Monday, February 28, 2011

R.I.P. Ryan

This seems to be a winter for losing beloved friends.

I was seventeen and dating my first husband when I met his best friend, Ryan. Like my ex, Ryan was a good deal older than me. He died this week after a long bout with cancer. He was 63.

We called him "TFR" which stood for "The F'ing Ryan." The man was a force of nature. Tall, Irish, bearded and handsome, Ryan was sarcastic, funny, intelligent, talented and crazy as all hell.

He'd gradutated from Visual Arts in Manhattan but instead of pursuing his art career, he freaked out, took a clothes iron to his credit cards and moved to upstate NY. When I met him, he lived in a little cabin in the woods, and the place was always filled with warmth from the woodstove, homemade pies and the sound of him playing guitar.

One year we moved in with him, living on his 24x7 back porch for an entire winter. The place had an outhouse, chickens and no running water. We had to crank water out of the well and carry it into the house by hand. At one point Ryan got a clawfoot bathtub and set it up in the kitchen. Rather than buying a stopper for the drain, he took a huge tree limb and carved one end to fit the drain, so you had to bathe while avoiding the giant spear in the tub.

It's probably Ryan's fault that I'm living in the middle of nowhere in Colorado now. If it wasn't for roughing it with him, I don't know that I'd have ever considered this choice.

Before I met him, Ryan and his 2nd wife bought some land in Arkansas "because it was the poorest state in the union." That's just how crazy he was.

When I met Ryan he was trading his paintings of Indians on barnsiding for dental work and anything else he needed. He absolutely refused to get out there and sell his work - a damn shame, he was one of the finest artists I've ever met.

His third (and final) wife, Lizzie and I were about the same age and she taught me to drive by getting us both wasted drunk and then having me take the wheel. Thank gods there wasn't much traffic where we lived. The crazy shit you do when you're a kid!

He hated garlic (or at least pretended to, to annoy me). He loved cheap beer, the crappier the better. He helped me to learn to ride a motorcycle by setting me loose in his cornfield. I flew across the field with my legs straight out behind me and ended up having to ditch the bike or hit his neighbor's barn.

When we moved down to FL, we lost regular contact with Ryan. (Part of that was because my ex was a bit of a dick, and had had a falling out with him before we left.) I'd contacted Ryan about a year before I moved and he was thrilled to hear from me. Gods I missed him, but I'm terrible about staying in contact, and in the end I truly regret that, because it's the last time I spoke to him.

One of Ryan's many artistic mediums was stained glass. Years ago he made my ex a window for one of the doors in our auto shop. Then he gave me a gorgeous stained glass box. Very sadly it got broken in one of my moves - though it wouldn't have survived the fire anyway. I've been thinking of a mirror he made Lizzie, with a goat playing the flute. I'm considering taking up stained glass, and maybe that's why I've had him on my mind.

Some Ryanisms:

"Fix it with a F-it."
"It just takes the right combination of curses."

I'm going to miss him.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our Mud Adventure

Despite the fact that I haven't posted it till now, it's been more than two solid weeks since the part 4 of our Snow Adventure. For several days we backpacked our groceries from the truck, which we'd left over at M's.

Then the snow melted a bit and Quantum decided to try to bring the truck home so we didn't have to carry things like huge cannisters of propane, gas cans, groceries and hay across a half mile of field.

Major mistake. Two weeks later we FINALLY got the truck unstuck from the mud. Each day we managed to get it a few feet further and have the truck mired in a brand new place. I wish I had pictures. The last time the truck was stuck bumper deep!

Quantum dug the truck out, but couldn't reach the mound of mud in the middle of underneath the truck, the battery died, all kinds of fun stuff. Twice we had to ask RY to get us gas for the generator and hike out to the road to meet him and get it.

Meanwhile the darn yaks ran away again. Broke the fence trying to reach some of their hay that was on the other side. Here we are trying to watch the news one afternoon (to see what new freaking storm might be bearing down on us) and out the window we see a yak scampering through the snow.

Fool that I am, I tried to follow them, but they're fast and surefooted, and I was stumbling in the drifts. Four days later we heard that they'd shown up at the same ranch they were at last time. The guy is happy to keep them till we can dig ourselves out and shore up the fence, thank goodness.

I've always been a recluse and self-sufficient. I hate asking for help, and would rather be the helper than the helpee. I guess this year's lesson is about being grateful for good neighbors and learning to say thank you.

Hah! Meanwhile, the other neighbors up the road, P&C, who Quantum originally thought were pretty cool, managed to catch RY's wife while RY was helping Quantum dig the truck out of the last mire. According to Sue, these folks said that "we don't help newbies. If they stick around a couple years, maybe." Well, gee, thanks folks. Glad not everyone has your attitude! The funny thing was that Quantum met the husband because he was trying to help THEM one day when it looked like P was broken down on the road.

So anyway, now that we've finally gotten out of the road and made it in for a few supplies, they're predicting snow for the weekend again. What fun!

Our Snow Adventure - Part 4

Next morning, we watch the news and once again they're forecasting snow. As usual, there's this little cloud right above our location on the map. It's supposed to be just a dusting, though.

Quantum and CK slog through the snow. CK comes back with the propane tank, which took Quantum some time to find again. Quantum goes after the hay. Some long time later he gets back with a few of the groceries, but not the hay. "I left it by the fence. I couldn't drag it any further."
"Oh and M wants us to babysit a house for him. Not his house, some other house on his property. The guy who lives there is in Florida and M has to go out for a day or two. He needs someone to watch the woodstove. He's going to meet us at the fence at 4."

We discuss the logistics. We can't leave our trailer alone with the heater running. We can't leave the cats without the heater. We can't leave the dog at all. I suggest we bring all three over to CK. Quantum nixes that. "We'll have to take the dog with us."

Now Zen already flips out and bounces like mad when there's snow. I can't imagine a long walk through knee-deep snow with him. And we can't get him up on the tractor, so one of us will have to walk. It's getting near 4, so we table the discussion , and I get bundled up to retrieve the hay.

I won't be able to lift a full bale myself, so I grab a bunch of garbage bags to stuff it into. On the way, I stop at CK's trailer and tell him to talk to Quantum and work things out. Since he's going to need to take the cats at least, it involves him.

The path is hard going, with a bit more snow on it than there'd been the night before. The wind is picking up and I have to fight it to get the hay in the bags. I get a couple of them stuffed full, wrap a tarp around the rest and head back. About 2/3 of the way back, CK is heading toward me.
"You and Quantum keep giving me different stories," he whines.
"Why? What did he say?"
"You tell me one thing and he says something else."
"So what the F did he say?"
It goes on like this for several exchanges, and by now I'm yelling at him. I finally manage to discern that he came out to help me carry the hay, so I give him the bags and go back for more.

The second time, CK meets me closer to halfway. "I'm so tired," he says, "this is the fourth time I'm making this walk. Fourth time? Is he counting each direction he walks in--halfway? I resist the urge to smack him in the head.

The yaks are happy to have hay. Yonkers doesn't even greet me with her usual charging at the fence.

I go back in to see what Quantum's decided. By that time it's almost time to meet M, and we still haven't captured the cats, figured out how to get them the 60 feet from our door to CK's without them escaping, and figured out what to do with the dog.
"It's probably better if I just go and you can stay here with the critters," he says. "
"Have you ever used a woodstove before?"
"No. I'm sure M can show me."

He takes the EZ-book PC his mom sent him, and hopes to get on IMs so he can communicate with me. He's also hoping that he can at least get a hot shower out of the deal.

Quantum and I haven't spent a night apart since I had to go to my grandmother's funeral three years ago. It feels weird with him out of the house. Darkness comes, and snow is falling, but just lightly. No word from Quantum on IMs. I cuddle with the puppy on the couch and watch Disney cartoons, and worry about the woodstove situation. Paranoid about fire? Not me. *cough*

I decide that in the morning I'll throw the cats in a pillowcase (the cat carrier is in the snow somewhere) is so I can bring them to CK, and take the dog with me to wherever Quantum's staying.

Next morning I wake up to a wall of snow. We got another 2 feet during the night and it doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon.

CK shows up and informs me that according to what CK told him last night, I have maybe 8 or less hours of propane left. Plus we're low on gas for the generator. Meanwhile, my mom is once again preparing to field calls, but no word from Quantum.

She finally hears from him late that afternoon. He's in town with M, and will be home after M finishes playing pool.

Just before dark Quantum shows up and he's royally pissed. He fell down in the snow and was screaming for help for a half hour and neither of us heard him. I had the sound off on the computer, and the TV was off, so...?

Turns out he ended up sleeping on an uncomfy chair right in front of the woodstove to keep it from going out. No internet. The TV there was a mess of wires, so he couldn't even figure out how to hook that up right. No shower either - way too cold. On the sweet side, he missed me as much as I missed him.

Meanwhile CK was totally wrong about how much propane I had. Thanks for worrying me, dude.

The falling in the snow thing has me scared. What if he couldn't get up?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Military Mom Suspended for Taking Call from Son in Afghanistan

I've been trying to stay off the subject of news and politics in this blog - except as it affects farming, animals and so on.

But when I heard this story on the news today, I couldn't help but comment.
Military Mom Pays High Price For Speaking With Son

If you haven't heard it, Teresa Danford answered a phone call from her son in Afghanistan. He's only able to call about once a month. Employees are not allowed to take phone calls during work hours. So Crane Interiors Foam Department suspended her from work without pay for three days (on a first offense) and told her that next time she'd be fired.

Well, me, I'm horrified. No matter what I think about the wars overseas, I believe
in supporting our troops themselves. Not to mention treating our employees humanely, no matter who they are.

If Quantum and I had an employee and one of them got a phone call like that:

"Here's our office, so you can have some privacy. The liquor cabinet is over there. Can we get you some tea or coffee? Take as much time as you need, and if you need the rest of the day off, or any help, just let us know."

This might be the last time she ever has a chance to talk to her son. It might not even have been her son calling, it could have been someone telling her that he'd fallen in battle. The idea of a company treating their employee like this has me infuriated.

Meanwhile the TV station we're watching asks for comments, and some chucklehead says, "she could have been putting the lives of other employees in danger by taking the call." In a furniture company? What are they worried about? Al Quaeda seat cushions? Suicide bomber sofas?

Now lets say this wasn't a mom of a soldier in battle. What if it was your normal ordinary mother of grammar school kid. What if they were calling to say the kid had gone into anaphylactic shock from eating a peanut butter sandwich and was being rushed to the hospital?

My guess is the manager probably would still have suspended her. Grrrr!

Meanwhile, the person who should have gotten suspended was the manager. Bad for employee morale, and potentially devastating for the company finances once word gets out. I know I won't be buying any furniture from Crane Interiors.

Here's a page with info on how to contact the folks involved if you'd like to bitch.
Mom Suspended @ Navy For Moms

Okay, I'll get back on subject ASAP and let you know about our continuing snow adventures.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Snow Adventure - Part 3

So the yaks still don't have hay. Quantum managed to get some, but it's in the back of the truck, which is a couple miles down the road, stuck in a snow drift.

The girls are eating straw which we'd originally used to make a windbreak for them. They actually seem to prefer it sometimes, but I don't know how nutritious it is.

Its Sunday, Super Bowl day for people who give a damn about it. I could care less about football, but I realize it means we're less likely to get help towing the car home. We have Mom call RY to see if he can help us with that, but he says his truck won't make it out. The roads are major bad.

Quantum and I suit up and head out across our eastern neighbor's field. The snow is very deep now. Maybe 2 1/2  feet. Another storm system is said to be coming.  Someone had given CK a pair of snow boots, which are a bit too small for him. Combined with a couple thick pairs of socks, they fit me loosely. Definitely better than the thin boots I'd been wearing.

Or not. By the time we get 2/3 of the way down the driveway, I have to go back and put on my regular boots. The snow boots weigh about 20 lbs EACH and I'm stumbling and can't lift my feet. My hips are screaming from doing this two days in a row. I realize I'll be exhausted before we get out to the road.

Back in my thin boots, I go off after Quantum. He's taller than me, with longer leg. It's almost easier to break a new path than to follow his long strides.

We're about halfway across the 1/2 mile or so of fields when we notice a tractor plowing snow. Now we've only had two encounters with this neighbor. The first, back in September when we were trying to figure out how to get onto our land. At the time, the wife had been a bit standoffish. Although I suspect that she was just startled at our appearance in front of her house. The second, Quantum had met him in town, and helped him push his truck (mechanical problems or out of gas.) He'd invited Quantum to come visit the next Sunday, but RY had some trouble that day. A friend in need had to come first. We have the impression that our neighbor is a bit jealous of his privacy and we're not sure how he'll feel about our traipsing across his land. The only thing to do is brazen it out.

We wave to him, tell him we're trying to get to our stuck car. He tells us to come over where he is and he'll give us a ride. This means slipping down a cow path that crosses the gully where the stream flows through his land, and climbing up the other side. Naturally I go on my butt.

We make it across. We climb onto the tractor with him, balancing on the steps and holding on to anything that doesn't look like a moving part. We think he's going to just drop us by the road.
"How far is your truck?" he asks.
"Just around the blind turn, I think." Quantum says.

Our neighbor, M, drives us up to his house and gets us in his pickup. He's actually going to drive us to our truck. He's friendly. A lot nicer than we'd hoped. We drive to the truck. It's a lot further than Quantum had thought, almost two miles. Thank gods we have a ride!

We also get to meet his two dogs, an older black lab and a chocolate lab puppy. Both sweet. The puppy is adorable, and wants to love on us.

When we get to the Blazer, M offers to drag us out. He passes our truck and finds somewhere to turn around and ACK! gets stuck in a ditch. The two of us hop out, start pushing, and we manage to get him back on the road.

We pull out the winch, hook it up to our cars, and get it pulled out. It's actually much more dramatic than I'm writing. Consider that by now our hands are frozen. My gloves are wet. I'm trying to put on the semi-dry second pair while controling the winch button.

No sooner do we get the truck out of the ditch, than the snowplow comes along. Quantum backs up, trying to get out of the plow's way, and gets stuck in ANOTHER ditch. Just great. More winching, more freezing hands. Now the winch hook keeps slipping off M's truck. Once again we manage to get out of the ditch.

Our plan had been to get the truck up the road to a place just past M's meadow. M says "if you leave it on the road, they'll strip your truck." He tells us to put it in his driveway instead. So we reach the hill before his driveway, and there in the middle of the road is a herd of cows. One of them is standing on three legs and licking her butt! Quantum blows the horn. She gives him a dirty look and continues licking her ass. We're loosing traction.

Another pickup comes along, and asks us what the problem is. "They'll move out of the way," the guy says. He goes around us, tries to get the cows to move. Meanwhile we have to back downhill to get the truck some traction and momentum again.

Have I mentioned that Quantum never really drove in the snow? I'm from upstate NY a good part of my life, so I've dealt with snow. Quantum is clueless. He's spinning the tires like mad, getting nowhere and turning the snow beneath us to ice. But of course he doesn't want to hear how to drive in snow from me. Fortunately M explains that he needs to start slow - feather the gas and not give it power until he's got out of the patch of ice. Thank goodness Quantum takes instruction from him.

We get past the darn cows - they're still standing on the side of the road, taunting us - and to M's driveway. We follow him up. The truck can't make it with our bald tires and no chains. We're sliding again. My feet are wet and icy. "If he invites us in for something warm, say YES," I implore.
"We've got to get back with the hay and CK is probably worried by now," Quantum says.
"I don't CARE! We're going to get frostbite if we don't get warm."

Finally we back the Blazer down, find somewhere to park. We hike back up to his truck and he drives us up to his house.

He leads us into a huge quonset hut, filled with antique cars. He starts a fire in the woodstove. "You hang out here, by the woodstove," he says to me. "I want Quantum to play a game of pool." The two of them go to the upstairs of the hut. "You got a lighter?" he asks Quantum. "I do, I say from below."
"Come on up then."

I do so. Upstairs there's a pool table, poker table, a bar. I can tell that M wants some time alone with Quantum. Partially a male-bonding thing, partly I think he wants to question Quantum alone.

After a few minutes he takes me downstairs, to meet his wife, and goes back to play pool with Quantum.
I should probably describe them. M is short and barrel chested, somewhat bald and tanned. His eyes sparkle and there are mirth lines around him. M's wife, G is tall and thin, white haired and elegant. Both of them are career military, now retired.

G is shy at first, but friendly. Yes, she'd been startled the time we went up her driveway. They don't get many unexpected visitors, and I get the impression that when they did it wasn't a pleasant experience.

Their house is lovely, vaulted ceilings and almost the exact kind of cabinets in the kitchen that Quantum and I have been thinking of for ours - light knotty wood, very plain - both Quantum and I end up remarking on them at different times.

G turns out to be a writer, and is planning on joining a writer's group that's starting up. I'm thrilled, and will probably be joining - though probably nearer to spring, since the roads are touchy now.

Quantum and M return from their game and we hang out for a while longer. They're intelligent, interesting people. It's starting to seem that we have a huge amount in common. M is strong into the survivalist/self-sufficiency thing. We talk about science fiction, heirloom seeds, terra preta earth, the fact that he wants to raise goats again, and make cheese, he invites me to pick plums from his grove and to garden on his land. "I have running water, it'll be easier for you." It seems his plan - a self-sufficient cooperative - is about the same as we've been working toward.

By the time we're ready to leave we're in love with these folks.

We get back into his pickup and go down to our truck. We get some of the groceries and a bottle of propane out through the back hatch, but the side doors - where the hay is - are frozen shut. There's nothing we can do about it, we'll have to come back in the morning.

We get back in his pickup and go for a slide towards our fence that is on par with the rides at Disneyworld. His truck is slipping, sliding, and a couple of times we think it's going to roll over. Finally we make it to a hundred yards or so to the fence, and we tell him we can walk the rest of the way.

"I'll plow this in the morning," he says, "and here's my phone number in case you have problems - if you can get a signal anywhere." I give him a hug and we slog off through the snow. It's nasty deep here. We find a place to leave the propane bottle - no way we can drag it all the way right now, and stumble and slip through the snow.

By the time we get home, CK is out looking for us, and nearly frantic. "I'll call off your Mom. She was about to phone the sherrif."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Our Snow Adventure - Part 2

So we still didn't have hay for the yaks. And now the car was a mile away, without gas.

"There's no reason for you to come with me," Quantum said, that morning.  "If it's not the gas, then you won't be able to do anything. "
"Take CK with you then.  At least he knows something about mechanics."
"I'll be fine. I'll come back here before I go out to town. I need to grab another propane tank anyway."
 I tucked my mom's number into his pocket and made him promise he'd call her so that she could let me know via IMs if he had problems. As you may know, the little valley we live in prevents cell service, so he couldn't call home even if I'd had a phone here. Sometimes you can get a signal way up the road - about the same area where the car had died last night.

I put Mom on alert. She was going to spend the day near the phone in case there was trouble.

He was back faster than I'd expected. Yup, we'd been out of gas. But by the time he was ready to go again, it was getting towards 1pm. The spare tire had to be changed out again, the chains fixed and refitted, the propane tanks changed out and the empties hauled into the back of the truck.

"You sure you don't want me to come with?"
"It'll be faster if I just run into town myself."

Meanwhile I busied myself with the joyous chores that lack of plumbing entails. Mainly I cleaned the litterbox (amazing how fast that thing gets nasty with two cats now) and  pulled the "outhouse" bucket out of the closet and changed it out. The filthy thing was almost overflowing. We'd planned on dealing with it yesterday, but our disasterous journey (or lack thereof) had delayed us. I put the bucket outside, found another bucket that we'd used last time, and dumped the frozen plastic bag full of poop and urine into a bin.  Well, almost frozen. FYI, urine doesn't completely freeze. At least not at the temperatures we've seen so far. We just bought a cargo trailer ($20 so you can imagine the shape it must be in) and once we can get it out here, we'll haul our trash and poop to the dump.

In dry weather it's an hour round trip to town. So when by 4pm he still wasn't home, I wasn't too worried. Two hours in town to pick up hay, pick up groceries, get propane, that isn't bad. Except I noticed it had just started snowing.

"The yaks need food. What if he didn't make it out?" I said to the puppy.
Zen perked his head sideways like the RCA dog, but didn't offer any useful advice.

I grabbed a knife and a plastic bag, then hauled the dog over to CK's trailer. "I'm going to cut some grass for the yaks," I told him, handing him the leash.

It must have taken me a half hour to fill the bag halfway with grass. The grass may look like it's everywhere, but most of it is in thin thready bundles and you can only grab a little bit at a time.

Meanwhile I was starting to worry. The snow was getting thicker and I didn't even know if Quantum had made it out. He's a stubborn guy. I'd witnessed that just yesterday. How many tries had it taken him to get out? Was he still stuck and messing around with the winch again? We had maybe an hour till dark.
I dumped the grass into the corral and apologized to the girls that it wasn't more. Hurrying back to the computer, I asked my mom to call RY. "I know he had to go there to get hay. If RY hasn't heard from him then we know he didn't make it out."

No answer at RY's house. Maybe he was helping Quantum put hay in the truck. Maybe he wasn't home. I was going to have to find out if Quantum had made it out the hard way.

"Look," I told Mom, "keep trying RY. If you get through to him, find out if Quantum came to get hay. If not, tell him to send out the St. Bernards."
"I could call the firehouse. Doesn't he work there?"
"He doesn't work there, he's a volunteer. But they should be able to contact him. If you don't get through to his house in a half hour, call the firehouse and tell them it's probably not an emergency, but let them get ahold of him. He's got a radio."
"Stay in touch with CK. I'll tell him to turn on his IMs."
 I grabbed a flashlight from CK (most of mine are low on batteries) and headed up the road.

The going was rough, since the easiest place to walk was in the tracks from the tires, and they're pretty narrow. It was somewhat warm though, especially since I'd bundled up, and as walks go, it wasn't a bad one.

By the time I got to the bottom of Bad Hill, I could tell Quantum had probably made it out. I didn't see any skids other than the ones we'd made yesterday, and the tracks went straight up the hill. "I'll keep going," I told myself, "with any luck, he'll be driving home and I can ride back."

The going up Bad Hill is nearly as challenging on foot as it is by car. I got to the top and noticed that our neighbor had plowed from his drive down toward the main road. "May as well keep going."

I made it halfway to the road when it started getting dark. "This is silliness. I'll just walk home." I turned on the flashlight and shined it behind me. I didn't need its light to see just yet, but I didn't want Quantum to run over me because he didn't notice me walking. The snow was still coming down, but lighter now.

By the time I got to the bottom of Bad Hill it was getting much darker. I started remembering that someone about 10 miles away had killed a cougar the other day. A young one, I'd been told. Which probably meant there was a mommy cat somewhere around. Or more yearling cubs.

I'd found scat from a big cat only a few weeks ago, while I was hunting the yaks. Probably just the bobcat I saw in September, but...

The flashlight was going dim. I shut it off when I was in pasture, and turned it back on when I got near the trees. I made it to the last place where we'd gotten stuck yesterday, and nearly slid in the mud. "He's never going to make it up that."

This was starting to feel like a bad move. Not going out to check on Quantum, but the extra quarter mile I'd walked in either direction, once I realized he'd made it over Bad Hill. The snow was reflective enough that I could see my way even with the flashlight half dead, but I wondered what could see me.  Several times I turned to look behind me and make sure I wasn't being followed.

Then there were the coyotes. I hadn't heard them howling since around Christmas. But where were they? Had they gone to another part of their range or were they just being quiet? I recalled reading about a woman in Canada or Vermont or somewhere, who'd been killed by a coyote pack. The only known case of an adult killed by coyotes. I didn't want to be the second.

Normally I'm not paranoid about wild critters. I love them, in fact. I'm comfortable in the woods, and animals don't scare me much. But tonight the dim flashlight and my worry about Quantum was playing with my head.

On the good side, the only tracks I'd seen had been those of elk and deer. And now I noticed some rabbit tracks crossing over the ones I'd made on my way out. "Good bunny! Hope you're staying warm."

I found the shortcut that saves a good fifteen minutes rather than following the driveway. The woods there were thick. Was it worth cutting across? I smacked at the flashlight and headed in.

By the time I got to CK's trailer, it was nearly full dark. I stumbled in.
"Sit down," CK said. Word from the wise: this is NOT the way to address a woman who's wondering where her husband is. I nearly had a heart attack.
"WHAT the?"
"No, no, I just meant you must be tired. Everything's okay. RY was in Denver. He got thru to your Mom. Quantum was at his place. He left about a half hour ago. He's going to park on the road and walk through the meadow. Go warm up in your trailer and I'll bring the dog over in fifteen minutes. By the way, we're out of gas for the generator. I have to shut down my computer. It's a gas hog. I've got the modem connected to the back-up batteries."

A half hour later there was still no sign of Quantum. If he was a half-hour behind me, he should have been there by now. I signed onto my computer to get Mom's side of the story. "Quantum says not to go out there again," she said. "It's a blizzard."
"Oh come on! I was just out there. It's a light snow. He should have been here by now. "
"I talked to him fifteen minutes ago. He said he'd be there in about an hour."
"That makes no sense! CK says you told him he left a half hour ago. So it wasn't 15 minutes ago he called you."
"No, he called me a second time."
"Okay, I'll give it a while longer."

An hour and a half later, still no Quantum. I didn't think we had a flashlight in the truck. What if Quantum had gotten lost in that mess? At least if I could shine the lantern for him to see, he'd know what direction to go in. I scrounged through the trailer for batteries and put them in a lantern, dragged the dog back over to CK's and headed out in the storm. By now it was a storm. Snow was hurtling past my eyes, and with the lantern light reflecting off it, I could barely see a foot or two in front of me.

I headed out toward the meadow that divides our land from our neighbor on the east. There are numerous crevasses and arroyos, and it took me a while to find the one closest to the meadow. I called Quantum's name. No answer but the patter of snow against my jacket.

I tried winding around another crevasse. This one was further away, but had a better lookout to the gully he'd be coming through. Still nothing.

Struggling back to the trailer, I opened my computer again. Mom wasn't online. Another friend was. "Look can you call my Mom and tell her to get the hell back on the computer?" Just then she came online again, but there was so much snow pouring off my hood onto the laptop that I couldn't move my mouse. "Ack, I told my friend. I can't get my cursor into her window. Can you tell her I think it's time to call the cops?"

I headed over to CK's trailer again, and told him to get the hell back online and give my mother that message also - in case my online buddy couldn't get through to her. Just then I caught the flash of a light in the darkness.

"Wait! I think that's him!" Back down to the crevasses in the meadow. I helped Quantum through the barbed wire of our neighbor's fence and we carried the few things he'd been able to bring with him.

Turns out, he'd gotten stuck far down the road, and RY had come out and dropped him off closer to our neighbors, causing the extra delay.

He hadn't been able to carry the hay, of course. Which left a whole new adventure for tomorrow.

Remind me why I moved where it snows?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our Snow Adventure - Part 1

In the past two months I've been to town maybe twice. Most of the time, Quantum and CK go, leaving me behind to watch the dog and keep the new trailer from burning down.

There's a practical reason for this. With all our business gear burned to a crisp in the fire, CK is the only one with an income. Until we can generate money, all three of us are living on his disability check. So it's only right that he gets to do the shopping. Besides, CK likes to shop, loves to talk to people. And since the cold makes the thirty or fourty steps between our two trailers into a miserable hike, he's going stir crazy with nobody but his three cats to talk to.

For a change, Quantum suggested I go with him, and CK said he'd be happy to watch the puppy.  There's a new supermarket in town that just opened up, and I wanted to see it. Yeah, I know - that's the extent of the excitement in this town! "What's the produce look like?" I said. After two months of staring at snow, I was dying to see something fresh, green, vibrant.

It was imperative we make it to town. The yaks were out of hay. Quantum had stopped at RY's place to get more yesterday, but RY had been out. The weatherman is telling us about another storm system coming in, so today's our only good day.

So once the day warmed up, Quantum went out to put the snow chains on. The day before, he and CK had made it to town, and Quantum returned saying how excited he was that they'd finally figured out how to get the chains on and keep them on. This is why people should knock on wood.

It was probably an hour later when he came in and announced that the chains were on. I don't know if they really took that long to put on, or if he was doing other things - talking to CK, talking to the yaks, playing with the windshield wipers? All I know is that the prep-time for leaving on any journey is the time where I have to keep the puppy from howling with loss because Daddy is outside and he can't follow.

Quantum finally makes it back inside. He's muddy, his suede work gloves are soaking wet, he looks like a homeless man in his now-filthy hoodie and sweats. But the day is sunny and relatively warm and we're ready to take off.

If you haven't read the previous stories or just forgot, it's about 2 1/2 miles from our trailer to the nearest real road. Our "driveway" itself is about a half mile long, winding through cedar forest and pasture. Then we get to the dirt road, a menace of ruts and rocks that is challenging even on a good day. Then there's this long hill, which has been the bane of many journeys when the road is even slightly muddy. Finally, after about a mile, you get to the gates of our nearest neighbor (who seems to live here during winter, anyway) and the road finally turns to gravel in front of his estate.

There's a tumbled down shack on the western edge of our land. The rutted drive here has marked the end for many a hopeful journey, but we manage to drive in the channels made by yesterday's tires, and we think we'll be okay. At the crest of the next hill we start slaloming like mad, but we're able to keep going. "We can do this," we say. We make it past the causeway where I'm told there's a pond - maybe in spring, I've never seen it. Then down the valley where the worst ruts live, and on to the Bad Hill.

Two weeks ago, on a bright sunny day with only patches of snow on the ground, RY and his wife came to visit us. An hour or so after they'd left, RY shows up at our door, saying he got stuck and asking Quantum to help him get out. Three hours after that, I started wondering why Quantum wasn't back. I hiked the mile and a half up there, and found RY's truck sideways on the road, nose in the ditch, wheels burried in mud. Quantum had managed to make it up the hill and past RY's truck with our happy little 4wd Blazer, and had driven them home. They had to get a friend with a tow truck to pull him out.

So now that I've named it Bad Hill, trust me that it lives up to its name. The first section isn't so bad, a little flat spot where you can get up some momentum. But then there's a sharp curve to the left and the hill rises at about a 30 degree gradient. Oh and lots of ruts there too.

As we're on the way up, we hear this horrible noise. "I think we just lost one of the chains," Quantum says.

We get about a third of the way up the hill and we're stuck. Quantum hits the gas and tries to get us out, but
the only way out is to back down the hill, all the way to the flat spot.

We get out and go hunting for the chain. Walking through the drifts - about ten inches deep, with another few inches of mud and ice underneath that - is precarious. I go on my ass. The chain is nowhere in sight. I think about it and finally go back to the truck, peek underneath. "I found the chain," I announce. "It's wrapped around the axle."

Quantum manages to wrestle the thing loose and we put it back on. By now we're cold and cursing. Both of us have thin soled boots on, all we've been able to get since the fire. Quantum's gloves were wet when we started, and to manipulate anything, I have to help him pull them off his frozen fingers.

We head up Bad Hill again. An even worse racket! Now the other chain flys off! We make it about 20 feet farther this time before we have to give up and go back down the hill.

The tires themselves aren't snow tires. Just the regular ones we came here from Florida with. We haven't been able to afford snows yet. I've been leaving out a lot about spinning wheels and smoking tires, every time we come to a stuck place. Here and there the snow is black with burnt rubber.

As for the chains, they were a gift from RY, but they were too small, so Quantum had to modify the things to make them fit. So, like everything else we own at the moment, they're rigged and falling apart. The other day when one of them flew off, it mangled the tensioner. So the two of us are standing on the hill trying to pry it into shape with a pair of adjustable wrenches. One of the cross chains has broken in half, but Quantum has a couple chain link fasteners, one of which has bent out of shape, so we pound it till it's flat again, and put the chain back together.

Meanwhile I peer under the wheel well and realize that both the wheel wells are battered out of shape, and pointing toward the tires. "That's what that horrible noise was," I say. "No wonder the chains keep breaking, this thing's digging into them."
"That's been like that from the beginning," Quantum says.
 "It has? I don't remember that. Since we bought it?"
"Since we started using the chains."

"One more try," Quantum says, once we finally get the chain back on. "I really want to get to town today." We lurch up the hill, slipping, sliding, spinning tires, burning rubber. This time we make it another 15 feet past the last place we get stuck, and we're dangerously near the edge of the road towards a deep crevasse. The chain on the drive wheel comes off.

Now this is supposed to be a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but for some reason all 4 wheels aren't driving. The right wheel is doing all the spinning, the other wheels don't seem to be doing a damn thing. We've noticed this problem in the past, but haven't been able to take it to someone to look at it yet.

At last Quantum realizes this trip is not happening. He backs down Bad Hill and looks for a place to turn around. Speaking of things that aren't happening. Both sides of the road here are thick with cedars and rock.

The truck doesn't seem to realize this, however, as it decides to slide around so we're facing the road at a 45 degree angle. I get out and push and we manage to right it and find a better place to turn around - on purpose, this time.

Except that doesn't work either. We end up with the truck facing at a 90 degree angle to the road with trees in front of us, trees  behind us, and the drive wheel spinning in a pile of icy snow.

"We can walk home," I say. "It's not that far. We're getting low on gas too."
"I'm not leaving the truck here. We're almost home." Almost, at this point means about a mile and a half. By now it's probably near three o'clock and the sun has gone into hiding.
"So how do you expect to turn this thing around?
"That's why we've got a winch. I've done this before."
I'm skeptical, but remain silent.

We pick a tree, wrap the hook around it. Quantum attatches the wires to the battery, hangs the winch itself from a hook on the truck's frame. "Okay. I'm going to get in the car and try to move it, and you press this button," he says, handing me the remote control for the winch.

Have I mentioned I'm horribly phobic of power tools and winches and things like this? The next part of the problem was my fault. He's gunning the engine, and I was terrified to tighten the winch too much. The car isn't moving and I'm afraid to put too much tension on the wire. I've got nightmares going through my head about all the stories I've been told about winches breaking and the wire snapping and slicing people's heads off.

The result of it was that the truck managed to wedge itself even further into the snow. Meanwhile the tire with the chain on it was only spinning fitfully. We dug it out, changed the winch to another tree and tried again. Then we tried another tree, then a third. Nothing was working. "We could walk home," I said again.

Finally we got the car facing closer to uphill again and decided to back down. This meant going backwards over one of the hills with the worst ruts. Somehow we managed it, and managed to find a flat place to turn around. For a moment, I thought the truck was going to turn over.

Now we were facing one of the other worst ruts. These two hills are short but steeper even than Bad Hill, and have huge ditches washed out by the spring rains. You have to drive exactly on the two high places on the road that will support a car.

Naturally, we got stuck again. The tires were smoking. I got out and noticed that our drive tire was almost bald. "You know we could walk home. It's only about a mile now."
"I'm not leaving the truck. There are poachers that come around here."
"You've got to be kidding. I haven't seen a single track on this road other than ours in weeks."
"It's buried in snow now, but yesterday CK and I saw motorcycle tracks."

Out came the winch again. The only tree near this stretch of road was not in the mood to have a winch wrapped around it. It had put up plenty of low branches to prevent just this eventuality. Quantum crawled under it, breaking off dead limbs and managed to attatch the winch anyway. By this time I'd gotten over my winch phobia - at least a little - and we managed to get the truck up the hill.
"Keep going!" I yelled. "I'll catch up!"

Instead, Quantum found a flat spot and stopped. "I'm going to put the spare on." He explained that the spare had plenty of tread, but it was the wrong size tire, so if we drove on it for any length of time, we'd harm the axle or the wheel hub or something.

Changing a tire is no fun. Changing a tire while your feet are freezing, your hands are numb and it's getting towards dark is even less fun. The sun decided to come out for a few minutes and cheer us up a little, but of course it was on the wrong side of the car to provide any warmth.

We got back in the car. Cranked the engine. It puttered but wouldn't fire. Out of gas.
"Okay, now we walk," Quantum said.

It was getting dark by the time we were most of the way back, but unlike fiddling with the truck, the walking kept us warm. "You know," I said, "since we moved here, I think this is the first time we've walked our land together."