Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Welcome Back Winter

 We have been very spoiled this winter.
I was looking back over pictures from last winter when we were still living in Idaho, and remembering when we had so much snow that almost the entire front of the house was hidden behind a frozen white wall of snow.
There were snowbanks over six feet tall all over town.
I shoveled more snow last year than all the snow I had shoveled in total over my life time.
By all accounts they had as much snow here in Wyoming as we did in Idaho.
We have been very spoiled this winter.
Regular snow falls followed by days and even weeks of temperatures above freezing.
We have had more snow-free days this winter that snow-filled days.
January was mostly in the upper 30s and 40s.
LC and I had planned on traveling over to Idaho (the long way - up into Montana and then drop back down into Idaho since the park is closed) to get some of our large things - vehicles and campers and boats and how the heck did we accumulate so much stuff anyway??
We saw the weather forecast - 80% chance of snow with accumulations around 1-2 inches.
We had heard that same forecast a number of times through early February, but saw little aside from a few meager flakes.
Much to my disappointment at the time, but we assumed that this forecast would follow the same course.
It didn't.
It was snowing when we woke up Saturday morning and (aside from a few short breaks in the snow bands) it did not stop until Sunday evening.
By the time it was all said and done we had 8 inches of new snow and the temperature had bottomed out (0 during the day and -15 overnight).
Once it became obvious that THIS snowfall was not going to be like OTHER snowfalls, we called our trip to Idaho off.
Reluctantly deciding to wait and try again next week.
I snapped these first pictures on Sunday morning.
Aside from a few brief trips outside, all of us had been housebound for over 24 hours and had cabin fever.
It was freezing cold outside as I looked down at my dog.
Kory was beginning to climb the walls and take me with her.
Pacing the floor.
Looking at me in that silent, expectant, bright eyed, tail wagging, sit right in front of me so I can't ignore her way that she has, when she really really REALLY wants to go for a walk.
And so I bundled up, grabbed for my puppy's leash and headed for the door.
I knew how cold it was outside (made even colder because of the wind) and told LC that we probably wouldn't be gone very long...............
 It was mid Sunday morning.
And mid long weekend.
The day was totally silent in that way the world always is when new snow covers the ground, when nobody is driving on the roads, and when the roads have not yet been ploughed.
It felt as though the entire world was hunkered down under a pile of quilts.
The whole world quietly drinking mugs of steaming hot chocolate and binge-watching a favorite TV show.
I quietly trudged through the snow and watched as my happy puppy danced and pranced in the new snow.
Ecstatic to be outside and (as always) loving the snow.
It was cold.
So cold that my ungloved, camera-holding, picture-taking hand immediately froze, and after snapping a few quick pictures I struggled to shove my stinging and bright red hand back into a single cold glove.............
 The loose plan  to walk around the block quickly became a hard-and-fast plan to walk to the end of the road and then go home.
This dog had never seen snow until she came to live with us.
This dog loves to play in snow and seems impervious to the cold...............
 The little house that we are renting looks so much smaller on the outside than it does on the inside.
It is a clean, comfortable and well laid out home............
 By the time we walked back up the driveway to the house it was beginning to snow again.
We had only be outside for 15 minutes - long enough to walk to the end of the road and back, but that was going to have to be good enough for now.
It was too cold for such foolishness.
A broken wagon that quietly sits at the end of the driveway of the house next door to us.
One of many such wagons that dot the Cody landscape...............
 By Monday morning the snow fall was over.
What remained was a good ground cover of snow that made the world look like a winter wonderland.
What also remained was the greyness of an overcast sky and a day that was even colder than it had been the day before.
The sun battled valiantly (but briefly) for dominance, but after a brief fight it reluctantly gave up.
The sun would stay hidden for one more day.
Kory and I walked again.
This time we wandered further, exploring some of the neighborhood.
The roads had been ploughed by this time so walking was easier.
Regardless of the greyness or the coldness it was a wonderful, beautiful day and we were both glad to be outside...............
 Kory heading out of the picture.
Heart Mountain in the background.............
 We currently live in a quiet neighborhood filled with homes and churches, with mountain views in all directions, and close to down town.
It works.
For now at least, it works for us................
 Just a random picture of a sweet little house.............
 Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless...............Terri Guillemets

Friday, February 16, 2018


With the snow mostly melted but the temperatures bottoming out over the past week or more, we have not done anything exciting.
Walks have been brief, mostly of the "Kory running while LC and Karin hunker down against the strong and freezing cold wind" variety.
Outside just long enough to satisfy our energetic dogs' continual need to run and then errand running and back to the house.
Which is all OK.
February is turning out to be the coldest month of winter so far, and now that we have found a place to live for a while we are both beginning to think seriously about how to get all of our belongings from Idaho to Wyoming without breaking the bank.
Two 200 sq foot storage units piled high.  A Suburban.  A camper.  A fishing boat and trailer.
Even a wonderful Native American picture that we gave on loan to a library in Challis ID because it was so big and so heavy we weren't sure what else to do with it.
There were thoughts of home improvements.  And then thoughts of selling a house.  
And then surprisingly actually selling a house.
That piece of art needed to be somewhere safe at the time, and so it sits on a wall two hours up the Big Lost River Valley now far away from where we live, far away from where our camper and boat and trailer and extra vehicle are, and far away from where our belongings are holed up in storage.
For goodness sakes...........what a cluster................

If I think about it too much it is simply overwhelming.
Early next week we'll be making a quick out and back to Idaho to pick up a Suburban and boat and camper (and maybe a picture).
A week or so later we'll be making a quick trip out and back to Idaho again, this time to clean out two storage units.
I will be glad when February is over because then moving will finally (finally) be done................

On a very cold but also very wonderful day late last week the wind finally stopped blowing and I ventured outside for a walk with my dog.
We eagerly climbed a trail in what is quickly becoming a favorite place for the two of us to hike and explore.
This trail was adjacent to the trail from the previous blog entry.
One more hill in a vast series of hills located just a few miles outside of Cody.
We set out, both of us excited to explore a new trail, and as we climbed I was eager to find out what was on the back side of this hill.
We were on a power line trail.................
Unlike the previous trail that alternated between steep climbing and short flats, this trail was straight uphill in a long, gradual incline.
This hike was not as lengthy as the one we had taken previously and 30 minutes after first setting out from the truck I had my answer.
The trail opened up to a vast expanse of the Oregon Basin.
I stood at the top of the high rise and looked around me, enthralled with the view and trying to get the lay of the land.
Looking below me I could see the tight and rutted out trail that LC had tried to drive for a while before eventually turning back out of concern for the vehicle sometime late last fall.
I could see the trail out in the basin that led to Circle Rock - our most favorite desert place.
I could see the rise to my left that I had climbed on my last trip out this way with Kory.
And endless other rises in all directions.
And then my camera died.
Or more specifically..........the battery died.
I'll have to do that same trail again just so that I can take more pictures................
Out at Red Lake (a vast area of BLM land that contains a dry lake bed).
It is another favorite of ours simply because it is right at the edge of a subdivision and only a few minutes from the house.
A quiet and isolated expanse of ground for our puppy to run and for us to walk and wander, without having to drive very far.
Below is a video of someone climbing a hill in the summer on four wheeler out at Red Lake.
Our dog climbed this same hill on this visit - chasing a bunny.
She loved the chase although she never had a chance of actually catching the rabbit.
This winter has been an endless cycle of heavy snowfalls and then enough mild days to melt it all away time and again.
We haven't ventured onto many of the endless trails that make up Red Lake.
Eventually the weather will be warm, the ground will be rock hard, and we will explore some of the trails in our Suburban.................
Me with Heart Mountain in the background.
If the wind hadn't been blowing it would have felt warm.
But it was blowing.
And it felt freezing cold..................
We spent months looking for an affordable house to buy.
We spent months looking at houses all over Big Horn County and Park County.
We knew how expensive houses were in Cody so told ourselves early on that Big Horn County would work for us - affordable homes and close enough to Cody to get to everything it had to offer within a reasonable drive.
We told ourselves that and so we looked at homes in Basin, Greybull, Cowley, Deaver and Bryon.
We looked in Burlington.
We looked in Powell.
We looked in Meeteetse.
We looked at a lot of junk - some of it obvious junk, some of it was deliberately concealed junk.
We found a lovely home on one acre in Cowley but ultimately couldn't make an offer on it after realizing that we really did not want to live that far from Cody.
We made an offer on a manufactured home on four acres in Burlington, only to find out that the home wasn't strapped down and there were roof issues and serious water issues that the owner had no desire to remedy.
We made an offer on a home in Meeteetse that was immediately turned down.
In the meantime we talked to people in Cody about Meeteetse and every single person told us the same thing - that Meeteetse was cliquish. 
Very cliquish.
Unwelcoming to outsiders cliquish.
And that new businesses were not welcome.
Enough people told us the same thing (most of them unprompted) that it simply confirmed what we had grown to suspect, and so when the home owner came down to our price a month after our original offer, we declined.
We toyed with the idea of Clark but Clark is extremely isolated and is renowned for both hurricane force winds and grizzly bears.
The bears and wind weren't deal breakers.
The deal breaker was the distance from a hospital (one of us is getting old and the other is getting older).  
Neither of us was 30 anymore.
The other deal breaker was a question posed to LC by the owner of the cottage we were renting up until a couple of weeks ago:
If something happened to you would you want to leave Karin in Clark?..............

We found a manufactured home just outside of Cody on two acres, went to see it four hours after it was listed and made an offer immediately.
The permanent foundation in the description wasn't recognized as a permanent foundation for loan purposes.
No deal.
We explored costs for land, were immediately encouraged by the low cost of some of the pieces of land in and around Cody and then was almost universally discouraged after learning of the extraordinary building expectations based on prevalent HOAs.
You could buy a reasonably priced piece of land as long as you wanted to build a $400,000 home on it - made of pre-approved materials in pre-approved colors and your fences were the pre-approved number of feet away from the pre-approved design of your outbuildings etc etc. etc. as described here-in by the architectural committee................

We found a home in Powell.
A strong, sturdy, straight and solid home with two tiny bedrooms, doorways in strange and non-intuitive locations, and duct work that overwhelmed to basement.
It was located in back of town on a large lot adjacent to the college.
It had a great one car garage-workshop for LC, a nice back deck and was reasonably priced.
It had been on the market for over a year which never bodes well in the Park County market, but it was a house that was always a "fall-back house" for us.
A good, solid house at a price we could afford on the last street in town, across from a church, college campus and a park.
What the hell more could two people of modest means hope for or expect?
AND there was a good store front right on the main street in Powell for my store.
We kept looking..........and the Powell house was always our back-up house.
And then one day a couple of months after our first look at the house, we went back to see it again.
By this time we were tired and stressed out.  Beginning to feel overwhelmed.  Mindful of the time we had remaining at the cottage and mindful of the upcoming tourist season only a few months away that would add significant pressure to the rental market.
We walked into the Powell house certain that we would be taking a cursory look around and would pull the trigger on it.
We walked away shaking our heads.
The duct work downstairs was a mess and completely overwhelmed the lower level.  There were two large rooms down there but there was no way to make it into a comfortable "living space" - they would always just be "the rooms down in the basement".
The bedrooms were too small and the design of the house and the configuration of the yard made it impossible to expand.
The doorways were in weird places.
I walked around the home a few times trying to wrap my head around this house.  
Trying hard to make it work in my mind because I knew that LC liked this house.
We walked out and I looked at him.
He looked at me.
For both of us it was laid out worse than we remembered.
This wasn't the right house.
We really wanted it to be the right house, but it wasn't.
We were back to square one.................... wasn't QUITE back to square one.
There was a house in Cody that we had seen once and had been watching for a while.
A small house on a larger lot.  Higher than we wanted to pay for a house but it had been on the market for a while.
We took a second look.
We made an offer.
They made a counter offer.
We made a counter counter offer and they said no.
When it was all said and done we were $10,000 apart.
We had already gone higher than we felt comfortable.
We walked away over ten grand...............

We looked at a huge and beautiful modular home on a couple of acres outside of Powell.
We saw it when it was dark outside, but loved the inside, loved the trees, loved the views we could see in the shadows of the moon.  
We were interested.
And then we went to look at it in the daylight.
It was located among a small cluster of homes in an isolated neighborhood.
In the daylight we could see many abandoned vehicles in the backyard of one neighbor, and race cars and race car parts in the front yard of the neighbor across the street.
It backed up to the canal.  We put together the stories about previous owners and french drains and the old but still obvious water issue that had been evident in the crawl space.  The high mound of dirt in the backyard that the realtor assured us was for landscaping purposes.
The problem had been remedied we were told.  
We went to see our banker.  The first question:  was the house in the Powell Plain?
We didn't need to buy a home that required floor insurance.................

Now we really WERE back to square one.
After spending a few months looking non-stop all over Hell and Half Of Georgia we were no further ahead than we had been back in October.
For the past couple of months I had also been looking at the rental market in addition to the buyers market and was becoming increasingly concerned about whether or not we would be able to afford even to rent in Cody.
Few places would even CONSIDER a dog, and all of those were very expensive.
LC started looking at real estate back in Idaho and when a lady we ran into told us about a house she had just bought in North Dakota I started looking there.
We looked at renting a mobile home in a mobile park and it was a disgusting place.
We looked at renting in a different mobile home park and it was nicer.
95% home owners as opposed to renters.
Possibly doable.
They had a few nice manufactured homes for sale as well that could either stay in the park ($300/month lot fee) or could be moved to your owned piece of land.
LC and I decided to give that a shot first - buy the manufactured home and pay the lot fee until we could find a piece of land to put it on (assuming we could find a piece of land that accepted manufactured homes).
Went to the bank and they would indeed finance a newer manufactured home.
For four years.
At 10% interest rate.
We could do that.
But we hated the interest rate.  Hated the lot fee.
Maybe we should just rent a mobile home instead???
We looked at a couple of other homes for sale by owner in Cody.
One was $180,000, needed painting inside and out, and had a badly cracked foundation.
One was $209,000 that was nice but incredibly small and would have cost $60,000 in Tennessee.
A home for $139,000 was a disgusting mess.
After looking at the last of these three I looked over at LC as we walked back to the truck and said "People here have no shame".
Someone posted an enclosed porch for rent out in the South Fork and wanted $350 a month for it.
An enclosed porch. 
An enclosed freakin' porch.
It was gone within hours.
People here have no shame.............

While still trying to decide what to do I was on a local classified site on-line and saw two houses for rent.
One was tiny and cheap.  One was bigger and not cheap (but cheaper than anything else I had seen up to that point).
And they accepted a dog.
They said a small dog, but I figured our beautiful girl would win the owner over with her "sparkling personality" and "unfortunate ears".
Seven minutes after the house was posted on line I called the woman.
A couple of hours later we had rented a house.
An 850 sq foot house.
A nice, clean, well laid out, airy house.
Two mudrooms, two bedrooms, one bathroom, good sized kitchen, dining room and living room.
With nice ceiling fans, plenty of storage, a small yard, plenty of windows, a view of the mountains, on a dead end road in town.
It is a nice house, we can be comfortable here, and I am glad we found it.
Now we can take our time and figure out our next move.
And my store is five minutes walk away................
Basics until we can get our belongings over here from Idaho..............
I snapped these pictures late this afternoon while Kory and I were walking in the neighborhood after a brief snowfall.
A cute little German Shepard pup barking at my bemused dog...............
Rattlesnake Mountain in the background.................
We made our way to a new-snow-covered park that is home base for the hot air balloon festival in summer.
Today the park was cold and silent and empty.
In June it will be home to 30 or so colorful hot air balloons, and I am looking forward to seeing them again.................
Skate board park.................
Heart Mountain under increasingly blue skies.................
It had snowed heavily all morning, so by early afternoon both Kory and I were restless.
We walked snow-covered sidewalks, snow covered park, snow covered alleys that led to small snow-covered dead-end roads, and we happily set off dogs in yards all over one entire section of town.................
Visiting with a sweet black lab through the privacy fence in the alley.................
By the time we got back to the house I was freezing cold.
We are heading into a five day streak of regular snowfalls and consistent cold temperatures.
It is easy to get lulled into thoughts of spring when temperatures are mild, but we still have a lot of winter left to go.................

For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home..............Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

Monday, February 12, 2018

Walking With First Friend

About 5 miles outside of Cody there is a turn-off from the Greybull Highway.
The turn-off leads to a rutted out double track dirt trail that wanders for a mile or so before eventually ending at the base of BLM hills and walking trails.
We had always driven by this turn-off in the past, instead electing to continue on the highway for another five or so miles before pulling into the Oregon Basin.
We found this place by accident not long ago.
LC and I were tired that day, but Kory was restless.
We knew that the only way to settle that restlessness was to let our energetic dog run, and so we pulled into this new turn-off on a whim.
It was closer than Oregon Basin.
She could do a quick run there.............

We didn't go far on that day but a few days later I came out alone with Kory and together we spent a long time exploring one small section of trails.
What a beautiful place!!
The day was cold and crisp, the sky was endlessly blue, and it was one of those gorgeous winter days that demand you be outside.
Parking the truck in a wide open section of BLM land off to the side of the dirt and snow-covered trail, I reached into the back seat and unhooked my excited dog from her leash.
Within seconds of springing from the bondage of the vehicle she was in a full run, already heading up a trail.
I watched her for a few moments before heading out.
 The sight of her joyful run made me smile and I hurried to catch up.
There was no real plan.
We didn't know the area and had no idea what was up over that first rise, and that was OK.
It was a beautiful winter day and new adventure lay ahead..............
Cody is situated at just over 5000 feet so it didn't take much climbing to feel as though we were towering over our new and still mostly undiscovered world.
A look to my right provided a great view of both Cedar and Rattlesnake Mountains................
Over the years since Kory joined our family, she and I have developed a rhythm to our walks.
I have confidence in her now - confidence that even though she wanders and disappears often, she always knows where I am and frequently comes back to me to touch base before wandering off again to explore wherever she wants to explore.
She knows I will not leave her behind.
Over the years the two of us have to learned to have confidence in each other.
We travel well together.
Communing silently together.
Enjoying nature together.
Enjoying being outside and traveling on foot together...............
The first section of trail was short and steep and I turned to look back over the almost-snowless terrain before picking up the second section of steep trail to my right.
More climbing and the effort felt great.
Kory was loving every minute of her new adventure.
With one last look over my shoulder at pup I continued, eager to see what was at the top of the next rise.
These hills were to my left.  
This entire range of hills was long and continuous, and Kory and I were only exploring one small section on this day.
Plenty more to check out on other days.
We were high up and climbing higher, and I felt free.
Kory and I were alone out here and I could see nothing but quiet emptiness in all directions...............
By the time we reached this place on the trail I noticed a change in the trees.
The wind had been increasing in intensity as we climbed higher into the hills until it was strong enough that my ears were hurting (even though I was wearing a loose-fitting wool hat).
I hadn't paid much attention to it as I was climbing, but as I stood looking at this twisted tree I realized that it was twisted because of the wind.
Just as other trees in the Oregon Basin had grown in twisted and tortured shapes.
The wind blew wildly for much of the year and was incredibly strong almost without pause through the winter.
This beautiful tree was a testament to adaptation and survival.................
Beyond the tortured tree the trail flattened out for a short while before climbing again.
By this time I was warmed up, the day was cold but sparkling in that way that only happens in winter, and some of the rugged and rocky basin ridge lines were beginning to make their appearance.
Looking around me I could see Kory down at the bottom of a hill, happily exploring underneath a sage bush.
Without consciously even thinking about it I called to her, just so she knew where I was.
Time to move on.
There was a little more uphill to go, but I could already see the ridge line I wanted to walk.  
It was up ahead and off to my left...............
Snapping pictures along the ridge...............
 Looking out over one part of the vast Oregon Basin.
The Bighorn Mountains off in the distance (about 60 miles away) barely visible from my elevated vantage point.................
Carter Mountain in the other direction (about 30 miles away).................
Cedar Mountain on the left and Rattlesnake Mountain on the right (with a snow covered Jims Mountain barely visible on the back side of Cedar and Rattlesnake).
Through that canyon between the two mountains lies the winding two lane highway that takes you to Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Wapiti, the North Fork and the East Gate of YNP..................
Heart Mountain.....................
Continuing along the ridge line...............
I know nothing about geology but these kinds of wind-carved rocks are located all over the basin and I find them hugely interesting.
They are beautiful, natural works of art................
I took a few minutes at the far edge of the ridge line to snap more pictures and scope out the area I was now standing on.
It was beautiful up here - incredible - and I was in no big rush to leave, but at some point I was going to have to get back down out of these hills.
Looking for a trail and hoping that I would not have to go back the way I had come............
My happy dog - ears blowing in the strong wind - looking out over the world.............
There were no other visible trails that I could see and as I looked down over the world along with my puppy I debated a game plan.
There were only two options that I could see - go back the way I had come and pick up the same trail I had just spent the last hour climbing, or bushwack my way down to the deep washout at the bottom of this first hill and follow it out.
The internal debate lasted for less than a minute.
Adventure racers (even old retired adventure racers) were loathe to travel the same way twice..................
That "plan" lasted all of 15 minutes as I picked my way down surprisingly steep drops, through snow, over and around rocks and half snow-buried sage bushes.
I ended up skipping the ridge line walk again but eventually I found myself heading back towards the same trail I had taken up.
The walking was easier and the views were better.
Adventure racers (even old retired adventure racers) are nothing if not flexible..............
On the last downhill trail of our trip I veered off the trail for a few minutes.
I had noticed this particular tree on the way up and wanted to take a closer look.
It was noticeable at first simply because it was extraordinarily beautiful.
Perfectly shaped.
A Tree Of Life.
As I approached the tree on the way back down the trail I found myself mesmerized by it.
I noticed the boards laid across from rock face to rock face for a makeshift seat.
I took in the stone wall that seemed to partially encircle the tree, and then quickly realized that much of the stone was not naturally placed.
Someone (or a few someones) has taken the time to build this wall.
I stood looking at the tree and the wall, slowly regarding the entire scene in front of me.
Walking closer to it I realized that I could see the desert floor on either side of the tree trunk.
Could see the mountains in the distance.
The appearance of the wall and space on either side of the tree trunk screamed one thing to me.
Tactical cover.
From here I could see approaching enemies without being seen in return.
If I were armed with a rifle (instead of the hand gun I was wearing for protection against critters both four legged and two legged) I could fire from this protected and concealed and elevated venue, and the advantage would be mine.
I could...............
.........and then I turned away from the tree and for the first time noticed the fire pit.
Someone (or a number of someones) had built the wall to protect against the wind.
So they could sit on the makeshift bench and enjoy the warmth of a fire.
Not tactical cover at all.
Just a wind break.
Smiling inwardly my first thought was "I've been hanging around a military combat veteran and retired cop for too long".
Yes LC.
I actually listen to you sometimes.
But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar......................
The Tree Of Life from the front..............
By the time I got back down to the bottom of the hill and was heading towards the truck I could hear my puppy coming up behind me.
She had been with me and away from me off and on for the past couple of hours.
Wandering off to check out puppy-stuff but always coming back to check in with her momma.
I have learned over the past few years that she nearly always knows exactly where I am at any given moment.
It had been a great walk.
A fun adventure.
But now it was time to go home and eat.
We were both hungry....................

When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always..............Rudyard Kipling (author, The Jungle Book)