Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weekend Tailings

On this long, lovely, late summer morning, I'm piloting the big Ford above the valley on a winding gravel road. Jeff contentedly rides shotgun, hand out the window, gnarled and leathery knuckles pointing skyward. Later, by the river, he walks at a bowlegged amble through the tall grass with the same hand outstretched, skimming the tawny florets that adorn the stalks as if he knows them each by name. I think his knee hurts more than he will admit; this is the second day in a row he has suggested I drive, and he's talking about giving up his thriving horseshoeing business.

Once inside the intake structure, a plain brick building encircled by curious cows, I gasp at the stench- urine, decaying vegetation, mildew- and cringe at the spiders. Gooey webs stretch between every surface; the metal handrails look draped in dirty gauze and the clipboard is obliterated by black specs I don't want to know the origin of. Spiders with slim, glossy red bodies and inch-long, jointed legs, striped spiders, hairy spiders, jumping spiders, baby spiders- they glide up and down like trapeze artists as we descend to read the flow in the intake. They wriggle in and out of the slatted tread of the metal steps as we pass beneath the upper level, and I think to myself that I may never get the feel of them off my skin, even though they never touch me.

After we check the intake, we drive around Sulphur Creek Reservoir for a while (with a huge, hairy, yellow-footed blowfly buzzing around the cab), where tonight I will launch the kayak and realize after only a few minutes that the wind is too strong and the water is dangerous. When I get home I'll spread the kayak on the grass and allow my cat to creep behind the pine and across the grass towards me while I towel the hull off. Later she'll curl up in my lap as I'm typing this and I'll catch the scent of pine pitch on her, end in snipping the bits of sticky, matted white fur from between her pink-and-black-marbled toes.

And it seems that all day long I'll be thinking about the poker hand Wild Bill was holding when he was shot in the back at Saloon #10 in Deadwood. The dead man's hand? Pair of aces, pair of eights (one each in spades and clubs)- and he never got the fifth card owed him after he discarded, due to that bullet in his back.

All day I also thought a lot about hiking in Moab, hardwood floors, saffron, plaid kilts, and you.

Tomorrow marks the first day of my favorite month, because in Wyoming, September means fall, and I'm a sucker for changing, falling leaves and woodsmoke and sweaters. I also get dreamy in the fall, find myself writing more and better and walking in the quiet, remote places I love. But you know me- I enjoy the anticipation more than the event in a lot of cases, and I can't help but wistfully wonder if I got everything out of this summer that I should have. I know I got more than I bargained for.

Sunday I got Mom and Morgan all to myself at Bear Lake, which was less crowded than most August weekends- due, I assume, to the recent trend of cool, rainy weather. But the day was divine for us and the water its signature hue of alarming aqua, and we rented a big Yamaha VX110 three-seater that harnessed about 30 horses too many at 110. (Think about that for a moment- 110 horsepower! A four-cylinder automobile engine produces 120, on average. The Yamaha weighs about two thirds less than a four-cylinder vehicle, and even though we're talking in different terms of- what? traction vs. thrust?- that's a lot of power.)

The gutsy beast went 35 mph with all three of us on it and 41 mph with only two riders. Right away, Mom objected to the original arrangement, pointing out that the machine had to be hard to handle with three riders and it was making her uncomfortable. But when I took my finger off the accelerator, the thing just rolled over. It was all over so instantaneously that we floated for a moment, gasping and sputtering, dumbstruck. I had wrapped my cellphone in a plastic bag and stowed it in the pocket of my board shorts, not intending to take such a prolonged swim. I'm still waiting for the new one I battled for on eBay to arrive. (This explains why I have neither answered your calls nor returned them, in case you were wondering. It's not that I don't love you.)

Morgan and I were soaring over the pristine lake on the Yamaha when I thought I saw something dart away under the glassy surface. We slowed slightly and scrutinized and sure enough, every few yards, pairs and trios of massive carp were flickering, mottled bronze and copper against the glacial blue of the deep freshwater lake. We made a gleeful game of chasing and circling the poor tortured fish, exclaiming every time we saw them, imagining what it must be like to have these motor-bellied beasts constantly roaring overhead.

We took turns kayaking on the choppy water, swam and sunned ourselves, watching a boisterous family of Mexicans play a heated game of softball. I made a sea turtle in the sand with the little girl who didn't seem to want to participate in the American pastime. At first she watched with wide, liquid brown eyes as I packed and shaved the sand with my fingers. But when I tried to make a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, she lost interest.

Monday Mom and I hiked down south, attempting to locate the fabled Roy Rock. Alas, the map was on her kitchen table back in LaBarge and I have no short term memory (or maybe Bob's directions were bad), so we were unsuccessful but exhilarated. We crossed a trickling, muddy creek and walked dirt tracks shot through with glittering black coal. Mom picked up petrified oyster shells from when our world was still the bottom of an ancient, azure sea. Though it's been gone for millennia, the signs of water are everywhere in this land.

We also took in a movie (Pirates II) and the Bear River Rendezvous, and the girls prepared some of my favorite eats, so I suppose that even if I didn't get the most out of this summer, I surely got the most out of last weekend. The subsequent dive back into reality wasn't exactly pleasant, and I've spent the week in a PMS-induced haze of bloody rage at Evanston motorists and thorough disappointment in every technological gadget I own. Plans for a new abode fell through (or the floor would have, if I'd moved in), so I'm taking steps to make my own cramped, sinking ship more livable until I can rent or buy something that isn't falling down.

I ran into Don at Smith's Tuesday night. He squeezed me in that big bear way he has and I asked how his ticker is, and he said fine, just fine- you'd never know he suffered a near-fatal heart attack in December. Jo seems fine, too, though weary and, I think, dreading radiation this fall now that her chemo is through. She'll retire in March- if she can work that long- and hopefully the two of them will be off to follow good fishing around the country, RVing, casting and reeling into the sunset.

And that about sums it up, this life I'm leading just now. I'm not sure what you expected. I'm not sure what I expected. I only know that the sun goes down earlier every day, and I'm shopping for snowshoes. Yes, really.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

B is for Birthday

And now, for the 800th post...

Yesterday was my 27th birthday.

It was a very complex day, alternately nightmarish and intensely agreeable, the latter trend due to several people I can't live without. Mom put her image as a sane, responsible woman in jeopardy by singing the birthday song to me on her cellphone in public. Bekah and her bouncing baby boy left a lovely surprise on my doorstep. Thoughtful sister Morgan got me roses and baked
two cakes because I requested frosting with nuts, which bother-in-law Kelly can't eat. One nine-inch chocolate round covered with pecan and coconut frosting wound up resembling a large, malicious version of the elk burgers she grilled. (The burgers turned out perfect.) She didn't have 27 candles, but she did have a pastel six and zero from Mom's 60th birthday this spring (oh, are we not supposed to broadcast that?), so after the singing and wishing¹, I blew out '06.' Plenty of Brendan's and a violent dogfight finished off the night, and I came home hoping the weekend- over which more festivities are planned- goes a little smoother.

¹B is for belief. Apparently the '06' was sufficient for a valid birthday wish (a rather general but certainly heartfelt invocation regarding the state of my life right now and what I hope to accomplish, attain, and avoid), because something magical happened today that seems to indicate that *insert deity of your choice here* was listening. I got a phone call from Linda this morning. She said, "I think I found you a house." I made some calls and sure enough, it appears that I may soon be getting a sweet deal as far as housing is concerned, but no details until it's chiseled in the finest Wyoming granite and signed in blood, because I am not so foolish as to jinx myself by building castles in the sky (or adorably quaint two-bedroom, century-old houses in one of my favorite parts of town).

B is also the first letter of the first name of someone who keeps me sane, and in the mail today I discovered that B. sent a sure-to-be-cherished copy of Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, engrossed with a perfect inscription. B. also talked me down off a ledge (and through the door of the liquor store) after a disastrous and depressing round of phone calls to prospective landlords yesterday afternoon. Why I proceeded to undertake such a horrendous task on my birthday, I do not know, but the words of wisdom and humor it took to lift my spirits again were greatly appreciated.

B is for biker-chic. I wore a vintage "Buddy Stubb's Phoenix, Arizona Harley Davidson" t-shirt to work today (one of Grandpa's), and after a discussion with the boys about how a potential tenant should present themselves to a prospective landlord, boss Bud looked me over and said, "Don't wear that shirt when you go look at that place tonight, right?" Right.

B is for breathless, which is what I am as I sit here waiting for the phone call that will decide how many more days, weeks, possibly months I spend in what has quickly gone from a convenient and suitable basement apartment to a dank dungeon of despair.

B is also for bakery, befriend, and Buddha.

B is for
babble, which is what I'll continue to do if I sit at this screen any longer.

Thanks, all.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sweetwater Speedway

"The fastest dirt oval in the west."

The scoops are to keep them from launching.

To paraphrase Leroy Neumayer...

Henry wants to buy one of these for me to drive. I wanted to know how they fit inside.

Dwarf cars on the dirt track.

Grammatical errors abound.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I can recall having loved water as far back as my memory extends. Many of my favorite places are water: Bear Lake, Fall Creek, the Pacific Ocean swirling around the Imperial Beach pier, dredging pyrite from the seabed to sparkle like glitter in its swells. And now I treat drinking water for a living, affectionately observing as upwards of seven million gallons a day tumble and rush through the three process steps of our plant.

I love water in any temperature and form: ice, steam, stinging raindrops, murky puddles in grooves on dirt roads, the dense gray marine layer hovering offshore on winter mornings in I.B. I loved long afternoons spent body boarding in the salty Pacific, or standing calf deep at midnight with buckets poised to capture spawning grunion during certain phases of the moon. I can’t remember the first time I beheld the ocean; I’m certain it was love at first sight.

By nine years old I could easily reach the bottom of the 12-foot deep end in the Kemmerer high school pool, and I spent a childhood of summers in the outdoor pool (two hundred yards from our front door), skin baked coppery brown, hair bleached white and tinted faintly green. I was happy simply diving for neon golf balls, but I adore water-inspired paraphernalia: Slip’n’Slides, Super Soakers, innertubes on lazy rivers and spiral waterslides at amusement parks, water balloons, fun noodles, and daisy-shaped sprinkler heads that shower kids with cooling drops.

There is, however, one circumstance in which water isn’t welcome in my world: when it’s nearly two inches deep on my living room floor. The flood I came home to Wednesday at noon was caused by the garden hose, which someone had turned on and left drowning the hollyhocks I’ve been cultivating. The foundation of this house is by no means watertight, and after the soil outside the walls of my basement apartment had absorbed as much as possible, the water seeped in under the baseboard and filled the room.

I can’t get anyone to confess- not even to grant me the peace of mind that it won’t happen again- so I have all this anguish and rage and no one to direct it at. The result is an intense weariness, constant suspicion of and speculation about my neighbors, and a little bit of hopelessness I had to battle pretty hard to overcome. Not that I didn't have help.

This is the third time in three years I’ve come home to find that room a marsh. The first time, the kid who mows the lawn had left the long pipe that drains the rainwater from the roof lying in the driveway, unattached, and the water from the gutters ran along the house and in through my living room window, where the wall panel was crimped and browned from previous incidents. I dug a trench and hung a sign. The second time, the snow banks from the upper yard behind the garage had melted one fine spring morning and flowed in the window. And this spring, snowmelt created a puddle in the corner of the kitchen that renewed itself every time I vacuumed it up for two whole days.

Although I’m clever enough to have elevated most of my belongings, I’m still worried about what might be growing in carpet and walls that find themselves repeatedly soaked. And as for the logic of living here as long as I have, the heretofore-weighty pros- incredibly inexpensive rent, consistently cool quarters in the summer months and cozy warmth in the winter- are finally beginning to wither beside the alarming tally of cons, including invading cigarette smoke, noisy and/or criminal neighbors, parking wars, noisy pumps, no sidewalk, crumbling shower walls (due to an early termite infestation), questionable electrical wiring, and perhaps the most acute problem, space. I’m finally feeling claustrophobic in 360 square feet.

And so, instead of spending the coming weeks kayaking- the Dragonfly is marooned on the couch along with the rest of the contents of the living room- I will be searching for a new home. I’m sure it’s long overdue. Wednesday I suffered a head injury and a fit of despair, but now I’m looking forward to relocating. I have ushered most of the uninvited water out the front door by way of the shop vac, and two oscillating fans gust fitfully day and night, rotating mechanically and spooking the cats. I’m going to deduct the work hours I missed from my September rent check in an attempt to make up for all the trauma. And if anyone knows of a pet friendly, two-bedroom place with a garage, washer and dryer hookups, and a responsible, realistic property manager, please let me know.

Monday, August 14, 2006

H.O. Scale Adventures

Kids paint boxcars and hurl insults at the Roundhouse Festival.

Carly is surprised.

Ennui overtakes us.

Last working turntable on the Union Pacific line.

A cloudy evening kayaking on the Ice Ponds downtown.

Wal*Mart, fishermen, and the water plant on 'E' Hill.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The First Week of August

Are you talkin' to me?

Are you sure this is apple sauce?

Machine Shop at Sunset

Roundhouse at Sunset

Purple Sage Golf Course at Sunset

Park at Sunset


Sulphur Creek Reservoir

Seashells at Bear Lake

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kayaking on Sulphur Creek Reservoir

This Advanced Elements system consists of an inflatable PVC body with a neoprene skin that has a double PVC skid pad on the bottom. It has rigid hull panels in front and rear and a stabilizer fin, a detachable seat back, a bunch of little mesh pouches and a bungee pocket. It's actually very comfortable (if a little claustophobic for the feet, but that's a kayak for you) and easy to set up and tear down. The foot pump, which both inflates and deflates, works so well it only takes about a dozen compressions to fill the main chamber. The floor and two tubes for the splash deflector are the only other things that require inflation, and they have nifty twist valves so the air doesn't leak out when you pull the fitting off. I put my camera and cellphone in the dry bag but discovered later that in the center of the reservoir I have no service anyway. It would have been a lot easier to get in and out of the kayak if my foot didn't sink ten inches into dense clay. At one point I thought I was going to have to take my sandal off to get my foot loose. Maybe next time I'll try the boat ramp on the other end of the dam.

Ready to go- pack weighs about 25 lbs. with life jacket (which I bought at Jubilee's Sports World), oar, pump, seat and kayak. I burned the most calories hosing and cleaning it out on the lawn when I got home. The PVC body is completely removable, so the two pieces can be hosed down and toweled off separately. Easy! I survived the adventure with nothing worse than marks rubbed in my shoulders from hauling the thing- I walked about half a mile and spooked some cows because I didn't want to launch anywhere near the fishermen, just in case I tipped it over- and a pretty good blister between my right thumb and index finger. The rowing machine I have at home is a completely different animal, but this required no more exertion. After about five minutes of getting to know the Dragonfly I was cruising smoothly and swiftly across the water. It's a very serene activity, if a little damp.

This is why I went home.

Morning glory outlet, replete with complementary art by local hoodlums. Short hoodlums, and rather uncreative.