A Birthday Salute to Mr. Dorworth

When I came north to Canada for good in the summer of 1987, I stowed two big metal trunks of books and papers into the cargo hold beneath the dogsled-and-sled dog-and-lumber-and-fuel-barrel-cluttered deck of Dave Smith’s trusty freighting boat, the Hearne Channel.  Tucked into one trunk was a sheaf of torn-out pages from a mid-1970’s edition of Mountain Gazette.

Night Driving, by Dick Dorworth, was the long piece (as long as any night drive) that I had torn out a dozen years earlier and somehow, strangely, kept with me for years — years that led me from high school in Illinois to university in Montana, back to college in Wisconsin, and on to cabin life in the border lakes of north Minnesota.

It still strikes me as somewhat odd that I kept this particular piece of writing with me over all those moves and miles. Odder still, if a person who knows me picks it up and reads it, for Night Driving is a hip, rambling 1970’s discourse about long nights of driving, including side opinions on the merits of amphetamines, heavy drinking, dope and ginseng, and more digression down the runs of ski racing, broken love affairs, and on and on.  And on. My own night driving seems to be mostly past now, but my long nights behind the wheel always had more to do with cold northern highways and the steering of trucks loaded with teams of sled dogs. Coffee and chocolate were the strongest stimulants on board. (Dick is nowadays a vegetarian and he writes that “I haven’t had a recreational drug stronger than caffeine in more than 20 years, not even a beer, though a morning without good coffee is unimaginable…”) When I pick up Night Driving again (happily it is out there between hard covers in several editions)  I ponder just what special spark it was that I first found so noteworthy, in its wild and crazy rides along desert and mountain highways.

What I found, and still find, is Dorworth’s trademark blunt wild word-rich prose, and it must have been just that style and flavor that inspired me to tear his writing out and keep it with me for a dozen years and more, until it found a place on the shelf of the cabin we built here at the Hoarfrost River.  I meandered through Night Driving again the other night, and discovered,  in the preamble to a passage describing one very long night drive from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, that the 16th of October is Dick Dorworth’s birthday, and that today he will turn 79.  Thus this post.

I had a chance to meet up with Dick one year ago, in Montana.  We have been in contact over the past few years, ever since I had contacted him about a quotation I wanted to use in Kinds of Winter. We share some things in common, it’s clear, but in most day-to-day spheres of our lives we do not.  I am not a downhill skier or an accomplished climber or a denizen of the Mountain West, and he is not a bush pilot or a dog musher or a denizen of the taiga Canadian Shield.  (Dick held the world record for speed on a pair of skis, in 1963, set at 103 miles per hour on a track in Chile, and he still skis almost every day of every winter, at Sun Valley in Idaho.  He is in the Skiing Hall of Fame.) Dick is a practicing Buddhist, while I am some sort of undisciplined amalgamation distilled out of a Lutheran upbringing and faith and heritage, seasoned with a hefty dose of Buddhist inspiration from writers and poets including Matthiessen, Snyder, Storlie, and Dorworth — all stirred together with some unsorted pantheistic tendencies.

When I met Dick in person we talked and walked, and he fed me a good Tofu and bean sprout sandwich, which was the first tasty edible thing containing Tofu that I had ever ingested.  Made an old moose and caribou connoisseur pause.  Today I wish Dick a happy birthday, and I encourage readers to seek out his writing, which is published in at least five of his books now, the latest just out.  Night Driving, The Straight Course, The Perfect Turn, Climbing to Freedom.  The most recent, which I have not read but will soon, is a memoir, The Only Path.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dorworth, and thanks for so much good writing, so many hard fast runs down steep mountains, so much inspired living…  and here’s to many happy returns.

Below, some snippets I’ve underlined or page-marked in Dorworth’s books:

“The edge has its hardships but at least one can be sure that it is life out there (here?) and not the Barbie-Doll, TV-dinner mentality that plasticland has ramrodded down the gullets of those hordes of iron bellies who can stomach Styrofoam horseshit for dinner, breakfast, lunch, brunch, snacks, feasts, celebrations and sacrifice.” — from Night Driving

“Uninspired is the state of life of the coward who would rather live with an unacceptable comfortable situation, than throw it all over for a chance at joy.” — from Coyote Song 

“Words are incomplete mediums of communication, much as we love them. There is no way to know how it was except to have been there, and the experience lasts in its fullness only as long as the experience. Afterwards, something remains besides the memory, but it is something other than the experience. It is like food for the spirit — it nourishes, giving strength for another day.” — from Climbing to Freedom

“Now I know that strange things happen to your body when it meets the snow at 100 mph, no matter what the position. In the twinkling of hitting the snow I regained a proper respect for speed.  If you are inattentive, as well as somewhat stupid, you may breed a contempt for big speeds, forgetting respect through the grace of being atop your skis each run.  No one on his back at 100 mph will ever after have contempt for speed.” — from The Perfect Turn

“Life is really a thesaurus and everyone wants it to stop at being a dictionary.” — from The Straight Course

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