Sunday, August 22, 2010

Salida, CO

The Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally, the 10th annual and the last.  The Denver Unit of the WBCCI has put this on, with great skill and enthusiasm, and now will take time off which they deserve, but we will miss it !

As you, gentle reader, have followed me to many rallies, you know what the deal is. A long weekend of camping together (or sometimes longer), happy hour (adult beverages and snacks) and usually pot lucks at dinner time.  That’s the base line, and to that get added other things, usually tourist related or just entertainment. But this rally takes it over the top and provides a whole ‘nother level of fun.

As it is mostly vintage, and for the last few years without hook ups, it attracts those who are deeply devoted to fixing up and using our old Airstreams to the fullest. We have formal talks on various topics, Patti gave her ladies towing seminar again, a great swap meet that is a learning experience (what is THAT for?) and best of all a great rendezvous of enthusiasts and experts in all aspects of Airstream restoration and repair.  So if something is misbehaving, there will be someone who knows what to do.  Even more gratifying for those of us with some mileage, newcomers to this world are there and eager to learn and visit our trailers to see what can be done. I remember going to my first rally that had a vintage open house, I was like a kid in a candy store.

Happy Hour reaches a new plateau with a frozen marguerite machine and two kegs from the Fat Tire beer folks.  The food people bring is amazing too, and even though we take turns bringing, there is so much delicious finger food, much of it actually cooked in the trailers, that dinner seems impossible.  And a pot luck with this crowd is amazing too.  On Saturday night, we all dressed in our best cowboy finery, and had a superb sit down catered dinner, with strolling musicians, and then music all evening in a huge tent.

I should say a word about the music.  There has been a viral spread of ukulele playing and general rowdy singing in this group, spearheaded by the El Camino unit from CA.  This is a lively bunch who travel and play together for a lot of the summer, and when they get together with the equally lively Denver unit, the good times do roll.  I have been rallying with these merry folks for years and they are terrific.

Dear God, I ate so much good food. Just when I thought I had sampled everything on the table, more temptation would appear. At many rallies, the participants just buy the food to bring, but not this crew. Even the salsas were home made.

The standard entertainment during the day for me is to find a kindred soul and hit the thrift and consignment stores, and in Salida there are many good ones, so that was great fun too.

All this excellent stuff was at the Salida Fairgrounds, actually in Poncha Springs, in a wide flat area with mountains all around us.  The skies put on a show, dramatic clouds, sudden and brief storms, with the light changing on the mountains every minute. Dawn and sunset were dramatic and colorful and once even a rainbow. One night, there was a bit of rain in the sky and lots of clouds, so the sun lit everything up flaming gold as it set, the rain glowed like northern lights, and the mountains broke up the setting sun’s beams into shafts of light.  Every few minutes it changed again, going pinker, then orange, and then the blues and purples took over.  Stunning, especially when reflected in 86 shining trailers.

Sad to have it over, not just for this time, but for a rest up for the weary organizers.  This rally is what a rally should be. As a friend said: “Eat, drink, dance, tell stories, laugh, repeat.....for 4-5 days, ahhhh”. 

Hunter came for the open house and now I have joined her at a “western” CG down the road. They have wagon rides and a cowboy dinner with music, and best of all, there are three horses right behind my trailer.  The last thing I hear as I fall asleep is them chewing.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Up in the San Juan Mountains above Ouray, CO, is a deep bowl of wild flowers, waterfalls all set around with high, rough peaks.  The ruins of old mines are all along the jeep road that leads up to this basin, and it takes its name from the Yankee Boy mine that lies at the head of it.

Below this, also named for a mine, is the Thistledown campground where I spent a month 5 years ago as camp host, and where I met Don who kindly drove me up to a higher campground to clean.  What happened next, you already know, gentle reader.

Don’s wish was to have his ashes scattered up here in a place that he dearly loved, and last week, August 13th, I did as he wanted.

My summer has been shaped by this mission, snow leaves this place late and comes early, so finding a summer job was out, and I had the freedom to follow whims and drift, going to rallies, and doing Habitat for Humanity builds in various places. It has been a good summer, but this last bit of my life with Don has hung over it.  I have been anxious over the slightly scary drive up, anxious that the ceremony be done right, and apprehensive of my emotions. 

I guess it is important for us to have these rites of passage, marking beginnings, milestones and ends in our lives.  These ceremonies help us find our way, and usually are chances to gather together to observe them.  But Don and I lived on the road, family and friends scattered all over the country, so as we planned together for the end, we saw no way to have anything like a traditional funeral or service.  So, gentle reader, you are the the attendees.

A dear friend and fellow H4H worker, Steve, went with me to Ouray, and drove me up the jeep road in a rented jeep as I did not want to drive my truck.  It was odd to be renting a jeep for this sad trip among the holiday crowd.  I found myself weepy at every familiar view of Ouray, and more so as we drove up. We stopped at the Thistledown camp, and chatted with the camp host there, and finally headed up the road.  Memories filled my eyes like movies, and I wept, but also I felt that Don was somehow there too. It seemed not that he was a restless spirit anxious for rest, but that he was overseeing us and approving of our trek.

We drove up to the top, and walked around. I carried his ashes in my pack as we explored, and I realized I had no idea exactly where to do this deed.  Somewhere in the vast fields of wildflowers?  On top of the waterfalls?  And as always, there were lots of people there to enjoy the place, and although I wished for solitude, Don loved talking with these folks in his job as host up here, so it was right and fitting.

Beside one set of waterfalls is an odd hillock, as round as an overturned bowl.  It had interested me before, I even found pictures of it that I had taken, and I realized that it did look like a burial mound.  So we climbed to the top and sat there while I got up my courage.  We talked about Don’s life and about life and death in general for a while and then I got out the music player and started the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace that Don wanted.  By now, we are both in tears, there is no music that undoes the heart strings like bagpipes, and I stood and scattered his ashes over the flowers on the uphill side of the mound, and said my last good byes.

Now, a week or so later, I still weep as I write this, these sad things don’t go away with ceremonies, but I find the sadness lessening and lightening in the aftermath.  And I feel that my hard and sad job of carrying Don through his end is done.  I have only to remember him.

I am glad to be here in Woodland Park, CO building hard.  This particular group has been building together for years here, they are a hard working and lively group and have welcomed me as a newcomer.  One member, almost a founding member of their bunch, died in October, his widow has come and yesterday we dedicated our day to him and spent some time remembering him.  It seems the road we are on these days, at our age, is through these valleys of the shadow of death more and more, and we have new things to learn and master.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Penny and I started visiting Ellen when we were in High School.  For both of us, the attraction of the west was immediate, and Penny has lived in CO for 40 years. I’m still catching up, but have little interest in places eastern either. We have remained friends and stayed in touch ever since, and this weekend we decided to all gather at Pocket Creek, the ranch near Hardin MT where I spent the summer before last. Penny drove up from Denver, and I dragged the trailer up by the great log lodge that is Ellen and Harry’s house.  They have power there for me, but I wanted to run on my solar panels.

We came to see each other and Pocket Creek, but mainly to have a good deep catch up talk about what we have been doing recently, and even more important, to revisit our shared past.

For me, and I suspect Penny and Ellen too, knowing women who have been around since I was 13, who have watched each other grow up, get married, get divorced, struggle with our children, change careers, and finally get oldish, is a treasure beyond counting.  Penny said once that it was great not to have to explain everything; we already know it all, well most of it anyway.  We have always called each other Old Bag, not so funny now that we are, but we do it anyway.

Sometimes it took the three of us together to remember the details of an event or a story, each one of us remembered something else. Most of the time, we agreed, but there were some that had been forgotten. And some that I would have rather forgotten, these ladies know a great many of my bad moments of tactlessness, bossiness, and utterly self centered behavior. Still, they like me!!

As has been a theme this summer, of revisiting and visiting, it was a good peek into Ellen’s life this year, both grand daughters are bigger and funnier, a couple who used to be on Pocket Creek have returned, good rains and good crops. We went to the 4H fair in Hardin and watched the kids and horses go through their paces, patient kids and patient horses, a far cry from horse shows back east, and there I saw more old friends.

The best part of this gab fest for me was that we all knew each other’s mothers pretty well.  Since we all struggled with our mothers in one way or another, it is amazing to have an outside, informed witness who was there too.  For most women, mother is so deeply central to our childhood, our most powerful role model, and most difficult, the one person in the world that we want to please.  Perhaps we were greedy, but we all three felt that our mothers were disappointed in us in various ways and we longed for mom’s approval and attention.  Not very surprising, and probably normal, but we still have holes about this even though all three mothers are gone.  Since both Ellen and Penny knew mine, it was and is most helpful to have some of my take on her verified.  I still relive some of my worst moments with my mother, and often wonder if I dreamt them or was so tinged with the emotions that I didn’t see what happened correctly.  Enough people believed my mother’s version of me that I began to believe it too. But Ellen and Penny were there, and saw and listened, so I have a way to see it better.  And besides, if they still like me after all these years, maybe I’m not the bad person of my mother’s version of me after all!!

Pocket Creek is still paradise to me, it’s greener this year, and the Big Horn River is fuller.  The huge sky beats down on me in the heat of the day, scouring and bleaching out my muddier thoughts, reminding me of some core set of what is important.  The evening sky lights up with color nearly every night, a slash of rain from a thunder storm and the sage brush sends out its piney scent.  The earth smells of metal and rocks, and the river carves away at the pale yellow bluffs.  There are more horses now with the new folks, as he is a cowboy of the old cloth and would ride to gather or work cattle, not use the 4 wheelers.  Harry is glad of his help; there are, he admits, steep draws and rough coulees there the 4 wheelers can’t go.

My solar system is great.  I’m pretty stingy with power use anyway, and having two batteries instead of one is wonderful.  I have two meters installed, one tells me what the array is producing, and the other, very fancy one, tells me what I am using and ( once I figure it out) will tell me how many amp hours I have left in the battery bank.  I don’t use the TV or the microwave off shore power, so it turns out that recharging the all important laptop is the biggest draw.  During the day, it’s fine, and at night I just have to watch my gauges to see how I’m doing.  This means my camping locations have suddenly become wider, and being off in the bushes with no hook ups, which I prefer, is going to be more fun. 

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mission, SD

The land here rolls all grassy and lush in this wet summer, down to creek bottoms and up on high plains. The White River runs through here and it is white with the run off from the Badlands to the northeast of us. This is the Rosebud Reservation of the Lakota Sioux, and we’re here to build homes.

Our camping spot is on the grounds of an Episcopalian mission complex, an old stone church, a dormitory and small school building that was used for Lakota children, what was probably the minister’s house and the shop building.  

 Below the campground area is a circular “arbor” a sort of double ring of posts with a roof that would provide shade around a stage.  It is falling apart now, and I’m not sure what it was used for. Over the fence, to my joy, is a herd of horses in many colors, including some paint colts, my idea of the perfect landscape ornament.

The construction team is mostly 17 year olds from a Catholic school in Chicago who come in shifts all summer long, and mostly they work very hard in the hot sun, but they have little experience.  Our construction supervisor is new to Habitat, and I think he finds the troops a little daunting to find work for.  We have two houses near completion, one older one to rehab, and a new one in town.

I started on the rehab house, mostly demolition and clean up.  It was abandoned for 15 years before the tribe gave it to Habitat.  We found the debris of life, children’s school papers, photos, old shoes, shells and beads from craft work, and in the shallow cellar, the dried up corpse of a dog.  Mysteries: who were they? Why did they leave? How did the dog get down there?  I waged a holy war against a patch of poison ivy around the front door, and won, but did get a little on me.

I worked on final things on the nearly completed ones, mostly small fixits that I was comfortable with, but at one house, I came face to face with the mixed feelings that working here seems to create.  I was hanging a door on a pantry, a little in over my head, and two of the home owners boys were hanging around and playing. They started slamming the doors of the bedrooms in a typical little boy way, but I felt as though they were going to break those doors while I was still hanging mine, and had a moment of thinking my work was a little futile.  The family has 13 children and currently live in an assemblage of three derelict trailers.  There is children’s clothing strewn on the ground, and to my eyes it was a dispiriting sight.  There is no way two parents can watch 13 children, and I understand that my New England need for tidiness does not translate to this culture.  The cultural habits of Anglo-Saxon villagers that stay put in tight quarters have nothing to do with the cultural habits of a hunter gatherer culture that roamed the plains and used everything of the buffalo except the fart. 

On top of the cultural disconnect, us palefaces have an atrocious record of murder, extortion, robbery, and general high handedness in our dealings with those who were here first.  The battle site of Wounded Knee is just down the road.  The tribe keeps a token herd of buffalo.

And finally, a joke: How do you know it’s summer time on the Rez?  Because that’s when the Christians come.

Not very funny, really.  I am a Christian, and I did come to build houses for folks, as I do all over the place.  Here, people will not meet my eyes, or respond if I say Hi.  I have no interest in saving souls or any other reforms, and am horrified when people come up to me and ask if I have taken Jesus as my personal savior.  Lakota children were nearly kidnapped and sent off to church run Indian Schools, where their hair was cut, their clothes burned and every ounce of their culture was bleached out.  So it’s no surprise that I am viewed with suspicion.   There is a noisy group from Sioux Falls who have a lot of kids and frequently burst into enthusiastic religious songs to a guitar accompaniment.  They are here to restore the old stone church, but there is a perfectly good one down town.  Another group who came here with Habitat built the Arbor and were saddened to see it falling down. One wonders whose idea the Arbor was. And in this same group was a gentleman who assured the H4H that he was an accomplished plumber, but all of his work leaked and had to be redone.  Perhaps his work will be counted at the pearly gates, but I’m hoping he gets demerits for the sin of pride.

I have long been interested in Native American culture, and also in the sometimes peculiar ways that the paleface world looks at it.  Nobel Savage or Filthy Savage,  perfectly in tune with the natural world or lazy and drunken,  a proud and fearless people or slinking dogs living off the scraps handed out by the pale faces.  There is deep depression, poverty, substance abuse and school drop outs here, and it is tempting to create a myth for myself to explain it, or excuse it in some way. But this is only to make it more comfortable for me, and is no help. 

I know that some families will get a better place to live, and that is enough.  I’m not doing this to be thanked or blessed or anything else, nor do I expect my hours here to save the Lakota.  I guess it’s a little like teaching High School. One hammers away, hoping that some of the subject matter and some of the maturity goals will stick, but there is no way to know if you are doing any good.  Both these types of work please me anyway, the teaching part and the hammering part, and at Mission I got to do both, which IS a blessing for me.