Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pies

Blackberry Pie in one of the King Arthur pie plates

I was barely in the door from work this evening when J. informed me that the freezer had been off for an unknown time and as a result there were packages of thawed fruit. I checked meat and frozen goods near the bottom of the freezer--still solid, but a big package of blackberries on top of the stack was completely thawed. I announced that supper was going to be leftovers---the thick and hearty potato soup which I made to cheer us up after a cold dreary Wednesday or the remains of a chicken and noodle casserole. I chose the potato soup and took a bowlful out to the front porch. How much longer will the porch be warm in the evening?

J. had an errand at the other house after supper, so I decided I would make pies while he was gone. Five pies, two small and three large. There are now three in the freezer and the two I baked are being enjoyed here and next door. Grandson came down to say that the pie was good--he had two large pieces.

Baking berry pies always reminds me of a story told to me by great-Aunt Julia. Julia was sister to my Grampa Mac.

Mac, his brother Andrew and his little sister, Julia, grew up in the little hamlet of Graphite, NY. His father, who had worked in his youth on the building of the Union Pacific railroad, came back to NY to work as a foreman at the graphite mines. Like so many men of that time and place, he was chronically ill with "black lung". By the time Mac had finished the 6th grade at the local school, the family needed him to help work the hill farm which his mother had inherited. Times were hard for everyone, the boys and girls of all the local families were expected to do their share to maintain the household. Mac hired out to other farmers who needed a smart, strong lad to help with haying. In the winters he drove his team of horses hauling logs to the lumber mill. Andrew found work at one of the livery stables in the village. The family raised a big garden and Julia helped her mother put up vegetables and fruit against the long cold season. They had cows, chickens, a pig.

Graphite was only a few miles from the resort hotels down in the village of Hague. Mac's mother grew extra produce to sell to the hotels and boarding houses. Once a week she packed eggs, freshly churned butter and whatever could be spared from the garden. Mac loaded the wagon, climbed in and "pedaled" the goods in town. Mac also picked berries. The farm was tucked against the base of Tongue Mountain and Mac ranged over the steep hillsides, filling clean lard buckets with wild blueberries. Some of the berries went to feed the wealthy summer visitors at the hotel, some were kept at home to be picked over and set in the cool pantry.

One morning when Mac had hitched up his team, loaded the produce and set off on his pedaling rounds, sister Julia decided that she would make him a blueberry pie. Julia had been helping her mother in the kitchen and was just learning to put together a meal or do a bit of baking on her own. She stoked up the wood range, brought flour and lard and sugar from the pantry, and happily began to create the surprise for her beloved older brother. She rolled the pastry on the clean pine tabletop, mixed the dusky plump berries with sugar; a dash of cinnamon, the top crust fitted and crimped and the pie was ready for the oven. Julia tended the fire carefully, keeping the oven of the old black stove at just the right temperature. From time to time she peeked in at her pie, satisfied that the crust was browning nicely, the rich sweet juice beginning to bubble through the slits in the top. She heard the wheels of the wagon crunching on the gravel of the dooryard, knew just how long it would take Mac to unhitch the horses and rub them down before turning them into the pasture.

The pie was ready to take from the oven, golden brown, a triumph of cookery. Mac's boots clumped against the steps leading from the woodshed to the kitchen as Julia bent, hands wrapped in a folded kitchen towel to slide the pie carefully from the oven, to place it on the broad pantry shelf to cool. The kitchen door clicked open, Julia half turned, a smile of welcome on her sweet round face. The hot pie elluded her grasp and landed, upside down, at Mac's feet. While Julia gazed woefully at the mess, tears of humiliation smearing her flushed face, Mac snatched a clean china plate from the cupboard, slipped it under the fallen pie and flipped it back into the tin. "Nobody will know the difference," he assured his sister. "It will taste just as good and we won't care how it looks!"

Julia grew up, married, raised her two daughters on the farm her husband took over from his parents. She kept the house a picture of neatness and cleanliness. Her kitchen sparkled, she gardened, canned, pickled and baked. Each year, early in December, a dark moist fruitcake, neatly wrapped , arrived in my Grampa Mac's mailbox, sent across the lake from his sister's home.

When I think of Aunt Julia the verses from Proverbs 31 seem fitting: "She arises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household..She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her."


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flickers



The flickers are back. They probably haven't truly been "away," just invisible while nesting and raising their young. There are people in the area who consider these birds such a nuisance that they shoot them.
The flickers can be annoying; they home in on a ridgepole or porch post and hammer relentlessly and noisily at the wood. Ideally they turn their attentions to dead limbs or stumps of trees, a rather scarce feature in these parts. I tend to overlook their drilling tendancies because they are such colorful and interesting birds.
On a mid-winter morning our hired man, who had been working in the garage, opened the entry door and shouted for me to come out quickly. A flicker had swooped into the garage, flown smack into a window and now lay motionless on the doormat. I cautiously picked up the tumbled body which was very limp. The head lolled and the bird's long red tongue hung from its beak. I carried it outside and laid it on a snowbank near the pond. Having second thoughts I asked our hired man to check on it. I beleived if the bird was not "graveyard dead" it was badly injured and should be put down. Hired man reappeared and announced excitedly that when he picked up the flicker it had suddenly lurched out of his hand and flown off.
Looking out the picture window, I witnessed its bumbling flight as it came to a shaky landing on a high branch, where it was immediately joined by a second flicker. Bird number one perched, feathers disordered, shuddering a bit, the very picture of a befuddled creature with a severe headache. The anxiety of the second bird was obvious. While its friend [mate?] hovered, seeming to offer encouragement, the stunned bird slowly regained its wits. When the pair finally left the tree, it was in a series of short trial flights. I've always hoped the recovery was complete.

The Daily Deer

At the right of the photo, do you see the antlers of the third deer?
Strolling past the pond

An impressive head of horns


Eating leaves



He has a challenging glint in his eyes

The deer are spending the summer ranging over the property. At best count there are 5 buck, a doe and a fawn. Most often lately we see this group of three buck. They are mule deer. At 5:30 this morning they were wandering around the house, stopping to pull leaves from the small trees near the guest cabin. The photos I took through the windows were a gloomy blur as the flash went off and reflected on dusty rain-streaked glass.
Later the trio trouped by again. I took several photos through the picture window, then went quietly out through the garage to get a better view. Two of the deer seemed untroubled by my presence. The big fellow was very alert and was becoming more suspicious by the moment as I inched my way closer. I could hear J. warning me from the garage, "They can move a lot faster than you can." The buck stood poised with one hoof raised, eyeing me, and I decided I had ventured close enough.
It was interesting to note that when the deer bent to browse, their furred antlers looked nearly like the tall fuzzy brown weed stalks.
A constant conflict roils within me regarding the deer. I love to watch them. I wish they would spare my struggling flowers. [They ate the pansies and violas in the porch planters over the weekend.] I flinch when I see one dead on the side of the road, I wouldn't want to shoot one. And yet.....I have cut up fresh venison for the freezer, cooked and eaten it. My husband doesn't hunt, but our son and son-in-law are hunters as is our grandson.
These are troublesome and beautiful creatures. We encroach on each others' space. The deer can't understand that the roses are not planted for them to nibble.
Grandson had his own encounter with the big fellow on Saturday. He had gone down the path to the barn. When he came back up through the marshy meadow he found the buck barring his way. The buck didn't "shoo"--he stood with that un-nerving stare, not exactly threatening, but holding his ground, unpredictable. Grandson punched in the house number on his trusty cell phone and he and the deer stood glaring at one another until parental reinforcements arrived, crashing through the cat tails, and Mr. Buck decided to retreat.
I suppose if I can figure out that new camera with twice the zoom power I can spy on the deer from a safe and respectable distance.





Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More photos from the museum

An old steam boiler
Collection of vintage machinery and implements

Chapel, c. 1909


Borner's Garden School



My daughter enjoyed the vintage textbooks she found in the cupboard.


The following details are from the notes in the museums's handout flyer:

Chapel; This building was founded by the Congregational Society and later supervised by the Episcopalians and the Reverend John Roberts to serve the town of Hudson, Wyoming. Rev. Roberts came to the Wind River Indian Reservation in 1883 and established an Episcopal Mission at Ft. Washakie. He preached at St. Matthew's as part of his ministerial circuit.
School;
The structure was built at Borner's Garden, an area near the mouth of Sinks Canyon along the Old Indian Trail. It served as a one-room schoolhouse until 1948. John Borner was one of the earliest settlers in the Lander Valley. He planted a large garden and trucked his produce into Lander to sell. His sister-in-law was the notorious Calamity Jane.




Museum of the American West

The horse-drawn hearse

Since these are colored photos, I'm wondering if they were taken as part of an enactment.


Country Store Display



My daughter coveted the vintage salt and pepper shakers inside the sheep wagon!




An entire "stuffed" horse, getting a bit baggy at the knees.



I persuaded my daughter to go with me to visit the local pioneer living museum on Saturday afternoon. These are some of the displays in the museum's main building.

I can only upload 5 photos at a time [?] so will continue with separate posts to show you others.






Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting Anywhere From Here

Local Airport
J. at the counter, flight connections cancelled

Creatures in the lobby


Mountain Lion on a ledge




The Gris
If this were an old book with a lengthy sub title, it might go something like this: "Being the latest installment in the tedious and treacherous process of conveying a motor coach from Arizona to Wyoming and the difficulties encountered and surmounted."
In spite of our experiences with the unreliabilty of used motor homes--and those who sell them--J.'s twin brother and his wife decided to finalize the purchase of two units. They have supposedly put the RV inspection crew through their paces. My sister-in-law is clever with airline tickets and motel reservations and handles the details of such trips. A bit belatedly J. decided that he might as well travel with them and retrieve the now repaired motor coach we had to abandon outside of Phoenix, AZ. The only ticket available would land him in Yuma several hours after his brother and crew would arrive.
He packed his bag and with our grandson in tow, I went along to the little airport in the next town to drive the car home. His flight was scheduled to depart at 4:12 with a layover in Denver, CO. Then, a hop to LA airport and a final connection into Yuma. [To forestall any thought that this is idiotic, let me point out that there are very few thru flights available to anywhere from Wyoming--and if there are, the likes of us can't afford them!]
Flying out of Wyoming is a nightmare of scheduling connections, so it wasn't a huge shock when J. was told that the LA to Yuma flights had been cancelled for the day. "Phoenix!" said J. hopefully. "It's Phoenix that I really need to get to!" The young clerk poked at her computer, asked for help from another clerk, apologized, finally came up with the helpful information that the local flight to Denver was OK to link with a direct flight to Phoenix. There was, however, going to be a delay in the local take off because the plane was held up in Denver "for repairs."
We groaned. The shuttle plane, commonly known as "the flying culvert" is ALWAYS down for repairs in Denver. On any incoming flight we have sat in the waiting area, far down the busy main corridors of Denver's huge terminal and listened to the intermittant voice from the loud speaker assuring us that the plane designated for the bumpy passage to the interior of Wyoming is still undergoing service and there will be yet another 20 minute wait. When the flight number is eventually called the passengers are hustled through the security door and herded down several flights of stairs before stumbling out onto the wind-swept tarmac. One by one we teeter up the fragile metal stairs and collapse into the uncomfortable plastic seats. The propeller twirls, the engine churns, sounding like a washing machine full of rocks; the small plane shudders. Leaving from the local airport is simply the process in reverse.
This afternoon, faced with an indefinite wait, we went into the little cafe and ordered a light meal. Other delayed passengers straggled in. The tone of conversation from table to table was joshing, after all, the delays were to be expected. Outside a restless wind teased a clump of field daises, fluttered the plumes of foxtail grass.
Grandson and I said our farewells to J. who doesn't like anyone to hover and went to Wal Mart for some quick errands. We arrived home at 6. We told each other that surely J. must be nearly to Denver. When he eventually phoned from Denver we learned that the plane never took off from the local airport until after 7 p.m. J. was laconic. "Oh well", he said, "I have time for supper in the Denver airport and now I won't have to wait so long here!"
I sit waiting for the phone call that will assure me that the last leg of the flight has been safely made. Our sister-in-law , using her laptop and cell phone, managed to arrange a motel reservation for J. in Phoenix with a shuttle from the airport. She thought they might arrive at the motel at about the same time he does. I think of the old adage" "If the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise!"
I suspect that our family and friends in New England wonder why we don't make it "back home" more often. I could tell the stories, all variations on this one. You can "get there from here"..but it ain't easy!





Smoke from the Mountains

Column of smoke rising from a brush fire

The smoke is spreading



A rose that the deer missed!





Lemon bars for our shop lunch



We quilt shop girls agreed to have lunch together this noon, salads and cold drinks to be delivered. I decided to make lemon bars as a dessert treat. Busy with baking I didn't get outside to peg sheets and towels on the clothesline until after 10. I was immediately struck with the scent of burning sagebrush and discovered the plume of smoke rising in the foothills.

The heat of summer has been tardy this year, but it has arrived this week bringing with it a searing dryness. Most evenings lightning zips across the sky and thunder growls in the distance, but little rain falls. What little moisture comes quickly evaporates in shimmering heat. Western forest fires are a yearly disaster, whether caused by lightning strikes in dead timber or by human carelessness.

During the summer of 2000 my husband and son were building a large log home at a billionaire's hobby ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I was hired to overhaul and tend the flower gardens around the main lodge. Once a week I loaded groceries and two dogs into whatever truck was available and drove over South Pass or Togwottee Pass to spend several days gardening and tidying up messes of neglected housekeeping the men had created. It was a summer of intense heat and many fires. Fires in Wyoming, in Idaho, in California. A dirty yellowish smudge hung over the mountains by day; every evening the sun set in a smear of soiled clouds. The fire's breath blew in when we opened windows for the cooling night breezes; towels and clothing hung outside collected the charred odor; working outdoors our eyes stung, throats rasped. "That's from the big one in Idaho," we said.
Fire moved into the folds of the mountains behind the ranch, the orange glow visible on the night horizon. One day the men began to seriously consider the possibility of the fire cresting the ridges a few miles away and sweeping down the valley where the ranch spread its hundreds of acres. They worked on through a sultry afternoon, alert to the direction of the wind and the shifting smoke. Feathery ash and bits of charred pine floated into the work site. Down the hill half a mile away, I continued clipping carragana and trimming back potentilla that had gone sprawling into the paths during several years of neglect.

I became gradually aware of a strangely heavy silence. No birds were calling, the "chislers" were in their burrows, their cheeky chatter stilled. I stood, clippers dangling from my hand, inhaling wood smoke, turned to see a doe a few yards away, caught like a statue in the uneasy hush of an unnatural dusk.

The wind shifted, the fire raced through miles of high mountain forest before it was contained, burnt out. Wild animals perished in its rush and roar, firefighters worked until overcome by smoke and exhaustion.

I know of two fires, maybe three, in our area today. The one I spotted this morning may be the one at Willow Creek. [My sense of direction, never great, hasn't found its bearings here.] Another was up in the Sinks Canyon.

We invited an older lady we all love to have lunch with us at the shop. She came in a bit late, shaken and distraught. She and her husband, both retired, have a home in Sinks Canyon. The fire there, she told us, was considered the work of an arsonist. She could see the leaping flames from their home, as fire equipment was rushed in. "What would we take?" she asked. "If we have to leave, what could I quickly pack to take with us?" As we finished our lunch the fire sirens blared again. My co-workers, living here so many years, can distinguish the city fire and rescue vehicles from those of the rural fire department. The local radio station interrupts programing to give the location of each fire and ask that motorists avoid that area. We all cringe as the trucks charge along the main street, horns and sirens shatteringly imperative, blowing traffic aside. Later in the afternoon the bulletin came over the air: the fire in Sinks Canyon was under control but not out. If the wind doesn't come up.........!

We hugged our friend as she left, assured her that if she needed help we would do what we could. I have interrupted this writing several times to stand on my front porch in the dark, scanning the wavering line where the foothills blend into the night sky. We are so close to the mountains, so enfolded by the foothills that the mountain peaks are not visible. Already, in the intensity of summer heat, twilight falls earlier, the air cools. I don't smell the pungent aura of burning sage. The air seems clean. Perhaps a shower dropped soothing moisture somewhere above us.

We dare not be lulled. It is the season of burning, when grimy smoke rolls down from the mountains and the restless winds turn the flames where they will.











Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sunset Drama


These were shot from the front porch last night just before dark. The contrast between sky and land wasn't quite as defined as it appears and there was a yellow-green tint to the clouds. It was raining somewhere in the mountains and the setting sun was behind a sheet of moisture.
This evening I had to follow J. to a job site a few miles out of town. He had managed to get one too many vehicles there in the course of the day. I wished I had taken the camera as I had to wait while he loaded tools and such. Distant thunder was rattling and raindrops hit the windshield. Dark blooming clouds with a molten sunset edging rolled above the mountains.
I've tried a few shots with the new camera--haven't installed the soft ware yet. Also can't remember where to punch the "zoom" button. I'm only on the first bend of the learning curve!



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

No Pioneers?

Levi and Laura
G-G-Grandmother Ann

Cousin Luther/ G-Grandfather Eddie and his sons
A few years before my Mother went into a nursing home, she handed over some old family photos. She had labeled ones she knew, but I am left with unsolved mysteries, faded sepia faces to which I can put no names. On the back of the photo with the oval inset is written, "Luther Andrews, your cousin in the midwest." Mother had also copied in her neat teacher's hand the sparse family notes which survived from her late brother's delving in family history. My g-g-grandmother's maiden name was Andrews.
I posted the family surnames on a genealogy forum for the relevant county in upstate New York and had a detailed reply regarding those of that lineage. The respected researcher provided such clues as he could document, along with some intelligent guesswork. Still, I couldn't create a sound link to "Cousin Luther." At some point I traced Luther to Iowa, but put the puzzle aside to work on other family lines.
I have been blessed over the years of family research by the generous sharing of information compiled by others interested in the area where my mother's people settled prior to 1800. High on that list of helpful individuals is "Cousin Bruce" who has compiled a vast amount of data. A few weeks ago, he happened to mention in an e-mail exchange that Iowa seemed to be a popular destination for those inhabitants of Warren County who were taken by the urge to go west. I remembered Cousin Luther and resolved to revisit his story.
In 1860 Levi and Laura Andrews and their two sons lived in that upstate NY village with Laura's parents. A family tree published on Ancestry puts the families' move west sometime in 1864. Levi was a man in his late 40,s; his father-in-law was over 70. Luther would have been in his late teens. It appears that this journey to the "west" involved a number of extended family who all settled in the area of Linn County, Iowa. It is possible to locate them in the 1870 census and find Cousin Luther with wife and children. His father, Levi is listed as age 62 in 1880. Although Luther's grandmother had died, his grandfather was still a part of the household at 93. The above mentioned "tree" at Ancestry.com states that Levi's father-in-law was dead within the year. I have learned to be wary of undocumented family lineage, but this offering, nicely done and documented with family stories gives Levi's death in 1899 and Laura's in 1920. The above photo from the collection of my cousin Barb, shows Laura and Levi in their old age. Cousin Barb has the scrapbook started by our g-g-grandmother Ann and continued by Barb's grandmother. It would seem the two families stayed in touch for many years.
Removal from a hill farm in a small NY village to Iowa doesn't seem like much of a journey compared to the hardships of the Oregon Trail. In imagination I see them boarding a train, laden with sachels and bags. Would they have culled the household goods, packing the best in wooden crates to be shipped in the baggage car? What about the farm animals, the cattle, the chickens, a pig? I speculated that the family farm may have been sold, the animals might have been bought by neighbors, or maybe they stayed with the farm. My husband suggests that the livestock may have been loaded onto the train and hauled west. I wonder, had Levi gone ahead to purchase a new farm with the intent of his family joining him? Perhaps Cousin Luther, nearly a man, journeyed out with his father, while Laura packed up the last of their belongings and travled later with her parents, her younger son, her brother. I spread the pieces of their story in my mind, trying to join them in the way that I lay out the colorful patches of a quilt block. I look again and again at the photos and note the oval faces, the deep set eyes shared by Ann and Luther, whom I have come to beleive are the first cousins. I see those features echoed in the face of Ann's son, the great grandfather who died a decade before my birth.
I could take the bare bones of known facts; I could fashion them into a story as interesting and lively as many I have read. I will continue to wonder about those who went "west" and those who stayed.
The link below will take you to the website which Cousin Bruce has created to honor the families of our Adirondack town. The family names and the place are particular, but if you enjoy tales of older times, you may want to read Mrs. Hoyt's memoir. Choose Early Incidents of Hague.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Doesn't Anyone Feed the Cats?

Who was here first?

Lt to Rt: Teasel, Raisin, Chester, Charlie, Jemima

Quite a few years ago we moved the cats' kibble feeder from the floor to the kitchen counter. This was during the lifetime of the late Henry Higgins our Border Collie when we discovered that he preferred the cat food to whatever was served in his own bowl. Higgins has passed on, but there is still a cat feeder on the counter, as well as another on the table in the entry and one behind the "island". I serve two kinds of "crunchies" just to keep everyone happy. Spoiled cats, indeed.
Sunday morning I opened a new bag of Iams and was immediately mobbed. Raisin, our elderly queen of hairballs, had first chance while the younger generation had to wait in line.



Saturday, July 18, 2009

Rolling On

View near South Pass


Lander Cut-off road.
photos from the web




For many years my husband drove an 18 wheeler across the country. He owned his truck and leased it to a company which hauled heavy equipment. After our children were on their own, I sometimes went with him. I would pack changes of clothes and sufficient books to be gone about 2 weeks, arrange for the care of my cats, make up the truck's bunk with clean sheets, and we would head for the first loading point. Most of our route was on interstate highways; we ate, showered, and parked to sleep at "truck stops." With one load delivered, J. would phone the nearest of the company terminals to learn what loads and destinations would next be available. In the course of nearly 20 years we saw a great deal of the US. We both have an interest in history and made a point of learning something of the regions we passed through. Neither of us care to be in a city and prefered the open spaces of the midwest---long stretches of nearly flat roads, running past acres of crop land and feed lots.

I have ridden across Nebraska during every season of the year. It is a long haul, miles and miles of rolling grassland. Always my thoughts would turn to those decades during the 1800's when the westward migration was at peak. I considered those monotonous miles--day after day of heat and dust, creaking wagon wheels, balky livestock. No truckstops with air-conditioned dining rooms and a menu of food and drink, no hot showers. For that matter, no repair fascilities in the event of a break down.
Having made our own westward move 11 years ago, we now live where settlement and road building are a fairly recent history. Here, when a journey is contemplated we don't figure in terms of miles--we ask how many hours it will take to drive there in decent weather. It is impossible to travel far in any direction without traversing a mountain pass or two. From North Platte, Nebraska the terrain climbs steadily toward the eastern border of Wyoming, grassland gradually giving way to the sagebrush of high desert. We live at an elevation slightly over a mile high in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains.
On Thursday, J. announced about noon that he had a buyer for one of his motor homes. The buyer lives near Salt Lake City, Utah and wondered if it would be possible for J. to meet him at a halfway point. I was drafted to follow in our car. My job for many years involved driving to and from a vehicle auction as well as the pick up and delivery of customer's cars for the body shop and auto sales where I worked. I take the responsibility of driving seriously, reminding myself to be alert and attentive, never completely at ease. For the past few years I have done very little distance driving and wasn't really enthused at the prospect of a 140 mile drive.

We headed over South Pass. Within 20 miles, the twisting road climbs more than 2000 feet until the terrain levels out at the Continental Divide. This is the area where the emmigrant trails--the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Lander Cut-off and the Parting of the Ways converge. For miles the rutted wagon tracks are still visible, carved into the dry and dusty ground. It is not settled country, even today. Standing in those ruts, hearing the sound of the ceaseless wind, watching bleached grass bend and sway, it is easy to conjure a convoy of wagons, handcarts, oxen, appearing in the shimmering heat of the horizon. Easy to imagine calloused and dirty bare feet, garments stiff with sweat, to imagine eyes strained with squinting into the brilliance of blue sky sunlight. I can empathize with those women who by this point in the journey were having second thoughts, remembering with painful longing a snug farmhouse with tidy kitchen, small bedrooms tucked beneath the eaves, a fenced garden, clean laundry on a clothesline, a rocking chair. Is it presumption to guess how they may have felt knowing that there could now be no turning back and that there were many miles of rough travel still to be faced?
When our meeting with the family buying the motor home was concluded and the transaction "signed, sealed and delivered", J. and I went into the Little America restaurant. We drank iced tea from glasses that clinked with ice, ate a delicious meal of steak, mashed potato, green beans. We made use of the clean restrooms before getting into the Toyota for the return trip. We turned on the A/C, slipped a CD of Celtic music into the player. Across the return miles of open country we watched small groups of antelope browsing through the sagebrush, the slender, nearly new fawns trotting to keep up. A bald eagle cruised low ahead of us, swerving to land with talons outstretched toward some small prey.
We drove back down South Pass into Red Canyon as the sun flamed and ebbed in the west. It was not quite full dark when we walked into our house; the round trip had taken about 7 hours.
As I type these words the afternoon wind has begun. Dark clouds are gathered in the southwest. There has been no shower here, but stepping onto the front porch I encounter the smell of rain-wet sage blown on the wind. I have been in the west for 11 years and still that scent seems new to my senses. Eleven years--and still a New England dooryard and a side hill garden speak to me.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Recently Seen

Night Hawk
Buck [photo, M. Gould]

Bunny [M. Gould]



What is this?


Interesting Creepy-Crawly





Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Simply Clean

This tall cactus is a common one in Arizona.

The carved wooden bear has a chain around one leg anchoring him to a cement block!


Cactus garden in motel courtyard.
"We can't spend the night in the motor home," my husband stated flatly. "It is way too hot to sleep in here."
Leaving the first motor home, disabled, at a garage early that morning, we had climbed back into the Toyota and returned to Yuma where the second motor coach was meant to be readied for us. It was disheartening, to say the least, to find that once again inspection had not been carried out and the second of the purchased units was not road ready. The salesman involved attempted to hide in his office, while we wearily pointed out to the service crew that the engine would not idle properly, oil was pouring from the on-board generator, the retractable steps were not retracting. The service people did their best on short notice. A younger salesman came out, tried to make amends by tightening the bolts on wobbly mirror brackets. "The boss is not going to be pleased about this," he said. It seemed useless to reply that we were not pleased, either.
Late in the day, feeling some trepidation and not a little anger at the irresponsibility of the salesman, we again started a return trip to Wyoming. Temperatures were well over 100 degrees F. and within a few hours it became evident that the A/C was faltering. I moved from the impossible heat of the front passenger seat to the center section of the unit where we had lowered the blinds. While husband doggedly drove on I sat with a book, sweaty fingers sticking to the pages, mopping my face with a tea towel.
Shortly before dusk we came into a small, dusty town, nameless now in my memory. A modest looking motel appeared on our left and J. hastily drove into a large empty lot the other side of the narrow side street. We clambered stiffly down from our oven-like coach and approached the motel office on foot.
We were intercepted part way across the courtyard by a slender, olive-skinned man, who scuttled ahead of us through the office door. It was quickly obvious that English was not his first language. He was most insistent, dramatically so, that we should not leave the motorhome with the Toyota behind it over in the lot. "People open doors!" he declared anxiously, raising small hands in the motions of one turning a knob and opening a door. "But I've locked the doors on the motor home and on the car" my husband replied. "No, No," the man pleaded, "They break, they steal. Must bring over here. Bring inside my fence." He flapped wildly toward the neat white fence surrounding the property.
J. conceded in the face of such insistence and crossed back to move the coach. I stood between our suitcases while the little man repeated his worried broken sentences. "Yes, yes," I replied, feeling as though I too was reduced to sparse phrases. "See, there, he will drive it over here." As the motorhome and its car trailer lumbered over the stretch of road and eased into the driveway, our host danced about, arms flailing to indicate that J. must move around the circular courtyard and then position the entourage under a tree.
Trying to find enough energy to get myself to the door of the room where we were to lodge, I bent toward the suitcases. With a quick dart the man intercepted me, seized the bags, and repeating the number of the room he sprinted ahead. Dashing inside he twitched the controls of an air conditioning unit, flung open the door of the bathroom. He rushed to the fridge behind the entry door and pointing at the bottle of water I clutched he announced, "Water in here--cold". I stood, dazed, saying at intervals, "Yes. Yes, I see, Thank you. Thank you."
While J. tinkered at the motor home, trying to find the source of the A/C problems I took stock of our accomodations. Inside and out the cinder block walls were painted white. The floors were a pale grey tile. Two beds were covered with inexpensive quilted spreads of faded blue and white, windows were draped with a cheap silky fabric. I realized that the whole small cubicle was immaculate although there was no aggressive odor of cleaning products. The casement windows were functional unlike those great immovable expanses of plate glass in chain motels. I cranked open the window and flopped onto the bed, holding the flimsy curtain aside to let the evening breeze stir the warm still air of the room. The pillow, the quilt covered mattress, the very walls exuded trapped heat. Closing my eyes I could still feel the motion of the coach. I opened them, lulled by the sight of cottonwood leaves moving against a shadowy evening sky. I didn't hear J. lock the door or turn on the shower. I jerked out of my stupor when he came to the side of the bed, smelling of shampoo, and gently removed the fold of the curtain from my fingers.
The floor of the bathroom was warm, the fixtures gleaming; the towel I pulled from the rack after a shower held the heat of the day. I rubbed moisture from my hair, rummaged a nightgown from my suitcase. Settling between the warm sheets I wondered muzzily if the small energetic man or maybe his wife, hung the motel's linen to dry in the sun and wind. There was a brief creaking as J. rolled onto his side in the other bed. The elderly air conditioner whirred bravely against the languid heat. Blessed by the utter simplicity and cleanliness of the small space, we slept.



Monday, July 13, 2009

Train

This miniature train created from oil drums was at the entrance of the garage where we left our ailing motor home.

The Shop Cat

Such a plaintive pointy face!


Note her right paw is like a club foot.



Not a pampered cat, but a friendly one.


Our trip to Yuma, AZ last week was for the purpose of buying and driving back to Wyoming two used "motor homes." Husband has bought and sold several since late spring, adding them to his ever changing stock of vintage tractors and refurbished construction equipment. Coming from a long paternal lineage of "wheeler-dealers" it is a natural side line for him and for his twin brother.

The units are meant to be checked over at the dealer's shop so that we have a reasonable assurance of all systems in good working order. Although we suspected that the man who was meant to be in charge of this inspection had been less than vigilant, still there was no reason to suspect that the fuel pump would "die" on the newer coach less than 150 miles into our return journey. We loaded our Toyota Rav onto a car trailer behind the motor home and set out late in the afternoon.

I was sitting at the little kitchenette table reading [of course!] when I felt the vehicle slowing. We were in a long stretch of red rocks, dust and sagebrush. "Why are we stopping here?" I asked. "Because," said husband grimly, "the engine has quit!" Providentially, he was able to coast the coach off the highway onto the flat verge. As sunset added a ruddy stain to the sky, he prodded at the engine, checked fuses, tried again and again to start the motor. "Fuel pump," we speculated.

We sat in the gathering darkness, the motorhome rocked by passing trucks. Giving up hope that the engine would start, husband removed the binder chains and backed the Toyota off the car trailer. Lights in the distance suggested there might be a town up ahead, although the chances of contacting help after business hours seemed remote. We locked the coach, transferred our suitcases to the car and headed toward the town, hoping at least to find a motel and contact a tow service in the morning. Driving down the dark road we decided to punch in 911 on the cell phone and report the location of our disabled and abandoned vehicle. The emergency dispatcher rang us back directly to state that a trooper in a patrol car was in the area and would meet us near the motor home if we would turn around. Within moments of returning to the roadside, flashing red and blue lights heralded the arrival of the trooper. He proceeded to scold us for having stopped in that particular spot! [I thought it rather obvious that we had little choice.] When he had done fussing, he rang up a 24 hour tow service and left us, sand spurting under his tires.

The tow truck operator was a competant and agreeable man who quickly had the front of the motorhome jacked up and ready to be "dragged" to a garage. Back in our car, ready to follow him, we noted that although the sun had now been down for several hours, the temperature was still at nearly 100 degrees. The motor home was detached and settled in the corner of a large lot behind a garage and we rather disconsolately made ready for the rest of the night, glad at least that we could occupy the comfortable bed with the clean linens we had brought with us.

We had breakfast at a small cafe and returned to the garage just as the tow truck man arrived for work. As we talked with him, a bony cat appeared and gave a tentative "meow." I bent to stroke her coarse and dusty coat and she purred with pleasure. "Do they feed you here?" I asked her. "Oh yes, she gets food," the man replied, offhandedly. He went on to say that her damaged foot had "always been that way, doesn't seem to bother her." The cat had one paw on my sandaled foot and gave a gentle nip to my bare ankle. Her rusty purr accompanied our arrangements for repairs. As we crunched across the gravel to our car, she sat calmly on the gritty cement floor, only her yellow-eyed stare acknowledging our departure.





Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fresh Fruit

Notice the strawberries!



Colorful and fresh.





A recurring theme in my thinking and writing is the lack of good gardening conditions where I now live. Growing fruit and vegetables for fresh eating and to "put up" for winter was a major part of my life for many years. Nothing can equal a tomato picked and eaten in the garden, the sun-warmed juice dribbling down one's chin or the taste of berries just plucked and eaten from sticky fingers.

Many berries grow wild in New England, tiny sweet-tart strawberries nestled in a green meadow, blackberries the size of my thumb drooping from the bushes in late summer, blueberries gathered on a high round hillside while the white-throated sparrows sang against a blue sky. Then there were the numerous acres devoted to "pick-your-own" strawberries a short drive away. It was sensible to arrive there early on a mid-June morning, but I have often picked berries late in the afternoon when a day's sunshine had warmed them and the delicious aroma of ripe strawberries hung over the entire field. The first stop was at a shed where trays of heavy waxed cardboard were handed out. I usually went with friends or family and was always the one who wanted to linger and heap still one more tray. We made strawberry shortcake--crumbly homemade biscuits and whipped heavy cream--no substitutes for the real thing. We invited neighbors to share this nightly treat. My husband produced strawberry ice cream from a vintage hand-cranked ice cream maker. Berries went into the freezer, were made into jam in the all too brief season.


Strawberries [any fruit for that matter] are disappointing purchased here from the supermarket. No matter how red the exterior, they are usually tough and white in the interior, lacking in juiciness and flavor.


Last week, traveling to Yuma, AZ we kept watch for a roadside market we have noticed on other trips. Located between Columbus and Quartzite, it consists of a few tables sheltered by canvas. Refridgerated trucks were drawn up alongside when we stopped. Knowing we must buy only what we could consume that day, we settled for 4 bananas and a plastic box of strawberries. I set the berries between us in the car and we ate nearly all of them before we reached our motel. They were not quite the equal of the berries picked from maple-bordered fields in Vermont, but they were the best we have eaten in many years.