Western Vignettes


Tonight we are camping on an island in the Great Salt Lake.  One minute we were in the middle of strip malls and suburban houses and the next we were in the middle of the lake surrounded by wetland grasses and birds.  The day has been almost unbearably hot, but the evening is perfectly warm and thunderstorms are blowing in.  We sit under the canopy and watch the spidery lightning striking in the distance.  Billie Holiday quietly croons “Them There Eyes” and the crickets chime in.  And as if to remind me that no moment can be totally idyllic, a mosquito buzzes lightly in my ear.

The next morning we awake to see buffalo grazing outside of our window.  The thunderstorms have passed and all around is the sweet smell of dry grass.  Salt Lake City looks like a mirage in the cloudy distance.  There are no sounds but the calls of seabirds and the faint rustle of the buffalo as their huge bodies gracefully swish through the tall vegetation.

I pick up a community paper at a Taco John’s in Lander, WY.  It’s not all that interesting—it’s really more for advertising than anything else.  But then, in the classified section under “livestock” I see this:“For sale: 3 year old unregistered Nubian doe for sale.  Current on vaccines and deworming.  She would make a good weed eater or if you want to eat her.”

Because of the snow, they have closed the road that goes up to the caves at Craters of the Moon.  And because we walked the road, we are the only people there.  We scramble over rocks, get pelted by water dripping from the ceiling, and shine our lights over the glittering surfaces of the cave walls.  We inhale deeply the musty cave smell and probe into corners and crevices.  We eat lunch while perched on some rocks underneath an opening to the sky.  Two pigeons sit on the edge of the opening and peer over at us warily.  As they fly away we hear the faraway sound of voices—they have reopened the road.  The spell is broken, but we’ve had our time alone with some choice fruits of geologic time.

We enter Shore Acres State Park and right away I notice the flagrant flouting of the park laws.  Right under the sign that says “No animals outside of cars” two birds are pecking around, totally oblivious.  “Get in your car!” I yell, but they just ignore me.

The City of Rocks is an unreal place at any time, but especially covered in snow.  Adam and I huddle in the motorhome under the blankets listening to the weather radio.  Snow is coming.  Hopefully not too much to leave us stranded.  In the dusk the flakes start to fall, softly at first and then more furiously.  What can we do but turn on some music, raise a glass of wine, and watch?  The next morning the City of Rocks is a sepia photograph.

Near the lighthouse at Cape Blanco a man stands for hours on the cliffs flying his remote controlled airplane.  We sit on the beach and watch its flight swooping down over the scrubby vegetation.  Without warning, the plane crashes into the side of the cliff.  Little puffs of sand and dirt rise from the wreckage.  “I hope everyone is OK,” I say.  And I imagine the difficult job of having to call the families of all of the people aboard, each person picking up the tiny telephone to hear the bad news.

At Yellowstone National Park, people race around the roads, heedless of the wildlife in their path.  One buffalo is having none of this.  The big male walks calmly down the center divide causing all traffic in both directions to slow to a crawl.  Along the side of the road a small group of females and babies make their way safely to their destination.

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