Summer’s End

We love the trailer
Life, it’s simple if you love
the one you’ve chosen

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: I love our trailer-trip adventures.

Two nights. Two nights of unplugging from the requirements of home and the barrage of politics and the lull of routine is all we needed this past weekend to return to it all feeling like we’d just spent a week at a resort.

 

Our resort: a KOA in Gunnison with full hook-ups, lots of green grass, clean facilities,

She only loved me for my carrots.

She only loved me for my carrots.

friendly owners, and surprise visitors. Ginny and Herbie must have known Mike and I were ass-kissers, or perhaps they were curious about our handsome dog. Maybe they smelled the bag of carrots I’d just brought out to munch on. In any case, they were both at least 29-years-old, and Ginny was nearly blind.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA's welcome burros.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA’s welcome burros.

Ranger was not inclined to welcome the unleashed beasts as freely as we were, however, and after an initial sniff (with Mike pulling him away from unpredictable rear-ends), decided they were untrustworthy. He remained quietly aloof for the duration of their visit.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he'd rather she moved along to other campers.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he’d rather she moved along to other campers.

In the evening, we kayaked/paddleboarded on Blue Mesa Reservoir, and I marveled at how different an experience it was from our peaceful paddle at Twin Lakes last week. This reservoir was enormous, and when clouds filled the sky and the wind picked up, the waves were Old Man And The Sea-worthy. I hooked up to Mike’s kayak for the final push to shore after 90 minutes of hard, enjoyable work, and after a few games of Cribbage and a shot of Dewar’s after the sun set, slept like a cat in a hat.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

While Mike rode his bike at Hartman Rocks the next day, I did my trailer push-ups (to spread awareness of the number of veterans who commit suicide each day, the #22kill campaign) and wished I’d thought to do 22 push-ups against the burros during their visit.

We returned home to an extra layer of snow on the mountains and a brilliant sunset, the perfect Leadville summer evening. Soon our lake will freeze, but for now:

Fiery August sky
Turquoise Lake oblivious
Snow on Mount Massive

(thank you, Mary Howard, for reminding me to haiku my visions!)

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Yes, you all know by now that I love haiku. I think my opening haiku for this post is the best I’ve written. See how many ways you can read/interpret it! Haikus Can Amuse! (get your copy today!)

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

I Write Short Stories Too!

Pearl at the Wheel

“You look cold, dear.” Pearl pushed her jacket onto Frank’s lap, keeping her eyes on the road. It was her turn to drive the ’58 Oldsmobile coupe, Frank’s pride and joy, second only to his wife.

Frank’s proposal nearly 65 years earlier had made her giggle.

“Please be my forever girl, my lovely Pearl! I’ll do my best never to irritate you!”

Pearl had cherished each day since becoming Mrs. Frank Newhart. Her husband had a way of making everything wonderful, even the childless years when she had questioned why he would keep her as a wife.

“ ‘Twasn’t meant for you to take care of anyone but me, my bumblebee! You know you’re my whole worl’, Pearl. Now, give me a hug.”

And with each hug she knew her place in his heart was safe.

She was uneasy behind the wheel of “Ol’ Brownie,” but Frank had already driven through the morning and she could tell he was weary. They drove only during daylight hours now that their vision wasn’t the best. Their last drive south had been hairy, and Frank’s frequent remarks about the “daredevil whippersnappers” on the road had made her reconsider this year’s trip.

“Oh, but the kids’ll miss us! We’ll just take it slow. What do you say? Shall we give it another whirl, my pretty Pearl? Just one more jaunt?”

Pearl could never say no to her Frank. Even when his plans involved doing things she’d never imagined, she trusted he would keep her from harm and expand the small world of her past. And he was patient. She never understood how he could be so patient with her fretful ways.

Frank was a good driver, too, and loved their road trips, but the journey to visit their favorite nephew’s family took days. There was no need to hurry in either direction, though, so she helped him pack the car.

“ ‘Twill be an adventure, my tweety-sweetie-pie,” he told her.

“It’s always an adventure with you, dear. But I think we’ll fly next time.”

They had just passed the “WELCOME TO OKLAHOMA: Discover the Excellence” sign when she stole a glance at her husband. How she loved his strong nose, his wispy silver hair, his bushy eyebrows, and the mischievous grin that always played around his lips.

“How can you tell if he’s happy or sad?” their friends would ask her because his expression never seemed to change, even when Pearl knew he was troubled. She wondered if it was his way of protecting her fragile emotions.

“Oh, I know,” was all she’d say.

Pearl grasped the wheel and briefly considered pulling over to the shoulder. “These double-long trucks scare the bejeebers out of me. Look at him! He’s taking up half our lane! They should be illegal. Hey, you, pick a lane! Should be illegal, don’t you think?”

Jittery chatter was how Pearl dealt with tense situations. She drove on more slowly, her knuckles white at ten and two. Another quick glance at Frank reminded her how patient he’d been over the years. When he learned she’d be fine once she finished her rant, he’d wait it out, the little furrows on either side of his mouth indicating an ever-present grin like the one he wore now.

“I sure will be glad to see that ‘Welcome to Colorful Colorado’ sign. Tomorrow, maybe. Isn’t it just the funniest? Cream letters on a brown sign. Colorful Colorado. Ha!” She squinted. “This is the worst time to drive, you know, with the sun setting. Maybe we’ll drive through the night tonight. Get home in time for Bridge with the girls tomorrow. Won’t they be jealous when I tell them about the show at The Grand Ole Opry?”

When the truck was out of sight, she took a deep breath but didn’t relax her grip on the wheel. She stared straight ahead, concentrating on keeping Ol’ Brownie between her lane markers. She let the silence sink in.

Miles later, Pearl placed her hand over Frank’s.

“Still cold, darlin’?” She pulled her hand away quickly and fumbled to adjust the heat knob.
Tears threatened the corners of her eyes, rolled over her sparse lashes and disappeared in the soft scarf Frank had purchased that morning to protect her from Colorado’s impending winter chill. She wiped the rest away brusquely. Wind buffeted the car and she grasped the wheel firmly again.

“I wish you’d say something, my love. Anything.”

But Frank had nothing more to say. He had stopped talking near the eastern edge of Oklahoma shortly after their last McDonald’s coffee when Pearl took over at the wheel. There were two more states to traverse before they’d be home. She’d have to be careful where she stopped. Maybe she’d close his eyes and lean him against the door.

It would look like he was just sleeping.

almost home

Hunting in Colorado: Day 3

10/19/15

Once again we chose to ignore my hunting tip #8 and arrived at our pull-off below Weston Pass even earlier than on Day 2. As it was pitch black and I was uncertain of my footing, Mike carried my rifle in his pack for the steepest section of our approach until dawn broke and it was time to chamber a round. He’s the awesomest husband I know.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

KIND bars have been our snack of choice for a few years now, and although Mike has never been an early morning breakfast eater (I must eat in the morning or I become an ogre), he snarfed a couple down before our ascent. The resultant gastric consequences provided hilarity soon thereafter.

“Did you hear something?” he whispered to me with a big smile halfway up the hill. “It sounded like bugling!”

I rolled my eyes as I did numerous times over the next hour while the nutritious bars wreaked havoc with his digestion. So much bugling. But I don’t blame him for scaring away our potential dinner.

I blamed the monkey crow. I wish I’d thought to tap “record” on my iPhone when we heard him. Snow flurries were soft in the tree line, and because my ankle was feeling pretty good, I decided to stay with Mike as he traversed the higher grounds rather than loll about in the meadow where our elk really should have been.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

The crow’s laughter was an even closer imitation of monkey chatter than Mike can make, and we stopped to enjoy the merriment for a moment before continuing our stealthy trudge through and over thick and downed pines. Soft little Christmas trees with snow-sprinkled new growth sprouted where the old had fallen long ago, and well into our ascent, Mike stopped for a break. He’s always thinking of me, but I could tell he was also beginning to get discouraged.

Within moments of hitting the trail again, I paused for a familiar routine. I knew he’d spotted a sign. Sure enough, there it was. Fudge-brownie-fresh poop.

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

We had already traversed too far for my comfort. My ankle was beginning to ache (I’ve been telling myself that hunting is good physical therapy after surgery, but at that point I was questioning myself) and I started praying to Diana, Artemis, Orion, all of the hunting deities, to hide the poopers.

Because “they” listened to me, we hiked and hiked, and hiked and hiked, until we came to another huge clearing far beyond and above the meadow I suddenly wished I had stayed in.

“Look. Classic elk terrain,” Mike whispered. “This is where it says they should be.” We’ve repeated this same message to one another in several locations already. It’s become a joke.

“I know, but elk don’t read,” I whispered back.

“Racist,” he replied. Muffled giggling ensued.

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk "should have been"!

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk “should have been”!

We crept around the enormous open space and I realized that not only were there no signs of elk anymore, but my ankle was seriously unhappy. And we were seriously far and high above where we’d parked. And we’d been out for hours and hours and I was ready to become a pescatarian. I like to fish. I like to eat fish. Fishing is easy. I can sit down while I fish. Fishing rods aren’t that heavy. I can drive really close to where I want to fish.

“You stay here and rest. I’m going back into the trees over there and if I don’t see anything, we’ll head back.”

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

I was all about the heading back, but also truly concerned about the terrain. From where I stood, I couldn’t see over the edge of the field. I had no idea how steep our descent would be. So after having him take the last photo in which I could smile that day, I leaned against a downed tree with my feet uphill and did my best to remain optimistic. And that’s when I had a most unexpected visitor.

An elk? Not a chance. But at the spot where I landed in the acres and acres of terrain we’d covered that day was one little ladybug. For the next half hour as Mike searched for our elusive prey, she and I visited. I marveled at her resolve to stay with me, figuring it was because my body was far warmer than anything in that wind-whipped field. She made me smile, and by the time I had to set her free, I had steeled my mind for the final trudge.

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that my husband once again was my hero. He took my weapon from me and found a hiking stick to assist with the worst downhill journey of my life so far. I had to do several sections on my butt, so instead of crying (which I almost did several times), I gave thanks for the up-and-downstairs-butt-technique I had mastered in our house while on crutches just weeks before. (see crutches)

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

The descent was grueling, but the day was filled with beauty. And I had spent it with my man. We had no elk for all our efforts, but we were still together, still able to smile at the beauty of our surroundings, and still confident that . . . Day 4 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 2

10/18/15

We heard that Weston Pass was the place to go to find our wily elk for sure. So instead of heeding my tip #8 for Day 1 prep (See tip 8), we drove up to a spot on the road below Weston Pass way before the sun rose.

The hike up to where we knew the elk would be was arduous (for someone like me with a gimpy ankle), but we made good time and got to enjoy the sight of dawn breaking over the cold Rocky Mountains. After a while, we hunkered down in some pine trees. We’d wait a while and watch the herds pass by. We’d have our pick of tasty future meals.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

After about ½ hour, Mike decided to move farther up the hill. I stayed below. We’d have different vantage points of the same open area through which the elk would meander…at any minute. I drilled myself on the gutless method of removing the tenderloins. Dinner.

Suddenly I saw wild gesticulations from above, and when I followed Mike’s pointed finger, THERE THEY WERE! Although difficult to see from my position, a cow, two calves and a spike were walking through a small clearing between thick pines on the far, far side of the meadow. Mike gestured for me to come up to where he was already in a firing position, but I think we both knew that the tiny window of opportunity and the distance were too challenging to overcome in the split second between seeing them and watching them disappear.

“I should’ve taken the shot,” he said, “but by the time I had the elevation adjusted, it was too late.”

“You did the right thing. You want a clean shot.” I told him what he already knew.

“You stay here. I’m going over to see if I can pick up the trail.”

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

For the next 90 minutes, Mike hiked and I lay prone in the meadow grass by a large, dead tree trunk. Maybe he’d scare them out and I’d get my shot. Instead, I waited and lounged and peered through the grass, remembering my 5th grade teacher at Archie T. Morrison Elementary School in Braintree who had us do something quite similar during our poetry unit, but without rifles. I think she might have been the one who sparked my interest in writing.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

While Mike hiked, I shot photos, something my friends tell me I should be doing rather than shooting “poor innocent animals.” I took my hunting glamour shot and visited for a while with a nosy lark bunting. I really do like shooting photos, but I’d like to know I could feed myself during the zombie apocalypse too.

By the time Mike returned, he was beat and I was ready to head home.

“There are tons of signs over there. It’s like an elk highway. We’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”

I would have agreed to anything at that point. We were silent as we drove home, tired and hungry, and our reward for our efforts on Day 2 was a glorious rainbow embracing our little Leadville.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Clearly, Day 3 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 1

Here are some tips on what to do before charging out on Day 1 of your hunting season:

  1. Read last year’s hunting blog and laugh about how inexperienced you were.
  2. Tell yourself, “This will be the year!”
  3. Review videos on the gutless method of harvesting your kill, preferably while you’re eating something. This is my favorite one: Gutless method
  4. Tell yourself, “I can do that in 10 minutes, 15 minutes max.”
  5. Don’t worry about losing sleep the night before Day 1. You won’t have any trouble sleeping after 8 hours of moving, sweating, waiting, and shivering.
  6. Assure your non-hunting friends you do realize you’re stopping a beating heart when you shoot an animal.
  7. Practice whispering with your hunting partner. Start with little messages like, “They’re waiting for us.”
  8. Ask everyone where they bagged their elk. When they tell you, go somewhere else.

Mike and I started our Day 1 hunt before sunrise on Mt. Zion because we heard that’s

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

where our next meal would be hanging out. Despite my initial dread of spending a day beating the brush after re-reading my post from last year’s hunting adventures (Hunting with my Hubby), I geared up and we got to our parking spot before sunrise. Mike knew my mobility was limited since I just ditched the crutches a week ago from ankle surgery six weeks prior and convinced me we’d move at my speed.

It didn’t take long before we found our hunting rhythm, which truly illustrated “a snail’s pace.” Although we saw some signs (signs=poop) of elk having been there, we were not convinced they were still hanging

Pee break. "Stack... arms!" (that's an Army command)

Pee break. “Stack… arms!” (that’s an Army command)

around. I don’t know what it is about constantly scanning the ground and surroundings for signs and movement, and perhaps it’s just our own constant movement at high altitudes, but the need to pee is far more frequent while hunting. I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing quite like peeing in the wild. Anyway, after many hours and much hiking (and peeing) and discovering beautiful places where they “should have been,” we returned home at midday. We knew when we went back out that evening, we’d find them.

Driving back to a different starting spot on the mountain, still full of adrenaline and eager to fill our tags on Day 1, we discussed what would happen if we came across a “twofer.” Mike has a cow tag and I have a bull tag, same season, so the idea of walking into a pasture and catching a little bull-on-cow action was just too funny not to consider.

"They SHOULD be here!"

“They SHOULD be here!”

Alas, our anticipation adrenaline wore off as the sun set, and we returned home again home again, jiggity-jig, to a dinner of mac&cheese and early to bed. Clearly, Day 2 would be “the day.”

Here’s a link to my hunting epilogue from 2014 and there are several other daily posts before it. Just search “hunting” for more:

2014 hunting epilogue

Hunting with my Hubby

Hunting wily elk
Wilderness protects them all
Caught my man instead

Steaming sweat streamed down my spine. My 20-pound pack was plastered to my back. I had overdressed, once again, for the last day of hunting season. Or perhaps Mike was moving just a tad too fast up the endless incline, eager for success on that last day. No, I had certainly overdressed.

Although Mike hunted squirrels in his boyhood days, the only hunting I had ever done was for bargains at department stores. I had never dreamed of a day I’d be hunting elk, or any other animal, but there I was in the wilds of Colorado, excited for the shot that would guarantee us fresh meat for months. Mike had the cow tag. He would shoot, and I would do the field dressing. For days and sleepless nights, I practiced in my head what I had learned on YouTube. I knew I’d be a pro.

Like Hansel and Gretel, the elk in the area left trails and trails of moist offerings for us to follow. Mike found them all, and I did my best not to complain when one trail led to another, and another, even though I suspected we were being led on a wild poo chase.

We spent one thirteen-hour day the first weekend of the season, and although I often found myself either sweating bullets or shivering in my boots, I frequently felt just right. Those moments steeled me for subsequent excursions.

We fell into a speechless rhythm. I stopped whenever he stopped, about every eight steps. We did this for hours, and by early afternoon, even my eye muscles ached from the constant, stealthy surveillance.

Countless times I watched Mike stop, pick up a twig and stick it intophoto 1
a pile of elk poop. I soon learned that the shiny ones were the freshest. There was no doubt in my mind that elk had been there before us.

“Does this look familiar?” he asked me later in the day, quizzing me to test my orientation proficiency. I lied and said yes, though the poo piles were all starting to smell the same to me. I did notice a familiar
photo 3twig sticking out of one pile and realized we had made a huge circle.

In addition to coordinating our movement, we also coordinated our pee breaks. Peeing in the woods is the best. After the squat, the sweet release, a clench or two and a wiggle-waggle, I’m ready for the next expanse of forest.

Frequently, busy squirrels chattered at us to move along, though we had no interest in their tiny little nuts. We did our best to be as stealthy as our prey, but Mike had a creaky boot that I’m certain alerted the nut gatherers. Then, of course, the blast of an occasional fart would stop us both in our tracks. We would look at one another in mock surprise and mouth the word, “bugling?” It was always funny, and we found ourselves suppressing juvenile giggles every time it happened.

At one point as we were creeping through a particularly mucky draw, our boots pulling—“Shhgluck!”—from the mud, I had flashbacks to my Army reconnaissance training.

“Feels like we’re in Nam,” I whispered to Mike. He just rolled his eyes.

At one point that long day as we climbed up from yet another draw, we were treated by the flash of two glorious elk cows about 30 yards away. Fortunately for them, they saw us before we recognized them, and before Mike could raise his rifle, they disappeared even faster than they had appeared, and with barely a sound.

Mike continued to zigzag us through the forest in a way I never could. I’ll admit it…I don’t know the first thing about using a GPS in the forest, and would never attempt an adventure like this without him.

Later in the afternoon I began to get cranky and we stopped for a long break. Between hours of trudging in stiff boots and snacks of nothing but raisins and nuts, both my plantar fasciitis and my TMJ flared up. I considered myself lucky never to have had IBS. Because I have celiac, however, the smell of the non-gluten-free beef jerky Mike was eating made my mouth water.

“Let’s go up the trail a bit and find a good vantage point,” he said after we finished our snack. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” he continued, trying to keep up my spirits. I could taste the jerky lingering in his whisper, and started to drool a little.

“You could get lucky right here,” I whispered back, a little more than half-joking.

“Yeah, and right as we’re doing it, a whole herd would walk by,” Mike said quietly, and it was all we could do to muffle our giggles. He sure did want to score an elk that day. I settled for a jerky-kiss, and we continued moving until the sun went down on that long day.

“Let’s head back now,” he said, disappointed, though not defeated. I had no idea where “back” was, but continued to follow my guy, still in stealth mode, into the darkness, just as we had started the day.

One evening later in the week while standing motionless, I noticed a clearing on the forestphoto 5 floor outlined by fallen trees. The sight transported me to the woods behind my childhood home where my best friend, sister and I would set up pretend rooms with branches and stones. The woods were really only a few undeveloped lots, but to us, the wilderness seemed immense. We loved to bounce on a tree bent low to the ground, but never ventured too far beyond it because of the monster we were told lived there.

An enormous crow circling above us brought me back to the present. He seemed to love the sound of his own voice, and Mike and I shook our heads at the noisy ruckus. Growing chilly yet not moving at all lest we herald our presence, I realized about the only noiseless thing I could do was kegel exercises. Since those made me shiver, though, I decided to try balancing on one foot, being careful not to crunch twigs when I switched between the two.

In subsequent days we stood on high lookouts during sunsets and rises.photo 4
I watched as spider webs shimmered with bits of sunlight, looking like stray strands of tinsel on discarded Christmas trees.

Despite only one other sighting of elk late one evening after legal hunting hours, we continued to hike with hope each time we went back out to hunt. Huddled against a stone-cold boulder during our last night out, our stomachs growling and shivers setting in deep, we both still thought we might get lucky on our last descent from the forest. Alas, we were mistaken.

“I think we’re elkless,” Mike said near the end of that last day in the wild.

“It was an awesome week,” I whispered. And it was true. We hadn’t had so much quiet time together in years. When we were out there, we had no TV, no politics, no talk of Ebola. No elk? No problem. Much hunting happened, though at the end of the week, the only kill was a pesky gnat I successfully snatched from its orbit around my drippy nose one afternoon.

“And don’t forget,” I continued, “my hunting season starts next weekend!”

After spending days trudging through the woods with my husband on our first ever hunting expedition, I concluded that trying to find an elk in a jillion acres of national forest is even harder than trying to find a pair of reading glasses in your house. You know there are lots of them around, but they’re never where someone claims to have spotted them recently.

We may have ended the week elkless, but the experience brought me closer to the man who grew up raised by wolves in the wilderness of northern California—a story I tell everyone I meet about him. But that’s a story for another day.

photo 2