Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Little Island that Could

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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.

300px-TeatroMunicipal

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

Wednesday, 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 Dry-Farmed 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.

2013 Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Brunch at the Horse

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Take a leisurely drive down to Swan Lake and enjoy a delicious Mother’s Day Brunch celebrating all things great about our Moms. Join us on Sunday, May 12th (that is if Mom isn’t participating in the Spartan Game challenge at Flathead Lake Lodge!) from 9am to 1:30pm. Mom’s receive a complimentary glass of bubbly with there brunch selection.

And not to be outdone, on Sunday, June 16th, grab Dad and bring him to the Horse for a manly Father’s Day brunch guaranteed to satiate even the most wolfish appetite. From our famous Huckleberry Peach Pancakes to Angus Rib Eye and Eggs (and several other dishes), Dad is sure to be satisfied. And of course, Dad gets a glass of the bubbly as well.

Reservations are a must for these two special days. 406-886-2080 or email us at laughinghorselodge@gmail.com

The Horse’s 2013 ‘Tantalizing Tuesdays” Chef’s Table Schedule

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

 

The third year of the Horse’s popular chef’s table event – Tantalizing Tuesdays – was another sell-out success with culinary visits to regions of Tunisia, Bavaria and Burma, and even Montana with our Taste of the Wild. The challenge of distilling a culture’s entire culinary identity into 6 signature dishes fell into the capable hands of sous chef, Kyle Dean, previously of Kandahar Lodge.

Working closely with Chef Kathleen, Dean met the challenge  each Tuesday- sometimes easily, and sometimes not – as when the Columbia River Sturgeon failed to arrive hours before dinner and a scramble to local fish mongers secured halibut – delivered just minutes before guests arrived.

The food, albeit caringly prepared and beautifully presented by Dean and Moon, was only half of the bi-weekly foodie event. Working closely with Annie of Rocky Mountain Wine Distributors, Moon selected 5 wines each week to accompany the dishes. Although mostly obscure vintages (Moon requires that wines presented cannot be found at you local grocers or at CostCo) the wines selected represented some of the most delicious representations of their particular terroirs.  Two truly memorable pours included Chris Gorman‘s Zachary’s Ladder out of Washington State , and  Domaine Saint Nicolet Cotes de Rhone from France.

2013′s Tantalizing Tuesdays begins with a visit to Santiago, Chile on June 25th.  Chef Kate will be cooking at an intimate fishing lodge in Patagonia for the winter season and is looking forward to bringing home some delicious new additions to the summer offerings at the Horse.  The balance of the Tuesday Chef’s Tables are:  July 9th – Naples Italy; July 23rd – Korean Peninsula; August 13th – Ethiopia; August 27th- Loire Valley and September 10th -  A Tantalizing Taste of Montana.

Each dinner will include 5 personally selected wines to compliment the dishes presented.

The tastings are limited to 32 foodies, and secured reservations are a must.  To secure your table, please call Kathleen at 406-886-2080, or email her at laughinghorselodge@gmail.com.  $139 per couple or $70 per person, and $45 for non-drinking designated drivers.

 

 

Chef Kate Part of FVCC Festival of Flavors!

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

On Monday, October 1, Kathleen presents a 5 course Provence-inspired dinner at the home of Suzie Williams as part of the Festival of Flavors Chef series.

The festival is sponsored by the Flathead Valley Community College Foundation in support of scholarships and grants for deserving students. The week long event includes private chef’s tables, wine and beer tastings, and food workshops located around the Flathead Valley. 

As with her successful bi-weekly Chef’s Tables held each summer, Kathleen’s dinner for 12 will feature mostly organic, local provender and be paired with a selection of  wines.  The dinner is $125 per person with $75 tax deductible. To make reservations, call 756-3632 or visit www.fvcc.edu/festival.html.

The Menu:

A Taste of Provence

 

Fromage avec de la confiture de figues

Cambozola baked with gooseberry preserves and served with meringue walnuts and Mediterranean flatbread

Lavendar Poche Salade d’artichauts

Petite French purple artichokes poached in lavender served with grilled golden beets,

heirloom tomatoes and lavender infused champagne balsamic dressing

Pour: (suggest a Roussillon)

 

Alouette aux Figues et Noisettes

Armagnac roasted young quail stuffed with figs and hazelnuts

 

Tartelette au fromage de chèvre et poire

Pear & Goat Cheese Tart

The Horse – “Seasonal Sensation” Featured in Montana Magazine

Thursday, 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 www.laughinghorselodge.com to learn more about the Fall Package and to make your reservations.

 

Montana Dragon Boat Festival Racers Welcome at The Horse Next September

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Although the second annual Montana Dragon Boat Festival is a year away, it isn’t too early to book your lodging and Laughing Horse Lodge is the perfect place to be for your race team and dragon boats. Located just 25 minutes from the race site at Flathead Lake Lodge, the Horse offers up economical yet award-winning hospitality and dining, with the added benefit of beautiful Swan Lake – a perfect practice lake for your team. Reserve your rooms individually or reserve the entire property for your team.

Our special Dragon Team Package includes: 5 nights lodging for up to 26 ( a combination of double occupancy, bunk room and cabin); early-out gourmet breakfast each morning; Welcome BBQ Dinner for your team on the first night; boat and trailer parking; boat launch and secure docking on Swan Lake for pre-event practice; and Farewell Dinner for your team on the last night.  Package price as low as $70 per person dependent upon total occupancy. For details, contact Kathleen at laughinghorselodge@gmail.com.