Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bookclub 101

Last night was bookclub at my house.  I love gathering with smart women and discussing literature.  Good food--like Black Forest ham and brie croissants, strawberry spinach salad, and lemon cake--never hurts either.  But critiquing plot pacing, character development, voice and learning something about history in the process is enlightening to my mind.  It gets those neurons firing again, and I love that feeling. 

It almost reminds me of my college days, well...except for the two year old who, in the middle, yelled from the top of the stairs, "I have my shirt!  My clothes!" and indeed he did.  Many of his clothes in his arms, waving his shirt like a title of liberty.

A few minutes later, disgruntled by my lack of enthusiasm, he was in the middle of the room, "My shirt!  I got my shirt!"

"Yes.  I see.  Go show your daddy!"

He disappeared only momentarily.  Next he wanted to show us a giant dog bed that he dragged in from the family room.  After that he came in and dropped an armload of his favorite toys in the middle of the floor.  "Look!" he crowed.

"Uh, Thomas?" was my reply.

Like I said, almost like my college days.  Almost.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Yesterday we lost a beloved aunt.  It was not altogether unexpected.  She has been ill for some time, and her body was tired, but that does not make it easier for those of us who will miss her.  My heart has been heavy for her children and her husband who face that gaping hole in their lives and hearts.  I feel some of that myself.

It isn't that I doubt that there is life after death.  That piece of faith has always been anchored deeply in my soul.  Other things I may question, but not an eternal existence.  I will see my aunt again, along with my dear father, grandmothers, grandfathers and my sweet nephew whom we lost all too soon.  What I find myself mourning today is this changing of the guard that we are experiencing.  This loss of our sages, the mother hens of our youth, the pillars of our family, the storytellers, the teachers.  They are going and leaving us on our own for a while. 

And as they drift out of our sight, over the edge of the unknown, my life feels emptier without them.  But I wholly acknowledge--as I recollect my youth, my time in their homes, their laughter, their boundless love and affection--that the emptiness I feel now only comes from a richness of which they played a great part.

I will miss you, Aunt Kathleen, but I am better for being loved by you, and that is what I will remember until I see you again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Climb

To the southwest, between Cowley and Byron there are what are known as The Sandhills.  Only now, as an adult, do I wish I had asked Kurt Talbot--a local geologist at one point--what formed them or why they are there.  To my adult eye, they seem quite a mystery, so unusual is their composition, but as a child I simply accepted their existence as our playground of sorts. 

My family spent a lot of time driving through and playing in The Sandhills.  Grandma Doty lived in Byron, and more often than not we made our way to her house through the dusty dirt roads of The Sandhills, sitting on the tailgate of a truck.  Those were the days when children were still allowed wicked, partly dangerous fun.  Our favorite tailgate game went like this:  Before leaving home, each of us would choose a toy--favorites, as I remember, were army men or tanks--and tie them to one end of a long string.  Once we hit The Sandhills we'd throw them out, and holding onto the other end of the string, drag them as far as they could make it.  The one whose toy lasted the longest was declared the winner.  Only once was there a near accident when Ken conducted an amature scientific experiment.  Apparently he'd lost his toy early on and had too much time to think.  In his young mind he began postulating that if he jumped off the truck backwards, running mid-air, he could, quite possibly, continue running once his feet hit the ground.  He always was sort of a strange kid.  Anyway, he soon found his theory dashed as he jumped, hit the ground, rolled, skidded, and landed in a dusty heap, the rest of us gaping in horror and surprise. The next thing I remember was him sitting on grandma's kitchen table, while mom bathed, cleaned, and bandaged his multiple scrapes.

That is the only time any of us got really hurt in The Sandhills.  The rest of my memories there are happy.  We had a lot of Easter Egg hunts in The Sandhills.  Their curious, sandstone formations made for fantastic hiding spots.  We hiked Castle Rock more times than I can count, inching our way through the crevice though there is an easier climb on the backside.  Somehow, to me, the view from the top is made sweeter by experiencing the claustrophobia of the crevice.  On a few of those trips, I carved my name in the rock at the top, along with everyone else in the area.  It serves as a veritable yearbook up there.  "Steve & Rhonda Forever.  Curt '85.  Travis 1991."  Hundreds of names and memories for the perusing. 

But the memory at Castle Rock that makes me giggle the most is the Memorial Day sometime in the early 80's when Ken, for whatever reason, brought along the giant, orange, plastic trumpet that resided many years in our basement.  I don't know where we got it.  Probably from some sporting event is my guess, but that thing really could blow,  especially when played by someone who was a fine trombonist.  Anyway, once we got to the top, we could see there were still visitors at the Byron Cemetery looking like mere ants to us hundreds of feet away.  No matter.  Ken stood on the top of that mountain and blew a few long, loud blasts, like some sort of angel announcing the Second Coming of Christ.  We watched as heads turned, looking for the source of such an announcement.  Surely it was not a reverent thing to do, but we thought we were very funny.  Our mother was not as amused.

Many afternoons were also spent at Slide Rock.  It was a popular keggar site, as witnessed by the burnt out ashes and myriad of broken glass bottles nearby, but for our family it was a kind of homemade amusement park.  "And why is this fun?  That's right!  Because it's free!"  Using pieces of cardboard as a sled, we took turns riding the well worn rut in the rock.  After a few turns, the sand started to break loose a bit and the path could get speedy.  One had to remember to wear old clothes to Slide Rock, as at least one person would always go home with a torn out behind.

As a teenager I played kick the can at Court House Rock.  I wish I could describe these places.  They seem to me other worldly, like something out of Luke's home planet in Star Wars.  It was a marvelous place to play Kick the Can.  This huge rocky structure surrounded by ridges, and divots, and indentions perfect for hiding, voices echoing back and forth off the walls.  Wonderful fun.

The Sandhills were also the site of the oldest joke in our family.  The ascent to The Sandhills from Cowley begins as you turn off the Cannery Road.  The pavement ends and the climb begins.  It levels out, momentarily as you cross the canal, but the final climb is steep, hugging the north side of the hill until the top where a severe right turn leads you to the flat mesa across the top.  Right there, there is a rock formation that, as far as I know, has no name.  It is large and rectangular.  To me it looks like a giant loaf of bread.  (But I love bread, so maybe that's just my belly talking.) Anyway, the reason this is important is because going the other direction, down into Cowley, and because of that severe turn, the road can look like it runs right into that giant rock formation.  And my dad loved, LOVED, taking newbies home that way, convincing them the whole time that he had lost his way in the dark.  "Boy.  I am not sure this is the right road.  Lee?  What do you think?"  He'd really play it up.  "The thing is, there is one road out here that leads to a dead end.  We sure don't want to be on that road.  If you're not careful, you can run right off the side of this thing...No.  We're fine."  Then he would kick up the speed just as we were approaching the turn, and it was some one's job to yell, "Dad!  Look out!" and scream just as the rocks came into sight.  Dad would "swerve to miss them" but actually make the turn down that steep decline.  For a brief moment, it did seem like we were roadless, and the poor guy in the back thought it was all over.  Obviously we are sick people, but we never got tired of that joke.  The more fear we could inflict, the harder we laughed.  We were all the newbie at one point.  In our family you had to learn how to take a joke.

The Sandhills are full of memories for me.  Wonderful, happy memories that define much of my childhood.  I think it is that way for all my family, nieces and nephews included.  Can there be childhood without The Sandhills?  I hope I never know, so we took our children there again on this trip.  This time to Castle Rock.  Even the baby made it up the monster.  It's not an easy climb, and when you get to the top there are no safety rails.  As a parents we see this hike a bit differently now, to which my brother Curt's constant worry can attest.  It is full of risks.  That is true.  "Be smart, and be safe," I repeated to the children.  But I remember this climb as a child.  Just like Logan I, too, was worried about the crevice.  Were we going to make it?  And if so, how were we then going to get down?  And just like her I climbed anyway.  She faced down her fear.  She felt the comraderie of her family. She made it to the top and carved her name in the rock to prove it.  She was proud of herself.  They all were.  Just like I was as a kid, in this place I love:  The Sandhills.

 Not all of us, but some:  Curt and his girls, Me, Thomas and our kids.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Adventure

The Hikers: Joe, Lauren, Devin, Griffin, Logan, Lincoln, Kaysie, Jamie, Max, Jacob, Hudson, and Cari.

There is a little place up in the Pryor Mountains above Cowley called The Ice Caves.  As a child, I heard my brothers tell of "going to the ice caves" with their friends, but in all the years I lived there, I had never been.  Last year, the day before leaving, I said as much to my brother Joe.

"What!?" he sputtered, as if I had just told him I had never breathed.  "Okay.  Next year when you come back, we're going to the Ice Caves."

I don't always believe my brother, Joe.  It's not that he lies, it's just that he is the eternal optimist and doesn't always foresee the realities that can get in the way.  " promised.  I'm going to hold you to it," I warned.

This year, he was as good as his word.  We made it to The Ice Caves, and, as it happens in our family, it became something of an event:

"Ice Caves.  Tonight.  4 o'clock.  You comin'?"

"I don't know..."


"Okay.  Sure.  We'll go."

This conversation occurred when anyone walked into Mom's kitchen, and the "we'll" turned into 18 people and a picnic supper.

Now, I did say Joe was the eternal optimist.  "We'll leave around 4:00 and be back by 8:00," he assured us.

Uh huh.  Due to a road closure, terrible roads, Devin's (my nephew) failure to gas up, and Randy's (my other brother) old man driving, we got home at 11:00.  In that amount of time, we could have driven the entire length of the state.

Halfway there, Devin says, "I don't know if I'm going to have enough gas to get back."

"What?  Why didn't you fill up?"

"I didn't know we were going to have to go through Bridger.  This is taking forever."

"Well, you better stop, leave the car here, and we'll ride with someone else so you can make it back."

We loaded our group in with Cari and Jacob, leaving Devin's vehicle in the middle of nowhere until we could return.  In total we crowded 9 people into the suburban.  Devin and I shared a seat.  It was cozy to say the least, and maybe there was a tiny bit of complaining.

"Why is Randy driving so slow???" I whined as we watched him carefully maneuver around yet another giant pothole.  We were, literally, inching our way up the mountain.

"Can't you get around him?" voiced another.

"I think I could actually walk faster.  I'm not kidding."

"You know Karen's got be having a fit.  They love their car."

"You know she's going to have to wash it and vacuum it out tonight."

"Well she's waving.  That's a good sign."

"How much longer?" a child cried from the back.

"Maybe forever," an adult answered.

"Are you sure this is the right way?"

"I don't know."  The roads are not only primitive to say the least but also completely unmarked.  It is just a seemingly random spattering of dirt roads that cross each other once every several miles.

"It doesn't seem right.  It seems like we should have caught up with the others by now."

"I don't know.  I'm just following Randy."

"Yes.  We know.  He's taking forever."

"I am losing it back here."

Finally we arrived and unpacked the food.  The scenery was gorgeous, and for some reason fried chicken always tastes better in the mountains.

Top Left: The whole gang.  Top Right:  Devin, my seat buddy.  Bottom Left: Lincoln chowing down.  Bottom Right:  Karen and Randy.

After our bellies were full, we recovered our humor and were ready to set out on the short hike to the cave.  Now, dear reader, I have questioned how--or even if--I should share this part of the story.  However, I feel the deep need to explain Griffin's lack of pants in some of these photos.  All I shall say on the topic is this:  He started the trip with pants.  But, just as we were preparing to hike, there was a not so small accident in the outhouse.  Okay?  And after spending some time in there with him and suffering what I can only explain as a giggling fit of hysteria, I determined that we should simply dispose of them.  So no pants.  Or socks for that matter.  Thank heavens for the extra length on his borrowed jacket.  That is all I will say about that.

The hike to the caves was an easy jaunt on a dirt path, but it provided views that gave, and I shall quote Anne Shirley here, "scope for the imagination," which was just what I needed after the outhouse.  Wildflowers danced on every side, and pine trees stretched as far as the eye could see.  When Griffin and I finally caught up with the others, they had already descended to the cave.  Logan could hardly contain her excitement.  "Mom!  Mom!  Come look at this!" she called.

It was a curiosity of nature.  The temperature dropped 30 degrees once you stepped inside.  The floor was covered in ice, and frozen stalactites dripped from the ceiling.  My brother pointed out the hole in the floor near the back that connects to the lower room of the cave.  They have covered it over with a grate, but word has it you can get a key in the town of Bridger if you want to explore it.  I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't put it past 'em.  Wyoming's funny like that.

All too soon it was time to head back home.  The sun was setting and we had a long drive ahead of us, which, according to Logan, was the only negative of the whole adventure.

Up from the cave.


But I have to say I didn't mind it at all.  I loved every minute of it. Thanks to my big brother, I finally saw The Ice Caves, and it was an adventure to remember.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Activities

On one of our first days in Cowley, we experience what arguably was the highlight of the trip:  An Evening at the Gams' Longhorn Ranch.  My longtime friend, Shelly, drove down from Billings, MT and met us at her parents' house to take the kids horseback riding, BB gun shooting, and haystack climbing.  Her dear mother, Sylvia, cooked up some yummies, and we finished the evening with an outdoor barbecue in their lovely backyard.  As I sat back in the soft glow of the sunset eating my s'more and looking out over Johnnie's alfalfa field, newly cut, viewing the sandhills in the distance meeting that crystalline blue sky, I concluded that it was just about a near perfect day.  And my children concluded that they wanted to move there and live in the country.  I can't say that I blame them.  It is a lovely way to live.  The older I get, the more I am drawn to wide, open spaces.

Maybe someday...  But, back at the ranch (quite literally):  Although Logan desperately wanted to ride the sorrel, they thought the white horse, Rocky, would be a better fit for her, and it wasn't long before she fell head over heels in love with that horse.  She came home to Arizona talking about her boyfriend Rocky.  And every time we would drive by the farm, she would wave and call out, "Hello, Rocky!"  Now she is talking about taking horseback riding lessons.  I have to admit, she kind of took to it like a duck to water.

I don't know if there could by anything better for a 10 year old girl than a horse.  And just look at my boy.

Does he not look like he was born in the wrong century? Shelly loaned him her BB gun for the rest of our vacation, and he had a ball! And though it would surprise some people, he was unusually responsible with it. Not one accident or cracked window at Grandma's house. Turns out, he's a pretty good shot.

It was a full day of fun!  Catch Shelly in some of these photos.  She really made it an adventure for them.  What a trooper!

And though they would probably hate me for it, here are our hosts: 

John and Sylvia, we can't thank you enough for opening your home to us. It was a delight and my kids will remember it always. Many thanks to you!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Friends

Maybe I've talked about these guys before.  These are just some of my favorite people--my peeps, as they say--from my college days.  The ones that make the whole world a little brighter.  After our stay at my sister's, we spent a couple of days with my friend Jen and some of our nearby friends who joined us.  I was only supposed to stay overnight, but Jen can talk me into pretty much anything.  This time it was remaining an extra day.  Admittedly, it wasn't a very difficult job for her, and my mom was gracious enough not to hold the delay against me.  After all, she loves these people, too.  In fact, they might be as much her peeps as they are mine.  The thing about having these kinds of friends, friends that have known me thaaaat long, is that they help me remember my soul, the person that I really am as well as the person I dream of becoming.  And in addition to all that, they make me laugh.  Really hard.  Our children got along famously, and our two days went by all too quickly.  The only trouble with these friends is that I don't see them often enough.

And for more entertainment, Jen and I took the kids to Casa Bonita's.  If you've ever been to Denver, please tell me you've been to Casa Bonita's.  I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and it was like stepping back into a dream.  It is exactly the same!  Sure the food is nothing to rave about, but, c'mon!  Divers tableside?  And the caverns!  Don't get me started.  The kids loved it as much as I did so many years ago.  We explored and really got our money's worth, I'll tell ya.  (And don't mind Griffin's sneer in the photos.  That's his thing right now.  You know that thing.  It's the thing a kid does suddenly and inexplicably which has the potential to drive a parent nuts, but she pretends she doesn't see it in hopes that it will just disappear like another passing phase...  Yeah.  That thing.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Sister

Jason (Cindi's son), Cindi, and me

My sister is 20 years older than me.  That means she was out of the house and married before I was born.  That means we didn't grow up together.  We didn't share clothes, secrets, fights, or bathrooms.  It's not your average sisterly relationship, I suppose.  Throughout my life people have asked if it feels more like having a second mom.  I guess that would be a logical conclusion, but my answer is always no.  Even though my nephew, her son, is pretty much my age, she is my sister.  The only sister I'll ever know, and she has always been great to me.

I give her all the credit for forging a sisterly relationship when she didn't have to.  By some magic, she always made me feel like an equal.  She talked to me like my thoughts mattered.  She gave me great advice about all the things older sisters know:  hair, makeup, fashion, posture, weight, boys, dating, and friends, but she didn't try to raise me.  She was patient and withheld her judgement, even in my super awkward years.  She let me raid her closet when I came to visit, and still does.  (She has a great closet, by the way.)

I loved visiting my sister.  In my opinion, she was the coolest grownup I knew.  She was so pretty and smart and independent, and perhaps one of the funniest people on the planet.  She was fashionable and talented, and she lived in the city and listened to loud music in the car.  She was really, really cool, and I watched everything she did with interest.  She let me spend a few weeks with her and her family every summer. (Which, looking back on it as an adult, was no small thing considering how full her hands already were.)  She didn't have to do that, but she did so that we could know one another.  And even though I was nearly the same age as her children, she somehow met me where I was and treated me like a sister.  That was some trick of magic that I still don't understand.  I can just tell you that she did it and still does.

Can you believe that she will call me and say, "I need your advice on something."  That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.  I don't really think she needs my advice, but I'm totally flattered that she would say that she did.  She's done a million little things like that for me, and she's done a lot of big things, too.

There was the time when she paid to have my car fixed when I was in college.  That was big.  And then she let me have my wedding reception at her house when she was hurrying to finish up a remodel.  That was huge.  And then she traveled hundreds of miles just to see me in a play.  I'll never forget that.  But the times that mean the most to me, were those when I was really hurting, really needing help, and I knew I could run to her.  When, during my second year of college, I was feeling undo pressure from a guy to get engaged and I wasn't sure how to handle it, her house was my escape for a few days.  Years later, when I was struggling in my young marriage, I limped to her home to lick my wounds.  In both cases, she just opened her door, let me stay as long as I needed, listened, withheld any judgement, didn't tell me what I should do, just talked with me and assured me that I was going to be okay.  Her uncanny ability to unconditionally love and accept me gave me the courage to find my own way.

And, I mean, I don't know.  I don't have a lot of experience with your usual sister relationships, but I think that's what sisters are supposed to do.  At least that's the way it is with mine, and I'm so glad.  So very, very glad.

This year summer we played a few days at her house, cousins included:

Thanks again, Sis, for everything.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The People

For these guys?  I'd go anywhere.  They are that great in my book.

Siblings with Mom.  From left:  Joe, Randy, Me, Mom, Cindi, Ray, Ken, Curt.
(This isn't the best photo we took.  Don't worry.  There's one where we're all actually looking at the camara.   I'm just waiting for a copy from my brother...hint, hint...)

Mom and her girls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Sights, part II

photo credit:
Wind River Canyon, Wyoming

I'll never forget bringing an LA friend of mine home to Cowley and showing her some of the local sites. We hiked to waterfalls, saw Devil's Canyon, climbed Castle Rock, watched the wild Mustangs, and standing in the middle of nowhere, clutching her Kate Spade bag, she gushed, "I can't believe this place! You're close to everything!" And we are, I suppose. Just a different kind of everything. We're close to the earth, and sometimes, as it stretches wide over us, we're close to the sky. Now that I've been away a few years, it's an everything I can't get enough of. I want to drink in each rise, field, cloud, and blade of grass. I have missed Wyoming.

Missed it so much that I watch carefully as the scenery changes outside my windshield passing first through the rolling cattle pastures of the southeast corner of the state. Grey clouds threatening another rainstorm only intensify the green fields where cows and baby calves stand peacefully munching. At some unidentifiable point on our passage northward, the surrounding terrain becomes a bit more rugged. The rolling quality of land no longer rolls so much as slopes and points. The ground angles toward the enormous sky like a mad wave, and rocky masses protrude from the ground. The grass becomes tinged with a bit of yellow and the sagebrush becomes denser, as though the artist of the scene became a bit carried away with dotting those silver green bushes across the canvas. Then just to add some more color, he drew in some wild alfalfa springing randomly along the road side, their purple and yellow blossoms nodding in the wind. It is a land perfectly created for the antelope and deer, which we randomly passed.

Then, soon enough, we are careening through the Wind River Canyon, the river writhing and sparkling beside us.  I have always loved this canyon, its winding path between sky high, rocky walls, and maybe it is the closest I have come to understanding those serenity mazes which are supposed to lead one to his/her center.  As we wind our way through its twists, turn, and three tunnels, I travel backward in my mind to the many, many times I have been this way before; on school buses, on family vacations, on my way to college, the trips tick off in my memory...always away, but always home again.  Centered.  Still.  At peace.

After the canyon, the farmlands of the Basin take center stage.  Alfalfa, wheat, bean, corn and sugarbeat fields turn the arid desert green.  Only the irrigation ditches stand as reminders of the hard fought battle these farmers wage.  Today the landscape is gorgeous.  I am not a farmer's daughter, so there is much I do not know, but to this unpracticed eye, the crop looks to be a good one:  healthy, tall, and thick, even at the edges.  I wish them a blessing, these fields, the backbone of this area's economy and the produce of our nation.  Sometimes, on days like today, when the sun is shining low in the horizon and that golden light slants sideways kissing the leaves and stalks of the field, I romanticise about moving to a farm, maybe buying a cow and some chickens.  It is easy to think that life would be so much simpler, so much more centered, so much more peaceful, but then I remember my dying garden back home.  It doesn't look anything like these fields, and I have to take my hat off to the keepers of them.  They rise at farmers' hours--that's "so early it's practically night" for people like me; they strain and sweat; they gamble against rain, wind, frost, and heat, not to mention pests; they get by most of the time, and then they do it all again next year.  Farmers don't get enough credit in my estimation.  Tonight, as I pray over the corn on the cob, the green salad, and the string beans (not to mention the sugar) I think I'll thank God for the farmers.

The fields stretching into the distance on either side of the highway are only interrupted once, and this interruption--the ugliest stretch of our entire drive--signals the nearing end of our trip.  Turning onto highway 310 and heading toward Lovell from Greybull, there is little visual interest and a lot of dirt.  Even by some evil trick of landscape the mountains seem to disappear.  On every rise I find myself scanning the distance to see if I can catch of glimpse of my hometown.  At last she is in view, and I joyously call out, "See the water tower, guys?  Okay...see the big white tower with the steam coming out?  That's Lovell's sugarbeat factory.  Now look just beyond it.  See the white watertower?  That's Cowley!  Just about a half hour now."  And just like that we are back in the land of farmers' fields and mountains.  The Big Horns and Pryor Mountain stand sentinels as we ramble downhill into the valley.

My little hometown has undergone a facelift these last two years.  The new high school is the first sight to greet us, brashly claiming its territory among the empty fields that surround it.  I'm used to the town kind of sneaking up on me, but this big ol' building practically jumps on us as we curve into town.  I like it; it's just going to take some getting used to.  That and some trees, I think.  Once I get passed it, I can't help but notice that the new subdivision continues to grow.  Some beautiful homes have popped up on the edge of town.  It's good to see.  And then, just when things are looking as I remembered, I nearly miss the curve gaping at the big, brick house going up on Tucker's hill.  That's a showstopper, I'll tell you.  I make the curve, despite my rubbernecking, but it isn't two seconds and I am ogling the new Cowley downtown.  It's wide sidewalks and newly planted trees; the stone and log breezeway in front of all the businesses.  It's really gorgeous!  So gorgeous that I nearly forget to turn into my mother's driveway; I am so accustomed to driving to the end of the block to u-turn around the median, which is no longer there, that I am not quite sure what to do for a moment.  Old habits die hard, and changes are never easy to make.

I sit there, in my mother's driveway for a moment feeling a little foreign in this once so familiar place.  The kid's scramble out, and I slowly slide from behind the wheel.  Changes are good I remind myself.  Certainly good for this place that I love, but it does make me feel out of place...That is until a familiar face drives by and throws me a wave.  Some things--perhaps the most important things here--never change after all.  I have come home.

photo credit: Gary Little via
Cowley, Wyoming Mainstreet, Today

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Sights


Crossing six states to and from my beloved Wyoming was a visual delight.  Perhaps it is because I started the journey taking an unaccustomed route, seeing land that I have not passed in many years, but my eyes began to see, to wander across the hills and horizons, to wonder at the variety of beauty with which we have been blessed.

We began with the mountainous foothills of Arizona.  The fields of saguaro standing at attention against rocky crags jutting towards the sky, and though I've always said that I hate the desert, this can not be completely true.  I certainly don't hate this part of the desert.  There's something wild about it.  Something untamed that calls to me.  And the color.  The green of the scrub brush and cactus against the dark browns, and oranges and reds of the sand and rock throwing themselves up at that brilliantly wide blue sky.  It makes me wish I were an artist capable of capturing that savage beauty.  Alas, I will simply have to remember it.

Then we traveled on into the mountains of northern Arizona.  They are a wonderfully kept secret.  When most people think of Arizona, they consider only the desert valleys soaked with sun, but we have some amazing mountains, cool and lush with pine and prairie.  When we escape there from the summer heat, we love watching the temperature gauge drop 20 degrees.  The day we left it was 118 degrees, so it was more like 30, and I wanted to kiss every pine tree I saw.

The rest of the drive to Santa Fe was fairly unremarkable except for the sunset.  What the desert often lacks in visual stimulation for me during the day, it certainly makes up for when the sun hits the horizon.  Suddenly the sky is painted with slashes of orange, fiery pinks, and dusty purples as far as one can see.  God doesn't skimp on desert sunsets.

What I will always remember about Santa Fe are the charming, old, squatty, adobe buildings of historic downtown.  Turned into mostly an artists' colony, we traveled through, around, and in and out of it to get to the children's museum.  It is a bit of maze down there, especially when you are pointing and saying to your children, "Wow, look at that!" every two seconds.  Both Logan and I were very taken with it, and she decided that she wouldn't mind living there for a while.  I confess I daydreamed a little bit about perusing the shops, restaurants, and museums at leisure.  Their history seemed to speak from those old buildings.  I'd like to spend some time getting to know the voice of that place better.

As the desert began to fade through southern Colorado, I began to contemplate my deep love of mountains.  Once, while in college, I spent four weeks traveling through parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  For the first few days in that country I felt unsettled.  Certainly there was some beautiful scenery.  Even the never ending wheat fields held some interest for me as they danced and rolled under the breeze, but still there was an underlying discomfort.  I couldn't put my finger on it, until I realized it was the horizon.  The land just dropped off out there.  For the first time in my life, there were no mountains in the distance.  No mountains between me and the end of the earth.  It felt foreign and strange, and lonely.  I've spent all of my life in the intermountain west, and the fingers of the Rockies have a great hold on me.  In Colorado, they start to get serious.

These are real mountains.  Not hills or mounds of earth that pass for mountains back East.  I mean heavy duty, massive, imposing, put-you-in-your-place kind of mountains.  You can't look at these giants and not realize your own puniness, and yet, to me, they've always felt like a kind protector.  Like a mother standing guard over her children.  On this day, she let us play through her grassy foothills, so green this year thanks to an abundant snowfall and the spring rain that continued to visit almost every afternoon while we were there.  We spent four days nestled near her base, and I felt myself unwind in the sunshine and warm scent of pines.  I breathed deeply, kicked off my shoes and wiggled my toes in the grass, only now and then interrupted by bickering children.  They were too busy wading and catching water snakes to make too much trouble.

Soon, however, we were off to Wyoming, traveling parallel with the Rockies, never out of her sight.  Almost immediately after crossing the state line, I feel it.  It's like slipping on my favorite pair of jeans.  This giant square marked out in imaginary lines on the planet, this quiet, unassuming, gorgeous piece of property, this is my homeland.  She isn't the kind of state that lays out her treasures for just anybody.  If you're only interested in passing through on I-80, you're never going to know her.  She knows who she is without needing that kind of momentary adoration.  She just gives those voyeurs the dross.  Now, those who spend a little time with her, who are willing to search out her hidden places?  She'll make you fall in love.

to be continued...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Love Tour 2011

That's what I've decided to call our almost four week trip this year because it was full of just about everything I love.  People, places,, love, love.  I saw old and dear friends, the kind of friends (as one described it) that you want at your deathbed.  The kind of friends that make you feel right with the world. 

And then we saw family.  ALL of my siblings, in fact, which is no small thing.  I think the last time we were all together at the very same time was about 18 years ago.  At long last my mother will have a picture with all of her children.  See?  Dreams do come true!

Then finally Mr. Wicke joined us, and our little nuclear family was complete to make the trip home.  Love that guy!  We ate giant ice creams, saw ice caves, rode in big trucks, played at a water park, saw the Harry Potter movie, rode horses, hiked, swam, biked, and played.

And believe it or not, I was not ready to come home.  That's how much I loved our vacation this year:  Love Tour 2011.  Details coming.