Blog Posts

The Bulltoon is Back!

As a break from writing, I’ve started up the old Bulltoon cartoon series again. Bulltoons began way back in 1995 and ran in the Ellensburg Weekly newspaper. The editor was supportive of my efforts and paid well for my weekly contributions. The paper eventually went under (journalism is a tough field!) but the Bulltoons continued and over the years a few have been licensed via

Crappy low-res scan of early Bulltoon from the mid-90’s.

Now I’ve decided to continue the series with the goal of eventually self-publishing a Book of Bull. So here, in all its glory and fresh out of Photoshop, is…

Spring is Here at Last

I love spring! Snow melting, flowers pushing up, golden green tree leaves unfurling, early sunrises, late sunsets. The monochrome of winter has given way to a world of brilliant colors. The cold, sterile air has given way to cool air rich with the smells of life. Birds enrich the soundscape. Spring is a sigh of relief after winter.

A graceful glacier lily, one of the first wild flowers to emerge.
Spring beauties, the first woodland flowers of spring in the hills above home.
Sunday sunrise, Roslyn WA, May 6, 2018.

On Writing a Historical Mystery Novel

Okay, I thought writing a contemporary mystery was difficult…little did I know what I was getting into when I decided to write a historical mystery novel!

Since it’s a work in progress, I won’t reveal much about the book except to say it’s set in the Pacific Northwest in the 1880’s. I hope to end up with an entertaining and intriguing story, but also to convey what life was like in those times and at that place in American history. In doing so, I’m trying for as much authenticity as possible. I started out knowing almost nothing about that era and have since spent a lot of hours on researching photos, maps and old newspapers. The internet has been an invaluable source of information and I can’t imagine writing this book without it.

It’s difficult not to get distracted or sidetracked with the research. For instance, one of my peripheral characters spent the year 1864-65 as a Union POW in the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia. I wanted to get an idea of what he went through so started doing some research. Now I find myself reading the amazing first hand account Andersonville Diary by John Ransom. What does it have to do with my book? Almost nothing, but it’s fascinating nonetheless and what I learn from that account may influence my character’s role and behavior later. Who knows?

I’ve also read old articles by Bat Masterson and others who lived in that era and gotten some good insights into life back then. It’s much more interesting and dynamic than I ever imagined. The growth of west coast cities was astounding. And so was the technology. I had no idea of the extent of telephone exchanges and electrical grids during that era, not to mention the complex transportation networks of railroads, steamboats and steamships, roads and coach routes.

Contemporary newspapers from the 1880’s reveal the news of the day and the ads reveal much about the culture. Bogus medical cures and fantastic claims for products are common in the advertising. There are also ads for livery services, carriages, clothing, department stores, eateries, jobs and much more. News stories are often heavily laden with opinion and innuendo, making for entertaining reading, but not very reassuring as to the accuracy of reporting. It makes the modern mainstream media look pretty good by comparison.

As I progress with the book, it’ll be a challenge to include only those details needed to give it authenticity and help move the story along. There’s a temptation to include all the cool stuff I’m learning and I’ll try to resist that. I’m sure I’ll be cutting out some of the detail later, but for now it’s fun to learn about those times and to write about them too.

My home town in earlier times, when the coal mines were going full tilt. After the mines shut down, the town slept peacefully for a number of years before being discovered by the production crew of “Northern Exposure”. That event, and what has followed, is another story.

A Winter’s Night at Nez Perce Creek

geyser basin
Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.

It was my first winter backcountry excursion, and my first time on cross country skis. Yellowstone Park in late winter, carrying a heavy pack, is probably not the best venue for taking on new experiences like that. It took me a while to get used to the skis, which were old wooden Fischers (one had a broken tip capped with a plastic cover), but the groomed road was the best learning ground for that. Aside from almost sliding into some alarmed bison along the Madison River, it went well. The weather was excellent, with cold temperatures and mostly clear skies.

Skiing in from West Yellowstone with my friend Mike, we followed the groomed road up the Madison River to Madison Junction. That was our first night’s camp in the snow, made more agreeable by the heated bathrooms there. The second day we spent skiing leisurely up the Firehole River road toward the geyser basins and Old Faithful. Occasionally a Sno-Coach or pack of snowmobiles would trundle by. Since we were on the cusp of late winter and early spring, there was wildlife everywhere. Elk and Bison in meadows along the road, coyotes hunting mice, swans, deer, eagles, geese . . .I remember thinking at the time, “This is America as it used to be”.

That second day we made it to Nez Perce Creek, on the edge of the Lower Geyser Basin. It was there we decided to camp in a grove of lodgepole pines, right on the edge of a large open plain. The creek provided some warm, mildly sulfurous water and the trees provided refuge, we hoped, from the bison. We were concerned that foraging bison might accidentally trample us in the night. We could see the animals, dark shapes on the far side of the snowy plain, silhouetted against billowing plumes of steam.

We trampled down a spot with our skis and got the tent set up on it. As the sun set, the afternoon clouds dispersed and the temperature went down. And as the temperature went down, our appetites went up. We cooked up a big pot of stew and greedily ate it all. It’s amazing how many calories you use up just staying warm in the winter. Staying warm was a challenge at night and in the early mornings. The temperature fluctuates wildly that time of year, going from below zero F at night to above freezing during the day.

After dinner, I put on my skis and went to the edge of the trees. Other than the gurgling of the creek, it was quiet and still. The cold air had a crisp silence to it. A bright moon lit up the snowy landscape, including the steam plumes, which had grown considerably in the colder air. It also revealed the dark shapes of foraging bison. A few stars bright enough to shine in the moonlight were sharp and still in the night sky. Looking out at that scene, in that wonderful silence, I felt an indescribable peace. Everything was as it should be in that moment. Everything was in a state of pure reality, unsullied by thought or anxiety.

Unable to capture the scene with a camera, I did this watercolor soon after the trip.

I stood there as long as the cold would let me and then reluctantly returned to the tent. Mike was already in his goose down cocoon and I slithered into mine, along with a couple of water bottles, boots and other items I didn’t want to find frozen in the morning. The snow bed was comfortable and I drifted off to sleep. A few times I woke up during the night and listened, lucky to hear nearby bison breathing, snorting and crunching through the snow beyond our trees.

Mike and I woke up the next day to a sunny morning, un-trampled by our night visitors and ready to move on toward Old Faithful. I’ve never forgotten the absolute beauty, peace and serenity of that cold winter night.

The Devolution of the Middle Class

I was looking at old family photos the other day. Pictures of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins show people at home, working, traveling, spending holidays together. One thing that struck me was how so many of my family had homes (some they built themselves), land, time and money to own a car and travel. None of them made a lot of money. Most of the families had a single wage earner with a modest job, but their work paid enough to own a home, some land, maybe a cabin in the woods. Most of them had a radio, later a TV, fine china, good clothes (again many of them made their own). These weren’t rich people, at least not monetarily, but they had enough and a little more. And they were able to do a lot to provide for themselves.

Family in 1934, on vacation in Colorado.

Times have sure changed. The middle class has been nudged more and more toward the poverty line. Or the poverty line has been nudged up into the middle class. Many families have to have two wage earners just to hang onto a home, if they can afford to buy where they live. Add to that clothing, food, medical care, transportation, communications for three or more people, not to mention pets. It gets expensive. And then there’s being able to afford an education at a college or university. It’s amazing how much it’s changed, and changed for the worse.

“Only the Brave”

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but plan to. I’ve heard it’s good and I hope that’s true. Other firefighters say that the producers made a good effort to portray wildland firefighting in a realistic way. I know it has to be better than that old movie “Always”. Don’t get me started on all of the bogus firefighting stuff in that production.

Even though I haven’t seen “Only the Brave” yet, I still have an issue with a line from the trailer. Right at the end, Josh Brolin’s character is shown looking at something, presumably the fire, and saying, “Want a piece of me? Come and get it.” That line is pure Hollywood bravado bullshit. In all the years I fought fire, I never heard anyone say something like that and be serious about it. If I had, I would’ve recommended that person maybe find another line of work.

The truth is, firefighters might say something like that in a joking or mocking way because firefighters are a very humorous bunch and humor is a key ingredient in making what would otherwise be an almost unendurable, dirty, tough, sometimes tedious job fun and enjoyable. Humor is what got us through and made the heavy work lighter, it’s what bonded us and allayed whatever fear there might be. I hope the movie shows that, despite the terrible and sad fate of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

A Final Sun-Soaked Summer-like Autumn Day

Heaven in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

It’s snowing now and the maple leaves are fleeing the trees to flutter and roll in the cold wind before settling to the ground. They become rake-bait at that point, their service done, having made room on the trees for next year’s buds. The color show is nearly ended now, with only a few willows and cottonwoods holding onto their hoard of golden leaves. Soon enough those will fall and winter will be here.

It’s hard to believe that it was less than a week ago that I was napping in the warm sun on the shore of a mountain lake while my wife cast a fishing line into the mirror waters. Willows and alders still sported some gaudy leaves and the lake shore grass glowed with color. Squirrels chattered in the forest behind us and lazy ravens called out, floating on the breeze in a blue sky. It was absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad we made the time to visit the lake and enjoy one more sun-drenched day before winter started closing in.

Under a warm sun and a blue sky, Dawn casts for the elusive trout.

Moving to Roslyn? It’s Becoming Less of What You Think it Might Be

Roslyn, Washington. Pennsylvania Avenue, the main street.

Roslyn, Washington; the quaint little coal mining town that time remembered, thanks to the popular 1990’s TV show “Northern Exposure”. The show’s exterior scenes were shot in Roslyn, making it world famous and a travel destination for the show’s many fans. The film crew injected money and new life into the quiet community. And Northern Exposure was a great TV show. Something unique for a change, and in some ways it mirrored Roslyn, which is at least as quirky and interesting as Cicely, Alaska, the town it portrayed in the series. There’s a cast of real-life characters every bit as distinctive and interesting as those in the TV show. It is, in short, a fascinating old mountain village, and that will likely be its downfall.

A mere 80 miles to the east of Seattle on Interstate 90, Roslyn is too damn close to the Emerald City. Too close to the three-plus million people, many of whom are seeking to escape the effects of the tech boom that afflicts Seattle and Puget Sound. Boom times have a cost, and in this case that cost is quality of life, cost of living and the character of place. Big money is sweeping away the old Seattle and that sweep is creating a ripple effect that pushes outward, including to the east. So, it’s natural that people who seek to escape the horrendous traffic, crowds, high cost of living, hustle and bustle of a boom town will come here. It is, or was, just far enough away from Seattle to be a serene oasis. Quieter, dryer, less crowded. Who wouldn’t want to come here, at least to visit? Especially since it’s so close.

Modest mega-home at Suncadia destination resort.

As living conditions become more stressful and unpleasant on the west side of the mountains, more and more people are moving east to Roslyn. Many of those people have considerable wealth and buy large mega-homes in and around the 7,000-acre Suncadia destination resort, which is adjacent to Roslyn. Did I mention Suncadia yet? It too has had a ripple effect on the community, the most notable of which is the rising cost of homes and rent in Roslyn.

New road winds through forest.

The things that made Roslyn, Roslyn, are rapidly disappearing. Affordability, slow pace of life, light traffic, peace and quiet, chatting with neighbors at The Brick, ramshackle old trucks and cars parked along Pennsylvania Avenue, dogs in the taverns.

Cost of living has increased dramatically over the last decade. Formerly affordable old miners’ homes in Roslyn are expensive. Recently up for sale is a 2-bedroom, half-bath, 806 square foot home on a 7,000 square foot lot.  It’s located along the busy highway into town and badly in need of extensive work (exterior and interior paint, trim, wallpaper, windows, yard, kitchen cabinets). The place looks like shit. It’s advertised for $150,000. And that’s the low end of the housing spectrum. Many homes are in the $300k range and rising. That probably looks good to someone moving here from Seattle, but the locals who live and work here can no longer afford to buy, and are paying more in rent.

These days, on the weekends, you’ll likely see a mix of giant glossy pickups, luxury cars and large motorcycles parked along Pennsylvania Avenue near The Brick Tavern (oldest continuously operating tavern in the state!). Maserati, Land Rover, Porsche, BMW, Lexus, Audi, Mercedes and Lamborghini along with expensive Harley Davidson motorcycles. The Brick is usually packed and the locals rarely go there anymore. Crowds flock and saunter on the downtown sidewalks. People take photos of each other in front of the famous Roslyn/Cicely camel painted on the sandstone wall of The Roslyn Cafe.

But I digress. What I want to point out to people who are thinking of moving here is this: if you think you’re escaping the rat race and moving to a place with a slow pace of life as well as peace and quiet, think again. The very traits that make this area a magnet for people are disappearing.

On any given summer morning, the weapons of mass construction rumble through Roslyn and surrounding roads and streets. Dump trucks, cement trucks, logging trucks, gravel trucks, trucks hauling flatbed trailers stacked with house trusses or drywall, trucks hauling water, trucks transporting backhoes and excavators, massive pickup trucks hauling contractors (often with malfunctioning mufflers) and trailers. The noisy procession is heaviest in early morning and later in the evening. And it is very noisy. Add to that the occasional sound of chainsaws, back-up alarms, and nail guns.

On weekends, the noise comes from an amazing variety of muffler-challenged vehicles, from old pickups, to new pickups, to hordes of Harley Davidson motorcycles. The latter sound like P-51 Mustangs swooping over the town in strafing runs. It’s quite the cacophony of noise and activity. For those of us who live here for the peace and quiet, it’s very disquieting. So if you decide to move here, and I don’t blame you if you do, consider yourself forewarned. That which you might be seeking is in a state of dynamic flux, and fading fast.