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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Here we go, here we go, here we go again

Oh man, oh man! Am I excited?!

A weekend road trip is coming! One of the best things about Utah is the easy distances to get away from the city smog here.

I’m super stoked on this next trip because it will expand my backyard experiences to include one of those quintessential Western United States things I’ve actually never done.

One of these weekends, we’re going to Bear Lake!

Bear Lake in the winter, according to Bearlake.org.

For those who may not know, Bear Lake is a pretty little place on the Utah/Idaho border. It’s a popular summer-time weekend destination for boating, strawberries and hiking.

Being the lifetime Utahn that I am, I have never been there.

It’s almost time to pack up my bag, throw on my boots and take a little drive up north to see what beauty awaits. I plan on doing minimal hiking, and not freezing to death next to the fireplace at the cute little bed and breakfast we found.

Hopefully the weather is on our side and we can take pretty pictures while exploring the tiny towns.

I can’t wait!

This coffee is for you

I hibernate in winter.

Living in Utah it’s frequently brought to my attention that I do winter wrong.

I don’t snowboard, ski or whatever the hell else people figure out to do in frigid temperatures to stay warm. I’m not completely opposed to the idea of outdoor fun. I just like to be warm.

I stay inside. I drink absurd amounts of coffee. I make soup. I sleep. I read books. I write stories about murderous cowboys on desert planets. Some days I even bake. Mostly I do everything I can to not leave my house so long as there is snow on the ground.

Snuggled up and cozy in blankets, sipping hot drinks and pretending the world is all wrapped up in white, wintery fluff keeps me from making a last minute airport stop to a beach.

In my perfect world winter exists as the best ready-made excuse to ignore the universe and pretend that I’m the only person in the world and all that matters right now is me and this love affair I’m going to have with a pile of unread books. No worrying about the Grand Bargain, no lapping up the Petraeus scandal, no staring at a snoring hummingbird, just me, my books and drifting thoughts of tropical beaches.

Winter’s also a good excuse to put a plethora of personal drama on hold indefinitely.

Although I am thinking this may just be the winter to try out snowboarding. Who knows, maybe I’ll start wintering right after all?

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.

Love It Or Hate It

Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon at La Caille in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The grounds are stunning and no photograph I took could do them justice.

However this photo flummoxes me, on the one hand I love it. The soft flowers in the very front with the vibrant flowers on the left and the mountains imposing over it all, it’s gorgeous. On the other hand, I kind of hate it. The colors seem wrong, the focus is totally off and what is happening with the electric line, the mountain and the sky?

What do you think? Photo worthy of sharing? Or waste of space?