My Father’s Travels

Dad, Red and the ranchMy dad is driving hours today to get to a tiny town.

At the town center, Main and Center intersect in front of two gas stations, a bank and a grocery store. The post office, mercantile and drug store are down the block. There’s one coffee shop, one liquor store, four churches and a temple. Few people live there, most who know it, are only passing through on their way from one national park to another.

It’s a long way to go without much to see. It’s far from here, from my life “up north.” The town moves at its own beat: one made up of miners, farmers, shop keepers and government workers.

The rhythm is the slow pace of the everyday. A decision can take up to an hour to make, but if you take your time and listen, you’ll probably get your way and learn something too. Usually the decisions revolve around stories. The stories get better when you let them grow, sometimes the telling is better than the plot. Not that it matters. The stories need room to breathe, time to take shape in the telling. No one’s in much of a hurry anyway, it’s winter now. No harvest to bring in, no cattle to herd, it’s easier now to take the time to talk shop. The farmers will huddle in the parts store to discuss the price of grain, horses, cattle, irrigation, weather they can’t control, and new equipment they can’t afford.

It’s dirt farming.

A living that kills these men after it makes them hard, it makes them strong. My dad’s nearly 61, and he can still take any of my five brothers in a fight. We call it old man strength, but it’s not age. It’s life. Early mornings, breaking horses, rounding up cattle, milking cows, feeding chickens, fixing fence, irrigating crops that refuse to grow. It’s the work that makes these worn men so strong. He seems invincible, even as I’ve watched him gain some paunch and lose more hair. He always looks the same, just a little slower, just a little heavier, still strong when needed. He’s aging like the sandstone canyons surrounding his land. A little erosion around the eyes, then a bit on the stomach, a tiny more hair goes, and now he’s old.

The old man is always out of place here in my home: his worn jeans, cowboy boots and hat that’s always dusty. He looks like he just blew in from the set of “Lonesome Dove.” He stands out like the Marlboro man in Salt Lake City. He wears flannel unironically. It’s warm, it’s practical. It’s the same fabric his mother used to make shirts, jackets, and blankets when he was young. He stands a little bow legged from too many days on horses backs, slightly hunched from too many nights of reading near a low-burning lamp.

His town is far away from my home.

He’s visiting me briefly, just a quick trip en route to help family move. That’s what you do, help each other, even when you don’t have much. He’s traveling out of his way to help someone in need without an expectation for anything in return. All he has to give is his strength, so he will.

We moved boxes yesterday, or more accurately, he did. I took up my usual role with my silent father, the talker. I stood around chatting with the neighbors, who had come to help. I asked questions of people, whose names I don’t remember, nodding my head and thanking people for their assistance and playing nicely with my pup. All the while remembering the same conversations playing out when I was small standing with Dad in the musty parts store.

Watching him move box after box, it’s hard to remember this is the same man who joined the Army, lived in Panama and across the U.S before settling down to farm with a wife and eight children. I forget that he loves books and travel, too.

We don’t talk much, me and my dad. Sure I call my family, but rarely talk with my dad. He’s reticent on the most talkative of days, and we don’t quite see the world the same. He tries to gently remind me about Jesus, no booze and no boys, while I stridently insist I’m happy and healthy, thank you very much.

I forget how excited he is to talk horses and wheat.

Then when I ask the right question his eyes light up, his hands expand and move as he tells the latest story of another ranching adventure. He recounts the winter’s losses in a low voice illustrating the depth and breadth of each injured horse, cow and fence with his hands at times using his whole body to express the emotions his voice seems unable to convey. He loses himself in telling how he lost his favorite Arabian horse due to a cattle guard, ensuing kidney troubles and a vet too far away to help. Life’s hard there, I remember.

It’s a tiny town far from here, the ranch is even farther.

Summer sunset over the Abajo MountainsI miss it. The smell of a crisp winter morning, the sun preceded by pink streaks spreading over Sleeping Ute like a blanket to wake the world. The sky slowly dawns into a purple morning over a red landscape taking its time to reveal the robin blue sky and the red dirt. The chill of the morning never quite shakes off in the midst of winter, snow becomes ice and the ice so thick he can walk across it as he completes the day’s chores.

It will be dark when Dad gets home tonight. It’s a long drive, but the stars will tell him where he is. More stars than you’ve ever seen will fill the sky. Orion’s belt in the west will reassure him that he’s home. It’s our favorite constellation, he taught me to love the stars when we would go out to milk the cows at night. The silence will fall so thickly he can hear it. The moon’s glow will light the way from the car park to the front door. It won’t even seem like he was in a city this morning when he hears the coyote howl in the distance, the cows bellowing in the field and fire crackling in the house.

It’s far away from here, a long way to travel home.

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Sunsets On Memories

This is not the highest quality photo or even the most in-focus photo, however in searching through the archives today this photo is one of those kind of moments where I realize how lucky I am to live so close to family and nature.

It’s also appropriate since this photo was taken from a house where I’ll be spending a few days this week to hang out with nieces and a nephew while mom and dad head off to Jamaica. I’m excited for family time! We will have tons of fun and hopefully the parents have a nice relaxing time in a Caribbean paradise.

Autumn in Utah

Some days there are no places in the world I’d rather be than home.

It’s certainly not every day.

But this close to Halloween in the brunt of autumn just before the weather turns to bone-chilling, hip deep snow drifts that make me dream of beaches. I want to be home.

The crisp, crunch of yellow leaves, the blustery wind through the gray skies, the swirl fo decaying fauna as it floats to another home. This is the weather that makes me love Utah.

I love baking in my tiny kitchen, brewing pots of coffee, long talks about nothing and everything, eating everything pumpkin flavored and rediscovering the warmth of comforters and blazers left in the closet all summer long.

It’s the autumn I love. We’re back in the swing of school, regular schedules no longer feel new. The long days of summer are past us, the short days of winter loom ahead, but here in the muddling in-between is the comfort of snuggling in bed with pumpkin pie and coffee.

It’s the kind of day that makes me happy to be home.

If you’ve never made it the place where I live, you really should visit in the fall. We take Halloween too seriously, we go camping in the rain and tell ghost stories around smoky fires. We have house parties where everyone wears costumes. We have more professional haunted houses than a city of this small size should conceivably boast of, and all of them seem to do a roaring business with long waits and cheap tickets.

Most of the travel literature will lead you to believe Utah is at its best in winter. For the skiers and snowboarders that may be true, but for those who think the outdoors are best when viewed from inside warm homes. Autumn is the best time to live here.

The golden weeks of dying summer are past. We’re in the gray days just before the rainy bit that means ski resorts will probably be opening before Thanksgiving this year. In less than a month, I’ll only be writing about how amazing the beaches of *insert tropical country* are and how much I want to go there.

But these cool days where scarves, boots, hats and sweaters can be worn and shown off without the bulk of winter coats to hide them and exhibition Jazz games give me hope for a watchable NBA season, I only want to be here. These are the best days to be a Utahn.

Contemplations on backpacking

A part of me wants to stop moving from place to place so quickly I give myself little chance myself the chance to develop a community.

Community.

It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot as I consider backpacking for a year or two. There is a loose gathering of characters in the travel community. The internet bringing us a little closer together as we travel the world. Nonetheless it’s a difficult decision for me personally to leave behind (again) the very small community I have on American soil.

So backpacking, yes, I want to backpack. It’s a crazy dream that will not get out of my head. I dipped my toes into backpacking last summer with a month-ish or so in Malaysia and Indonesia. While easily one of the best decisions, I’ve ever made it wasn’t without it’s trials. For one thing, the road can be lonely. This time backpacking will kick off with a week in Hong Kong with Linda, an excellent friend from South Korea, who is as much fun to party with as she is to learn with. I have every expectation we will be decent travel companions; so long as she has her shopping, and I have my museums.

After Hong Kong, I want to continue the journey. It’s nonsensical to spend more than a grand on a ticket to go somewhere for a week to me. Currently I’m devising a plan and budget to stay in Hong Kong for two weeks. However my dream is to hop on over to Singapore for an undecided amount of time before taking the train to Kuala Lumpur. Then moving on to Penang for at least a week. (Although Georgetown is kind of my dream vacation home city.) Then when I feel the time is right continue on to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In my dreams, this excellent plan is most awesome because I will be in Southeast Asia enjoying it all for three months or more. Then I could continue on to South Korea, seeing old friends, make my way to Taiwan, the Philippines and wherever else my soul fancies before eventually settling down somewhere.

But out there on the road, it’s tough. It is not a walk in the park by any means, it’s stressful utterly delightful, but not without it’s annoyances: lack of electricity, lack of indoor plumbing, always feeling foreign, lack of companionship, pressure to be polite, demands to be outgoing. General human things that are so much easier to handle when I have a home, a place to call my own.

It’s a conundrum, or rather, a choice. I can picture a perfect set of circumstances with a permanent travel companion and plenty of money without requiring the need to write from the road which would make me run out the door now and buy the first plane ticket out of the country. But that is pipe dream. I’m positive of my own solo adventures and poverty, so wishing to change either of those circumstances will not happen quickly and without serious effort. I know I’m moving, I just don’t know where. And I’m starting to feel as though I need a PLAN.

I forget sometimes that I had a plan. Then that got fucked.

And this is just what’s been happening since Plan A became Plan F.

I know I’m happy writing, I know I enjoy having a home, a place to build a community. But I also know I struggle with Salt Lake City’s extremes, it’s quiet streets, it’s empty restaurants, it’s 1 a.m. closing time. Little things that add up to big things, making me want to find a new place to call home.

I don’t know if that home is the road, a new community or just a new apartment.