Sunday, June 28, 2009

Idahoans Stand Their Dusty Ground

The little sign on I-90 invites us, so we go: Historic Route, turn here.

We time travel up a narrow, scarred canyon in northern Idaho, where
dusty little towns with names like Gem, Yellow Dog, Black Bear and
Burke holler at us as we drive by. "No Trespassing!" "Stay Out!"
"Keep Out!" The signs populate trees, fences and door jams.

Don't know why everyone's so miffed, but we get the message. We keep
moving. And we pass a lot of abandoned old wooden houses, actually
shacks, along with a handful of inhabited, well tended, but tiny
houses, most dating back to the turn of the last century. Almost all
have tiny yards and large gravel-covered driveways and gravel-covered
storage areas. There's more gravel in this historic little area than
grass. Which is why the dust. I imagine.

Further up the creek-lined road, we see why the towns exist, or,
rather, existed: A tangled web of ore mining facilities lie in decay.
The industry sucked silver, lead and even gold out of these mountains
for years (a timeline). And when it left town, with millions of
dollars in its collective pockets, it left behind hillside after
hillside scarred with monstrous slag piles, decrepit metalworks,
rotting wooden walkways, and cement foundations holding up nothing
more than memories.

The EPA says the mining industry left behind a whole lot more: water
so polluted with heavy minerals that it kills fish. And maybe makes
people sick. So the EPA wants to clean up the area. But the area wants
the EPA to mind its own business.

It's a soap opera of a story.

When the EPA came into town to fix things up, the town threw the EPA
out. And said never come back.

OK. I get it. Those menacing signs? Not meant for us. It's the canyon
people telling the big-city people to leave them alone. To "Keep Out."
To "Stay Out."

They want to keep their way of life for as long as they can, in
sickness or in health.

Here are more pictures from this potentially polluted, definitely
decaying slice of America.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Montana Ranch Humor

Randy and Flo exchange ranch tales like old buddies.
Randy: "My friend up at the Double Bar used to pay me in bullets to
pick off the gophers up his way. But them bullets got too expensive."
FYI: Randy's about 35. (He's shown with his dog, Chip.)
Flo: "I run 'em down with my car. You outta hear 'em go splat." She's
79. (She's shown with her dog, Duggan.
The two of them laugh. And rock back, Randy on a bench and Flo at the
picnic table at the Bozeman (MT) Dog Park off Haggerty Lane.
OK. I am grossed out. Inwardly horrified they find joy in brutally
killing an animal. Oblivious to my disdain, Flo and Randy keep
laughing, all the while pointing at something. Courteously (OK,
prudishly), I tilt my head to see what's what.
I let out an unexpected "HA!"
My lovely Standard Poodle Jacob has his face smashed into a gopher
hole and is digging furiously with his front two feet, snorting the
dirt out his nose. Chip, a bird dog, is likewise engaged. Magpies
line the fence like cheerleaders, cackling to goad them on.
HA! HA! I can't help it. It's comical. The Gulliver-sized dogs think
they can squeeze into Lilliputian holes. They look so funny with
their butts stuck up in the air, their tails announcing their joy,
and their heads thrust down those holes like ostriches.
I can laugh because after all, there's NO WAY the dogs can hit their
"Why just last week Chip got three of 'em," Randy says. "Had 'em all
ate up by the time I got there."
Please, please, please, God, don't let Jacob catch a gopher.
He doesn't. And Chip doesn't. The magpies disperse.
Thank you, God.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starry, Starry Night

It's amazing how little it takes to entertain me.

We pull into a Flying J truck stop in Beach, ND, for the night. (Great
name isn't it?) The lot is nearly empty, so we commandeer an aisle of
parking slots as our own, set the brakes and begin to relax. It's very

Then I hear something over a loudspeaker about the lights going out at
midnight. Is that really what I heard?

I stroll inside the little store because, well, there's not much to do
at a truck stop late at night unless you stroll into the store. And, I
wanted some jelly beans. And I wanted to find out about the lights.

I see signs posted on windows and doors about lights going out at
midnight for seven hours, while the local electric company performs
annual maintenance. Everything electrical is going down at midnight,
which means no gas pumps, no cash register, no lights, so no shopping.
Everything goes dark at midnight.

Cool. This happens once a year and it's happening on the night we pick
to stay overnight in Beach. I wonder what it'll all look like.

The Flying J is in the middle of farmland; the only lights to go dark
are at the truck stop.

So I quick buy my jelly beans (it's nearly midnight), head back to the
motor home and wait. Four minutes to go. I stare out the window.

It's midnight. Nothing happens. I stare. It's two, four, eight minutes
after. Nothing. I'm sad. I want to see what it looks like when the
lights go out. (Silly, silly, silly. It's like wondering what you look
like with your eyes closed, so you go stand in front of a mirror and
close your eyes.)

I soon stop staring out into the lighted world and play a computer
game. At some point, I realize the lights outside are gone. It's dark.
I missed therm going out

Of course, I see nothing.

We climb into bed. I reach up to draw the shades and stop. I'm wowed
by what I see, by what makes the whole evening memorable.

Without man's lights, I can see God's blanket of stars as I've never
seen it before. Huge. Thick with multi-layers of pinpoints of lights.
A gazillion million trillion stars.

Gloriously, the sky twinkles, shimmers, undulates.

I fall sleep. Totally entertained.

My Past In Replay

Can you hear it?

The theme to "The Twilight Zone." Do do Do do Do do Do do.

It's playing because history is repeating itself.

My personal history.

We're in Fargo, ND, with Jake and Josh, our Standard Poodles, at a
dog park. Jake beelines toward a woman and her dog hanging out under
the shelter at the far end of the lot. I, too, head that way. Because,
well, I'm social.

Here's where the theme music gets louder.

The woman is reading a book. John Irving's "The World According to
Garp." A book I read when I was 24, the year it was published. It's an
odd book. It's all over the place. It's not high on my list of great
books to read.

So I ask, "How's the book?"

"Odd," she says. "It's all over the place. I'm almost finished. But
I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone."

She says she's 24.

Do do Do do Do do Do do.

"There's a movie, you know, starring Robin Williams," I say.

"Really?" she smiles. "Well, I know what I'm doing tonight!"

We've connected over a book, albeit an odd one, so we chat about a
lot of others things.

Amazing how things go around.

But, for goodness sakes, Garp?

The High Cost of Cleanliness

Can things ever be too clean?


Fastidiousness is key to living comfortably for weeks and weeks in 24
feet. Our motor home (named Otto) is about 24 feet long, so the living
space is a bit shorter. I putter constantly to keep out the litter,
household refuse and clutter.

Socks go in the basket.

Dirty spoons, cleaned and back in the drawer. Soap in the dish, with a
lid. No scum in the sink.

Our other home, the one with many more feet to live in, graciously
consumes the leavings of our life without complaint. But not our motor
home. One thing out of place devolves my harmony into chaos.

So, we (really I) keep things clean. We (really, we) empty the trash

Trash in, trash out.

Herein lies a problem.

We stop at a truck stop in Swanton, Ohio, and, surprise, the diesel
pump declines our credit card. For security purposes. OK. I know the
drill. We pay cash, climb back in Otto, grab the phone and prepare to
call the number on the back of the card. Only I can't find my card. I
have to use Allen's.

We make the call, square things away (another story for another day)
and get back on our way.

But, where is my card?

Think, think, think. When did I use it last? What was I doing? Where
was I going? What was I wearing?

Then it all comes back. A punch in the gut.

Two days ago, we stop at the Warners rest stop just outside Syracuse
for coffee and snacks. I carry a $20 bill and my card inside with me.
I spend $2 and change, use my card, then try to juggle the food and
cups and cash and card as I head back to Otto. I can't do it. I have
no purse. No pockets.

So, I spill my card, the cash and change into the bag with the hot

I hop in Otto, divide the goods, snack, sup, then, yup, scrunch up the
trash. We toss it at the next rest stop.

Remember the bag with the pretzel and my card and the money? Well, I
didn't. Until two days later. Far too late because of my
fastidiousness to rescue the card or the cash. The pretzel was yummy.

Trash in, trash out. Sigh.