Friday, April 21, 2017

Desert Places

 As it always is, spring is slow to arrive in Idaho.
Days vary wildly from warm and sunny to freezing and raining.
The other day I was wearing shorts.
This morning I walked with Kory in the wet snow.
A few days ago it was dry, but also windy and cool and the sky changed by the minute, varying continually between brief periods of sunshine and brief periods of cloud.
Loading Kory into the back of the Suburban we drove out onto BLM land, with our intended destination being Cedar Butte.
Although there is still plenty of snow up on Big Butte, Cedar had only patches left and I wanted to wander with my dog.
After a long winter of not being able to get out here, we were both more than ready to return to our desert places.
It was Easter Sunday and I was taken aback to discover that others had the same idea that I had.
As me and my excited pup slowly drove the 8 miles towards Cedar Butte I saw a surprising number of empty trailers along the way.
After a very long, very cold and very snowy winter, locals were eager to wander (even on Easter Sunday apparently), and the empty trailers were a sure sign that there were four wheelers and dirt bikers rediscovering the Snake River Plain.
As we arrived at the huge parking area at the base of Cedar Butte I looked to my left and was disappointed to find two more trucks, pulling two more trailers, filled with two more ATVs.
This was OUR desert.  Mine and Korys.  And these interlopers had no business intruding on our secret places.
Yes I know.
That made no sense.  
But for a split second I felt that way anyway - until the reasonable and adult part of me kicked in again.
There were tens of thousands of acres of BLM land out here.
Surely we could find a place to be alone, so that we could roam alone.
Much to the alarm of the dog we didn't stop at Cedar Butte.
Instead, we continued driving...............

We didn't go much further.
Two miles or so later, and I pulled the Suburban off the road and onto a large open section of land which would ensure an easy turn around when it was time to head back.
It was Easter and I had a ham to cook.
I didn't want to be out too long or too late.
Climbing out of the ugly yellow beast I reached for the back door and then scooted out of the way so Kory could leap her way to freedom.
As she quickly began to run and dart in different directions I looked to my east.
The reassuring view of the Twin Buttes.
Even though I couldn't see it, I knew that Atomic City lay between them.
Well..........actually...........12 miles in front of them......................
It seemed like a very long time since I had stood in this exact place.
There had been so much snow this past winter that it was impossible to travel out here without a snow machine.
For the second winter in a row I had wished that we had snow mobiles.
I had tried to take Kory for long walks while I snow shoed this past winter, but she only wanted to go to the four old potato silos on the outskirts of town.
 She spent the entire winter excitedly chasing, catching and killing rabbits.
Once she had made her kill she dragged each and every one of the hapless bunnies back to the house and buried them in the snow all over the back yard.
Once spring hit and the snow melted (predictably) we had dead rabbits spread out all over the yard.
She chewed on them, tossed them around, buried and unburied and reburied them, played with them for about a month (a head over here, a leg over there, half a body over in the corner, a random set of ears, and fur all over the yard) until I got tired of looking at the rabbit-carnage my dog had happily created.
One day my beautiful dog walked out into the yard and was dismayed to learn that all her dead bunnies and bunny parts had disappeared.
Circumstances unknown.................... 
Still plenty of snow in the mountains...............  
 Small clusters of white flowers were all over the desert.
The first wild flowers of the year, and over the next month there should be many more types.
For a short while in late May and into early June, the desert will be alive with color.
Cannot wait to see it all...................
 Kory and I hiked up a short and steep gravel trail that picked up one more trail on the back side of a hill.
This was the same road I had biked early last summer when I had unexpectedly discovered a huge section of wild flowers.
It was still early in the year but this was an off-the-beaten-path trail and I was hoping to see whether or not any wild flowers had made their appearance yet.
I was also hoping to keep our distance from the ATV's that were wandering around the area.
We had only been walking for a few minutes when I heard the shot.
Instantly Kory dropped her head, turned, headed back towards me, passed by me and kept going.
I heard another shot.  And then another.  And then another.
Over and over, and I quickly realized that somebody was target shooting.
I could see a vehicle a mile or so ahead of us and I was instantly disappointed that my dog and I would not be continuing on this trail.
Kory was terrified of gunfire.
As I turned away from the sight of the vehicle that sat in the distance, I watched my dog for a moment.
She was heading back to the safety of her vehicle.
I called to her and reluctantly she stopped and turned towards me.
Instead of walking back the way we had come, I encouraged Kory to head off trail with me.
The new plan was to bush whack up and over the hill, head down to the road that I knew was on the other side, cross over the road, and bushwhack in the direction of Cedar Butte.
I called to my dog as the gunfire continued, and my beloved furball reluctantly followed......................
 Kory continued to stick with me even though she was still upset about the sound of gunfire, and we continued to bushwhack over lava rock, sage brush and desert grasses.
I had never walked on the side of Cedar Butte before and wandered without much thought.
There were no real plans, no real destination, we were just wandering together out the desert for the first time in many months, on Easter Sunday.
Interlopers had invaded our territory - both those on wheels and those shooting guns - but we at least had this place at this moment, to ourselves...............
 As usual, I had been walking with one eye on the terrain and one eye on my athletic and adventuresome dog.
Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of red fur and know that she was still close.
Every once in a while I would call to her so that she did not lose track of my location.
Usually things went according to plan when we wandered together, but occasionally we would lose sight and sound of each other and it would take a while for us to reconnect.
This turned out to be one of those days.
I was still picking my way across the hillside and suddenly realized that I could neither see nor hear my dog.
Rinse and repeat over and over again for the next 20 minutes until I had circled around the back side of one hill and both the road and the Suburban were now visible 500 yards away.
Sighing in mild frustration (and wondering both where my dog had disappeared to and how long it was going to take for me to find her again) I headed down hill and towards the road................
 The Suburban barely visible in the center of the picture..................
Half way down the hill I saw Kory.
She had beat me down to the road, and was slowly heading towards "her" vehicle.
After a long winter of eating snow, my dog was suddenly back in the desert again and as I watched her moving towards the Suburban I could tell that she was hot and thirsty.
And tired.
She had been restless for the past couple of days, and this trip had not only been a chance for us to explore together, but also my conscious attempt to tire her out.
Not an easy thing to do.
But at this time, on Easter Sunday, she was tired and obviously ready to go home................
It was April - and April always meant the return of the huge sheep herds that grazed on BLM land for a few weeks early each spring.
We had seen them a few days before and taken some pictures, but the sheep were a long way from us and the pictures were only OK.
As Kory and I had headed out to BLM land a couple of hours earlier they had been close to the road.
Eager to walk, eager to let Kory run, eager to feel the freedom of wide open space, I did not stop.
Instead, I told myself that I would snap pictures on the way back to the house.
A couple of hours later, as we approached the place where the sheep had been, they were nowhere to be found.
How could so many sheep have been moved out of sight so quickly?
You could see for many miles in all directions and yet there no sheep?
Where on EARTH did the shepherd take them?
I had no idea, was impressed at the efficiency of this sheep operation and the shepherds ability to move the flock so far, so quickly.
And I was disappointed that I had not taken the pictures when I had the opportunity.
Maybe next time.
The sheep wagon standing silently and alone in the middle of the desert...............
And one stealthy shepherd returning (without dogs and without sheep) to his wagon...................

Friday, April 7, 2017

Goodbye House - Goodbye Tennessee

This was the house I lived in when I first met LC back in Tennessee.
I lived here with my dog Jamie, and it was the home I had bought right after my divorce.
It was only five minutes drive from work.
It was only 10 miles from the trails I consistently ran on and the lake I kayaked on.
It was on a quiet street with homes all the same age, all lots of established trees.
A nice, quiet middle class street.
It was fully fenced for the dog, had a covered back porch to store my kayak, canoe, road bike and mountain bike, had plenty of room inside to be comfortable and plenty of storage space to stash all my adventure racing gear.
It was solid.  Brick.  New vinyl windows.  Hard wood floors and some carpeting.
The yard front and back was beautiful.  Huge mature trees.  Flowering bushes.  Plenty of grass to mow.
While house hunting I must have looked at 30 different houses in three different towns before fnally choosing this one.
I still remember doing a walk through the first time and immediately loving it.
As I stood in the empty living room waiting for the real estate agent to turn off lights and lock doors, I absently looked at the wall of framed photographs on the wall.
The home had only been owned by two different couples since it was first built back in the 50s.  
One original couple who eventually sold the house to their daughter and her husband.
I was getting restless.  Had to go back to work.  Interested in the house and already deciding that if the maintenance director for the city (and my friend and colleague) came and took a look and gave me the thumbs up, I was going to make an offer.
Still waiting I scanned the faces in the pictures with only the slightest of interest.
Lots of pictures.
An older couple together.  Him alone.  Her alone.
Cute little toddlers with heads full of cute little curls.
A young woman.
A young guy.
A guy on a mountain bike wearing helmet and goggles.
Still deeply embedded in a lifestyle of continual training and racing, I was immediately drawn to the picture.
Looking more closely at the picture I studied it, wondering who the guy was.
I knew every road biker and mountain biker in town.
I had to know who this person was, but I couldn't identify him while he was wearing the helmet and goggles.
 My half hearted interest had unexpectedly turned into great interest and I quickly scanned the photographs looking for a young face that I recognized.
And then I saw it.
Mike had been my mountain bike mechanic for years.
He worked out of a bicycle shop in Winchester (20 miles away) and he was my go-to guy.
A better mountain biker on his worst day than I ever was on my best day.
A gear head and a trail rat.
The guy who fixed whatever was broken or worn out on my bike after each race.  
The guy who always shook his head and laughed about my adventure racing mishaps, when I told him the stories of how my bike got the way it was, each time I brought it in. 
The guy who tried for a year to talk me out of brake pads and into hydraulic brakes, until he finally called me one day and said "Karin I put hydraulics on your bike.  Try 'em and let me know what you think.  If you like 'em you can pay me for them.  You'll like them".
He was right.
I liked 'em.
This house belonged to Mike.
A month or so later it belonged to me..................... 

Two years later I was in an extremely unhappy and dysfunctional job in Alaska.  
A year and a half after that I was unemployed, having walked away from a high paying job that was slowly - actually quickly - wearing me down.
LC and I loaded onto a ferry in Alaska having no idea what we were going to do or where we were going to go next,
No idea at all.
Our house in Tennessee was rented out and we were tied into a lease that we had willingly signed.
With one exhausted shell of a woman, one tired and stressed out man, one lovable dog that would willingly follow us anywhere we went, and two overloaded trucks, we unexpectedly ended up in Cody WY.
And for a few months we contentedly explored the beautiful terrain and western adventures that Wyoming and Montana opened up for us.
Only.........our renter back in TN stopped paying rent.  
Our property manager kept making excuses for her, and promises that she would pay, and she didn't.   This same formula of promises made and promises broken lasted for months and LC and I realized that we were effectively paying the mortgage so that a stranger could live in our house for free.
The situation quickly moved from annoyance to completely unacceptable and we reluctantly (after having fallen in love with Wyoming) decided that it was time to go back to Tennessee.
Time to kick a wayward renter out of the house.
We would move back to Tennessee.
Pick up our Tennessee lives.
Start over in our home.
Start over again.

We kicked her out.  Her (and a thug boyfriend and three small children whose existence we knew nothing about until we actually arrived back in Tennessee).
And we moved back into our home, and we caught up with my oldest son again (who was happily fixing up a home of his own while also building a wonderful life with his wife and starting an exciting new career).
He had struggled and worked hard through so many years of college, and every time I saw him I was reminded of how proud of him I was.
How decent of a man he had grown into.
How exciting it was to watch him begin his career in a field that he had studied for years.
How good it was to see him and his wife actually have money, after struggling financially for so long as she graduated and then a year and half later he graduated.
Their life was good and happy and filled with so much hope for the future.
At the same time, LC and I repainted our house and fixed what the wayward tenant had broken.
 I returned to the trails I loved and the lake I loved, and running and kayaking and mountain biking became a regular part of my life again.
And I loved it.
But I didn't love Tennessee anymore.
Neither did my Tennessee Mountain Boy.
The roads were too busy.  The parks were too busy.  The stores were too busy.  The towns were too busy.  
The lower class neighborhood not far from the house had drawn in scumbags who pilfered through vehicles and played loud rap music late into the night.
Drug deals happened regularly at the local market.
I told myself that we were looking at our Tennessee life through Wyoming eyes.
Life was just faster in Tennessee.  
Busier.  More crowded.  We would adjust.  We would get used to it again.
I kept telling myself that.
And then one day LC told me that he wanted to go back to Wyoming.
I did as well.
But I didn't.
In the span of less than two years we had lived in Tennessee, Alaska, Wyoming and Tennessee.
I couldn't move again.
Not again.
I couldn't leave Sean again.
Not again...........................

And then he died.
And I couldn't stay in that house.
The house that I had been so excited to buy, the house that had been the home to me and Jamie (and then LC), the house that stored all my beloved outdoor gear in rooms and closets and covered car ports.................I couldn't be there.
Not anymore.
He was in every room.  I could see his face.  See his body.  Hear his voice. See him walking and eating and smiling and hugging and laughing and reaching under the Christmas tree for gifts and rummaging through the refrigerator for food.
He was everywhere.  
And slowly...............and day at a was driving me towards grief-stricken insanity.
I could feel it.
LC - we have to leave here.
We have to go back to Wyoming.
There's nothing here in Tennessee for us anymore.
We have to move again.
Start a new life.

For the past few years my house in Tennessee has been rented consistently by a number of tenants.
Thankfully decent tenants.
LC and I toyed often with selling the house since we had no intention of going back to Tennessee, but we also couldn't afford the luxury of keeping the house empty for very long.
Not while also incurring bills here in Idaho.
We needed consistent rent to pay the mortgage on the house in Tennessee and so we never did get it sold.
Until this week...................... 

About a month ago I received a phone call from our property manager in Tullahoma.
There had been a fire at the house.
He didn't know how bad, but the city Fire Marshall would call me the next morning.
Little by little over the next few days, I began to get a fuller picture of what had happened.
At first I understood that the fire had been small, that the elderly lady in the house was in the hospital but the extent of her injuries was unknown, that her grandson and his girl friend were also staying at the house.
Within a few days I finally understood how serious the fire had been.
I spent a couple of days talking to the city Fire Marshall, the insurance agent, the insurance adjuster, the insurance fire inspector, and receiving endless reports from various city and state fire inspectors.
The lady died.
A combination of burn injuries and smoke inhalation.
A Dollar Store extension cord had been overloaded, which had started the fire.
The grand son and his girlfriend had gone to the grocery store, the extension cord had caught fire, which in turn set the recliner on fire.
The lady was on oxygen, which fed the fire, which set the lady on fire.
She made it as far as the den before collapsing.
She survived for one more day.
With all the working smoke detectors we had installed in the house we were found to not be at fault in any way, and the fire was ruled an accident.
The fire department arrived quickly enough that there was no structural damage to the house, but every room inside had extensive damage.  Some fire but much of it smoke damage.
And of course all the damage (holes in ceiling, water damage) resulting from the fire department putting out the fire.
When it was all said and done I received a call from the claims adjuster giving me a dollar figure and three options.
The option LC and I chose was to try and sell the house as-is.
Likely to a contractor who could do the work himself and get supplies at cost, and who could either fix and rent the house, or fix and flip the house.
It took a week to sell it.
Between the settlement from the insurance agent and what we will get from the contractor who bought the house (after paying real estate agent fees) we will make a little money on the deal.
And our association with the house will be done................

So ends my relationship with a house that I loved.
I abandoned my house in search of professional opportunities that turned into a nightmare.
I came back to my house with hopes of rebuilding the normal and organized life that I had left behind two years earlier.
And I abandoned my house again in such grief that I knew I would never return to it.
I haven't been in that house in four and a half years now.
Goodbye House.
I only knew you briefly.
I loved you.
Goodbye Tennessee.
I don't think I will ever see you again.....................