Awake with the lightening sky, I look blearily at the clock on the nightstand. 5:32 it glows just as it stoically announced 4:29, 3:15, 2:30 each time another round of mortars went off. The dogs are curled up as close to the bed as they can get seeking the comfort of proximity to their peeps. They almost trust us to keep them safe from the chaos outside which began early yesterday evening.
It was the 3rd of July and in the Republic of Mentone, that means we haul out the BIG guns. Minor holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. day or Veteran’s Day are celebrated with the more modest types of almost “safe and sane” sparklers that are legal in less fire prone areas. In our area, Bic lighters are discouraged and possession of anything more entertaining is punishable by a fine. Not to be deterred, my scofflaw neighbors believe that New Years Eve is the penultimate, with the 4th of July being the pyrotechnic climax of the entire year.
Tonight, or even this afternoon, as deferred gratification is not the strong suit of this group of pyromaniacs, we will be surrounded by world class, military grade explosives that set off car alarms and drive pets mad with fear.
What screw is loose in the heads of these people who spend hundreds of dollars on something as ephemeral and potentially destructive as illegal fireworks? Why is it more entertaining to risk burning your neighbors’ house down than to watch the display put on at the local university, from the comfort of your front porch? Seriously, won’t someone please ‘splain it to me?
I guess I’ll see if the pot store is open today. I’m told they have a doggie CBD oil that takes the edge off the dogs’ anxiety.
The rumble-splash of the neighbor’s diving board conjures up a long-buried memory.
Our new neighbors are putting to good use the pool that the previous neighbors rarely used. Sometimes late at night, I hear the rumble-thwump of the board, bouncing on its spring, and the memory of my dad going for his nightly dip surfaces like a dream.
I was fourteen and awakening to the interest in boys that was to plague my life for the next fifty years. The local high school had a pool that was open to the public in the summer time and I walked the 2.3 miles to the pool, sometimes in triple digit heat and always in lung-searing smog, nearly every day. It was totally not cool to ride a bike, bikes were for kids and it was totally cool to go bare foot (these were the hippie-dippie days of the sixties). We developed tough, calloused feet as we scampered across the searing asphalt to the relative cool of the painted white lines of the crosswalks.
One day as I was walking by myself, a neighbor of my aunt’s (who lived just a block away from our house), slowed his car beside me and asked me if I wanted a ride. Even and that tender age, I recognized his intent and firmly declined his offer. He persisted longer than mere altruism would dictate, cementing my original opinion of his sleazy motives. I continued walking briskly and when I left the relative seclusion of the orange grove, and approached a more populated area, he moved on. I wasn’t unduly alarmed but I did mention it casually to my mom that Aunt Elaine’s friend’s husband had approached me. Later, I was nonplussed to learn that my aunt had told her friend about the incident and the woman said that I was a slut and was trying to seduce her husband. Ewww ick! He was at least 30!
Shortly after, my folks decided to put in a pool in our back yard. The kids in my neighborhood were thrilled. I was not. The primary attraction of the public pool was the selection of boys with whom I could flirt and sometimes get to give me a ride home.
But the pool provided a respite for my dad who otherwise spent his evenings in front of the TV watching The Joe Pine Show (the Rush Limbaugh of the 60s), The Dean Martin Show, The Danny Kay Show, etc. The pool needed to be brushed and skimmed every evening and after I was in bed, he would clean the pool, then strip naked and dive into the pool to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Needless to say, I do not peek through the fence when I hear the neighbor’s diving board at night.
Heading west towards California, we crested Montgomery Pass, 7,160”, and began the descent into Chalfant Valley, a verdant slice of land between the Silver Mountains and the White Mountains. There was an inspection station that straddled the road, just one lane wide, it looked more like a drive-through garage, where a wind-blown young woman questioned us about any fruits, vegetables or plants we might be importing to California from points east. After admitting to being in possession of oranges we had brought from California, she said we were fine as long as we had purchased them from a store in CA. We didn’t feel compelled to admit that we had picked them ourselves and they could very well be infested with California bugs.
In Bishop, we stumbled upon a lovely community park while looking for a place to park the rig while we ate lunch. There was a fenced dog park adjacent to a cottonwood-shaded people park, with a stream coursing between them. A large pond, with a resident duck population was surrounded by tennis courts, a skate park, horseshoe pits, jungle gym, picnic areas and a community garden. We walked the dogs around the park and then left them in the car, parked in the shade at the dog park, while we went to lunch. We had thought we might spend some time shopping in Bishop, but decided to head directly to our campsite just south of Big Pine, Tinnemaha Creek.
The campsite at Tinnemah was not disappointing only because of our low expectations. We positioned the trailer in the shade of some spindly trees and went off to explore and photograph the area.
Back at camp, I chatted up neighbors to find some ice for our wine. Our fellow campers consisted of fishermen who were there for the opening day of trout fishing so it was a pretty good bet that there would be ice aplenty.
We were settling into our beds, Mila to watch a Netflix movie and me to write in my journal, when Mila asked me to look at something she felt on the back of her neck. There was a big, fat tick, making his way towards her hair. Soon I found one on my own neck and a night of paranoid itching ensued.
Tinnemaha Campground proved to be an adequate place to stop for a night, but we agreed we wouldn’t consider it again. Clustered beneath high-power lines, were about 30 campsites. A stream flowed past some of the sites but ours was some distance away which proved to be advantageous when the campers along the stream grew boisterous and ran their generator through the night. By 6:22 A.M. I was ready to pack up and head down the highway when a bearded, portly fellow fired up his quad, bedecked with an American flag, to awaken his cronies, but which also served to annoy those who were still enjoying the stillness of the morning. I had been awake at 3:00 A.M. to walk the 50 yards to the pit toilets and enjoy a view of the rarely seen Milky Way. I’d forgotten my glasses so the bejeweled sky was a mess of pin-prick lights. The Big and Little Dippers were obvious, but my poor vision and scant knowledge of astronomy limited identification of anything further.
When we finally crawled out of our warm beds, we agreed that making coffee in the confines of the trailer, which by now looked like someone had tossed a hand grenade in, was too labor intensive. We fed the dogs, packed up the trailer and headed for the Alabama Hills Café.
We stopped briefly at the Manzanar internment camp. The first two tar-papered buildings that had been reconstructed to display the office and living area for new arrivals was so disturbing that we found neither of us were inclined to further explore the barracks, canteen, hospital, etc. I have toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and, while what was done to the Japanese in this country doesn’t compare with what the Jews suffered under Hitler, the emotions evoked by the two memorials felt very similar.
The flagging spirits of the end-of-trip, dampened by the uncomfortable memory of Manzanar, made further exploration along the way unappealing, so we skipped Fossil Falls and headed for home. Note to self: don’t end a trip with a visit to a memorial.
In the morning, I was ready to walk the girls up the hill to the outskirts of town when our host, Randy asked if he could join me. Mila decided to come along too, so we moved a bit more slowly than the girls are used to; but, they managed to hold out until we got out to the burro trails to do their business.
There’s a herd of feral, black donkeys that live around and in Goldfield and they use the natural spring above town for a water hole. The hills are crisscrossed with their paths, all of which lead to the canyon with the spring.
After our walk, we all met at the Dinky Diner for breakfast. The service was great but the kitchen was slow, even though they weren’t busy. Fortunately, the conversation distracted us from our hunger.
Our hunger satiated by the comfort food of the Dinky Diner, we walked over to Cousin Dan’s place to see Marie’s new motor home and Dan’s progress on the renovations to the mobile home he had purchased some years ago for about $2,500, including the lot on which it lists. One of the interesting things about Goldfield is that, having been at one time, a prosperous city and the county seat of Esmeralda County, it is now nearly a ghost town. Two fires leveled almost all of the structures built of wood, leaving only impressive stone and brick edifices standing as testimony to the wealth the mines of the area generated. Save for an eclectic group of individuals who share a passion for hoarding, the town is empty of the trappings of civilization even though it’s still the county seat. There is no gas station, no grocery store, not even the ubiquitous convenience market. The nearest necessities are in Tonopah, a half an hour’s drive north.
Some residents, like Randy, hoard old mining equipment and western memorabilia, while others hoard derelict cars, trucks, trailers, rotting motor homes and sundry recreational vehicles. Blending in with the hoarders and collectors are generic white trash slobs who just live in squalor. These eccentrics are possibly some of the friendliest, most hospitable folks on the face of the earth. They aren’t preoccupied with appearances and I would guess that many of them are far more affluent than their humble lifestyle would suggest. Some wear their politics openly, even a bit belligerently, with banners hung on fences and flags waving from the porch. My cousin had to explain to me what FJB meant. Wow! I’m shocked that adults would make such a vulgar display. Color me naive.
The second trip to Goldfield, Nevada, with my cousin Mila, went off without a hitch…except for the one connecting the Wanderlust to the car.
As is typical, I spend a couple of days preparing the trailer, packing gear, etc. Each trip seems to have its own special requirements, meaning I remove the unneeded items, weight being the primary consideration, and install things that make a guest more comfortable, like the heavy memory-foam mattress that fits the front bed, normally used by the girls when I travel alone.
The 350 mile trip would take a normal person about six hours to drive, but never one to be in any hurry, it took us more like ten hours, which included some interesting stops to visit places that Google Maps had identified as well…interesting.
Transcribing from my journal will necessitate this being related in several chapters. It will prove to be stultifying to anyone who wasn’t actually riding along, but, since I anticipate that Mila may enjoy devoting some time to reliving the experience from my viewpoint, here goes.
We had nicely pulled into the parking lot at the Mad Greek (in Baker) and walked the dogs to a well-used pee spot, when the thought of restroom facilities excited our bowels. What wonderfully trained things these mature bodies are!
Despite the restaurant’s dramatically Covid-abbreviated menu, Mila zeroed in on a veggie quesadilla that sounded appealing to both of us. The dessert case held an even more limited assortment of sweets but Mila ordered a small box of mixed treats, cookies and baklava for $25. Immediately curious as to what these expensive items would taste like, we bit into one of the powdered sugar-coated cookies. All conversation ceased as we attempted mastication. Muffled sounds of distress ensued until we managed to wash some of it down with iced tea. As luck would have it,we had invited the girls to join us on the patio, and they, having no need of any chewing, happily gulped the remainder of our cookies down and even offered to eat more of them.
Back on the road, the miles passed quickly, even at our trailer-towing modest pace of 60 mph…oops! I mean 55. The speed limit in California is 55 for autos towing trailers. Interestingly, the laws of physics that mandate this maximum speed, are somehow more forgiving in Utah and Nevada.
The Mojave Desert is stark and seemingly infinite. Traffic was mostly non-existent. The hills that rimmed the valley, through which the road sliced straight to the horizon, provided comforting relief from the immensity of the panorama.
Salt Hills provided a timely break in the drive. The girls and I hiked a couple of miles to what was purported to be “the oldest standing structure in California”. I’ll let you be the judge of the use of the word “standing”. Mila relaxed in the shade of an Athel grove, trees imported from the Middle East that thrive in the Mojave wherever there is a water source.
As usual, each curve in the trail beckoned me further. At one point, I texted Mila to ask if I should return, but she didn’t respond, so I took that as permission to continue. Of course, there was no cell signal but this didn’t seem relevant to my decision.
Our next stop was about an hour and a half up the road, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center entailed a six mile drive down a ribbed gravel road, so we were astounded to find a beautiful LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) awarded building and a mile-long boardwalk that meandered along a spring-fed stream.
We relaxed in the shade beside the spring, enjoying the bird songs and the tranquility of the clear pool. After about 15 minutes, another visitor came by and acted apologetic for intruding on our enjoyment of the space. We moved on to allow him the solitary experience.
Naturally, I had researched places to eat along the way and found a small Mexican diner, El Valle, at a wide spot in the road just a few miles from Ash Meadows. A whiff of stale grease greeted us at the door, but the underwhelming décor inside boded well for good food. It looked like the mother/daughter team was proficient, with mom in the kitchen and daughter covering the dining room.
Chips and salsa were served; the chips weren’t remarkable but the salsa stood out, which made me optimistic that the chile relleno I’d ordered would be good too. Indeed! A sweet poblano stuffed with quality cheese and smothered in a savory sauce was cradled in freshly simmered beans, refried with the perfect amount of salt and lard, along with the requisite fluffy rice. Mila’s juevos Mexicana were deemed very good as well, though they didn’t look nearly as tempting as my dish.
The last couple of hours driving into Goldfield passed pleasantly as we enjoyed our tired legs, full bellies and the spectacular desert panorama unfolding ahead of us.
A silly spat, of unknown origin, with the grumpy old man pushed me into an evening walk with the girls. Suffice it to say, he was at fault and I, of course, was entirely blameless, innocent of any wrong doing, in my own wine-besotted mind for sure.
The post office is a short walk from home, and as luck would have it, I had a bill to post providing me with an excuse to stroll through my neighborhood. An unincorporated community with few sidewalks, it is incumbent on a pedestrian to look sharp and beware of distracted drivers, especially when crossing Highway 38. “Highway” is a bit of a vainglorious name for the two-lane, main drag of Mentone, with a posted speed limit of 40 mph. That said, few drivers pay any attention to the posted speed limit, so it can be a bit of a trick to get across as there are no signals or stop signs. Thankfully, most people see the dogs and brake accordingly, dogs being far more dear to their hearts than drunk, old women, staggering off the curb.
Having posted my mail, I was standing at the intersection waiting for a break in the line of traffic zooming uphill to their gentrified neighborhoods, drivers eager for their supper and social media, when a small, age-worn car pulled up to the stop sign next to me. The driver, seeing me looking up and then down the road, gauging the speed of the cars in relation to the gaps between them, called out to me in the chopped vowels of his native Spanish, “When I go, you go!”
Signaling my understanding that he intended to run interference for me, I stepped confidently into the road at the next gap in traffic and he cruised beside me as I trotted, or tottered, briskly across the street.
Do I need to describe the feeling of community this simple act of empathy inspired? This immigrant man, whose life was probably a daily struggle, recognized his own abuela (grandma) in me, a white woman whom he did not know at all, and compelled him to instinctively protect.
I understand that folks who live in vanilla bubbles may fear the people who are immigrating to this country, but I’m here to say, fear not! They are humans, like us, who have much to contribute.
After reading atleasthaveafrigginglass’ post https://atleastihaveafrigginglass.com/2022/03/10/training-myrtle/ about his cat, Myrtle, training him to do her bidding, I was quite gratified to realize that my cats are actually rather benevolent dictators. Unlike Myrtle, my feline overlords are reasonable in their demands and not too severe in meting out punishment.
Shola Ebola is our little sweetheart who sneaks into your lap before you realize you’ve been pinned to your chair. Any attempt to dislodge her is like moving a dead animal. She simply goes limp and gives you a look that says, “I’m quite comfortable right here, thank you.” She came from the neighbors, in heat, and refused to go home after we had her spayed.
Ava Braun is the take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools, female Hitler. The dogs are wary of her and the cats show due respect. We pet her cautiously when she demands it, watching carefully for that twitch of displeasure that says a bite will follow. Her elderly staff had died and we took her in when the surviving children threatened to euthanize her. Arriving at her new home, she stepped out of the carrier and was immediately in charge. There was none of the typical cowering under furniture or showing deference to the cats already in residence. She had witnessed her litter mates being devoured by coyotes and watched her beloved benefactor wither and die. Life held no terrors for her.
Jet Lee, our only male, tolerates the females, avoids the dogs, and shows up at meal time, which is about twenty times a day. He demands the costliest of manufactured cat foods, tries to bury the homemade chicken and liver pate that I make for the girls, and will only eat when his bowl is placed in the proper place. His name came from his youthful antics but he’s long since outgrown the moniker.
And last to join our crew is Cholla, so named for the jumping cactus she resembled. This cheeky kitten trotted out of the brush and joined our pack when she was about six weeks old. Too confident and inquisitive for her own good, she is the only one who is not allowed to go outside without a chaperone. Even with supervision, she went over the fence into the neighbor’s dog run. She believes she’s a dog but I doubt the dogs would have recognized her as such. Another time she escaped and came home with one of Mike’s beloved finches in her mouth. That went over like the proverbial turd in a punch bowl.
All things considered, the dogs are easier to please: they eat whatever is put into their bowls; they are happy to stay inside and happy to go out; they eagerly jump into the car even when I tell them we’re going to the vet; they go outside to do their business, though they don’t bury it. We’re working on that last bit. So far they have the hole digging down pat but they haven’t figured out the most important part of the operation.
So, the United States Senate has voted unanimously to extend daylight savings time to year round. If it takes something like this to get bi-partisanship, I guess I should graciously accept it but it does make me wonder why this issue is even on the agenda when historically, states have decided what time they want it to be. According to this article in the Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/17/senate-time/, many of those voting didn’t even know what they were voting for. My guess is, that’s not uncommon, just based on some of the questionable things the Senate has passed in the past.
Let me introduce you to a friend about whom I haven’t written before; Karen is a woman who wasn’t easy to like initially. Dishearteningly attractive in a seemingly careless way, she’s slim, fit, and appealing to the men in our cycling group because she can actually keep up with them on a long climb. She’s a kindergarten teacher and has cultivated a sweet way of talking that men just react to like a bee to a heavily pollen-laden flower. I’m betting that her students of twenty years ago still sigh when they think of Ms. Karen. Her charms were not lost on my partner who glowed when she turned her gaze in his direction. So, obviously, I wasn’t that charmed by her since I couldn’t keep up with her, much less hold a conversation with her when I could. As luck would have it, there was an after-ride party planned and I, having decided that jealousy was coloring my opinion of this woman, decided to put myself in the seat next to her and get acquainted. It took about two minutes to discover that we were both avid readers and had more to talk about than the evening would allow. Subsequent conversations revealed that she was caring for an ageing mom, like I was, and Mike’s girlfriend became mine. When our moms died, the friendship was cemented as we grieved together.
So, back to the walk in the wash. Karen agreed to walk with the girls and me before she had to go to work. We set off towards the wash, on my regular turf, at a more brisk pace than we usually go on our own, so I calculated that we would be able to cover what I call the Seadoo loop in the allotted hour. But, the faint coyote trail that I usually take to the Seadoo trail was obscured by spring grasses and I missed it.
The stimulating conversation had distracted me and I found that we had overshot the trail so I headed cross country, with a stern reminder to be wary of snakes. After a short distance, we came to a sharply cut bank that had been carved by last year’s flash floods. Karen and I each picked a descent that appeared to be navigable but hers proved to be unstable, and she fell on her backside and slid down the embankment with some good-sized rocks following her. Thankfully, she regained her feet with nothing more than a bruised bum and we struck a path towards the southern bank.
Within minutes, we were confronted with an old flood control levy that I didn’t recognize. Thinking that climbing to the top of the embankment would allow us to get a better view of the terrain, and get our bearings, we scrambled to the top. This more level area was dotted with cactus, but spurred on by our time constraints, we pushed on in the direction we knew we had to go to get back to the car. After making very little headway, the cactus growing more dense at every turn, I decided that we were totally !@#$ed. We could neither go forward nor retrace our steps without serious danger of getting punctured by either cactus or snakes or both. I told Karen to take my car key and make her way back to the road without me and get to work as fast as possible. I would wend my way back to the sandy wash bottom with the dogs, at my own pace. The dogs were more vulnerable to the cactus than we were because we could step over some of them and they were forced to jump. Molly isn’t much of a jumper.
We parted ways. I was more worried about Karen than I was about the dogs and me because we were in familiar territory and Karen wasn’t. I encouraged Molly to find a way back to the sandy wash bottom and it took her only a couple of minutes to find a coyote trail that wove through the cactus, back to the embankment we had climbed earlier; but since we were considerably farther upstream than where we had climbed out, there didn’t appear to be any safe way down to the wash. Between the proverbial rock and a hard spot, we chose the precarious and precipitous route the coyotes take. A loose, rocky chute led straight down the twenty-foot embankment. Remembering Karen’s fall earlier, I took the seat-of-the-pants stance and crabbed my way down with the dogs following carefully behind.
Now safely in the sandy, rocky wash bed, I texted Karen to make sure she had found her way back to the road and the car. She had made her way through a quarter of a mile of cactus maze, only to be confronted with a six-foot high, chain link fence barring her way. Undaunted, she found a space where the wildlife had made a narrow space under the fence and proceeded to crawl under it. My car, with it’s antiquated emergency brake pedal, on the floor, stymied her briefly, but after accidentally releasing the hood latch, she managed to find it and drive the mile back to my house to retrieve her own car.
My route up the wash bottom was easier going but with cactus quills stuck in both thighs, walking was an uncomfortable affair. As soon as I reached the road, I called Mike to come to pick us up. Quill removal took up the rest of the morning.
Karen reported nothing worse than a few scratches and bruises and, astoundingly, proposed another hike next week, though she added, “Next week, let’s do a walk with a little less adventure. We can save those for less time constraining days!!” See why I enjoy her friendship?
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that my modest (read ramshackle) neighborhood is racially and age diverse which means we enjoy (using the term loosely) the sounds, smells, and sights of other cultures up close and personal. The most noticeable cultural difference between my neighbors and me is their appreciation of noise. Fireworks, loud automobiles, barking dogs, and raucous parties, blaring music at concert level only elicit sighs of resignation among the older contingent who can barely remember those pleasures and now crave the sounds of silence. There’s nothing like tinnitus to hone one’s appreciation of silence.
When I moved into this neighborhood, I was the youngster (twenty). There was a middle-aged family in the house on one side and grandparents on the other side. I’m sure they cringed when they saw us move in with a horse, dogs, cats, and friends who partied until all hours. So, frankly, I deserve whatever I get in my old age.
Over the years, the grandparents to the north died, leaving the house to kids and grandkids who didn’t bear any resemblance to their tidy fore bearers but eventually their deferred maintenance of the property overwhelmed them and they sold the derelict property to me.
The house to the south was sold a couple of times during my tenure, the last time to a family with two pre-teens who grew into typically obnoxious teens, became adults, moved out, had kids, moved back in with mom and dad along with their dogs and chickens and finally moved out again. Just when it looked like we were going to have a nice quiet, adult neighborhood, they sold their house to live in an RV.
So, we have new neighbors and everyone is watching with bated breath to see what kind of neighbors they will be. Of utmost interest is what kind of person pays $535,000 for a house in this neighborhood?
Is it the beginning of gentrification? Despite the glowing description on Redfin, the new owners are busily working evenings tearing out tile and peaking our curiosity about what improvements they have in mind for the recently renovated interior. I’m excited because I can hear them speaking Spanish and have high hopes of having opportunities to practice my limited speaking skills. The vanity plates on the truck in the driveway say, “El Jefe8” (the boss) so I wonder if he’s driving his wife’s truck.