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Crystalline Moments
Neil McGregor

A ghoulish spectre lumbers through the streets, haunts our waking moments and teases in our sleep: a reminder of the world we’ve created and our responsibility for its destruction. We’ve risen from the earth and rejected heaven, and in that free-fall we find nothing: only a reflection of ourselves. So having wrought asunder the chains, here is where we rest: against the post and on the fence of denial and self-hatred. It’s frightening to come face to face with the spirit of the age.

Here is a frame upon which this sorry lament hangs



To: Anna

It’s three days now since I left New York, landing in Wyoming on Tuesday afternoon and somehow managing to make all the necessary connections without any fear biting at my gut.

One of the Lodge employees picked me up at the airport and I hunkered down in the back of the car like a dazed rabbit as we burrowed deep into the National Park. The freeway soon unfurled the sagebrush meadows, dense pine forests and vicious mountains that are now my retreat from the bloodshot world of disintegration and collapse.

The employee village is home for the next three months: languid one-story dorms with wood panel sidings and shed roofs, a shop, laundry room, lounge and pub. Behind the employee housing the ground rises steeply and opens out at the summit to overlook marshy willow flats and a necklace of sparkling jewel-like lakes garnished by the full sweep of the mountains. A looped gravel path curves down the other side of the hill and merges with the trails where I’ll lose myself until the crimson lane runs fresh and I’m full of life and clean blood.


I follow the trail through grassy meadows and into the heart of the forest. Lodgepole pines tower overhead and wild orange roses sway in the mountain air.

The sun shimmers though cottonwood branches and onto the yellow-green plains below. I’m illuminated with every step. Cascading streams and waterfalls merge with the roar in my head.

Clutching my chest I clamber onto a plateau. An inflamed sky surrounds the mountains. Orange sunbursts streak through billowy clouds. Snow-capped spires leap from the broad valley floor and brood in red shadows. Snake River assails endless green forests.

I stay there awhile, content for first time in three years.



To: Myself

…..in possession of the eternal dream, the rootless existence, to move at will over unspoiled land, to cherish new experiences and every moment of adventure, and in the end to travel without restraint and eyes wide open…..the only way to displace the anger that turns from the glare of sober mediocrity…..never take the guided tour…..the journey always more important than arrival…..



To: Anna

Too much of my life has been consumed in an abusive rush, but so far I’ve avoided my usual turn to destructive abandon. Both the tremors and hallucinations are fast dissipating into the vast silence of open country.

I work at the Lodge reception during the week and the rest of the time I disappear into the wilderness alone, allowing my mind to wander without interruption through the wildflower meadows. At night I climb the hill behind employee housing and sit with the valley outstretched below: the mountains are dusky tombs flattened against an open sky that glitters with wistful radiance. I only wish we could be here together.

I finally met Danny, my roommate. He’s a hyperactive force of nature in a cowboy hat, a tobacco-chewing volume switch in a glass. He’s an ex-bodybuilder gone to seed, bloated with porn, a raging alcoholic. We’re going to spend some time together tomorrow night, although I’ve no idea yet what we’re going to do.



To: Myself

…..some people never experience the moment because their thoughts are on the struggle……they never make it……always remember it’s the struggle that delivers the moment……


I hear footsteps and turn to see Danny stride towards me. ‘Hey you drunken mo-mo,’ he roars, swiping at me with his white Stetson. ‘Getting skunked as a mother-fucker without Delicious?’

I drink the Bourbon with a careless flourish. My veins are charged and my body vibrates. I gaze up into the sun and close my eyes as the warmth washes over me.

‘Relax,’ I say. ‘What’s the plan for today?’

‘The plan is to get ripped and I got Margaritas mixed and ready. They should satisfy your delicate Scottish palate.’ He leans towards me. ‘A fine vintage of obliteration that has the blinding effect you so favour.’

‘Superb,’ I say and raise my glass. ‘Death awaits at the bottom of another bottle.’

‘Well,’ says Danny, rubbing his palms together. ‘As long as it doesn’t come at the top. We’ve got way too much to get through.’


The skyline has altered beyond all recognition. All we have left is the cold body of living. Swept away in the rivers and oceans are the multitude of lives that can’t hold steady in face of the onslaught. In the recesses, however, there are still dreams of connection.

The dream moves with brisk abandon to nightmare. The sunset bleeds. The connections we all share have been rejected. To live and love in the arms and thoughts of others is to compromise the mighty self. Savagery is complete as we bask in the moonlight licking bloodstained lips and gnawing on the bones of a generation.

Only in the chains and links of connection do we find release; only in the prison of community do we find contentment; only in this cage are we human. In its hold is the breath of life itself. Stirring from sleep, trembling and cold, we realize escape.


The Blue Heron Lounge is encircled by floor to ceiling panoramic windows. The mountains outside, all jagged veins, leap from the valley floor. The sagebrush plains and willow flats sweep out in a flower-filled rush. All my attention is on Danny.

‘I’ve not been this drunk since yesterday,’ he says, pouring the tequila into my glass.

‘As long as you can say that every day,’ I reply. ‘Then you know you’re living.’

‘Oh man,’ shrieks Danny, knocking back his drink with a wicked backhand. ‘I’m laughing so much I just shat someone else’s pants.’

I bring the pitcher down hard on the table. ‘I’m fucking serious. I don’t believe in sociable drinking...excess or nothing…to lie in-between is pointless…it’s the madness that…’

‘Seriously,’ interrupts Danny. ‘Daddy’s listening, but your downer material really sucks my fat ass.’

I fall back into my seat. ‘Listen,’ he continues, leaning across the table and putting his arm on my shoulder. ‘Now that we’ve got our buzz on, let’s get back to the dorm. I’ve got a bottle of Canadian club, twelve cans and four Russian bitches waiting for us.’

‘Result,’ I say as he helps me to my feet. ‘I’m fucking wired to the moon.’



To: Myself

…..the insurrection is almost complete…..deconstruct ego and define character around the chaos…..intensity and creativity as the twin dependents of truly living…instil all energy in the construction of the crystalline self…..



To: Anna

If you’re going to fall off the wagon then it’s better done quickly. On my days off I ended up a sprawling, hyperactive drunken mess on the trail of the sweet delights of whisky and wine. Solitary wandering through alpine imperiousness no longer curtails my loathsome drinking habits. No matter how hard I’ve tried to isolate myself, I’m getting to know those around me (and the trouble is I don’t always remember them come the morning). I’m a victim of circumstance: every attempted abstention is accompanied by someone who brings it raging back into my life. This time round it’s Danny at every turn.

My tremors have resurfaced (although nowhere near as bad as in Glasgow)…so still in the throes of this self-destructive trail of enlightenment…nothing to beat a shivering, paranoia-addled bout of fear…to feel alive…stability makes me complacent and lazy…


I wake with a start and the pressure to vomit is immediate. The cruel sun spills through the dorm window and pours in on me with a calamitous roar. A security guard skulks in the doorway.

‘Ah’m looking for Neil,’ he says with a languid wheeze as my gaze drifts to the Bourbon on the table. ‘Scottish dude. Room 5.’

Dizziness accompanies my cold feet from the bed. ‘Yeah, that’s me.’

‘Ah’ve had a call that you ain’t turned up for work so I’ve been sent to git you.’

‘Well, that’s all I need,’ I say, reaching for the bottle. ‘First time I’ve been escorted onto the premises.’ I step with sharpening agony over the matted carpet, spilled wine shedding its last violet burst onto the soles of my feet. Tattooed brittle branches spread over prominent veins.

‘Yup, and ah’m gonna have to write out a violation ticket for ‘ya boyo. You were buckled last night…way out of line…ah warned you boys but…well…yer noise kept the whole block awake.’

‘Really?’ I say. ‘Ah shit…I don’t remember… well, chug-a-lug.’ I sit down, wipe the sweat from my forehead and finish the Bourbon with a satisfied smack.


I suddenly realise that the drunken lunatic driving on the wrong side of the road is me.

‘How you doing D?’ I ask as the car lurches fiercely.

A garbled reply: ‘What…oh, West-Coast Dan is chillin’ like a villain.’

An opening up ahead reveals vast ghostly spires rising from an anaesthetised valley.

‘Listen, I’m going to level with you,’ I blurt out anxiously.

‘I’m listening,’

‘Well, back home…I’ve caned it way too hard for way too long…I mean…serious damage…poisoned myself to such an extent that…I’ve come here…to Wyoming…to heal from the wreckage of the past three years’.

‘And how’s that working out for you?’ he asks.



To: Myself

…..after all, life is about moments of crystalline beauty and perfection…not the long haul…..moments…..that allow you to believe in life fully lived…..the beauty of the mountains, the arms of a lover, the shivering bliss of drunken mayhem…..all crystalline moments…..

……we’re all poisoned in our own little way……...






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