The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon by Daniel Ford - Read Online
The High Country Illuminator
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"The High Country Illuminator created Avalon by climbing to the fourth tower of old Number One lift and crying: 'Lest there be light!'" Thus begins the madcap adventure of a ski-bum winter toward the end of the 1960s. HCI is otherwise known as George Togalok, a Native American from the Salt River Canyon country. Around him assemble cunning Silver Fox, brainy Duke University, the Outt-keepers, Max and Max's Buddy, some fluffy birds, and other young slackers who want nothing more from life than the chance to ski the fluffy white powder of the Colorado Rockies. "The writing is adept," marveled Skier magazine, 'the plot bewildering, the pace dizzy, and the skiing scenes (as the children say) are out of sight."

Published: Warbird Books on
ISBN: 9781502267849
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The High Country Illuminator

A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

Daniel Ford

Warbird Books 2014


Happening #1 – Avalon Is a Myth

Happening #2 – You’ll Never Grow Old

Happening #3 – Don’t Cry; It’s Only a Story

Copyright - Author’s Note

More from Daniel Ford


Avalon is a myth, located twelve miles west of the Continental Divide and twenty miles south of Piltco Junction, Colorado.

THE HIGH COUNTRY ILLUMINATOR created Avalon by climbing to the fourth tower of old Number One lift and crying:

Lest there be light!

Then he rolled in the snow and laughed, like God on the first day of creation.

HCI was newly arrived in the Rockies. Like God, he was probably a bit dizzy from the altitude.

His Avalon lay flat as a checkerboard in the valley, each square the size of his heel print. Central Street halved it from east to west, and Original Street from south to north. At their intersection, still boasting the only hydraulic elevator between Denver and San Francisco, the Silver Queen Hotel pretended to rule the town as it had done in days of ore. But the Silver Queen now was marooned among gingerbread houses and free form motels. The cash registers had followed the skiers to the mountain, to the bottom of Number One lift, to the feet of the High Country Illuminator. Avalon’s center of levity was in its southeast quadrant now, and all the rest was bedrooms for six thousand skiers a night.

Central Street – shot from the transit of some mining engineer who trusted it would always remain Central – ran westward through free form and gingerbread to the bridge over Piltco Creek. Here the street ended and the highway began, running down down down to Piltco Junction, seventy miles an hour for the most part, if a man trusted his brakes on the roundabouts. The highway was Avalon’s only land link with the world. Along it came the skiers and the ski bums, and the truckers who fed them, and the state tax collectors who fed upon them, three cents on every dollar they spent in Avalon.

To the north sat Red Mountain, red as rust indeed, scarred by slag heaps and slashed by fire trails, and still bare of snow.

To the east: the Continental Divide, the blinding white Rockies, the peaks staggering eastward and upward forever.

To the south: Mount Avalon, which the High Country Illuminator could not see because he was sitting upon it.

And above: the sky, the cloudless sky, the blue blue sky.

Christ! I love this place, the High Country Illuminator said.

Then he created the Avalon Police Station, the very best small-town police station, and peopled it with Chief Ghurk, two male clerk typists, and a thin line of ski bums who were applying for work permits. HCI joined the line.

A long steel counter separated the ski bums from the clerks. Beyond the clerks, ignoring them, Chief Ghurk rode his swivel chair at an easy canter, meanwhile twiddling the dials on a radio console. The Chief wore a Warner Brothers cowboy outfit, and a thirty-eight pistol in a fat black holster. The clerks wore blue police uniforms. And the ski bums wore – what didn’t they wear? They wore Indian sombreros, with crowns like inverted chamber pots; they wore goose down parkas, and sheep herder vests, and frayed sweatshirts marked Property of Duke University; they wore jeans of every color; they wore sandals and sneakers and Li’l Abner boots, and rough-out Wellingtons, and Klettershoes made in Austria ... they wore the lot, the whole whacky ski-town lot. HCI loved them all, the clerks and Chief Ghurk included.

Next! said the clerk typist near him, and HCI replaced the Duke University sweatshirt. Name? said the clerk typist.

George, said the High Country Illuminator.

The clerk looked up from his keyboard. Black-rimmed glasses. Blue eyes in a bright hatchet face. Last name, first name, middle initial, he said in a rote voice. He didn’t belong there.

George Togalok, the High Country Illuminator said, and spelled it for him. No middle initial.

The typewriter rattled, and a little green card leaped into view above the carriage. Birthplace? the clerk typist said.

Salt River Canyon, Arizona.



The clerk looked at his buddy. Hey, what race is Indian? he asked.

Other, the second clerk said.

Other than what? asked HCI.

Other than Negroid or Caucasian.

Fair enough, HCI told his own clerk. Put me down as an Other.

The x key whacked against the little green card, which then jumped up another half inch. Education? said the clerk.

Grade school, high school, five years of college.

Five years?

I changed my mind a couple times, HCI said.

Highest degree and name of institution?

That’s what I changed my mind about.

Well, you must have learned something in five years, the clerk typist said, whacking capital letters against the card. I’m giving you a Bachelor of Arts.

Thank you, the High Country Illuminator said.

Now: military service.

Yes, said HCI. The clerk gave him a pained look, so he said: Two years in the Army.

Military occupational specialty?

Rifleman. Say, is this stuff all necessary?

It’s on the goddamn form, the clerk said. Civilian work experience?

Well, I’ve done all sorts of things. I’ve worked in the woods, and I’ve picked beans, and after I got out of the Army I sold lightning rods for a while, until one of my houses burned down. They forgot to tell me about grounding the wires. But mostly I’m an illuminator. I put on light shows at happenings. He expected an argument on that one, but the clerk spun the green card out of his typewriter, rolled another one in, and said: Next!

The drift of things took the High Country Illuminator into the neighboring room. Here a lad in a beaded sombrero, looking like Geronimo on the day of surrender, was posing against an advertisement for Mount Avalon. The photographer was a girl with silver-fox hair. Don’t look so sad, cried she, cried this cunning Silver Fox; "say sex or something." Geronimo glowered. Pop! went the flashbulb anyway, and Silver Fox pulled the negative sandwich from the camera and looked at her watch. She was wearing a plaid microskirt.

HCI sensed a dotted line in the air, and followed it from Silver Fox’s flashing legs to the eyes of a young semi-executive, lustful young semi-executive, pretending to interview Duke University across the room. HCI leaned against the doorjamb. While he waited his turn on the floor, he let his eyes slide comfortably along the dotted line, back to the skinny brown flashing legs. This was his creation: he found it good.

Silver Fox was busy with shears and a laminating press. There you are, Sam, she said, giving Geronimo a card encased in plastic. Maybe next time you’ll smile or something. Geronimo marched off to the interview desk, while the High Country Illuminator took his turn in front of the advertisement. Don’t look so sad, said Silver Fox. HCI stiffened his shoulders. Couldn’t help it, man. The great white weight of Mount Avalon, pressing down on him ... pop! The room dissolved, swam back in shades of blue, then righted itself except for a small blind spot just below HCI’s line of vision. He went over to breathe Silver Fox’s body perfume while she counted off the seconds.

You don’t look like a cop, he told her.

Cop? said Silver Fox. Twenty-four, twenty-five.... What cop?

Avalon Police Station is all, said HCI. If you work for the cops, you’re a cop. Right?



I work for the Corporation, said Silver Fox.

What’s that?

"Why, the Corporation – fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty! – the Corporation is everything. The shears clicked, the press smelled of hot plastic. There you are, she told him. Maybe next time you won’t look so sad." The work permit was warm against his hand, and so was the touch of her palm. Warm all over, man.

Mr. Togalok? inquired a cheery male voice.

Yes, said the High Country Illuminator, going over to replace Geronimo at the beige steel desk.

I’m Brak brak brak, Personnel Manager for the Avalon Corporation, the semi-executive said, treating HCI to a quick handshake.

What was the name again?

Brak and brak, said the Personnel Manager, who magically had HCI’s green police card on the desk in front of him. He tapped the green card with his fingernail. Now, Mr. Togalok, you told the police clerk that you were a lightning expert. What did you mean by that?

Well, I sold lightning rods for a while, until one of my houses burned down, but I think he meant lighting expert. I’m an illuminator.


I put on light shows at dances and happenings.

Happenings? Like the ones in San Francisco?


My, my, said the Personnel Manager. I’ll send you down to see Mr. Means, who runs the Shaft. He’s always looking for Sunday-night specials – no liquor served on Sunday, ho ho. State law.

Ho ho, said the High Country Illuminator.

The Personnel Manager filled out a white card. Now then! he said. You’ll need a real job as well. D’you have any preferences?

Won’t Mr. Means pay me for the light shows?

I’m afraid it would only be an occasional thing. There’s a point of diminishing returns on these novelties, ho ho.

Ho ho, agreed the High Country Illuminator. Well, I prefer outdoor work.

Yes, of course, the Personnel Manager said with a sigh. Brak-brak the martyr. But I’m afraid the outdoor jobs were taken long ago. We won’t have another opening on the lift crew for months, maybe not for the rest of the season.... I don’t suppose you’d be willing to wash dishes? It’s good, honest toil, if you like that sort of thing.

What about packing trails?

Ticket-packers only, the Personnel Manager said. Pack trails from eight to eleven, get a ticket for the rest of the day....There’s an opening in the Shaft for a dishwasher – four hours a night, dollar-fifty an hour, one meal included, half price on drinks, and lift privileges.

No, the High Country Illuminator said.

The turnover is pretty fast at the Shaft. Mr. Means might move you up to assistant cook – two dollars an hour.


The Personnel Manager sighed again. Well, there is an opening in the Corporation Maintenance Division, Sanitation Branch.

What’s that?

Garbage collector.

I’ll take it, said HCI.

The pay is the same – one-fifty an hour – and no fringe benefits.

That’s all right.

Not even lift privileges.


With lift privileges, you can ski all day for a dollar. Otherwise it costs you eight.

I’ll manage.

Well, each to his own taste, as the man said when he saw the monkey eating glue.

Ho ho, said the High Country Illuminator.

The Personnel Manager filled out a second white card, gave them both to HCI, and extended his hand for another quick shake. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Mr. Togalok, he said. I like your sense of humor.

Mr. Means lit a cigarette from the butt that was smoldering in the ashtray. You’re an Other, huh? he said. What’s that?


American Indian or Indian Indian?


That’s all right, then. Mr. Means inhaled deeply, and coughed. Not that it makes any difference to us, you understand. We’re an Equal Opportunity Employer. But our customers come from all over, and we’re here to make the customers happy, isn’t that it?

Don’t worry about a thing, HCI told him. The goal of the artist is to disappear. When the show starts to swing, people won’t even know I’m around.

Well, you’re a straight arrow, anybody can see that. Twenty-five all right?

Twenty-five what?

Dollars. Per happening. You provide the lighting gear, I provide the band and the publicity.

Fifty, the High Country Illuminator said.

I thought you was supposed to be an artist.

All right. I’ll take forty-five.

Thirty, said Mr. Means. Thirty dollars and not a penny more.


You’re a man after my own heart.

I’m a man after every man’s heart, the High Country Illuminator said, and they shook hands at thirty-five dollars.

Mr. Means wanted a snow dance for their first happening, so HCI went to the Avalon Free Lending Library and looked up snow dance in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, finding nothing. He tried rain dance. Nothing. Then he tried weather control and meteorology, while a growly voice said nearby: The mothers. HCI looked over and saw Geronimo, still wearing his scowl and his beaded sombrero. They own the town, Geronimo said to the lad whose sweatshirt boasted: Property of Duke University. "You can’t fart in Avalon unless you