Comic strip, freebie, + 7 things people say to painters

Here’s a web extra for everyone: my comic strip for the Missoula Independent’s annual Comix Issue. It’s in last week’s paper, plus it’s on display at Zootown Brew for the rest of May, along with a dozen or so others. But if you live far away:

I had a hard time with the theme, “Alternative Missoula Facts,” because 1) Must everything always be about Missoula? and 2) Must everything always be about politics? But eventually, I came up with the idea of creating an alternative female-centric history of a few local place names, illustrated it, and sent it in. It’s not my greatest idea ever, but I tried to make up for it with execution.

I urge y’all to check out all the comics in this issue. There are some great ones! Whimsical, unexpected and super-well-drawn. They’re online here.

Next up:

Potsketch is a benefit auction for the Clay Studio of Missoula. They really have fun with this event. They dress up in costumes and auction off big ceramic pieces– terrifyingly, volunteers prance between the tables, often in high heels, carrying the invaluable vase or whatever raised high above their heads. They also commission fifty or so local artists to create 5″ x 5″ drawings vaguely centered on the theme of pottery. These “potsketches” are sold in a silent auction while everyone’s munching crudites. (You can view this year’s amazing potsketches here.)

This year, I was excited to contribute a piece, a watercolor I called Lil Guy with Teacup:

I was painting at another job all day before the gala, and ran into the women’s room in the fifteen minutes between events, to speed-change and hope that nobody actually needed to use it for, say, peeing. I shucked off my paint-spattered grubbies and slipped into my wedding dress (hey, it’s multipurpose), a cardigan, and some flats, Cinderella-style but without the flowing locks. Then I hopped into the F150 and zoomed over to the University Ballroom.

I’ve been practicing detachment when I give items to charity events, ever since the humiliating experience of watching EVERY. OTHER. THING. sell except my art and some decrepit printer from 1994. But I do let myself enjoy it when things go well. That night, my little art piece got three bids, topping off at a $70 donation to the Clay Studio. So Lil Guy is now in an unknown person’s home, which is a satisfying mystery.

I thought that was it for my Potsketch contribution, but then the woman I randomly sat next to turned out to be a friendly, cool teacher at Willard, our town’s alternative high school. She had fallen for Lil Guy, but didn’t bid in time. “You know, I painted a bunch of studies for that piece,” I said. “Would you like one?” Yes! And that’s how Lil Guy #2 found a home. Bonus: the teacher wanted to pay me, but I demurred, so instead, she donated some money to the Clay Studio. I brought the painting to her classroom and had the chance to meet her students, who were the most welcoming group of teens I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. They even showed me their own artwork. 

A couple of days later, I got an email from her, mentioning that her friend, who was also at Potsketch, also loved Lil Guy. I’ve got more, I replied, let’s keep this diaspora flowing! So Lil Guy #3 went to live with the friend, and may eventually lead to an illustration gig down the road… fingers crossed. ūüôā

J. had also spoken for one of the Lil Guys, the one that I call Accidental Milhouse. See if you can spot him:

That Lil Guy is going to be framed and hang out on J.’s desk at Scariano Construction.

But did you notice: there’s still one more, the blue-hued Guy in the upper left. Want him? First person to contact me gets him for free!


On a similarly light note… I spend a lot of time on ladders and dropcloths in public places where people walk by and speak their minds. 99% of the time, I love this public element of window painting. The most common utterances are along the lines of “Good job!” and “Wow!” –gratifying, but uninteresting as list items. So I bring you…

Things people say to me, or about me, while I’m painting

(Responses, spoken or only imagined, in parentheses.)

  1. Do you ever misspell a word? (#1 most common question. Answer: not yet.)
  2. Mommy, what’s that boy doing? (This one makes me grin.)
  3. Can I help? (I would love to let you, little girl, but your parents would not enjoy the laundry afterward.)
  4. Can I touch it? [pretends to stick a finger in the paint] Ha ha ha! (You are a real Seinfeld, buddy.)
  5. Are you gonna make it look just like the pattern, little lady? (Yes. Yes, I am. And I doubt you would have questioned my ability if I were a man holding this paintbrush.)
  6. Careful on that ladder! (Again, something I doubt anybody would say to a man.)
  7. Did you know you smile when you paint? (Aww, that’s great! It’s partly squinting, but I’ll take it as a compliment.)


Lastly, some exciting news: I’m going to San Francisco next week, to take the Introduction to Brush Lettering workshop at New Bohemia Signs,!

Ughhhh, I want to be able to do this! So beautiful…

I applied for and received a grant from the Montana Department of Labor, via the Small Business Development Center, to help me take this trip. (Small businesspeople, I highly recommend meeting up with these folks! It’s free and so helpful!)

It may surprise you to learn that I know next to nothing about brush lettering, despite having done it professionally for years. Back in Georgia, when Jo Knox was teaching me her craft of window and sign art, she tried to teach me lettering with the quill brush, but I couldn’t get it somehow, so my lettering is completely self-taught. I don’t know how to mix the paints… how to palette the brush… how to draw a perfect circle, make a layout, what to hold my mineral spirits in, how to store my brushes in motor oil without getting grease on everything… the list is very long!

So I’m going to unlearn a bunch of habits, and try to pick up some new ones, plus absorb as many tricks of the trade as possible. It’s going to be challenging, and fun! I’ll come home with a new brush and a few beginner signs… and, I promise, photos to follow.

Enjoy spring, everyone!

The final chapter: Zippy Morocco & Diddo in Canada!

When we last left our hikers, they were descending from Fifty Mountain into a thick cloud of fog on their last day hiking the Continental Divide Trail, Canada-bound. We lose the morning sunshine, disappear into whiteness, barely making out channels of river cut below, damp and lush. 


The trail is fogged in for miles, and we wonder whether we will be able to see anything at the border. We reach the southern shore of Waterton Lake – which is still in the United States – and a customs office. I open the door to see if we need to check in. Oops – I open it right into the leg of a grumpy customs agent. There’s no public area or counter, just him in his chair, glowering. The agent takes himself and his leg very seriously. Fortunately, I do a good innocent ditz, backing out with bubbly salutations, and we stride out of there quickly. These are the Last Miles. Knowing they’re the Last Miles makes it hard to just hike and be. They feel monotonous, slow and fast at once, and before we know it, we’re looking back at a sign that greets people headed the other way. “Welcome to the United States,” it proclaims, followed by an admonishment to visit Mr Grumpy at the customs office four miles south. Which means that ahead of us… is Canada! We are here!

The obelisks. The border. A tiny pier. And the Cut: on the 49th parallel, from Washington to Maine, there’s a gap of about twelve feet. There must be a huge number of workers spending their days weed-eating and pruning for thousands of miles, including over mountains and many places nobody else will likely ever see. (In some ways, this denuding is the opposite of a border wall. But equally as poor a use of resources, IMHO. Although I’m not sure who pays for it, the US or Canada…) It’s a strange sight.

But it’s a sight! Did I mention that we can now see more than thirty feet ahead of our toes? The fog finally melted under strong rays of sun, which beam over Waterton Lake. 


(We considered bundling up in all our clothes, pretending to shiver, and posting a prank photo to make people think it’s already winter here, but the sunshine is such that nobody would believe us.)

A British Omahan (perhaps the British Omahan; how many can there be?) is kind enough to take our photo, and hangs out to chat as J. smokes his celebratory cigar.

Zippy gets one cigar per long-distance hike.

You may also notice he is wearing a Burger King crown. This is thru-hiker tradition, representing the Triple Crown of hiking: completing the AT, the PCT, and the CDT. He asked me to pick one up back in Butte. It’s strange to go into a BK and ask for a crown when you don’t have a kid. But I did it, glued trail insignia on each cardboard jewel, rolled it around the cigar, enclosed both in double Ziploc bags, and brought it all this way.

J. tries out the phrase, “I’m a Triple Crowner,” as we amble our way past the finish line a few more miles into Waterton Townsite, where we’re camping tonight and will meet our kind friends Jane and Garon to enjoy a little of Canada before we head home and re-enter “normal” life…

But watch out for the aggressive, 14-foot reindeer?
And watch out for aggressive, 14-foot reindeer? Welcome to Canada!

The after-party

It’s time to ice the cake. Jane, Garon, J and I wake up and gather our day packs for a social jaunt to Carthew Summit, one of their favorite spots in Waterton. We catch a free shuttle bus to the trailhead and begin.

View of Cameron Ridge. Photo credit: Garon Smith

It’s a relaxing change to take the ascent slowly, at a tourist pace, purpling our tongues and fingertips with fat huckleberries. 

Break at Summit Lake. Photo credit: Garon Smith
Break at Summit Lake. Photo credit: Garon Smith

Our packs are full of luxurious town foods from the little general store: bagels and strawberry cream cheese, juicy snap peas, wasabi almonds, gouda!

Photo credit: Garon Smith
Jane and me on Carthew Summit. Photo credit: Garon Smith

I run to the top of the ridge, gratefully aware that my ankle doesn’t hurt. All summer it was giving me grief, and I feared I wouldn’t be able to make this trip with J. comfortably, or at all. On top of the rock outcropping is a worldview I can support 100%: Canada, the United States, who cares, indistinguishable, all mountains and trees and blue glacial lakes, cerulean sky and fresh air that we are lucky to breathe for this short while. After I run back, J. says that he finds a woman with strong legs, running up a mountain, a very sexy sight. Hubba hubba.

Jane and Garon take the same route down, to catch the shuttle back to town, but J. and I decide to walk all the way back on another trail, past several gorgeous lakes. It‚Äôs a bit longer than J. wanted to hike today, but gentle… and this way, we won’t have to sit and wait for the bus. (Waiting is one of our least favorite activities.)

At the end, we snack on a park bench by the last waterfall, as tourists swarm and take selfies. We realize, looking at a map, that we have just done one of the three legs of a feat called the Waterton Triple Crown‚Ķ so J. has unwittingly started another Triple Crown less than 24 hours after finishing the last one! Haha, we will have to come back again and finish it someday. (Travel hint: always leave something undone, so there’s a reason to return.)

Back at camp, we revel in unlimited, private, clean, hot showers in the campground’s heated restrooms. Canada, you know how to treat hikers! Then we head to town to visit the Prince of Wales Hotel, which is the thing on all the postcards so of course we must see it, and see if they’re serving dinner.

Photo credit: Garon Smith
Photo credit: Garon Smith

The main restaurant is hoity-toity, pricey, and booked for hours… but we can eat in the informal cocktail lounge off the lunch menu. It occurs to me that despite suggestions that I’m a pinchpenny, what I prize isn‚Äôt cheapness per se, but finding a level that feels right: not wanton, not wan, just nice.

The lounge is Goldilocks’ bowl of perfect porridge in this regard. We order hearty, simple pub food, chat and laugh with our friends, and gaze out the big glass picture windows facing south over Waterton Lake, back toward the USA. 

Jane, Garon & J.
Great company

Then the floor show begins… the sun slants pink on the mountains, and as we dine, two big thunderstorms slowly pass across the vista, with rain, lightning, dramatic clouds, breezes, and gaps of sunset as intermissions.

Photo credit: Garon Smith
Photo credit: Garon Smith

We are glad not to be in our little tents, but instead watching from above, cozy and full. We all feel very rich in the things that matter.

On our way out, the hotel is luminous, lit at every window like a magic palace, and unsettled clouds glow in the last castings of daylight.


And our gear is dry in the tents. I don’t know how it works, that tiny little pyramid of synthetic fiber with barely a lip over the groundcloth, but we sleep tight and warm.

These past few weeks, hiking from the full moon to the new moon, this would sometimes occur to me: ‚ÄúI could leave all that.‚ÄĚ That being my job in Missoula, my sign painting business, the little life we have carved out. It is always possible to be reborn, to have a different life. There are so many lives out there. We get so specific. We forget. It’s good to be reminded, and a long hike does that. 

But although we could leave, and survive, and thrive, we don’t. Our little life is good. We’ll hike again. But for now, look forward to gathering in the picnic shelter in the chilly morning, heating oats and bananas and huckleberries and Jane‚Äôs homemade granola, and coffee and tea, on the little camp stove. To staring out the window of the backseat as our friends drive us away from Waterton, out of Canada, toward Chief Mountain, the plains stretching out to the east. To a belated anniversary kiss on the shore of Lake McDonald. To our way home.


Holiday brush-ups

It’s been too long since my last post, and I’m well aware that I abandoned Zippy and Diddo somewhere just south of the Canadian border, but it’s for a happy reason: my signpainting business has taken off in the past few months. 

It’s the holidays, so everyone’s down for window painting, and word of mouth is my best pal right now. Nearly every day I’m getting another inquiry. I’ll post a few shots of my most recent art at the end…

J. took my profile photo as I worked on some gold flourishes outside Five on Black.
J. took my profile photo as I worked on some gold flourishes outside Five on Black.

My goal in 2017 is to do less hustling on foot, and more promotion via social media. To that effect, Sideways Gaze Signs is now on Instagram! So if you would like to see my work as soon as it appears, please follow me. And there’s now a Sideways Gaze Signs page on Facebook – so, same deal, please “like” that page too… if you like. I appreciate it!

Too bad that the busiest season of the year is also quite chilly, but c’est la vie. It does require 5.8+ pounds of cloth and rubber, by recent calculations. For painting in Montana in November, here’s my wardrobe:

  • Thrift store jeans with hundreds of little paint flecks. They’re Lucky brand… not superstitious, I just want to remind myself of how lucky I am to be able to do this. (In the summer, I wear a purple t-shirt that says “my happy place,” for the same reason.)
  • Darn Tough socks
  • White leg-warmers with gold flecks, also hand-me-downs – thanks, Emi!
  • Long underwear top & bottoms
  • Three of J.’s old work shirts
  • My down jacket. I give up, it’s got to be worn, splotch risk be damned.
  • Mismatched gloves, tragically thin, but that’s what you need for this craft
  • Flannel hand warmers filled with rice, sewn for me by J.
  • An eternity scarf – perfect because it doesn’t have any ends to dangle into wet paint
  • An old black fleece hat
  • Sorel boots, hand-me-downs – thanks, Mom!
The result being that I look as rotund as the snow-women behind me.

Fashionable I’m not, but cozy I mostly am. I also pack my dad’s old Thermos filled with hot tea or cocoa. Nonetheless, by day’s end, I’m often chilled through this time of year. The solutions to that could be a good workout, lots of layers and blankets on the couch, yet more hot tea, or ideally, snuggling up to J., who is like a hot potato in the bed. I like to look at weather sites and note the day when the average low begins to rise (December 29, if you’re wondering).

Despite the cold, the perks of being a public artist are significant.

I started the week doing the windows for Ruby’s Caf√©, a diner that has been around forever,i filled with old vets, young hunter-looking guys devouring giant breakfasts alone, and couples who have eaten there perhaps since the 1950s. Heidi the waitress was so kind, keeping my Thermos filled with steaming decaf, and I had the satisfaction of taking a break, pulling up to the counter, and ordering a gigantic pancake with jam and syrup halfway through the day.


Ain't it a classy joint?
Classy joint!

The next day I moved down the street to Harrington Surgical Supply, chatting with the people who slowly made their way to the door, usually with wheelchairs or walkers or canes, oftentimes trying to muffle little oofs of pain, sometimes with helpers or a spouse. The ones who didn’t say hello, and seemed kind of stern, oftentimes would watch me from inside. I’m not sure they know I’m peeking at them beyond the tip of my brush. I hope the cheery snowladies, one for each of the women who work at the company, bring a little cheer to some folks who could use a bunch of it.

And I finally met one of my predecessors, longtime Missoula artist and signpainter Dirk Lee. He struck up a conversation as I painted imitation gold baroque frames around the windows at Five on Black, a little Brazilian lunch place downtown. He used to do all the windows and lettering downtown – you can still find it in spots – but said the advent of vinyl stickers cut his business years ago. We talked shop, I quizzed him, then asked for his card, which was super classy: block printed on ragstock, all lowercase, twice the size of a normal card. Later I looked him up and discovered his main art is erotica. (Check out this feature article about Dirk Lee from the Missoulian in 2005, if that piques your curiosity.) Here’s to honoring those who paved the way. And here’s to the rebirth of “dying” arts.

As promised, here are a few more windows. I’m sure demand will drop off in the new year. There will be plenty of time to sleep during the February doldrums. Until then, I’m riding the whirlwind, thankful for the way the biz is unfolding, with all the new people it brings into my life. Thank you all so much!

Five on Black on a blessedly sunny day
Five on Black on a blessedly sunny afternoon
Almost fifty unique, intricate snowflakes for Swoon Beauty Boutique
Almost fifty unique, intricate snowflakes for Swoon Beauty Boutique (left windows not shown)

P.S. I’m enjoying the idea of “evolving” windows. So far, the art deco fall windows at RP Ellis Fine Jewelry became, at Rich’s suggestion, Thanksgiving turkeys (and I couldn’t resist a few scalene-triangle chicks):



And at Copperopolis, I began with plain streetlamps… and a month later, “lit” the lamps, which also received fresh snow and a pair of cardinals:

After winterization!
and after winterization.

Zippy Morocco & Diddo in Montana

Leland tucked his business card into the door of our pickup truck at the Rattlesnake trailhead. He’d seen our hiking bumper stickers and recognized kindred spirits. That’s how we met our local hiking buddy last summer. Now, he’s also our trail angel: on August 17, he shuttles me to the border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness to join Zippy for the last 230 miles of the Continental Divide Trail.¬†

We get a sleepy start that Saturday, drive a couple hours to quiet Augusta on the mountains’ eastern edge. At the general store, Leland buys a tea bag,and I use a flush toilet for the last time in the foreseeable future. He smokes a cigarette on the one, deserted street, then we get back in his little hoopty car and rumble the 30-mile gravel road to Benchmark Airstrip, the trailhead to the Bob. (If only he had a little airplane, Leland thinks.)

We spot J. on the side of the road, waiting for us. At last! Let’s do this! …but not without a feast first: Zippy needs some town food. So we sit in the gravel of the parking cul-de-sac and spread out a picnic:¬†sodas, fresh grapes, homemade zucchini brownies,¬†bagelwiches stuffed with farmer’s market tomatoes and smoked tempeh, and Leland’s mother‚Äôs leftover chicken curry.

We hike out fast and energized. Leland joins us for the first day, to visit the Chinese Wall, which he missed during his own CDT thru-hike, due to a fire closure. Under the warm sun, we talk about religion and politics and all the things you’re not supposed to bring up in polite company.¬†

J & Leland & Bob (the Bob Marshall, that is)
J & Leland & the Bob

I am amazed that there’s been no discernible growth in this area since we were last here in 2012. With its short growing season, the Bob recovers very slowly from the burn, which happened the year of Leland’s birth. He and all the little trees rising out of the charcoal and fireweed date from 1988.¬†

Late afternoon rumbles of thunder hint that it’s time to pitch camp. Leland starts a fire near our little clearing by the river. He¬†brought a pack of sausages, which the omnivores roast on sticks. The weiners drip fat into the flames as darkness fills the sky. The boys cannot eat them all. Soon, the bear line hangs, not far off, containing three raw, aromatic tubes of meat. The doused campfire probably reeks of pig too, and when J. comes into the tent I turn to kiss him and exclaim, ‚ÄúYour head smells like sausage!‚ÄĚ

It’s a little hard to fall asleep.

Day 2

The Chinese Wall is named as a reference to the Great Wall of China, but it’s not manmade. It’s a geologic feature ten miles long. ¬†We reach its crest at late morning,¬†saying goodbye to Leland, who heads back toward his car and his phone full of messages, back to the life of a realtor. Zippy and I¬†descend deeper into the wilderness, using an alternate CDT route that promises more dramatic scenery. The trail is thick and green, traversing ridges, and feels for all the world like the Appalachian Trail. Also AT-like: increasing clouds and ominous thunder. Then we notice a distinctly western touch: green signs stapled to tree trunks, ordering us not to camp here, as “the US Forest Service is in in the process of catching and removing grizzly bears from this area between 8/16-8/28.” Which is now. So we keep on, pitching the tent a short way after the signs stop. We dive inside just as a cold rain pours down around us. Narrowly avoiding being caught in a storm is one of hiking’s¬†finest pleasures.

Day 3

Next morning, the rain’s gone, but it’s still chilly and damp. I holler my way across the frigid river, thinking we’re so remote that I couldn’t possibly awaken anybody, but there is a ranger station right across the river. Oops. Fortunately, the three scientists inside are already up frying pancakes. They are the folks behind the green signs. In order to study grizzly bear DNA, they’ve been scattering cow blood in the restricted area to attract griz¬†to capture. Don’t camp there, indeed!

Once we warm up, it is a magnificent day’s hike, all alpine ridges and little basins filled with wildflowers and berries. Only, Zippy has this thing where he doesn’t take sit-down breaks. Doing so is a waste of time, he believes. (As is carrying a stove to heat coffee and meals. He even hikes while brushing his teeth.) I decide to be open-minded and try his approach. Fortunately, visiting with another hiker (our friend Carlos again), changing out clothing layers, and digging through one’s snacks are all acceptable, functional¬†reasons to stop, so I do get a few– well, don’t call them breaks– pauses, shall we say?

After trying Zippy’s approach to lunch, which is to pour water into a Ziploc¬†containing dried potato mix, then carry it in your hand while hiking for the next 20 minutes as the grub rehydrates, then spoon it into your face while continuing to hike… I decide I’ll wait today for one of his functional breaks. At 4 pm, we arrive at an unmanned ranger station. Lucky for me, J. needs to make a privy stop, so I have a luxurious fifteen minutes to swing my feet off the porch and eat my potatoes and stuffing while resting on my backside, as God intended.

Day 4


And now, for the gourmands, here are the best instant breakfast recipes on trail:

  1. From Leland: Grapenuts and powdered milk. Oh man. Those little crunchies stick with you.
  2. From Carlos: Instant oatmeal, a spoonful of sugar, and tons of dried milk. It’s almost like pudding the way he makes it. Damn. Thank you, amigo!
  3. And from us: Granola, cold Starbucks Via coffee in place of milk, and fresh huckleberries. The perfect combination of sweet, bitter, and tart.

There are so many berries here, including the fattest huckleberries we have ever seen. It’s an amazing year for berries! Which means it is also an amazing year for bears. We spot our first, a black bear, near another ranger station. We whoop and holler and it flees like two conjoined black balls bouncing along together, its front and rear halves, adorable especially given its trajectory in the opposite direction.

(All told, we will see nine bears on our two-week trip, and probably three hundred colorful bear scat right on the trail– bears use trails too! The¬†scat consists almost entirely of hucks, thimbleberries, raspberries, whortleberries… you get the idea. Later this month I’ll step over an almost delectable-looking apple scat. All of these encounters are comfortably far-off, unlike our Jewel Basin¬†experience. Even far away, however, the two grizzlies we spot are hair-raising. You can just tell they are grumpier and more assertive than the others. We carry bear spray and make noise as we go, and that’s all we can do… a risk we accept in exchange for living in such a beautiful place.)


Our heartbeats quicken as the first glimpses of Glacier rise on the horizon. Then we¬†take an alternate that turns out rutted and muddy thanks to some recent erosion-preventive bulldozing, the kind that has to look worse before it looks better, I guess. The trail’s not scenic, and it crosses the same big river at least eight times. No bridges, of course – such luxuries await us in the national park, but here in the Bob we’ll keep our feet wet.¬†

Day 5 

Excited to be headed to town today. How quickly five days have flown!

Nearing Highway 2, it’s strange to hear traffic again. Whooshes and rumbles that we first try to parse as natural sounds, then realize our beautiful, unusual error.¬†The campground by the highway sports a handwritten sign: ‚ÄúCDT Hikers, See Campground Host.‚ÄĚ So we walk the loop past all the RVs, but we don’t even reach the host before she crows out to us in welcome. Janet pulls out two chairs, a lap blanket for chilly me, some blue Gatorade, and a Tupperware full of homemade chocolate oatmeal cookies. We chat and enjoy her cheerful company for half an hour, as her tiny dog patrols the area. She loves to talk with travelers, and we tell her about our dream to be campground hosts ourselves when we retire. Her kindness extends to all the people she meets, and she calls out to each guest who walks by. What a natural. Thank you, Janet!


It’s nice to have that kindness in my tank as we cross windy Marias Pass, entering Glacier at last – the crown of the Triple Crown – because the trail up and over into East Glacier, cutting through the park, is incredibly brushy. Zippy’s legs are calloused and tough, so he barely feels the knapweed and other scratchy plants that hog the trail, seeking more light for their sustenance. My legs, however, are fresh and soft, and before we’re done, they’ll be etched with red and white and drops of blood.¬†I make Chewbacca noises as we descend¬†through a recently logged forest. It is a bit depressing: all the trees are the same age and growing so close together, it is a tinderbox without canopy or understory. We pass into Reservation lands and notice that thinning has taken place. It looks a little better. I guess that is the next step, and hope that thoughtful management continues. If we have clearcut, the least we can do is shepherd the land back into healthy forest, and harvest sustainably next time.

Late afternoon brings us to the town of East Glacier, Montana. J. buys a pound of Red Vines to hold him through the wait for a dinner table at Serrano’s. Then we dump our gear at Brownie’s Hostel, which we are relieved¬†to find wonderfully quiet after 10 pm.¬†J. and I have a room with two single beds, which we drag together so we can snuggle. It is worth the effort.

Day 6

Dawn on a day so windy and smoky, we can barely see the mountains from town. It’s a great day for a Zero – a day where you just rest, you don’t hike at all. We head over to Luna‚Äôs for breakfast, past a woman conked out right on the roadside, her head lolling on a tiny pink backpack, her boots an uncomfortable-looking black witchy type.¬†

Over breakfast, we wonder about her story. She’s going to sunburn out there… why doesn’t she move a few feet off the road, into the grove of pines? Is it desperation, depression, loss of hope?

We pick up our hiker box from the grumpy lady at the post office, who seems to want us to grovel before we claim it, to admit her power over such things. We’d addressed it to ourselves, c/o Brownie’s Hostel, so technically she can refuse to release it to us, instead requiring one of their staff to show up. But I am an excellent suck-up when need be, and make a big show of gratitude for her generosity in giving us our package.¬†I’m not too proud to beg.

You can see the smoke even inside the lodge.
A bit of smoke is visible even inside the lodge.

Then we relax in the East Glacier Lodge for an hour. J. manages to doze with a cup of coffee in his hand while I call my folks. 50 years ago, my mom spent a summer working as a housemaid at this lodge. She tells me that she used to spend a lot of time sitting and reading in the lodge, as it was more comfortable and pleasant than the worker dorms, and I wonder if she’d curled up on the very same couch we occupy now.¬†

A historical kiosk in town displays photos of young park workers a hundred years ago. Women in overalls, men raising their arms, everyone completely smashed and hanging out riotously in the clapboard building that is now Brownie’s Hostel, festooned with signs proclaiming it a 24-Hour Dance Hall. The way we envision gender roles in the pastРthey obviously didn’t apply here. The kids look like they could have been cavorting yesterday at some jolly punk concert. All dead now. How strange, wave upon wave of generations, each taking a turn, then unwinding into foam. It is our turn, through no choice of our own. So we take it, wandering outside when we can, just as they did. How strange! 

Day 7

After another breakfast at Luna‚Äôs, we buy tribal recreation permits and head back into the mountains. (Huckleberry pie counts as breakfast… right?)¬†I get a bit of navigation practice as we wind among cattle trails toward the Glacier Park boundary, at which point everything becomes clear and there is only one trail. At the boundary, we meet the woman who was sleeping on the side of the road yesterday, whom I dismissed as despairing. In fact, she is just a super-low-budget hiker. She cannot possibly have a tent in that little backpack! But she spent last night out here‚Ķ She is a bit turned around, but we point her in the right direction and she should be good to get back to town. Unprepared and eccentric as she is, she‚Äôs out here living the life, so good for her.

We’re joyful because the smoke has blown away, and the wind has mostly died down.

Except on top.
Except on top.

We climb to Scenic Point with gusto, passing other hikers left and right. ‚ÄúGet out the shovels!‚ÄĚ J. teaches me to think, when we spot day hikers ripe for passing (er, ‚Äúburying‚ÄĚ)– all in good fun, of course. Heading down the other side, I make J. trek a tenth of a mile off-trail to a waterfall vista. (Did you know that hiking even a single step off-trail is anathema to a thru-hiker? By their logic, it is better to hike six thirsty miles to on-trail water rather than walking 0.2 off-trail to a nearby source. So getting Zippy to agree to this is a major coup, testament to his generosity.)

We switchback down to Two Medicine, a beautiful spot on a lake with a very nice campground. The walk-in backpacker site feels deluxe after our time in the backcountry: food storage boxes, flush toilets, potable water at every turn… and ranger programs to geek out on! Tonight we will learn fun facts about wolverines from a woman in an awesome ranger hat… heaven!

Day 8

Good morning from Two Medicine Lake
Good morning from Two Medicine Lake

Leaving Two Medicine, the hike is beautiful and gentle up toward Pitamakin Pass, the morning air wonderfully clear. Little blue lakes, like gems, glow turquoise in the holes poked out by glaciers…


We don‚Äôt have many miles to go, and we reach camp by 4:30. Fortunately, there are two other couples there, and we hang out until dark at the food prep area, sitting on logs and chatting with Becky, Mike, Sly, and Sandra. Mike and Becky are ex-smokers who became hikers, to the bewilderment of their friends. They are fiftysomethings, proudly “child-free,” and recommend the movie Sausage Party. Sandra and Sly are Quebecois, and we discover that Sly did the AT in 2010 and the JMT last year, just a few days ahead of me!

Sand, a firefighter, makes a handy little campfire for us all to enjoy. As darkness descends, she pulls out a pedometer she found on the trail earlier‚Ķ it is Becky‚Äôs, which she thought was lost forever! Sly and Sand tell us they left a knife on the pass we will be climbing tomorrow. Maybe we will find it and can return it to them, completing the circle…

Day 9

We meant to set the alarm so we could get a jump on our longest day in Glacier, 26 miles. But oops, we forgot! Oh well. Plus, if we’d gotten up sooner, would we have seen the¬†two silly yet regal moose on our way toward Triple Divide Pass?¬†We also find Sly‚Äôs knife, right where they said it would be, blade still out, fresh from slicing cheese. An extra six ounces we will gladly tote for the rest of our trip, for the pleasure of mailing it to them later.¬†

We do a bushwhack to cut off two useless miles of trail, and it is very satisfying: less than a quarter mile, just a wade across the creek and there we are! Haha! Zing!

Interestingly, this is totally legit on the CDT, though it would be taboo on the AT. Thru-hiker culture varies by trail. The CDT is more a route than an exact path. No blazes to dictate the way, so hikers are free to choose the path that suits them best. Only thing is, no hitchhiking or skipping sections, though most hikers do it periodically and still might consider themselves true thru-hikers. Zippy is a bit of a purist in this regard, and I hear many on-trail discourses about The Definition of Thru-Hiking during these two weeks. Needless to say, Zippy has not skipped one bit. Not even when the trail’s on fire… but that’s a story for another time.

We begin to descend toward St Mary Lake. Clouds pool over the mountains on the other side. Despite what looks like rain coming, perhaps a cold rain, we set a piece of driftwood on two rocks and have a sit-down lunch for ten luxurious minutes. I don’t regret it, even as fog socks in the mountains, and a bit of what looks like snow. It begins to sprinkle and we pull out our umbrellas, shrinking from the wet bushes along the path. 

Then we finally enter tourist territory: Virginia Falls and St Mary Falls. It is chilly, but with rain gloves and hoods, we are comfortable enough. The tourists look at us and our strange clothing. We must look funny. We are out for days in our sil-nylon and Cuben fiber gear with umbrellas in funny colors, whereas they are only out for an hour, so they can afford to wear cotton.

After a few hours of rainy hiking, we are happy to spot our camp across the suspension bridge. I collect water while J. puts up the tent, then we get cozy and dry inside, with our food bags in the vestibule. We snack on Pringles and nap until the rain lets up, canoodling and watching TV on J.’s phone. Maybe this is an odd idea for a romantic date, but it suits us perfectly.


Day 10

It dawns chilly, wet, brushy… but with clear skies!¬†From Piegan Pass, we see a¬†dusting of snow at 8,000 feet, left over from last night’s precip. The views in Glacier get more and more astonishing. We have hiked in this park so many times, but it keeps revealing new delights. There is a seemingly endless supply, even as the glaciers subside.¬†If only we humans could treat the land as generously as it treats us!

We descend to a lake beneath Grinnell Glacier, and find a private spot to have what thru-hikers call a ‚Äúyard sale.‚ÄĚ That’s when you spread out every piece of gear you own, weighed down by rocks or sticks, to dry out the past day’s moisture.¬†It’s a laughably cluttered sight in contrast with the backdrop:


We arrive at the Many Glacier Lodge between meals but are able to order sandwiches in the dining hall. I kick off my stinky shoes and we sit at a corner table so as not to be scent-offensive to other guests.

By the time we get to our campsite at Swiftcurrent Campground, I am pooped. Today was not a long hike, but my body’s not used to these sustained miles. J. is kind enough to do all the work of pitching the tent while I lay on the groundcloth¬†in the dappled sun beneath a swaying tree.¬†It’s another night of “deluxe” campground camping, complete with soft serve machines at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, and heated bathrooms with coin-op showers that spurt hot water so long that even taking our slowest showers ever, we can‚Äôt use all the time allotted. I wash out my gaiters and socks and hang them in a tree to dry.

Good night!

Day 11

The power’s out on the east side of Glacier this morning, making us glad we didn’t splurge on a hotel or cabin. Everyone’s¬†a camper now! We make tea and coffee using the last of the hot water from the general store, then hike out.

It’s our one day to hike in wind and smoke. We’re nearly blown up Swiftcurrent Pass. The clouds look mean and grumbly, and we doubt the “Accu” portion of the Accuweather forecast (0% chance of precipitation?). But oh we of little faith: once we cross the pass, we notice that the clouds are all stacked on the eastern edge of the Divide. Some unknown force of the high ridge keeps them stacked harmlessly on the other side all day.

We turn our gaze westward to the Granite Chalet, adorably nestled among a 360-degree range of wonderful peaks:

Find the chalet!
See it?

From there, the CDT’s path is one of neverending, gradual ascents and descents traversing the Garden Wall: it‚Äôs PCT-like hiking in that one can see the next six miles of trail at any point, thin straight lines drawn across the mountains. Still, there are surprises: a waterfall that bursts out of a rock (fed by a glacial lake far above), and five bighorn sheep that browse, nonplussed, as we pass:


A family of four bears trundles down-canyon when we walk near, probably bummed to be put off their berries for a few minutes. And as we weave in and out of exposed windy areas, the lee sides of the range are lush and dense with the season’s last wildflowers, ferns, and mosses. We stop on a sheltered rock near a cool spring, sick of junk food snacks, and heat a pot of hearty corn chowder for a late lunch. I¬†insisted upon carrying a stove for the second half of the trek, and I stand by my decision. You can’t beat hot lunch!

Then, a historic moment: we realize that the next little rise is the last time J. will cross the Continental Divide in his 2,800 mile trek. Uncharacteristically, he drags his feet toward the top. “Feeling sentimental?” “Yup.” Ah, the eloquence of a mountain man.

Our destination tonight is Fifty Mountain Campground. It’s 2000 feet higher than any of our other camps, and with today’s wind chill, we wonder how it’ll feel. Will this be a frigid night to remember? We look down on the bench with little glistening pools– springs– sparkling across the terrain, but we don’t see our home for the night. Is it nestled in the pines on the edge of the bench? Or will we be out in the open? Finally, we spot colorful squares: tents! And four men lying comfortably on their backs in the sunshine, reading books, spread out in the meadow. They look extremely content. I think we’re going to be fine.

In the camp circle that night, everyone’s dinners bubbling away on Jet-Boils and Whisper-Lites, we trade stories with the men, as well as a¬†couple of the palest Floridians we have ever met, and a strapping Texan who strides up at dusk. One guy tells us that he counted to find out if one could really see fifty mountains from Fifty Mountain, “but it was only forty-three, if I’m being generous. I guess Forty-Three Mountain doesn’t have the same ring to it!”

Day 12… the Last Day

It’s gonna be a great day. The dawn is blue and friendly. We slept surprisingly warm. And, like the Hanukah miracle, our fuel canister sputters empty only after steaming the water for this morning’s coffee and chai. Tonight we eat in town… in Canada!

A watched pot, etc.
A watched pot never boils?

But what happens as we descend into Waterton Valley, where signs are noted in both miles and kilometers, to the Canadian border, is a story for another day. 

The Last Day
Into the fog. You can see Canada from here!

Zippy Morocco (& Diddo!) in Idaho

After three¬†months of working, painting, and packing mail drops– and, for Zippy, three months of walking in heat, snow, up and down and flat– we reunite! In a beige mobile home dropped¬†in a valley of sun-bleached¬†sagebrush, essentially a¬†tin can baking¬†in the late July heat. Our gear sprawls across¬†the floor and we hang out as if we’ve never been apart. It’s so casual it’s strange. I cut his hair, revealing the border¬†between tanned nape¬†and Irish white above. He shaves his beard, we shower, and he eats the food I brought from Missoula (his request: a veggie wok bowl from the Good Food Store), plus a half-gallon of Meadow Gold chocolate ice cream from the gas station¬†down the highway.

I drove down to Leadore, Idaho this morning to meet him, the truck cab packed with¬†hiking gear, treats in a¬†cooler, new shoes, the bathroom scale (we learned his weight was the same – just solid muscle now), expired Starbucks Via packets bought by the hundred on eBay, and a jug of Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Soap.

En route, while stretching my legs in Hamilton’s Hieronymus Park trail along the Bitterroot River, J. called to ask me to pick up a few things for an ailing hiker. Collin, Brit and¬†creator¬†of the tightest, most awesome cuben fiber tent we’ve ever seen, has¬†not been able to keep anything down for four days, and he needs:

  1. A loaf of plain, white bread
  2. Apples
  3. Oral Rehydration Solution, sugar-free, powdered if possible, whatever that is.

Two hours later, I roll into “town” (Leadore has not so much as a traffic light, nor a store selling such luxuries as apples or bread) to deliver the humble trail magic and meet J. We have never seen a guy¬†so grateful for a cheap loaf of bread, which Collin insists is far tastier than the last loaf he procured. The Leadore Inn has accidentally overbooked, so¬†the friendly proprietor Sam puts us in the mobile home, which is actually an upgrade, as we have it all to ourselves. Sam rolls cigarettes on the inn porch, calls himself lazy, but Zippy shows me an old boxcar filled with Sam’s amazing wood carvings–eagles and bighorn sheep heads and skittering chipmunks chipped out of blackened tree burls.

We eat dinner at the one restaurant in Leadore (population: 103),¬†and another hiker strides in and pulls¬†a soda from the fridge. She and Zippy start talking, and I ask her name. “Angelina,” she says in a Russian accent. Holy smoke! I met her on the John Muir Trail last year, and now here we are in the Silver Dollar Grill & Bar (staff: one). What are the odds? Pretty good, actually: the long-distance hiker community is surprisingly tight-knit and these sorts of long-shots¬†aren’t uncommon.

It cools off graciously overnight, and after a leisurely c-store breakfast of bottled OJ, raspberry fritter, and expired Via coffee, we drive the 13 miles up to the CDT junction.


I hike with Zippy for a few miles, so he can get a good look at my backside after such a long dry spell. We feast on tiny strawberries growing in the duff, and gentian and big-pod mariposa lilies bloom along the trail: both things he never would have noticed hiking alone. It is hard to turn back and hike away after three miles, but the goodbye is sweetened by knowing we will meet again at Lost Trail Pass in a few days. And of course, more strawberries. (Wild strawberries, which are ripe even before they turn red, have an ecstatic floral savor not found in even the best farm-fresh, juice-bomb, cultivated kind).

Ta-ta for now, ZM!
Ta-ta for now, ZM!

Also, once I get back to the truck, I aim to do some touring¬†of my own. Zippy does not get all the fun (though, this year, he gets significantly more). Now mid-afternoon, it’s way too hot to hike, so I stop at the Sacajawea Center and walk near the river, past tipis and a woman weaving beautiful baskets from cured willow twigs. I learn the incredible but woefully short life story of Sacajawea. In the town of Salmon, I¬†amble around the shady side of Main Street, sampling¬†the candy shop (stale but friendly) and the¬†natural food store (homemade vegan tamales!). Then I drive south¬†toward my holy grail: Goldbug Hot Springs. It is still hot even after six pm, but only a two mile hike, and the springs¬†are gorgeous. Eight or ten pools stack one above the other up¬†the creek, each¬†gradually cooler¬†as the water rushes downhill, which is perfect since¬†the heat¬†takes its time dissipating.

The hot hike up. Cactus, even.
The exposed hike to Goldbug. Cactus, even!
One of the many warm pools at Goldbug
One of many warm pools at Goldbug.

There are three naked dudes up there, one of whom recognizes me from the Good Food Store (sigh… the minor celebrity of working at the health food mecca of the West! glad I am not naked myself) and we are soon joined by five Utahans enjoying their first mushroom trip. We watch the stars come out, and the water¬†is wonderful. When the oldest naked dude asks if I would like to exchange back massages, despite knowing I’m married, I decide that’s enough for tonight, and hit the tent. (If there were nothing sexual about his request, as I’m sure would be his defense, then why did he only ask the lady and not the gentlemen to partake? Harumph.)

The morning after, I hike out in the fleeting cool before the sun hits the canyon. I stop at a fishing access along the sparkling Salmon River, reading How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran under a shady tree while I wait for the oats to simmer.

Funny, feminist summer reading in the national forest
Funny feminist lit in the national forest negates dirty-old-man requests.

Then I drive north, stopping at the¬†grocery in Darby for Flathead cherries. Two hikers are resting outside, about¬†to resupply. One of them is Double Magic, a friendly, lanky guy, one of only four who is farther north than Zippy. I urge¬†them to sample the rare joy of these only-in-Montana cherries: “Trust me! I just washed my hands, and the cherries!”

My last stop before home is Lake Como, named after the eponymous body of water in the Italian Alps.¬†I have always wanted to hike all the way round, but J.’s not interested in this, thus, a perfect solo hike. Looking for the trailhead, I meet an older man who knows it well. “I used to walk around this lake every day after teaching school. It is a great¬†walk, just beautiful–” he gestures, kissing his fingertips and¬†opening his hand to the sky– “and you know, being out here, away from people… it helps up here.” He points to his head. I couldn’t agree more. I thank him and begin my walk, carrying¬†a sunbrella for the first time. It yields funny looks from the beach-bunny types, but not from the hiker types. The deep blue lake sparkles under the Bitterroot peaks, a few of which still have snowy caps despite the week of egg-frying¬†weather. The¬†serenity is pierced¬†by Ski-Doos and motorboats of cavorting weekenders, and it’s about 94 degrees, but¬†I choose a private spot for a¬†personal beach, wade into the water and swim and laugh all by¬†myself like a loon. The sweat is gone, I am clean, it’s cool, pure pleasure.¬†Any day¬†now a fire could start. We are all waiting. But I’m satisfied, having¬†honored each day with a bit of time in the natural world.

Non-Italian Lake Como
Non-Italian Lake Como
Pre-swim happies

Indeed, as I begin the drive home, a plume of smoke rises¬†from somewhere to the west of Victor. Fire season has begun. Within 24 hours, a 7,000-acre¬†blaze will erupt in Hamilton, engulfing several homes and creating a wall of flame visible from the highway, and a mushroom cloud of pink-black smoke trailing miles eastward. It is wonderful¬†to have Zippy close enough for day-trip visits… to see him, to have an excuse to explore on my own, and to know I could help out¬†if he had to reroute due to an¬†inferno. Our next visit will be in Sula, Montana… ¬†yes, he will arrive in his home state at last! Home stretch, baby, well done!

Zippy Morocco in Wyoming

Zippy is actually hundreds of miles past¬†Wyoming,¬†but I had been too busy to write. Still am… so the photos will do the heavy lifting today.

The finale of Colorado, at its northern border, was the Rocky Mountains National Park, including these astonishing blue columbine:

Did you know they are different colors depending on the type of soil?
Did you know columbine grow in different colors depending on the type of soil?

And then he marched into Wyoming, land of flat jeep roads, long vistas, cow pastures, and as a result, questionable water sources. We have few photos of the flat roads, because honestly, why photograph that? But do not be fooled: there is plenty of the CDT that is not dramatic or stunning. There is a bit of drudgery involved.

This might actually be Idaho. Idunno.
This might actually be Idaho. Idunno.
The Winds.
The Wind River Range, one of the most picturesque parts of Wyoming.

On the road to Rawlins, Zippy came around a bend¬†and heard little whizzing sounds¬†on either side of him. He’d heard gunshots earlier, target practice, and realized that he was in the line of fire. He jumped onto a¬†hillock and waved his hands for the marksmen to stop. (I would’ve dropped to the ground and shouted, but to each his own.) Thankfully, they saw him, and were properly aghast.

Magnificent porcupine.
Also, a magnificent porcupine. 

Zippy kept a wise distance from the creature, who looks as though she is regrowing some quills. He is in good health, and¬†unscathed except for a bruised knee, which he acquired while climbing a fence in the Winds. He tripped on the top and fell off the other side, on¬†his knee, on¬†a rock. And¬†onward…

Fun with clouds

And then came Yellowstone. I had hoped to meet Zippy there and hike with him, but the logistics didn’t work out. And I confess to feeling¬†very jealous – a rare emotion for me¬†– when I learned that he had scored a room in the Old Faithful Inn.


He’d walked up, exhausted, many days since sleeping¬†anywhere except his tent, and asked if they happened to have¬†an opening. “No,” she said, then “Oh wait!” Despite high tourist season, there was a cancellation. He got to chatting with the seasonal staff as they booked his stay, and they were curious and fascinated to learn about his journey. He was the first thru-hiker¬†they’d ever met. (Although there are at least four northbound hikers farther along than J.: Double Magic, Mammoth, and these two dudes from the Bitterroot, but apparently none of them had asked for a room at the Old Faithful Inn.) And when Zippy¬†checked out the next day, refreshed, he learned that they must have given him an amazing discount, as his bill was $40 less than expected. Very kind!


So that’s it for now. Idaho is next… in which we are finally reunited after three months apart!

Lady shrimp plays the trombone, & other art flights of fancy

It’s been a busy summer for Sideways Gaze Signs!

Café Zydeco invited me back to finish the theme I started back when it was snowing Рsea creatures playing Cajun music:


The catfish whiskers should make it perfectly clear: NOT a dolphin!
A lady shrimp plays the trombone. As they do.
A lady shrimp playing the trombone. As they do.

A new client, the adorable clothing shop Sora, had me paint their hours on the door, and hopefully there’ll be more creative work to come… I was grateful for the shade, painting on the north side of the block on a blistering¬†afternoon.

Vinyl vs hand-painted.
Vinyl (top) vs hand-painted (below).

Here’s Johnny Townmouse, carrying his picnic basket to the market on the window of perennial client, Red Rooster Home:

Thank you again, Beatrix Potter!
Thanks, Beatrix Potter!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush.

The businesses on¬†that same block¬†commissioned me¬†to paint a dozen¬†oak barrels, front and back. They are “branding” their block, North of Broadway, as “NOBO.” (I suppose it should be NoBro, but that would discourage about 25% of the clientele.) So I ordered a stencil – not something I usually do, but given that I’d be painting the same thing 23 times, it seemed worthwhile.

This job was a technical challenge – thanks to Sign Pro for the stencil, and Sherwin Williams for mixing and fine-tuning the paint and primer! The most popular passerby comments as I sat cross-legged on my dropcloth and painted logo after logo were:

  1. What does NOBO stand for?
  2. NOBO… don’t you mean HOBO?

My “uniform” of paint-spattered clothes lends a workingman’s invisibility, as people who would normally ask me for money, don’t, and many people who would normally greet me, don’t. I get a lot of positive comments, since sign-painting is a spectator sport, but¬†my favorite reaction is a child watching¬†transfixed, unashamed to stare. People are kind. “Hey sis, you got some paint on your cheek,” a homeless man points out. An Oxford regular, frequently plastered,¬†offers to pick me one of the sweet red strawberries growing in the top of the barrels, hidden among the flowers. And I’m on a first-name basis with Troy, the local mailman, who is always interested to see where I’ll pop up next.

It took some gymnastics to reach¬†all the barrels, which were filled with gravel and dirt and plants, thus impossible to move. A couple required me to¬†weave my trunk through bike racks¬†to get the necessary angles…

Plus, people had the nerve to lock their bikes to the racks.

I also took a drawing class this spring, again with Bob Phinney at the Lifelong Learning Center. The homework was a sketch every day. I wasn’t quite that diligent, but here are a few favorites among dozens of sketches.

Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Observing the observation tool.
Observing the observation tool.
Logpile with unexplained square. Looks like a book cover?
Logs with unexplained square. Book cover, maybe?

A couple approaches to a still life.

The class included techniques for drawing people without staring at them and hence creeping them out. The most fascinating tactic: look at your subject for a second, shut your eyes and stare at the afterimage burned into your eyelids, then look down and draw FAST Рeverything you can remember from the hovering, ephemeral shape. Drawing from memory is handy, especially for objects in motion Рanimals, little league players, hipsters.

Dog not included.
Oh, there's the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.
Oh, there’s the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.

Soon I’ll be branching out into sandwich boards, metallic copper paint, and perhaps some earthy interior work¬†for a massage therapist… stay tuned!

Zippy Morocco in Colorado

Zippy sez:

“Welcome to Colorado!”

…so it’s time for another photo essay from Zippy’s camera roll.


Check out how far under the snow that sign is. At least he knows he’s still in the right country.

As you can see, Zippy encountered a lot of snow as he hiked up from the New Mexico desert to the San Juan Mountains, which are having a very high snowpack season. It’s been some of the most difficult hiking he’s ever done, even with snowshoes, sidestep crampons, and an ice axe.

Spot the hikers...
Spot the hikers…

Fortunately,¬†he has fallen in with a great group of people to brave and enjoy the astounding terrain together, including the president and vice-president of ALDHA West (the American Long Distance Hiking Association)… Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, who held the unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail for five years… an international mountaineering guide, a backcountry ski guide, and other super experienced hikers. Usually he prefers to hike solo (or with me :-), but for safety’s sake he’s buddied up, and these folks are his tribe: serious, skilled, dedicated, but fun.

They found a patch of bare ground to camp on.
Under this beautiful sunset, they found a patch of bare ground to camp on.
Definitely obey this warning sign.
Definitely obey this warning sign.
The crew makes it to Wolf Creek Pass

He has also stayed in town a bit¬†more than expected, as he and¬†his fellow travelers resupply¬†and rest, so don’t feel too bad for him up there shivering. They have enjoyed¬†lots of restaurant meals and friendly barbecues. Plus,¬†Allgood is a champion yogier. (Yogi-ing, according to that font of wisdom,, is “the art of politely gathering food from other hikers/campers by means of conversation without actually asking for it. If one asks for the food it is no longer yogi-ing, but rather it is simply begging, which is shameful.”

Dessert for three.
Dessert for three!

They even did a bit of sightseeing, including the Museum of Mining:

This wasn’t even the creepiest tableau. I don’t know who made those mannequins… stuffed with¬†love, no doubt, but this museum could pull off one hell of a haunted house come October.

And in their spare time, one of the hikers is doing gear reviews, so J. and his companions got to help test out sleeping pads:


After town, smaller groups of hikers split off to take¬†different routes: some are waiting for snowmelt, three took the high route, and Zippy, Allgood, and Buttercup are taking the lower route, the “Creede Cutoff.” Here’s some wildlife¬†from his last stretch…

Almost as adorable as Zippy in the sunshine on a brand new sleeping pad.
Almost as adorable as Zippy in the sunshine on a brand new sleeping pad.
And a happy buddy.
And a happy buddy.

That’s it for now. Zippy is now in town celebrating the birthday of POD, one of the hosts of the popular Trail Show podcast, with a gaggle of other hikers.¬†Further updates as events warrant! And if you can’t wait for more,¬†Zippy got himself an Instagram account, so to see extra¬†photos, follow him there–under Zippy Morocco, of course.

Monsters and Spacemen

First off… as promised, here’s a copy of the comic strip that ran in the Missoulian‘s Comix Issue:

If you’d like to see¬†the rest of the comics, here is a link to the full issue online. I heard from an¬†editor of the Missoulian that the Hip Replacement Strip was one of people’s favorites. Given that many¬†of the comics¬†bent toward doom and gloom, thanks to the theme of “Missoula in the Future,” that’s less of a surprise. But still gratifying! And I loved having my strip next to that of Theo Ellsworth, whose super-creative illustrations are the bee’s knees.


In other news, it’s time to get furry, drooly and unintelligibly excited, because here comes the…

And who doesn’t love Monters?! [sic]
From the ZACC website…¬†“Originally conceived by nine year-old Asa Smetanka, this show is a collaboration between children and adult artists, working together to create monster art¬Ě based on monsters dreamed up by the children. Kindergarten classes from three Missoula County public schools will create original monster and assigned local adult artists will ¬†interpret the¬†child’s monster using his/her own unique style and medium. The results will be displayed in a September 9th, 2016, art show, featuring both the original child-drawn monsters and the artists.

“This project’s purpose is to bring more art into the public schools! In an effort to foster that, a minimum 50% of the earnings from this show will go towards bringing MCPS (Missoula County Public School) kids to the ZACC for art classes.”

So cool. As¬†one of this year’s adult artists, this¬†is my match, a¬†monster in need of a friend:


“Here are some facts about Monster 79: My monster likes to play with other monsters, feels like playing in the dirt, eats earrings, and thinks about playing in garbage.”

Oh fer cryin’ out loud. That is freakin’ adorable. How can I ever create a worthy pal to this rainbow rocket of teeth? My work is cut out for me.

By the way, it’s not too late to get in on the action, if you’re a Missoulian! Here’s a link to the art call. Have fun!


On the side,¬†I’m taking a “Drawing for Fun” class from Bob Phinney at the Lifelong Learning Center. He makes us draw something every day, so I’ve sketched¬†landscapes, Little League games, still lifes¬†(which I then¬†eat), and diners¬†in the GFS deli. (That last spot¬†is a great place to practice drawing from memory, wherein you look at your¬†subject for one¬†moment, then blink and let the after-image burn into your eyelids, then rapidly sketch as much as you can remember. Because nobody likes it if you¬†sit in the corner with a sketch pad and stare at people.)

A lot of the class¬†concerns¬†perspective drawing, something that generally comes easily to me. I finally¬†realize why:¬†as a kindergartener, I learned¬†the 3D drawing principles of foreshortening, shading, contour, surface, size, overlapping, and density… from, god help us, TV. It was a PBS show called The Secret City, starring a dude in a fake spacesuit, who called himself Commander Mark. Anybody remember it?

I sent away for the special kit with a cube eraser, some pencils, and a little guidebook. I think it was seven dollars. As a result, though I did not draw many monsters, I drew an awful lot of robots. It was a solid investment: despite not having formal art instruction until taking a couple post-bac classes at the University of Montana, I was on firm ground as a renderer.

The gaps, of course, were design and content. Pretty big gaps that I could spend my whole life trying to fill! That is the curse and the beauty of a good vocation. The more you learn, the more unknown spaces open up before you in every direction.


Finally, the latest sign work, a logo on the exterior of the new Drum Coffee on South Ave:

8 drum coffee complete

This is one cool coffee shop. They have a turntable and were spinning classic R&B and Prince while they brewed. The in-house bakers make delicious brioche and other pastries. The staff is awesome and took great care of me on the beautiful spring day when I was painting. This assignment was a new challenge, as it was on rather textured siding, eight to ten feet up. I decided to give myself a break and have Staples make me a giant printout to use as a template.

2 drum pattern
Is this cheating?

I cut out the shapes bit by bit and traced them onto the siding with a pencil. I washed the wall, then used Sherwin Williams Resilience paint in Toque White to fill everything in. Here are the results from below:

7 drum complete
Although at this point, “Coffee” still needs its second coat of paint.

Next challenge:¬†delicate, two-toned logos on curved oak barrels for the North of Broadway shops… and, of course, a certain¬†monster. Stay tuned!


Zippy Morocco in New Mexico

The intrepid Zippy Morocco is¬†hiking northward from the Mexican border. After three weeks, he’s almost through¬†New Mexico. Want stories and photos? He’s got no interest in blogging or writing. So I’m all you get: secondhand, better than nothing…


On April 30, he took a plane to Tucson, an Uber to the bus station, a Greyhound to Lordsburg, and on May 1, an ATV shuttle to the border. He started with all these folks but they are likely far behind him by now. He’s excited, doing thirty and forty mile days. He says he doesn’t get physically tired, just sleepy, and that’s when he stops and makes camp. That’s all he does: walk and sleep. He loves it. He loves being alone. Loves walking, walking forever.

Here, he pitched his tarp by a windmill water spigot.

It’s a desert. The middle six hours of the day are¬†darn hot, and nary a sliver of shade. But it is¬†less hard on him than the desert¬†of the PCT was. He credits that to better electrolytes. He’s taking¬†Hammer Endurolytes every day, and eating better – no gag-inducing¬†peanut butter tortillas, he’s getting high quality Good Food Store bulk grub¬†for every meal. Corn chowder, split pea soup, couscous pilaf, refried black beans with tomato powder, mashed potatoes with stuffing and dried herbs, freeze-dried veggies, Pro Bars, granola with organic coconut milk powder… fella is set up.

The CDT isn’t really a trail, usually. It’s a route. Map and compass all the way. Even when there’s a sign, it’s not exactly clear…


…or else, in New Mexico anyway, it’s just walking along the side of a road.

Sometimes for seventy miles.

It’s flat in most of the state, so he’s had a lot of cell phone reception. We sometimes¬†chat while he’s hiking. He freaked out his mom by texting¬†her a photo of a rattlesnake in real-time, mid-call, as it shook its tail at him and she urgently reminded him exactly¬†how many times its body length¬†a rattler can spring:


Despite the desert, water caches and pumps and streams – even a beautiful hot spring – crop up occasionally. One day¬†he called to tell me about his latest water source: a big water tower with a spigot at the bottom. But he didn’t want the water from the dirty ol’ spigot. He wanted the water that was shooting out of what looked like a bullet hole in the side of the tank: higher water,¬†better water. He tried to catch¬†the stream as it shot every which way, and¬†got a refreshing shower in the process.


He skirted El Malpais National Monument, the famous arch of which he viewed from above, and not below, as in most photos you see…


And he takes photos of wildflowers, only because he knows I like them. Otherwise, he registers that flowers exist, but pays them no mind.

But this cannot be ignored!

At night, we look at the moon. We both see the same white globe, thousands of miles apart, but it is as if we are close.


So he’s closing in on Colorado. Snowpack in the San Juans is¬†at 144% of normal. This is the point where I get nervous and he gets excited. Our friend Samson is plowing through, ten days ahead. It’s heartening to hear that it is possible. And there’ll be one more week, at least, of snow melt (we hope) before Zippy’s turn to posthole his way into the highlands. I’ll keep you posted.