Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chapter 3: Journey Home... Interrupted

We started out from Salt Lake City, bright and early, before breakfast, not even waking the family if we could help it. Our eldest nephew was up, and willingly carried our stuff up from the basement and out to the car. Our plan was home before bedtime, grabbing a hamburger or such on the way as needed. We thought it feasible, having done it once before. But our plans hadn't been implemented too well thus far in the vacation.

Did we foresee even a hint of trouble? Of course not!

Our first stop, shortly before we ran out of Salt Lack City suburbs and hit actual open spaces, was breakfast sandwiches at the golden arches. Plus the usual potty stop. Once again, by the time I returned to the car, I was a little short of breath.

Oh well.

Further down the road, after a lunchtime and pit stop, I was again short of breath, this time taking five or so to really get back to normal. Feeling secure, finally, I drove off again. Steve and I were deep in conversation about ten minutes later, when suddenly I got light-headed, that feeling you get just before you start to black out and faint. Luckily there was no traffic preventing me from hitting the right lane and then the wide-enough shoulder as quickly as was safe.

When I explained what was going on, Steve and I both agreed he was going to drive. His back had been seriously bothering him and he'd taken a morning pain pill. The legal time hadn't elapsed, but his "goofy" stage was over. I trusted his driving way more than mine, and we were our two choices. I opened my door and bent over for a bit until I felt capable of walking around the car to switch places. Once in the passenger seat, I stayed bent over with the door open for a while longer before feeling ready for Steve to take off. Note that there was no shortness of breath at the time of the light - headedness.

We passed an exit for a small town with a freeway sign, "No Services". And another. And another. By then I asked Steve when we finally hit a town big enough to have the blue sign with the big H on it, to exit and take me to their ER. Our next town was St. George, UT, big enough for 6 exits and a hospital. Steve drove right up to the Emergency entrance valet parking station, ran inside for help, and ran out again with staff pushing a wheelchair for me. At that moment I was seriously more concerned for his knees than I was for myself. I had never seen him move so fast.

He had said the magic words: breathing problems and he believed it was altitude sickness. We were whisked to the check-in station for about a half minute triage, then in back to a bed in the ER. They needed my ID. I tried to give them my insurance cards too, but they weren't interested until later.

In a way, I found that very reassuring: patient before payment. Had I thought a little deeper, I would have worried just how sick they thought I might be.

While they were hooking me up to O2 and cardiac monitors, a range of questions was asked. Listening to my lungs they detected rales, or crackling sounds. I've heard them myself on occasion, usually when I'm just nodding off, the house is dead silent, and my breathing is slow and an exhale empties the last bit of air. They've been interesting, not alarming, usually happening at the very tail end of a cold. The most interesting thing about them this day was the ER staff called them "rahls" while the nurses upstairs called them "rails". I've heard the first pronunciation on TV, never the other. Either way, the crackling meant wet lungs.

Since I wasn't coughing, had heard rales before, was now comfortably breathing due to lack of movement, and wasn't feeling like I might pass out, I was starting to think I'd been crying "wolf", except for one thing. The blood pressure registered 210 over ... well, I didn't really hear any other numbers after that because who the hell cares when that's your starting number? I can't even tell you if I was given a pill or a shot to start trying to bring those numbers down. My brain just sort of stuck right there.

When a CAT scan, both with and without dye, showed an "opacity" in the lower corner of an upper lobe of my lung, they did a couple more tests, and came with "maybe" news. Maybe it wasn't cancer, not looking like that usually does. Maybe it wasn't an embolus, because somehow a bi-pap machine was supposed to definitely rule that out while it was simply making me miserable, being totally incapable of breathing at my speed. Try it sometime. Just as the incoming pressure gets you inhaling and you're ready to continue, the air shuts off. It takes a second for your diaphram to reverse course, and before you can comfortably finish exhaling, it's trying another burst of pressurized air in. When I would resist that, it would stop for a second before sending another burst, which I still wasn't ready for, so when my body started to inhale there was again nothing coming through the mask.

Breathing was work!

The doc who set it up even suggested I might try napping while I was hooked up! HA!

When I complained that the machine breathed much faster than I did, he fiddled with some controls but never got it to slow down. I was informed by other medical staff that I had the right to refuse to use the machine any more, which right I immediately exercised. Anyway, something in that misery indicated to them there was no embolus. Since the heart was in normal sinus rhythm the whole time, and the labs came back with "no heart attack", they tentatively diagnosed pneumonia and admitted me, ordering antibiotics, and blood thinners since I was going to be bed-ridden.

By the time I was given a room, hooked up to everything, drained of everything they wanted, tested six ways from Sunday, Steve had returned from their wonderful cafeteria raving about their wonderful grilled salmon steak and its sauce, making me hungry. Unfortunately, the clock said it was well after when any other hospital's food service had shut down, but I inquired anyway. Some hospitals kept pudding cups or something similar.

Let me just say, if you have a choice of where you want to get stuck in a hospital, go for St. George, UT. I was brought in a laminated tri-fold menu, and their room service could bring me whatever and as much as I wanted any time, except limited hours for breakfast dishes. Since I'd been drooling over Steve's salmon, I ordered my own. Everything was marked on the menu with both calories and carbs, so I could, that first night, have my salmon, delightful perfectly steamed broccoli, cottage cheese, and the most wonderful chocolate cake/pudding/whipped cream concoction.


The next morning I was NPO, because the staff cardiologist wanted to see my echo (think cardiac ultrasound, and I told the guy doing it that if he found a fetus in one of those chambers I'd be royally pissed!) before deciding if he wanted to do "another procedure", not explained until later as an angioplasty or angio-whatever, i.e. surgery. The echo showed no cause for one, so I got to order lunch. Mmmm. And supper. Mmmmm. And breakfast. Mmmm.

I kept hearing reports of what wasn't wrong with me. No heart irregularities, no blood clots, no fever, white cell count, or coughing to indicate pneumonia, etc., etc. I was to continue the course of antibiotics because you just do after you have started. They were assured that I peed enough, and finally pulled out the catch cup so I could be totally on my own in there. My blood pressure came back down, so that extra medication was discontinued. I was moving around my room, even up and down the hall, without being hooked up to O2, so even with panting on the longer trek, since my blood oxygen didn't drop, there was, ultimately, nothing they could treat. The only lab result not back because it takes a few extra days was one for Valley Fever. They will let us know.

So go home, check in with your own docs. We can't figure out what to do for you.

Lest Steve get lost in all this, he got to stay two nights in Jubilee House, their equivalent of Ronald McDonald house, but for family of out-of-towners while they had to stay in the hospital. He loved it, having two comfy beds in a good sized room. The cost to him was a mere $25/night, and pulling the dirty linen off his bed after those two nights. I tried to get him extra food off my tray, since we couldn't order a second tray, but my carbs limit wasn't helpful. He ate either in the cafeteria while visiting me, or whatever from a local fast food or convenience joint.

With both his knees doing their usual to plague him, plus his back acting up, he was very appreciative of both their valet parking and the golf carts with which they chauffered him to his parked car or back and forth to Jubilee House. I was assigned a room at the other side of the hospital from emergency, fairly close to the front door, so that helped when he visited me.

They sent me home with a stack full of orders and prescriptions, plus a verbal prohibition against driving. So Steve drove. It meant he couldn't take the "good stuff" for pain, settling on 4 ibuprofin while we both kept our fingers crossed. It also meant he had to drive freeways through Las Vegas, and if you don't know how much he hates city driving, you haven't met Steve. I promised to navigate.

We spent an hour in backed up traffic before reaching Vegas for what we finally found out was three lanes squishing to one for the exit ramp, competing with cross traffic on that busy highway to make a couple turns to get onto the 6-mile-long frontage road before returning to the freeway. We did get a glimpse about the third mile along the frontage road of the rolled over semi and the four tow trucks that weren't seeming to have any success righting it. While in our back-up, a few motorcycles passed us on the shoulder, then a couple cars, until both in front of us and behind us there were semis pulled partly out on to the shoulder to keep any other greedy idiots from trying the same thing.

Thanks, guys. If we gotta suffer, everybody's gotta suffer!

Once we approached Hoover Dam, another pit stop did nothing to make me out of breath, so I offered to try driving for a bit. We switched, and made it a mile before I was again light headed and needed to pull over. Dang! I hadn't been light headed once yet this leg of the trip till I got behind the wheel, and Steve was starting to need a break. On the plus side, for a while the scenery I got to study instead of the road was breathtaking, like it had been at the start of the day's journey through the Virgin River canyon. There were distinct advantages to being in the passenger seat.

Once we'd hit Kingman, we stopped for a sit-down in a restaurant and a short nap in the shade of a sign. Then I tried driving again. This time I made it 30 miles before needing to turn the wheel back over to Steve. But the combined rests had refreshed him enough to finish the way home.

We were both too tired by then to do anything besides airing out the house of leftover noxious fumes after removing the no-pest strips and one found cockroach, bring a few bags in so we'd have PJs and pills. Electricity had to be turned on, fans blowing, and once the house was closed up again, the AC turned back on. There was agreement not to bother with filling prescriptions or stop to buy food until morning. We each had the last bits of an MRE to scavenge, and chairs to put our feet up and lean back in. No Wi-Fi yet, no TV, no gas. The fridge could start to chill some bottles of water, and be ready for filling on the morrow. We had shelter, comfort, water and food.

Other things got taken care of in the next days. We even heard there was an eclipse out there somewhere, though our safety glasses were tucked away somewhere. As far as we knew, it happened while I was in the post office, picking up our held mail and restarting delivery, evidenced by it seeming just a shade dimmer outside than usual. The TV coverage on PBS was great. After everything else, I guess that was OK.

We Were Home!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter Two: Idaho to Salt Lake

As we left behind our campsite, and my dream of seeing the total eclipse, our route headed for Idaho Falls for the first inexpensive motel we could locate. Depending on how long that took, maybe just the first motel, period. Our rush to arrive and settle in did not prevent some sightseeing, however.

Two things stood out. First, on its journey north out of Wyoming, the Snake River became Palisades Lake, a seeming endless canyonfull of placid, inviting water until it reached - you got it - the Palisades Dam. We drove its entire length northwards, before turning west to head towards our hunt for a motel. The east side was bordered by relatively low mountains, compared to the Tetons, of course. Out of curiosity I looked to our east along the way wondering if the tips of the Tetons rose visibly behind these mountains. I was disappointed by the fact that, from this angle at least, nothing showed. Perhaps they were just too close, or perhaps we'd already angled too far west away from them. Maybe both. I decided to just enjoy the scenery we had.

Second, once we'd turned westward, I looked back to our south. We'd been in sunshine since leaving Wyoming, but there was an unending string of dense clouds including thunderheads strung along the horizon aimed exactly at the area we'd just left. It was confirmation that our local Alpine guy in the sporting goods store knew exactly what he was talking about when he said where the weather front was now and continued to sit.

We'd left early enough that afternoon that the sun was still up but not yet in our eyes as we rolled into Idaho Falls. First stop was McDonalds for supper and information on where in town the motel row was located. As it turned out, the complicated directions which had fled from my mind past the "Go west and..." part within a minute didn't matter, as we rolled up to a cozy little place within about a mile. They'd had a morning cancellation, and we were the first to come along and fill their last room. It would have been a great place had we wanted to stay several days, containing a full kitchenette. Our use, however, didn't justify paying about $20 more than the chain we usually stayed at. At least the shower was a relief after days without, but one had to be very careful. The tiles on the floor were way too smooth to offer any traction when wet, and some previous occupant had ripped the bar out of the wall that would have prevented falls. But ahhh, hot water!

Steve and I slept in as long as we could. We had time to kill with just a short drive to the suburb of Salt Lake City where his brother's family had invited us to stay for a couple days or more, or "as long as we wanted." Our preference was to arrive after lunch on the road, in order not to impose unduly on their hospitality. The original plan had been to head there the morning after the eclipse, taking our time breaking camp and giving those other 12,000 visitors their chance to quit clogging the roads.We know how that turned out.

This time the directions from motel to freeway were both simple and clear. "Turn right, go to the first stoplight (just before where the road is closed for construction) and take another right, then straight for two miles to the ramp."

At stops along the way - food, gas, etc. - I was still a bit short of breath after walking to the back corner of the convenience store where they always place the restrooms, thinking you'll buy more stuff if you see more stuff, and back out to the car. It was a disappointment, but after a short pause to quit panting, we were on our way again.

Steve's brother had given us directions to their house, followed by a suggestion we use Steve's smartphone GPS. Of course the two didn't match, so we chose the route we'd written down. It all worked, and we rolled up to be greeted by one of our nephews, the only one home. We asked him to please bring our clothes bags into the house and down to the basement where we'd be sleeping. We would need to sort through to find our proper stuff and reorganize, dry, and repack after the hasty "help" we'd gotten from the kayakers. Don't mistake that for lack of appreciation, but stuff had gone everywhere in the rush. I hadn't the energy to sort along the way, nor the energy or breath to go up and down the stairs lugging heavy bags of clothing, toiletries, etc.

Our nephew was very willing to help. In fact all three nephews and our niece were helpful. Well, at least I assume the second oldest would have been. Having an all-day job despite being 14, we saw him briefly at the table and heading to bed or out the door.

Here's how they line up. The oldest will be a senior this school year, works at his high school, and has dreams of a career either in medicine or law enforcement. To further his knowledge, he has participated in ride-alongs with both local cops and paramedics on a number of occasions, loving every minute. An adult cousin has taken him to the range to learn safety and practice his target shooting. So far, the only hitch in his plans would be his needing to knuckle down and get his GPA up this final year of high school. Dad frequently reminds him it all depends on May, referring to his status at graduation.

Nephew number two is the one we generally didn't see. He works at a nearby amusement park, the kind with roller coasters and other rides. I'm not sure if he likes the kind of job or the paycheck more, but it seems like a win-win for him.

Nephew number three, who met us at the door, has the role of problem child in the family. There are medical issues behind the acting out, and we have seen both the devilry and the angelic sides of him. He'll start junior high this fall, and we hope his teachers are ready for him, with structure and discipline, as well as the kinds of attention which really bring out the best in him. He can ask a question and actually listen to a lengthy and detailed answer. I used that as my "consequence" when it became my position to help settle him down, telling him I would be happy to have a conversation with him but only while he behaved. Competition with a rival sibling seems to set him off, and I think he relished the one-on-one time. It may not even have mattered what I said. In a busy family of 6, attention without scolding may simply have been the prize.

Our niece (number four) has really grown the most noticeably since our last visit, though still in elementary school. Not only is she dramatically taller, but has left all vestiges of babyhood behind. Right now she is very involved with a craft involving plastic beads arranged on forms and ironed just enough for the beads to stick together in a whole. Steve had two sent home with him. I have something promised via mail. She and #1 both held lengthy conversations with Steve while #3 mostly related to me as the visitors in their lives.

Before getting to the adults, we can't forget the dogs. The mostly outside dog is an elderly golden lab. He's friendly enough to notice we're there, but arthritis seems to be strongly affecting his mobility. Once he's in and knows the situation, with the least effort possible, he finds an out-of-the-way corner to lay down in. (I know how that feels.) The little dog is a shi-tzu mix, her base coat white compared to Ellie's tan, and the silkiest hair I can remember petting. Daisy was very friendly the first couple hours, getting all the petting she could from us. After that, I guess we were boring. Her stops by got shorter and shorter and she spent more time alone or with family. C'est la vie.

My brother- and sister-in law are great people to spend time with. Completely welcoming, despite our sudden change of plans. He had taken the day off work for when we expected to arrive, and seemingly without an eye blink took another one off to accommodate our actual visit. She's a great cook, and when told of our updated arrival, asked Steve simply, "What would you like to eat?" We didn't want to make demands, so she made some suggestions, all of which sounded delicious. And were.

I learned that she's a meal planner, figuring out a month's worth of menus and what's needed for each meal, then goes to the store to buy everything except those things like milk which have to be regularly bought fresh. It's not her favorite task. (Me? I'll look through the food supply, decide what appeals, and if nothing does, go get something that will. The shopping is not my favorite part.)

She knew about my health issues, and did her best to keep me from doing anything to help. Feeling like a useless leach, I did help with table setting and clearing - jobs I can do in almost anybody's kitchen. I felt most useful helping to shuck the ears of corn she'd picked the day before for blanching and freezing. I did have to assure and reassure her that I would actually enjoy the job. Nephew #3 helped,  sitting calmly with us two adults, while the niece carried bowls of ears out to Daddy in the back yard for blanching, as well as ice for cooling, then brought corn back in for her Mom to package for freezing. I'm not sure if #3 mostly liked the grownup acceptance, or the thrill of finding the two worms munching in a couple of the ears. He got to look but not squish.

One of the things I like best about this family is that as a family they work. By that I mean, even with some health and behavioral issues, as a unit they function well. It may not surprise you that, living next to Salt Lake City, they are Mormons. This is not the kind of faith that simply takes them to church for weekend lip service, or enables them to show the world how much holier than thou they are. This is who they are, how they live. If that's not us, Steve and I, not only is there no inquiry into our beliefs, there is no attempt to push theirs. We are simply family. Grace is said, alternating among family members, and not a quickie formula but a sincere prayer for thanks and well wishes for those they know. Coffee and alcohol are not present, though nothing is said when I fix my own cup of morning instant mocha. Volunteering at the church is part of life, and going on mission when the children are grown is assumed. TV programs are monitored, as is computer surfing with parental blocks. Swearing doesn't happen, or is apologized for if inadvertant. (Nobody's ignorant: they know what the words are and mean, just choose to avoid them.)

Being there is being family. The warmth is real. So is the welcome.

Hearing that I had never actually seen the Great Salt Lake, we were taken out for a tour. It included this-is-what-they-look-like-now drive-bys of places Steve used to live or know, even a stop where we rode to the top floor of a building  overlooking the Temple and saw all the groups lined up for their weddings. We drove through the airport roads to see where Steve's brother worked when he wasn't being sent out of town/state, seeing the huge cranes constructing the expansion. It was noted that the pilings for support had to be pounded 70 feet into the ground for proper support, since there was a deep thick layer of sand under the ground down to bedrock.

Heading further south, a pair of mountains were pointed out to me. When I acknowledged the right ones, I was informed that each was an island in the lake. The scale of it suddenly came clear.

On this particular outing, the men were in front, we women in the middle, and the two youngest, who were not working, in the back. Not only did I appreciate the conversation we two were having in semi privacy, it aided in another thing. It seems our driver is, by my standards, a tailgater, even in freeway traffic. I could not, could not watch the driving! I just crossed my mental fingers, hoping we'd all arrive back at the house safely.

Which we did.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

So-o-o Not The Vacation We Planned

There's an old saying, in many versions, from many cultures: "When Man plans, the Gods laugh."

Chapter One: Wyoming

Everything started out exactly as planned. We made Kearney, NE the first night, Rock Springs, WY the second, staying in motels that were adequate or better. Having gotten updated information that Greys River Road, heading up out of Alpine, WY, was in driveable condition rather than rutted and washed out in multiple places as we'd earlier been informed, we continued with our original plan of heading up to a favorite campground from past trips.

There came the first change in plans, albeit a minor one. Steve decided heading way up while sitting on the side of the car next to the drop off was not quite his cup of tea anymore, so we found a safe place for a u-turn and headed back to a flat meadow/parking place next to the river across from where a smaller stream dumped into it over a steady fall over rapids. Picturesque, close to town, all-night lullaby from the water. It was completely undeveloped for camping but open for it since this was national forest land and the spot fit the regulations for dispersed camping. We came prepared with all our supplies for the situation, and considered ourselves lucky to have the site to ourselves. Having been along this road before, this was both of our second choices to stop. Free for 9 nights.

Setting up the tent(s) was going to be easy. After finding a site that wasn't sloped or worn down to rocks, we started. Staking went relatively well, though there was one stake that only went in halfway. It didn't look to be a problem, since all the rest were well anchored. By this time, we were pretty beat, so unfolding the chairs for use was done.

Twenty minutes later we got the poles out and figured out which pieces went where.  Now we had practiced this a couple times before leaving with Richard's assistance and oversight. It had gone well. Of course, back in Minnesota there weren't high winds channeling down the canyon trying to set everything airborne, fighting the angle each pole needed to go to support the whole structure. This is one of those tents where all poles must be in place for any stability. After setting the rain fly under something heavy to keep it on site while we worked, it only took us two tries to get the tent itself up. Of course, more and longer pauses to sit were interspersed in the process. And since the center pole couldn't be set all the way up until after the rain fly was pulled over it, due to its height and our lack of it, we had to bring the whole structure down when the center top pole separated.

In the flap-everything wind, we had problems fitting the rain fly over the tent, even to the point of second-guessing ourselves as to which way was long or short, further delaying final pole positioning. The hooks holding the corners were on elastic that had lost some of their stretch, failing to hold it in place. So repeat, repeat, repeat. Once the center of the tent was tied off to the center poles, things fit better, but it still took extra tiedowns fastening the rain fly to the tent stakes to finish the job.

You know, I'm certain, that it was about this time the wind started to die down. Just started, but the rain fly finally quit trying to. Fly, that is.

The first of three tents was up. We were ready to quit, but the tent giving privacy to our bucket toilet still needed to be erected. Luckily it was spring mounted, the kind you fold in circles to put away, and only needed a site found and stakes pounded in. Then tiedowns got attached to those same stakes to hold the top of this skinny tent straight before we could put in the bucket, set its liner in, and dig out a roll of TP, set inside a plastic bag to keep it dry. Our pauses were getting longer between steps, but this had to be finished even after exhaustion set in.

Our last must-do was inflating our  air beds (powered by the car, not human lungs), bringing in sleeping bags and pillows, and hauling in clothes. By then we both were too tired to even think about supper, simple as MREs are, and we crashed before the sky got dark. The third tent, a screen house we'd planned to sit inside while relaxing and reading, was left on the ground in its case for the night. In fact, we never did find the energy to open and stake that last tent.

You'd think a good night's sleep would refresh us. Turns out there were a couple issues. Back when the car was getting packed, we had help bringing supplies up from the basement. We never questioned the sleeping bag that was brought up for me. Big mistake. It was one with zippers up both sides which slid down with every wiggle or breath. Not only was the air cold, our airbeds had no insulation so they sucked the heat out of us from the bottom too. Having the surface flocked only managed to catch on the sleeping bags and hold them where they were even when you wanted to move. Down again on the zippers.

Cold as it was, I put on sweats over my PJs and tried to get back in. The zippers were even less cooperative. I gave up, finally, and crawled in the other bed with Steve, aka Mr. Furnace. The beds were only full sized. While spooning was fine in one direction, warming me partly up, when we needed to roll over, my center of gravity was now hanging off the mattress and nearly dumped me on the floor. I gave up and moved to the one place I knew I could both sleep and be warm: the car, with the engine running intermittently.

I did manage something of a night's sleep. Steve was quite cozy where he was.

The second day of camping we broke out the first of the MREs. For each of us, one package lasted the whole day, separated into three meals. Flavor: mostly OK. Texture, particularly of bread products... well, lets just say they could use all the help they could get from either spreadable cheese or PB&J.

The toilet worked just as it should, with just two minor problems. It was too low to the ground. After all, it was a standard 5 gallon bucket with a seat and lid. Had it been last summer, my new knees would never have allowed it. Because some idiot designed the doorway to its tent to only open up to a height of about four feet, with a bottom lip sticking up six inches, it was always a job bending down while lifting your feet up and over without tripping. Then you had to manage clothing, sit way down, somehow all in time for what was necessary.

Exiting was a process as well, first maneuvering off the seat enough to actually use the TP, though never quite reaching everything you wanted to, then leaning forward to stand up to re-dress without losing your balance. And don't forget to shut the lid, after sprinkling a little clumping cat litter over the bottom of the bucket, just in case it wasn't spillproof as desired, nor you as graceful. Then there was still the bend and step high technique, nothing to hang on to for stability. After that, pausing to rezip the door closed was nothing.

The whole process was work! As if we weren't tired enough already. It was to be avoided as much as possible.

That's one of the things that made leaving camp for town so attractive. (Hey! Real toilets!) First was a shopping trip. Daylight had revealed that not only was my sleeping bag too small for someone who had left "skinny" behind decades ago, but it was only rated for 60 degrees. Sixty! That was about enough for a comfy afternoon nap!

We used an Alpine gas station to dump our bag of garbage and ask how to locate a sporting goods store. Luckily, there was one in town. Luckier still, it's last two sleeping bags were our size (Steve decided to get another and join his together) and rated for 30 degrees. In conversation with the store owner we got an interesting, and discouraging, piece of information. All the TV news interviewees who were asked where to plan for eclipse watching by reason of likely clear skies had pointed to Jackson Hole and surrounding area as a top spot. The theory was the clouds would somehow stay on the west side of the mountains for the first part of the day, not slipping over to the eastern side until afternoon.

It made sense at the time. Apparently 12,000 other people thought so too, since that was the expected crowd size into the area. However, as a native, he had better information. With just a little push from climate change, this had become the time of year when the winds moving weather fronts around were sliding south, and this was their exact boundary site. It was colder (yep) and cloudier (yep) than just a couple weeks before, so the odds of a good view were slim.


On the plus side, he pointed out directions to a car dealership where we could get our tires tested, filled, and fixed or replaced as necessary. My flat tire light had just shown up that morning. They were still good enough for a short drive to town. But in the middle of nowhere in a car that was sold without a jack or a spare, I was not about to mess around. Luckily, for the three of them which were a bit low, the air top-up was enough to eliminate the warning light. Better yet, little wait,  no charge! To date, no more leaks either.

Once our local errands were run, we decided to head up to Jackson Hole to scout out the traffic and likely spots to legally stop for a bit to experience the eclipse. Our campsite was a few miles outside totality, and I wanted to get the full experience. The road into town from the south was under construction, giving us a lot more stop than go. Having finally navigated that, crossing town to my top choice for eclipse viewing, the Elk Refuge, we had to stop and wait at every intersection for either a light, pedestrians crossing, or both. I had kind of planned for that, but Steve absolutely hated the whole trip, wanting almost any other spot for The Day Of.

The Elk Refuge was lovely, huge meadows across the valley and climbing in swaths up into the trees on the mountains. Or hills. Your perspective changes with the Tetons in the background. There were no elk to be seen that afternoon, but several parking pullouts along the way gave us choices of where to stop for our lunch and just enjoy the scenery.

While having supper that evening, we watched a family of four, two of them preschoolers, playing baseball across the road from  us. Their noise and activity was not enough, surprisingly, to prevent a mother and baby elk from ambling across a clearing between pine trees about a hundred feet behind them. Seeing no elk at the refuge, we were doubly delighted.

Our plan for the next day, or one soon, was to take the road up into the eclipse zone on the Idaho side, checking its feasibility for viewing and pictures. Meanwhile we anticipated a much nicer night of sleep than the previous one. This was the night it rained through the rain fly, only on my side of course, and I found out that the new sleeping bag was a better fit but I still wasn't warm enough. Back to the car.

We woke to wet clothes, wet tent floor, wet bed (mine only), wet sleeping bag corner, and the canvas chair left outside doing an efficient job of holding puddles both in its curved seat and cup holder. After doing the possible to assist drying over the course of the day, I dug out the camera to get a couple dozen shots of fog trailing downhill along the tips of the mountains we were nested in.

Steve took the one dry chair, the one we'd brought into the tent overnight, and tried fishing in the stream we camped next to. After losing a couple of spinners on the over-abundance of rocks under water, he decided to head down into Star Valley to the Salt River,  a slow stream where people swore they were catching trout. After a quick stop to shoot ospreys in a pole nest box, we found a public access with a gentle slope from a nice parking spot to where he could set up a chair while fishing. I stayed in the car, alternately reading my Kindle and looking at how he was doing.

While no trout were caught, Steve did hook the biggest catches of the day. The first was the bridge over his stream. The second was his pants. I may never have known about the latter, but he hollered at me to bring the nail clipper from the car so he could cut himself loose. On my short way back to the car, I had to stop a couple of times, panting. I couldn't catch my breath.

I was fine when he gave up and returned to the car. We decided to head back to camp, taking advantage of a roadside rest stop along the way. By the time I got back to the car I was again out of breath. For both of us, this was a last straw. With minimum discussion, we both agreed to break camp and head to a motel on lower ground, the operating theory at the time being altitude sickness, despite camping only around 6,000 feet, much lower than I've been at other times with no effect, including Trail Ridge Road which pushes 12,000 feet.

While I drove back to camp, and he still had cell coverage, Steve called the local forestry office, explained that we had a medical emergency, would return to camp only to clear out our personal effects, and apologized for leaving behind our tents on the site. When they offered to watch our abandoned camp until we could return for the tents, he flatly stated we'd not be back. Donate the tents to anybody who could use them, a scout troop, Goodwill, whatever.

Once there, I mostly sat on the now dry chair and he started bringing stuff to the car. When he noticed a group of teenage kayakers loading up to leave after coming down the river, he walked over and asked for a few minutes of their help. Within ten minutes our car was loaded as full as it could be. I mostly suggested how to load, like laying sleeping bags flat since they knew nothing about rolling them up, and flattening them for more room by loading heavy stuff like the MREs on top of them. Some clothes came out of the tent still wet. We didn't care. The car was loaded in minutes, the kids thanked, and there was one single chore to do before we cleared out. That bag inside the pail potty was removed, sealed up, and carried on the floor of the front seat till we hit the trashcan at that same gas station. This time I decided I'd even pay for some gas, despite that they were by far the most expensive in town, not to mention the whole trip. I figured I owed them.

Five minutes later Wyoming was behind us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hooray, Home Again!

We arrived Sunday, got our own beds, our own chairs, our own mess. And for those of you who are counting, no, we didn't see the eclipse. It's a long story, so it may take me a couple days to tell it.

So, more later.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Daylily Mystery

Anybody who's grown, deliberately or not, the original, non-hybrid daylilies, knows how hardy and invasive they can be. Depending on your preferences, that's either a curse or a bonus. It holds true also with the semi-wild variant that has double flower petals. Same orange, same height, same habits, just prettier. At least to me, anyway. That holds double for the patch in the Minnesota house's yard. The originals came out of the backyard border from my folks last house, before they cashed in and switched to senior rental living.

These started as clumps carried home in a box the summer I had the house built, 1991. Since I wanted them in front by the driveway and the house wasn't finished until late July, they got dug in way back in a corner of the yard, out of the way of all the contractors. In fact, a lot of transplants from garden catalogues, friends, and my previous yard got moved that way before getting their final locations. The contractors took an extra month, so I had a lot of plants needing to be heeled in.

The first few years there were a lot of weeds in the daylily patch. But true to form, they spread into each other tightly enough that there was no longer a place for any weeds to grow after just a few years. They were kept in check by the asphalt of the driveway, the mown grass toward the street side and deep tree shade on the back and sides.

As an aside, when the latest neighbors had moved in, we had a discussion with them because the patch was reaching the edge of our yard and about to creep into theirs, and I assured them whether they mowed them or kept them, hey! It was their yard. I tend to have the same discussion with all my neighbors about other vegetation crossing the property line. Tree branches in their way? Apples or hazelnuts hanging over their side of the fence? Lilacs moving over full of blooms that beg for cutting for a vase? All yours.

Just don't mess with my side of the property line!

That spot in the back yard where the originals had been parked still had bits of rhizome left underground here and there, and it took several years of mowing the spot to finally discourage them. They are damn hard to kill! (The original raspberry site was the same way.)

That's why yesterday afternoon was such a shock. Paul and I were swapping cars in the driveway so first one out in the morning was closest to the street. Walking back to the house, I noticed something very peculiar. It hadn't been there the day before, which I know because I was admiring them while I was backing my car out to go visit family. Now, with only a couple of exceptions, the entire patch was laying flat, every bit of vegetation dead. Completely brown and dried!

You can't kill daylilies. You just can't. But...  somebody had. We don't know who, nor with what, nor why. I even spent time online trying to find out what's out there these days that might have done the job. There was no information beyond complaints that they weren't killable without working at the job for years.

I went next door and had a friendly chat with the neighbor. It wasn't initially intended to be, since I figured he must have sprayed them with something, deliberately, or as a victim of drift. However, the first time I went over, the neighbors were gone. It gave me time to cool off. So later I approached the issue more with a "Did you notice...?" attitude than a "How the hell dare you...?" one.

By the end of our chat I left willing to believe he had nothing to do with it, hadn't noticed anyone else messing around, and had actually liked watching them bloom every summer. Neither of us knows what could have done the job so quickly, no yellowing or wilting first, just sudden death. The only thing I am aware of that could so thoroughly poison a patch of ground is arsenic, but that's so indiscriminate, and moves through the ground affecting everything for years, that only a fool or someone overflowing with deep malice would use it,  and I still don't know if it would work so fast. I've never been that particular kind of malicious fool. If indeed the ground has been poisoned, we both will be watching our trees and shrubs along the property line, as the patch slopes downward towards it, and everything's roots go under it.

Meanwhile, we're hoping. Hoping that whatever was used was just something to kill back the foliage. Hoping that even if it were a root killer, there will be some rhizomes not affected and the patch will grow back. Paul might be able to tell before the ground freezes, but if not, for sure next spring.

But barring a confession, the sudden die-off will remain a mystery.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Endless Cemetery

I finally got around to visiting my folks' grave this afternoon while running errands with Steve. They were buried, both urns together, in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. For those not familiar, it's located between MSP airport and the 494 freeway.

I remember it from the military ceremony (21 gun salute, flag presentation, etc.) as being huge, and called ahead for the grave location. Given a section and site number, I went online to view their map so I could follow the proper roadways to actually accomplish the task. Of course, the gate that would have made the route simple was closed. All I would have had to do was enter Gate 3 and take that road all the way to the loop at its end, then follow my mental picture of where in the loop section 27 was. To put that in scale, they switched to numbered sections after going through the alphabet, and then throwing in letter-number and number-letter combinations. (And FYI I got a tiny bit lost trying to leave. My changed mental map wasn't up to the job. Just what street had we come in on? Did you notice a name? No? Too busy looking for the way to the originally planned route, that one particular street name.)

 No way was I ever in my life up to the task of wandering through that cemetery trying to track one grave down without a lot of information, and even with my new knees I was hoping that once I readjusted my mental street map to find the right section, locating their site would be self explanatory.

Ummm, not so much. After pulling over to park, all I saw was a block of rows and rows of grave markers. No row signs, no visible numbers, no clues to how it was organized. I snagged the attention of two people leaving and asked them what the trick was. The pair, consisting of a middle-aged woman and a teenager, were very willing to share. She had already utilized his youthful energy to hunt through the rows to locate their own family member. The trick is that, from the road, all the numbers are on the back of the stones. They sit in numerical order, across one row, then starting over across the next row, etc. It's still a hunt. Even in that "small" section, we didn't need to go too far back to find our stone relative to the section size. Our number was in the 900s so you can imagine the number of gravestones in just that section.  Luckily, the teenager took our number and started going through the rows until he located it for me, not too far in from the left side boundary. After thanking them I trudged in with my camera. Steve declined the hike, waiting in the car for me.

Even knowing they were supposed to be buried together, I was surprised by how it was done. I found Mom first, as her name and information were on the back side of the stone with the locator number. I looked to both sides, thinking that a lot of cemeteries define "together" as side-by-side. That wasn't the way here. As I walked around the stone to the front, there was Daddy's, the soldier's, name and info. They truly were buried together, as they wanted.

It was also the only feasible way for Fort Snelling to accomplish it's task. Even though it went through all kinds of channels to expand a few years ago, it's running out of room.

I don't know how early the first soldiers were laid to rest there. We still have several wars worth of veterans alive, owed a free burial by our country for their service. And unfortunately, we're still making more. Way too many more. My Dad was one of the dwindling number of remaining WWII vets. Looking around for just a short space I found vets from Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and other places and times our men and women have served, though these were just the ones who died around the same time he did and were cremated. The rational part of my brain started filling in the data, taking over for the emotional part that was both awed and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. It kicked me in the gut when I first entered, grew as we drove further in, all the while being unable to see to the ends of the collection of gravestones. Section after section, up and down, back and forth, they were only dropping out of view when the land started sloping. It never ended.

It looks like it never will.

And this  is only one regional military cemetery!