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Friday, June 27, 2008

Chapter 21 - "the woodstove"

There were cobwebs draped across the porch coming down from the roof attached to the front door. Wild animals had left behind little terds all over the deck floor of the entry. The place looked like no one had been there for years, disheveled and borderline dilapidated. The door opened hard into a one room space about the size of roomy den. The first thing I noticed was a homemade wood stove inside the front door. I couldn’t wait to start a fire for a couple reasons. One, it was a little chilly and my digits were starting to smart a wee bit. Secondly, and more truthfully, I’m a fire-freak-of-nature and would like a fire in the dog-days of summer just for kicks and giggles.

I love to watch them crackle and consume chunks of wild wood. I love watching the flames change color and dance along the surface of the leaning logs. I love playing around with the bed of coals, poking the firewood and shifting it around for no apparent reason. When I stare at a burning fire, I get lost in a trance, almost as if I’m drugged or hypnotized. In this hypnotic state, my mind vegetates and drifts into memories long forgotten, drudging them up like a sunken treasure ship lost at sea. I find that where the ship sinks, so goes the treasure. And much treasure has been lost simply because I don’t take the time to comb the ocean floor looking for buried fragments of my past. The fire takes me there.

After I took a tour of the place, checking out the old jerry-rigged bunk-beds and the makeshift masculine kitchen in the far left hand corner, I took to gathering dry wood for a fire. It didn’t take long for that little room to fill with smoke and heat. A little smoke won’t hurt anyone; in fact, I kinda like emerging from a place with an after-smell of ash and charred wood and singed wrist hair.

As the fire blazed, I shut the door, cracked the vents and headed over to the windows to check out the mountain range view. Off to the left down in the valley were a herd of antelope playing around with each other. I grabbed Doug’s binoculars and watched them clean each other with their long, pick tongues and chase each other up and down the sides of the winter-browned hills. We were in their world. We were in the cage at their zoo. They were inviting us into their culture, into their natural habitat. We were out of our element. They were in their sweet spot. If given the choice, I’d rather be the zoo exhibit for them…it’s more entertaining and enchanting.

We grabbed a little somethin’, somethin’ to eat and talked about where to go next. The world was our oyster, and the pearl was all around us. The only choice before us is what pleasure to enjoy first. We sat and talked for a moment, and decided to head back into town for some long-johns so that we could hike into the mountains. I was ill-prepared for the wind. I’m not a big long-john’s wearing kinda guy, but when you’re legs are needing the love, you love ‘em.

We dropped off our bags and some odds and ends, and made our way back into town. The adventure was afoot, my heart was astir, and God was alive. This is what it means to live, my voyeuristic friends.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chapter 20 - "the quaint cabin"

As we idled down a sloped hill and rounded the first bend, the land opened up and flattened out. A large river was dancing right along to the right and a coyote was running right to left spooked at our unannounced arrival. Wild animals seemed to be everywhere. Birds, unknown to me, scattered abroad. A lone antelope pranced up the hill, cagy and quirky. He would stop every so often and stare at us, sizing us up and giving us the once over. We just kept trucking along making him increasingly comfortable that we had no foul intentions toward his kind.

A little abandoned cabin sat at the bottom of a foothill, windows busted out and cedarshake roof in disarray. It was a thing of beauty. Weathered grayish brown, tilted like the tower of Pisa, looking every bit like a country farmhouse from The Waltons. I asked Doug why he didn't fix it up and he said he didn't like the view. You see, it was facing the river and the open plains, not the beheamoth Rockies towering with majesty and might. I still would have done something with it. What a shame such a idyllic little place was rotting away. I felt like I wanted to go encourage it, tell it to hang on, tell it to not give up the ghost. I wanted to hug it and give it a kiss. But there are just some things you can't do with another man sitting right there next to you in a truck. Oh well, it was the thought that was going to have to count this go around.

We wormed our way through wide valleys looking for more antelope. The only one we saw was the one we ended up chasing through the foothills. He had to think we were harassing him when in reality he was unlucky enough to be fleeing on the very path we were heading. Poor thing. It wasn't until the last turn that we finally headed different directions. He scampered over the hill and we took a sharp left.

Doug mumbled something about keeping my eyes open. I had seen a painting of his cabin, but even so, I was not prepared for the breathtaking visage that was awaiting me. As we made our way around a wide bend, I looked up to the left and high atop a lonely hill was a little log cabin perched with pride. It was still a good distance away making it look more like a dog house than anything. But as we climbed the driveway of loose stone and my eyes adjusted to the changes of depth, it looked more and more like the painting in Doug's kitchen. Even so, paintings rarely do justice to Western wonders. It's like trying to play the Hallaluah chorus on a Fisher Price toy piano. There's the faint resemblance to the melody line, but there's no depth and breadth, no accompaniment. That's what a painting can't help but miss about a place like Augusta, it can't capture the transcendance.

As we reached the zenith of this hill, we pulled into the yard of this quaint cabin. It had a red roof and a little porch. Firewood was left over from the last trip and there were piles of lumber still stacked from when the place was constructed. One of my favorite sights to behold was the makeshift, doorless little log outhouse Doug made pointing toward the mountains so that when you took a dookie, you could take in the splendor. I wondered when I would be honored to visit this small, yet profoundly unique restroom. I couldn't wait.

We stepped out of the truck and I just breathed deep taking in the fresh air and the deafening silence. No electricity, no made made structures anywhere in sight other than this little cabin. No hurry, no hum of distant traffic, no transistors buzzing atop telephone poles, no kids clamoring next door. No planes flying overhead, no lawnmowers. No one. Nothing. In the middle of Nowhere. If you've never experienced this. I'm not sure I know how to put it into words. It's heavenly.

Otherworldly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Chapter 19 - "dancing crotch fencing"

I sat there listening to these old geezers give a young punk like me a workshop in the art of storytelling. Everything from calculated pauses to teasing foreshadowing to capitalizing on emotional shifts seen in the eyes of the audience…these guys had it going on. When storytelling is still the primary conduit of experiencing recreation and disseminating information, you get really good at it. Conversely, when storytelling is an antiquated past time, your ability to think “narratively” atrophies like the withered arm of a man wounded in war. I could clearly see how weak my storytelling muscle had become over the years. I left lunch that day bound and determined to spend more time sharpening the blade of my lazy tongue.

We walked across the road to the crusty, old General Store to grab some last minute supplies before heading to the remote ranch. As we walked in, I could tell I wasn’t at Meijer. There were no motorized carts for invalids or greeters making sure you have yesterday’s coupons. No bright signage, no entourage of employees manning checkout lines, no free samples of summer sausage. It was a no-nonsense, get-the-essentials operation owned by an old guy who was the jack-of-all-trades ubiquitous personality. He was everything and everywhere in that little establishment. He had a younger girl helping him out, but for the most part, he played the part of stock boy, custodian, marketer, cashier, bagger, manager and owner. He was in his late 70’s and had that I’m-going-to-die-with-my-shoes-on look in his eye. A kind of run-it-into-the-ground approach to life. Retirement was the furthest thing from his mind. Collecting shells in the Gulf of Mexico until he breathed his last was laughable. He was going to leave it on the field so to speak.

He knew everything about everything. He could give you the going rate for grain or wax eloquent on the plight of the West. He could answer queries about where to find beef stew or give you the Farmer’s Almanac prognostication for tomorrow’s weather. He was a bottomless well of conversation and a boundless spirit of joy. A jolly old man who liked his life, genuinely liked his simple life. He was fun to talk to.

We got our stew and a few other necessities and climbed into the truck. We had about a 30 minute trip to the cabin. What I didn’t know was that it was all dirt roads. Just as we hit the edge of town, the blacktop ended and the road opened up onto a gravel-graded glorified driveway. The fence that lined either side of the road was buck fencing with crotch posts. It was a thing of beauty to see it strung along the fields dancing up and down the hillsides…like little children holding hands playing ring around the rosy at recess. There was something mythic about the prairie that afternoon. An old spirit hovered over the landscape brooding like a mother hen. The wind picked up the further we got from town and the trees that acted as windbreakers. It was nothing for the breeze to come whisking across the plains at 30-50mph, and this time of year, that turned a 30 degree day into something similar to Antarctica.

The dirt road we were on turned out to be a main drag in this terrain. We were on it for about 20 minutes before Doug pulled off the road and stopped in front of barbed wire gate. He climbed out and unhooked the latch and dragged the limp wire across the path. He got back in the truck, rolled the truck through the opening and asked me to close the gate behind us. I didn’t watch him real well, so I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to. I clasped the heap of wire and wood and stretched it back across the overgrown path. I was troubleshooting on the fly as I pieced together a strategy of how this thing was to reattach. It wasn’t going to reattach itself; that was clear. After what felt like two minutes, I figured it out. I imagined Doug looking at his rearview mirror laughing at my vacuous incompetence. I felt good about putting two and two together until I realized that I was on the outside of the fence. I didn’t want to unlatch the thing and doing it again, so I climbed that bad boy and hopped it like a mull deer. By the time I got to the truck, Doug’s face was filled with a smile that seemed to have “I knew that was going to happen” written all over it. He commented something about that happening almost every time someone does it for the first time. I couldn’t help but smirk myself.

This next stretch of dirt road had grass in between the tire tracks. It was a little more rustic and unkempt, like a driveway speckled with weeds after a year of not being used. The truck shocks were getting quite the workout. Doug was taking it easy on the old Ford, easing her into the wild like he was dropping store-bought fish into an aquarium. It was another five minutes of off-roading on that driveway until we came to a huge gated archway leading into another piece of land even more primitive and remote. This was Doug’s coveted property. The top of the arch had a word tacked to it, his last name in capital letters shaped out of thick wire. “OLIN”. The sight of it about made me cry. I think it was the thought that this would Doug’s last time to enjoy this piece of land.

2,000 acres of virgin territory once covered with Indians. I could feel that I was about to cross over onto hollowed ground. I took a deep breath as Doug got out of the truck and swung the metal fence open. I put the truck into drive and slowly rolled under the wooden threshold. We were there. We were finally there.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Intermission from Montana...

Taylor asked Jesus into her heart this morning...

I awoke to her standing by my bed next to my head.

She told me in no uncertain terms, "Daddy, I don't want to go to hell."

I asked her why she was worried about that and she said her sisters told her she was going there because she hadn't asked Jesus into her heart.

I told her that asking Jesus into her heart was about more than just not going to hell.

She didn't seem to care.

I got up to take a shower and she walked into the bathroom and said, "Daddy can you ask Jesus into my heart?"

"Can I ask Jesus into Your heart?" I responded sarcastically.

She nodded.

I told her that I couldn't, but that I would help her ask Jesus into her own heart.

She said, "OK".

I told her I wanted to take a shower first and then I thought this could be a bad idea because I remembered evangelists preaching about how you never can be sure if you put off salvation that you won't get struck by a train or something other hard moving object in the meantime. I wondered if she would be ok until after my shower or if a train my run her down. I decided to take my chances.

I dried myself off, clothed my body, and took her to her sister, Kami's room.

I explained the gospel in 4 year old terms and wanted to make crystal clear that I would not let her get saved out of fear of burning in hell alone. I wanted her to want Jesus, not just not want weeping and gnashing of teeth where the worm never dies.

She seemed to get that.

I asked her about sin and whether she knew she was a sinner. She said that she did. (I don't know how she couldn't what with her intense level of sinful behavior as of late).

We talked about sin, blood and holiness.

She looked at me like, "Can we just pray?"

We both knelt by the bed and she clasped her little four year old hands.

I told her to repeat after me but to remember that she was talking to God.

I led her in a tender little simple prayer of salvation.

When I said, "In Jesus name" she rushed to "Amen" so I hope it went through.

This means that all of my daughters have recieved Christ as their Savior. They are still figuring out how to make him their Lord, but so am I, so I'll cut 'em some slack.

This is a good day...a very, very good day. Thank you, Jesus, for hiding yourself from the learned and revealing yourself to little children. For this has been, and will always be, your pleasure.

Today it is mine as well.