Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shabin Life, Part 1: The Mama Mouse

My husband Freddie, Tagger the dog-child and I live in a 12-foot by 12-foot cabin we built in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We have electricity but no running water. We have an outhouse with no door on it. We have lived here full time since 2007. We have a great life.
I’ve diagnosed myself with pre-nostalgia as we prepare to break ground on a ‘real house’ this spring. This is the first ‘Shabin Life’ entry that I'm writing as self-treatment.
At home in the Shabin
Part 1: The Mama Mouse
The Shabin was actually supposed to be a shed when we built it. The south wall has a 4’x6’ hole meant for a sliding door, to allow access for a small tractor. In those first years, I loved sitting in the open doorway with a cup of coffee, squinting into the morning light, or watching the bats flit around hunting mosquitoes at twilight.
But the unsealed slider setup had one major problem. The mice. I hate mice in my living space like Browns fans hate the Steelers. I hate their uncanny ability to sniff out the smallest crumb of food, leaving behind a pointy little turd in mocking gratitude, and I hate their graveyard shift working habits, taking over as we sleep, noisy and unafraid.
One night, I remember waking several times to faint scratching and chewing noises in the kitchen corner below the sleeping loft. I woke in the morning to find one of the ends of the paper towel roll had been thoroughly razed. I didn’t think much of it (if anything, I thought, we were finally winning our battle and the mice were having to eat paper towels to survive!), made my coffee, and went on with my day.
That afternoon, I was digging through one of the milk crates stacked in the mudroom corner, looking for an external hard drive. Suddenly, a gray flash of fur popped straight up in the air, out of the crate, between my legs and darted behind the greywater bucket, deep into the kitchen corner.
I jumped too, and then simultaneously chuckled at myself for being so startled, and felt embarrassed for living among mice.
As my heart rate normalized, I leaned over to continue digging. I heard a faint peeping noise and stopped again to listen closer. I looked toward the kitchen corner, thinking the mouse had returned, but saw nothing. I looked down again, picked up the drive, and right beneath it was an empty checkbook box filled with white fluff that looked like shredded paper towels…and…8 hairless, pink, hours-old mice. Their eyes were sealed shut and their bodies writhed in rhythm as if they were one being. Exposed to the cooler air and brighter light, their peeping got louder.
I stood straight up. Then leaned over to look again. They were beautiful.
After a few moments, feeling suddenly resolute, I picked up the entire crate, opened the door, set it down on the porch, went back inside, opened the fridge, grabbed two beers, stepped back outside, and yelled for Freddie who was out working on the land.
I handed him a beer and pointed into the crate. We laughed, looked, laughed again, looked again.
What were we going to do? We obviously couldn’t let her raise these newborns in the Shabin with us. But I couldn’t bring myself to kill them just because she chose to make her home in our already cramped quarters.
I stood with my back to the open door. Freddie was standing opposite me, and his expression suddenly changed as his eye caught something moving across the Shabin floor inside. As I turned to follow his gaze, mama mouse hopped over the threshold, inches from my toes, and crawled up into the crate between us.
Her fur was silky and her body smooth and soft and so delicate. I was reminded of the caged gerbils of my youth, who taught me to be responsible and gentle. How could I have loved those critters so dearly, yet despise with such intensity their wild cousins?
Then we watched in stunned silence as she ever so gently gathered one of the pinkies into her mouth and crawled, a bit more prudently, out of the crate, and shuffled back over the threshold into the Shabin, directly into one of the other stacked crates.
She was going to relocate her entire family before our eyes!
Suddenly, Freddie jumped into action. He grabbed the crate with the checkbook box and the other 7 Pinkies and walked around the corner to the woodshed.
“Grab the other one!” he called over his shoulder.
I obliged and Mama stayed in, along for the ride with Pinkie #8. I placed Mama’s crate on top of the nest crate. We decided it was the best we could offer her, to leave the two crates there for the night in hopes she would relocate the whole family -- out of the crates, yet also out of the Shabin -- to somewhere safe and more permanent. 
The next day all that was left was the nest of shredded paper towel and the checkbox. She had moved them, and, we imagined, all was fine.
That winter we put a panel of insulated wall with a window into the sliding door hole, and accessed the Shabin via a ‘normal’ door on the west wall. The winter system seals us from the varmints, or vice-versa, and we have never reinstalled the summer sliding system again.
Freddie takes the first watering can shower of the year. 3/14/2012

What's your best mouse story?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WANTED: Alpinistas

Emilie Drinkwater, India
“So, are you bringing insulated pants?” Kirsten asked as we sifted through gear the afternoon before a climb this past summer.

Kirsten Kremer on Aguja Mermoz
This question is not easy to answer. Kirsten and I have a history dating back to a fateful Christmas weather window in 2006 when we had two unplanned bivies in three nights in Patagonia’s Fitz Roy group. Bringing insulated pants is our *wink, wink* way of saying that we may not get the climb done in a day. Bringing those pants meant that I was willing to consider an open, 'unplanned' bivy the following night.

Behind that question about insulated pants is my main answer to why I think more women don’t alpine climb: It is heavy. It simply is hard for women (especially smaller framed ones) to climb technical terrain with a forty+ pound pack full of days of food, fuel, sleeping bags and tents.
There are so very few women active in the alpine climbing world, and I can’t help but think that the heaviness of it is just the tip of the iceberg. We also can’t pee with one hand while belaying or while laying down in a sleeping bag...many of the highest mountains in the world are in countries where women are not recommended to travel without men...and the prime age for cutting edge alpine climbers is their 30's - how many of my 30-something climber girlfriends are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant right now? Most. Then add in the psychological aspect that requires a lot of women to "need a bit more space to put themselves first," as Sarah Hueniken said so eloquently, and there's a lot of reasons to go sport climbing (don't get me wrong, I LOVE sport climbing!).
Ladies in the Karakoram, photo Freddie Wilkinson

I love that alpine climbing brings together every discipline of climbing, added to the adventure of travel. Certainly, if that was all there was to it there would be more women AND men doing it. But it is also fundamentally dangerous, time- and money-consuming and requires a degree of self-confidence, athleticism, fortitude and willingness to suffer that the majority of us probably do not possess in that magically perfect combination to make it all feel fun. 

Three women competed in the Ouray Ice Comp this year, compared to a maxed out men's lineup with many on a waiting list. I serve on a climbing grant committee for a grant initiated in memory of two women climbers, and only one all-women team applied to it for funding this year. Why am I pleasantly surprised that two women teams and one solo female (along with several unisex teams) were in the Piolet D’Or listing of the most significant ascents in 2011 – shouldn’t there really be more? 

Caroline George on the Aguille du Midi
On that same trip with Kirsten with the insulated pants question this past summer, our ladies team was constantly embarrassed by the way life works in base camp on a major expedition: Tea served on a silver tray in bed in the morning, meals cooked for us, a whole supply chain from the city could provide us with anything at our beck and was a weird colonial-military way of operating. Not to mention the bureaucratic craziness of the permit process. It all left us feeling like little girls in a man's world. Is it simply because the other three men on our team had each been on a dozen plus expeditions like this so weren’t as struck by it or are women just more naturally averse to such top-down militaristic feeling arrangements? 
I read a great article about how some of the most talented businesswomen may be transforming the economy by saying 'no' to typical patriarchal corporate structures and starting their own businesses instead with their own management structures. This isn’t about Title IX-type equality measures, it’s women bucking the system and creating something better.  
Sarah Garlick and me, St. Exupery photo Kirsten Kremer

Chicks with Picks is an example of the positive impact some good public relations can have on a manly sport. I regularly meet women now while out rock climbing who got into it by ice climbing in those programs - that was unheard of just a few years ago. And because of that growth there are now more boots and tools and clothing lines available for the ice climbing chika than ever before. It's awesome and it's a great start. 
If alpinistas really want it, the innovation can happen - in terms of how expeditions are planned and managed, how equipment is designed, and perhaps even how many  hands are required for us to pee. A few small changes and who knows, maybe I'll stop going for day-and-a-half climbs armed only with insulated pants and finally choose to bring the entire kit for a big multi-day mountain climb like the big boys do. 
Emilie and Kirsten, Peak 6135, India
Aguja Guillament, photo Kirsten Kremer

Sarah Garlick and I headed into the Wind River Range, 2002

Kirsten and her insulated pants, morning after a bivy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Old Breed and the AAC Annual Dinner

Super proud to share this movie trailer for The Old Breed. Freddie and Rufus/CBN have been working their tails off to have the full film ready to premier at the American Alpine Club Annual Dinner on March 3 in Boston. That is one reason you should buy a ticket and be there.

Other reasons to spend the first weekend in March in Boston with the AAC:
  • Help raise money that makes the American Alpine Journal, rescue and insurance programs, grant programs, huts and camping areas, climber gatherings and more possible. $100 of each ticket helps these programs directly!
  • Find out if your fellow climbers are more recognizable in goggles and helmets out in the mountains or in suits and dresses out on the town. 
  • Celebrate climbing, the climbing life and the spirit of adventure - in style! 

Read more about the event and reserve your ticket here. See you there!