Fall & Winter Descend

When I meet people who are not from Nevada and I tell them I am from Nevada, they will often ask how I deal with the heat in Las Vegas. Like many native Nevadans, I end up explaining that Las Vegas is in the very southern tip of the state, and there are thousands of square miles north of Las Vegas. Really. Not everyone from Nevada is from Vegas.

The Nevada I call home is high desert. We have four seasons here with snow every winter.

I live at 5000 ft. at the base of the Ruby Mountains in the northeast corner of the state. These are the mountains that the Hastings cutoff skirted. Rather than following the California trail along the Humboldt River to the north, the Donner party went around the south and inadvertently added several hundred miles to their journey. Bad idea.

I took these pictures from my front yard over the past month as the changing colors slowly descended the slopes. I’ve always enjoyed watching, so this year, I decided to record it.

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The Rubies in August (with my son getting ready for his fall archery hunt).

Sept. 23, 2013

Sept. 23, 2013 – the top of the canyons are brushed with yellow patches as the leaves begin to change color.

October 7, 2013

October 7, 2013 – Two weeks later, the trees have almost completely changed their colors.

October 10, 2013

October 10, 2013 – the first dusting of snow on the peaks. Ruby Dome, to the right of the pyramid peak, is the tallest point in the mountain range with an elevation of 11,388.

Oct. 15, 2013

October 15, 2013 – The leaves are dropping and the mountain tops are whiter.

Oct. 19, 2013

October 19, 2013

Oct. 29

Oct. 29 – Winter arrives. We woke to heavy wet snow.

Oct. 29, 2013

Oct. 29 – The weather here can make a person crazy. Blizzard at 7:00 am…beautiful sun shining on the snowy mountains at 5:05 pm of the same day.

Oct. 29 2013

Oct. 29 – the same day, 20 min. later, clouds are moving in again across the mountains. Winter is here, and the leaves are gone.

Happy Halloween!

I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters

The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.

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No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980′s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.

What’s the story behind this trailer trash?

Last weekend, on yet another road trip across the lovely state of Nevada, we saw one of the more interesting sites I’ve seen in the desert.  It was a fence (maybe), but not just any fence, a fence made out of old single wide trailers and dying RV’s, literal trailer trash.  There is a story behind this fence, though I’m not sure what it is.

If fences are built to either keep unwanted people or animals out, or if they’re built to keep wanted animals or people in, what, exactly, is the purpose of this one?

Or is it not a fence at all? Did somebody just decide to line up their old trailers to keep their trailer trash orderly?  It’s not really surrounding anything, functioning as a fence might, so is it even a fence? I’m not sure.

When we first saw it, my husband and I started laughing and I asked him stop to photograph it.  He kept saying, “What? Stop? Why?” By the time he understood that I wasn’t kidding, we were too far past it to photograph, so we had to stop on our way home.

I’ve been thinking about this fence all week.  Generally a fence is built serve some sort of purpose. If you’d like to read a funny tale about gates and fences, check out the short fable titled “The Vigilant Rabbit” in David Sedaris’ compilation of modern tales, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.  The entire book is funny and entertaining, but in this particular tale, the gate represents power and the gate keeper’s ability to control the movements of the other forest animals.  The problem occurs when the power hungry rabbit forgets to build the fence around the gate, and the gate does nothing to keep out the riff-raff.  This trailer fence reminded me of the gate in the David Sedaris story, a valiant attempt to serve some sort of purpose but one that doesn’t make it, by a long shot.

Visually, this fence is fascinating too as it sort of meanders across the mountain’s base.  Perhaps its actually a giant sculpture.  I’ve been considering what this would look like in a quilt.  But I’d have to figure out the story behind the fence for that quilt.  I wonder how could I tell it through fabric?

One happy, or possibly annoying, result of writing or any creative endeavor for that matter is continually thinking about stories and possibilities. What is the story here? Any ideas?

Tree Trash

My Daughter’s “Trashless” Dream Tree

Despite the fact that my fourteen year old daughter never stepped a foot out of the truck to participate in our annual tree hunt this year as it was “way too cold,” she still managed to give us quite a few instructions on the size and shape of the tree we should get.  It needed to be tall and narrow, not “bushy.”  Living in Northern Nevada, we get pinion pines and finding a tall narrow one can be harder said than done, but we managed.  She approved of our find and then asked if she could please be in charge of the Christmas decorations this year. “Really,” I said.  “Why?”

“Because last year it looked like Santa puked Christmas all over the house, and this year, I want it to look pretty,” she replied.  Hmmm, Santa puke? She followed this with, “Why can’t we have a pretty tree with ornaments that match? Do you have to cover it with all your ‘tree trash’?”

Yep, tree trash.  That’s what my kids call the treasured ornaments and decorations that they spent countless hours creating.  The tongue depressor reindeer, the glitter and glue angels, the red and green chains to count down the days until Christmas, it has all been reduced to “tree trash,” and much to their dismay, I saved it all. Every single bit of it. They’re my favorite decorations, but apparently their dad and I are the only ones in this family who consider them decorations and not . . . trash.

Which begs the question, what is a holiday decoration? A box of fancy matchy bulbs from a store or a pile of faded construction paper, glitter and glue? My teenagers would choose the former; I’ll take the latter every time, but what are they decorating for?  I would say that at fourteen and sixteen, they’re still overly concerned with appearances, and they don’t really want all their friends to see the lovely ornaments they made in preschool despite the fact that most of their friends made the same exact things they did.  They’ll figure it out someday.

We spent one evening this week dragging out all the holiday decorations, but a full two-thirds of them went back into the garage as I decided to go ahead and let my daughter be in charge of the decorating.  I’ve always thought of myself as something of a minimalist in that I don’t like clutter, but when it came to decorating this season, she put me to shame.

She surveyed every decoration and decided what could come out and what had to stay put.  I did insist on most of the handmade ornaments for the tree, but none of the handmade pictures, cards, or large creations made the cut unless they went in my bedroom.  She informed me I could decorate my bedroom however I wanted it, and since my husband and I are the only people who like all that stuff anyway we could put it in there with us.  “That’s awfully generous of you,” I said.  She didn’t answer.  Sadly, her brother agreed with her.

I have to say that she did an impressive job, and now I know I have prepared her to handle the Christmas decorating responsibilities as an adult.  It was also a good compromise.  I have enough tree trash to make me happy, and she doesn’t feel like Santa puked on us . . .  though I do miss the reindeer one of them made out of a hanger and pantyhose that I usually hang on the door to the office.  I might just have to sneak that one in.

Fly Season

Every fall, fly season opens.  Unlike hunting season or the holiday season, it is not a season I look forward to.  The nasty pests congregate in groups,  slow, disgusting and fat, and then they magically multiply.  How do they get into my home in such droves?  I have screens on all the windows; I don’t leave the doors open all day.  I clean my house, and I do not live next to the dump like the Ewell’s in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I can only imagine poor Mayella’s fly problem.

Last week, I left a spoon on the counter that I had been using to stir some soup on the stove.  When my husband went into the kitchen, no less than six flies were on that spoon.  Eeeeewwwwhhh!    Even he was disgusted.

This is a problem that happens every fall.  Starting around the beginning of September through the first or second week of October, the flies come in.  At no other time of year do they behave like this.

Several years ago, my son went on a fishing trip with my Dad.  For the trip, my son used my husband’s fishing creel to store his daily catch.   Each evening, they would take their catch and clean it, except for one lone fish.  Somehow my son, who was around ten at the time, didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of his creel to collect all the fish on the last day of the trip.  Instead, he packed to go and shoved his fish filled creel into his duffle bag, with his clothes.  When he got home, he unpacked and set the creel, with the now rotting fish inside, onto a shelf in the garage.  When I started his laundry, his clothes smelled especially fishy, but I just figured it was because he was ten and had been wiping his fishy hands on them all weekend.  I washed them in hot water.  Problem solved, or so I thought until something began to smell in the garage.

This was the middle of July, and the stench kept getting worse.  Finally, we had a family “search the garage for the stink” party.  Lucky me, I was the one to find the creel.  I opened it up and peeked in only to be assaulted by a sight from a horror movie and an even worse stench.  Flies had found the fish before I did, and maggots covered it; they crawled up the sides of the creel, in and out of the half rotted trout.

I, of course, did what any self-respecting woman would do:  screamed, threw the creel on the ground, and ran.  Then, I got to be a mean mom and make my son go take care of it.  This only entailed picking it up with a shovel and depositing it into the garbage as we decided that we would rather get another creel than try to clean that one out.  (I guess that makes us typical Americans living in a consumable society, but that’s another post.)  I wasn’t touching the maggots filled creel regardless of how wasteful throwing it away was.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen maggots up close and personal.  For that I am thankful, but that leads to the question of all the flies.  Maggots are fly babies.  If I never see the babies, where do the adults come from?  In truth, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.  I do know, that this is the only time that I can’t wait for really cold weather to get here, decimate the fly population, and put a solid end to fly season.

I’m worried, and it sucks.

I am leaving shortly to take my baby to the DMV to take his driver’s test.  He will walk away with his first official ID, and the ability to take a vehicle, a large moving projectile, on the road all by himself without me stomping on the highly effective passenger side brake.  I’m scared to death.

I’m not normally a worrier.  Worrying is a waste of time and energy, and who wants to spend time thinking about all the bad things that might happen?  Not me, especially when 99.9% of the time whatever horrible scenario I have dreamed up would be as likely to happen as California falling off.  Surprisingly, this actually did come up when I was a kid.

I had a crazy great uncle who lived on a secluded compound with his cult somewhere in Montana.  Occasionally, he would call my parents with dire warnings that they must flee the Bay Area as California was destined to fall off into the sea, drowning us all.  I’m not sure if it was going to be a clean cut along state lines or if it would follow a fault line in which case only half of the state would fall.  In any case, my parents moved us to the safety of Nevada when I was seven, so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Thankfully, I’ve never worried about such dramatic events as the end of California like my great uncle did; however, I’ve never had a son get a license before either, and I’m finding that on a worry scale, its about as high for me as California falling off was for my uncle.

Two weeks ago, my son bought a truck, a little 2001 Ford Ranger.  It’s a great little truck, and we probably could have got a slightly better deal on it but the lady who sold it to us had no teeth and was on oxygen, so my husband felt guilty chewing down her price too much.  Happily, the truck has a 3 liter V6 engine which translates into relatively “gutless.”  Despite that fact, I have had visions of it rolling, bursting into flames, the tires falling off on the freeway, any variety of disasters all of which end with my baby horribly injured.

I would love to say that my son is a responsible, extremely mature 16 year old who always considers the consequences of his actions, but he’s not.  He’s typical.  Two nights ago he took me for a drive to a nearly gravel pit to show me how he figured out how to pop the clutch and make it fish tail all over the place.  Oh God.  I just grabbed the “oh shit” handle above the window and shut my eyes, fondly remembering how he used to show me safe things, like how high he could jump.

When we got home, my husband asked where we had gone, and I could only glare at him.  Our son has learned his love of crazy driving from his father.  I would never make a vehicle go sideways on purpose.  My husband lives for snowy days when each corner becomes an opportunity to go sideways; empty intersections become perfect places for brodies.  For him, driving is much more fun in the snow when the truck is not in 4 wheel drive.

Apparently, he’s taught our son well, and it scares the crap out of me.  I’ve been praying for weeks, worrying about this impending day.  Feel free to pray with me.  Or just pray for yourself as you drive down our roads and highways that are littered with 16 year old drivers.  We’re adding one more today.  Lord help us all.

The Smell of Home

I grew up with pine trees outside my bedroom window.  For eleven years, I fell asleep listening to the branches and needles swoosh in the breeze coming off the mountains.  The wind is an everyday occurrence on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It starts to blow around three in the afternoon and keeps up until after sundown.

In the front of our house, there were two trees, quite close to one another.  One was easy to climb, the other not so much.  My sister and I would climb the easy tree, grab a branch from the other tree and swing across to the taller tree.  Then, if we climbed way to the top, we could sit way up high and sway in the afternoon gusts.

We’d grip the trunk tight with our hands and lock our ankles below the branch we were sitting on as the entire tree would bend and sway.  I’d always stick my nose right up against the branches and breathe in the vanilla-y smell of the Douglas pines.  It is one of my favorite smells in the world.  Even now, the smell of pine makes me think of the home I grew up in.

Last week, my family traveled to the Redwood forests in the far northwest corner of California, just below the Oregon border.  I thought about what those giant forests might smell like.  When we first pulled in to the campground and opened the truck doors, I fully expected to smell the forest, the wood, the moss . . .  something, but I didn’t smell anything.

How can it be possible that these trees don't smell like . . . anything? Notice the itsy, bitsy person in the corner for some perspective on size. They're HUGE!

The next day, on a hike through a grove of giant old growth trees, I stuck my face right into a tree.  This tree towered over me and made the Douglas Firs I grew up with look like tall, woody weeds.  I breathed in deeply through my nose thinking that up this close I’d be able to smell some piney scent or maybe even some sort of tang like in a eucalyptus tree.  I didn’t smell a thing.

I was hoping for something, some scent that would, after I returned home, remind me of these trees and forests that exuded a sense of peace.  Standing below the trees, we could crane our necks and see neither the tops of the trees or the sky.  They were immense, majestic.  I loved them and will return someday, but I won’t be reminded of them by a passing scent, the way the smell of pine trees reminds me of my childhood home.

At the end of the week, after a long drive we pulled into our driveway following a summer thunder shower, and I breathed in the smell of my home now, the sweet scent of sage following a rain.

Smell is integral to my sense of place.  I hadn’t realized quite how much I associated smell with place until this trip, to a place that I thought should have smelled but didn’t, through Tahoe and the smell of my childhood home, and back to the desert after a rain.

It is something that I will definitely be aware of in terms of my writing as well.  What does my setting smell like?  And what does that smell mean for the characters or what emotions do they associate with it?  I think I’ll have to chat with them about that.

Road Trip in 1847, 1982, or 2011? I’ll take 2011.

In 1982, my parents decided to take a road trip to tour our beautiful home state of . . . Nevada.  We headed east from Carson City in our 1978 Scout II. It was a spectacular vehicle – orange with simulated wood paneling on the side.  The interior was an army green color with plaid brown and green seats.  It was the kind of vehicle that, by the time I drove it in 1986, built character.

My sister and I, at the ages of 12 and 14, could think of nothing we wanted to do more than drive across the desert for six hours with our German Shepard, Fearsome, sitting on the seat between us.  All the windows were open as the dog stank, and we had no air conditioning.  We also had no music, as the eight track in the Scout worked for maybe six months after we got it.  And, obviously, we had no DVD’s, Ipods, or laptops.  My kids have no idea what a road trip used to be like, but I digress.

One of the highlights of the trip was my mom’s valiant effort to add an educational component.  The highways in Nevada were seemingly littered with metal signs shaped like the state.  These are located wherever somebody decided there might be something of historical interest.  My mom, somehow, located a book that had the text of all of these signs.  She spent the entire trip with this book in her lap, yelling historical tidbits about the great state of Nevada at us over the roar of the Scout and the open windows.

She would holler, “Here comes another sign.  Do you want to stop?”

“Nooooo,” we’d yell back.  My sister and I would roll our eyes before returning to staring out the window in misery, and my Dad would either stop at the sign to please my mom, or blow by the rest stop or viewing area or whatever it was.

“Isn’t the subtle beauty of the desert lovely?” My mom would try again.

“Nooooo, it’s boring!” we’d yell back.  Finally she gave up though she did keep the book in her lap the entire time, reading the information for herself.

The inside of a wagon - not a lot of room!

I hit the road with my kids yesterday.  I now live on the Eastern side of the state, and we were heading west, backtracking on I-80 in the opposite direction from my first trip across.  I have since made this 300 mile drive hundreds of times, and I did something I swore I’d never do.  I turned into my mother and stopped at a place of historical interest.

The supplies for the trek west.

Two years ago, just outside of Elko, Nevada, the state opened a California Trail Interpretive Center to share the history of all those “road trippers” in the 1840′s-1860′s.  Part of my novel project takes place on the Oregon Trail, so I wanted to see the exhibits; it was research.  My kids, both teenagers, humored me and went in without complaint.  Their only somewhat negative comment was that everyone there was older than us by at least 30 years, but they were right.  It was definitely an older crowd.

The center sits right where the Hasting’s Cutoff rejoined the main California Trail.  The Hasting’s Cutoff is the “shortcut” that actually added 130 miles to the Donner party’s journey and caused them to get caught in the Sierra’s, resort to cannibalism and freeze to death.

The most interesting exhibits to me were the wagons.  I had no idea they were so small.  They were narrow, only three feet wide by ten feet long.  The wagon beds were also at least three feet deep which surprised me, and full to the brim with supplies for the journey.

I’ve driven across the state hundreds of times, and it is not a journey I would want to take in a covered wagon.  They made 10-20 miles a day across the hot desert.

My "Wagon"

As I drove my “wagon” today, I decided to enjoy the four hours it took to cross the entire state.  I especially enjoyed the dry segment between the Truckee River and the Humboldt Sink, where the water just disappears and sinks into the desert.  This part of the journey took the emigrants 24+ hours of non-stop walking.  They usually did it through the night to avoid the heat of the day.  Sometimes the animals would stampede when they finally reached the Truckee River they were so thirsty.

We blew through it in about 20 minutes with the air conditioning on and the satellite radio going.  And, if something had happened, my “wagon” has enough supplies to keep us alive for weeks.

The journey has changed immensely over the past 160 years.  I’ll be interested to see what it entails in thirty more years, when my kids drag their kids out for a “road trip.”  Hopefully they do hit the road, and maybe they’ll even hit a point of historical interest or two.  It would make my mom proud.