Hey Grandpa, how’d you know?

Taos Ski Valley is known as an old-school, die-hard skiers’ mountain, tailored to family and friends that just love to ski. On Christmas Eve it is known for the Torch Light Parade down Snakedance and on New Years for the fireworks that light up the valley. But mostly, Taos is known for its family traditions that have remained unchanged for more than 50 years.

The beauty of tradition is that while places may evolve, just as many people grow out of them as into them, keeping their essence pulsating with life. The Taos I knew is in a double A-Frame cabin that was built the summer of 1961 by my visionary grandfather, James T. McGuckin. On a whim, he and my grandmother, Gay, visited the ski valley for the New Year. They were so taken by the “epic” skiing and the lively but cozy atmosphere, that two months later my grandfather rented a 1-acre parcel for $5,000. That summer, he built the two-story pine wood cabin modeled after a photo in Ski Magazine that was featuring new-age mountain homes.

During his many trips from his home in Albuquerque to Taos that spring, my grandfather developed a close friendship with Ernie Blake, founder of TSV. That Christmas, Ernie asked him to join five other homeowners on the Taos Board of Directors – and for the McGuckin’s to join the Blake’s for Christmas dinner.

The Blake’s have eaten Christmas turkey with us every year since. Now, after our 56th year, the two families spread over four generations, Taos has grown from a single Poma lift up Al’s Run to 12 quads, and Ernie is gone; but against all odds, the cabin hasn’t changed a bit.

The cabin smells like Christmas, even in March, decorated year-round with mistletoe and Nutcrackers, and I can still see myself as a little girl sitting in the chair next to the fire playing Mario Brothers on my game-boy. The air was always filled with the endless pinball chatter of the five McGuckin women, which, has become a forewarning for any man who has ever attempted to enter the clan. Only two were successful and both broke one of my grandfather’s ribs by colliding on the slopes with him on separate occasions.

Now, at 28 and having since replaced the game-boy with a Kindle, I’ve found my seat at the “big-kids table” with my mom, my sister, Emily, her husband Chris, my three aunts and my grandmother, drinking wine and reminiscing.

Reminiscing about the time my grandfather was run off the catwalk by an out of control skier, breaking his leg at the beginning of an epic powder day. When everyone else returned home at the end of the day, he sat with a cast and a bourbon in silence. On the door he had placed a sign:  “Anyone who enters and speaks, mumbles, whispers about the conditions today DIES-DEAD. Signed, the disgruntled bastard.” The sign is still there, framed with an X-Ray of his leg.

Or the times when Emily and I were little and the ski patrol managed to put on Santa and elf suits and come by the house singing carols on Christmas Eve. I realize now that it was in exchange for a bottle of Whiskey.

Or when my aunt Amy lost her new pearl earring and initiated a full-cabin search party. Three days later, she developed a terrible ear-ache. With tweezers and a flashlight, my grandpa miraculously fixed her ear by simultaneously finding the earring.

My Taos isn’t about rope-drop fresh tracks, but my childhood and that of my future children. My Taos is about reading a “short” story that I wrote called Rudy Reindeer to everyone on Christmas Eve for an hour and a half, on film, and having all 13 people listen contently. It’s about the occasional find of 1960’s canned goods in the pantry or the original Barbie doll in the cupboards, half eaten by mice.

It’s about my dad and I singing Silent Night out of key and two-stepping to South by Southwest at the Saint Bernard. It’s about my mom’s green chili grits on Christmas morning and my grandmother’s green-chili stew for after skiing. It’s about Emily’s excitement to decorate the tree and telling me every year, “It’s my turn; you got to put the angel on last year.” It’s about my mom consoling me when Emily told me that Santa was just the ski patrol.

My Taos exists because a man somehow knew 56 years ago that of all places, Taos would never sell out.

I thought that like most traditions, ours began by luck and then eventually habit. I always thought that my grandfather accidentally fell into investing in Taos Ski Valley, that he had just stumbled on it and out of impulse, bought.

But, when I asked him if he knew what he was doing when he built that Double-A Frame cabin, he smiled contently and looked at me through his 83-year-old, always calculating, still vibrant brown eyes — and he said yes.


Fly Fishing or Something Like It

Over the many years that I have been fly fishing, I’m always told that I don’t like it. While it’s annoying to be told how you feel about something to begin with, I also feel this accusation is unjust. I don’t dislike fly fishing. But every time I fish, my day seems to follow the same chain of events. So when I’m getting ready for a day on the river, my face must exude the anticipation for what’s to come – something I’ve already accepted to be the reality of my fly fishing adventures.

It goes like this:
Go to the river. Put on gear. Put together rod. Stare blankly at my empty rig and think: hmmm I hope it’s not a nymph day because I really don’t have an indicator, 6x, 5x or really any tipit, weights, nor do I know which order they go in even if I did.

Whomever I’m with, then says “here, I’ll rig you up”. So I never really have to answer those pressing questions for myself. I head through the brush, wade in the water and flop my rod around for a little bit and say, “It usually takes me a little bit to get warmed up.”

Then, I’ll get a strike. The sheer excitement from faking out a pea-brained craniate makes me jerk my rod tip as if I’m lashing a menacing bee and I pull the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. I look down at my rig and realize that I now have an enormous knot. At this point, whoever it was that rigged me up in the beginning sees me struggling, reel between my thighs grabbing at what looks like air to capture the ailed line and they will shake their head and whisper something under their breath. Now the second portion of this sometimes varies. Sometimes I’ll catch a tree after the infamous first strike. Other times I’ll just straight up get a knot and not know. Most of the time it ends in entanglement, frustration and whispers from my “guide”.

Then, the day begins. I untangle the knot, get warmed up and I start laying it in there, like the fly is an extension of the river. No drag. Glorious little ripples next the invisible line.  Like the way the god of flies intended. That fish would be dumb not to eat the delicious pin wrapped in thread.

And I wait. And cast. And wait. And cast. And mend and flip and back cast. And wait some more. And then,


This goes on for about an hour, where I’m really showing that river whose boss. I’m a casting machine. I could even do it with my eyes closed. Behind my back. Lefty. Whoosh.

After about an hour of this river dance I do, still I get no second strike. Its like the fish saw me screw up the first time, located my fly and all banned together in agreement to not to give me a second chance.

Sometime around the end on the hour, I get sloppy and I tangle my fly again. This time, losing it. I have to rig that shit up again? The same panic I felt in the beginning comes back and I think, where’s my guide? He’s over there and wouldn’t you know, he’s got a fish on. And it looks spectacular – the battle between him and the fish. He’s moving the rod methodically with the sporadic jolts of the fish’s movement. Swaying slowly back and forth as if the bend in the middle of his tummy were a mirror to the tip of the rod. The fisherman has a slight grin, knowing he’ll land this fish if his life depends on it. He’ll hunker down till that fish swims himself to death – and he falls into a quick vision of Brad Pitt running down the middle of the river chasing the fish of a lifetime.

When the fisherman comes too – the trout is close and he pulls out his net. Then looks up at me, and smiles a shit-eating grin only someone who just netted a perfect rainbow on a warm summer day could contrive.

Then I quickly come back to my reality. A riggless rod, a lost strike, and a mid-day hatch boiling the water around me. Urgency sets in. I must get my fly back in there. Look at all ‘em. It’d be virtually impossible for me not to catch one now. If only I had those flies…

My “guide”, coming off the euphoria of his recent catch, then takes pity on me and says “I’ll rig you up real good this time”. So we stand in the water, and I watch as he ties knots with his weathered man fingers, cracks in the skin, the finger nails flat and worn with age. Yet somehow he ties the knots of nearly invisible line as if they are with rope. At this point, my anxiousness turns to slight boredom and my attention goes to my frozen toes.

Then. The guide is complete, I snap out of self-pity of the moment and he is about to give the rod to me. Excitement. It’s my turn now, fishies. Watch out.

He decides, since he is the master of all that is fishing at this point, to give me some tips. “Lay it right there in that seam.” And then, he casts with my rod to show me, while sputtering some other words of wisdom. First cast. SNAP. He’s got a fish on.

At this point this scenario can go one of two ways. He goes, “oops”, then lands the fish and apologizes for being just that good. Or second, which generally is what occurs, he hands me the rod and says “your fish.”

Look. A fish is a fish is a fish. But taking ownership over a fish mid-catch is not a notch on the belt. The “guide” rigged me up, spotted the fish, cast my rod, and set the hook. As far as I’m concerned, that’s his fish. The landing part is fun, but come on. Who’s kidding whom here? After this occurs, I’ll probably lose it, or I’ll half-heartedly reel it in, net it and set it free. Then I’ll fish the waters that have just been disturbed by my counterpart and maybe I’ll hook one or maybe I won’t. It doesn’t really matter. I’m defeated by now.

So I’ll give it another college try and eventually meander over to the shore to watch my guide catch a few more and think deep thoughts about the beauty of the river and feel lucky for the day and awestruck of the talent of those around me. Now this story probably makes you think, well yeah, sounds like you don’t like fishing. But to the contrary: I enjoy this little escapade. A day on the river – sun beating on your face, tanning your arm below your shoulder, water pushing against your legs beneath your waiters, toes suffocating from the cold, the sun shimmering off the surface, gentle gulps of hungry fish, excitement from the prospect of tricking them – just makes me want to learn how to tie up my own god damn rig.