Friday, May 25, 2007

Passing in the Fast Lane

A score of 85 made me the fifty-somethingth Level III Operator in the state of Wyoming yesterday. I was so overjoyed at passing that I didn't even mind the traffic ticket I got ten minutes later for going 38mph in a 20mph school zone. Oops.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Up in Flames

It’s been a busy month- lots of happenings, some good and some just awful. Lots of preparations for trips and visits, some going, some coming. There’s been snow and rain and sun and wind and smoke.

The old Strand Theater on Main burned down in the wee hours Monday morning, May 4. I’ll miss it for my own reasons, but by that night at Kate’s I was already tired of hearing about it, especially the speculation over what would become of it. In the week that followed, they took heavy neon sign off the façade and set it on the sidewalk (where, I noticed today, it still sits). They began disassembling the tall brick sidewalls at the unstable balcony level and boarded up the front doors; somebody sprayed on the plywood, in red paint, “Please save me.” People wrote impassioned editorials to the Herald and left bouquets of red and white fake flowers as if Barbaro or a few thousand victims of terrorist attacks were buried in the debris.

“Debris” is a word that’s getting a lot of airtime early this century, isn’t it?

The Strand rarely offered new releases, but they offered a fun weekend PTA matinee and played some not-so-mainstream stuff Valley 4 Cinemas wouldn’t touch. On Halloween they usually had a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and for one night I loved living in a small town. The Strand had a century-old, hand-painted stage curtain with a scene of the Bear River and old Vaudeville costumes in the basement and art deco murals on the interior. The Strand had a soundproof glass cry room. It was rumored that famous people had signed the walls in the dressing rooms behind the stage. The floors were sticky and it was always rather cold and the popcorn was often two days old, but The Strand had history.

My Level III Certification exam is Thursday afternoon in Rock Springs, right before Kindra’s evening graduation ceremony. I’ll be jetting back to the valley as soon as I finish, which never takes long, an hour and a half at most. The longer I sit and mull the questions over, the more likely I am to make a change from my first impulse, which is never a good thing. So that’s that. I feel ready. It’s multiple choice, after all, 100 questions and a 70 passes. That’s not that hard. I’ve done it twice already, and with far less understanding of the subject matter than I have now.

I had a mini-vacation with M and K in Thermopolis, the world’s largest mineral hot spring, last weekend. We soaked like mad in the sulphur water and drank margaritas. We ate and laughed a lot and hiked and toured, shopped and slept a little, K attended his meeting, and the long drive there and back was a delight because we got to visit and catch up. Sisters never run out of things to say. K slept. (I have a great blackmail photo of that, by the way.)

So much more has happened and such major things are coming up, but all I can think about tonight is getting enough sleep to be able to recall everything I need to know for the exam. I have hundreds of pictures to sort through, edit, and post, some of which I know you’ll all enjoy immensely. And after Thursday maybe I’ll find the time to do it. But tonight it’s bedtime and tomorrow I’ll cram and then hopefully I’ll have good news to post, too. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beyond Fences

A while back I submitted something to the Wyoming Council for the Humanities and the Wyoming Arts Council for their Between Fences anthology. (Thanks so much for the notice, KathBert! Send more.) They were looking for poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction to publish in conjunction with a Smithsonian exhibit of the same name that's traveling the west. It will eventually make a stop in Evanston and it would have been fun to be included in the volume that went with it, but last week I got a very polite rejection slip citing an overwhelming number of submissions, and to tell you the truth, I suspected from the start that what came out when I sat down to compose probably wasn't quite what they were looking for anyhow. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, however (having found inspiration in the hobby of the sender of the notice for submissions), which is what really matters, and I thought you'd enjoy reading it here.

Our state is a diverse mosaic of geographic fabrics, a vast and varying tessellation of texture and color. Seen from above, its features lay in vivid relief, some more prominent, others subdued; wildly contrasting fabrics lay haphazardly tacked together like a pioneer daughter’s prized pieced quilt. Here a blue silk lake lies rippling, there a ruched and ragged mountain range bunches along the border of a serviceable gingham prairie, split in two by the twisted, shimmering yarn of a low river, divergent threads baring rough wool islands in between. Though this fine substantial tapestry was perfected long before our arrival, we have vainly attempted to organize and reassemble the topographical components and still adamantly strive to string them together with infinite varieties of that tenacious human stitch- be it barbed, staked, squared or zigzagged- the fence.

The fabric of our scattered urban spaces bears a plaid motif of concrete lined with twilled curb and gutter and blocks of asphalt, bluegrass and orderly milled lumber. The urban embroidery consists of picket fences, redwood planks soaring to trapezoidal, dog-eared heights, chain link laced with bright plastic strips and scrolled wrought iron in a filigree of medieval knots.

The suburbs are a looser weave, bound with these same embellished seams, here and there relieved by long, low hedges invoking nature or a fragile, lacy lattice inviting climbing vines. Seeking privacy and recognition of our ownership, we intend to divide our modest parcels, but in the end we effectively unite them with these devices instead. Green parks like appliqués dot Wyoming’s suburbs, basted into the landscape by sturdy threaded palisades of concrete or rock snatched from an adjacent riverbed

Trace the bindings to the outskirts of an urban city swath or a tidy scrap of township, and you will find the fences becoming spare and sparse, tended by rough-handed horseback tailors who apply no embellishment and demand only service and structure. Rippled corduroy hayfields and mottled dirt corrals call for only a crude darning of weathered poles and barbed wire, frayed for pricking.

On the high desert plateaus- knobby sage and greasewood echoing a coarse jute textile- snow fences march in parallels like wooden fringe between puckered buttes and folded washes. In the wooded foothills spires of timber snagged from the soft cushion of needles require ornate and complex shirring: the Rocky Mountains’ signature split-rail fence, erratic like the sinuous snip of pinking shears to prevent the pine forests from unraveling.

Our state bears no contrived design. It is instead a manifold of aggregated fragments converging in what I find to be the most appealing natural composition in the world by virtue of its remarkable diversity. Humanity’s fences- attempts to serge 97,818 square miles into an orderly patchwork counterpane- are both impertinent and impermanent. This matchless material we claim as our own will still undulate untamed over an ancient batting of molten rock uncounted millennia after our fractional seasons of quilting have ended and our seams have disintegrated into the dust.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Happy Birthday!

May 7, 19--
(Like how I did that, Mom?)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Finding Neverland

I attended retirement parties for Jo and Don a few weeks apart and knew it was coming. I had at one time hoped to buy the cute, cozy house they lovingly remodeled over the years, but when the appraisal came in, I couldn't approve the monthly payment for myself even though some reckless company on approved the loan. The house sold quickly and quietly to someone I know won't cherish it the way I would have, but I'm happy at least that my friends got enough for it to pay the remaining part of their loan and buy their new house in Rapid City outright. And suddenly I was surprised to find myself not the least bit disappointed that I couldn't buy the house even after coveting it for years. What I am instead is terribly distraught that they're going away, although I can't wait to visit, because I adore the Black Hills. But, even more, what I am instead is deeply, wildly jealous that they're going.

And I'll be left, sleeping like a diamond in this town that feels like a too-small shoe. No symphony, no art museum, no batting cages, no mall, no beach. Too much gossip, a bizarre and ridiculous rural caste system, the influence of a major religion (my religion, mind you, once upon a time) whose hub is nearby, continually choking out tolerance and progress in this saturated town that can't seem to find a balance. A claustrophobic, low-budget library, a coffee shop that closes at 6 pm, an unsteady community band whose rude, self-important members I absolutely loathe.

Sometimes I wake up from an evening nap and keep my eyes clamped shut, pretending for just a moment that I'm in my bright, quiet apartment on 13th Street in Imperial Beach and it's Saturday morning. I have just a few hours to drive to I.B. Blends and get a cappucino to take to the pier where the fishermen are hauling in sand sharks and the surfers- most of whom I know, or once knew- are dipping in and out of the green foam. I drive Monte up the Strand, between the shining Pacific and the salty southern shallows of the San Diego bay, towards Coronado where we have an afternoon concert in the lovely and unassuming city park. Phil and Hans and Mel are waiting, wearing friendly smiles and Hawaiian shirts and RayBans, their beloved instruments gleaming now that the marine layer has burned off and the bronze SoCal sun is beaming. I don't get too far after that; my heart starts to squeeze like it's being wrung dry and I have to go find something else to occupy my mind.

Morgan and I have long suspected that we inherited whatever genetic splice made Dad so restlessly nomadic, although we find ourselves torn, grounded in Mom's happy, enduring way by an intense attachment to our fantastic extended family. And Wyoming is my home, my birthplace and the heartland of my history. I will fiercely defend it to any critic and can show you within its borders some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. But it's a hard place, as Dad used to say, "No place for an old man," or for that matter a young woman who desperately wants so much more out of life and tried, tried, tried so hard to love winter. But the winters here are unfairly long and bitter, and even after six years back I can't harden again, can't get the dry kissing whisper of breezy palms out of my ears and the sting of soft, smooth, hot sand out of my skin. When I saw the snow on the ground this morning, I cried.

I've been out of sorts for a month or two, unsociable and agitated, dreading my Level III Certification exam (which they conveniently scheduled for the afternoon of Kindra's graduation, thanks very much) but unable to focus on studying. I guess my general understanding of water treatment processes and equipment is going to have to help me logic my way through the hundred multiple-choice questions. It's worked twice. I overhauled my apartment recently, hauling boxes of junk and bags of clothes to the Bargain Bin at the church on Center and organizing all the art supplies I forgot I had on cheap steel shelving from The Devil's Store, which is what Bud calls Wal*Mart, but nobody else was open at 11:00 on a Saturday night when I got ambitious, so what could I do? I painted a sedate and simple still life for the Renewal Ball auction and planned to get out of town to shop for a frame tomorrow, but alas, it looks like I might be snowed in. Spring in Wyoming can feel like purgatory.

My mind is drifting away from this meandering, halfhearted post and towards a hot bath. What can I do? A hot bath is good for scheming, and I have a great escape to plot.