Thursday, September 30, 2004


I deserve my blog's moniker today. I feel everything in every bit of me, and it's wonderful: the smell of rain and woodsmoke, the bright orange leaves, the humor in life, the possibilities. I'm positively saturated with potential. For the first time in a long time, that Pulitzer isn't so impossibly far away, that screenplay incubating in my head could soon storm Sundance, those ink-on-napkin sketches may spring to highly acclaimed, digitally animated life; and if anybody has a chance, I do.

The funny thing about life is that I can't seem to harness this high-as-a-kite feeling to be at my beck and call 24-7. Too bad, in a way, but then again it's like the principle of Tir-na-nog, if you know your Gaelic history. In Tir-na-nog ('Land of the Young,' or the afterlife) there is no sadness, and because there is no sadness there is no joy. Obviously, they go together; you appreciate happy times since you've known misery.

I'm fully prepared to stay happy today, despite the workmen tromping around on the roof of City Hall, pounding and scraping. Despite the fact that September is ending, and it's one of my favorite months. (I'd like to get married in September, outdoors. Something really small and content, with pale lilies and an ivory dress.) I've already diverted multiple work disasters this morning and quickly charted the chords to Fools' Garden's Lemon Tree for a friend. I've been called a sounding board, a lifesaver, and a free spirit and it's not even noon. Nice.

I have oodles to blog. I've started on dozens of great topics but that's the fabulous thing about a blog: it's the place to organize your thoughts. Strangely, when I go back to clean my random little beginnings up, I usually find some way to sensibly combine them. Maybe there is a method to my madness after all. Anyhow, I owe you a major literary effort, but we'll just have to make do with fun links for the weekend. (The internet is such a fun place.) Tomorrow is waterbill day at City Hall, and if you can't imagine what a monumental effort that is for a municipality that's too small to afford shiny, reliable equipment but is quickly outgrowing its outdated jalopies, you're not very creative. Specifically, it involves a folding machine that looks like Darth Vader mated with a toaster, and a centipede-like row of connected plastic boxes with idiotic clear plastic chutes, the stuffer, which is supposed to fill envelopes with bills, various mailers, and return envelopes, but the damned thing thinks it's a garbage disposal. It destroys important documents more completely and efficiently than the office shredder. That, of course, is what makes working at City Hall so fun. Sometime I'll blog about exactly what it is I do, when I'm not doing "other duties as assigned," like beating the stuffer into submission.

My sister, who is as famous for saying funny things unintentally as I am for saying them on purpose, was telling me she was going to take euthanasia to see if she could prevent the cold she felt coming on. I wanted to say yeah, that'll stop it for sure, but first I had to laugh until I drooled. I dried my tears and wiped my chin and told her I was sure she meant echinacea. For the record, she is not dumb. She's as smart as me in many ways, moreso than I in others. She's just way busier, and she is not a grammar nazi.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Classify Yourself

Me, for instance? I'm the Queen of the Undead.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Sad Secret

There's nothing like upstairs at BRB, and very soon it may not be there anymore.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Lynchmob: A Poem

I bought a Webster's rhyming dictionary at DI last weekend for fifty cents. Not that I'm going to start spouting poetry, and if I did it wouldn't be the kind that rhymes, but I've theoretically made huge improvements to many country songs with it. (Sometime I'll blog about the worst rhyme ever attempted in country music. I'm aware that there's offensive rhyming in other genres- look at rap. Country's just the one I pick on, because it's so darned fun.) I've enjoyed poetry since I memorized The Cremation of Sam Mcgee at the age of eleven, but I have to tell you what's way more fun: reading the dictionary's rhyming pairs pages outloud as fast as you can. It's funny when you get them right, but it's downright hilarious when you screw up. Toss rum and coke into the equation, and you're all set for a really good time. Or maybe it's just me.

There was the niftiest thread a while back on Dave Barry's blog (talk about a warped group of bloggers, those are it- and I mean that in the most affectionate way) about and the opportunity to post bogus and/or booger-related poetry. I'm too lazy to link you directly there, but the gist of it was that there's really no way to regulate such abuse by people (like Dave's hilarious cultmembers, who posted terrible poetry under the most obscene common surname they could think of) and that the premise of the whole site was pretty cagey anyhow. I think it stemmed from an online article about a couple of unrelated people who were pretty steamed about receiving a notice from that they had won a poetry contest and could purchase a volume of poetry with their works featured as the winning entry, only to discover that everyone who submitted an entry received the same offer. Now to me, that's just good marketing. But I'm different that way.

To me, poetry is a debatable form of literature. I love anything T.S. Eliot or Edgar Allen Poe or Roberts Frost and Service, but one must admit that not everything that rhymes is quality literary expression. I say poetry is to literature as abstract is to art. It's so sketchy. Anybody could slap some words or paint together and demand it be labeled genius, because it's so "expressive." But where is the skill involved? Where is the requisite talent? Sometimes I look at modern poetry and think my God, it's just a cop-out, just a way to avoid learning proper grammar and punctuation. Don't get all huffy if you're a poet; I'm not saying it's a bad thing to express yourself if that's the way you want to. Just pay attention to meter, and for God's sake use a spellchecker. I'm partial to haiku; those are hard to mangle. 5-7-5, folks. Also, the humor potential of a limerick is super. Whatever you do, don't write me a long column of unpunctuated phrases that have no rhythm at all. I'll send it back to you bleeding red ink.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In retaliation for having to hear a Colin Raye cd through the cubicle wall all day yesterday, I listened to the same four songs all day today, songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas. (I can't tell you how glorious I find the combined genius of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, but that's another story.) Needless to say, this resulted in office tension. But I didn't start it.

This has been a rather unbloggable week. I'm not saying I didn't write a word, I'm just saying it was not suitable for public viewing. None of your business, really. I've been grumpy this week, tyrannical and despondent. I alternately harassed and hid from friends and family. They put up with it with such grace that karma can't possibly ignore it. Master Yoda would have flunked me after a week like this, because all I could do was try. I tried to forget that it snowed Monday. I tried to focus on the August statement from the local paper, which was a monument to complicated billing disasters. I tried real hard not to want something I can't have, knowing it will just hurt me anyway. When I was little, all you had to do was try your best and everything came out fine. The older I get, the more inadequate I feel, the easier it is to get discouraged. Plus Jo is gone this week, fishing in Washington, and it's much harder to endure life with humility when you don't have in front of you a shining example of what happens otherwise, though I must say it seems to work for her, and I adore the result.

I'm fully aware that I'm not much fun this week, and my general policy is to avoid foisting my negativity off on others. So instead of whining some more, I'll leave you with my nomination for greatest music video of all time, simply because it has the power, for some reason, to considerably elevate my mood no matter how dismal I am. I positively worship at the shrine of the entertainment Gods that orchestrated the fabulous Christopher Walken's divine role in Fatboy Slim's music video Weapon of Choice. If you haven't seen it, you must. It's one of the most delightful and enlightening things that exists on this planet. I'm exaggerating a little, but seriously. The 'hall of mirrors' bit very nearly puts me over the edge every time. But I won't spoil it for you, just in case. Go see it. Go.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Today is like Chinese Food...

I've had it up to here, and it's really unfulfilling.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Is Your Fun Noodle Broken?

I got in an hour-long soak at my favorite little off-the-beaten-path hotspring in Utah today. It was salty, ionic heaven. It was also raining, which cut my fun short. I got edgy when lightning hit so close the sky was still flashing when the thunder sounded. I was alone with an Aquafina in the hottest non-bubbly pool, enjoying the exterior cool of a moderate rainshower. As it was church day, there were only a dozen other bathers, each stewing in different thoughts. Even the two kids that were there were subdued. They floated on purple foam noodles with chunks out of them and stared at my tattoo, which is small but obvious as it's on the rounded frontside of my left shoulder, clearly visible next to my blue Speedo's spaghetti strap. It's a 1.5 inch square bass clef, not an uncommon symbol, but out of the context of a page of music it's baffling. It looks very much like a question mark. I was approached by a bather at Lava in Idaho last February who was a bass guitar player and assumed that's what I was referring to with my ink. He seemed disappointed when I told him it was for the trombone. I wanted to make sure he knew it was bass trombone, the lowest available brass unless you want to play the tuba. It didn't seem to make any difference to him. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that any instrument with visible strings intimidates me; they're just too high-maintenance. As he paddled away he said it was still nice to see a bass clef floating around.

Today was good therapy in more ways than just physical. The drive through canyons on fire with fall foliage was beautiful. Ogden Canyon has a decent river and railroad tracks that wind and divide all along the highway, with symmetrical steel bridges and slim, dark tunnels through solid rock for the trains when the canyon becomes too narrow. There are two jagged ten-foot spines of granite running parallel down the mountain that form a landmark called Devil's Slide; in my mind, the story goes that Christ drove Satan into the mouth of Hell between the walls of the canyon, his heels digging a rut in the rock as the Lord pushed him by the shoulders down toward the pit. There are dusty quarries up the canyon's offshoots and an older hydroelectric plant on the river that blends nicely in old red brick, instead of a glaring industrial eyesore in sheet metal.

For a moment when I got to the Salt Lake valley I wanted to take I-15 South instead of North, just because I know where it ends, and I still occasionally think of that place as home. I love I-15 from I-80 all the way to where it merges with I-5 in south San Diego and disappears, no longer necessary. The best part of that drive is Las Vegas spreading out on the nighttime desert floor, like a sequin on an otherwise simply serviceable garment, but I like the polka-dot of towns (consisting of two dozen hotels and gas stations and just enough year-round residents to operate them) and the drop into a climate of almost unbearable humidity, after a summer in the Wyoming desert, that happens about 45 miles north of the San Bernardino valley. When I was small it seemed like scent started there, that distinctive odor that all of Southern California reeks of: green leaves and stems in various stages of growth and decay, and the dairy farms flanking the freeway in San Bernardino, and the traffic smells from LA and a salty hint of the Pacific beyond. Southern California is blanketed in a wet, hazy layer of bouganvillea perfume and pungent pepper trees and sour eucalyptus, salt sea air and the smoke of burnt rubber and oil. Unpacking things three years after coming back to Wyoming, that smell still rises up out of the cardboard boxes like a phantom, momentarily taking my breath away as I'm bombarded with nearly ten years' worth of memories whose originals were acted out in that tangible fog of scent.

I didn't think of any of that in the mineral soup today. I thought about a few people, and I thought about a few mistakes, and I thought about a few plans. Mostly I looked at the chinks in the kids' purple foam noodles and wondered where the missing pieces are, before realizing that it truly doesn't matter. They still function just fine. And unless you remove a vital organ, so do we. I got home in time to put away last week's clean laundry and paint a miniature vignette of purple storm clouds over the Wasatch range. When I finished and sat back to look, I saw that it was pretty good. Maybe even really good. And the peace it brought proves that I'm still good, even with a few pieces missing. And very likely, as in the past, I'm even better than before.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

That's The Ticket

There is a shining literary moment in almost every film, even terrible films. There's a little bit of dialogue that makes the whole movie worth watching. Just for fun today, I'll tell you two of my favorites. (But not the top two; those we'll save for later. And for the record, these are not terrible films. Nor are they masterpieces.) One, in Shanghai Noon, when Owen Wilson's conning, klutzy cowboy calls Jackie Chan's poor displaced Chinese soldier a "decadent philistine," which was so funny I had to rewind it and make sure that's really what he said. (I remember absolutely nothing about the rest of the movie, except there was something significant about the length of Jackie's hair, and there was a shootout in a western church towards the end. Maybe I should watch it again, but any movie with Owen Wilson in it is a blur to me because I can't focus on anything but the bridge of his nose. It's fascinating.) And two, in Tombstone, when Val Kilmer slopes his smoldering rendition of consumptive 'Doc' Holladay up against the frame of a wooden sidewalk awning and drawls the tasty taunt "I'm your huckleberry" in the cutest, most sinister little lilt this side of the Mississippi. Be still, my beating heart! Both those writers deserve a gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse for giving me a chuckle (and a hot flash, but Val was partly responsible for that so the writer shouldn't get all the credit.) I've got lots more of these little gems filed away. Ask me sometime.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Seasonal Affectation Disorder (Or, In the Dead of Winter)

Life is exhausting. I feel like the fall leaves on the cottonwoods and aspens outside, brittle, crinkled and stiff, drained of vital juices and vivid chlorophyll. Tonight I am seeking all that was colorful in myself just a few weeks ago. What makes a jaundiced person look so ill? It's just another shade of you, the way you turn in the fall: your summer tan fading back to your winter pale. I'm not sick, not really. Just tired. I know I don't get enough sleep, but it's more than that. It's the season. As much as I love mild, sweet, regretful fall, I know what's waiting in the wings. I feel it lurking around the corner, catch the metallic tang in the air even as the sharp fall frost on the grass tries to pretend: "I'm organic and harmless." Winter is so dark, even the numerous days of stunning sunshine doubled by the crystals in snow. And it's not just the light that changes, it's the mood. Winter has an evil mystery, a subtle invocation of that ancient time when its long cold season meant death to all but the strongest. Even the holidays make me feel a little primal, by virtue of their causes: Christmas, celebration of a long-ago birth; Thanksgiving, a people's narrow escape from death by winter; Halloween, the fierce, churning enigma of death itself. They pare me down to the only things that separate me from being something purely spiritual, the blood and bones and skin.

There was a lot of death around me this last spring and summer, and somehow it managed to seem natural and good with the green leaves and musky damp earth and warm afternoons full of life. I can't imagine it though, in the antiseptic winter, a death and then a grave in the hard, frozen ground. Some claustrophobic part of me rebels at the thought of that. Seasons shift and something else is stirring, something pagan and uncivilized. Maybe it's my special holiday coming, my marvelous, fanciful Halloween. Or maybe it's those tales from childhood, dark stories of the North, full of devious snow sprites and winter wolf hunts, full of dusky, shadowy medieval dens and ebony steeds and murky secrets. Christmas is dark too, all deep greens and blood-colored velvets and a dark pine from deep, brooding woods. We decorate with open flame and bright, barbed things of metal and glass; there is a certain Gothic influence to Christmas. And all season we are reminded of the even darker implications surrounding the life celebrated at Christmas, certain to make a good Christian shiver in healthy, humble terror. The moral of every holiday carol, each parable and tale? Look to your own deeds. Choose: redemption or purgatory.

I enjoy winter. I sled and skate and ski. I love textured layers of wool and silk and warm, rich drinks, smoky fireplaces and a calendar saturated with family gatherings. And yet, there's something wrong. In some deep part of my brain is a primitive little shadow, a teensy corner of fear that maintains a thrilling vigil. It waits for the threat in winter. It watches for deadly icy roads, the slim but possible chance of getting stuck out in the cold. Hypothermia, frostbite, lungs burned by sub-zero air- it warns of these. It warns of not having enough food stored even though it knows the grocery store is just around the corner. And as levels of summer vitamins run low, I all but lose hope that spring will ever come again. It becomes a fever. And then, just as quickly, I'm fine.

Infusions of artificial light help a little, but I'm more afraid of cancer than freezing to death, so I don't make many trips to the tanning bed. I'm not into Prozac or Paxil or Zoloft, so really all I can do is wait. Sure enough the seasons change again and I appreciate each all the more for its contrast to the one before it. And even as I suffer, I enjoy the vibrancy of my dark, fantastic winter fears. Just the same, winter sure can be difficult- that is, I can make winter difficult for you. So if I'm gloomy and snippety between the time the snow flies and the first buds, please ignore. Unless you can recreate summer in my living room on the weekends; that would be nice.


My japanese name is: Saruwatari (monkey on a crossing bridge) Michiyo (three thousand generations). (So, my question is: what other kind of bridge is there? That's a really unnecessary adjective. Otherwise I guess it's ok. Meaningless, but sort of sing-song.)
Take your real japanese name generator! today!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

You want to start a community WHAT?!

I know this is going to offend numerous people, but I have to ask anyway. Has anybody else ever noticed a pattern among public officials -- both local and big-time -- a certain consistent personality flaw that involves their perception of reality? And a missing 'subtlety gene'? My conclusion is that there has to be something slightly 'odd' about a person to make them want to run for public office in the first place. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, because somebody has to do it (not me) and sometimes they do it for the right reasons (the Good of Society). I'm just submitting for your consideration the theory that a large fraction of people who hold a public office do it for the shine, so to speak. And sadly, it's only visible from where they are.

What will you think of me?

Today I'm petty and irrational. I get that way sometimes; in my defense, it's a chemical imbalance that runs in the family, but at least we recognize it and try to avoid afflicting others. I'm not throwing tantrums at work or skipping work altogether. I am, however, eating hot chocolate mix right out of the packet with a spoon. Don't worry, nobody will see me... but I had to improvise. What kind of boss goes on vacation and leaves nothing in the candy dish?! Not even a Tootsie Roll or other fake chocolate. This disorder has other side effects, too. It makes me want to take fabulous Fresh-Scent Bleach Free Clorox disinfecting wipes to every surface in my home, including the cats. It makes me want to fold fitted sheets the right way (too bad I don't have an engineering degree). It makes me vacuum the curtains and rearrange the cabinet under the sink so all the cleaning products fit neatly in rows next to the tub of saved plastic grocery bags. I guess it's safe to say that if I wasn't a sick person, my house would never be clean. I think I just inhaled some cocoa powder. May I be excused?

Sunday, September 12, 2004


Saturday, September 11, 2004


Friday, September 10, 2004

Make it a nooner.

My sister is, on her day off, undertaking the gargantuan task of shaving Rose, the fish-staring spaniel, herself, as opposed to taking her to the groomer. Good luck, Morgan. I'm going over there at lunch. I'm taking the camera. If it's a sight to see, which I highly anticipate, I promise I'll post pictures.

If I were a CareBear...

I'd be Blogsalot Bear.

Just look at this mess.

I'm desperate to know what has happened to the 'comments' feature on Shepcat's blog. Hopefully it's just a temporary glitch. I'm positively bereft.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Letdown... Let Go

I know that disappointment is a part of life. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't change that; after all, it makes sense. The contrast is the gratification of something received, earned. It's exceptionally hard to put into words what a disappointment Oscar has been, since I never really had any expectations in the first place. I guess I expected everyone I met in life to have the same amount of self-respect I have. I've only discovered something I never thought possible: that there are people who can't, or won't, save themselves. People who think so little of their life's value that even when presented with the opportunity to have better than they ever imagined for themselves, they throw it away with both hands. They are attracted to the 'down', the 'empty', the sad parts of life. And to love them is to know helplessness in all its grotesque forms. To see the worst games played the dirtiest, the best dreams die the hardest. Is it a defect of one's environment, a defect in the process of living? Or is the flaw in that person's soul itself? All I am certain of now is that I have received a gift. Earned it, no matter how disappointed I am in his choices. I get time. I get another chance, unlimited possibilities, things and room to put them in; a cushy recess of eternity in which to lick my wounds, and the best nurses under Heaven. I did earn it, and earned it the hard way (though I don't disregard my helpers). And, by God, I'm proud of myself.

Spider Infestation Update

It would appear that I have discovered the ideal anti-arachnid device. Devices, actually- they come in pairs. Size 9M black leather Tommy Hilfiger clogs with a three-inch black wooden base and black rubber soles. I don't feel a hint of the nauseating crunch; the hairy bastards just die. I mean obliviated, on any surface- carpet, linoleum, concrete, denim. So bring on the hobo, the brown recluse, the daddy-long-legs. I'll leave the mutilated bodies for the cats to play with.


I have recently come to the conclusion that women are bizarre. I work with about a dozen of them at City Hall, all in sundry stages of life: mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, matriarchs, daughters, saints, sluts, queens, witches, divas, nurses, hens and angels, all by turns.

They are in power or under control, in cahoots or under the impression. They connive, conspire, manipulate, criticize, wrangle, whine, gossip, and all but resort to physical violence. One is ambitious, one regretful, one moody, two suspicious, one obvious, one oblivious, two judgemental to the extreme, and they're all guilty, self righteous, and completely addicted to chocolate.

Then there are the times they come through. Shining moments of generosity and cameraderie. At these times, they are a family. For an instant, I couldn't find better friends. They confide and comiserate, boost, sustain, and compliment. They band together, collect a fund, volunteer, cover up, surprise, stay late, and all but bend over backwards. When they find a slice of common ground, it's as if all their vast differences disappear, and peace temporarily reigns.

They torment and tease. They nickname and sympathize. They insist on knowing everything, but don't tell all. They host lavish potlucks, share dessert recipes, and shelter diet secrets. They've been through marriages, divorces, pregnancies, promotions, injustices, deaths, grandkids, kids' divorces, multiple mayors and council members, plastic surgeries, major surgeries, bad winters and anything else life has to offer.

There are two certainties in the world of working women: cheesecake and miscommunication.

And it seems to me that men have enough sense to just work together.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Today I feel opressed and antagonized. And that's all you need to know. If I told you any more, this would become one of those frayed and rancorous diatribes with no redeeming literary value, and we can't have that, now, can we?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Autumn is Wyoming's best season. They're all good, but fall is the jewel in the crown. Last winter was a long one, lasting into June, and I hardly remember spring. Spring was full of Grandpa dying, hospitals and hopeful emails, the weekly winding pilgrimage to Salt Lake. I vaguely recall the snow melting and piles of last fall's frozen decay steaming in the sunshine. Then just as suddenly there was summer grass; there were veils of violet petunias on Jo's back porch, Austrian copper roses spilled fire-hued blossoms into the alleys and onto windshields, and the cottonwoods snowed cotton until the air was so thick you couldn't breathe. Hollyhocks, tulips, marigolds and pansies, crabapple trees like popcorn balls in pink and white, geraniums in window boxes, profusions of wildflowers and diaphanous blue flax along the highway. But our summer heat never attained that permeating, baking quality this year; it just never got too hot. You don't go anywhere in Wyoming without a jacket anyhow, but this year it was necessary. It rained about once a week, usually for two or three days at a time, and not just the light, sporadic summer rain that leaves everything refreshed and green and bright. It was drenching rain, the kind that instantly darkens the sky and causes flash floods in the street, replete with bone-rattling thunder and lightning so close you can smell the ozone, so bright your eyes sting. Sometimes the rain became consistent, pea-sized hail that temporarily covered the ground. Occasionally there were periods of misty, soft rain, which was heavenly, but mostly it was new windshield wipers once a month. When the mercury hit 35F one night in late August, we knew summer had given up the ghost. Forecasters started predicting snow at higher altitudes, and the rain went from cooling to uncomfortable. Still, all that wet with no heat to dry us out caused things to bloom longer, and I don't mean sustained prettiness of flowerbeds. I mean sagebrush attained new and fantastic heights of allergen production, ragweed and milkweed and who knows what-all-else. Grasses and shrubs growing unchecked out there in the desert, releasing tiny bits of pollen and fiber into the air, moss and mold multiplying in the unseen dark under porches, between walls, under rocks and fences and hedges. Let me just say that this was a good year for allergy medication producers and the doctors that prescribe their products.

The snow hasn't come yet, and I'm praying for a long, mild fall, with gentle days and cool nights. I love sweater weather and the first whiffs of woodsmoke and burning leaves the colors of jewels like amber, rubies and smoky quartz, colors like red wines and deep brown or golden ales and polished copper and brass. I love crunchy brown grass and the sun leaning so far south that all shadows seem longer than any other time of the year. Fall means Halloween and the growing anticipation of the holiday season, the last and best of the fresh fruit and vegetables, pantries full of new cans and jars of jam and preserves. Kitchens are pungent with boiling fruit, the bitter grass smell of haying season finally settles into a mellow, dusty barn smell as the mammoth rolls sit aging in fields like fuzzy boulders. It's the last time to enjoy bare, dry sidewalks and sunny porches. Fall is just perfect. Kids are back in school and out of the public way, road construction wraps up, activities go from outdoors-y and exhausting to indoor, lazy and rich. Wildlife and stock move to winter feed grounds and hunting season starts. Hunting season means armies of people in camoflage, truck beds full of dogs and tarps with various horns and hooves poking out, and air full of jerky smoking and fresh sausage and roasts. Meat is a good thing.

Plus fall is for pumpkins, and I love pumpkins and orange and anything else that has to do with them, including, and especially, jack-o-lanterns and pie.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


I love the glory of Saturdays. Saturdays have all the charm and possibility of an unexpected wink; they're full of opportunities to get into a situation that takes your breath away, to make memories that will carry you through the hard times that come later in the week. When I was growing up Mom didn't work Saturdays. Mom and Gram were (and are) members of the Wyoming State Historical Society, so most Saturdays contained fabulous adventures in sandstone canyons, up and down mountains, across sagebrush plains and deserts, under willows and cottonwood trees lining the banks of slow-swirling, late-summer-muddy rivers, along railroad tracks, and through barbed-wire gates that had to be opened by hand and shut behind the convoy of trucks to keep the cows in. The caravan forded rocky rivers and slid down hills at impossible, thrilling angles (coolers sliding, slamming against tailgates) and took dirt roads so rough they could hardly be called tracks, with oilpan-wrecking boulders the size of Mazdas and sagebrush so tall it scraped the roofs of the cabs. We called them Varley roads, in honor of Mom's cousin Ed and his sons Jeff and Roger, who drive anywhere.

We were a solid line of dusty Ford and Chevy and GMC trucks with kids and dogs and picnic lunches in the beds, windbreakers and tarps for unexpected weather, which has to be expected in Wyoming (and all over the Rockies, which was where we went.) We took binoculars and scopes, tackleboxes, cameras, basic first aid, sunscreen, Caladryl (which was only available in ghastly pink until recently) and aerosol bug spray or Skin-so-Soft. We took extra tennis-shoes and socks and jeans for when the first pairs got wet, and notice I didn't say 'in case.' Mom always packed wet wipes and Wheat Thins. To this day I feel incomplete in any vehicle without stiff sticks of spearmint Wrigleys, hard candy lemon drops in a jar (with grainy sugar coating, and ever-so-slightly stale), and Wheat Thins. We took plastic jugs of water, cans of orange soda and brown bottles of rootbeer. (The first real beer I ever drank from a bottle foamed relentlessly because I had learned to make my lips a suction seal around the rim of any container of fluid so it wouldn't drench me if we hit a pothole.) We packed lunchmeat and pre-sliced cheese and white deli buns, plain potato chips, some homebaked sweets like cookies or pie or potica, pasta salads, sliced fresh vegetables, coolers of ice.

There was always a 'stop' somewhere, always someplace historically significant, and there were always one-piece picnic benches of painfully slivery unpainted wood, and always plastic or wooden porta-potties with no toilet paper (we packed that, too) and the inevitable dead animal inside. Once when my older sister and I braved the stench and peeked down the hole it was an owl floating in the refuse; they were Mom's favorite animal, in a roundabout way. (By then we must have been pretty desperate to even venture in there, although we made no bones about peeing squatted at the side of the road behind the truck or up in the brush or trees, as long as there was a look-out). We saw homesteaders' cabins in ruins (one with a tree growing sedately up out of the window), petroglyphs, medicine wheels, teepee rings and fire pits, churches, mines, jails, stills, old trains and weed-grown train tracks, leaning barns, mineral springs, ranches, ghost towns, graves, hideouts, mills, forts, geysers and hot springs, lakes and ponds and rivers, monuments, beaver dams, caves, Oregon Trail ruts, and once a spring up in a mountain above Afton that stopped and started naturally every fifteen minutes like clockwork. It was surrounded by slimy, slippery rocks and a mud that stank and stained so bad Mom finally threw away the shoes that got in it, after Gram had a crack at them with every cleaning agent known to man and had no luck. We saw all manner of wildlife, alive and dead: coyotes, antelope, badgers, elk, sage grouse, deer, eagles and hawks, fish, lizards, snakes, skunks, hornytoads, and if we didn't see the living specimen or a body, we found tracks. We traveled in any weather; we started early and finished late.

I always brought something home with me, some souvenir of the day. It was generally a special rock or stick, a hunk of moss or a bone I'd picked up and packed around all day, or a styrofoam cup full of tiny petrified seashells, a fluff of rabbit fur I found caught on a barbed wire fence, or a piece of sandstone I'd rubbed on a harder rock until it was in the shape of a pyramid or square. Sometimes I'd slip a sqaure-headed nail or piece of rusted hinge in my windbreaker pocket, too young to understand why on BLM land I should leave such artifacts for others to enjoy. Sometimes the memento was a chunk of chipped granite I was sure some Native American (we called them Indians, or named the specific tribe, since we invariably had some expert with us) had used to hone his obsidian arrowheads to razor-sharpness. Morgan and I scoured anthills as big as dining room tables for Indian beads or pieces of pottery, avoiding the stinging red/black swarm as we stepped on their roofs. If we had been near water, I'd have a shred of brown paper sack (Gram brought them to hold trash; plastic grocery bags didn't exist then, or else Gram didn't use them, I'm not sure) that I had crumpled and soaked and laid out to dry until it resembled thin, stiff buckskin or sinew. I'd tear it in the shape of an animal hide and draw simple stick hunters and buffalo on it with charcoal or chalk, even though I could actually draw much better (in my opinion) than the early Natives. I wanted it to look authentic. Once in a great while we'd go somewhere that had a visitors' center and a gift shop, and then I'd come home with a real treasure. My favorite was a book of 19th-Century paper dolls I begged for at the Fort Bridger trading post, ladies in bloomers and camisoles, ladies that paraded fancy silk and wool dresses with bustles and netted, feathery hats like the kinds that might have been worn by an officer's wife stationed there at the Fort in the 1800's. I could just see her sweating under all those taffeta layers as she stood beneath the sweltering prairie sun to watch soldiers at drill on the parade grounds. I hoped she fainted in a most becoming and dramatic way; that was what my dolls did, anyhow. Mostly I came home with fresh scrapes and bruises and around ten pounds of dirt, gravel and sand in the rolled-up cuffs of my stained jeans, and hair so tangled from truck-bed wind that Mom made me cry when she brushed it out. She scolded that I should have let her put it in a ponytail when she suggested it.

Today I understand that the supreme legacy of these Saturday exploits was much more than what I squirreled away in the back of the sky-blue Ford Maverick for the trip home. Mainly, I gained a profound appreciation of history and all things old, including people, and a respect for public land and monuments. More importantly, I have memories. I have a catalog of Saturdays spent with family and friends in the great outdoors, learning about history, how to cope with emergencies, learning to respect land and people, learning to listen to stories and wind and water; all this instead of playing video games in a dim basement or standing in an empty lot somewhere, learning to smoke and swear and conceal emotion. In my memory, Saturdays are full of cowpies and laughter, the smells of gas and diesel and sagebrush and pine and soft, sandy Wyoming dirt, quick summer rain and noisy card games and picnics, and hanging onto a rollbar for dear life while a truck sloshed through red rut puddles, splashing the riders. No wonder modern Saturdays come around and I find myself itching to crawl over a tailgate and settle on a spare tire, waiting to watch the paved road disappear behind me and wilderness unfold before me. That yearning will never go away, and those Saturdays will never be replaced.