On January 13th, acclaimed British actor, Julian Sands, disappeared while hiking alone near Mt. Baldy, California The search for him resumed after the winter snows melted though deep patches still linger. Last week hikers stumbled across a set of human remains in the area where Sands’ cell phone last pinged, remains now confirmed to be his.
In Part One, I introduced Dr. Robert Koester, an expert on the behavior of people who get lost in the wilderness. Now, in Part 2, I’m recommending an excellent book about searching for missing people in the wild, The Cold Vanish, by Jon Billman.
Jon Billman, an athlete, creative writing teacher and contributor to famed Outside Magazine, uses his decades of personal experience in search and rescue to create a compelling and thought-provoking narrative on how and why people go missing in the wilds.
Billman shares representative cases of missing persons, from a runner murdered by a serial killer to deaths by falls, exposure and other misadventures to the miraculous rescue of a yoga teacher in the remote forests of Hawaii. And yes, she’d wandered off the beaten path and yes, she’d ended up many miles in the opposite direction from where logic dictated she’d be. She was spotted by mere chance by a search plane which, ironically, had also flown off course.
The overarching story that ties Billman’s book together is the case of Jacob Gray, a young man on a solo journey of self-discovery. Jacob was reported missing after his bicycle was discovered abandoned in Olympic National Park. Billman became close friends with Jacob’s father, Randy Gray, who spent years searching tirelessly for his son. Initially searchers feared that Jacob had fallen into a nearby fast-flowing river, but when divers came up empty, Randy and Billman together explored a gamut of wild possibilities, including Jacob’s joining a cult. In the end, Jacob is found, but no spoilers. Eat the book!
Missing people are located largely due to the efforts of volunteers. Billman introduces colorful characters who have made finding lost people their life mission: Duff, the blood hound handler; Michael Neiger, bushman and self-taught expert; and David Paulides, ex-cop and dedicated Bigfoot researcher.
Sadly many times the outcome is tragic. The classic scenario is that hikers or hunters stumble over the missing person’s skeletal remains, exactly the way Julian Sands was eventually found. Often it’s in a spot far from where the person initially disappeared.
The takeaways from Billman’s book reinforce Dr. Koester’s warnings: don’t stray off the main path, tell people where you are going and if you get lost, stay put! Best advice of all, don’t go out into the wilderness unprepared and alone.
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with people who mysteriously disappear, especially those who get lost in the wilderness. On January 13th, British actor Julian Sands was reported missing by his family. Sands, an experienced hiker and mountaineer, had set out alone for the San Gabriel Mountains , 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles. He never returned. On January 18th his car was located near Mt. Baldy , one of his favorite trails.
Julian Sands is/was 65 years old and made his home in North Hollywood. His break-out role was in the British period piece, A Room with a View , which coincidentally starred Helena Bonham Carter as an ingenue -before she found her goth persona and her partner, Tim Burton. Sands continued to work in many diverse films and series, including The Killing Fields, The L Word, Smallville, 24 and even Dexter!
How could he simply disappear? How could a seasoned climber come to grief?
For answers, I looked to my friend, bear biologist, Sarah Poole. She told me about search and rescuer, Dr. Robert J. Koester, who’s an expert in understanding the behavior of lost people.
It is very easy to get lost. Dr. Koester describes a case of an experienced 65 year old hiker who had a habit of walking 80 steps from the trail for a washroom break. (That’s right, eighty not eight!) Her skeletal remains were found two years later.
Lost people DO tend to wander around in circles. People wander in random patterns and can travel great distances. They are often found far from the area where they were supposed to be.
Lost people tend to travel downhill rather uphill. People believe that down is safer and that they will be more likely to find help there. Sadly that is not necessarily true.
People get lost by making a mistake. At first, they believe their instruments or maps are faulty so they can travel a significant distance before they realize they are lost.
People get an adrenalin rush when they discover they are lost. This is a normal physiological response. The worst thing one can do is to panic. The first thing to do is to calm down; a simple drink of water can be enough.
So what happened to Julian Sands? The San Gabriel Mountains are about an hour’s drive from LA, stretching between the city and the Mohave Desert. Winters are wet and snowfall can be heavy. Ice-climbing and snow trails are popular with mountaineers and Baldy Bowl is a favorite. This is where Sands was headed.
Mt. Baldy’s real name is Mt. San Antonio. At over 10,000 feet, it’s the highest peak in the mountain range. Winter climbing on the Baldy Bowl requires ice axes and crampons with ascents of 45 to 50 degrees. Rockfalls and avalanches are common. This January severe storms in the area led to extremely dangerous avalanche conditions and search and rescue operations had to be curtailed. Julian Sands remains missing.
Not long after, a number of bogus reports surfaced, claiming that Sands had been spotted alive and well. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario, born of romanticism and desperate hope – and perhaps too much bingeing on Netflix.
One hiker, 75 year old Jin Chung, was rescued from Mt. Baldy around the same time after he went missing for two days. He’d gone off on his own leaving his two hiking companions on another route. Fortunately, after they alerted search and rescue, Chung was found with only mild injuries.
As Dr. Koester warns hikers: tell people where you are going; take emergency survival supplies with you and never hike alone.
Sometimes wonderful events cluster. The Mesdames of Mayhem had a full page article in the Toronto Star by Briony James. A huge thank you to my friend, Sylvia Warsh, who landed us this terrific publicity. Here’s the link:
On Sunday, October 30th we launched In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smash success! Despite worries about resurging COVID, Sleuth was packed with our fans, friends and family.
And then I woke up this morning to the amazing news that my story, Last Island, is the cover story on Mystery Magazine this month! Wow!
The 2021 Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place over two days, the August 28-29th weekend. For Ride #4, my final pledge ride, I picked Saturday, August 28th, mostly because my parents got married on that date in 1943, nearly 80 years ago!
Ed snapped this pic of me as I headed out, wearing my yellow Ambassador’s jersey. The weather looked cloudy and unsettled so I skipped the opening speeches on YouTube to beat the heat.
I rode east to Bayview and turned south, treating myself to a 1 km downhill zoom to the Don Valley bike trail that runs parallel to the Bayview Extension – an easy ride past the Brickworks and Rosedale Valley Road to River Street.
Thanks to COVID, the City has made the tail end of Bayview Extension one way and carved off half a lane for a new bike path. That deposited me squarely into the Canary District and the corporate art therein.
A moment of nostalgia for the super-techs at Gears Bike Store: they fixed my flat in 15 minutes during the 2020 virtual Ride. They’ve now relocated north to King St. The Canary District looked deserted: not the eastern twin of overbuilt Liberty Village…yet.
I decided to take the lakeshore trail to stay out of traffic and use the headwind to ward off the promised heat.
Passing under the Gardiner Expressway, I took in the gallery of street art.
Once again, it was a fast ride with the west wind behind me. The lake looked spectacular though the rain clouds did look ominous.
Few people were out this morning. I passed the occasional dog walker and happily connected and chatted with a fellow Rider who was doing her third Ride. By the time I reached the Distillery District for my usual Balzac’s break, I was almost exactly halfway done. Waiting for Ed to drive down to join me, I found some neat things: the original shoreline of Lake Ontario memorialized and the LOVE sculpture.
Pledging eternal love by using a padlock originated in Europe in the early 2000s even though the origin is sad. During WWI a young Serbian woman fell in love with a soldier and they put a padlock on the Bridge of Love. He left her for another and she died of heartbreak.
Not a great recommendation but since 2000, lovers have placed locks on bridges and fences throughout the world. In Paris, the Pont des Arts was so overloaded that in 2014 part of its parapet collapsed. Cities now routinely remove these padlocks. Some, taking a more positive route, invite people to create sculptures like LOVE above. Read more about love locks here.
After coffee, I cycled out along the Lakeshore bike path to my usual turnaround point at the Humber Bridge and Palace Pier.
On the bridge, I met and chatted with a team of fellow riders, all wearing yellow jerseys. They all work for the same software company and were riding for the father of the young woman with them. A heartfelt moment and reminder of why we ride.
On the way back, I began to feel the heat, but luckily I was nearing the end of the journey. I turned up Bay Street and kept to the lane reserved for bikes, cabs and buses. I played chicken with three buses all the way up to Belmont Street. With relief, I turned right and from there went north onto Yonge St.
Once again, thanks to COVID, the City has installed a bike lane up Yonge St. starting at Bloor St. It was the fastest way home for me though it did mean two thigh-burning climbs between Summerhill and St. Clair Ave.
Happily when I passed the Summerhill clock tower, I hit the 50 km mark! After I reached St. Clair, I had a quick pedal through the calm of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, said hello to the boys and arrived home in time for lunch. Total distance: 53.422 km!!
This was my 14th Ride. Did I sign up for next year? Of course, I did. Who could say no to a pair of stylish socks like these?
Apparently only 64 riders have done the Toronto Ride every single year since the inaugural one in 2008. I’m one of them!
On to training for 2022 and big hugs and many, many thanks for your wonderful support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Here at last is my blog on Ride #3. (Spoiler alert: I did successfully complete my four pledged rides for a total of 200 km!)
Tuesday, August 24th I headed west to the Humber River one of my favorite trails. Getting there from mid-town Toronto unfortunately requires a hair-raising pedal through traffic. I started out early to beat the promised scorching heat. The first few kilometers were along the cool shade of the Beltline trail.
The Beltline trail follows the path of a commuter railway that opened in 1892. It never turned a profit and only lasted two years. For almost a century afterwards Torontonians wrangled over how to use the land until David Crombie, Toronto’s tiny perfect mayor, turned it into a bike path. (If you’re having a sleepless night, you can read the detailed history of bureaucracy and indecision here. )
As a runner, I was familiar with the Kay Gardner section that runs from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to the Allen Expressway. There my buddies and I would literally “hit the wall” before looping back, 11 km roundtrip from the Pearly Gates on Bayview. I ran across the York section west of Allen Road purely by accident, actually coming east from the Humber. The access from the west is well hidden down a narrow sidewalk past an auto bodyshop and as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy would say behind the sign saying “Beware of the leopard”.
The York Trail is belied by the overgrown entrance. It’s actually quite exposed and bland, running as many rec trails do, under a set of hydro wires and pylons. But behind a set of industrial buildings, there’s some neat street art.
At the end of the Beltline, I pedal back along Bowie to Montgomery and cut through Prospect Cemetery, which bears a striking resemblance to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by the same people. Prospect is bigger than Mt. Pleasant, consisting of three pleasantly green sections to ride through despite a steep climb midway.
You might think that Prospect provides a lengthy stretch in which to contemplate one’s own mortality, but death is far more imminent on the next part of my route which follows St. Clair Avenue west until it ends at Scarlett Street.
There are no – and I mean NO – accommodations for cyclists along busy St. Clair. Stay alert, stay alive. I watch for car doors opening, street car tracks and open air patios that have narrowed the thoroughfare to one lane. In some sections, I beat a retreat to the sidewalk. Better to be humbled into walking with pedestrians than blending in with the traffic in a grisly way.
I’m much relieved to turn onto Scarlett Street and its bike path. It’s a speedy downhill ride for the most part to the quiet refuge of the Humber River trails.
The northern parts of the trail are wilder and susceptible to flooding. One spring, a cycling team mate and I watched an enormous snapping turtle swim across our path.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto with winds of 115 km/hr. The Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers overflowed and killed 81 people, destroying nearly 2000 homes. After this disaster, Toronto no longer builds on floodplains and developed an early warning weather system. Today though the trail is dry. I say hello to the few hikers and wave to the kids at a bike camp.
The Humber Trail has a general downgrade interspersed with some short steep hills. Long sections are being rebuilt in the section north of Old Mill Road. I’m glad that my trusty bike is a hybrid and that Ed pumped up my tires as I negotiate the gravel and mud.
South of Old Mill, the trail gets challenging with two heart thumper climbs out of the valley. There’s a short section that detours through city streets before I reach my midway point and the last part of the Humber trail.
It’s now a downhill zoom through a wood and field flowers. One of my fav features along the trail is the Oculus, a UFO-inspired 1950s pavilion designed by British architect, Alan Crossley, and engineer, Laurence Cazaly. Over the years, Oculus had been defaced by tag graffiti and the City considered demolishing it. Happily, in 2019, it was saved. It’s now an art installation complete with alien graphics. (See pics below.)
At the pedestrian bridge by Palace Pier, I turn east for the 15 km journey along the lake shore. I pass a kid-friendly dinosaur playground. Along the way I pass one of Toronto’s saddest ghost bicycles, a memorial to a 5 year old boy killed when he fell into Lake Shore traffic.
It’s full sun by now and 30+ degrees. Too hot even for biking. No free Perrier today at Ontario Place. At Balzacs in the Distillery District, I treat myself to an iced coffee before taking my usual route home: up Sherbourne through Summerhill and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.
Home at last and my third pledged 50 km ride is done
Ride #2 completed! Today Ed persuaded me to put on my 2021 Ambassador’s jersey ahead of the official virtual ride date. One way to tell the world about The Ride to Conquer Cancer, so I did.
Because of the weather forecast for August 20th – full sun and soaring temperatures of 30+ degrees – I opted for the shadiest and coolest bike routes through the Don Valley and along the lake.
I headed down early into Sunnybrook. This morning I chose the Serena Gundy entrance just east of Laird Avenue, a narrow steep hill that swings down through some pretty parkland that’s a favorite of day camps. A scary metal grid bridge crosses the West Don before dumping cyclists out between two huge boulders into a parking lot.
The park was donated by James Gundy, one of the founders of Wood Gundy, in memory of his late wife, Serena. WG used to be one of Canada’s biggest stock brokerage firms before CIBC absorbed it in 1988. When I first entered the finance biz, the principle of “The Four Pillars” was sacrosanct. Banks, stock brokerages, insurance and, I believe, credit unions operated in separate silos to protect customers. However, the Four Pillars vanished in 1980s. Now banks sell you stocks and insurance. Thirty years later our financial world, fingers crossed, has not collapsed.
At The Teeth and Tout Est Possible, I turned right and headed onto the North Don Valley trail for 5 km. This is one of my favorite trails, sheltered, well-paved and mostly downgrade. The Don River seems tame, but it can get wild in spring to the delight of kayakers. it’s also burst its bank and flooded roads many times.
I’ve encountered plenty of small wild life here – even a deer once! Today I noticed a group of people gathered around… a skunk!Luckily it wasn’t mad.
I crossed over Pottery Road onto the South Don Valley trail, which has lots of neat artwork along the way. Sadly during COVID, many of the official Toronto Street Art murals have been obliterated by tags. See below:
Halfway along, I encountered several trucks, workmen and assorted equipment blocking the route. They were obliterating the graffiti tags with a smooth cement coating. This doesn’t work. The punks love it. The cement leaves an empty canvas for, you guessed it, more tags.
The gargoyle garden is happily not damaged, but at the end of the trail, several of my favorites are.
I met Ed at the Distillery District for a coffee at Balzac’s. Life feels almost normal on summer day.
Now that craft beers taken over, artisans are taking up custom spirits, too. We spotted this interesting entrance. Wouldn’t it make a great location for Noir at the Bar?
Temperatures stayed manageable by the lake. I headed west along Queen’s Quay and the Martin Goodman trail, marking my midway point at the Windmill by Exhibition Place.
It’s a 30 km loop along the lakeshore trail from the Distillery District to the Humber River and back. I passed several landmarks: Sunnyside Beach, the Ex and Marilyn Bell park.
On September 9, 1954, Marilyn Bell, at only 16 years of age, became the first person to swim Lake Ontario. Entering the water at Youngstown, New York, she fought through lamprey eels, hypothermia, oil spills and high waves to land close to Sunnyside 21 hours later. Winds and currents blew her off course so that she actually swam 72 km instead of the planned 51.5 km. She’s a true hero who inspired many marathon swimmers, including Vicki Keith, the lady of all five Great Lakes.
To learn more about these remarkable women and the unusual sport of marathon swimming, I recommend my friend, Laura E. Young’s book, Solo Yet Never Alone. Marilyn Bell retired at only 18 after swimming the Straits of Juan de Fuca. She chose to lead her own life, married and became a teacher, mother and grandmother. Now 83, she lives in a retirement home in New York State. Despite a spinal injury, she still swims!
On my way back from Palace Pier, I stopped to look at the lake. Lots of sailing boats out with both blue and white sails. As a child, learning to sail with my dad, my dream was to own a wood-hulled Dragon with blue sails. It’s now a vintage sail boat with its own fans and niche regattas.
When I passed by the inukshuk, I got lucky. Perrier had set up a pop-up / guerilla marketing booth handing out ice-cold cans of a new product to cyclists: Perrier water flavored with fruit and laced with Yerba Mate. Free caffeine! Just what I needed.
It’s remarkable how much the waterfront has changed in the past 10 years. In 2008, the Redpath sugar refinery was easily the largest of the few buildings along the eastern part of Queen’s Quay.
Today I had a hard time finding it, dwarfed and hemmed in by several monolithic condo towers. Even the sign to the Redpath museum looked dusty. It’s no longer Redpath and no longer a Canadian company. The caramel tang of melting sugar is overwhelmingly strong. Wonder what the condo dwellers make of it?
I pedaled over to lower Sherbourne and took the bike lane for the fastest way home: up through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I was happy that my calculations were correct as it was getting too hot even to bike.
I was a bookish child and so inept at sports that my friends would fight to NOT have me on their team. But two amazing women got me to love sports – and changed my life forever.
In university, my sister-in-law got me into hiking, biking and downhill skiing. (We also had adventures dinghy sailing.) And my friend, Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, introduced me to road running.
Hard work and perseverance accomplished more than I dreamed of: I’ve run a marathon, regularly biked 120 km at a stretch and skied black diamonds without dying! But I remain in awe of ultramarathoners, adventurers and mountain climbers whose exploits I devoured in the late, great Outside magazine.
Jon Billman, is a search-and-rescue expert, a former wildland firefighter and regular contributor to Outside. In The Cold Vanish, he explores how and why people continue to go missing in the wilderness. It’s been said that the solution to an enduring mystery is often sadly banal. That may be true of the many cases Billman writes about, but like Jon Krakauer, he unveils the tragedy behind each story – and a warning. Venturing into the wilderness requires an abundance of caution.
Billman’s book reads like a thriller. I couldn’t put it down. The overarching story centers on Jacob Gray, a 22 year-old cyclist who disappeared in Olympic National Park in Washington State. He’d embarked on a cycling journey but shortly after leaving home, his bicycle was found abandoned by the side of the road, all his gear intact. Close by was the fast-flowing Sol Duc River. Searchers assumed the worst: that he’d tried to fill his water bottle, fallen in and drowned.
Billman formed a close friendship with Jacob’s father, Randy, who never gave up hope of finding his son. They searched for Jacob for over a year, chasing scenarios from Jacob being involved in the drug trade to joining a cult to simply walking away from the world. (No spoilers, you must read through to the end of the book to find out what really happened to Jacob.)
The reasons behind these disappearances range from murder to accidents to running away. Billman interviews scientists – there aren’t many of them – who research how and why people go missing in the wilderness.
So how do people go missing? Much of the time accidents are to blame, usually falls when the person was on their own. The other main reason? Simply getting lost and dying from exposure, which usually means dehydration or hypothermia. People greatly underestimate the amount of water they need when hiking, especially in the heat. And even temperatures as moderate as 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) can lead to hypothermia.
Sadly the vast majority of the cases do not end well. Billman does include a miraculous rescue, that of a young yoga teacher who went missing in Hawaii for over two weeks. She wandered off the marked trail in a nature preserve and got lost. She survived a fall and a broken leg, but knew enough about nature to stay dehydrated. Search planes found her by chance in an area of the preserve far outside the search range. She’d wandered much farther than anyone had predicted.
The takeaways from the stories: those who go missing for a long time are found by chance and by people unassociated with the original search and rescue team. Often as not, the missing person is in a location logic did not dictate.
Important to remember that our predominantly urban society is spectacularly underequipped to deal with the wilderness. It’s not Disneyland. When exploring the wilderness, listen to the advice of forest rangers and park wardens. Don’t wander off marked trails. Take the right amount of water, food and supplies with you. And never go alone.
My rating: 5 stars Eat this book!
A Footnote: In 2016, at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, Arizona, I took a tour of the Apacheland Movie Set museum. Our guide told us how a hiker had died the day before of heat and dehydration. He’d wandered off the beaten track and gotten lost, one canyon looking much like another. Also that day, three German tourists had set off into the desert with umbrellas to ward off the sun, but greatly underestimated the quantity of water they needed. Fortunately they were rescued, dehydrated but alive. Read the full story here.
It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season. This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.
At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof. No structural damage – whew!
As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it. And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.
It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…
Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.
The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…
While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?
Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.
OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.
Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.
More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?
“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”
The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage. You reach it via a trail through the woods. As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.
“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.
So round the pond we went – a fair distance over ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.
It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.
After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.
We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….
Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.
2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world. Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year.
No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.
What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet. Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?
My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain.
My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.
One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.
Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!
In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.
That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.
While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.
I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series. This February, I struck more gold.
Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.
I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.
After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale. It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw, innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it!
Disappearances earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast. It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.
Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?
Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont. And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.