Friday, October 4, 2013

Fate, Choice And No Control

One day late last week I took a walk alone.
I very badly needed to be alone with my own thoughts and as I prepared to head out looked at my sweet four-legged pup and told her no.  She would have to stay home.
Only a couple of years ago I would have taken her with me.
Jamie has been my constant trail companion and friend on trails, all over the country for many years.
Pine tree and mountain filled trails in Alaska.  Heavily wooded trails in Tennessee and North Carolina and North Georgia.  High desert plains trails in Wyoming and now Idaho.
She is so accustomed to walking trails that if I venture off trail she gets confused and unsure about which way she is supposed to go.
If she ever gets lost, LC and I would look for her on trails because even though there is vast and wide open space for many miles around us, we both know that if she found her way to a trail she would follow it.
But she is somewhere around 13 years old now and my beloved trail companion can no longer travel very far.
She wants to.  She wants to go, but tires very fast.
On this day I wanted to walk further and walk longer than I could if I brought her with me.
And so I walked away from my girl and out into the warm sunshine of a fall day in SE Idaho.
Not far from the house is an old, weathered and worn, partially falling in and abandoned cinder block building.
The weathered and rusted sign above the front door simply says one word "LUBRICATION".
Dirty LC jokes aside, it was likely an oil change place, although it is obvious that it has actually been "nothing" for a very long time.
All the windows and doors are broken, and the building stands exposed to the elements.
Inside there is an old stove, a small old wooden table, some weathered lumber and not much else.
We ran into the owner at the bar a few weeks ago and (as with most of the people who live here) she is a colorful character who informed us that she would never put the building up for sale because she didn't want........somebody.........she named the person but I didn't care enough to remember buy it.
Well OK then.
Everyone here is colorful in all the potential interpretations of that word.
But a couple of residents we are beginning to like very much..............
As I walked beyond the Lubrication building I looked to my right and (beyond the large tree in my field of vision and beyond the last homes on the outskirts of town) I could see the mountains.
For most of the summer the mountains were only partially visible.
As with the previous summer, we found ourselves living in a western state that was overburdened by wild fires, and the smoke from a huge fire in the north-western section of the state consumed the area.
Sometimes we caught late-in-the-day glimpses of the mountains.
Sometimes the mountains had completely disappeared.
But now - with summer gone and fall here - we can finally begin to enjoy the sight of an endless wall of mountains surrounding us.
For a moment I stood in the middle of the road looking at them.
They were covered with snow.............
I headed down the same dirt and gravel road that Jamie and I had walked a couple of days before, stopped briefly at the silos, looked out over the mountains to my north and west, snapped a couple of pictures and then continued walking.
There was something freeing about being without my dog.  I still love to walk with her, but now walking with her is a slow process. 
I don't mind that slow process.  In fact I love it because she is my hiking buddy -  she always has been and always will be, only now my pup is older and she calls the shots instead of me.
But on this beautiful, outrageously sunny and cool day, I was pleased to be able to leave both my guy and my dog behind and just........move...............
A look back the way I had come.
The BLM fire station is on the immediate right.
The fire fighters are now gone for the season and will not return again until next May, when they will again maintain a constant presence throughout the dry wild-fire summer season.
The mountains in the background are almost 30 miles away.
Somewhere...........buried in the enormous mountain chain that dominates the northern landscape, are some of the tallest peaks in Idaho..................
If you click on any of the pictures they will enlarge.
The picture below is not of Big Butte (although is dominates the landscape to the west of Atomic City), but rather it is a picture that tells the story of tumbleweeds.
A few days ago LC, Jamie and I walked late in the day.  It was a freezing cold late day and the winds were very strong.
The strongest we had seen since we got here.  Maybe 40 mph or so.
As we walked, tumbleweeds barreled out of BLM land, blew across open fields in town and blew across roads before eventually and predictably getting caught up in fences and trees and buildings.
At the time we joked about this being a favorite Atomic City recreational activity - watching the tumbleweed races.
They were hundreds of them blowing everywhere.  
Seemingly coming out of nowhere and during the walk there were actually times we had to dodge one of these circular and prickly beasts as they blew in on the winds.
As I walked along the desolate dirt road on this day I looked down at a ditch that was completely filled with tumbleweeds.
I don't know why so many of them decided to come to a rest here, along this span of fence line, but the sight of so many of them in one place was something I had never seen before................
Looking in the direction I was heading.
In truth I really didn't know where I was heading.
The Table Top was to my left and was within walking distance, although it would turn into a many hours hike if I decided to do that.
Big Butte was to my right but that was 18 miles away, just to get to the base of the darned thing.  No.
I had left the house at 10:45 and had promised LC that I would be back home by 12:30 or 1.
As I walked out the front door I knew that it would be 1 and not 12:30.
Still with no specific plan or goal I continued to walk the road, trying to remember how far the dirt road turn-off that eventually led to Big Butte was.
Maybe I could walk part way up that road before turning back.
Who cared?  
I didn't.
The day was beautiful and I was simply enjoying the feeling of moving and of being alone..............
The world around me was completely and absolutely silent.
There was no wind, no traffic noises, no airplanes flying overhead, not even the sight or sound of a bird.
Absolutely and completely silent.
I stood beside the fence for a few moments looking around me again.
I had left the isolated community of Atomic City behind and was now standing in the middle of nowhere.
As I looked around me I took stock of what I could see.
A wall of snow capped mountains in the distance.
Big Butte.  Twin Buttes.  Table Top. Cedar Butte.  Other small rises close by that may or may not have names.
Portions of a fence.  Endless brown grass land.  Endless amount of sage.  Power lines and a power line trail.
It took LC and I a couple of months after seeing the house to finally decide to make an offer on it.
This.  This place.  This place was not what we had started out looking for and was nothing like what we had pictured in our minds.
But it was a comfortable place.
Maybe even a comforting place.
Regardless, it was a place that we could afford, and that provided us with the space and open-ness and silence that we both craved...................
Looking back once more at the town I had left behind.............
And looking north-west....................
Eventually I found myself standing at the intersection of the dirt road I had been traveling and a power line trail on my right.
Looking at my watch I quickly realized that if I was going to make it home by 1 I wasn't going to make it to the Big Butte road during this walk after all.
Turning off the road I picked up the double track dirt trail.
As soon as I was on the power line trail I looked down and found this.
A few years ago the sight of bleached bones and bone fragments would have surprised me.
But after living out west in first Wyoming and then Idaho, I have become accustomed to them.
There is nature all around us.  Deer and antelope on BLM land.  Deer in town.  Rattlesnakes and foxes and coyotes.  We have heard that there have been wolf sightings in the area although we have not seen one.
Prey and predator, each fighting for survival and vying for their space in the world.
Bones in the high desert are part of life in the high desert...............
Heading up the trail in the general direction of Big Butte.
It looked like is was just a little ways up the trail, although I knew that it was not.
Distances can be very deceiving out here.
The Twin Buttes that we can see from our front yard look they are only half a mile away.
They are almost 12 miles from the house................
I have no idea what this is, but it is very common in the desert around the town where we live.
Growing in large clumps this particular plant (found in a clump in the middle of the trail) was almost white as we had seen these a couple of months ago.
Closer to town this plant is now an almost bright purple...............
Desert, town, mountains...............
A quarter of a mile up the trail I found the first of many of these things.
I have no idea what they are (or were).
 I know that there used to be lines that powered water out to livestock on this land, closer to Big Butte.
I don't know if that is still the case or not.
Many of these were located along the length of the trail, and paralleling both the trail and the power lines..................
But this was the only section of pipe that I found............
I had left the house at 10:45 and now here I was at noon, standing in the middle of a trail in the middle of an entirely silent world.
Atomic City was a tiny speck in the desert but was still visible.
The buttes all stood silently around me, watching me and imploring me to make a decision.
I had to begin heading back but the question was which way to go.
I could simply turn around and head back down the trail, retracing my steps until I reached town.
But I hated to do that.  Hated to cover the same territory.
I could bushwack across country.
Bushwacking in high desert plains is not the same as bushwacking in the tree covered south.
How many races had I done in the past where we were all looking for a checkpoint that was seemingly hidden in the deep undergrowth of Tennessee or North Carolina or North Georgia or West Virginia or..........
Half the time we were 10 feet away from the stupid orange and white orienteering flag and STILL couldn't see it.
A team-mate could veer off trail and literally disappear and become swallowed by the dense vegetation.
None of those things could happen here.
But bushwacking across the desert also had its challenges.
Rattlesnakes.  A potentially longer hike than it looked while standing on a trail.  Dips and valleys that were not obvious from this vantage point that might make this hike more challenging than planned.  Rattlesnakes.
Freaking nasty buggers.
I wandered off the trail and picked a route that straight-lined to town.................
Watching and listening for the rattles, I easily made my way across country.
At times I followed deer trails that I found along the way, and when I lost them I simply picked my way through the rock and grass and sage bushes until I found another deer trail.
Although I tried to maintain a straight line to town I found myself often, almost magnetically, being pulled towards the direction of the Twin Buttes.
Unlike my hikes on BLM land outside Cody, there were no large rises and dips to contend with, and I was pleased with my decision to cross-country it...............
For the past month the sage brush on BLM land has bloomed bright yellow.
Colorful, blooming sage bushes against an increasingly brown land.
Now, it also is beginning to fade for the season................
Random rock pile in the middle of the desert.....................

Not far from the very outskirts of town, and after a quiet and uneventful hike, the ground underneath my feet began to change.
I had been walking in thick, brown grass and abundant sage brush, and solid ground.
And then suddenly and unexpectedly the ground began to give with each step, and I felt as though I was walking at the beach.
Muscles working hard.  Soft sand collapsing as I walked.  Young growth as opposed to the established grasses I had seen all day.  What WAS this?
At first I thought that it was land consumed by underground burrowing creatures.  Moles?
As I continued to sink with each step my mind started to wander to a movie I watched a number of years ago called Tremors.  
A combination light-hearted and scary action/horror film about killer beasties that travel underneath the ground and then eat people.  
There's some language in the clip:
Finally I realized that the ground was soft and in rows.  Large rows covering a very large area.
Was this farm land at one time?  Yes, I thought I had heard that there was a farm on the outskirts of town a number of years ago.  Which would answer the question about the random rock pile (land clearing)................
As I approached the silos I debated briefly whether to head back to the road and walk the rest of the way via that route, or instead wander the back side of a fence that bordered the silos.
I'd walk the back side and take a few last pictures of the mountains............
As I was wandering the field behind the silos and slowly meandering my way back towards town and the house, I noticed a white truck heading down the road.
It was a good distance from my location, and from the angle I was at thought that it was a newer model truck.
And then my cell phone rang.
Looking at the name on the screen I opened it up and said "Hello LC"
"Where ARE you?"
"Behind the silos.  Where are you?"
"On the road"
"Oh that was you??  Yeah I can see your truck.  What are you doing??"
"Looking for you!"
"Why.  It's only 12:45.  I told you I'd be home by 12:30.  l o'clock"
"Yeah, well I heard 12:30".
When I raced I used to travel all over the eastern side of the country alone.  Even after all these years I'm still not used to having somebody worry about me.
A little annoying sometimes.
But I understand LC's head.  
And I understand his heart.
We met each other a few minutes later and drove home together...............

Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you I had no control over.........Helen Rowland

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