctuated an impressive jagged skyline under the full moon. I missed breakfast (two quiches and a fresh baked batch of cinnamon rolls) since I left early to climb ice Sunday morning. But I enjoyed the morning chatter over coffee while I pulled on my long johns and packed for a super cold but fun day introducing a new friend to ice climbing.

Winter White

Febrary 2, 09

Deep fluffy snow and crystal frost whispers to a quiet place in my soul. A place that holds beauty as gently as a palm cups tiny fresh laid eggs. Heavy whiteness sings gracefully without sound. An unspoken "don’t touch" lingers in the air over the delicately bedecked forest reminding me of fragile china carefully arranged on hand crochet doilies at grandma’s house. Sky white erases the horizon betrayed by one pale ribbon which startles the morning with a hint of peach, faint as the small faded stain on a formal white tablecloth.

Winter is here.