Thursday, June 30, 2011

Westward, Ho! Day 4

June 29

Perhaps I have not been tolerant enough with Devon about his commodophobia. Some years back, he plugged the toilet with too much toilet paper, and I had to unplug it for him. That would have been where the story ended, except for the Great Upstairs Flood of 2007.

While a woman we shall call “Nina” was visiting our parents, an anonymous child (to avoid embarrassing her, we will call her “Moira”), used the upstairs bathroom and plugged it up. Moira kept silent as the water level rose, rose some more, and began spilling over the edge. The entire bathroom flooded to a depth of several inches, and then, to Devon’s extreme horror, it ran into the carpet, soaked through the pad, and began to pour downstairs into the living room, where he stood watching. Careful forensic analysis revealed the culprit. Moira now chews her peas much more carefully.

Thanks to “Psycho”, a whole generation of baby boomers is unable to close their eyes in the shower. Thanks to “Moira”, a whole generation of Devons is unable to flush the toilet. In fact, for the first several months, he was afraid that even fluids would somehow clog the works. Patiently I worked with him, standing by his side as he flushed, just in case something went wrong. Eventually he was able to flush alone, and we began to work on putting the tissue in the bowl rather than the trash can. Perhaps I need to put some of the same patience and energy into myself.

The commodes at McDonald’s are seriously over-enthusiastic. The seemingly harmless one I selected waited until I was in the act of sitting before flushing loudly and angrily. It was with difficulty (and much sympathy for Devon), that I restrained myself from bolting out the stall door, sans drawers. I never appreciate my own sedate, humble porcelain chair so much as when necessity forces me to use a long line of Evil Public Facilities.

Devon, if you’re reading this, don’t be angry that I told. Everyone is afraid of something. (Daddy is afraid of snakes. He would probably scream very loudly if anyone ever left a toy snake on his pillow.) And besides, your father has persuaded me that it’s time to tell a story or two about me. Not right this moment, but soon. He doesn’t think it’s fair that I only tell stories about other people. While you wait, I’ll tell you another story about other people.

I TOOK A SHOWER TODAY!!!!! Yes, I really am that excited. Even the best spit bath just can’t compare to a shower. We stopped at the same truck stop where we had gotten stuck getting repaired a few years back, and since it was their mechanic’s fault that a 2-hr minor repair turned into an overnighter, they put us up in their on-site motel and fed us in their restaurant.

Anyway, after my SHOWER WOOHOO I had a hard time turning off the water. I started to crank the knob pretty hard, but Jack stopped me. Many years ago, one of his little brothers had taken a trip with him on a truck, and had the same problem. As Little Brother gave the knob a fierce twist it came off in his hand, shooting a fire hose stream straight across the shower. All the other showers went down, and you can imagine how many angry, soapy truck drivers there were. “What do I do?” the wide-eyed Little Brother asked. “Simple,” Jack replied calmly. “Just go out there and let them know what the problem is………… soon as I get back to the truck.”

What else are brothers for?

We stopped at the rest area in Coldwater, ID and walked down to see the historic spot where covered wagons left such deep ruts that portions of the Oregon Trail are still visible.

Dad, I am sad to say that one of your garden hoses will not arrive alive. It sacrificed its life and about six feet of length to aid a stranded truck driver in need of a siphon. When its mission is finished, it will ride around the countryside in state, should its services ever again be needed.

Speaking of truck drivers, if anyone has heard about that terrible Amtrak crash near Fallon, NV that killed numerous people, today we actually drove over the very railroad crossing where it occurred. Two burned-out rail cars still sat nearby, and fences had been set up, presumably to provide enough privacy to continue searching for some trace of the victims who are still missing. The whole thing is so sad, and so unnecessary.

Back to our rescue mission. It turned out the driver also needed a fuel filter, as his had become clogged with grass and dirt. In case you’re wondering, no, grass and dirt are not naturally found in a semi’s fuel tanks. A deeply troubled family member was the most likely culprit. It didn’t affect the performance of the engine until the fuel levels dropped low enough that the fuel sucking gadget (I know, such technical terms) started snagging the detritus along with the fuel.

The best husband in the world (mine!) drove the poor man around till they found a place that was open, and that had a fuel filter he could modify to run the truck long enough to get somewhere, anywhere besides a rest area in the middle of nowhere. Our long night’s sleep ended up getting clipped off considerably, till it was no better than all the other short nights on the trip. We weren’t complaining, though. It was clearly a Divine Appointment—being in the right place at the right time is never an accident.

One more day…
Noni Beth 

Westward, Ho! Day 3

June 28

This really is like camping. Sleeping on a pile of sleeping bags, eating picnic lunches, admiring the lovely scenery. Tomorrow I may even be able to shower. I’m sure all the people I hugged today only smelled sweet peas and violets.

Our alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, which was really 7:30 our time. Whether 6:30 or 7:30, we are used to the sun already having been up for hours. It was nice to have it still decently dark at such a late hour. I sleep much better when it’s dark.

A little personal hygiene moment, a quick picnic breakfast, and on to Gold Country! Soon we found ourselves with the lights of Reno in our rearview mirror, and across the border into California. Jack kept bemoaning the unfamiliar amounts of traffic as we climbed over Donner Summit, and we picnicked at a quiet mountain rest area near Colfax.

Next stop: ministorage. Amazingly, it all fit. The only thing we didn’t bring was the large, thick, heavy TV that has been sitting in there for the last 1 ½ years. Jack’s friend, who kindly came to spend time with us by hauling boxes, was able to use it. As I pointed out to Jack, it would give him an excuse to save up for a newer, thinner, lighter TV. Men generally respond to that sort of logic.

We had a lovely visit with our dear friends, just over the hill from where Mom & Dad used to live. We met their charming herd of miniature donkeys, who all wanted me to pet them at once. How do you pet 4 donkeys with only two arms? I’m still not quite sure how I did it, but it involved my elbows.

The three ADORABLE granddaughters waited on me hand and foot. First they brought me apricots. Then they got a paper bag, and began loading it with anything they could grab from their grandma’s house. Whole walnuts, a large toy car, stuffed animal, a can of beans, a partial box of crisped rice cereal, and on and on. They were going to put some eggs in, too. Then, while I was outside, they cracked a bunch of walnuts for me, serving them on a paper plate with a fancy little bowl, and raspberry candies. After that, they went and picked berries for my culinary enjoyment. Jack finally had to roll me out to the car, with a generous young lady’s stuffed polar bear in my pocket.

By the time we reached Folsom, it was pouring rain and chilly. We felt very much at home. Water running everywhere, putting on a nice, warm shirt…it was almost as if we had never left home. Only the gridlock and crowds of people reminded us that we were enjoying the California summer.

As we drove along, a lighted sign on a well-known grocery chain read, “Food 4 Les”. It left me wondering, who is Les, and does he really need that much food? For many years, I drove past a Lockeford store whose nighttime sign read, “Payles Market”. What a difference a light bulb makes.

By modern standards, the trip over the Sierras was rugged. Cold rain falling on a warm road made thick fog at windshield level. A long, hard, snowy winter with copious amounts of snow still on the ground at the end of June, had scoured the lane markings from the road. How adventurous to twist and wind up and down the mountains, not completely sure where the road was going to be a few feet in front of us.

Carson City seemed like a good place to stop, close enough to the McDonalds that certain basic necessities could be attended to first thing in the morning. I can hardly wait to get out of the desert and back where it’s warm.

Homeward bound,
Noni Beth

Westward, Ho! Day 2

A dinosaur from Nowhere in Particular.

June 27

The night was over all too soon, and the open road called again. We managed to ignore the call for another hour, but finally had to drag our weary carcasses out, eat our picnic breakfast, and roll on.

When lunchtime arrived, Bozeman conveniently came into view. Now, I’m not going to tell you what we did next. I don’t want the children to know that we went to the Museum of the Rockies without them. I’m definitely not going to tell them that we went to the giant frog and toad exhibit without them. So keep it to yourself, will you?

It is pure coincidence that I have a weird frog fact to share. Guess I must have learned it somewhere, no place in particular. So the African Milk Frog has an odd method of reproducing. The male finds a quiet little pool, and sits there calling for a female. When one comes along, she lays her eggs and then leaves. The male fertilizes the eggs, and stays to watch over them. Later on, he calls another female with the same hypnotic little song, and she lays eggs for him, too. But after she leaves, instead of fertilizing the second clutch, he feeds them to the first batch. Pretty harsh.

Jack and I ate a cozy, intimate picnic lunch in an anonymous park. If it looks like the museum grounds, that is most likely coincidence. The sandwiches Jack made were delicious—I felt so spoiled! Keen-eyed magpies kept a cautious distance, watching to see if we might drop a few crumbs. Had Jack been a CRUEL and UNKIND person, he might have dropped one of his spicy chips to see how the magpies liked it. But I think we all know what sort of person he is. Speaking only hypothetically, if someone were to throw a spicy chip on the ground, and if a medium-sized bird like, say, a magpie was to pick it up, I think it would probably spit it out disgustedly and wipe its beak on the ground. Of course I don’t know for sure; that’s just my own opinion.

As we got farther and farther south, the temperature rose to amazing levels, cresting at 94F. I don’t remember for sure when I last felt a heat wave like that, but I would guess last August, September at the latest. I asked Jack to let me have my turn driving while it was nice and early, but he wouldn’t let me. Nothing left to do but take a nap, so when he got tired at bedtime, I might have the strength to drive a little longer.

“YAAAAAHAAAAAAHAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!” A piercing finger stabbed into my ribs as an even more piercing scream shattered my poor little nap. I frowned fiercely at Jack, and made quite an impression, judging by the unseemly cackling. Muttering to myself, I settled back in and closed my eyes, only to have the whole scenario repeat as soon as I drifted off. After the fourth time, I gave up trying to sleep.

You guessed it. At 10:30 pm, Jack decided to ‘let’ me have a turn. Deadpan, I told him that I wouldn’t last very long, since I had irresponsibly failed to take a nap that afternoon. “It was poor planning on my part, I admit it.” I kept most of the bitter irony out of my tone. “Yes,” Jack agreed solemnly. “You really should have scheduled that a little better.”

I took a firm grip on the steering wheel—or was that his windpipe?—and decided to shoot for Battle Mountain, NV. But when we came into Battle Mountain (I may have mentioned before how I always laugh at the giant initials emblazoned on their hillside), Jack wanted to stop at the next rest area, instead. “There was a sign that said the next rest area was in 42 miles, and that was almost 40 miles ago.”

Famous last words.

After what seemed like forever, I asked him if the sign had perhaps said 142 miles. It sure felt like it, and my bladder thought so, too. Just in time to save us from disaster, we made it. It turned out to be the very rest area that had attacked me 5 years or so ago. On that unforgettable visit, I wedged into the teensy stall, When I went to flush, the toilet exploded. A geyser to rival Old Faithful shot up into the air, splashing me as I scrabbled vainly to escape. The experience scarred me to the point that, even today, if I use a public restroom I never, ever flush till I have the door open. Maybe the other ladies look at me strangely when I rocket out of the stall only 2.7 nanoseconds after flushing, but I don’t care. I did my time in the Splash Zone.

I am happy to report that the Nevada Road Department had done their job well, and all the toilets seemed to be operating normally.

Dryly yours,
Noni Beth

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Westward, Ho! Day 1

June 26

A friend of mine, upon finding out that Jack and I were on our way to California with no children, only a few days before our 15th wedding anniversary, wished us a safe trip, and hoped we could have a second honeymoon. What a sweet thought, and much appreciated. How very short of the reality.

At 5:00 am on the morning we were to leave, Jack became suddenly and violently sick to his stomach. Still very groggy from having stayed up way too late folding clothes, I lay still at first, hoping he would stop. Finally, common decency dictated I get up and offer some sort of assistance.

I figured he would probably sleep in after that, and so he did. He slept through a semi starting in the back yard not far from his bedroom window. He slept through the semi driving all the way along the house before leaving. He missed the children waking up and thundering downstairs. Long about 9:30 am, when I thought we would be ready to leave, he opened his eyes and looked around. Now, it wasn’t exactly 0-60 in 3 seconds, but he was amazingly spry for such a recent cookie-tosser.

Over at Mom & Dad’s house, there were still a few things that had to be done to the car before he could go, like swap the tires from the Deer Suburban (you remember the Great Deer Hunt of 2010, starring my own mother, The Deerstalker), over to our replacement suburban. The replacement conveniently came in Montana Dirt Color, so it all blends in. It’s a popular shade among us country folks.

As Jack was working, a sudden outbreak of snarls and screams sent him running. By the time he found the source, Tina was standing there covered with blood, and holding a neighbor’s small dog. Very dramatic stuff, I tell you.

In a nutshell, Laura was walking the neighbor’s dog, and came up to the screen door to check in with Tina. Hannah, my parents’ German shepherd, busted through the screen door and attacked the little dog. When Tina quite deliberately stuck her hands in Hannah’s mouth to make her let go of the other doggy’s chest, she was bitten several times.

Thanks to that noble and selfless intervention, Muffins is still above ground and slowly recovering. Hannah physical body may be above ground for a little while yet, while the rabies testing is carried out, however she is no longer with us. This was not her first attack on a small, domesticated animal, but it was most definitely her last.

Somewhat blood-streaked himself, Jack returned to work on the car, and at last we made it out of town at 6 that evening. “We can at least make it a little way down the road before we go to sleep,” he explained. “Yeah, like Plentywood,” Tina snickered not very kindly.

Despite comments from certain skeptical individuals, we did make it farther than Plentywood. Not far out of Billings, we put up our flag for the rest of the night, flopping over in our cushioned bed right there in the back of the suburban.

I wish it had been that simple. First we had to remove all the boxes of tools, brought to put the trailer sides together or in case of trouble, the monster jack, more tools, and tarps, then spread out three fat sleeping bags and our fuzzy wolf blanket.

Jack complained the next morning about some blanket tug-of-war, but I have no idea what he’s talking about. If he had some disagreement with himself over his blankie, that’s hardly my problem. As long as it isn’t vigorous enough to wake me up, I don’t care.

Until the next day,
Noni Beth

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Montana Mardi Gras

The Caped Avenger of Vacation Bible School. 

The Caped Avenger spots the camera.

The Caped Avenger is displeased.

VERY displeased.

Through a Glass

My recent status as *ahem* international truck driver has led to the usual challenges a trucker photographer faces, mainly that all the cool stuff to see or photograph slides right on by, with nowhere to stop. I've had that problem for years. I've driven right across the Swanee River (at night no less), past the exits for scads of famous Civil War battlefields. I've seen all the famous New Orleans cemeteries whiz past, exits to Boston and Washington, D.C. I've driven right past the turnoffs to the Painted Desert, Carlsbad Caverns, and more museums than you could shake a stick at. 

My bright idea won't solve all those little challenges, especially the museums, but with an autofocus camera, it occurred to me that I can photograph at least some things. Somewhat. The necessity of keeping my eyes on the road adds a certain unique slant to my perspective, though that may improve if I can learn to hold the camera somewhat straighter without looking. 

So here are a few snapshots from my loops to Belle Plaine, SK. I've had many destinations, but so far only one pick-up place.  Now that fertilizer season is pretty well over, that may change.
Going around through Plentywood, the road is your average two-lane country highway. But up through  Scobey is much different. Most of the way is narrow, so narrow they didn't even bother to paint a white line.
The lovely little town of Coronach has one of the more vivid grain elevators I've seen, and I have seen quite a few out here.

Dropping down into the also-adorable town of Willow Branch, home of some kind of giant that I couldn't stop and check out, is a grade that almost passes for a baby mountain.

That truck can thank me later for distracting the DOT guy long enough for him to slip past. A complete Level II inspection, thank you very much.

My first trip up through Crane Valley, SK, it rained  almost the whole way.
This wasn't quite the first thunderstorm of the year, but close. That reminds me, I need to tell you about Damon's first call in to the weather service as an official weather spotter, only a few minutes after this photo was taken. Let's just say they're probably still talking about him.
4.5 meters....4.5 meters......that's how many feet again?  Think fast - will the truck make it or not? Oh bother, I wish I'd paid more attention in school.

Whew! Note to self: your truck is shorter than 4.5 meters. Whatever that is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Hunt Goes On

In the continuing saga of my study of the Wild Life Photographer, this week I really struck pay dirt. The shots just poured in, despite a minor malfunction in my tranquilizer gun. You may call me Noni Stauffer.
As when studying any species, it's very important to observe it in its natural habitat, within its family groups.

Intent on its own hunt, the WLP, Wild Life Photographer, doesn't even notice the furtive scientific observations.

So beautiful in motion, like a poem composing itself right before your eyes.

The WLP continues its search for prey, possibly the endangered panorama.

They say you can't study anything in the natural world without changing it, and I am excited to have proven this hypothesis to be without merit. My subject continues its natural behaviors without deviation, thanks to my own caution. I cannot help but pause for a moment of self-congratulation.

Have I mentioned how very elusive is the WLP?

Honesty compels me to confess that, on this occasion at least, my observation did cause a certain amount of change to the subject's behavior. In my eagerness to obtain an almost unheard-of head-on view, I was most definitely spotted, and very nearly struck. I shall have to exercise extreme restraint for quite some time, until my subject again grows accustomed to my presence. In the meantime, are those not some of the most beautiful fingers you have ever seen?