Thursday, September 20, 2007

Va-kay Summer 2007

We left on a Saturday morning, not too long after I had gotten home from a long night at the pub. Josh had fully prepped the car for packing. All I really had to do was throw the food in a box that I thought we would need for the ride. We already had all our directions printed out, all our calls made, our schedule set and ready to go.

Our first stop brought us to the gray skied, lapping shorelines of Lake Michigan where the groom announced his bride, and the bride her groom. Colorful fabrics and foods, all locally grown and tastefully prepared, helped cheer through the chilly temperatures and foreboding drops of rain. The groom, of Iranian heritage, helped to slaughter the lamb that was feasted on before the ceremony, and friends of the bride aided in the growing and preparation of the savory dishes- ratatouille, salads, pastas. As guests we scooped up kernels of corn that have been passed down through the generations of family farmers, and we blessed the corn that they might continue to bless this newly married couple.

That evening we drove onto Chicago to spend the night with Joel and Brenda, a fun and relaxing time, and left early the next morning for Richfield, Minnesota. We drove through sheets of rain, but eventually made it to a best friend of mine, Sarah Werner, who I hadn't seen in four years. Her and her spouse, John, just this summer bought their first house. It was a beautiful home and perfectly comfortable. We always did love walking together, so it was time well spent walking around a neighborhood lake, the sky dark and the lake bouncing light off its water. The moments were amazing and generous, allowing us to catch up on journey's taken and life lived after far too long.

The next day came quickly and we packed up and settled into the car for a long day of crossing Minnesota and North Dakota. We stopped for lunch in Fargo. Don't ever do that. It was weird. Fargo, ND is as strange as we could have imagined.

Once through most of ND, we were looking for Watford City, not too far away from the Canada or Montana border. We were sidetracked briefly by “The Enchanted Highway”, a meandering section of road with folkart metal sculpture. We started the drive, not sure how long the enchantment would last. We saw two sculptures, both enormous, both interesting, and then saw a man in a field off of a parking lot. We decided to stop and ask this man, most likely local, if he could just tell us how far the highway would take us. We turned around after passing him, pulled off the road, and creaked our bones out of the car. Interestingly enough, this wiry man had a welder in the back of his truck. Could it possibly be the creator of the Enchanted Highway? It was. He was working on a 50 foot sculpture that had been toppled by the western winds. He described the drive to us, and explained that it was a 32 mile roundtrip venture. Being that we had already been on the road 10 hours and were anxious to see Grandpa, we decided we would have to see it on our next trip out that way.

But we finally made it, and the final 100 miles of the drive was incredible. Cowboy culture started to creep in, mountains stretched their arms and yawned in the distance, and the sky crawled into itself, revealing spatterings of stars.
After a good nights rest, we got in the car again and Grandpa showed us around the Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I couldn’t believe that we were willing to get in the car again, but the landscapes that we saw were just amazing. You can see in some of these pictures the layers upon layers of rock, color, material, years. It was amazing.

Grandpa also took us that day to the farm where he grew up. There is no longer anyone living there, but there are a few old buildings, the foundation for the house, the old outhouse, and a bunch of old farm equipment. There is still wheat growing in the fields but it increasingly is being replaced by corn. Corn that is probably subsidized by the government to be sneaked into our food and feeds the lies we are told about ethanol. But that's for another blog. The wheat we saw swaying seemed to be reminiscent of all that used to be.

It was really hard to leave North Dakota. The time was too short with Grandpa. It was the first time I had ever been on his territory, and such an experience to see the place where Josh's mom and aunt cindy were raised. The relics, from antique guns to antique tractors, remind me of a time that is gone. But it's not gone. The stories we heard from Grandpa are proof that I should try harder to learn from those who have come before and created the life that I now live. I guess it's a perspective thing.

Our drive out of Watford City and towards Wyoming took us through both the Northern and Southern North Dakota badlands. We did a little hiking and then turned up the volume on the ipod. I mostly blasted Brandi Carlile and Josh some crazy Mocean Worker music. When we crossed over the Wyoming border there was almost an immediate change. The clouds hung in the sky differently, the range rose and fell with more drama, the air was crisp and dry.

We pulled into Sheridan, WY and were greeted by Rebekah Smith and her fiance David. They took us for an amazing dinner at an old historic hotel that is recognized as being the playhouse for Buffalo Bill Cody and friends. The food was such a treat after diner food and zucchini bread we had brought along for the ride. Josh had a Buffalo ribeye, and I chose the entree that was comprised of entirely local and free range lamb. I know, it's hard to believe, but one ambition for me this trip was to avoid any chain or non-local food/entities. I think it worked primarily.... wait. I did get a cappucino at Starbucks. And Josh broke down in the middle of nothing Nebraska and had Sonic tater tots. We were starving and just not feeling the local Chinese establishment. Anyway, Sheridan was really beautiful. We saw an amazing photography show of Wyoming birds at a contemporary gallery and residency program called UCross. And then we started noticing all the amazing birds. Sheridan was really interesting and beautiful. The main street had flashing cowboy bar signs and a really quaint and cozy coffee shop.

After a day or two Josh and I drove out to the Big Horn Mountains to set up camp and a cook out that Rebekah and David were going to join us in. These mountains are amazing and I can't believe we didn't get hardly any pictures of them. There are signs on towering rocks as you drive by that date them back to different millenia. So powerful... But after a chase down the mountain to catch Bekah and David as they passed our spot, we finally set up camp along a stream and cooked a delicious dinner.

After Sheridan, our destination was Cowfish Brewery in Lander. Ma & Pa Smith met us there because they are just that crazy to drive two hours to have dinner with us. More steak was involved, I had a wasabi tuna salad- not local, of course- and microbrewed beer. It was so much fun to finally see Sue and DonRay after a week of traveling, and then to sit down and have steaks in Lander, a town that holds really great memories from our trip last summer. We made it to Rawlins that night and collapsed into a real bed. The five days we were there we were able to have delicious meals, eat Rawlins Mexican, travel to Laramie with Sue to explore and think about future possibilities, hike the highest point- Medicine Bow Peak- in the Snowy Range where we were married five years ago, and spend some much needed quality time with Josh's grandma, recording memories and stories using Cindy's computer. It's difficult to even begin to document the pictures and stories Gramma shared with us. She's always been someone who could just talk and talk as long as I've known her. I remember the first summer I came to Wyoming to meet the family in 2000 and she sunk me into the ancient brown couch to ask me questions. I think I said about 15 words that day as she entranced me with stories of this ranch, coloring each story with the history that reminded me of old western movies I've only barely seen. It's a little overwhelming to realize the life lived by this 78 year old woman. If only I were a filmmaker and could immerse myself in documenting the old west stories she and others around there tell.

Josh's dad took us to a part of the ranch he recently discovered that he thinks is work done by people who probably pre-dated the tribes we know as Native Americans. DonRay's father had told him about rocks that had been purposely arranged in a circle, but the reason they are there and when they were placed there is all a complete mystery. The ranch has always been a zone to discover arrowheads and indian artifacts, but to find see something for the first time on the very land you have always known, and to know it holds history not yet studies is very reverential. We had a tea party on this rim, overlooking the ranch. Watching the sun slowly settle within the humps of landscape, we saw a herd of elk and antelope moving silently far below, and at this distance they appeared to be moving slowly, almost as though they dragged the hills behind them. We watched the moon subtly rise in front of usand toasted to the world around us that had no idea we watched on.

After our time in Rawlins we were on the road again, headed towards Fort Collins, CO. We took a scenic route, although really, is there any unscenic route in Wyoming? Some would argue that the entire interstate 80 is a barren desert. I wouldn't argue against that, either. Anyway, we went over through Saratoga, home of some smelly hot springs, and then over the Snowy Range. We chugged over these high mountains, lightning an encore to our journey. Worries slightly shrouded our hopes of hiking to the highest point in this range, but once we reached the trailhead we knew there were no options. We were going to risk it, and take pictures on our camera phone on the way up. We pulled on those rusty old hiking boots, and layered ourselves in whatever clean clothing we could find. Unfortunately our memory card on the camera phone is malfunctioning, so we can't do more than describe the sky, land, rocks, and animals. I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to truly experience Alpine Lakes. Here we were, trucking our way a couple of miles to the top, walking alongside crystal clear and calm bodies of water. The entire atmosphere was like an under water scene, with greens and blues, lightning and clouds rolling over and ahead as though we are fish peering out below the fresh water. It wasn't the easiest hike, but definitely manageable. We were the only ones out that day on that specific trail, so between our staggered somewhat labored breathes at the higher elevation, we could just be, remembering aloud all the friends and family that joined us five years ago in these very mountains to seal our marriage. But this time we were completely alone, and once we reached the final part of the climb, jutting rocks and birds flitting in and out of the rocks crevasses, we just sat silently on top of this spectrum of colors, once again realizing the finality of time and space. We hunched down, trying not to trip on the rocks, and turned 360 degrees, looking down upon a dozen or so alpine lakes, and looking out towards the clouds rolling in. We knew we didn't have much time to get down to lower ground (a.k.a. safer ground) once the sky started spitting drips of rain on our chilled skin. The way down we saw rocks changing into brilliant colors as they got progressively wetter.

We eventually made it to Fort Collins and met some of Josh's old camp friends from Boy Scout Camp who were all gathering for a wedding reception. I had met them all at our wedding, but never got to spend time with them. So we had some drinks, talked about times past and times to come, and thoroughly enjoyed being with these guys. I even got to see the rustic camp where all they all got to know each other so well. They lived at camp and in soldier like tents for full summers, doing crazy things.

We left early on a Sunday morning for Omaha to see my folks. I got pulled over because I had created a lane that didn't actually exist while stopping at a stoplight. That was a first. It was five o'clock on a Sunday morning in a rural Colorado town of about 2000 people. I cannot figure out what he thought he would find out there at five o'clock in the morning. But he found me, and then proceeded to tell me what yellow and white lines on pavement mean in the state of Colorado, and then looked me over. He must have thought I looked like a sketchy character considering my rear bumper is falling off, we had granola in the backseat, and Josh hadn't shaved for a week. I mean, who wouldn't? He thought it necessary to ask me if I had any "knives, guns, grenades, weapons of mass destruction, or Al Qaeda pamphlets". How do you not laugh at that, especially when it's 5 o'clock in the morning? We made away with little more than a reprimand, but he had my wheels turning about where I would possibly have found a place to hide weapons of mass destruction in my car.

Omaha was cozy, pleasant, and so enjoyable. We had yet more delicious meals and were able to hike around an art exhibit at Fontanelle Forest. Josh and I spent an afternoon downtown, walking around the Old Market and checking out Bemis Art Center. We bbq'ed, played cards, went for walks and bike rides, and saw my mom's new classroom. At some point closing in on the time I was able to settle into my parents deck, thinking back on the trip, the family, the conversations. Sitting there, the smells were all reminiscent of BBQ- spittles of bone, marrow, charred veggies. Hollering air crept through the catterwauling of locusts as I sipped coffee of recycled, second use grounds. This was the tail end of our 2 week plus five day roadtrip. Looking at my feet, they showed stripes of brown, shrugging their way through my bulky blue sandals like crevasses in a canyon. These feet carried me into the hugs of college best friends, uncles and aunts, in-laws and grandfathers, cowboys and cow women, moms and dads. These generations that have made their way into my ancestry. The land I remembered as I thought on these things remain as shifting dust, grass, sage, brush, rocks, stones, sticks- all living memories.