black canyon

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We visited many years ago, while still living in Colorado. It was actually a funny accident: we were staying in Gunnison for a day and wanted a nice place for a picnic. I had seen signs for Black Canyon on the road into town, and we gave it a try. It turned out to be far more than simply a nice picnic spot. With incredible views of a steep and narrow canyon, Black Canyon is one of the most surprisingly awe inspiring places I’ve been.

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andy k watercolor

After initially getting the idea for this painting after my friend Andy got married last year in the mountains of Colorado, I made a Photoshop collage of all the elements, got out a nice piece of watercolor paper, did a rough sketch, and left it on the desk for over a year. Finally, last weekend, I decided to finish (or perhaps more accurately, “start”) it.

I don’t do enough with watercolors. This was a fun project. Happy belated first anniversary, Kate and Andy!

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merry christmas…

…from the Wandering Jew, Alan Rickman, and Space Cat.

josh shalek at andy wedding


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andy and kate’s wedding in paradise

Last month I had the distinct honor of being a groomsman at my friend Andy K’s wedding.  Andy and his wife Kate found the most beautiful setting imaginable to exchange their vows: the Rocky Mountains.  As the officiant/Andy’s cousin Dan mentioned during the ceremony, nothing can quite compare to the romance of altitude sickness.
Isis and I got to enjoy not only the brilliance of a Colorado mountain summer, but the excellent company of Andy’s family.
Andy’s brother Christian was Best Man, a title he took with all the sincerity befitting the younger brother of the groom. (As mentioned in the linked post, I should’ve already told you that he now has a girlfriend. She is awesome.  Sorry.)
True to form, Andy composed his vows a mere hours before the wedding.
It is not every wedding that has an official (unofficial) whiskey. Andy and Kate’s big day could not have been complete without the soothing intensity of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. All of us on the groom’s side took a celebratory shot before heading out to get Andy’s knot tied.
Of course a weekend in the mountains would not be complete without a thunderstorm. We got a doozy the night before the wedding. It rolled over the Western mountains in the afternoon and knocked out the power for four or five hours that night.  Fortunately, the day of the wedding was clear and warm.
A special thank you to both Andy and Kate’s parents.  Without their guidance and planning, this weekend could never have been pulled off.  They created a space in which the rest of us could relax and enjoy the festivities.
Andy: you are the best. Congratulations to you and Kate. I’m so happy you found each other; now you get to spend every single second of the rest of your lives together.

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I met Amazing Larry

amazing-larry   A few weeks before I moved to Portland, I had the pleasure of meeting an orange cat named Amazing Larry. Although our time together was brief, I will always remember his charm, selflessness, and optimism in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I miss Amazing Larry – he was a good cat and I was glad to meet him.

It was March in Boulder, so the weather was still quite cold. It had snowed Saturday and Sunday and it was in the 20s outside. I saw, Sunday night, a note in our apartment building left by a neighbor. The note said that they had found a cat and they let the cat stay in their apartment for the night.

Monday morning, I was on the way to the gym when I noticed a cat in the stairwell. Odd, since there aren’t usually animals hanging around in the stairwell – it’s closed off both to the outside and to each floor of the building.

I got back home an hour or so later and the cat was still there. He trotted right up to me when I entered with my bike; usually cats are scared of large metal objects, but this one was unafraid. I set my bike down and took a look: he was orange with white speckles. He looked like an outdoor cat: short hair, muscular, friendly with strangers like me. He followed me up and I had to close the door quickly so he wouldn’t come in my apartment.

After I took a shower I came back out and he was still in the stairwell. I decided that I needed to do something. I fed him. I took the food outside, thinking he’d eat it then go on his way. Not so. He meowed at the door to the apartment building. He had a very loud meow, and it was cold outside, so I felt like I couldn’t just leave him out there. I also didn’t want to adopt a cat who was likely just too cold to walk back to his home. The best thing to do was take him to the humane society (there’s a good no-kill shelter where we got our cat).

I walked out to the car and he followed me. I put him in the car and started it up – I figured I’d turn on the heat so he’d be happy while I brushed the snow off the windows. I finished, then noticed he had peed on my seat. I turned off the car, picked up the cat, and took him back to the apartment to get some cleaner and paper towels.amazing-larry-hissing-match

Our cat Sambora was awake. I opened the door, the orange cat trotted inside, and Sambora was on the scene. I’m not going to place blame on who started it, because I don’t honestly know, but what followed for several breathless moments was a colossal hissing match. Both cats, taken aback, I suspect, at the unexpected presence of another cat , hissed at each other. Before violence ensued, I hastily ushered the orange cat outside the apartment, shut the door, and ran to get the cleaner. To his credit, he waited for me outside my door. To Sambora’s credit, she immediately forgot the incident ever happened. On my way back, I didn’t have to carry the orange cat; he followed me downstairs and into the car.

The cat was a great passenger. He looked out the windows, explored the backseat, and sat next to me for a while in the passenger seat. Whenever we stopped at a light, people would wave to him.amazing-larry-good-passenger

When we got to the humane society, I picked him up so he wouldn’t run away, but he didn’t want me to carry him. I set him down and he led the way to the door. I opened the door for him and he trotted inside and acted like maybe he’d been there before.

The woman at the counter looked first at the cat who so matter-of-factly walked in the door. Her eyes then made contact with mine and she seemed a little relieved that the cat had not come in on his own.

She checked him out and found that he had a microchip. His name was Amazing Larry, and they also had an address where he lived. The woman called his owner but she wasn’t at home, so I left Larry there to wait for his people to come pick him up. She asked if I wanted to be on the adoption list in case the owner did not turn up, but I had to decline, remembering that he and Sambora had not exactly hit it off.amazing-larry-like-he-owns-the-place

On my way home, and many times since, my thoughts turned to Amazing Larry. He was a good companion, was cheerful in spite of his being trapped in a stairwell for hours, gave me the courage to face my inner demons and vanquish them. He was one of those rare individuals beautiful both on the inside and on the outside. May his legend live long and may poets sing his name in generations to come.

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Dinosaur National Monument

A special shout out to NPR for running a short piece on Dinosaur National Monument, which sits comfortably on the Colorado/Utah border. A. and I camped there a few years ago and it was a special kind of bliss. Their visitor center is built into the side of a hill which is actively being dug out for fossils. You can get up close and personal with dino bones, and even have your picture taken by one. It’s like Disneyland for geeks.

Colorado is a great state to live in if you love dinosaurs. They have a state fossil (the stegosaurus) and the venerable paleontologist Robert Bakker lives there when he’s not canvassing Wyoming for relics of a bygone age. They also have one of the best collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

P.S. If you think the only good place to spot a dinosaur is in Colorado, think again. For a short time, you can find them in Cleveland.

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A Brief History of Bikes: My First Bike

Hello friends, welcome to Bike Week at Falling Rock National Blog. We believe that bikes–not cars, planes, teleportation, catapults, or Acme Rocket Packs–are THE transportation of the future. It is a bold vision, but we at Falling Rock believe it is not antithetical to the American Dream.

This week’s postings will each chronicle a bike I have owned. Today I’ll talk about my very first bike. It was the bike I learned to ride, and when the training wheels came off I rode all over the neighborhood.

My idyllic childhood was spent in the safe neighborhood of a Denver suburb. Before we moved to Arizona, I explored the curvy, quiet streets first on foot and then on bike.

Just like the cliche, I learned to ride in our driveway. I rode tight little circles and, when my parents allowed it, onto the sidewalk (but not too far). I can remember the feeling the first time I rode without training wheels. My dad ran beside me, his hand on the seat of the bike, and then he was gone. I was terrified to stop. Eventually I did by tipping myself over. My dad then showed me how to put my foot on the ground so I could be on the bike, stopped, and not have to fall off.

The bike itself was a Schwinn. It was red and silver. There was no basket, no baseball cards wedged between the spokes. It was a man’s bike, a bike made of steel with solid rubber tires.

The crowning achievement of my first bike was my first bike race. The county set up a race course that began and ended at the local pool. There were age categories, but I was the youngest entrant. My dad decided to ride with me (probably a good idea, since you don’t want your six year old riding off and never finding his way back). I quickly learned the difference between riding up and down my street and participating in a race: a race is hard.

It was slow going. There were hills, and you had to follow arrows to know where you were going. I decided early on that I was not going to win this race. In fact, I came in dead last, but that didn’t really bother me. At one point I needed a drink of water. A man watering his lawn let me drink from the hose.

Here’s where my memory fails me. I don’t remember starting the race with my younger brother, but I clearly remember him with us at the end. Maybe he decided to join us partway through. At any rate, he was there to see my big finish.

My big, awesome finish was actually quite big and awesome. We crested a hill and saw the finish line there below us. I looked at my dad and he gave me a knowing nod. “Go ahead, Son. Do me proud.” I crouched and flew down the hill as fast as my bike would take me. There was a crowd–everybody else had finished the race already–and they stood on either side of the street, cheering me on. I crossed the finish line in a roar of noise and adrenaline.

That race is probably what prompted my parents to get me a new bike. I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback, but I think the fact that my bike weighed more than I did contributed to the difficulties riding uphill. My next bike did not have solid rubber tires.

I have fond memories of that bike, of the new freedom it gave me. I was suddenly mobile, as mobile as I’d be until I was able to drive a car. When I learned that driving a car is just a lot of rules, I would realize that bikes really are the most freedom a person can have. But that’s for another post.

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the color of light


Running or biking on the bike path in Boulder, Colorado is kind of like eating a deep-dish pizza in Chicago or looking at that arch in St. Louis: you have to do it at least once when you’re there. I lived in Boulder for about 4 years, which meant lots of runs on the famous path that follows the Boulder creek, winds its way past the University of Colorado campus, and even heads into the mountains toward everybody’s favorite hippy town, Nederland.

I ran almost the whole year round, save a few weeks when ice and sub-freezing temperatures made running less like fun and more like an endurance prize. This allowed me to savor the differences in the seasons, and particularly notice the changing light.
There is nothing like the light in Boulder. In the late afternoons it will cut between the mountains and create long shadows over parts of the town. In the mornings, the plains to the east leave no obstructions to the sun, making a bright welcome to the day.

My favorite time of year is the fall, as the brutal summer gives way to cooler evenings and longer shadows. On the bike path, in a late afternoon in October, I would often feel the kind of happiness that could also be sadness. Happy at how perfect things are, but melancholy because you are aware of the passage of time and how nothing remains the same forever.

I used to think it felt like the end of the world. Not in a disastrous way or a whimper, either. It felt like a sigh right before falling asleep. I remember feeling it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been.

Light is an important part of Boulder, and of all the places I’ve been to in Colorado, partly because there is so much of it. Add that to the steep, jagged mountains that throw intense shadows across the landscape, and you’ve got to pay attention to the way light looks. It changes things throughout the day and year. I kept trying to capture moments of it in photos. These two pictures were taken on a dirt road between Crested Butte and Aspen.
crested butte2crested butte1
This is not to say Colorado has a lock on light. Arizona has light everywhere. Everything is illuminated! The sun washes everything out. I think of the word “blasted.” It’s strange on a cloudy day, because you can see so much depth. Usually the mountains look almost two dimensional because there is little shadow.

When I draw Falling Rock I try to keep that flat desert look. If Ernesto and Carver ever go exploring in the mountains, I’ll have to introduce some shadows and depth to the landscapes.

Every place has a different feel, and I’m beginning to suspect it all has to do with light.