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.


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