A Second Winter In The Desert--Desert Rat or Snow Bird
30 April 1999, last letter 6 February 1999 (Letter 99a)
Greetings Virtual and Vicarious Travellers,
1 October 1998, Rabbit-Rabbit...
Drifting and blowing leaves this morning on the hill in Goshen. There was one hellacious thunderstorm commencing at o-dark-thirty o'clock, buzzing and snapping in the phone jacks, water splashing against the house in waves. It is time to bring in the hummingbird feeder and put out the suet. Its also way past time to beat a path through the unkempt summer accumulation of weeds to the big propane tank out back so it may be filled before winter makes the road impassable for the delivery truck. Not at The Cat Drag'd Inn to be sure but on the hill with Kenny and Jane. (And a long time back from then to when this note is added while trying to catch up to Englewood Colorado where The ... Inn sits on some high ground amidst spring floods.)
4 October 1998, Opening Day at the Fryeburg Fair
The sun has gone past the rim of trees shading the bus where she is roosting behind the fairgrounds; the temperature is dropping rapidly. Last night was the first frost I have seen and this morning I was obliged to dress warm for my chores. I'm spending this week learning a new trade: Grounds Sweeper. It is allowing me a different window on my study of humanity--first observation: People who spend their day cleaning up the cigarette butts of others throw their own cigarette butts on the ground just the same. Second observation: Other observers are correct--if the fairgoers are any cross section of the population then most Americans are FAT! Ouch! Someone just hit me! Its not ok to say fat? I'm supposed to say overweight. Or poundifically challenged? Gimme a break! Fat is the word; fat it is.
8 October 1998, Hump Day But No Camels In Sight
Yesterday was S.S.A.T.T. Day at the fair; but that acronym is not for the college boards, it is, rather, the collage boreds. Sometimes the associations found here escape me, as I'm sure this one does you; be that as it may, it all makes sense if you give it enough thought.
I've been driving a rake the past few days and while some folks on the crew with me think that amounts to operating heavy equipment let me assure you this rake has no wheels. I've been wondering: What would be the ramifications if we put a bounty on cigarette butts; say something like five cents each when turned in to the kiosk near the ATM. I figure I've raked up about seven a minute for three hours each of the past four mornings; I work in a team of five and there are two teams who do not begin to cover all of the grounds every day. That amounts to about one thousand two hundred sixty butts a day and does not include the ones some smokers do manage to get deposited in the trash barrels. Some enterprising youngsters could make back their admission. Maybe five cents each wouldn't be enough to entice kids who didn't earn their admission in the first place... perhaps we'd have to make it ten cents; but you'd not want to go so high that they start up-ending the barrels and spilling out all the styro cups and paper plates and half eaten sausages just to collect a butt bounty.
And that brings me round to this informal Refuse Distribution Study. One could say that what we are doing here is re-dis-tri-buting the refuse. But what I notice is that the concentration of trash on the ground is highest around the barrels. I'd have thought, given the randomness of the crowd and the speed with which people eat and walk (those that are not capable of both functions at the same time would have to be excluded from any controlled study) but given the randomness, you'd expect to see a random distribution of trash: a sort of random refuse register could be developed to indicate the incidence of items not consumed nor carried home. Such is not the case. It would seem from empirical observations that people do try for the hoop, that they do give the trash a toss for the barrel; but those that miss the basket don't try for the rebound.
Ah-Ha! I've got it! We need to make styrofoam and hotdogs BOUNCE!
16 October 1998, Snipes and Snails and Gross Ghostly Tales...
...or some such list are said to be the ingredients boys are made of; now I know what horses are made of; and, more importantly, a product of horses: Chipboard or Particleboard. First you take a five by nine foot concrete floored enclosure and add equal parts of wood chips and hay. Then install one large horse, preferably a paint. The horse will eat the hay and mix it with water and grain and make it into a kind of thin glue which it excretes from time to time all over the wood chips. Then the horse stirs up the wood chips with its hooves, adding more of its thin glue as necessary, and then it lays down on them thus compressing the chips into a thick dense mat. After a few days you remove the horse. The mat of particleboard may be lifted out with a large fork or shovel and laid to dry in the sun before trimming and finishing; if you used the right paint in the beginning you won't have to do that over again. There are two by-products to this process: one is ammonia, used in a multitude of household cleansers; the other is road-apples which may be mistaken for late macs, and, while almost as useful, are nowhere as tasty.
Draft horses neither draw nor do they play draughts. They pull. But actually, when you think about it from the horses perspective, they push, on their harness, with their shoulders.
Wed, 11 Nov 1998
Presently I'm in Salem New Hampshire. Got off to a late-as-usual start yesterday and made the first couple of stops ok. Had a nice but short visit with Chuck & Janet, except that Janet was working. They were residents at the camp we lived at last spring in Aridzona. Then to the Delorme Map Store to upgrade my GPS programme and database. Now I'm visiting in Salem and later today will be in Nashua to see my sister for a few days.
Sun, 15 Nov 1998
The usual delays and procrastinations plague my departure. Every visit starts later and takes takes longer and I love every minute.
The wine cellar and my larder are stocked, Christmas project is all sewed up--so to speak--and mostly delivered, and there is only one person left in Nashua that I would like to visit. But I still need to change the air in the tyres of The Cat Drag'd Inn from last summer to the current autumn/winter variety; the old stuff is getting rather stale and squishy.
Yesterday I drove most of the way back north to visit Rich (OAE) and the house he is building and Paul, my mechanic from Conway and the house he is building; both are in Freedom but in totally different parts of the town. Then back south for a quick visit with Nolan, my scoutmaster from the jamboree in 1957. I think we've not seen one another from that time and have a lot of living to catch up with but all we could talk about this time was our present travels. I need to visit him again.
Next was dinner with Jan and Michael and a long soaking nap in their hot tub--I could never have driven far after that and had all I could do to find my bed.
So here we are with a fine blustery day in Nashua, just right for airing tyres and making last minute adjustments. I must remember to wash the dishes too before they all clatter to the deck at the next acute exit ramp.
Tue, 17 Nov 1998
Another day, another few hundred miles. Today I got lost--due to my own mistake, not the GPS. But whether the getting lost had anything to do with the crash, who knows. The road was very bumpy and somewhere along there the Blue Screen of Death replaced the Street Atlas GPS programme but there was no stopping, no wide spot on the road enough to get out of the traffic which swept me along across the George Washington Bridge and into New Jersey where I only knew I had to find i80 west.
George Washington Bridge and the eastern approaches are not the kind of place you want to cross the Hudson River. More than once I wished I could find a place to turn around and go back to find my way north and cross at Tappan Zee. These are the worst roads; even the Haul Road along the Alaska Pipeline was in far better condition.
Eventually I was able to regain my wits and get pointed in the right direction but not before one trucker told all his friends to be on the lookout for the Partridge Family Bus. I let him know it was not the Partridge Family but The Cat Drag'd Inn.
So tonight I'm visiting Rick and Louise. Rick has long been handling message traffic for the folks on the Ice through the PolarMail programme tho of late internet email is displacing the relay service he provides. Louise helps out with PolarFlowers and other gift shopping on behalf of the ice bound shoppers. Once I had her send a good heavy Pennsylvania coal shovel to my sister-son Bryan when his mother wrote to say he was getting too big for his snow shovel.
Three skunks, two deer, two cars, had accidents along the road today. The cars hit each other, not the deer.
Wed, 18 Nov 1998
I found a missing book today; one of special, out of print, old novels that inhabit my library. It was buried in a pile of other junk that all fell apart on some of the rough roads of the past couple of days. The telly fell over when its supports came unscrewed, the curtain jumped off its trolley across the rear window and all the books behind the statue back there were all scrambled. So now I'm in a rest area on i81 near Harrisburg, unscheduled stop, to pick up the pieces and rebuild that whole space before it all avalanches onto my bed.
Several rest stops later... Supper and I'm still in Pennsylvania. The sky is grey and low, drizzle from time to time.
And now its past West Virginia and sleepless in Ohio...
22 November 1998
A sunny Sunday in Pottsville ARkansas this morning. The ... Inn has been setting still for more than 24 hours now, watching the leaves change colours and the frost on the grass come and go. Coming across Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee late last week the daytime temperature got up to 70f and I drove with the windows open. It is that nice time of year when the bugs have gone but the warm days remain and the road curves back from early Winter towards late Autumn.
After all was said and done back there in Conway New Hampshire, all my looking for something to do, a little work but not really a job, a place to park, a place to live, it proved easier to simply roll up my awning and drive away from it all.
I'm visiting Linda and Joe here, out at the end of a quiet dirt road in a community that, on the surface of things at least, seems to revolve around cows and hunting. There must be some logging going on nearby as well.
Back in West Memphis I made a stop to have Lube, Oil, Filter service done at a cluster of truck-stop garages on i40. Unlike the small town Profile Truck Garage in Center Conway where such an L.O.F. might take two or three hours with the actual work being interspersed with anecdotes and consultations, telephones and runs to the parts store, and where I can poke about and inspect and fix little odds and ends, this quickie service place is wham-bam-thankyou-ma'am thirty minutes tops. And if they don't have all the filters before the job rolls into the bay then they don't let you in--go down the street and try the competition--there is no parts store nearby.
It was not until the third such place that I found one who thought they had the filters necessary. L.O.F. by the way does not include changing the two air filters--only the oil and fuel filters, and there are two each of those; I changed the two air filters out in the parking lot using filters from my spares kit. I found it interesting that the first two shops would not do the L.O.F. with the fuel and oil filters from my spares. Liability and warranty considerations again. In the shop that did do the work we had quite a debate over the suitability of the cross-indexed filters they selected. Their numbers did not match my list and we went round and round with the charts and tables making sure I understood the equivalency of the filters in question. Yesterday I went to the parts store in Russellville and checked further. It seems the people at the quickie shop only partly know what they are talking about and after getting second and third opinions I've come to the conclusion that I should change the filters here in the front yard before I go any further. So except for the problem of catching and disposing of 14 quarts of motor oil I could have done it all my self anyhow.
In the NPR news this morning was an item that is sure to touch off a scrabble scramble. Milton Bradley has announced that the factory in Vermont which makes the hardwood tiles many of us scrabblers have come to know and love will close shortly. It is unlikely Scrabble will disappear, the Wal-Mart in nearby Russellville had at least ten of them on the shelf when I went there to indulge in a spate of panic shopping, but when the process of making the fine hardwood tiles is revived elsewhere you can be sure they will be made of some wood byproduct, recycled chipboard (maybe from the Fryeburg Fair) or plastic. If we're lucky it will be at least a simulated woodgrain plastic.
Fri, 27 Nov 1998
Thanksgiving in Hartley Texas with the multifarious Weber family. I have much to be thankful for--I've made it this far, I still can be searching (that seems sometimes to be an end in itself), and I have friends of this sort who tho busy as they are with their own lives yet find time to aid and comfort the likes of me.
Hartley is unrelievedly flat, flatter than Maricopa and the Ross Ice Shelf combined, but there are a few trees (they all seem to lean a little to the right--I'm not sure if that is politics, religion, or the wind) and a dry brittle grass; I've never been here in the spring so I'm not sure if the grass ever greens up or if the trees have leaves. But despite all that the folks here play a mean game of Scrabble and lay on a grand dinner.
Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the grub, Yeaaa GOD!
30 Nov 1998
The most interesting thing today was the sign at the entrance to White Sands National Monument:
No Alcohol ... Between February and May.
I understand the No Alcohol part but why, I asked the gatekeeper, between February and May? She said that's the most asked question at White Sands. Between February and May is when all the local schools have their Spring Breaks...
It is not as warm here today as when I passed this way last; about the end of January and some 40 days after the Winter Solstice. Today I am about 20 days ahead of the Winter Solstice and so the sun is that much lower in the sky.
Arlo Guthrie's Most Famous Thanksgiving happened 33 years ago.
And now I am west of the Continental Divide.
Tue, 1 Dec 1998
When you come west on i10 in Aridzona watch for the pass at Texas Canyon. There is a Rest Area at the top (variously 4975 to 5242 feet msl. By the way I have upgraded the GPS programme and it reports realistic altitude now--usually within a hundred feet of the aneroid or the road map.) just beyond The Thing at exit 322; stop and park and have lunch. Maybe have a glass of wine and some bread; or gather your lunch stuff into a picnic basket and walk back east, out of the Parking Area, past the Water Plant and continue alongside the Entrance Ramp.
You will presently come upon the WelcomeToTexasCanyon sign but may not recognise it from the rear; and then watch for a DiamondBack SquareHoleCover at a Cable Crossing. Cables can be dangerous enough, especially at night, but DiamondBack SquareHoleCovers are even worse, especially if they are yawning. Pass gingerly. They are not unlike TrollsUnderBridges. Beyond the DiamondBack SquareHoleCover you come to a juncture between the fence following along behind the WaterPlant and another fence, barb'd wire, that starts up out of a cement culvert. Go to the Left of this second fence, carefully down along the embrasure of the upstream entrance of the culvert. At the bottom of the embrasure follow the dry streambed up a little ways and watch for a Trail to the left. Bare upwards into the rocks being wary of CactusThorns and RattleSnakeFangs--both will stick you but you can tell them apart by that CactusThorns stay with you whilst RattleSnakeFangs are filled with venom and generally stay with the RattleSnake.
You can have your picnic lunch among the rocks or walk east along the trail to the height of land and back. I hope you find this place on a Fine Sunny Day. I did. Twice now.
From there to AzHVR the trip seemed to get longer with each passing mile; by that I mean that the further I went the longer it seemed to take. I stopped to wash the bus, the last time was back in July, she goes faster when she's clean, and looks prettier too. But also, more so, clean shows the need for paint.
So now I am here again, where I was back in Febter to April. Two weeks of driving nearly every day--but lots of fooling around along the way.
11-Jan-99 Arizona Oasis, formerly Arizona Hidden Valley Retreat
Winter is still here. Temperature below freezing this morning. Again. It does not take much of a low temperature at the ambient low humidity to form a skim of ice on puddles in the pool area or add an icy crust to mud in the construction zone. We are working in an adobe like sand-mud area. The stuff is very hard in its undisturbed state--very difficult to dig and move. When you do disturb it, like with the ditch-witch power trenching tractor, the stuff turns into a fine flour-like dust which blows about in the slightest breeze (and is one of the major components of the local smog) and flows like water from a shovel. When you walk through it its like walking through a puddle of water. But add a bit of water to the ground before shovelling and the hard material softens and becomes incredibly sticky. When we set railroad ties on end for fence corners we fill the hole with water and then add this fine dirt which turns into adobe cement.
The sand is a kind of dun colour and when we're done I'm dun too.
30-Jan-99 NOAA clipped from the net.
WHAT YOU ARE LISTENING TO IS NOAA WEATHER RADIO 2000 - A KEY COMPONENT TO THE MASSIVE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING EFFORT [READ CUTBACKS AND JOB REDUCTIONS] NOW UNDERWAY. THE "VOICE" YOU HEAR IS COMPUTER SYNTHESIZED AND IT DOES NOT SOUND AS GOOD AS A HUMAN. THIS IS UNFORTUNATE. [VERY UNFORTUNATE TO BE SURE] HOWEVER IT IS AUTOMATED. AS PART OF THE REORGANIZATION OUR OFFICE HAS LOST 6 METEOROLOGISTS SINCE LAST JULY. WE MUST FIND WAYS TO DO THE SAME JOB WITH SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED STAFF. THE AUTOMATED VOICE FREES OUR REMAINING STAFF TO DO THE MORE URGENT JOBS SUCH AS ISSUING SEVERE WEATHER WARNINGS.
It moves me to ask where did they ever loose six meteorologists. I mean How can you loose a human? Fire them, lay them off, maybe, but loose? It is the euphemisms that are getting this country in deeper and deeper every day.
The section following is written by my friend from France, guest at The Cat Drag'd Inn during his holiday from work. We have been corresponding for several years; he has been first to take the other up on our mutual invitations to visit. He wrote me first one year when I was at McMurdo and he was in school and working on a computer game project that required knowledge of what the Antarctic continent would look like if all the ice were to melt. -Was there a map to show that? There was and I told him about it. From there our conversation continued. He is writing this as we are bouncing along secondary roads between Tucson and Why.
Sat, Feb 20, 1999 Journal Arizonesque
This is the first day of the voyage initiatique that will eventually bring Alfred, Arizona and me to mutual knowledge. Alfred started this by introducing me to The Cat Drag'd Inn and a few of its many secrets ; then we went out walking into the Maricopa Desert and admired the broken stones which stand still under the sun ; we returned to the Cat before the shadow of the hills could reach it and slept with the sun until its weekly celebration day.
Sun, Feb 21, 1999
That morning at the camp in Maricopa we collected and tied everything about and in the Cat so that there would be no ufos trashing around us in its belly during the trip which would distract or unnerve it ; then we washed it and ourselves in prevision of several days out hunting and stalking miles in the wild countryside ; finally we cast a GPS magical spell on it so that it would go with us to Colossal Cave, Sonora Desert Museum, Kitt Peak, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and back to Maricopa.
After a few colossal leaps we arrived at Colossal Cave, got out of the Cat and decided out of sheer wickedness to lure a group of tourists into the underground dwellings of the infamous Vail Colossus. Hidden behind them we watched in wonder as he stripped them from their sense of self-importance and turned them into children, by exposing them to the sight of his unspeakably beautiful decorated sculptures ; in return for our service the Colossus gave us a magical oval-shaped penny bearing his bat seal that would protect us from jumping chollas as we went on the road again.
It is thus that our little band rejoiced on the wonders of the day in front of delicious dishes of Mexican food we tasted in Casa Molina, 6225 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson ; after a feast of tacos and enchiladas the spirits of margaritas led us to sleep at a truck's stop.
Mon, Feb 22, 1999
On the road to Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in the Tuson mountains we chanced upon a winding magical asphalt ribbon that sent the Cat bouncing over the ever-hungry chollas jumping in pursuit ; then we knew that the Colossus protected us. At the Museum we left the Cat as he napped in the morning sun and entered silently into that refuge of Sonoran wild beasts. As most of them were nocturnal we walked unharmed and we uncovered a fascinating world of secretive animals that had been next to us since our departure : roadrunners and coyotes, lizards and snakes, birds and felines, deer and wolves, tourists and 7-ft cave sloths. We gained an insight of being already a part of the desert ; watching and being watched.
Back to the Cat we found it eager to eat more miles ; we departed to Kitt Peak National Observatory. The Cat climbed the mountain and left us on the top. While he was cooling off, we wandered amongst the many astronomical observatories and observed their huge precise heavenly mechanisms ; from the base of the Mayall Telescope we could look in all directions at hundreds of miles around us ! Cactus bushy flatlands, slanted ocher mountains, white telescope domes...
With a sense of wonder heightened by the thin air we returned to the Cat. From the whistling sounds it made we found out to our horror he had caught cold up there, but soon he recovered with Alfred's caring attentions and down the rolling mountains we went to our marked concert at Organ Pipes Cactus. We arrived late : all the stars and RVs were already at the concert and we turned in circles several times before we found a room for the Cat. The day had been very entertaining, with no problems ; then we discovered that the half-gallon milk bottle had punctured in the fridge and spilled over every single thing...
Tue, Feb 23, 1999
In the morning we left the Cat and walked off into the desert. Walk, hello are you an Escapee, walk. Then we arrived to the Victoria Mines well-known for its deep mining wells. Too bad they were closed "Peligro No Entrar". So instead of hurtling ourselves into certain death, we just trailed along a hike trail among the sly chollas and the dry washes and once again we made it to the Cat.
That near from Mexico, we could not resist crossing the border to get an alien passport stamp, so we approached silently with the Cat, left it and strolled casually past the US gatekeepers. There, under the threat of me speaking spanish I obtained an immigration stamp from a dozing mexican. Proud as eagles we sneaked back in the US with our bounty, and headed north.
...to the Ajo Copper Mine. Readers, do not climb over the fence that encircles it, that is private property. That mine was once the center of all activities and after it was closed Ajo became a ghost town. It is a huge crater-shaped hole with concentric steps with paths on them to get to the bottom, where lies a greenish coppery pond.
23 March, Happy Equinox!
Spring is drawing to a close as the weather warms to summer despite the calendar saying this is only the first day. All winter I have been able to work outside laying water pipe and phone lines, building fences and hiking trails, making repairs to the bus and preparations to go somewhere else when the weather here gets too hot. Of a couple hundred resumes sent out there came back five replies with applications and of those one resulted in work. At the end of April I will head north to Kaniksu Ranch, near Spokane Washington, to cook three days a week at a small summer camp. If anyone has recipes for days, boiled, broiled, fried, steamed, chopped, diced, skewered whole, sliced thin, please write.
Franck has provided a gift of new photovoltaic panels and Dave has provided a new awning. Kevin helped me install both. My sincere thanks to all of them. I am very grateful for their help and take this opportunity remind you all that I continue to search for a patron who will underwrite the next Sea to Shining Sea Tour.
23 April, The Feast of Saint George
And we had a pot luck feast on Saturday with all the families and guests at the Oasis. Some thought it was a "we're finally getting rid of ajo" party but I tried to explain about Saint George and his feast day but they were having none of it and continued to wish me God speed and bon voyage.
Stay Gold, bcnu, Send Money, Love, ajo
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Copyright (c) 1999 A.J.Oxton <email@example.com>