Strange Trails

Diaries of a House Husband

So, two weeks into this new role and in general things are moving along rather well. There have been some wrinkles, but, as I have quoted before, “I am not the fine man you take me for.” We can weather a few wrinkles… yet today, the wrinkles seem deeper, more cavernous.

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Worrisome trail sign.

Part 1, Caution! Hazard

There have been no roosters this past week and, alas, I have found myself at a loss for words. I want to be able to say something about this place… No, about being in this place. I could ramble on and on describing the physical characteristics of here, but to what end? I would rather try to relay my impressions of what “here” is, from a deeper understanding than of what it looks like. Yet somehow, that understanding has eluded me.

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Murray Basin and Escudilla beyond.

 

I lay awake last night pondering this and came to the tentative realization that I have not cultivated a sense of being here; I have not allowed myself to absorb the presence of the place. And I think that is the trick of it, the sense of presence, of being able to simply be. For this is what it takes, I think, to get to understand a thing; not to dissect it and pick it apart to see what makes it work, but rather to be still and try to absorb it. This brings a different understanding. The dissections brings a form of understanding certainly, but it is an outsider’s understanding; it is the understanding of the other, not of the self in relation to.

Since we have been here I have been busying myself with things. Running errands, running trails, running circles. Last night I had to ask myself if I was running from something, and I think that is approaching the truth. I like this place, but I have not really been letting myself be here. Rather, I have been chasing around trying to see it, trying to appreciate it, but not understand it. I am, as they say, a stranger in a strange land, and the cold wind keeps blowing and I look at the distant hills and wonder where it blows to. Where it keeps trying to blow me to.

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The Little Colorado and a storm from the North.

 

I have no presence here. I wander and explore and orient myself to the roads and trails, but I am always occupied with some purpose. Something is keeping me from being still enough to feel the rhythms of the place, the underlying currents that lead to understanding, to appreciation. I dread to truly give voice to it, but may have to admit that I am stuck in the trap of living in comparison. I hear it in my voice when talking to people about back there, away up north. I say things like, “at home we do this that or the other.” I am here, but I am not.

I meant to talk about the trails, since that is where we left off last time, and indeed, I started writing this a couple days ago and have let it sit because it felt sterile. Yes, there are trails here, and yes, I have very much enjoyed exploring them, but for all my understanding and appreciation, I might as well be a rat in a wheel.

Part 2, A hazy shade of winter.

I came across a list of definitions on the facebook this morning. Two or three of them, I think, sort of fit the tone this morning.

  1. Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
  2. Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.
  3. Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

In the first case, I have known that feeling many times, and in fact cannot help but wonder if that is more the status quo than the unique for me. In the second case, much as in the first, many times it is hard to think otherwise. Finally, in the third case, I think this has rather profound implications for all of life…

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Of a morning, as the sun rises and town becomes visible from our little hovel, there is a low, wintry haze stretching across the small cluster of buildings over there. Pale woodsmoke obscuring the town, except for the dome, the largest building in town, in both height and breadth. The upper crest of it, glimmering white as it rises above the smoke each time makes me think of The Tommyknockers… Each time, as the sun rises and the day brightens, illuminating the leaf-bare trees and the tall, brown and tan grasses that dot the horizon between here and there, and the mountains, like shadows looming over the valley, I cannot but wonder, repeatedly, Where is here? Where am I in this place, and who?

 

I am reminded of a quote – as I often am – in this case from Deadwood’s Calamity Jane; “Every day takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live.” Pardon my French.

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Post Script.

The title of this post is also the title of an album. It and the first album by Lord Huron, Lonesome Dreams, are wonderful soundscapes; stories put to music and I highly recommend them both.

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A new chapter…

Diaries of a House Husband.

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Part 1, Why did the rooster cross the road.

I have been waiting for some sort of particular inspiration to get me writing again. Rather than just rambling on, I had hoped for something to pique my interest, or at least to give me a better starting point than what I had been fumbling with. Well, today, there it was.

I was on my way back into/through town after having explored one of the outlying roads. I thought I would drive down one of the side roads, rather than taking the main drag again. I was only one block off said main drag, driving slowly north, watching the houses go by. Another car was cruising the opposite direction, heading towards me and just before we met one another, we both had to stop while a rooster on some sort of mission, known only to him, strutted across the road.

So that’s how things are around here.

I had become familiar with the reality of the backyard horse, and even goat, right in town. I have seen a few, but only a few, loose dogs wandering around. Cows all over the place, as well as plenty of mule deer. But a damn rooster crossing the road? OK then.

Anyways, the Wife started working last week, and between dropping her off at and picking her up from, work (we are waiting for her car to be delivered…) I am left, largely, to my own devices. Most of the day, myself and Littledog have the run of the “house” (we are currently living in a modular unit in the Casa Malpais RV park (not of course the nearby archaeological site, but, more on that later) on the edge of town… read into that what you will.) When not trying to learn about, and orient myself to, the local surroundings, I take care of most of the shopping, cooking, laundry, etc. Plus, there is house hunting and other businesslike affairs such as trying to sort out a financial institution, figuring out the DMV situation and corresponding insurance, setting up the PO Box, and trying to figure out if/how I will be doing any “work” for my previous (current?) employer…

Part 2, What and where is here?

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Anyway, it has more or less been a week and a half or so since we arrived here in Round Valley. Since then, I have had some time to reflect on this new life, and try to learn a bit about my new environs; errant roosters and all. To catch everyone up on the general scenario, the Wife and Littledog and I moved from the “wilds” of sub-arctic Alaska to a high desert region of central Eastern Arizona. Here we are to start a whole new life; here in a place called Round Valley.

Round Valley, or Valle Redondo if you prefer (which I kind of do), was “started” ‘round about 1870 as a rough frontier farming settlement, originally named Milligan’s. Interestingly, (to me anyway), as noted, farming was the order of the day; interesting because there is none here now. Rather, ranching is the dwindling agricultural enterprise (however, a “local” just today noted that the real beginnings of this area were steeped in banditry and rustling and general ne’erdowellness… have to look into that further though). At one time, it would seem, there was a robust logging industry, although that seems to have crumbled somewhat. But, I am getting ahead of things.

Actually, people have, of course, been here for thousands of years, but more on that later…

Anyway, the so called Milligan Settlement was established in the valley of the Little Colorado River. The “valley” lay mostly open to the north, but for some low hills and mesas. However, it is thoroughly bounded to the south by the White Mountains, to the southeast by the solitary and imposing Escudilla (Spanish for bowl?) Mountain, and to the south west and west by a scattering of remnant volcanic cinder cones. The floor of said valley rests at roughly 7000 feet, while the highest surrounding peaks rise to 10,000 and more.

It would seem that early in the formative years of said Settlement, an enterprising chap by the name of Henry Springer, by way of Albuquerque, opted to set up shop in the valley. Apparently in doing so, he overshot a bit and lost a bunch of money, purportedly – in part at least – due to betting the wrong way on a large barley crop. In 1876 they named the new town after him… Springerville. Not quite sure what to read into that just yet. Further up the valley was, I gather, a number of homesteads settled some years earlier as well as a nearby Mormon settlement, then called Amity.

In an effort to more thoroughly irrigate the area, it would seem that the Mormon community built a series of small dams west-southwest of the area (resulting in Greer Lakes I guess), and then proceeded to hand dig a large irrigation ditch, cleverly named Big Ditch, which remains a feature of the local landscape today. This area, south of the town of Springerville and approaching the prominent rise known as Flattop, eventually was officially named Eager, in honor of the Eager Brothers Joel, William, and John Thomas (no comment), the original homesteaders. There is also a bit about the Clanton Gang, from O.K. Corral fame, settling here after the shootout… hinting back to the bit noted above about criminal misdoings.

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Today, if you are not paying attention, you will miss the fact that you have passed from Springerville into Eager (or vice versa), although Springerville does have claim the original townsite, historic buildings and all. Eager presents more as a modern settlement, with housing and shopping, library and schools and medical facilities, and of course The Dome (look it up…). Further south, up in the mountains lie Nutrioso (have yet to learn more about that name), and Alpine. To the west, Greer, Pinetop/Lakeside, Show Low (something about a card game…) and Vernon. To the north, St. Johns (haven’t been there yet.)

Much of the White Mountains region is managed by the Forest Service, which, is of course, what brought us here in the first place. The Apache (to the south) and the Sitgreaves (to the west); two forests managed jointly as the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The A – S to those in the know. Further west is the Coconino, further east, the Gila. All (and a few more) comprise the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the world. Plus, there is the Mogollon Rim, the Coronado Trail, the White Mountian Apache Indian Reservation, and the Sunrise Pea ski area, not to mention elk, deer, pronghorn, mountain lion, bobcat, the reintroduced Mexican grey wolf, coyote, eagles, hawks, pinon pine, juniper, aspen, lots of open grazing/range land, etc., etc. Oh yes, and there are ravens… thankfully.

Part 3, A day in the life, briefly.

Despite being at 7000+ feet as mentioned, and despite the fact that it is still mid-January, there is effectively no snow in the valley. There is plenty in the surrounding mountains, but more on that later. So, when the chores are done, or efforts to complete them are exhausted or have stalled out in utter frustration, Little and I go exploring. We have also taken up running again.

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There is a great little riverside walking trail that winds along the Little Colorado, just over there from the RV park. We have walked it a number of times now, but in our explorations I figured out how to make a nice running loop from said RV park that includes the trail. Great training, which I desperately need what with the combination of lingering slothfulness the past few months and a change in elevation of over 6000 feet. Hard to breathe well up here sometimes…

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And then, there are the forest trails. So many trails.

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But that will have to wait… until next time…

The End of our Road: the Final Days.

Part 1, The World turned upside down.

10 days. From Alaska, through the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, and into Colorado. Nearly 3500 miles… at the end of December and beginning of January. Not a single snowflake fell from the sky. Snow started falling during our allotted day of rest at The Parents’ in Woodland Park. It snowed most of that day, albeit not much. It snowed during the night and while we were packing to leave. It snowed as we drove west into the central valley. It let up as we headed south and we thought we were in the clear. But then it really started snowing.

By the time we hit Monte Vista, I was white knuckled and wild eyed… and I am somewhat familiar with driving in wintery conditions. It snowed off and on all the way to the New Mexico border. And then it started really snowing again; heavy, wet, nasty, slushy snow that mixed with the sporadic sand the DOT spread on the road surface. This frothy, red slurry got splashed up all over the truck and froze in place creating the hands-down, absolutely strangest natural features I have ever seen on a vehicle. But we had not gotten to Santa Fe yet.

The snow had let up as we wound through some low hills towards Espanola. The Wife commented on a low cloud bank in the distance. As we hit the northern edge of Santa Fe we drove into that cloud bank. The same nasty snow we had come through, but on a divided 6 – 8 lane freeway… at rush hour… surrounded by people who were in no way prepared for what was happening. There were cars in the ditch all over the place. We got snarled in a 2 – 3 mile jam, that we discovered was caused by a semi-truck at the top of the hill that thought he could, but couldn’t quite. We made it through safely and by the time we approached Albuquerque, (in the dark and slightly exhausted) the roads were mostly dry.

The hotel was nice enough, the restaurant somewhat sketchy, but all in all it was fine. Despite the frightful conditions of the day before, we actually got lucky, as this was the one night we were genuinely concerned about the contents of our freezer, but below freezing temperatures all through the night kept us solid. The next morning we again were lucky in finding a FANTASTIC little breakfast restaurant just around the corner, called Wecks. Highly recommended if you are ever in the area.

Part 2, The World turned inside out.

After the hearty breakfast, we fueled up and rolled out of Albuquerque, having barely seen it, on into Pueblo country. Heading west on Highway 40, there was almost no snow, relatively little traffic, and plenty of wind. We passed more than 1 casino (I did not pay enough attention to count them), at least 1 set of disheveled, roadside, “Indian Craft” stands, that were wholly vacant as far as I could tell, and way too many tempting signs advertising fry bread. Alas, we did not stop.

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At one point, near desperation had us straining for a rest stop, which are not overly prevalent in this part of the country, and at this time of year are often closed. The one we found was like nothing I have ever experienced. First, to get there, we had to follow signs that only told us where to go at the last minute, with no indication of the whereabouts of our sought after destination. We had to exit the freeway, as expected, but then had to cross an overpass, whereupon we had to go through three of the most insane roundabouts we could never have imagined. At one point I felt like we were on some gigantic Mobius strip, over populated with semis. It was nuts. When we finally found the elusive rest stop, it was surrounded with a high, barbed wire adorned, chain link fence. It looked like a minimum security prison and there was a sign that said it closed at 3:30. We drove through the gate, up a winding drive, to the top of a knoll that was bedecked with numerous shelters and restroom buildings, all decorated after the manner of pseudo southwestern style adobe. The winds were vicious and cold, and the restroom interiors were tattered and ragged. Everything about the place was wrong, but it served the needed service. Alas, we had to navigate the labyrinth in reverse to get back on the road, but we made it safely.

Not long after, thankfully, we left the freeway for a much more desirable “blue highway”, that being NM 117, through El Malpais National Conservation Area/National Monument. This is an amazing place and no mistake. The Wife had been excited about revisiting since we had started planning the trip, and there is no question why. Should you find yourself in this part of the world, do yourself a favor and visit this place. It would seem that once upon a time (many times as it happens), a certain Mt. Taylor, went kablooie, tossing its innards all over the landscape. So there is this extensive “wasteland”, or more fittingly badlands (El Malpais means “the badlands”), stretched across the valley, bordered on the east by huge sandstone cliffs and on the west by the Chain of Craters, small cinder cones that seem to be looking on in admiration. I cannot wait to return!

On we went, though it was not much further now. Over some flats, past grazing cattle, up and over and through some winding hills, with more grazing cattle. Down through Quemado, over Red Hill, across the border and finally, down into Round Valley. A stunning view with high snow-capped peaks in the background; graceful, snow-dusted cinder cones; broad, forested hills and mesas; and a rolling valley, with the Little Colorado River winding through it. If this was in fact to be home, I felt right there. Huzzah!

Part 3, The end of the journey, where the adventure begins.

There were some initial complications, but we are settled now, into our temporary housing. We spent the remainder of the day trying to get oriented first and then situated. The second day, we wandered around, first on a very nice riverside trail. In roughly 2.5 miles we saw a Blue Heron, two kinds of ducks (maybe three), numerous songbirds, several deer, a cottontail rabbit, and a Northern Harrier.

We drove on around the area a bit to check out some of the houses we thought we might be interested in, and to familiarize ourselves a bit more with our surroundings. Then we unloaded, unloaded, and reloaded the freezer and finished settling in temporarily. We had Copper River red salmon and kale from our garden for dinner tonight.

And so, here we are. The Wife started work yesterday, while I ran errands, revisited the river trail (glimpse of a beaver and rook of ravens haranguing a golden eagle), viewed a few of the homes on the market, and took little for a much needed hike on one of the nearby Forest Service trails. Today, we run.

Afterthoughts.

It would seem that this blog has run its course. None of this current life “came to me in a vision”, nor does it have much, if anything, to do with the sub-arctic.

That said, I do intend to continue writing, in some form or other. What I may well do, is just do some redecorating; change the title and the style of this here blog-thing so that it is more appropriate. But that will take some pondering, as I adjust to my new surroundings and find the right inspiration.

For those of you that have followed along thus far, I thank you, and hope that you enjoyed some of the journey. For those that wish to read more… hang tight. As one book closes, another opens… as it were.

Until then…