Sunday, September 12, 2010

Overheard in a Thrift Store

I'm shopping in Deseret Industries (the Mormon version of Goodwill
Industries) in Vernal, Utah, when I hear this conversation between a
man (I'd say about 55) and a very young boy (6).
"Well, how ya doing, Tommy," the older man says.
Tommy says, "OK."
The older man continues: "You not kissing any girls are ya?"
What? My shoulders square. I'm on alert for inappropriate something, I
don't know what.
Tommy doesn't say anything, But, Tommy's daddy (I'm guessing) says,
"Be polite, Tommy, and answer Mr. Clark."
"No, sir." I can hear Tommy giggling.
"Well that's good, because you know what happens to little boys who go
kissing little girls?" I lean in, ready to intervene (and I still
don't know why.)
"They lose their teeth."
I can hear Tommy really giggle now. Then he slides into one of those
really good childhood belly laughs.
Turns out Tommy just lost both his front teeth and Mr. Clark knew this
and was giving Tommy a good tease.
And me, too.

A Real Regular Day

My shuttle bus seat is small, because I'm not. That's often the case
with seats, doors and the like. I'm a large person and regular stuff
doesn't fit my regular.
I try to stand between me and my immense bounty. I'll bike ride,
paddle, hike, climb, swim or take steps (450 of 'em in Wind Cave) to
explore and enjoy the world. Frankly, I often do it slower than
regular people, or with more gasping. But I get it done. And I love
getting it done.
Today, I'm on a shuttle bus to explore a dinosaur fossil field 5,000
feet up in the Utah mountains. It's a part of the Dinosaur National Monument, a federal park in the upper eastern corner of Utah, on a
border shared with Colorado.
We ride halfway there, then hike a 1/2 mile up into the craggy
mountains in search of the remains of the largest creatures to ever
hang out on Earth.
I look around. There are six other people. No one else squishes out of
a seat. Just me. OK. Game plan A: keep up with the crowd, no matter
what, so I don't stick out. Pretend to be regular.
My group of seven plus our park ranger (a college intern) hop off the
shuttle and begin our ascent. I take up the rear (so no one can hear
me pant).
This isn't bad, The initial ascent is minimal (See the picture? That's
my crew and I'm lagging behind). We hike through three distinct
ecosystems and millions of years of the earth's history. Along the way
the ranger stops us for a chat, to explain the rocks, the mountains,
the dinosaurs. To transform us into amateur paleontologists,
archeologists and geologists. And to rest! Catch our breath! Then we
move on.
As we near the dinosaur field, the pitch becomes steeper, more
challenging. We see fossils, small ones, and learn how to find other
ones. The ranger promises big discoveries. Up there. She points up. To
the trail that goes up. It's a switchback path. With very steep steps
at the end. And it's at the end, she says, where the biggest fossil
can be found.
Bait. She's dangling bait to get us to climb. I go for it, of course,
and I pant my way to the very end, where I see and feel a 6-foot
section of dinosaur femur, just hanging out in the rock face, where
it's been for millions of years. My reward. So worth it. (I didn't get
a picture. Go figure.)
I turn to scramble down and I see a startling sight. Three of the
regular people on this adventure ignored the bait. They're sitting on
a rock ledge. Resting. They've had enough. The steep climb back down
scares them, so they don't climb up. And miss the catch.
OK. This is a big lesson for me. I can climb up and down this mountain
because I want to. Because I challenge myself to do it. Not because
I'm overcoming obesity.
It's because I want to.
So I do.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 1: How Hot is Hot?

117 degrees.
That's how hot it is. Outside.
We're in our (air-conditioned) motor home, driving though Death
Valley, CA, in September because we want to see how hot hot is. We
giggle. It's a novelty.
By the time we park and get out, the temperature drops substantially.
To 111.
Not bad. I can breathe. And walk around without breaking a sweat. OK.
This is fun, I think, as the air conditioning from the motor home
lingers on my skin.
We've already decided to buy into a campsite with full hookups (water
and electricity) because the dogs suffer terribly in the heat. (wink
wink.) But we're so concerned about availability (only 14 sites with
hookups in the whole park) we pray about it. We ask God to make a site
available. For the dogs ... you know.
When we inquire for a site at the visitor's center, I'm surprised no
one snickers. Because God made nearly all of the sites available.
Hmmmm. We set up camp. It's 4 p.m. Only one other camper shares our
sense of adventure. There are 188 empty sites.
While Allen plugs in all the utilities, I walk the dogs. We go about
100 yards and I feel the situation change. This heat is no longer a
curiosity. It's real. It's serious. The dogs seem fine. Not even
panting. But I begin to feel hot. Not close, not sweltering. Hugely hot.
We turn back, where I find Otto's metal door handle so hot, it nearly
burns my hand as I touch it. Once inside, I notice my shirt and pants
feel clothes-dryer hot, so I shed the outer layers, quickly. And the
air inside is hot: 90 degrees in the front and 85 in the back. Even
though Allen cranked up the air conditioner 30 minutes ago.
This isn't fun anymore. This is serious. Oh, we aren't going to die or
suffer from heat stroke. Not that kind of serious. Serious in that we
need to pay attention to how we live, so the dogs don't burn their
feet on the ground outside (which Allen read can reach temperatures
above 200) so we don't burn our hands on hot metal or become parched.
I'm beginning to understand why it's called Death Valley.
To survive the heat and enjoy our stay, we need to reverse ourselves,
to live at night and sleep during the day. We nap at 6 (the metal
frame on one side of the bed is as hot as the front door! We use a
pillow as a heat shield.) Awake at 10 p.m. Walk the dogs. Easier. Much
easier. Even though it's 101 degrees. At 10 p.m. There's no sun
belting down on us. The ground is cooler. We watch for coyotes.
We eat dinner at 11 (using the microwave, not stove burners) and it's
now midnight. We need to stay up until the sun shines; but I don't
think we'll make it. We're finally cool (the air conditioning is still
cranked up) but we're tired. We make plans to use our awning
tomorrow to keep the door and bedroom wall from melting. And to shade
the ground for the dogs' feet.
Maybe we'll sit outside under that awning and eat ice cream. If it's
not too hot.

Day 2: Seeking Refuge

My plan fails.
To avoid living in Death Valley's daytime heat, I want to sleep during
the day and play at night. But by 2 a.m., I'm out. Asleep. Lulled by
the cool of the 84-degree nighttime air.
But not for long. At regular intervals, I do battle with the motor
home's air conditioner. Every 10 or so minutes, it rumbles to life,
jolting me awake with its monstrous roar and a face-full of its
breath. After thrashing around, trying to dodge the forced air in my
face, I relent and cocoon inside our sheet, where I lay dormant. For
about 10 minutes, when the next battle ensues.
So by 9 a.m., I stagger awake. And it's already 101 outside. We
venture out to open our awning, sit and read our books, then walk the
dogs. But the air is oven-like and the ground hot, so we collect our
things and move back inside, at intervals. The dogs first, without
that long walk. Then me, then Allen.
By the time we're all ensconced (with my new best friend -- the air
conditioner), the temperature reaches 115 outside.
We nap, read, watch a little video of our church's road rally on
Allen's Nano. We chat, and giggle and shower occasionally throughout
the day because we can, because the water is hot, without turning on
the heater. It's just hot, from the sun pounding on the hose.
At dusk, we take the dogs on that long-promised walk and duck a bat
and coyote on the way. We watch the sunset's crimson tide spill over
the mountaintops and guess at the heat. I say 85. Allen guesses 105.
We check. It's 101. At 9 p.m.
Hot. Hotter than last night.
I'm now yearning for sleep. But hesitate. Because my new best friend
just roared back into action.

Day 3: Relentless Heat

Refreshing. I awake and it's refreshing.
Outside temperature is 81. 81! And there's a gentle breeze. Is that a
fall nip in the air? Ah, refreshing.
I take the dogs for a brief walk, then climb back into bed for an
early morning nap.
Well, while I was out, the fall nip buckled under pressure from a
muscle-bound summer sun. It's now 108.
But a gentle breeze invites us outside again, where we walk the dogs
until one of them (Joshua) cries "ENOUGH!" and beelines for the cool
of the motor home. We set up our chairs under the awning and read,
enjoying the breeze, and feeling the heat rise.
It's now 110.
I decide to hand-wash my laundry to take advantage of the desert
sun. And am amazed: blue jeans dry in 15, maybe 20 minutes; undies,
5; cotton T's, 10. Even our hand towels wick out in less than 10. The
breeze helps. But, now it's not gentle. It's crass. It whips my
laundry, twisting it around. It picks up my shirts and smashes them to
the ground.
The breeze is now a wind and the awning begs to take flight. We wind
it back in, collect our clothes from the desert floor and climb back
inside the motor home, which rocks like a boat on a tempestuous sea.
It's 115 outside.
Welcome to Death Valley.

A Picture As Proof

Austin and Adam are setting out on an adventure of a lifetime.
Please, dear God. Bring them home safely. With just enough good
stories to wow their buddies.

We meet the 20-somethings in Cedar Breaks National Monument in the
southwestern corner of Utah, where the alpine meadow we're walking
through rises above 10,000 feet.

It's so high and surrounded by even higher peaks, I think of the Alps
and Maria twirling around in her noviciate clothing, arms
outstretched, singing "The Sound of Music." Allen and I climb the
gentle mountain top meadow with the dogs and I start humming "The
hills are alive ..." and then stop. Because I have no breath left. I
can't hum and walk at the same time. Ten-thousand feet is high up.
Very high up. How did Maria do it? We lose our breath just bending
over to tie our shoes.

As we walk back to the parking area, we see Adam and Austin, tugging
on their backpacks, adding stuff, taking stuff out. Their loads weigh
as much at they do combined.

"Look at the load that guy is carrying," Allen nods toward one of the
boys. It's an amazing mountain of stuff. We smile. Ah, to be young ...
We climb into the motor home and are set to leave when one of the duo
runs up to our window. And, in doing so, comes into our life.

"Hey, I know you are getting ready to leave, but can you take our

His grin cuts across his whole face.

So young.

We climb out and help document the beginning of their journey, which,
we discover, is the first of its kind for them. Two 20-somethings.
From Las Vegas, elevation 2030, striking out into the hills of Cedar
Breaks, elevation higher than 10,000.

"Take it slow," I warn. "It's pretty high up here."

"I know," Adam replied. "It's hard to breathe just putting our packs

I start to worry, like he's my nephew and I'm somehow responsible.
That's why I prayed.

"How long will you be out there?" I ask.

Just for the holiday weekend. They're due back at work on Tuesday.
I'd love to hear the stories they bring home.