Unavoidable Synchronicity

John Fayhee’s side of the story:

It was the only conversation I ever had with the late Cactus Ed Abbey. He had given a speech at the college I
attended in southwest New Mexico in 1979, and at a drug-and–alcohol-laden social gathering afterward, I asked Abbey to comment on the demise of Mountain Gazette. He turned his back on the rest of the room and zoomed in on me like a scud zooms in on an incoming missile.

“You know Mountain Gazette?” he asked, almost incredulously.

“Sure. Everyone around here does,” I responded. “It’s even more famous than the High Times”—a monster compliment in that time/place.

Mountain Gazette had just gone out of business a mouth before, after a glorious eight-year existence.

Abbey had been one of its most loyal contributors. (Rumor had it that he included a check with every manuscript—not the way things usually operate in the world of writers and magazines.)

“It was just a victim of the times,” he said funereally.  “We are now in an era ruled by the slick and glossy outdoor magazines.”

He almost spat the words out.

It was several years before I gave Mountain Gazette anything more than cursory thought.  I had moved to Colorado and had begun writing for several of the slick and glossy out-door magazines Abbey referred to. Very coincidentally a week after Cactus Ed passed away, I was nosing around a small used bookstore near where I lived in Denver and came upon a half-dozen issues of the Gazette parked on a musty shelf.  I bought them all and immediately sprinted to the closest watering hole and devoured every irreverent syllable contained in those volumes

The experience should have been joyful, or at least non-negative. But it produced a degree of longing I had never experienced in my life.  Sadly, it was a longing not to spend a week-en at the Hefner mansion or for peace o Earth or anything.  That would have been to easy.  I produced a longing for the past, the good ol’ days, the way things were.  And, for me, the good ol’ days were the ;70’s , when the wild country of the West was still largely unpeopled, when the environmental movement was still fresh, when bongs were standard interior decoration accouterments in any dwelling you’d ever have a desire to visit, when the ‘he who dies with the most toys wins” mantra was still confined to the ‘burbs, when a

publication like Mountain Gazette not only existed, but attracted the best and brightest writers and photographers in the nation

In the mid-‘90s, I had the chance to start a big-corporation-owned weekly publication, Summit Outdoors, that was loosely modeled after Mountain Gazette.  When I made mention of that fact in print one day, I got a call from a buddy of mine named Joe Kramarsic, who makes his living a least partially by purveying old outdoor books and magazines to those of us who have trouble living in the Here & Now. He asked if I would like to buy an entire set of Gazettes. Two-point-zero-zero nanoseconds later, I had every issue, 1-77.  The box containing those issues to this day stays near my coffee table, and most evenings, I read at least one faded Gazette article.

When that big corporation pulled the plug on Summit Outdoors, I decided it was high time to look into resurrecting the Gazette.  But there were several grown-up things that needed looking at.  First, I needed to find out who legally owned the name.  I knew that the last editor, Gaylord Guenin, lived near Aspen, but his phone number was not listed. I figured my old buddy Curtis Robinson would know how to get in touch with him, so I sat down to give my partner-in-much-past-crime a jingle.  Just as I was preparing to do so—as I mean within a few seconds—the phone rang.  It was Curtis.

“You ever heard of Mountain Gazette?” he asked, as my jaw dropped.

“Why do you ask?” I asked.

“Because I just got a call from George Stranahan, who used to own Mountain Gazette, and he wanted to know if I knew anyone interested in resurrecting it”

Ordinarily, my reaction to cosmic messages this intense is to either ignore them, run like the wind, hide from them or deny them. But this message was too strong to fall back upon past survival strategies.  I told Curtis that I was very much interested in meeting with Mr. Stranahan ASAP.

Curtis Robinson’s side of the story:

It’s not like I was looking for trouble.  Actually, my wife and I were planning a week long canoe trip down the Green River.  In hindsight, that looms large, but then it was just a great trip.

Shortly before we left, something like last October, a neighbor named Skye Skinner called me at the offices of The Glenwood Post, where I was managing editor.  She had bound copies of something called the Mountain Gazette that her boss, George Stranahan, had more or less reserved for me.

The what? Why?

Because, it seemed, he was clearing the spiritual decks or something, and thought I might “do something” with it.  Anyway, there they were.  Beyond a vague memory of the Gazette—somehow linked to late-night drinking stories and John Fayhee, but maybe not—it was unknown to me.  Looking at the pages was a journey into another plane of sorts, but also still relevant.

But there was a river waiting, and the volumes were shelved.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Green.  My wife picked up a copy of Abbey’s “Down the River” and presented it to me as an anniversary gift.

We got it out on Day Four on the Green as we hunkered in the shade of a ledge. Pretty cool: Abbey’s book started at the same place we’d put in—Mineral Bottom--and he’d stayed at the same campsites.  I commented on that and then opened the book at random, the way you do with books of stories.

Found words something like this: I’m not saying the Mountain Gazette was the best magazine of its kind—I’m just saying it was the only magazine of its kind.

Hmmmm.  Mountain Gazette. I thought of those off-white volumes back on my office shelves and vowed to “do something” about this when I got home.  I’m not into any of this New Age, one-with–the-universe stuff.  Being a Capricorn with a Scorpio moon, I don’t even believe in astrology, but this level of synchronicity seemed ignored at some peril.

A couple of days after my return, it was time to drop the dime to Fayhee.

Now, I’m figuring, Fayhee’s the guy who should tackle this.  No reason to upset my good job with a Major Media Corporation.  After all, I’d just helped start a great little newspaper years back, and it was time for the Good Life.  Let Fayhee worry about digging up the ghost of Cactus Ed and deal with the wrath of the 11,000 Gazette fans likely to look upon the effort as something akin to grave robbing.

His response to the call, if memory serves, carried a mix of strangeness because (a) he was getting ready to call me about he Mountain Gazette and (2) there could be no God or even universe so cruel as to give apparent semi-legal control of the MG to some HILLBILLY NEWSPAPER GEEK, like me.

My plan was simple, I’d hand the karmic football to Fayhee, get a good freelance writing outlet or even some share of the thing, dump the heavy ad-sales lifting, and generally feel So Very Cool.  Maybe even wear my black turtleneck to the re-launch party.

A year later my corporate job is a warm memory.  I’ll spare you the gory details of raising money, dragging Stranahan back into publishing, explaining to my Corporate Bosses that this Gazette Gig was “nothing to worry about” and trying every crazed scheme know to man to avoid what amounts to My Fate.

So here I be: Writing long comma-spliced sentences in a tiny office with great views of mountains over Breckenridge, at least when you walk out to the parking lot.  If we’re lucky, that delivery from San Francisco that just arrived via frantic FedEx is the North Face ad coming through, and the other half-dozen people promising to get me ad copy start retuning my calls soon…and Mr. Fayhee, he is starting to cast long stink-eye glances my way when the topic of “story deadlines” comes up, and did he mention his martial arts background yesterday by chance.

Not even my wife is exactly clear on how this happened…

Got Gazetted,” is how we explain it.

So, we feel like we’d been handed every possible variation on the karmic torch theme, save having Cactus Ed walk back out of the Sonoran Desert and turn in a new manuscript for the re-launch issue.  It was time to take the karmic torch and run with it, even if that run was in circles, backwards, with our eyes wide shut.  The only problem—if this sort of thing can be called a “problem”—we had was defining this publication, to the old readers, to the new readers, to the advertisers and, more importantly to ourselves and, most importantly, to our wives.

Automatically, we have been lumped into one of two, hideous categories.  The first: an “outdoor recreation magazine.” The second: a “mountain lifestyle publication.” 

The former indicates that, like three billon other testostrone-fantasy-based magazines making the glossy rounds these days, we will editorially deal with the mountains more as recreational amenities and lifestyle backdrops than as lovely topographic features that have spawned a very palpable and interesting sociology and spirituality.

The latter indicates that we will be carrying lots of stories about how to integrate pricey Navajo rugs into the interior decoration scheme of your trophy home’s TV room.

So forgive us for retuning once again to The Source, and quoting from a very similar, if somewhat shorter, Publisher’s Note in the very first Mountain Gazette in September of 1972: “We will no longer call ourselves a ski magazine. In this era of specialty magazines we’ve made the choice to drop our specialty—We want to use the publication as a tool to poke around in some of the odd corner of the mountains and see what there is to see.  We want the publication to be an open forum. Open to just about anything. The qualifier is, anything about mountain, of course.”

Of course. But then as now, there were plenty of things going on in the mountains. And it could be that the “professionals” who tell us that a general-interest, hard-to-define magazine is more or less and act of pure defiance (and/or overt lunacy) in this attention-deficit age.

Well, screw the chromosome-challenged “experts” who dominate the magazine publishing world these days. And we strongly feel Cactus Ed is with us on this point.  We should know, because we’re spending some quality time on sacred ground lately, and it has been rubbing off on us in a big way.

Since we have alluded to what we call the “old” Mountain Gazette about a million time already, it should be obvious that the reborn Gazette will have much in common with its predecessor. Black-and-white cover, newsprint innards and provocative writing/photography by a combination of the old MG suspects,  (including Dick Dorworth, George Sibley, Bob Chamberlain, Rob Schultheis, and Gaylord Guenin) and budding new suspect who are already pleading guilty before the act.

Our philosophy will also have much in common with the MG of old: irreverent, funny, thought-provoking, honest, unpredictable, cranky, honest.  Out contents will run the gamut from noggin-scratchers about climbing, skiing and hiking through mountains near and far to long-winded essays about the healthful benefits of sitting on the front porch while drinking beer and admiring the views.  We will have stories and photos about mountain cultures, mountain people, mountain towns, mountain thinking, mountain books.  All mountains, all the time.

Though we are unabashedly maintaining as many philosophical links the past incarnation of the Gazette as possible, we will not be totally a retro magazine.  Just mostly.  And damned proud of it.  Those of us who love the mountains and life in the mountains need and want a publication that gets back to basics that reconnects with the primal reasons we all came to love the mountains in the first place: beauty, serenity, fun, freedom of thought, physical, mental and spiritual healthiness, region-specific quirkiness, good people, strong culture, great micro-breweries.

We have one last thing to say before signing both off and on at the same time here.  At first, we wanted to issue something of an apology in the opening column.  But it’s actually more of an explanation.  A lot of the material, both editorial and advertising, as well as much of the distribution focus, for this Resurrection Issue is centered around Colorado.  This was hard to avoid, as we’re a small operation and Colorado’s where we’re at.  Our Grand Plan is to expand all facets of Mountain Gazette north and south into the rest of the Rockies, into the Sierras and Cascades (where we’ve already received many letters of interest and support), into New England, into the Alps, Himalayas, Andes and, uh, the Ruwenzoris.  The way we look at it, our territory is Earth. At least those parts of Earth blessed with vertical terrain.

Onward and upward.


Logo photo of M.John by Mark Fox


All Contents Copyright©2011 M. John Fayhee

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M. John Fayhee

Writer, Editor, Mountain Gazette Resurrector

MG #78--The second coming of a magazine legend