Closing the Door

Leaving the city I had called home for 17 years was difficult.  Diurnal habits, the roads I haunted to get to the familiar places of business and pleasure, neighbors and other friends whose voices swam through the song of that place, the dwelling in which I raised my children and its quirky brokenness, and even the sense of sky from my front and back yard: all these are gone except as threads of melancholy set free to weave themselves into the growing quilt of memories.

Houston did not want me to leave, or so I imagined. My impending separation seemed to provoke the tentacles of that oil-fattened octopus. As if to keep me in place, everything seemed more difficult.  Dysfunctional.  A trip to Caliber Collision to pick up the car became a chapter from a Kafka novel:  they didn’t accept our cash (who doesn’t take cash?), and when we returned with a money order, Caliber wouldn’t take that either because their check-reading machine didn’t like it.  Fifteen minutes became three hours.  Or Xfinity and Centerpoint Energy, both of which wanted to steal from us in the form of ‘early termination’ fees.  Then there’s 24 Hour Fitness, whose system was unable to cancel my membership (although it worked fine when I signed up), and our short term rental property, the Terra Apartments, which tried to insist that, even though we signed a 90 day lease, we were required to give it 60 days’ notice and therefore we owed it an extra month of rent (we called the would-be thief on its own fine print through its parent company, Knightvest).

Maybe worst of all was the Texas Education Agency.  I had resigned early from my job with H.I.S.D (through their website and procedure, with ample notice) which promptly tattled on me to T.E.A for breaking contract.  T.E.A, being the fawning, obeisant I.C.E wanna-be that it is, sent me an eight-page legal document (complete with those stupid § symbols) outlining the ‘egregious nature of the acts committed” by me, as if I was a child predator or embezzler.  Go ahead and suspend my teaching license for a year, I told them, closing with:

Rather than exerting the amount of legal energy you’ve exerted on my case, you might consider spending that energy on cases that are truly egregious, and remind HISD that although it would enjoy some retribution for my early resignation (that is what this is all about, after all), it should bring its house in order if it would like to keep qualified, experienced teachers in its employ.  For your agency to act as nothing more than a hit man or bully on behalf of HISD is just simply sad.

Not to labor the point, but given the above, I had reservations about returning to Houston last week.  We’d left Cindy’s car in Houston rather than tow it behind the moving van, and I needed to take care of a few other items of business before fully, and firmly, closing the door on Houston, so the trip was necessary.  Maybe Houston didn’t want me back: my flight from Laramie was cancelled because the cargo door on the plane wouldn’t close; my connecting flight in Denver was reschedule to 5:45, and after a four-hour shuttle ride and an additional delay, I arrived in Houston sometime after 9:00 p.m.  To travel 1,100 miles in 14 hours works out to about 79 miles per hour.  Go, airplanes!!

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Another day in Houston traffic

Once on the ground, the second wave of assault began.  Roads, even residential roads, were clogged with traffic and angry drivers with high beams on weaving too fast between lanes.  All errands required a minimum of thirty minutes.  And the heat.  Turning the air conditioning to arctic while cleaning the apartment didn’t help contain the nine gallons of sweat I mopped the floor with.

The two-day drive back to Laramie was tiring, but as I crested the pass from Fort Collins and set eyes again on the Snowy Range and the valley, I relaxed, and reflected.  By moving here, I replaced rats, lizards, and roaches with rabbits; here I don’t sweat when I get out of the shower; my places are five minutes away; getting a driver’s license or plates takes five minutes instead of five hours.  And as much as the song might applaud the ‘stars at night,’ they really are bigger and brighter in Laramie.

The flowers are, too.  On the trail near Happy Jack Road, the wildflowers were at full peak and sharing their nectar with flocks of butterflies.  Now this is living.

Here, Fishie Fishie. . .

Having lived in Laramie for six weeks without putting a line in the water, we decided it was time to take the bait and do a little fishing.  My previous experience with this art was mixed.  As boys, my brother and I reeled in a dozen trout a day at Lake San Cristobal near Lake City, with nothing more than a bobber and some salmon eggs. As an adult, fishing was something that happened once and a while, for a little while, during a vacation while managing a campsite and children. I probably caught more in one day on Lake San Cristobal than I have in total since.

Never mind the past. We live 30 minutes from Curt Gowdy Park, home to two shiny blue reservoirs, so we headed to the West Laramie Fly Store to gear up.  As newby Wyomingites, we didn’t qualify for the less-expensive in-state licenses; a couple of reels (I already had some poles) and the necessary fish-attracting hardware (flies, bait, hooks, bobbers) pushed our total into the ‘small investment’ category. No matter.  The Fly Store proprietor gave us some advice on rigging the lines and told us what the fishes in Curt Gowdy liked to eat, and we were ready!

Monday was our first day out.  Full of optimism, we chose the farthest of the reservoirs, Crystal, to ply our new trade.  Like an uncooperative child, one of the reels almost immediately became a contrarian mess: six-pound test line wrapped around every part of the reel while an inconsolable ball of the stuff flapped haplessly in the breeze.  Think string theory meets chaos theory. Cutting the line and untangling the line from the reel seemed like a good idea, but in the wind proved more than our combined patience could tackle.  Fishing 1, Joneses 0.

Crystal Reservoir, Curt Gowdy State Park

Fishing at Crystal Reservoir

A little while later, the line of the second pole snapped during a cast, sending the bobber, swivel, and fly combo I had patiently rigged the night before into the water and leaving me gawking at the empty end of a translucent line.  Fishing 2, Joneses 0.

Not all was lost.  It was a gorgeous day.  We restrung the rod, and with the help of some rainbow colored Powerbait reeled in our first, and only, catch.  We grilled it in foil and ate it that evening along with some chicken, corn, and balsamic roasted Brussel sprouts.  Fishing 2, Joneses 1.

Cindy at Crystal Res

We ventured to the same spot on Tuesday morning, a bit earlier this time.  Within ten minutes I’d caught a rainbow trout with a caddisfly (I think that’s what it was) and the game was on.  But as the sun rose, so did the wind speed.  Two hours later we headed home having claimed a small victory, which we beheaded, disemboweled, and put in the freezer for another night. Joneses 1, fishing 0.

The view from Granite Reservoir

This morning we found a beautiful spot on the Park’s other reservoir, Granite.  Cindy hooked one quick, but it slipped off the hook before I could get a net on it.  After that we went biteless.  At two fish every three days, we’ll be able to pay for our investment in a couple of years, but that’s not really what it’s about.  While loading up, a wise man who’d parked near us asked what people usually ask: “How’d you do?” After I answered him, he said, matter-of-factly, “Well, we come to fish, not to catch fish.”  Yeah.  That’s it.

Joneses for the win.

 

 

 

 

Mount Rushmore by Noon

I first visited Mount Rushmore a decade or so ago, after a three-day drive from Houston. From Laramie on Monday, we left before 8:00 a.m. and were there in time for a picnic lunch under the watchful gaze of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. The drive is mesmerizing. I’m still coming to terms with the spectacular Wyoming landscape: treeless rolling hills, rock formations, canyons and gullies carved by wind and water, and cows.  Lots and lots of really big cows.

Cows on the Wyoming Prairie

The Mount Rushmore Memorial sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota, an hour and a half east of the Wyoming border, among pine trees and rock spires.  Ten bucks allows you to park there for a whole year; there are no entry fees.  There’s a short loop trail from the amphitheater that gets you a bit closer and affords different angles of the presidents.  It was along this path that I observed that Lincoln looks a bit like Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) from the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, but perhaps that was because the chins of his companions in stone are clean shaven.

Mount Rushmore Memorial

After lunch, we set up our tent at Sheridan Lake, then escaped to our car to read from Rex Alan Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore while being pummeled by a hailstorm.  Washington, because he was the first President, and Lincoln, because he unified a divided nation, were the first to be considered for the monument.  Jefferson was added both for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, and Roosevelt because of the Panama Canal.  The Memorial’s architect, Gutzon Borglum, abandoned his work on the Georgia Confederate Monument to work on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, “In commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States.”  Work was begun in 1927 and finished in 1941, at an overall cost of just under one million dollars.

Watching hail from the car

Warning: political commentary (skip to the next paragraph if you’re not in the mood)

I couldn’t help but be reminded of what we’ve lost, looking at these figures against the backdrop of today’s wasteland of political corruption and impotence.  Washington was elected unanimously for both of his terms, without wasteful campaigning.  Jefferson considered his presidency as public service, not self-service.  Lincoln embraced the ideals of unity and equality, rather than division, strife, and bigotry. And Roosevelt not only protected the country from unbridled capitalism, but also gave us 230 million acres of national forests, wildlife refuges, and national monuments.  So much has been undone in such a short time, and against the standards of the great men on this mountain, the only carving our current president warrants is on a wet turd.

End of commentary

On Tuesday, we had intended to drive north through the Black Hills and back into Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower but opted instead for another visit to Mount Rushmore (this time with a leisurely and expensive walk through its vast gift shop).  From there, lunch and shopping in nearby Keystone and a visit to a couple of wineries.  Red Ass Winery featured some spectacular reds and some rhubarb wines, but Naked Winery was a bit more fun.  Rachel took us on a flight featuring Dominatrix, Penetration, and Climax, all of which we brought home.

Crazy Horse from the road

Near Mount Rushmore is the Crazy Horse Monument. I was suckered in ten years ago but decided to keep my money this time. From the road, it looks the same as it did then: a single face on the top of a mountain.  I’d go again when it is finished, but it won’t be, at least in my lifetime.  They’ve been at it since 1948 (that’s 71 years and counting).  With assets of $77 million and annual revenues around $12 million, there’s really no rush, I suppose.  Visitors can see the imagined final product on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and tchotchke, all of which must help pay for very tiny carving utensils.

Snowy Range Camping . . .and David

It has been an eventful year since our last camping trip: new jobs, leaving those jobs, selling a house, downsizing, and loading up the moving van on a prayer and moving to Laramie.  My son recently flew up from Houston to attend a Python programming camp at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, so we planned a camping trip for the days between his camp and his flight home.  We’d had our eye on Silver Lake campground, near the top of the Snowy Range on Highway 130 west of Laramie, but it was (and still is) covered in snow.  Father west, 20 miles or so east of Saratoga, Ryan Park was snowless and available.  The reservation site recreation.gov stated that guests were permitted to erect only one tent per camp site; the camp host, however, had no such restrictions.

Many of the sites at Ryan Park are shadeless, including ours.  The afternoon sun proved relentless and heated up the site; a tarp we hung between two trees gave us a sliver of comfort.  A three-quarter mile path circles the campsite, following Carroll Creek and the larger Barrett Creek, both of which roiled with cold snowmelt.  Thanks to an informative historical marker, we learned that the campsite had been used as a POW camp during World War II. Prisoners from Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies worked six days a week there for the Crow Timber Company between 1942 and 1946.

After a restless and cold first night on an uncooperative air mattress, we headed to the Little Laramie Trailhead, back over the pass to the Laramie side of Snowy Range.  This was a beautiful hike, one of our favorites so far.  Dense, lodgepole pine forest surrounds a well-maintained, easy to follow path.  Our Alltrails app said we put in 2.9 miles; trail extensions allow for longer hikes.

Last summer, our tents did a great job of keeping out rain.  Not so, this trip.  Along with the faulty mattress, our final night at Ryan Park brought a midnight rainstorm and the slow drip of water inside the tent.  When the sun rose, we skipped camp breakfast (except for coffee), stuffed the wet stuff into the back of the Pilot, and were back in Laramie by 8:00.

The Fourth of July in Laramie was perfect.  In ideal weather, we spent the afternoon at Washington Park with 10,000 or so others listening to Danno & Have Fun Will Travel and The Boogie Woogers.  After a lovely dinner at our new favorite restaurant, Altitude, we brought the lawn chairs out to the edge of LaPrele Park, just south of the University, to watch the fireworks.  In the distance, lightning from a storm over Medicine Bow National Forest lit up the clouds behind the display.  Here we met David and his dog Gonzo.  By his own admission, David had spent too long at the pubs and had consumed too many “Colorado edibles.”  A Viet-Nam Veteran and Texan from sometime in his history, he ranted about Trump, extolled the beauties of Wyoming and its history, talked about Idaho and Oregon and Californians, women drivers, Chief Washakie—whose statue sits on Grand Avenue between 15th and 17th Street—and then said goodbye before the fireworks had ended, wishing us well in our new home.  I hope to run into him again some day.