Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

This Holden Cornfield ain’t got nothin on me.

“You mean Holden Caulfield.”

Me and my partners called him Cornfield.  A play on words.  Cornfield running through the rye.

“Ahhh that’s a good one.  So why do you say he has nothing on you?”

Because this punk is runnin through his hood trying to erase all the times somebody tags up a building or somethin with the f-bomb.  Fuck that.  Can’t protect your sister from the world by trying to erase the shit.  Embrace don’t erase.

“What does that mean?  Embrace don’t erase?”

It means that Holden should be taggin over that shit.  Mark your territory.  Claim your turf.  Carve out your place.

“And that would –”

That’s the difference between white folk and black.  If that was my little sister, Phoebe, I’d still be protecting her but not by hiding that world from her.  Hold that world up.  Let her see what it looks like.  You can’t survive what you don’t see.  Then have her back.

“And –”

That’s the difference.  You people claim “Stand your ground” and shit.  You can only “stand it” if you got it.  I gots to gets mine.  Black folks got to get theirs.  Nothing to stand on.  Don’t erase that taggin. Tag back.

“So you think Holden is a punk?”

Punk ass bitch.  Grow up.  Whining about the way the world is.  No wonder he locked up.  Can’t hang.  Crumbled to the pressure when you got to be the one exerting the pressure.  It’s like D-up.  Ever see a guard crumble when he is pressured bringing the ball up the court?  Press or be pressed. 

“So do you think we can talk again about Holden next time?”

Yeah, we can do that.  




Direction: Remembering Roger

Posted in Uncategorized on February 10, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

In the fall of 1971, two years after my father left, I joined the North Junior Mountain Club, run by my Latin teacher, Roger Schoenstein. My weekends throughout all of 9th Grade and into my high school years were spent hiking the Colorado mountains with Roger, often with his wife Patty, and a bunch of other teens.

One Saturday, as we were getting ready to head back to our camp after hiking up a small peak, Roger said “OK, Puzick, lead us on back.”  About 10 seconds later he called out again:  “Hey, Vince…this is great and all but, actually, our camp is that way,” his gloved hand pointed about 180 degrees opposite the direction in which I was headed.

For about six years, from the time I was a 9th grade student until I was a college student, Roger gently (and sometimes maybe not so gently) gave me direction.  With my own addictions and immaturity as a teenage boy trying to navigate his way into young manhood, I was not always able to hear or heed the guidance. Maybe it is always that way between a mentor and a stubborn mentee?  Just when you think you are ready to spread your wings, you make your mistake and learn that you have a lot to learn?

Roger was an incredible Latin and English teacher.  But more than that, he was, in many ways, a Renaissance Man.  Not only did he take us on some extraordinary nature experiences — floating the Green River in canoes, hiking Barr Trail to summit Pikes Peak, exploring the Uncompahgres, surviving overnight cross-country ski trips, and even abandoning one trip to the Grand Canyon when the transmission went out in his truck before we even reached Walsenburg — he also built a darkroom in his basement, played the guitar, knew the ins-and-outs of 16mm films, played tennis, and became an accomplished woodworker.

My teacher, a mentor in so many ways, Roger died early Saturday morning.

We didn’t have a lot of contact in the last several years — for all of the reasons that can happen when two lives get busy and diverge.   But I spent a lot of miles riding in the cab of that F-250 headed to one adventure or another.  I spent hours in the summer of 1975, when we were working the Outdoor School in Vail, riding around in that truck.  He’d give me, a misguided teen boy without a father at home or a direction in life, the keys and let me drive around alone listening to his Cat Stevens tape:  “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” and “The Wind.” Listening for one more instance of “Vince, you want to head that way.”

Whether in a canoe, the cab of a pickup truck, or on the thin boards of cross country skis, or in long conversations while developing black and white photos in the darkroom, you gave me direction at a time I needed it most.

Thank you, Roger.  May you rest in peace.

Hank: A Tribute

Posted in Nature, Observations, Uncategorized on December 8, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

I want to write about a horse named Hank.  He deserves a long post, a real tribute.  The more I write, though, to elevate Hank, the more trite it sounds.  It needs to be a simple story.

The significance of my relationship with Hank was only made possible because of an experience I had with a horse and her young colt six or eight years prior.  My Aunt Mary, who lived about a quarter mile away from us on Cascade Avenue, boarded horses one year.  I made my way to the prairie at the back of her house where she kept the horses.  While I was petting the mare and her colt, I decided to climb through the fence.  Stupidly, naively, I found myself between the mare and the colt.  In a fury of hot June dust and a thunder of hooves, she spun around.  Her back hooves snapped out in a blur directly at me.  I leaned back, stepped back, as her hooves stopped about three inches from my pre-adolescent skin-and-bones chest.

I climbed back through the fence.  Heart pounding.  Legs shaking.  If I hadn’t peed a little, I should have.  The mare’s fury was instinctual, predictable and protective.  My actions were the problem.  I could not shake the fear.

A few years later, I was hired at Blue Mountain Ranch near Florissant, Colorado to be a hiking and backpacking leader as well as a camp “counselor.”    One of the perks was to have access to the other amenities of the camp — including horseback riding, if that was an interest.

Despite the nagging undercurrent of fear, I went out riding with a small group of the guys attending the camp.  A couple of them were relatively close to my age and, with Texas roots and frequent visits over the years to the Ranch, they were pretty accomplished riders.

I saddled up Hank and we took to the hills.  My limited experiences with horseback riding had been on relatively flat land, with some occasional hills to negotiate.  We rode through steep hills here, though, sometimes on a trail, sometimes not.  Winding our ways through trees.  Down steep hills and back up — so steep I was fearing that I’d slide out of the saddle and over Hank’s rump.

We went out several times — long rides in the morning or evening.  At one point, they talked me into riding Hank bareback.  My fear subsided even as I felt Hank’s power.  I was maybe 175 pounds.  Any control I felt was probably an illusion.  I did feel more comfortable around at least one horse.  Interestingly, recognizing Hank’s power and beauty helped ease the self-inflicted fear from years before.

Until one afternoon I was heading to the corral to take Hank out for a ride.  One of the ranch hands stopped me.  The veterinarian said we could not ride Hank for a while, maybe a long while.  I asked him what happened.  A group of girls had been out riding Hank and jumping logs with him.  He had banged up his cannon bone — the equivalent of our shin.  Between his hoof and his knee, Hank was banged up, swollen, sore.  Other than staying off of him for maybe the rest of the summer, another recommended treatment was to walk him down to the small lake on the property and soak his legs.

I watched a few times as different people took Hank down to the lake and waded in with him.  Hank would go into the water maybe three or four steps, the water barely high enough up his front legs to do much good.  And I would watch them bring Hank back to the corral.

When I asked the ranch hand one afternoon if I could take Hank down to the lake, he handed me the reins and said “have at it.”  I swung the gate open and led the beautiful horse down to the lake.  My first two steps into the lake reminded me why this was a good treatment for his swollen legs.  The cold water shocked me at first, then felt pretty good on this summer afternoon.  I waded in a bit further, Hank following.

After a few more steps, the cold water was at the bottom of my rib cage and Hank was in up to his forearm. His legs, up to and even above his knees, were completely submerged.  I stepped closer to him and ran my hand along his broad nose and muscular neck.  Hank let me walk him into that lake throughout the remainder of the summer.  In fact, I was the only one that could get him in deep enough to have any real effect.

The corral and horse barn were visible from the cement slab at the door of our cabin.  I’d push the screen door open and step out, let out a whistle, and Hank’s ears would turn forward, alert, knowing.  He’d walk to the fence and wait as I approached the corral.  I’d slip the bridle on, swing the gate open, and we would walk down for our cold water soak in the mountain lake.

This is a simple story.  It’s about Hank, the horse.  It’s about fear and soaking it away in a cold mountain lake.

Who was that Masked Man?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

I watched The Lone Ranger after school on our little black and white TV.  The screen, framed by a dark wood cabinet, was maybe 13” diagonal.  You couldn’t sit too far from it if you wanted to see much detail, but the reception in the early and mid-1960’s was so shaky, at that house on the far north end of Colorado Springs, that we didn’t expect much in terms of picture quality anyway.

The Lone Ranger, of course, competed with Superman for a young boy’s attention on the television.  We had other heroes – G.I. Joe was notable in a military town such as Colorado Springs.  Growing up at the base of NORAD, and with Fort Carson only a few miles up the road, an army figure would be worthy of admiration and imitation. But he hadn’t made it to the small screen for every day viewing. (I did, however, own a G.I. Joe and would take him next door to Aunt Millie and Uncle Chuck’s house and play with him in their sand-pile next to the garage.) I wasn’t into comic books and the heroes that may have been deployed in those pages escaped my attention.

Superman, it seems to me, was a city boy’s hero.  We didn’t have any tall buildings to leap in Colorado Springs – with a single bound or otherwise. Sure, we had Penrose Hospital, the tallest building in the area at 12 floors, but there wasn’t another comparably sized building for 65 miles, in Denver.  The Holly Sugar Building, three miles into downtown from our two acres, hadn’t been built yet.  I didn’t understand superpowers. Speedy enough to outrun a bullet?  More powerful than a locomotive? Change the course of mighty rivers?  I could not relate.  I didn’t understand jumping into a phone booth to change clothes. I’m not sure I had even seen a phone booth or paid attention to them in our weekly trips downtown with Aunt Millie.  Superman’s cityscape didn’t fit me.

I could relate more to The Lone Ranger, though, and daydream about that life far more than I could about Superman.  The landscape in The Lone Ranger was more familiar – the plateaus and plains through which he and Tonto, his faithful Indian companion, rode were scenes from our own drives in southwest Colorado.  The opening credits of the pilot showed a map, stretching up from Texas, through New Mexico, and into Colorado.  It was my landscape.

His powers?  He was daring and resourceful in his effort to bring law and order to the unruly southwest territory. I wanted to be daring.  I didn’t know what resourceful meant, but I wanted that, too.  To me, the Lone Ranger’s ambitions echoed those of Superman in his fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  But his motive was simple, clean as that white stallion on which he rode: bring justice to the rugged frontier.


He was a fabulous individual (even the credits announced that fact). The Lone Ranger was mysterious.  He wore a mask, damn it, and traveled with an Indian Scout who pieced fragments of broken English into plots and strategies to outwit the bad guy.

Yes, The Lone Ranger shaped my image of boyhood heroes.

One afternoon, my dad came home from Aircraft Mechanics with some gifts in hand.  He had one of the machinists there shape a six-shooter and a rifle out of a nice piece of wood.  He also had a black piece of vinyl that perfectly matched that of the “masked man” on TV.  I put the mask on, tucked the six-shooter into my pants, and roamed the range of our two acres fighting bad guys.

We didn’t live in a neighborhood, though, and I had no Indian companion.  No matter.  Fighting outlaws, bringing justice to the territory laid out at 3250 North Cascade was my mission.

But there weren’t many outlaws to be found.  Phil and Deb were pre-occupied as I rode up on my thin, wooden, horse.  Aunt Millie wasn’t an outlaw.  She was usually good for some ginger ale, and something baked, followed by a “thank you, ma’am” nod of the head as I rode off.  I had no silver bullet to leave behind.  A crumpled napkin.  An empty glass.

I rode the border of our two properties, imagined threats thwarted, justice claimed.  Calm restored.

And here the storyline could take a predictable turn.  The cliché “profound insight” about the drunken father returning home, the polished wood pistol and Winchester impotent against the barrage of taunts and the ambush of emotion. Promises headed off at the pass. The vinyl mask insufficient to hide the hurt.

Variations on a Theme

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Georgia O’Keeffe drew, painted, sketched, studied thousands of Calla Lilies.  Hundreds, thousands, of skulls.  She never painted the same lily twice.  Each a different angle.  A new perspective.  A different shade of white.  A Calla Lily situated against a skull.  Another against the robin egg sky over the red New Mexico landscape. When asked, she said she neither liked nor disliked lilies.  She had “no feelings at all, really, toward them.”

And so it is with my father.  I turn him this way for a view in.  A glimpse from this angle.  Place him in the piñon-covered hills in Huerfano County walking where his roots are, roots that for him would never take hold.  Place him here, on the barstool of the Bella Vista, smoke-filled, Anne Murray on the jukebox.  I turn him over in the palm of my mind.  Place him on a Greyhound bus.  Still photos from a restless life.

I hold his image here: the distance from my my mind’s eye to my fingertips.  And it’s this space, this distance, that distinguishes my approach from O’Keeffe’s and her Calla Lily.  I have no feeling at all, really, toward the man.  But this space, this reach between the father and the son, I roll around in the soft light of a pinon-scented, smoke-filled landscape.


Untold Tales at the Tailwaters

Posted in Fishing, Observations, People, Places on January 20, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Five of us headed to the Arkansas River, to the tailwaters below the dam on Lake Pueblo.  Usually we head toward the Nature Center or Valco Ponds.  This day, we went further downstream instead, more into the city of Pueblo.  Fishing in an urban setting is a different experience than being in the Canyon, or wading at Deckers, or stalking brookies in a small stream.

Oh the people we met.

As we were getting ourselves ready, a Hispanic man pulled into the dirt parking lot in a dark red sedan and began to get ready.  He said hello as he began to get his waders on and get his rod set up.  In a few minutes, he was offering some recommendations.  Obviously a local, he certainly knew the river.  If we were heading upstream, he said, pointing with his rod, fish at a hole just a little ways up. Another hole is by the rocks, further, just around the bend.  He offered the suggestions freely, as if he were talking to a couple of long-time friends.  We thanked him as we headed upstream where we fished for the next couple of hours.

Back at the car having lunch, an old Chevy blazer pulled in: grey, dark windows, hip hop pouring out of the open windows.  Another older model SUV pulled in next to them.  Both cars were packed with Latino and Latina teens and young adults in their early 20s.  Each one had a bottle of beer.  A few got out of the cars and passed around the joint somebody offered.

Before long, one by one they each had put on a light blue t-shirt.  Some of the guys had draped the shirt over their shoulder as they laughed, drank, smoked.

It was amazing how many young people were there so quickly.  One guy came over toward my car where I was sitting.  He had a beer in one hand and cradled a Crown Royal purple box in the other.

“You had any luck?” he asked, his baseball cap pulled down to eyebrow level.

”Caught two,” I said.

”I usually come down for night fishing.  I work ‘til 7, come down at 9 and fish under that bridge until about 11.  I’ve just been having this craving for trout…you know how that goes?  But I haven’t had much luck since Christmas!”

I wondered why he was down there now, with his group of friends.  I don’t know if I asked what was happening or not.  Somehow he told me:  they were there honoring a friend, 19, who had died in the last week.  Had left a party drunk to go get a deck of playing cards.  Took a corner over by Irving School, “you know where that’s at” he asked, pointing east.  I shrugged.  ”Not really.”  ”Yeah, he took a corner down there.  At about 90.  Rolled it.  Killed himself.”  I wondered to myself if he saw the sad irony happening in that dirt parking lot.  ”These are his friends.  So we came down to honor him.”  Now I could see that the blue shirts were a tribute with images of their deceased friend silk-screened on them.

Maybe his need to tell somebody was relieved.  Maybe it was just time to go back to his friends at the grey Blazer.  We shook hands.  I told him to be careful today.  He nodded.  ”We will.”

A few minutes later, my nephew and I were heading upstream again.  An older married couple was behind us, out walking their two dogs.  The man called out “where are you guys going to fish?”  We told him we didn’t know, we’d just pick a spot.  He was a local, too, having moved there from “the Midwest” five years prior.  He told us of some holes and stretches, under the railroad bridge, or down by the culvert feeding the river, and then further up by the spillway.  Conor asked what had brought them to Pueblo.  ”That’s a good question,” the man said. His wife offered, “we visited some friends here and decided to move. Like anyplace, it has its pros and cons.”  We turned off the path and headed down to the river with a “thanks for talking” and a return “good luck.”

I think of the mix here along the banks of the Arkansas.  The friendliness of the locals sharing fishing information.  A steady stream of folks walking and biking along the trails that parallel the river. An incredibly large group of teens — tattooed, stoned, drunk and getting more loaded — sharing their loss, their pain.  A married couple, retired, enjoying their walk along a river bank in a town which somehow became part of their destiny.

At the end of the day, the five of us stripped off our waders, each with our own story, each with our own path that somehow got us here today, our stories converging once again and yet still, here at the Tailwaters.

Sober Mercies … yes, the book moved me.

Posted in Observations, People on January 18, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

For those of you who know me, you know that I am neither a woman nor a Christian in the devout Christian sort of way.  But enough about me.  I want to share my thoughts on a forthcoming book, Sober Mercies, by my friend Heather Kopp.  Despite our differences, her book moved me and, despite our differences, she made me consider my own relationship with a Higher Power, my own addictions, and my own path of recovery.

Heather’s book traces her own recovery … and, yes, I have read many of “those kind” of memoirs.  The recovery-story memoir.  Heather’s exploration, though, was new for me.  I’ll put to the side her experience of being a recovering woman;  I think men and women have distinctly different issues in both active addiction and in recovery.  That is not to say we don’t have similarities — self-loathing, deception, secrecy, feeling alone, desperate for help while isolating and distancing ourselves from that very help — but gender does make a difference.  I did get greater insights into the challenges of a woman’s path to recovery, though, so I am grateful for Heather sharing her experience.

What moved me, though, was Heather’s experience as a Christian woman moving toward her path of recovery and her subsequent journey on that path.  With the very foundational competing definitions of alcoholism — is it weak-willed, immoral, sinful behavior or is alcoholism a disease of mind, body, spirit? — Heather confronts conflicting belief systems.  A committed Christian woman entering recovery, Heather not only battles the nature of addiction but also the nature of conviction.  And her path unfolds as a sober Christian woman — or as her sub-title expresses:  How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk.

I think Sober Mercies is a moving and valuable read in the genre of recovery memoirs.  Heather’s story is moving, graceful, and meaningful not only for women who may be entering (or well into) recovery from alcoholism, and not only for Christian women, but for anybody walking the path of recovery and developing a relationship with a Higher Power, a God, of their own understanding.


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