Laughing Horse Lodge is going Global

November 13th, 2015

I am pleased to announce that Laughing Horse Lodge is going Global!

In our 16th year here at the Horse, the practices we have tried to implement – as much as possible providing organic, natural, hormone-free, known-sourced food– will take a much-needed step forward with the assistance of and their nationally recognized 5+ Step Program of responsible and ethical animal husbandry.

The structure of the 5-Step program encourages higher welfare practices and systems to the benefit of farmers, consumers and animals. Each set of tiered standards has its own requirements and producers have the freedom to aim for any Step level they choose.

In essence, Step 1 prohibits cages and crates. Step 2 requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems; Step 3, outdoor access; Step 4, pasture-based production; Step 5, an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited; and, finally, Step 5+, that the entire life of the animal be spent on an integrated farm. We are attempting to embrace Level 4 here at the Horse.

What will this mean for you and that beautiful double-Frenched Pork Chop topped with Gloria’s Peach Chutney or that grilled Chicken breast atop your Rancher Salad? Well, if you are over 40, your taste buds are going to have a trip down memory lane…back to the days when meats and eggs weren’t stuffed full of antibiotics and actually tasted like, well, meat and eggs. And, if it matters to you, you will have the satisfaction of knowing where and how your meal was raised.

Using GAP guidelines, and working with our food provider, FSA, and local ranchers and farmers, we are taking responsibility for our little slice of Montana heaven by ensuring to the best of our ability that every ‘creature’ we serve – whether sitting at our table or sitting on the plate, is having (or did have) a good experience. But don’t worry, we’re not going to serve your char-grilled 14 ounce, house-aged, Angus rib-eye and introduce her as Rosey!

We look forward to welcoming you back to the Horse for our 17th season which is filled with great music and events.

Observations On Capitol Hill – Winter 2015

October 20th, 2015

Sample entries from DC 2015


A mystery wrapped in an enigma. ..a Google trail of bread crumbs. The USS Thresher, a permit class nuclear sub was lost with all hands during deep diving exercises April 10, 1963 – the greatest submarine disaster in history. In researching her commander and crew, I discovered her loss and the subsequent Congressional hearings led to the creation of SUBSAFE , a quality assurance program that resulted in all but one sub loss since the programs inception in the late 60s, and that loss was the USS Scorpion in May 1968. Following the trail of Scorpion, whose loss is still veiled…torpedo malfunction (the official report) or Soviet revenge for the sinking of Russian sub K129 (and the CIAs covert recovery under guise of manganese nodule mining of the seafloor)earlier that year in the Pacific? Information is still coming out under the Freedom of information Act 40 years later…shades of Gray Lady Down and The Hunt For Red October.
But I digress … back to Lt.Cmm. Krag and his crew of 129 (whose photos and bios can be found at USSTHRESHERBASE.ORG). Their loss led to SUBSAFE; and the Navy gave the program’s protocols to NASA after the Columbia space shuttle disaster which led to major improvements in space launch and travel safety. Who knows how far reaching this program will go and how many lives have been, and will be saved…Thank You, Lt. Cmm. Krag.


A delicious, big city-affordable eating experience that is organic, free trade and sustainable…Pret A Manger (ready to eat) was created by two London college friends in 1986- before those concepts of free trade and sustainable were on our cultural radar.Still privately held, the chain of 350 (£450 million annual) stores in Europe and now DC, is unique in another way…they have been quietly supporting charities, as part of their business model, since the first doors
The fresh soups, salads and wraps are beautifully packaged for fast pick up NY busy professionals but nothing is held over…at the end of the day, Thrive DC picks up the ‘leftovers’ for their homeless shelters.
Before Sinclair and Julian even consider opening a new outlet, they work with service organizations to insure the infrastructure is in place so that not one meal is wasted… Kudos to the boys from London…and thanks for the great flavors.



My visit to Quantico and the National Museum of The Marine Corps…hmmm, what to say? Beautiful grounds, arresting architecture and a great story made almost dull by way of outdated curating; rabbit warren rooms with so many competing sound tracks a headache is fairly guaranteed.
And the location…Why oh why was it not built on the National Mall where access would be easy? A $65 RT train ticket… $26 RT cab ride and an entire day…and the majority of the visitors were military…so missing out on PR and recruitment possibilities.
And we won’t even discuss the restaurant…
But the Semper Fidelis Memorial Trail was exceptional, both in beauty and history.
And if you miss the 3:30 train. ..well the village of Quantico visitor’s guide is about a paragraph.
Thanks to the gracious crew at Sam’s Grill for letting me camp out for 4 hours.



Early evening and the Salvation Army pulls up outside Union Station handing out cups of hot soup and sandwichs. All over the district, ‘sweepers’ come out every night from a wide assortment of charities to offer aid…some to pick up folks and take them to shelters when temperatures get dangerous; some to deliver sustenance; some deliver blankets; and one specifically looks for homeless kids with the goal of getting them inside and away from risky behavior and predators.
It’s difficult to see – and actually be part of- the disparity, but to deal with it, I have set myself a budget of $2 a day in coins and pass out hand warmers when approached….hand warmers AND conversation…
The conversation, including getting their name – and using it- seems to be more important even than the change…hard to keep one’s dignity with a hand out.


The afternoon was dedicated to the National Holocaust Museum with a walk back across the National Mall to have an overpriced hot toddy at the Willard, and on to China Town for the best pho (so far) at DC Pho.
The museum is disturbing – as it should be – and made more so from my current reading of Samantha Power’s book on genocide. But the strangest occurrence had nothing to do with plan or purpose…
To enter the main exhibit, about twenty people crowd tightly into an elevator that bares an eerie likeness to a large industrial metal box…a box with rust – like smears that could be hand prints. The door shuts and for a moment the chatter continues but quickly everyone goes silent…the temperature rises and there is a subtle but acrid taste in the mouth like aluminum, and then the car begins to move.
A small preview of what is to come?
I spoke with docent Deborah afterward and asked how they achieved the smell of dried blood in the elevators. She shook her head and said there was no such effect, that it was the power of suggestion…and powerful it was.



Topping the list of things I would not wish to live without are books…and DC offers up some of the most eclectic independent book stores I’ve ever found. I wasn’t planning on getting a job this winter, but my book habit…so long in remission…has come back (happily) with a vengeance. Now I have to feed the beast…


After a day and a half off my sore feet, I hit the DC streets once more. After a quick visit to a chiropractor to adjust a 12 hour reading binge neck, I headed over to the historic Warner Theater to see if I could get a last minute ticket to the Nutcracker with the Washington DC National Ballet. The theater, built in 1924, was originally a vaudeville venue and then, in the thirties, Harry Warner of Warner Brothers bought the building and turned it into a state of the art movie house. It is now a premier theater and performance venue, its earlier Belle epoch luster in fine form.
Standing in line for a ticket, I saw a couple with a small sign “ticket for sale”. Meet Matilda and
Tim…a quick transaction and I had a lovely orchestra seat at half price…plus a 6 degrees of separation moment. Just out of college with a biology degree, Tim went to work for the US Parks service at Swiftwater; and tagged grizzlies up the North Fork. During our pre-show conversation, a lady in front of us turned and, excusing herself for eavesdropping, said she was a UofM grad, knew the Swan and asked for my card. After the performance, I went to City Brew for their meatloaf…yeah, it’s that good…and the bartender was from Idaho but knew the Swan from fishing. All of this and I wasn’t even wearing my Grizz shirt…. interesting folks all around.


A serious day of reading…
“The United States has too long blithely ignored the issues of genocide,” Proxmire said. “Evidence that genocide is going on in the 1970s should shake our complacency.”

And what should it ‘shake’ on Christmas Eve 2014?


Spent the day exploring Old Town Alexandria. much history …when a sign says ‘George Washington slept here’, he really did. King Street trivia regarding the photo of the building with the red lingerie. ..La Tache. The owner originally wanted to put in a bar and the city fathers said no it had to be retail…so in the center of snobby, blue nose Old Town is an adult entertainment store.


Meet Kate, bartender at Murphys Irish Pub in Old Town Alexandria and Montana transplant. From Missoula, Kate is getting her Master’s in International law at Georgetown as well as double major in intl development. She is an average example of the young people I’ve met…excited, driven and really, really in debt…

The National Gallery of Art and Portraits was one of the earliest builds in DC…a beautiful Greek Revival structure whose central open air courtyard was replaced recently with a floating cloud of glass and steel making it usable year round. The acoustics are exquisite and it has two horizontal water features (the dark floor is actually flowing water of less than a centimeter thickness. A wonderful space to read…

Meet Mr. Valentine, 24 years on the street – drugs and alcohol – and now 9 years clean with a home and family because of local ministries and a weekly paper called Street Sense. Paper content is written by the homeless and those who have successfully transitioned back in to mainstream society and the stories are wonderful and informative. Street folk buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them for a donation of $2. The proceeds stay with the seller to help them with the basics -food, shelter, and to overcome poverty.
Mr. Valentine is able to bring in enough from his efforts to keep his home and family safe.We talked about rebranding…he thought that still “looking ” homeless would sell more papers, and I suggested that showing (his mostly affluent white buyers) that he was a success story might move more folks to pay attention and reach for that $2. He’s going to give it a try this week…social experimentation for real. Love this city!


My winter home is in the historic NE H Street corridor of DC. From the turn of the last century until 1968, H Street was the center of black culture much like Harlem; the assassination of MLK in 68 led however to riots and the neighborhood was destroyed. Only since 2005, has reconstruction begun seeping back in with a multinational multicultural sensibility, and for good or bad…gentrification.



Delightful and very creative evening with the Bard and his last work -The Tempest at DC’S elegant Shakespeare Theater. Prospero was none other than Forever Knight – Garaint Davies…still looking good and sounding wonderful…”We are such stuff as dreams are made of…”


Tomorrow a trip out to Glover Park to a Vietnamese hole in the wall that has the best goat pho…. Ok…so I am a bit obsessed with goats right now…go figure!


A somber visit to the National Mall and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where volunteer docent Mr. McMahon told me the story of Wallace O Travis (Whitey) who lost his life along with six others in his platoon while under the command of a Lt. Peter Pace. Years later when the head of the Joint Chiefs, now General Pace, was retiring, he slipped away from the Pentagon and in early morning dark with no witnesses, placed his 4 stars pinned to a note at the base of the wall…”These are yours Whitey, they were never really mine. ”


After sitting in on a panel discussion on Central Asia security with Ambassador Taylor (Ukraine 2009) at the US Institute on Peace, I stepped into the Willard Hotel (managed the Willard in Saba a few years ago ) for a glass of Christmas cheer poured by Mr. Sanchez (29 years at the Willard) and the music if the 18th St Choir….  (video)

An evening at the RI Ra Irish Pub and Whiskey Bar in Georgetown where Rachel, the whiskey sommelier introduced me to Ardbeg from  Islay..
My new favorite.


Heading out to Arlington Cemetery and met Hula Hoop Paul. Recently out of the Army, Paul is a young man on a mission…to master the hoop and see America. Check out some of hoop vids on YouTube.’s not just for little girls anymore. ..


A walk in search of my grandparents (surrogate) Steve and Marg. Both were seminal influences on me during my twenties. I took Marg on several of my adventures and she was in her late sixties when I taught her to dive. For several years after, she was my go to girl when I needed to get out of town.
Marg got me involved in volunteer work; taught me how to find the great deals at flea markets; and how to apologize. Steve, through his stories of WW II, reinforced my curiosity for history; honed my political discourse; introduced me to single malt…and he played a mean game of bocci.
(Ahh…I hear Barbara breaking into Memories…) (video)



“They also serve who only bark and neigh…” A walk through the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at Quantico and the discovery that our 4 legged friends earned numerous Valor awards in WWII and Korea, as well as more recent conflicts…bomb sniffers, message runners, carriers of the injured, enemy routers.
“OooAhh Fido!”



Since arriving in DC, I have attended panel discussions at several think tanks on issues of immigration, demographics and food safety. I urge everyone to watch the podcast from the Brookings Institute from this morning – Diversity Explosion. Business owners consider the book of the same name as the info will directly effect your marketing. ..and very soon. As for those who want a plausible and substantiated understanding of the devisive nature of our political reality…this delivers without partisan rhetoric. Heavy, I know…I’ll follow up with some inanity like a cute kitten picture….


JOY of Christmas concert at the Washington National Cathedral with the Washington Symphonic Brass and Cathedral Choral…didn’t have a ticket so figured would be stuffed in the bell tower, but while waiting to see if any spots remained, Margaret stepped up to donate her ticket..voila…to me! Ten rows from the front in the center of the nave. Beautiful music in a glorious space…


Could GW imagine any of what we have achieved? Or what we have yet in front us? We cannot legislate race acceptance…but we can address more seriously – and with honest intentionality – color-blind education of a depth and quality that gives us all the ability to imagine our lives more fully.


Bus X8 from Union Station heading home after dinner in Georgetown at Miss Saigon…exceptional Pho…actually, quite ‘pho-bulous’! And no, I don’t take photos in restaurants. Heads up…don’t depend on Ms Google in Georgetown. ..had to ask several dentally-spectacular persons (no camouflage here) for guidance…I’m taking bread crumbs next time.


Selecting breakfast and dinner for the day at the H Street Fresh Farm Market…a program that brings affordable organics to the inner city. Folks on survival subsidies can use their WIC and stamps at these markets around the city instead of paying exorbitant prices (even too high for me! Ex: $2.36 for an apple – 1 apple) in the gentrifying neighborhoods.
The program also teaches nutrition and how to shop wisely…check them out…


A bit of editing…exchange 1994 with 2014, Newt with Mitch and voila! Einstein and Reimann were correct…time is not linear!


Life is ALL about how you handle Plan B…and on this trip crossing America from coast to coast, we even had to delve into Plan C on occasion thanks to Ms. G (the lovely voice of Google Maps) who refused to let me travel by state highways, but continually put me on County roads. One such byway in northern Mississippi, #121
ended up in a single lane dirt road at around 10pm where my attempts to turn the RV ended with it being high-centered across the lane… Within twenty minutes, a well-used Chevy pulled up, the window rolled down and a dentally-challenged, camo-clad country boy said, “Ma’am, you gotta a problem thar, I gotta chayen (chain).” Whereby he and his passenger jumped out, hooked up the chain and pulled me free, pointing down the lane to a large area to turn around. They were unable to tell me how to get back to the Hwy 78 – they had never heard of it – but when I told them I was headed to Tupelo, they said, “Oh, you mayyen (mean) the four lane…, don’t know how to get choo on that.” Thanks to my impromptu Mississippi AAA crew Kelly and Hank… I’m now in St.Pete for a few days of sun and sand and fishinbg, before heading back into winter … DC here we come!


The Little Island that Could

December 18th, 2013


Winter 2008

The big-bellied moon hangs just above the eastern horizon turning the world to tones of   lead and pewter. The Caribbean – 2000’ below my aerie here on the cliffs of Saba- is unpolished silver plate tarnished by cloud shadow and misty rain veils off to the south. Stars – as well as Venus and Jupiter- are playing hide and seek as the moon- lit clouds scud to the west.  The breeze for once is just that – a breeze, not the gale force blows that have been rocking my home for the past few weeks. The locals call these not so gentle trade winds ‘Christmas Winds’ and look forward to their arrival as a sure sign that the ‘season’ is about to begin.

I’ve been here for a month now, winter chef-in-residence for a resort not much bigger than the Horse, and I’m still sane. My first attempt at Caribbean island life in 1978 ended after only two weeks with what was diagnosed as ‘rock fever’ – a mental aberration arising from the need to take a long drive while stuck in the middle of an ocean on a piece of dirt that takes about 25 minutes to circumnavigate – on foot. The only cure for rock fever which manifests at its worst in uncontrollable shaking, sweating and inability to breathe (picture severe claustrophobia) is to get your butt on the first outgoing plane, preferably landing in Kansas.

But such is not the case on this adventure to Saba. Admittedly, there have been a few hours here and there where the heart beat increased and the breathing shallowed, but it was quickly overcome by picking up a hiking stick and heading for a mountain, and what a mountains we have  here on this unknown little island gem.

Until now I considered the hike up to Rumble Lake to be my benchmark for difficulty by which all other hikes were rated. For all of Saba’s demure size – she’s only 5 square miles – she offers up some of the most challenging vertical I’ve encountered including a few that put Rumble Lake in the ‘Sunday afternoon stroll’ category. And what views! Elfin woodland complete with banana palms and blooming epiphytes, savanna gardens of euphorbia and night blooming cacti, cloud forests of mahogany, and of course, the brilliant blue Caribbean in every direction.

There are three reasons to come to Saba, the little sister of her more popular siblings – St. Maarten and St. Barths – which lie just a few miles off towards the northeastern horizon. The first, and most popular reason, is world class scuba diving in the marine sanctuary that encircles the island. The second reason is the hiking, and the third is (excuse me while I slip into something a little Buddhist) nothing.  Overly simplified, the goal of Buddhism is to reach nirvana or the state of nothingness – but to the Eastern mind, as well as here on Saba, nothing is everything.

Unlike her glam’ sisters, Saba boasts no resorts, no casinos, no giant piers for cruise ships, no discos, and as result of all this lack, very little crime and no animus. There are only three ways to get here – flying WinAir, or by ferry on the Dawn II or the Edge, from St. Maarten. Even on a busy day with all three transports at capacity, less than 100 visitors will arrive on island and the majority of those will be day trippers from St. Maarten.

Where many of the islands in the Caribbean Basin are becoming Tommy Ba-homogenized with influxes of up to 16,000 tourists a day coming off a dozen or more cruise ships, it becomes clear how Saba has retained her non-McDonald’s culture –  she is a fortress island welcoming only those strong enough and patient enough to uncover the charms hidden beyond her ship-devouring cliffs.

And her charms are many.

Imagine a five square mile patch of Montana’s Mission Mountains floating in an 82 degree cobalt blue sea, cooled by 78 degree trade winds, populated with 1400 or so people who all know one another and many of whom are related to each other claiming continued family land ownership back 400 years or more. Toss in the endless smiles and warm welcomes, and add a large dose of pride in one’s homeland and as a visitor you get something unheard of on other islands – reality.

It’s coming on 5am and the moon has coursed her way to the west. This has become my favorite time of day. With a steaming cup of Santo Domingo coffee cut with heavy French cream (one has to keep up one’s strength to hike you understand!), I head for the pool deck, positioning my chaise to face due east. Orion has followed the moon and fades as the sky begins to lighten. The sun won’t make an appearance for another hour but the coming sky show is always spectacular.

At this altitude, I am at eye-level with the Spanish galleon clouds that rise another thousand feet into the paling sky. They fly by me like a time-shortened OmniMax film turning from pearl grey, to mauve to rosy pink, and then suddenly to flaming orange and gold as the sun hurls itself out of the ocean just north of St. Eustacia. On this particular morning, my neighboring islands are sharply etched, their volcanic outlines arcing gracefully to the south east – St. Eustacia, St. Kitts, St. Nevis, and volatile Montserrat.

As if on cue from an unseen conductor, the night symphony – a Phillip Glass-esque atonal celebration of nature – of tree frogs, crickets, night birds and bats goes silent.  Swan Lake, even in high summer, cannot compete with night sounds of Saba. My first nights were fitful.  Between the cacophonies of little creatures looking for mates, the high electric chatter of several species of bats, night birds on the hunt and the constant soughing of the wind coming up over the cliffs and curling around the buildings, deep sleep was not to be found.  But on the fifth night, it was as if the Bose Acoustic Wave was switched off…my brain had finally processed a new set of parameters for ambient noise and silence ruled.

With the morning coffee ritual complete, guests fed and on their way to some island adventure, it is now time for me to seek out some adventure of my own. Putting on my hiking boots and sunscreen, I flip on my Ipod and to the strains of Emmy Lou I head down my side of the mountain called Booby Hill to the village of Windwardside and the Trail Shop.

All of Saba not privately owned is part of the Saba Conservation Foundation, a non-profit group that maintains both terra and aquatic trails on and around the island. The Trail Shop, once the home of Saba’s first environmentalist, Edward S. Arnold, is the first place to stop before heading off to explore. As small as she is, Saba can put up a tough front and helicopter rescues of hikers finding themselves clinging to a cliff face they had no intention of climbing occur often enough to warrant checking in with Ranger ‘Crocodile’ Jim Johnson to get the scoop on trail conditions and to pick up a map, whistle and walking stick.

After chatting with Jim and the Trail Shop manager, Evelyn, I’m off to Spring Bay. Emmy Lou gets replaced with Ceza, a Romanian rap artist compliments of the young men who worked for me last summer at the lodge. More melodic than American rap, it offers a great beat to really stretch out the legs and get warmed up as I push through the hobbit streets of Windwardside and on to English Quarter and the trail head.

The trail is well signed and within minutes I’m heading downhill through a dense ravine of elfin rainforest populated by dwarf palms, mahogany and many flowering vines. The trail is in good condition, but steep, rocky and criss-crossed with roots so attention must be paid to foot placement – and paying attention is a real challenge when all I want to do is gape at the view teasing me from each switch back as I descend.

After 15 minutes or so, the trees fall away to an open ridge of low barrel cactus and tropical shrubs. If you look closely into the boulder-strewn trail side, you’ll see miniature orchids and other flowers clinging to the undersides out of the constant breeze funneling up from Spring Bay, which is now laid out below me – a perfect horseshoe of deep azure blending to a vibrant green and finally to a luminescent foam of white where the sea meets the rocky shoreline.

I’m only a third of the way down, working my way along the ridgeline with a deep gut to my right that during torrential hurricane rains must look like the Swan’s Wild Mile at spring flood. It is dry now – there are no natural streams on the island, in fact, no water table to speak of and residents must rely on rain-catch cisterns.

As I get closer to sea level, the temperature rises. Before the final descent down to the beach, I stop and turn to face the interior. Mt. Scenery looms above me, its cloud forest peak shrouded in mist, while the cottages of English Quarter appear as squares of Saba lace, flung bright white against the lush green mountain backdrop.

The last hundred yards or so of the trail is in the bottom of the ravine and it is a testament to the power of rushing water when I pass loose boulders the size of Volkswagens and carcasses of large palms and mahoganies ripped from the forest high behind me.

At last I am on the beach, and I use the term loosely as there is little sand. Spring Bay faces northeast and takes the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean weather. The surf line which looked like a delicate ribbon from the ridge is actually an 8’ break, the sound deafening as the water moves large rocks and broken corals back and forth. Sitting on a Hummer-sized rock, drinking the last of my water, I contemplate how one might breach the surf and access the calm clear water which beckons 20 yards out. The diving out there must be incredible, but after several minutes of observation, I admit to myself that my days of immortality are long gone and the girl that would have willingly defied commonsense has been replaced with a woman who can afford to rent a boat.

I spend an hour poking about through the flotsam and jetsam (gotta love those two words!) and imagining the stories behind the skeleton of a fishing boat, a piece of a kayak and other oddities. The breeze begins to abate and the temperature begins to rise as noon approaches. It’s time to head up to Kelby Ridge on the northern side of the bay and out to Hellsgate – the early settlers to Saba were quite practical when they made their place names: The Bottom is at the bottom, Windwardside is on the windward side and quite windy, English Quarter was for the ex-pats, and Hellsgate which feels hotter than Hades today.

As I begin the steep ascent the sweat moves beyond a trickle and I wish I had another liter of water. The only shade on this part of the trail comes in two scrawny, wind-whipped trees at one of the switch backs. I make myself small as possible to get out of the now serious sun and take a few minutes to catch my breath; my only company some island goats that eye me warily until I remove myself from their territory.

It’s only a few hundred yards to the ridge line and I push it out, cresting from the semi-arid desert behind me back into lush tropical green dripping with humidity. The trail comes out by the home of the local chicken farmer – his charges clucking out an alarm as I pass. Following a serpentine driveway I am delivered to The Road which connects the world’s smallest commercial airport to the rest of Saba and civilization.

I’ve been out four hours, descended and ascended over 2200’, moved through four different microclimates and covered less than three miles and every step was if not breathtaking, darn near close.  I sit in the shade on the side of The Road waiting “for the kindness of strangers” and a lift home, the breeze cooling as the sun slips behind Mt Scenery. It’s been a most excellent day, and even though I suspect I won’t be able to walk tomorrow, it doesn’t matter because instead of walking over Saba I’ll be diving below her…another exceptional day awaits with another exceptional adventure.

Saba, Dutch West Indies

Of Sharks and Sailing Ships

December 18th, 2013


Sunday, January 5. 2007

Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Los Olas Boulevard, The Floridian Diner

I have been in Florida since Thursday night. Friday morning, actually, as I wasn’t able to pick up bags until after midnight. The plane was early, the baggage late…explainable by quantum physics, but not by the overworked airline employee left to explain the situation to a surly crowd of tired travelers. My ride appeared curbside at nearly 1am. A quick hug of recognition, toss the bags in the rear of the car and off to my new home for the next three months – a 38’ Irwin sloop named Chondros.

This morning I ran away from “home” for some brief privacy and to stretch my legs in a needed walk. The weather- typically Florida – was humid and warm with a nice breeze rustling the palm trees. The word soughing is more appropriate to the sound, but I believe it only applies to hardwood forests in nineteenth century English novels. You never heard Edward James Almos using the word soughing in Miami Vice, actually you didn’t hear him say too much at all…but definitely not soughing.

The breeze along my route – east along Broward Avenue -tosses up your typical big city Sunday morning litter – empty pizza boxes, beer bottles rolling in the gutter, a syringe, Saturday newspapers and flyers for all night massage parlors and a rave off of Revolution.  A few homeless men were stirring in the only green space I saw – a patch of grass and a few trees memorializing some fine citizen long forgotten and one who, most likely, never had to call a hard cement bench ‘home’.

Passing the ‘garden’, I tossed my emptied Dunkin Donuts coffee cup into a trash can overflowing with organic detritus that did not bear closer inspection with any of my senses. The coffee had been strong and extremely hot, keeping its heat for several blocks…and the overly large, sibilant Bahamian woman who served it would be staying in my memory for a long while, filed under Great Characters for The Movie I’m Going To Make One Day.

Now I am ensconced at an avenue-side table at the Floridian, the kind of twenty-four hour diner that defies political correctness and nutritional progress and thus thrives when other restaurants across the city are dying by the truckload. Frank, my overly friendly gay waiter has already given me his latest slice of life story along with lemoned water and coffee. He was late for work today and has gotten stuck with the street tables – lower tips because this is the destination of coffee-guzzling, cigarette smoking, non-eating people watchers…myself included (sans the smoking of course.)

January 31

So you might have noticed that a few days have elapsed since my first (and only) entry. If anyone tells you that time cannot be stopped, they have not sat on a sail boat in Florida ‘waiting’ for a weather window in which to safely cross the Gulf Stream. Time has stopped, albeit pleasantly. My days have been spent sleeping, reading, listening to Air America talk radio, long walks and, most importantly, provisioning the boat for the off chance that we might actually pull away from the dock within my life time.

With each Northern storm front that comes through, the odds of slipping into the outer Bahamas – the original plan – to dive with and study sharks becomes less and less real. My host, and skipper Dr. Mark Marks is considered one of the foremost authorities on white sharks and that is what has brought me here.

Marks is an interesting dichotomy.  Once a US Army Pathfinder, Marks’ blood runs red, white and blue with pride and loyalty for his fellow veterans, and yet, he is one of the most staunchly anti-war voices I have ever heard. Well read in US History –both military and political; with real life experience in one of America’s lesser known third world counter-insurgencies, Marks can opine intelligently on our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he doesn’t suffer fools easily. No slacker myself on politics, our conversations have been stimulating, occasionally loud and very opinionated – on both sides. But when current events have been exhausted, talk turns to his first love, one that few people share or can even comprehend – Great White Sharks.

Unlike our landlocked great predators the grizzly, wolf and mountain lion, the Great White Shark’s fan club is quite small. No one is clamoring to place carcharidon carcarius on the Endangered Species List. No marketing maven has distributed posters of cuddly baby whites. No pin-striped lobbyists are plying the US Congress for monies to buy ‘roadless oceanic wilderness’ in which the sharks can roam unmolested. And although they exist, the non-profits dedicated to shark preservation are few and relatively lackluster in positive achievements.

But this lack of public awareness doesn’t deter Marks. His twenty-five year behavioral study of ‘his whites’ has uncovered – in his eyes at least –  a predator no less ‘loveable’ than the warm and furry earth-based relations that the rest of the world either loves or reviles. And like the biologists and researchers that roam our Rocky Mountains studying the great furred predators, Marks roams the oceans following and observing his chosen muse –without the benefit of a shark cage. And as Frost wrote ‘this has made all the difference.”

Marks received his PhD as a cognitive behavioral zoologist from the University of South Africa in Cape Town. The first degree of its kind to focus on what most believe to be a non-senescent, solitary ‘eating machine’, Marks’ hours in the water with Whitey has proven – to himself and a few others- that great whites are as communicative, communal, and aware of social status and boundaries as the more studied terrestrial – canine lobo [sic]or the timber wolf.

Hundreds of hours under water in what could be considered the most controlled uncontrolled natural environment possible – the rich waters of Dyer Island off Cape Horn – has allowed Marks the rare opportunity to study the same group of whites for several years. Such dedicated focus has resulted in the ‘discovery’ that sharks travel in loose aggregate groups; communicate with each other in a body language both overt and beautifully subtle; show self awareness; and, are in fact quite intelligent, not the stupid robots that mistake humans for seals  – a portrayal all too common in our media.

Whether or not the weather ever cooperates, this trip with Dr. Marks in his floating classroom has changed the way I view my world – a world made all the richer with the presence of sharks and sailing ships.








Spring Snow, the Blues and Passionate Men

December 18th, 2013

February 09

I’m back home in Montana now, the warm breezes of the Caribbean a memory growing ever distant under the continued onslaught of spring snow. I’m not one generally susceptible to depression, but for the last few days I’ve been wallowing in a tepid vat of tapioca-textured self-pity. It clings to me, palpable, heavy, sticky. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunshine. Or the constant chill. I hope the cause is as simple as a meteorological condition; otherwise, I might have to look internally and a little introspection can be dangerous. A good, honest internal evaluation might just show that something is missing…something absolutely critical to a well-lived-in life. Something like passion.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about passion since I’ve returned home. Not the sexual, “Oh my god, you’re so hot!” sort, but the kind that propels you from bed in the morning, your brain shouting “Here I am world!”. The kind of passion that is only attainable from a personal commitment to doing something meaningful. Something vital. Something that uniquely defines your existence.

And I think I’ve lost mine. No, that is not accurate…I’m questioning whether I ever really had it. And that is a bit depressing, and even more than a bit frightening. So why the self doubt now?   What is the catalyst that has flung me into this ‘woe is me’ funk? The answer is simple. In the past 16 months my travels have placed me in the company of three people whose individual passions are nearly blinding in their intensity.

I’ve always considered myself a passionate person, more interested in spending my life making a life, than making a living. And yet, when I came into the circle of these three men, my personal passions seemed to fade into shadowy afterthought.

The first man you’ve already met in Sharks and Sailing Ships – Dr. Mark Marks. Here is a man who lives simply, yet most richly in experience. His entire adult life has been in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of a much maligned creature – the Great White Shark, a pursuit that leaves him traveling the world solo, with little material wealth.  And yet, when you meet him, you know something is different, out of the ordinary…from the handshake, to the smile, to the sparkle in the eyes when he discusses his life’s work.

The second man in this trio of light is Mike Austin. I ran into Mike on Saba on my most recent adventure. We actually knew each other over 20 years ago when I worked for a non-profit association of which Mike was a member. At that time he was out of the military and in his early forties teaching scuba diving on Little Cayman. Here he was, 24 years later, still teaching and dive mastering in his sixties, still so passionate about ‘his ocean’ and still refreshingly politically incorrect.

What was a mature, intelligent, physically fit, world-aware man doing on an obscure island, eking out a subsistence living in a work environment populated with transient twenty-something thrill seekers? Step aboard the dive boat MV Mystery with Mike as your personal guide and the query is answered…after 40 plus years of exploring the greatest waters in the world, Mike still has his passion, if anything it is stronger than ever. Underwater, this sun and sea-carved man becomes a wide-eyed child willing to share his life’s adventure with anyone willing to slow down and truly experience his uncommon world.

Rounding out these Musketeers of Passion is Daniel Joseph Gabriel Fitzgerald or Dan Dan the Fireman to his friends – of which he has many. Close your eyes and imagine the stereotypical fireman of Hollywood imagery and you’ve got Dan – a colossal, beer-drinking, Irish Catholic from New York. A big man to start with, Dan grows into a luminous giant when he begins to speak of his life and first love – firefighting.

When I asked Dan why he chose to become a firefighter, he gave me a big smile and said, “All of the superhero jobs were filled and this was the next best thing.” For over twenty years Dan has been doing ‘the next best thing” by saving lives, as well as mentoring others – sounds like a super hero to me.

These three men –disparate in personality, political views, careers and faith – all have that one seemingly rare quality that we should all strive for – passion. Whether our lives are simple or complicated; our jobs menial or grand; our health good or poor; wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how it feels to care passionately about something? To care so passionately that our lives take on greater definition and purpose?

Here’s to all the people I know –and who I’ve yet to meet – who have passion…thank you. When I think of you I can’t possibly be blue…even if it is still snowing!




Paraphrasing Potter Stewart

May 27th, 2013

I found myself praying for someone to yell “Fire!” (unfounded of course); for a really, really small earthquake; for the pregnant woman in the tenth row to go into labor. Please go into labor…Now.

The reason for my prayers? Bad art…truly bad, bad art; compounded by the inability to escape the crowded theater.

I – a lover of all things artistic and an artist myself –  found myself sitting in the jewel box Teatro Municipal Santiago this last December for a world premier production that I’m certain had Arnold Schoenberg’s bones restless in their grave.


Advertised as a concert, COTH, was more performance art…the kind of performance art that results from two or three really talented – disparately talented –artists sitting around a chipped Formica table  in a sweltering 6th floor walkup smoking too much dope and consuming too much KFC. Unemployed artists trying too hard to come up with a unique idea that will utilize and showcase each of their talents…think Ishtar or Heaven’s Gate.

I imagine their smoke-induced conversation…

Artist 1 “I’ve got these four Lipizzaner-type horses that are really talented- they can dance and play dead and they don’t mind if I dress up as a giant mordant butterfly and ride them around and around and around and around and around in circles in really dim lighting.”

Artist 2 “I’ve got this really great yogic body that with a very small, tight thong (and a can of silver spray paint)will really show off my ass…oh, and I can move very, very, very slowly.”

Artist 3 “I love Alan Berg and I’ve got a box of crickets.”

And yes, I paid money for this –along with several hundred others.  I don’t know if the robust applause at the conclusion was just for that – the conclusion, or perhaps they actually saw the Emperor’s new clothes.

There have been a few times in my ‘cultural arts attendance’  past when I’ve wished for Scotty to energize me away from the scene of the crime, and I must be truthful in admitting they all share a theme – atonal noise, umm, excuse me, music.

My first “is this art?” experience came at the hands of Peter Sellars, the then newly appointed artistic director for the Los Angeles Opera. Known for his cutting edge, out of the box view of the world – this is the man who cast Amanda Plummer as Juliet at the LaJolla Playhouse– Sellars decided to take a bite of the Alan Berg oeuvre and Wozzeck came to the LA stage. Known for its harsh subject matter, ugly language, and interminable, unapproachable atonal score, Wozzeck – at the hands of Sellars, became even uglier as it was set in a third world Latin American guerilla camp with the cast tromping around in fatigues and army boots, against a backdrop of camo netting, and, I swear, the buzz of mosquitoes.  Although I was appalled by what was being presented on the stage, I was even more so by the audience.  In a textbook case of mass hallucination, Wozzeck and Sellars were embraced and adored. The opera wasn’t ‘bad’, it was ‘challenging’ and Sellars was seen as a genius.

The second experience came in the historic La Scala Opera House in Milan just two years ago. I’ve tried numerous times during my travels to Europe to attend a performance at La Scala, to no avail. Opera tickets are reserved out nearly two years, and my schedule doesn’t allow for such advanced planning. However, when I arrived in Milan with a friend,  I immediately checked the La Scala box office, and  quell surprise, there were tickets available to a non-opera performance that very night.  Disappointed that it wasn’t an opera, but joyous at the opportunity to participate in a live performance, I purchased the tickets. The house was packed, mostly tourists like us just wanting a chance to see the inside of this glorious building where Toscanini premiered the beautiful and haunting works of Puccini.

As the lights dimmed, the opening act – an a cappella quartet – walked to center stage and presented a beautiful selection of classic secular and religious songs in Latin and Italian. Their voices filled the house, rich and nuanced. So far, so good.

And then the main act. The lights came up on five men sitting in a semi-circle – a violin, a guitar, a cello, an upright bass and a viola. Ahh, chamber music…lovely. The crowd clapped their acceptance, and around us, hundreds of young people – students apparently – opened up what appeared to be music scores. Wow, a world premier, this is going to be memorable! And so it was.

The five musicians began to beat up on their instruments. Strings were struck, tongues were clucked, the floor was stomped, and chairs were picked up and dropped. Sharps and flats were flung at each other and the beatings of the poor instruments continued for an hour. A brutal, ugly hour in which the students followed along in the score, quietly oohing and awing at the brilliant daring of the composer while Puccini, Verdi and Rossini wailed in the darkness. The saving grace for this evening was that both of us were able to find humor, albeit quietly, in the pretentious performance and the even more pretentious audience.  As we left La Scala, I looked at my friend (and to paraphrase past Supreme Court judge Potter Stewart) said, “I can’t define what is ‘bad art’, but I recognize it when I hear it.”




A Damp Beginning…but Adventure Awaits in Patagonia and Santiago

December 26th, 2012

Day 22 – Patagonia

I’ve been here for twenty two days, Here being Patagonia– the Chilean side. I’ve come for the fishing and my fly rod has been wet for twenty one days (it sits on the porch) – twenty one days of buffeting wind and monsoon rains that have blown out the Yelcho River and turned the towering Andes into a sci-fi fairy land of a thousand waterfalls criss-crossed with vivid rain bows.

Although I’ve not actually gotten on the water, I have had several hours of dry land (ok, really wet land) casting practice with sinking line; and am learning  to tie my own flies.

Despite the rains, the clients who have come to Puma Fishing Lodge in these weeks have all departed most pleased with their experience. Traveling via the comfortable PUMAII across Lago Yelcho to Rio Futalafu, our last group of six caught on average 100 fish a day. Massive browns and feisty rainbows, most in the 6 -10# range, were the standard each day and everyone was successful.

A new group arrives today and I am doing last minute prep on the menus and packing food for the transfer from the lodge to the PUMAII for a five day cruise. Although my main responsibility is chef, our American guests have invited me to fish with them and our Montana guides have assured me that there is a big brown with lots of attitude just waiting for one of my newly tied flies.

Day 31 – Patagonia

Rain. Rain. And Rain. Oh, did I mention ‘rain’?

I have seen the sun all of two days and not complete days at that.

Gentle rain, wispy rain, curtains of rain, solid walls of rain. Cold rain.
Warm  rain. Vertical  rain. Horizontal rain. And when the wind gusts, rain that appears to travel right back up to the sky.  And I won’t begin to describe the winds…we’ll save that for another day.

I think I am over rain, but it is not quite over me yet, so I am running away for Christmas. Running north to Santiago. Beautiful, hot, dry Santiago. For a few days I will have the opportunity to complain about the heat and use my lip balm to counteract the arid mountain air.

Day 35-38 – Santiago

SUNSHINE! I feel like Snoopy doing a Happy Dance, chasing my tail in glee. The Ice Breaker wool, polypro and rain jacket are stashed away and the trekking skirt and cotton blouse are on-as well as the sunscreen.

Santiago is vibrant as Christmas approaches. Not quite the shopping insanity of Estatos Unidos, but the pressure is obviously building.

I have embraced the Latin dining schedule (which is a bit tough as I am very much a morning person), spending my days walking and exploring finally sitting down at 10pm for a leisurely dinner. Christmas Eve I treated myself to dinner at one of Santiago’s finer establishments – Baco – an evening of indulgence beginning with a sinful foie gras accompanied with a delightful DryFarmed Old Bush Vine Carignan 2010 (Maule, Chile). (Since California has now outlawed foie gras -and other states will most likely follow- I seem to have acquired a taste for it…and yes, I’ve also acquired the necessary guilt to enjoy it completely.) An unidentified baked local chevre came next atop some beautiful, seemingly just picked lechuga. The cheese was aromatic and  pungent with just enough rind chew to embrace the silky core. A classic cassoulet followed brimming with duck and sausage. My two hour dinner (now approaching 11:30pm) was topped off with a fresh berry zabaglione and restretto.  Strolling out into the balmy evening air amongst hundreds of others enjoying the coolness, I almost missed the rain…not!

Christmas Day will find me on a tour to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar on the coast…more sunshine and more suncreen! Merry Christmas.

Kate Heads South….Way South!

October 9th, 2012

Winter plans are afoot for Chef Kate and the Horse. For the Horse, the late fall plans include several upgrades to the overnight rooms; preparing the gardens for their winter sleep; laying up fire wood; and giving the lodge some TLC in the form of fresh paint and newly oiled decks (normally a spring project but record rainfall this year put painting projects on hold).

By the time the first snow flies, the Horse will be securely tucked in for a long chilly sleep and Chef Kate will be off to her winter adventure – this year she heads to Patagonia

and some world-class dry fly fishing on the waters of Lago Yelcho  with the crew of Puma Fishing.  One of the most sought after fly fishing lodges in Chile, Puma Fishing has invited Kate to bring her culinary skills to their all ready well-respected kitchen for an exchange of ideas and dishes. And with only eight guests at the lodge at any given time, Puma Fishing owner, Steve Selway, has promised Kate plenty of time to perfect her roll cast on some monster rainbows and browns.

“It has been frustrating this year”, says Horse owner Kathleen Moon (aka Chef Kate). ” We’ve had a spectacular summer with guests from around the world – many coming here to fish our incredible waters in Swan Valley. So all summer long, I’m ‘talking’ fishing, but the Horse is a tough mistress and actually finding time to fish myself was near impossible. I’m going to make up for lost water time in Chile this winter, plus have a chance to learn a new cultural menu.”

It was a fishing guest visiting from France this summer that suggested Patagonia and Puma Fishing to Kathleen; a suggestion she quickly followed up on.

Guests planning on a NW Montana adventure next season are urged to include a day of guided fishing on one of the many trout-laden waterways near the Horse, including Swan River and the Blackfoot. The Horse recommends the guide services of Tom at Swan Mountain Outfitters and Jason at Bigfork Anglers and strongly suggests that a day on the river be reserved at the same time your stay at the Horse is booked.

As for Kate, she’s looking forward to that spine-tingling ‘zing’ when she hooks her first 20+ pounder on a dry dragon fly…don’t scoff! It could happen!


The Horse – “Seasonal Sensation” Featured in Montana Magazine

September 20th, 2012

The April issue of Montana Magazine featured The Horse in an article written by Sydne George. Titled “Seasonal Sensation”, George captured the true nature of the lodge and owner Kathleen Moon in words and photos that reflected the warmth and hospitality that for thirteen years has been the hallmark of this small Swan Lake lodge and bistro.

From the initial welcome by Nikki and Cooper, the two resident golden retrievers, to the morning ‘hello’ from Sampson the African Grey parrot, guests quickly understand that this is not a ‘motel as usual’ stay.

Currently celebrating a luxurious fall, the Horse is offering up a two night all-inclusive package featuring great wines and Chef Kate’s signature dishes from the kitchen. To discover this ‘seasonal sensation‘ before the late October closing, visit to learn more about the Fall Package and to make your reservations.


The Reason Why I Live Here…

August 25th, 2012

I was catering a political fundraiser on Swan River this past summer where many of the invited guests were long-time customers of the Horse resulting in a rather blurred line between being a hired service and just another attendee.

For some guests – those not my customers – the line was not blurred at all. They would not address me nor make eye contact; I was to them, just the hired help – invisible unless needed.  To be gracious, most of these folks were fairly new to the community, coming from metropolitan areas where class lines are more apparent and, I suspect, being held onto with renewed vigor as the ongoing recession brings those ‘with’ a little closer to those getting by ‘without’.

As the event matured and the provided banquet was rendered down to a few remaining (and wilting in the late afternoon heat) crudités, my catering attire was removed, the hair came down, and I became just another professionally dressed guest interested in the politics of the day.  Moving from one conversation cluster to another around the deck, I was now being introduced by friends to those very people who an hour before moved about me as if I were a cipher.

The handshakes; the eye contact; the ‘pleased to meet yous’ were all genuine, as were the brief but unmistakable contractions of the pupils and the slight furrowing of the brows that occur when one’s perspective of reality shifts.

This shift of perspective looms large among the reasons why I stay in such a small community when I obviously enjoy the activities and opportunities of big city life and exploring the lesser known areas of the world through my winter travels.  Although it wasn’t always so.

When I came here 13 years ago –  ‘dragged here kicking and screaming’ by my then partner who ‘just had to be in Montana!”- I justified the move with those trite and true plaudits of “clean air, clean water, open space, blah, blah, blah…”.  It has taken years and much growth to realize that although those might have been a few of the reasons for coming here, the reasons for staying are much more complicated because they revolve around the people more so than the place.

Thirteen years isn’t a very long time…a blink really, but for me it is a quarter of my life spent in one place. An unthinkable reality 14 years ago when a three year stint in an apartment or a job was considered long –term.  But as the years have moved inexorably onward I find myself caught up in the warp and weave of this tapestry that is the community of Bigfork extending defacto to Swan Lake.

The event on the river last summer offered up in a definitive moment what keeps me here – and in a word it is leveling.  This place has a strange power to level out society’s ‘haves’ and ‘have littles’ -or more accurately the ‘have differents”.

Like water seeking its own level, these folks that would not share anything in the big city, find themselves perhaps at first in some kind of commerce; whether it be firewood, water, grounds-keeping, boat maintenance, etc. But then both parties find themselves invited guests at a fete on the river; or dining next to each other at the Horse; or sharing elbow space and a beer at the Garden Bar.

I love introducing the retired multi-millionaire Republican building a 10,000 sq ft home on the lake to the Don’t Tread On Me man cutting firewood and living in a 600 sq ft cabin off the grid. Watching the interaction – first the commerce, perhaps of buying firewood, followed by the curiosity – of both parties. It is in this display of curiosity that the leveling begins as each begins to learn something of the other and to find respect for choices made, if not full agreement in the choices themselves. By making introductions and watching similar interactions over the years, I’ve learned that those that show no curiosity in the other generally don’t make it here, regardless of what side of the economic scale they are on.

Watching the transition of both sides – the leveling as it were – I can’t but marvel at how quickly we humans can adapt to shifting environments. And much like Darwin’s conclusions, those that won’t adapt simply disappear, or in the case of Bigfork, either put their property on the market and go back into the striated life from whence they came or truly disappear into the wilderness as self-sufficient as their explorer forbearers.

For those of us who stay, however, the rewards are incalculable.