Content in my diner booth

I just wanted to show off my new diner booth. All my life I’ve felt very comfortable in a diner booth with a cup of coffee and a good book or a deck of cards, and I’ve spent countless hours of my life doing just such. I first broke through and fell in love with the genius of Shakespeare while snorting lines of Ritalin off a diner booth table in Las Cruces, New Mexico decades ago. I had to write a book report on a Shakespeare play for English class, and I got so jacked up on the Ritalin we had smuggled over the border from Juarez that I finally achieved the necessary level of focus and cognition to really break through and witness the Bard’s high language and wit. I absolutely fell in love with Shakespeare that night and I have subsequently read his entire canon with great awe and delight. Amphetamines weren’t required to appreciate his work after that, I only needed that initial lift so his wit could penetrate my thick skull. From then on, I was dialed in.

For nearly ten years I played reggae music in African clubs in Adam’s Morgan DC, often playing six nights a week. I would stay up smoking, drinking, and jamming each night, not getting to bed until four a.m. Every morning the first thing I did was plop myself in a diner booth at “The Diner” on Connecticut Ave to thaw out and ressurect myself from the previous night’s revelries. I had three significant girlfriends during that time, and each one would join me often to play cards and drink coffee, talking shit and laughing for hours. I sometimes wonder if the waitstaff ever pondered, “What’s up with the hippy and his card playing girls?” That’s just what I do. I like playing cards in diner booths. Fewer things make me happier. Maybe that stems from when I lived in Guadalajara Mexico in my early twenties, and each morning I’d eat my huevos rancheros by myself in an classic cafe and watch the old men play dominos. I could find all the contentment I needed there.

Since I’ve decided that my new home is my true home, and I plan to live here until vacate the planet, I figured I oughta just go ahead and get a diner booth to provide for the few simple props of my heart’s enduring contentment. I must admit, it was my friend Michael who really put the idea in my head when he helped me move my stuff from the east coast. Something was just missing from a blank, windowed, wall in my kitchen and I said I oughta put a little table there. He paused, then said, “You oughta get a diner booth”. Euraka! I knew it had to be.

And so I searched the internet and ordered one. Coincidentally, the booth was made and shipped from Morgantown, West Virginia, not too far from where I used to live and where I’d often perform at 123 Pleasant Street. It was a little more than I was hoping to pay, but the women on the phone was just so authentic and kind that she made me want to give her my business. She reminded me of everyone I’ve met out here: no guile, pure sincerity.

I just wanted to tell you about my diner booth, one, because I love it, and two, because it’s the location from where I’ll be writing all that’s to come from here forward. So when you read these, just picture me content in my diner booth, tapping away on my elderly laptop with a cup of a coffee making rings on the table and Indian music streaming from my little speaker box. There might be a ribbon of ganja smoke rising from the ashtray as well, dancing in the light from the window through which I watch horses graze over the endless Wyoming prairie. Yes, I have found contentment.

Wyoming Horse Diary 9/29/21

I now have FOUR horses grazing on my property until winter sets in. As a person who adores animals but has never had much experience with horses, this has been a real blessing and joy for me to get to interact with this small herd on a daily basis. I’m really trying to have no expectations and to not impose my will upon them, but to simply learn from them and interact with them on their terms.

I go out and talk to them and pet them everyday, and every other day or so I’ll feed them apples, trying to avoid having our relationship be solely based on me feeding them treats. Although I am somewhat of a new acquaintance to them, they have all been quite receptive of me. As I approach them they never run away and will let me stand in very close quarters with them, sometimes tightly sandwiched between their massive bodies. All of them let me pet them, but the two bay mares are the most receptive to my affections. The buckskin gelding, whom their owner says is a little dumb, seems mostly indifferent to me. The smaller, reddish mare seems the most wary of me, but not so wary that she avoids my pets. I refer to them by their color and sex because I only know two of their names. The indifferent bucksin is named Ticket. Although he is indifferent and maybe dumb, he seems to have a very gentle, mellow, nature. The smaller of the two bay mares is named Cece. Of the four, she is the most affectionate and personable. The larger, older, bay I’ll call “Softhead” for now. Her forehead above her eyes and between her ears is incredibly plush and soft, moreso than any of the others, and I enjoy petting her there. I’ll call the smallest, reddish, mare “Red” for obvious reasons. Softhead is the most pushy of the four, and she is the only one whose behavior I’ve felt any need to correct at all. When I feed them apples, she has poor manners and will push her way into my personal space, trying to grab the apples out of my hand or to even dig them out of my pockets. My neighbor’s horse Beau does the same thing. And so I’ve had to push back to a degree, telling her no in a lightly stern voice, pointing my finger in her face, and sometimes pushing her head away. It’s quite a new experience to me to have to push back against so large of a beast that could easily trample me and kick my ass if she chose, however, I’ve noticed that she is quite receptive to my admonitions and clearly understands my intent. In just a couple days she has shown remarkable improvement in this regard. Although she is pushy when it comes to apples, she otherwise comes across as quite intelligent and good natured. She is the largest of the four and I believe she is the alpha of the herd. She was slow to warm to me, but is now quite personable as well, receptive to affection, and nearly as sweet as her slightly smaller twin Cece.

I felt that yesterday was a bit of a breakthrough day in our relationship. Around dusk, I walked out to the pasture to feed them apples. They all behaved quite well. When I first started feeding them, all but Softhead were hesitant to even take the apples and spent a good amount of time smelling and investigating the fruit before taking them from my hand. That is no longer the case, and all four are eager to take the treat from my hand. I find it funny how even with something so simple as eating apples, they all have their individual nuances. My neighbor’s horse Lefty always drops pieces of the apple and I have to pick them up and refeed them to him. Cece is still a bit hesistant each time, while Softhead the most enthusiastic. Red has a funny habit of taking the apple by biting into each slice with his teeth to grab it, while all the others just scoop them up in their lips and then proceed to chew. After feeding the apples, I petted them all for a minute and then walked away far across the field to the highest point on my land where I have a wrought iron bench for watching sunsets. I never try to dominate their attention or take up too much of their time, rarely spending more than five minutes or so with them at a time. As I said, I’m trying to avoid imposing too much of myself upon them. I’m grateful for the minutes we have, and I don’t want to distract them from their natural function of incessant grazing.

After sitting on the bench for a few minutes watching the sun go down, I glanced over to the herd a couple hundred yards away. They were all facing my direction attentively watching me. Then, led by the two bays, they all started meandering towards me. Ticket at first lagged behind munching grass but then trotted to catch up. The bench is in the northeast corner of my lot. Here they all congregated and continued to graze, well aware of me but not paying me a whole lot of attention. My heart was warmed by the fact that they came all the way over just to be near me. They already knew I didn’t have anymore apples. I really enjoyed the peace of watching the sunset in the company of my new equine friends. Then both Cece and Softhead sauntered over to me at the bench. Softhead walked behind me, and Cece approached me from the front. I’ve read that a clear sign of affection and bonding from a horse is when they put their noses right up against your nose and mouth and share their breath with you. Both of them did this several times while gazing into my eyes. They were both fully relaxed and had the kindest look in their eyes. I too was very calm and relaxed, and reflected back to them my own love and affection, softly petting both of them on their necks and under their chin.

This experience meant a lot to me. I hadn’t asked anything of the horses, but they chose to come and keep me company of their own accord and to give these expressions of bonding and affection. I felt like Sally Field in her somewhat awkward but charming Oscar acceptance speech many years back: “You DO like me!!!” That’s why I felt yesterday was a breakthrough day for me and the herd. It was the first time they sought me out and showed their affection without me asking for it or trying to earn it through pets or treats. It really warmed my heart. These horses DO like me!!! I have very few friends out here in Wyoming so far. These horses are becoming more than just the beautiful beasts in my pasture; they’re becoming my friends, and I look forward to watching and writing about this friendship as it grows.

I don’t know if any of this is actually interesting to my few readers, but that’s okay. I’m writing this blog for my own understanding, as well as to hone my craft of writing. Nevertheless, I hope it brought you just a touch of the joy that these horses bring to me.

Wyoming Horse Diary – Intro

Shirtless selfie with my neighbor’s gelding, Lefty. Lefty was the sweetest and most fond of me of all, but ever since I’ve had new horses grazing on my property he has been very standoffish, almost completely ignorning me. I think he’s a little jealous and feels betrayed. I’m sure he’ll get over it and I hope he does. He’s a wonderful horse and I too am the most fond of him.

I know next to nothing about horses, or at least I didn’t up until two months ago.  That’s the whole point of this blog; it is about my own personal discovery of horses, not what I’ve been taught or read in a book, but what I come to understand about these graceful beasts through my own experiences and contemplations.  Up until moving to Wyoming from Loudoun County, Virginia this summer, I’ve had very limited access to horses and few experiences.  I have gone horseback riding three times in my life, but these were brief, paid, outings through professional services that didn’t afford much intimacy with the horses nor allow me to get to know them too well.  When I lived in Loudoun County I would see a few horses on my daily strolls, but horse culture is much different in Virginia than in Wyoming.  In Virginia, horses are much more a luxury of the rich, and I confess, I projected that aspect onto the horses themselves, perceiving them as some sort of elitist, snobbish, animal.  Occassionally on my walks the horses would come up to the fence and let me pet them, but these encounters were too infrequent and short to allow me to develop any real understanding or meaningful relationship with them.  The day I moved onto my forty acre ranch in Sundance, Wyoming on the first of July, 2020, all that changed.  

The very first thing I saw driving down my gravel driveway for the first time was a group of four horses galloping along my fenceline to the backdrop of the setting sun over endless, rolling, prairie.  That beautiful moment touched my heart deeply and I took it as an auspicious sign from the universe, a blessing for my new life in wild, wonderful, Wyoming.  Although I was well aware that horses are abundant in this state and can be seen grazing in nearly any pasture, before moving in it hadn’t really occured to me how quickly and to what extent horses would become a part of my daily life.  I did not move here with ambitions to keep horses, rather to simply enjoy the peace and quiet of living close to Nature.  As I said, I always assumed horses were for rich people and beyond my reach, so I never really dared to dream about having horses of my own one day, nor did I think I’d ever have an opportunity to know these wondrous creatures more intimately.  Things are different now.  

Where I now live, practically everybody has horses on their land whether they are rich are poor.  My neighbor to the south of me with whom I share a fenceline has four.  The family across the street has one, and his neighbor to the north has more than a dozen.  Every property along the mile-long drive from the main road to my house has horses.  And now, I even have two on my own property!  I don’t own them but I’m allowing them to graze on my ranch as a favor to my new friend, JW, who has been helping me repair my house.  He said the past couple years have been drought years, that good grass is getting hard to come by, and that allowing his horses to graze here would be a big help.  What a win-win situation!  It’s like having my own horses but without any of the expense or responsibility.  I’m thrilled to live with these creatures now and to have all the opportunity in the world to come to know and understand them better, as well as to develop meaningful bonds.  This journey is what this blog is intended to capture.

The horses on my land are a bay mare and a buckskin gelding named Cece and Ticket.  My neighbor Dan’s horses are a buckskin mare named Macy, a buckskin gelding named Lefty, a reddish gelding named Beau, and an old, black, gelding named Baker.   Dan’s horses were already often at my fence and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to get to know them since I’ve moved in, but ever since Cece and Ticket arrived, now they’re at my fence even more often, being so attracted to the newcomers.  So everyday I get to spend plenty of time with these six horses.  I’ve already established an easy, comfortable, relationship with all of them and have learned a lot, but there is much more room to grow in this regard.  As this blog unfolds I will share the many encounters I have with this equine gang of six and the impressions they make on me.  I feel it’s worth pointing out, however, that I am asking nothing of these horses but communion and companionship.  They are not my horses.  It is not my job to correct their behaviors nor to train them, nor am not trying to ride them.  I simply want to get to know them on their own terms, as they are, while fully respecting their free will.  

Perhaps the experience of writing this blog over the next few months will also prepare me for owning horses of my own some day, which I do now dare to dream of and which I feel has become part of my destiny as an animal love and a Wyoming ranch owner. It will take a little while and I’m in no hurry. I need to start earning better after the professional hiatus I’ve taken over the past eighteen months, and I’ll need to build a small stable and invest in basic supplies from tack gear to feed and watering troughs as well. In the meantime I’ll be reading many books on horsemanship and horsecare, learning from locals, and most importantly, from Cece, Ticket, Macy, Lefty, Beau, and Baker.

As we grow older in life, alas, it seems we have fewer and fewer new experiences and less things to get excited about.  Horses are entirely new to me and I’ve very excited to now dwell amongst them.  I simply want to share this wonder and joy as it unfolds during the journey ahead.  That is the purpose of this blog and I hope you enjoy it.  Stay tuned!

What I’ve Been Up To All Summer…

…and why I’ve been out of touch.

For those of you who want the TLDR version, in short, I bought a 40 acre ranch in North Eastern Wyoming, right on the edge of the Black Hills, half an hour from Devil’s Tower.  The ranch has no covenants, meaning I can do whatever I want, and it came with a modest manufactured home with an extension and a basement, a good well, electricity, and a septic system.  Continued below pics…

After spending the month of March fishing in the Florida Everglades, I stopped back at my parent’s house in PA to get a few ducks in a row, and then headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  As soon as I arrived in the Black Hills I got snowed in high up on a mesa for a week, but luckily made it out before my propane ran out and my pipes froze.  I spent the next couple months mostly camped out in the driveway of an old friend in Custer, SD while working with a realtor actively scoping out properties in the Black Hills area.  I felt a real urgency to acquire property before the housing market and economy got any worse.  Many people have been fleeing costal cities and seeking real estate in the wild and free states of the West, and I cannot deny that I am one of these.   My plan was to start looking in the Black Hills, and if that didn’t work out, I’d move over to Wyoming and start looking.  If that didn’t work out, I’d scope out Montana and Idaho.  I knew it would be wise to acquire property while I still could, but I basically left it in God’s hands to help me find the right home.  I was not let down, despite a trying and demoralizing start.  

The housing market in the Black Hills of South Dakota was insultingly bad.  My realtor confessed to me that the other realtors in the area had decided to “test the market” due to the influx of potential homebuyers by inflating home prices up to 60% above their actual value.  In addition to this, no one was selling, and their was very slim pickings to be found.  Rich people from out of state were constantly combing Zillow for their western dream homes, snapping up every decent property with cash buys, site unseen.  The only properties I could afford were either small, exposed, tracts of land right on the roadside with no utilities, or shabby homes on quarter or half an acre.  Nevertheless, I stuck it out for at least a month and kept searching, constantly being let down upon viewing the properties offered.  In the meantime I had started looking on the Zillow app for properties across the border in Wyoming.  

Things looked a lot more promising in Wyoming.  There were more homes and tracts of land for sale, and the prices were reasonable if not cheap.  I could have afforded parcels up to 150 or so acres, but none of them had utilities and I was very intimidated by the costs of building a home, drilling a well, installing a septic system, running electric lines, etc…  Finally I found this 40 acre parcel in a ideal location with a modest home, no covenants, and all the utilities installed for what wouldn’t even buy a rundown townhome in the northern Virginia area.  Not only could I afford it, but I’d have money left over for improvements and savings.  I jumped on it, drove out on my motorcycle from Custer to view the property, had a quick powwow about it with my parents to receive their blessing, and then headed straight into the nearby town to find a realtor and make an offer.  We offered $15k under the selling price and they accepted the offer.  

Anyone who has ever bought a home can tell you how stressful the time between having the offer accepted and closing the deal can be.  During the month it took to close, another buyer made a provisional offer for the place at full price, so the seller basically did everything she could to shake me off and have me back out of the deal.  Yet everyone I talked to familiar with the local housing market agreed that I had scored a great deal, and that finding good tracts of land with no covenants and all the utilities installed was becoming very rare across the entire state.  Compared to the inflated home values I had witnessed in South Dakota, this would have been a good buy even if the home was a pile of ashes.  

To calm the anxiety of closing, I spent much of the month of June camping and fishing in the Bighorn Mountains of central Wyoming, one of my favorite places on Earth.  That was about the only play time I’ve had all summer, being so focused on buying a home.  The Bighorns are heaven on Earth, and it blows my mind that I now live only a short morning drive from them.  To my great joy, finally the closing day came on July 1st, and despite all my worries and anxiety, I pulled into the driveway of my new ranch, keys in hand.  

Almost immediately I flew back east to get the rest of my things from storage, and drove a uhaul truck back with a friend following me in my Toyota pickup.  Since then I’ve been incredibly busy moving in and scurrying to fix up the place before the harsh winter sets in.  They do have real winters here.  Lots of snow and below zero temps.  But that’s okay.  I plan to be a reverse snowbird; instead of heading south in my van each winter, I will stay home and work hard on recording music, then spend my summers touring around the west in my van.  

The house has needed a lot of work.  I had a badly leaking roof, a broken but highly necessary water-softening system, a propane leak, damaged siding, a questionable old furnace, and several shoddy windows that need replaced.  At first I found it very hard to find contractors out here to help me with all this, but to my great fortune, I finally found a new friend, JW, a very competent independent builder who seems to have mastered all aspects of home building and repair.  He’s also a true Wyoming rancher and former rodeo competitor.  He’s sort of taken me under his wing and has helped me get up to speed on many aspects of ranch life, and he even brought two of his horses to graze on my land until winter since the past couple years of drought have made good grass hard to come by.  

Quite unexpectedly, horses have become one of the main themes of my life out here, and the center of much of my joy.  The very first time I drove down my driveway with the keys in hand, the first thing I witnessed was my neighbor’s four horses galloping along my fence line.  Fewer things are more beautiful than watching horses gallop across the rolling Wyoming prairie, and this moment sparked a new love in my heart and fascination with horses.  Since that day, I’ve become very good friends with my neighbor’s horses.  They are often at my fenceline, and we chat and nuzzle every day.  Now I have two more horses on my property that I can spend time with whenever I want and even ride.  These horses have only caused my neighbor’s horses to spend more time at my fence line, so now I basically have a tribe of horses I get to bond with daily.  It’s a total game changer, and does so much for my peace of mind, groundedness, and wellbeing.  I’ve never really had the opportunity to get to know horses in my lifetime.  Where I lived in Loudoun County VA, horses seemed to be exclusively a luxury of the rich, and I guess I projected that association onto the horses themselves, seeing them as some sort of elitist, snobbish animal.  It’s not like that out here at all.  Everybody has horses.  They are a constant part of the landscape, free ranging on vast tracts of prairie.  So now I’ve finally had the opportunity to get to know horses intimately and spend time with them daily.  What sweet, sensitive, and graceful beasts!  It’s changed my life.  

All in all, I am very happy out here.  For the first time since leaving my boyhood home, I have finally found a true home, and I intend to live here for all the rest of my days.  I really couldn’t ask for anything more.  My property is a secluded, true slice of the wild, Wyoming, prairie, adjacent to the awe-inspiring and magical Black Hills.  The more I contemplate this land, the more I realize it is like a living ocean.  All day long, antelope come and go grazing across the rolling hills.  These grasses and sinkholes contain so much life.  There are coyotes, enormous jack rabbits, tame cottontails, porcupines, skunks, raptors, songbirds, rattlesnakes, and even the occasinal elk.  I am never alone here, but part of a much greater family coexisting together.  I am committed to keeping my land wild and pure.  As much as I love guns, I won’t be shooting on my own land nor hunting.  There’s a nearby gun range for that.  I want to encourage wild animals to live on my land and feel safe here rather than scare them away.  The only farming I’ll be doing will be contained to a hoophouse garden, gravity fed with collected rainwater.  The only mark upon this land I’ve really made is a simple walking path around the mile-long perimeter.  It is truly quiet here.  My entire western horizon is absolutely unblemished by any sign of man apart from a cattle herd that comes and goes, making for perfect Wyoming sunsets every day.   My entire county has zero traffic lights and zero traffic.  I get along great with the locals; they are some of the most genuine, self-reliant, and sincere people I’ve met.  And I have the entire Black Hills National forest at my disposal just across the main road and another section north of town.  I live in the same state as Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Bighorns, the Wind River Range, and Devil’s Tower.  This is truly God’s country, and I am grateful beyond all expression to be able to dwell here in simplicity and peace.  

I plan to put up a yurt and a tipi in the northwest corner of my lot by next summer, as well as construct an outdoor kitchen and shower, and a composting toilet for guests.  All my life I’ve wanted to acquire a little slice of wilderness to be able to provide a place of rest and retreat for world weary souls.  I see this land as a gift from the universe, and I certainly intend to give back and share what I can.  All my friends and good-hearted acquaintances will be welcome here, and will have a place to rest and decompress, to rediscover their center and connection with Nature.  

Throughout the summer I did still manage to collect some excellent wildlife footage for future music videos.  As soon as I get this house fixed up for winter, I may take another short van trip while the weather allows, but then I’m getting right to work on new creative content, new music and videos.  Very soon, I also plan to start another blog project all about my discovery of and experiences with horses.  Stay tuned!  Stay in touch.

Peace and love,

Mateo

An epic first day in the Black Hills: rock climbing, fishing, live music, and getting silly with friends old and new.

After 12 days of cold and solitude fasting my senses in the Badlands, I arrived at my friend “Ranger Rene’s” house in Custer, SD late Thursday afternoon.  I went to highschool with Rene, she was a fellow deadhead and best friend of my highschool crush.   She’s been living out here for twenty-some years working as a National Park ranger, and has worked at nearly every park in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming.  She and her boyfriend Chris are both avid climbers and cavers, and their house becomes somewhat of a flophouse for climbers and outdoor adventurers on the road throughout most of the season.  So there are always plenty of interesting folks coming through, and over the years visiting out this way, I’ve made friends with quite a few of them.  

When I arrived no on was home, so I took the opportunity to get a much-needed shower after seven days of no bathing, to do my pile of laundry, and to tidy up my van.  Right as I finished up all that, Rene and Chris, their roomate Mordy, my new best bro Buckman rolled up the driveway, soon followed by two chill dudes Matt and Josh who I hadn’t met before.  We fired up the grill and lit a fire in the fire pit on her back patio, and spent the rest of the evening drinking and dining, playing music, smoking funny cigarrettes, laughing and catching up on things.  It was a great “homecoming” to an area I think might just be my home from here forward.  I’ll be staying in the Black Hills for awhile looking at properties, while continuing to cherish the outdoors fishing and filming wildlife.  

Near the end of the night my friend Buckman, a former park cop turned irie climbing guide at Devil’s Tower, asked me if I’d help out with a climbing guide certification test he was overseeing.  I was to play the part of “client 1” and be led up two different routes in the spires near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park by Chris as part of his climbing guide exam.  For me, not being the most experienced climber, it was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with my friends and get a free climbing lesson covering all the basics.  Everything went without a hitch and we enjoyed a blissful early afternoon hanging off rocks and goofing around in the wilderness.  Buckman was plenty serious about the exam however, as well as Chris.  All in all it was a great balance of work and fun.  

On the way hiking out I saw a fisherman casting trout spinners into the lake and asked him if he’d been getting any bites.  He enthusiastically responded, “Oh yeah!  I’ve caught 15 so far.”  How could I resist such good fishing?! When we got back to Rene’s I immediately grabbed my rod and jumped on my motorcycle heading back to the lake in hopes to catch dinner before we all headed out to a concert in town.  The first fish I caught was the largest rainbow trout I’ve ever caught, and I caught three more good-sized rainbows in short order, keeping only the biggest two.  I could have stayed there and fished till dark, but we had plans, so I cut it short and headed back to Rene’s with my trophy fish.  I filleted and fried them with some potatoes and veggies and enjoyed my first fresh trout dinner of the season, providing Buckman with a dinner plate as well.  Then onto the show!

There’s a fairly new theater in Custer called the Beacon, and they were kicking off their season with Jamal Crossland, a creative and gifted banjo picker, one of the better known contemporary musicians out of Wyoming.  The show was nearly sold out, no one was wearing masks, and by the end of the night a whole lot of people were dancing and getting rowdy.  We all got a little drunk and lit and had a blast.  We brought a good-sized crew back to Rene’s for an afterparty where things got even sillier.  We ended up having an “interpretive broom dancing” contest, which is pretty much just as it sounds.  We did interpretive dancing to an odd selection of music while holding, balancing, and doing tricks with a broom.  It was silly and raucous, and the perfect way to cap off my first full day in the Black Hills this year.  I think I’ll stay awhile.  It’s so beautiful here, rich with wildlife and wild people.  

I’m currently writing this from a hot springs spa in the southern Hills, just having soaked in hot mineral baths.  I’m gonna have another soak, smoke a spliff, do some yoga, and then head back out to Sylvan Lake to catch dinner.  Life is good in the Black Hills.  

More wildlife pictures from the Badlands

I’ve really been enjoying searching for wildlife in the Badlands and shooting pics and filming footage. I’ve been getting some great footage which I’m saving to present in my next music video. Starting Thursday I’m gonna camp in my friends driveway for a few days and take advantage of her electricty and wifi to put the video together. Soon come! In the meantime enjoy these pics.

Had a great day filming wildlife and got some nice pics!

I had a wonderful day spending time with wildlife while shooting footage for my next music video, and I shot a few still pics while I was at it. I was super excited to get the coyote shots. They are more elusive than the other animals, seen more infrequently and usually at a great distance.  I actually first encountered him as he ran up a distant hill but was unable to get my camera out in time. As I was riding my motorcycle back to camp, I passed along the other side of the hill and happened upon the same coyote, now out in a meadow chewing on a prairie dog. I wasn’t fast enough to film him eating but I did get some nice videos and these pics. Although it appears he is going for the magpies in the one pic, they were actually there for the remains of the prairie dog as he was just finishing his lunch.  

Some neat finds in the Badlands

Dead buffalo everywhere! Well, only three actually. Yesterday I went on a long walk through the Badlands while chanting my 11 Rudrams for the day. I saw many bison and prairie dogs, a porcupine, a herd of mule deer, a nighthawk, two magpies, and many western meadowlarks. I also found 3 buffalo skeletons, but only one of them still had a skull. I imagine hikers took the other two skulls. I was tempted to keep the one I found, but I was many miles from camp and it was heavy and pretty fresh, still reeking strongly of death. I did keep the one small horn it had though as well as a tooth. Today the weather is much nicer and I look forward to venturing out again, this time with my tripod to try filming wildlife for my next video. Who knows what I’ll find. The Badlands are always full of mystery and surprises.

An Ordeal Atop The Enchanted Mesa

The first morning. Stuck.

I was caught in a bit of a predicament to start out my western adventure this year.  After dropping through my folk’s house in Pennsylvania to grab a few supplies, I beelined it straight to one of my favorite spots in the world, Sheep Mountain in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.  This is the same place where I had the most incredible, supernatural experience of my life back in 2012, and the same place where I had the first and most potent vision of the White Wolf.  

I arrived on a warm and sunny Saturday, and made a vow to stay in the park for 11 days abstaining from all intoxicants and all forms of media and enterntainments apart from books and audiobooks.  I also committed to meditating twice daily and chanting eleven Rudrams a day.  I did this with the intention of purifying the body and mind to start this leg of my journey on the right foot.  Just after I committed to the vow I checked the weather and saw that the temperature was about to drop into the low twenties and that snow was imminent.  Seeing that my van wasn’t really designed for below freezing temperatures which could cause my pipes to break, I considered postponing the vow and taking safety measures, such as driving to a warmer climate or emptying my water takes and blowing out the lines, then staying at my friend Rene’s house in the Black Hills for a few nights.  But the forecast in the Black Hills called for temperatures twenty degrees colder with more snow, and due to a large cold front, I would have had to drive nearly all the way to Arizona to escape the cold.  So I decided to stay put, proceed with my vow, and just hope that my propane would keep my van sufficiently warm to keep my pipes from breaking.  That night the temperatures did indeed drop, and Sunday morning I awoke on the mesa top to about 7 or 8 inches of snow.  To make matters worse, I had made the mistake of driving about a quarter mile off the dirt road to my favorite camp spot, and now I was hopelessly stuck and would have to ride out the multi-day cold front and wait for the snow to melt before I had any chance of getting out.  Even after the snow melted, I would probably have to wait a day or two more for the ground to dry because the silty soil of the Badlands becomes a notoriously soft and sticky mud soup when wet.  

Unfortunately, both the water and propane tanks of my van are quite small, and the level guages for both are pitifully inaccurate, almost worthless.  Before the snow fell I had purposely but foolishly used up quite a bit of water, thinking that if the tank levels were lower there would be less chance of damaging the tank should it freeze.  So I only had about five days of water left.  My bigger concern however was how long my small supply of propane would hold out while running constantly to keep the van warm enough to prevent damage to my pipes.  If my pipes were to break it would be a huge hassle.  Not only would it be quite expensive to repair, but I’d probably have to wait a month before I could even get a service appointment.  It was a bit intimidating to know that I’d have to huddle in my van in the barren wilderness for several days, constantly worried about my propane and water, but there was no way out; I had to face the challenge and weather the storm.   

I immediately regretted making the vow to abstain from both intoxicants and media and entertainments.  I had plenty of supplies to sooth my nerves and expand my mind, as well as a whole library of my favorite shows and movies on DVD to pass the time with, but all were useless to me now.  I had to sit in the cold basically twiddling my thumbs and worrying for the foreseeable future.  

Over the next few days the daytime temperatures were in the thirties, but each night the temps dropped down to the high teens or low twenties.  I was very conserving of my water in propane, keeping my van just warm enough to prevent my pipes from breaking, but not warm enough to be comfortable.  During the days I entertained myself by bundling up and trudging through the snow hoping to film and photograph wildlife in the snow.  I did encouter a herd of mule deer and watched them bounce on all fours in unison into the distance.  I was beautiful to watch, but they were quite skittish and too far too get any good footage.  I also encountered a herd of bighorn sheep running across the mesa top, but they were skittish as well, and before I could get my camera out, they already dived over the cliff edge to the safety of the canyons below.  I only got a few photographs of a quail in a tree and one of the mule deer in the distance.

I was happy to discover that my dirtbike motorcycle did surprisingly well in the snow, so I was able to cruise around the vast mesa top.  It was pretty fun actually.  The bike was real swimmy.  It felt more like riding a jet ski than a motorcycle and I had to be very vigilant to keep my balance and not dump it.  Unfortunately, it was so bitter cold that I could only ride for about ten minutes at a time before my fingers felt like they were going to fall off.  

By Tuesday enough snow had melted that I figured I’d give a try at driving out but failed miserably.  I did nothing but spin my wheels and sink into ruts.  Not having a shovel, I had to get real creative and work hard to get out of the ruts, but doing so only put me into a worse position.  My van, being front wheel drive and extremely heavy, did better at going backwards than forwards.  It also didn’t help that my van was facing a slight uphill.  I was parked not far from a sheer cliff edge, and moved a few feet closer to the edge backing out of the ruts.  Later in the day I tried moving again, desparate to get out before my propane expired, but only to get stuck again in fresh ruts.  By the time I got out of those, I was a few more feet closer to the edge, now only about 8 feet away.  This worried me incredibly.  The Badlands are all about erosion, constanlty shifting in formation.  It’s part of what makes them so beautiful.  As I said, the soil is very soft and silty, and gives way easily.  I was deeply concerned that the weight of my van combined with the wet soil could cause the whole edge to break off sending me and my van plummeting.  Now I was thinking I might really need to call for help, but I wanted to try one more thing. 

Tuesday night was supposed to be the coldest yet, getting down into the teens.  I thought that if I try moving the van first thing in the morning when the ground was hard frozen, I might have a chance.  I woke up groggy at 7am to brave the bitter cold and try again.  Alas, I immediately became stuck in ruts again.  I worked all morning to get out, riding my motorcycle back and forth to the dirt road to bring back pans full of gravel to put in the ruts, and digging on my hands and knees in the ice with a hatchet.  I was finally able to back out of the ruts, and now I was 6 feet from the sheer edge.  I tried to go forward but only dug fresh ruts.  I gave up and called my park ranger friend Rene for help.  Her roomate had a truck and was willing to come pull me out, but they wouldn’t be able to make it until about 6pm.  It was also a 4 hour round trip for them and I felt really bad to have to put them through all the trouble.  

Throughout the day however, the sun came out and melted off a lot of the snow and dried the ground a bit.  I decided to give one more honest try to get out, wanting to spare them the hassle and save face a little.  It was a hell of a lot of work.  I took a blanket down to the dirt road, filled it with gravel, folded it up and strapped it to my bike.  I spread the gravel as best I could and did more tedious digging with my hatchet in the slosh of mud and snow.  This time, thankfully, I was finally able to get the van moving forward.  Though I was moving, my wheels were still spinning like crazy and there was no way I was gonna make it up the hill so I had to resign to driving laterally into the field of wet grass and snow.  Once I got around the hump of the hill in front of me, it was about 300 yards slightly downhill to the road.  I had a chance.  My wheels were still spinning like crazy and I knew that if I stopped or slowed I would definitely be stuck again, so I just gunned it, said my prayers, and aimed for the road.  I made it about two thirds of the way before I finally got stuck again in deep wet grass and snow.  I was smart enough at least to let off the gas before I dug fresh ruts.  Now I was stuck in the middle of a field with about 100 yards to go.  But things were starting to look up.  Once the field dried a little more I should be able to just drive out.  I called Rene and we decided that we’d wait a day before she came to see if I could get out on my own when things dried more.  It was a hard call to make.  I only had about one day’s worth of water and propane left and I really didn’t want to stay another night huddled in my van, but nor did I want to burden my friends with such an effort, especially if there was a chance I could get out on my own.  Fortunately by the end of the day, the grass dried sufficiently and I was able to drive out on my own.  I still had to gun it through a marshy depression and up a 3 foot bank to the road, but I got ‘er done.  Man, was I relieved.  What an ordeal that was.  

Even when I made my vow to stay in the Badlands for 11 days, I allowed for the fact that I’d probably have to make one run to town to refill my tanks and fridge.  So last night I drove over to Rapid City and stayed at a KOA where I knew they had hot showers (I hadn’t bathed in a week to conserve water), laundry, and propane.  This morning I got a few supplies (including a folding shovel I wish I had had) and then headed back into the park.  Now I’m staying at a free primitive campground in the middle of the prairie where there’s a solid gravel road instead of up on my enchanted mesa, and I think I’ll ride out the rest of my 11 day vow here.  I like it here. I’m camped in the middle of both a prairie dog colony and a large herd of bison grazing in and around the camp, and I look forward to filming both in the days to come.  There are beautiful walks in all directions, and plenty of mule deer, antelope, porcupines, and coyotes to be seen as well.  And the night sky is crystal clear.  

This was certainly an interesting start to this summer’s western adventure, but it was an informative and character-building experience overall.  It taught me about both the limits of my van and myself.  I did notice in the mirror at the KOA though that my sideburns are much whiter than they were last week, and my beard has more salt mixed in with the pepper.  I think worrying up there in the cold on the cliff’s edge aged me a bit, but that’s okay.  I mean, I’ve always known that White Wolf would have a white beard and hair before too long.  It’s my destiny.  

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