Monday, December 29, 2014

Marbel And Chisel

The world looks beautiful.
Achingly, outstandingly, silently beautiful.
On an icy and cold but calm Christmas Day, I walked with my puppy through what feels like an abandoned desert community in the dead of winter.
I read something a while back.  It was a short blog post by some unknown and random person, and I happened to find his blog while doing research on Atomic City.
Jokingly the poster allowed his imagination to run wild as he slowly drove through this Tiny Toon Town in the middle of the desert, and he spoke in amused tones of imagining nuclear ravaged zombies peaking out from behind tattered curtains.
There appeared to him that there was nobody living in this quiet place. he slowly drove down one empty gravel road after another he could almost FEEL the eyes watching him.
Too funny.
To the outsiders who unexpectedly find themselves slowly driving through town, I suppose that it DOES seem like a strange little place. a woman who LIVES here, it sometimes seems like a strange little place.
But having gotten to know the few residents who call Atomic City home (complete with all their sometimes charming and sometimes not, desert-rat quirks) its just business as usual.
We mow our lawns, take out the garbage, change the oil in our trucks, occasionally visit with each other, bar-b-q in the yard.  All the same things that people do in other towns that do not seem quite so..........well..........weird.
On this cold and still day the zombies watched silently from behind their curtains as I walked down the middle of the icy road with my dog................
It was Christmas morning.
The single main road through town had (surprisingly) already been ploughed by the state even on this major holiday, but once we veered onto side roads walking became more of a challenge.
Snow was ankle deep on the roads, but knee deep at each intersection - a function of blowing snow that had piled up overnight.
The most challenging though were the ditches and an energetic dog who eagerly pulled me off road whenever something wholly interesting captured her attention.
With so much snow ditches were almost completely filled and were difficult to see, and I smiled in amusement while watching my dog sink over and over again almost up to her neck..............
Something magical happens to this town after a snow.
Roads and ditches and yards and driveways and wide open space in between sparse homes all blend into one beautiful and white and frozen still life.
All of a sudden a desert town doesn't feel like a desert town anymore.
The snow smooths out the rough edges of both the town and the desert that surrounds it, and the world is at its most beautiful.
As I awkwardly lumbered through snow I looked around me, enamored with this place that I call home.
And then I thought of all the people who live here for six months of the year, before retreating to the warmth of places such as Arizona and southern Texas.
They completely miss the most beautiful season of the year................
There were coyote tracks everywhere we looked.
The rest of the year I could persuade myself that they only wander around BLM land in back of town.
But in the winter the signs are all there.
They wander every street in Atomic City.................
My sweet dog and I walked in town for a long time, wandering up and down every street and I greatly enjoyed the way the world looked in this new, frozen reality.
There are different levels of quiet in Atomic City.
There is the perpetual quiet that we experience most of the year.  
A quiet that is broken occasionally by the sounds of a truck driving through town towing a trailer complete with four-wheeler, as it speeds towards great adventures out on BLM land.
Or the quiet that is broken by the sounds of chirping birds during the day or howling coyotes during the night.
The quiet that is temporarily broken by a lawn mower or a chain saw as one local resident or another works out in their yard.
Even the quiet that is broken as Secret Squirrel Lab employees stop at the bar to pick up beer for the drive home after work.
But in winter - when the entire world feels as though it is hibernating - there is a deep and uninterrupted silence.  No birds.  No chain saws.  No four wheelers.  Fewer drinking drivers.  Fewer planes overhead.   Fewer residents.
Just a sleepy and sleeping town that is warmly and securely covered by a blanket of snow that buffers the noise of the world and keeps it all away for many months...............
 What a severe yet master artist old Winter is.... No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel................John Burroughs

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snow On Christmas Eve

Until a few days ago winter was a hit and miss affair in Atomic City.
Unlike last year where winter came early and stayed late, for the past couple of months we have had an eclectic mixture of cold nights and warm days interspersed with periods of snow that quickly melted away.
As I walked with Kory out on BLM land a few days before Christmas I looked around me.
There was much snow in the mountains all around us, but BLM land was filled only with the dried beige grasses and sage bushes that typically dominate the terrain in fall.
NOAA promised snow the day before Christmas and so I had hope that maybe the day would be white after all.
By mid-day on Christmas Eve the skies finally opened and finally dropped their promised snow.
It snowed heavily throughout the rest of the day and then throughout the night, and by Christmas morning Atomic City was covered not with an inch or two of snow, but by at least six inches with drifts that were well over a foot deep.
Like a little kid I constantly looked out the front room window, excited at what was happening outside, while the big wood stove in the living room worked over time trying to keep the house warm.
By late on Christmas Eve night LC, Kory and I ventured out into the freezing darkness of the back yard.
By that time the half torn down greenhouse was buried under fallen and drifting snow, and we had to push the back door open to get outside..............
Christmas is a troublesome time of year for both of us now.
Filled with the comfort of each other but also silently filled with those who are away from us.
Filled with pain that both of us try to pretend is not there but its there anyway.
Silently and invisibly swirling around us, like the fall of silent and swirling snow on a cold winter night.
Christmas morning we again ventured outside with our sweet dog to see what the world looked like in its new, white reality................
The wood that we cut during multiple trips to Aberdeen in the spring.
That sat in a huge pile throughout the summer, silently beckoning us to split it and stack it and get it out of the middle of the yard.
The wood that we could not even face for so many months after working so hard to get it all, but which was finally split and stacked in the fall.
It will sit where it is for a year or two and then it will be ready for our wood stoves...............
Wearing pajamas, a winter coat and insulated boots, I wandered through shin deep snow while watching my dog relish in the wonderment of this new world.
As I watched her dance in the snow, then bury her face in it, then sprint ecstatically backwards and forwards from one end of the yard to the other over and over again, I remembered the first time she saw snow.
We had only had our Florida dog for a month or so, and as we were working to establish a relationship with each other I walked to the front door in preparation for a morning walk.
Kory looked out the front door, barked, backed up, walked in circles.
She did this over and over again as I pulled my boots and coat and hat and gloves on, and I watched her surprised - wondering what was wrong with this dog that we had only known for a short time.
Finally it dawned on me.
Kory had never seen snow before.  
And she had no idea why her new world - that she was still getting to know - had suddenly turned white.
It did not take her very long to learn that she loved snow as much as I did..................
The old school house.
Long since closed, I was always curious to know what this building looked like on the inside.
I had heard that the teacher of this small school (that serviced the children of this small town back in the 50's) actually lived in the back of the building.
Armed with that limited knowledge (and having walked around the property one day and enjoyed the many trees that the land possessed) I imagined a wonderful old building that was frozen in time on the inside.
Maybe there was an old blackboard, old desks, old wooden desk chairs, perhaps a toy or some aged reminders of a teachers living quarters.
Instead, there was simply a moldy cinder block building that possessed no light, many dark corners, no finished walls.
It could be something if anyone cared about it.  But right now it is simply an old cinder block building.  One of many empty cinder block buildings in town.
A town resident bought the building a few months ago, cleaned up the yard and performed some perfunctory external painting before leaving town again for the winter.
It is again up for sale....................
Just last weekend we bought a new fishing boat.
 We had been working on the little fiberglass boat that I found in Atomic City a few months ago, and that I negotiated for in exchange for four hours of sorting and moving nasty, mildewy boxes for an elderly lady here in town.
One day about six weeks ago LC saw a local Facebook post.  A couple were desperately searching for a small row boat for their three fishing-loving boys,
LC followed their search and then finally asked me one day if I would mind if he sold our boat to them.
He really wanted the boys to have a boat, and it was becoming obvious that their parents were having no luck in their search.
Smiling at my Mountain Boy (who served in the military and who served in law enforcement and who is one of hardest and toughest men I have ever met, but who is also much more tender hearted than I will ever be) I told him no.  I didn't mind.  Sell it to them if they want it.
As long as you promise to put the money towards another fishing boat.
He promised.
A few days later the parents came out to the house.  They excitedly said that they would take it.  LC dropped the price so that they could use some of their boat money to buy paddles.  The parents asked if we could store the boat for them, until the day before Christmas.  LC said no problem.
With the boat sold we quickly sold our beat up trailer(that had fit our little row boat perfectly) to a friend in Challis.
Armed with old row boat and old trailer money, we began a search for a new fishing boat.
 For a few weeks we both looked non-stop on local classified sites for a boat.  It was the wrong time of year to be shopping for fishing boats but we looked anyway.
And we traveled to see a couple of boats that turned out to be overpriced pieces of junk.
 A surprising number of people treat their recreational equipment (campers, boats, snow mobiles, four wheelers) very badly it seems............

Although LC was hoping for a metal boat, we kept coming back to a fiberglass boat that was sitting in the backyard of a home three hours from us.
In the meantime, LC decided that he wanted a Russian SKS.  
If we got the SKS we would have to save more money before we got another boat.  
LC wanted that SKS and so we got an SKS..............

And then two weeks ago the parents of the boys unexpectedly called us.
They had found a boat that they liked better and had bought it.
Could they get their money back?
After a month, they wanted their money back?  Really??
A man who is much more tender hearted than I am said yes of course.
So now we had less money that we thought we had, a small fiberglass row boat that we thought we had sold, and no trailer..............

After all of these weeks of selling boats and not selling boats and selling trailers and seeing boats that looked promising but eventually weren't - and buying SKS's and thinking we had a certain amount of money and then didn't - things happened very quickly.
We quickly sold a large chain saw for a decent amount of money.
At the same time, we found a fishing boat in Moore (just seven miles north of Arco), quickly went to see it, and quickly negotiated a very good price for it. 
After six weeks of expected and unexpected boat and trailer and gun and money adventures, we now own a great 14 foot deep V bottom fishing boat and trailer...................

Covered just in time before the snow hit.
And a picture of the day we brought it to the house...............
I see my path, but I don't know where it leads.  Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it...............Rosalia de Castro

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Little Lost River Valley

After religiously watching the weather forecasts for the past week in hopes of having a white Christmas, the skies finally opened up yesterday afternoon.
It snowed heavily non-stop from mid afternoon and then throughout the night, and this morning we woke up, pushed the back door open and walked out into a back yard that was knee deep in snow.
But a few days ago, surrounded by only the terrain of a snow-less desert and feeling increasingly restless, I needed white instead of endless beige.
And so we drove through 20 miles of desert, turned right off the fast and flat two lane highway and headed for  the tiny community of Howe.
Driving through Howe without stopping we continued moving, eager to be close to the mountains.
Heading for the snow covered mountains of the Little Lost River Valley..................
 The lower valley is filled with huge cattle ranches.
Huge pieces of ground owned by Mormon families whose ancestors settled this area a hundred years ago or more.
It is an incredibly isolated area.  Community halls located in the middle of nowhere and in Clive a Forest Service building.   
Each home, each community hall, is separated by miles and miles of nothing but farm land that is surrounded by increasingly rugged mountains.
After driving for 30 minutes without passing even one vehicle, we pulled off the winding road and pulled into a small campground that is located close to a narrow and winding section of the Little Lost River.
Climbing out of the Tahoe I looked at the back seat and smiled when I saw my sweet dog eagerly dancing around in anticipation of being sprung from the bondage of the vehicle.
Opening the back door Kory immediately made a jump for the ground and I made a quick grab for her leash.
Maybe it was time to trust her unleashed away from the BLM land around home, but we kept her leashed anyway.
There were coyotes out there.  Certainly wolves.
As I looked around me the wild terrain compelled me to let her go so that she could run untethered, but I couldn't do it.
Maybe soon.  Maybe a while longer yet.
But likely soon.
Handing my sweet dog over to my sweet Mountain Boy, I reached into one pocket of my jacket and pulled out my little digital camera................
 This was only the second time that we had explored parts of the Little Lost.
In February we were here for the first time:
As it was on this day, we had initially decided to explore back in February because we needed to be around trees and mountains and snow.
For the second time this year we stopped at the same campground, and again relished in how beautiful it was.
Neither of us could see camping here.  The river was too narrow - no boating, no kayaking, questionable fishing, a campground sitting close to the river but also in wide open terrain that felt too exposed.
But still a beautiful place to stop and wander.....................
 As soon as we climbed out of the truck I knew that it was much colder in the valley than it was in the desert.
It felt at least 10 degrees colder than it had been when we left the house, and even though the cold initially surprised me, LC and I were both dressed for it.
We had enough clothes and (knowing that we were planning on being in an isolated area) we were also armed with enough emergency supplies to feel comfortable with the trip.
After spending half an hour wandering along the edge of the river (and watching Kory continually step into the rushes and then sink through them into the shallow river) we all climbed back into the truck, curious to see what else we would find.
As we continued to slowly make our way further into the valley I wasn't exactly sure how far we would go.
On our last trip in February we had eventually reached what I can only describe as a no-mans-land area where we decided to turn back.
The area was absolutely isolated, and buried under huge snow drifts it appeared that there were no power lines, no homes, no community halls.  
No trees.
Nothing but expansive hills covered with snow.
With no emergency supplies, no cell phone coverage, no signs of civilization, snow drifts gently blowing across the road and no idea what we would face up ahead, we reluctantly decided to turn back.
We had meant to return and retrace the drive again during the summer but never got around it.
Would we drive that far this time?  We had no specific plans or agenda in mind other than to be in the mountains and be surrounded by snow, and we had already accomplished that...............
 On the spur of the moment LC reached a directional sign and turned left off the main road.
The directional sign pointed the way to the pass, which climbed up and over the mountains until it eventually dropped down into Mackay.
Another one of those roads that we had promised ourselves we would see during the summer, and one of those things that we forgot all about in the rush of camper buying and campsite visiting and home improvements.  The drive never happened through the summer..............
 We were greeted with deep snow cover as soon as we turned off the main road.
Neither one of us thought that we would be actually driving up and over the pass at this time of year, but we were both curious to see how far we could get and what we would see before having to turn back.
All of a sudden LC picked up speed and I looked over at him in surprise.
We were being followed..................
 In a wide bend in the road LC pulled the Tahoe over to the shoulder so that those in the vehicle behind us could pass.
As they drove up to the drivers side they stopped.  Did we know what the pass was like?  No - this was our first time up this way.
What were our names?  Pausing for a moment - LC.
I could tell by his tone of voice that LC was as caught off guard by the question as I was.
But quickly we had our answer.
One of the four guys in the truck had bought a third seat from us back in the spring and recognized us.
Smiling I thought "what are the odds?"
The guy was from Pocatello, we had not seen him in over six months, had only met him the one time, and here he was joy riding with three other guys in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Little Lost River Valley.
At the same time that we were.
After exchanging pleasantries and jokes about digging out if they (or we) got stuck, we wished them well.
Quickly they sped ahead of us and were gone from sight...............
 The scenery was stunningly beautiful and as we ticked off one mile after another I found myself excited about what we would see during this unexpected side trip through the valley.
How far would we get before we had to head back?
Was it possible that the pass was passable?  Doubtful but who knew?
We had no idea what kind of roads were up ahead and so we slowly made our way in this unknown place, both of us excited by the newness of our experience and completely enamored with beautiful and wild terrain...............
 15 miles later we came across a Road Closed sign.
Driving right by it, both LC and I knew that our trip was almost done but we continued a little further anyway.
Our trip had been easy enough to this point.  The snow had been getting deeper with each passing mile but the road had remained mostly flat and navigable.
Let's see how close to the mountains we could get.................
 After a wonderful and unexpected 20 mile detour, our trip into the mountains came to an end.
The truck that had passed us was long gone, and as we pulled into a wide and empty spot so that we could turn the Tahoe around, we wondered just how far they would get.
The four smiling men had struck me as free wheeling young guys who were up for an excellent day of manly adventure two days before Christmas.
Maybe they would make it.  Maybe they'd get stuck.  Maybe they'd eventually turn it around.
But somehow I knew that whatever happened during their trip, it was all good.
But for us, the steep climbs up into the mountains were just up ahead, and so our sidebar adventure would have to stop right here.
While LC backed into the wide open spot in the snow and off the road, I grabbed for Korys leash one more time and slowly began to walk on the road with her.
God, we were in a silent and wonderful place.................
 There were trees down the hill.  Which meant that there was water down the hill.
As we slowly began to wander down the hill where LC had pulled the truck over, I looked at the lone set of tracks that had just recently broken trail.
My first thought was a coyote, but as I looked at them more closely I realized that these were not the prints that I was so used to seeing around Atomic City.
These were bigger.  Slightly larger than Korys big paw print.  And the prints were close to Korys in appearance and that was not a coyote print.
I believed that these were wolf trackst and that this lone wolf had wandered down to the river just recently.
Me and my sniffing and curious dog wandered only a short way before turning back.................
As my puppy and I reached the Tahoe again, unexpected noise pierced the silence that I had quickly become accustomed to.
Looking up I saw the four guys heading back our way.
They had made it another few miles before finally turning back after seeing five foot snow drifts across the road.
Smiling, they told us they were going to search for another way across the pass.
Smiling, we wished them well and waved as they sped away.
Good luck guys.  
Slowly heading back the way we had come................
 Pictures taken on a slow and excellent trip back towards home...............
 I hope that everyone had a very Merry Christmas filled with joy and family and friends.