Ask Cervantes

Tonight’s question:

What should I do when life gets me down?

“… he who’s down one day can be up the next, unless he really wants to stay in bed, that is…”

― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote


Via goodreads (no attribution but seems to be a common quote)

About Ask Cervantes: I don’t claim to be an expert, but I admire Cervantes above all authors. Fuck Hemingway’s bravado, Cervantes was the shit. He lost an arm in the most biggest battle of his age, Lepanto. He spent time in a Moorish prison and debtor’s prison. He might have been part Jewish (not long after the Jews had been expelled from Spain), and even if not he was definitely an outsider. Likely little of his work would have ever seen the light of day if it weren’t for wealthy benefactors. And he gave the world so much: don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but also Dulcinea and Rocinantes, Ciprion and Berganza, so much more. He didn’t just invent stories; he built modern consciousness. My friend, if you want to really write look at Cervantes. So tonight I’m launching the Cervantes advice column: Ask Cervantes. If you have a question for Cervantes, let me know!

Overland Passsages

Walking in Dog Valley today with Coco, thinking about this new magical portal that I am about to bestow on the world whether it wants it or not. This is not my first magical portal, and although I hope it will be my last, I sort of doubt it. What I want to send through the doorway to the vast Interweb is the question that has always bothered me. And why? Why maybe simpler: I want attention, I think I have something to “share” with the world. I want to become rich and famous on my own terms with nothing but the product of my senses, imagination, mind. I want people to “like” me. So the why is simple, the same impetus that has pushed artists and writers through the ages. But what? I’m interested in what I do, obviously, but how do I frame it for readers so that I am not simply standing in some corner of the room screaming “look at me!”

Well the best I’ve come up with so far is summed up in the title of this post. First, I want to write mostly about the places that I love. Unique places that even as they become more visited are still as unknown as anything can be in hypermodernity—where down to this little windy copse of aspens has been dissected from outer space.

But places, as rich as they are in my mind’s eye, are not in themselves enough to keep me or you interested for all that long. So I realized that it couldn’t be the whole answer to the “what” looming over my shoulder as I hopped from rock to rock across the muddy flat toward Dog Creek.

I thought about the words “share” and “like” and how their meanings have changed so much recently. How the massive amount of sharing and liking that we have been doing has sort of divorced these words from their origins. Sharing being the bedrock of human courtesy, the verb corollary to the Golden Rule. When you “do unto others” aren’t you just sharing respect. And liking is a foundation of our capacity for wonder and pleasure, and a fundamental motivation for knowledge and love.

So share what I like, what interests me: places, of course, but why not add in readings, activities, anything. That became too much. I like the reflection of the willows in the creek water below me as I watch Coco walk down for a drink, but what meaning would it ever have for anyone interested in reading this rambling train of thought or looking at a picture that I snapped of it?

There was still a component missing. Something that I’ve felt was missing from all of my Interweb sharing. I thought about, the project Renee and I have been working on together and how the articles I’ve been writing about mountain ranges have made me learn more about places I’ve been familiar with as long as I’ve had consciousness. And what struck me then (and who knows if it’s right, it’s just a work in progress) was the idea of “learning.” I thought I am always in the end simply narcissistic and shallow if I share what I know. But it might be interesting, it might intrigue if I focus as much on what I don’t know as what I do know. If I focus not on being an expert (which I am a bad one anyway), but on being a learner. On sharing the exploration of learning something, always learning—or failing to learn—about the things that I like in all of the writing, all of the images, that I share with the world here.

So basin + ranging: evoking the landscape I love but ranging beyond it, always pushing deeper into the infinite space beyond the feeble light of my intellect and knowledge. And while I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of reinvention, of making myself into a “new” person, there is also an element of that here. In wanting to expand myself instead of standing with what I’ve always done. In not settling for the same old same old that I’ve gotten comfortable with.

Basques Carved Trees in My Backyard

Aspen groves in the Pine Forest Wilderness

Top seems to be man with pack animal? bottom woman in formal pose

1916, most of the carvings are too old to decipher


I think this one is a dog


Classic one


Not sure what these ones are

 Basque sheep herders were well-known for carving their names and images (women mostly) into aspen trees on their lonely summer stays in the mountains. I didn’t know much about them growing up, but working at the Center For Basque Studies I’ve learned a lot more about them and gotten pretty interested in them (although somewhat hypocrtitically it bugs me when I see modern carvings). There definitely is an artistry to a lot of the Basque carvings and they bring a completely different era to light.

This past weekend Renee, Coco and I had a chance to hike into the eastern side of the brand new Pine Forest Wilderness, up Chicken Creek and over into the highest reaches of Leonard Creek. At Leonard Creek’s mouth on the valley floor is the ranch that has been in my family since around 1918 (and my grandfather homesteaded on the creek even earlier), hence the southeastern slope of Pine Forest being my “backyard” and the route we followed a fairly common route for buckarooing in the fall, trail rides, and hiking trips. 

So you can imagine how surprised I was, when we got into the high meadows on an early spring before the trees have budded, to notice that many of the aspens had been carved. The earliest for-sure date we saw was 1916, but one that was very hard to read may have been from the 1800s. And there were lots of them, many women but other figures too, so old they were really hard to distinguish in many cases. 

It was really humbling and illuminating to find these arbor glyphs, powerful testimony of the history of what I’ve always unselfconsciously considered to be “my” mountain. To think about those shepherds working for and or knowing well my grandpa and my dad. And from the numbers and long range dates (from what I think is the late 1800s to the 1940s), just how much the mountain has been used and to imagine what kind of community there must have been up there when there might have been several different bands of neighboring sheep. 

A powerful reminder that everywhere holds surprises and that I always have very much to learn.