Thursday, July 15, 2010
And, most interesting of all is the eavesdropping. A young man sits by himself at a table next to us working on his laptop. I glance over his shoulder and see he is checking Facebook and Gmail. The name on his facebook account is Dennis Bear Won't Run.
Soon another older man sits down nearby and they start talking about reservation politics. Dennis is evidently a first year law student, trying to determine what sort of law he wants to practice. As he says, there are many areas to choose from in reservation life.
The older man may have been a lawyer too. He was certainly very sophisticated in his analysis of reservation politics and economic issues. He talked knowledgably of issues such as foreclosures on the res, lobbying Congress to get particular concessions, and discussing issues with the Secretary of State.
It was fascinating to listen to them.
Laura had said she didn't want to be buried in her home town of Bishopville, SC. My first thought was to scatter her ashes over the hillside opposite where we grew up in Pittsburgh. Our side of the street was a row of modest suburban houses, but it always gave us great joy over the years to look across the street to the hills, woods and meadows of the beautiful farm there.
Then I went back to Pittsburgh and discovered the farm had been turned into some sort of industrial site. I didn't think Laura would get much eternal peace looking out at the Jersey barricades.
Bruce decided to bury half of Laura's ashes at his vacation property in Mendocino County. From what I understand, this is a very Japanese decision. First of all, the Japanese have an interest in cremated remains. They venerate larger pieces of bone that survive the cremation process, doling out the fragments to family members. They also have a great reverence for ancestors, so it makes sense to them to put someone to rest at a place where the family visit frequently.
As an American, I had a somewhat different attitude. To me it seemed strange to place Laura in a place that she had never even visited.
But what should I do with her?
She wouldn't want to be composted, like I do.
Laura always had a great interest in Native Americans, particularly the plains Indians. In fact, in her younger days she had many strong interests like this. She was one of the more widely read than most people I have ever known.
People who met her in her later life might be surprised by this. They probably perceived her as an extremely grouchy old lady with no known interests except cats and television. I could not argue with them about that. But she was a different person when she was younger.
Laura had her faults, but part of her was strong, proud, and fiercely independent. I chose to honor that side of her personality. That's why I thought scattering her ashes over a site where the plains Indians once lived would be an appropriate gesture. The lives they lived always epitomized courage and independence.
I had wanted to scatter the ashes at Wind Cave National Park. I knew there were some areas there that are excellent examples of native prairie vegetation. Unfortunately, our trip to Badlands NP took up all all our time yesterday. So Wind Cave was out. As we drove through the Dakotas and Montana today, I was scouting for an appropriate location.
The fallback was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monmument.
It's a beautiful spot, a sweeping vista of gently rolling plains and hills with mountains in the far distance. We walked up to the hill where Custer made his last stand, learned about the battle, then walked down a coulee, as they say here, until no one else was near. Meadowlarks were singing, which I took to be a good omen. I scattered Laura's ashes over the edge of that coulee while saying a few words about the proud, strong Laura that I remembered.
I think she would have taken ironic pleasure from knowing that her ashes were scattered here at the Little Big Horn.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
We tramped around for a while looking for a place to eat breakfast. Many of the casinos have breakfast buffets, but we didn't want to go into a casino. Finally we gave in and stopped at a deserted cafe in Miss Kitty's Saloon for a wretched breakfast. The coffee I brewed in the coffee valet at our room at the Bavarian lodge was better than Miss Kitty's.
We always hear our political leaders saying casinos are economically valuable. I wonder if anyone has really studied the demographics. Maybe they provide a short-term economic boost, but almost everyone I see in these smaller casinos is old. Families are rare. (Vegas is a different story.) Many of the people I see in casinos are obese too. Some look (and act) like they won't live out the year. How can this clientele provide a long term benefit?
We raced out of Deadwood the instant we finished breakfast.
Towns like Deadwood make me embarassed to be an American.
The Bavarian Lodge offers a continental breakfast, but it’s a little bizarre. Sausage, cheese, and rolls. Perhaps that’s a German continental breakfast. The price was right (free), and I urged the girls to absorb some calories.
Lark had said she wanted to see the Badlands, so we decided to take a day trip out there, while still trying to be at Jewel Cave National Monument by 4:00 for a cave tour we had scheduled.
We should have studied the map more closely. It took us 2 hours to get to the Badlands. We only had time for a couple scenic overlooks, a stop at the visitor’s center (for the patch, of course), and then a drive through the park to see the weirdly sculpted hillsides.
Then we headed east again. First we stopped at Wall Drug, but again we had no time, so we got our buffalo burgers to go. By this time everyone was hungry and annoyed and we were all snapping at one another.
Finally we made it to Jewel Cave, where we took a ranger led “lantern tour.” Everyone carries old-fashioned kerosene lamps.
It was a great tour. Only 20 people could come. There was a gang of young folks, recent graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who we really enjoyed, especially one guy, John, who we all took to calling "John the dragon slayer" because he went first once down a dark passageway and declared it was safe for everyone after he had killed the dragon.
For much of the tour we had to “duck walk,” which was great fun for Lark and Linden. Not so pleasant for Pamela and myself with our aging joints.
The cave itself was a mass of strangely shaped rocks. The walls were almost all covered with crystals (jewels, that is). At one point we had to let ourselves down a trap-door like hole into the darkness, although John the dragonslayer stayed to light our way. We had to pick paths through jagged footing. At another point we had to squeeze through a tight spot called Fat Man’s Dismay. In many narrow places, the wind blew hard up the cave. On days when there is low atmospheric pressure, the cave exhales like that. When there's high pressure outside, the cave inhales.
The lanterns were cool too. They were dim, so if you walked into a big room with a lantern, it would barely cast any light. However, by the time the others joined you the whole room would light up and you could see all the strange colors and shapes around you.
All in all it was a great little trip and mostly outweighed the frustrations of earlier in the day.Ranger Joe, our guide, said this may be one of the last tours offered in caves in this area. The white nose bat fungus, which we know well back east, is spreading across the U.S. The park service is closing caves to prevent the spread of the fungus. Within a few weeks they may close Jewel and Wind Caves. So it could be a long time before anyone takes that tour again.
A couple wildlife notes: Driving through Custer State Park we saw a bison right beside the road. It was HUGE.
We also saw a small animal (maybe a mink? Or a muskrat?) carrying a fish almost its own size. The mink was on the road, struggling with his fish. Fortunately the traffic stopped for him to let him safely cross the road. Of course, it wasn’t so safe for the fish.
We pulled out of Niwot, CO, my old home, after taking a picture of me standing under an “Old Town Niwot” banner just outside aswanky French restaurant.
When I lived here 31 years ago, Niwot was a punch line. Almost no one had ever heard of it, and, if they had, they knew it was a sleepy little community plunked down in the middle of cornfields with a couple antique stores that woke up on the weekend. Now it’s an upscale little town. The cornfields are long gone, as are most buildable lots.
I shared a house with Jim and, though he lives in the same house, it’s barely recognizable. Only one familiar roofline remains. The rest has been enclosed in a fanciful home of towers, arches, and odd angles. Jim used to be a builder. Now he's an architect. I think architects always have to make a statement with their own home.
It was fun spending time with Jim and Kim. The kids got along well too. They were always racing somewhere together. We enjoyed hearing Quinn walk around the house playing the sousaphone and seeing Lark try to play Jim’s long dormant accordion.
I felt a little sorry to be leaving, although some of that was just the pleasure of being in a real home rather than living out of the back of a minivan.
Hopefully it won’t be 28 years before we see the Kalinski’s again. As we left, we said “Your nursing home or mine?”
We are in the factory for Celestial Seasonings Tea. It is just outside of Boulder on Sleepytime Lane. We are getting a tour of the factory.
For the last 15 minutes different smells have bewildered our noses. Chamomile, green tea, lemon grass, clove.
We start the tour with a ticket that is actually a package of tea--to be precise, Black Cherry Berry herbal infusion. We learn that real tea always includes tea leaves. Everything else is an herbal infusion. But that sounds bad so they call it tea.
We learn that Sleepytime is the best selling tea Celestial Seasonings makes. Another thing we learn is that the factory can make up to one million packages of tea a day during the busy season, during the cold months from October to April. And, we learn that if they left the door of the peppermint room open, you could smell the mint two miles away.
It was a beautiful factory, and it was the best smelling factory I've ever been in.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Coming into Boulder Linden says, “I knew we were doing a lot on this vacation, but there’s even more. It seems like we should be done.”
Lark adds, “It’s like when we jumped off the high dive at Mt. Gretna. It seems like you should be hitting water, but instead you keep falling.”