Over yonder, where the cliffs diminish and pale in the slanting sun, is where we landed. How we left earth is a mystery. Perhaps it was a moonbeam we followed, thinking it to be a paved road or a path away from political pirates. Maybe some freak fission took place and our souls split to occupy multiple places at once. Like the passengers of Lost, I walk beyond the sand and enter a hatch to another place. I’m convinced I drove from Montana and ended up on Mars.
Montana I can explain clearly now.
Clarity crystallized upon saying goodbye. We said goodbye to new friends in Moses Lake and exchanged phone numbers with promises to meet up in other RV parks. We said goodbye to stuff in storage and I felt completely detached, wondering if this is how the pioneer women who crossed the desert felt upon dumping the hutch and china from the buckboard so the oxen might live another day of trudging sage and sand. We waved goodbye at Laughing Dog closed for remodeling and to Sandpoint friends who were not home. I stopped one last time along the Pack River Delta and whispered goodbye to Lake Pend Oreille and the pyramidal Monarch Mountains. I said goodbye to osprey though I think they left before me.
We parked our trailer on a street in Missoula, Montana and enjoyed porch-side hospitality with our daughter and her housemates. As an introvert, I said goodbye to Missoula Binders via email. Sadness began to flourish like a creeping vine in my heart. Then we traveled to Helena where I once graduated from College and bonded with my best friend. I did not want to say goodbye to her daughters, and I choked on tears as we neared. I had wanted to go to Kate’s grave, but wasn’t ready. M and I clung to one another in her doorway and we cried. Her children made us laugh. We went out to dinner and prolonged the parting. Then I drove to E’s house, hugged her son, hugged her and we left to stay one last night in Missoula with Rock Climber.
Driving along the Clark Fork River the next day to Butte where we turned south and would drive down and away for another 800 miles in tandem, hub with the trailer and me with the dogs, I listened to the epic theme from Man From Snowy River over and over until I purged all tears. I snapped photos of passing mountain ranges, broad valleys and big sky. I could not say goodbye to Montana. And that’s when it hit me — my heart is, always has been, here. I was born in a place, raised in another and have lived in 8 states, most in the western US. What defines the west, and western literature, is place. And my place, my center, my heart, is Montana.
It doesn’t matter where I reside or where I write, I’m from Montana and always will be. The clarity of that realization, the absorption of what is is to be a woman who writes the west, emptied my chest as if my heart fell out along side the road and waved me goodbye until I returned. I stopped crying, breathed deeply and felt…good. I felt settled. Now I was ready for adventure! To all who’ve spoke adventure over my reluctant transience and homelessness, now I welcome it! I’m from Montana damn it all and I can adventure where I please.
Mars? I didn’t expect that, but hey, my chest feels empty now, and I’m ready to fill up on what life brings next.
We followed the western edge of the Rocky Mountains south. By mid-afternoon we crossed over into Idaho again. The Hub called me on his cell phone. “Do you see those pale mountains to the left? Those aren’t clouds; those are the Tetons.” Those craggy peaks rise to an elevation of 13,000 feet and we could see Wyoming from Idaho. We stopped in the dark for the night just over the Idaho border and into Utah. We splurged on a motel room, and I actually missed my trailer. So did the Hub and the dogs. Who would have thought that square leaking beast on mismatched wheels would become home? With my heart beating in Montana, I was okay with living on wheels.
The next morning we headed south again, following the western edge of mountains like a guide. We stopped in Ogden, Utah to see Hub’s second cousin The Historian. He’s my idol, the family Black Sheep of his generation, a Vietnam Vet, and a former history professor. We’ve worked together on Mills genealogy in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I owe most of my research skills to him. Seeing him always shocks me — he looks more like the Hub than any other family member, just 30 years older. And they are two peas in a pod, two black sheep, two fellow veterans. I love watching them interact. The Historian takes us out for pie and coffee, then we follow him up a steep incline to his home and orchard where we piddle and water the dogs. He tells me to find a drinking friend in Utah and to return with her to visit him. Hub smiles.
South we go again. We pass Salt Lake City, Provo and Spanish Springs. That mountain range never leaves our left side. Valleys rise and dip, thriving cities give way to ranches and towns, and the sky remains similar to my beloved Big Sky. We continue and I’m surprised to find the terrain looks similar to southern Idaho, eastern Montana or northern Nevada. Maybe Utah won’t be so different after all. I simply don’t know what to expect, except I fear it will be hot and barren like Las Vegas, Nevada, which is only 120 miles away from St. George. At Cedar City, I can see red stain in the soil among the vast range of cedar trees. They are short and scrubby in comparison to the tall pines of northern Idaho.
Here we break down. The truck pulling our trailer dies, the engine won’t restart. At this point, I should mention the car has no air conditioning. Somehow, the compressor fell off, who knows where. The Hub suspects it was removed during repairs last fall after we hit a deer. Anyhow, it’s hot and I feel a tad frightened. We are at the mercy of heat and unknowns. The Hub thinks the truck overheated on the last mountain pass so we sit a while, listening to the panting of our dogs. It starts and we head to a shop in town. Turns out our gas filter was dirty and the heat exacerbated the problem. For forty bucks we get a new one installed and head out as the sun is setting. Relieved.
My phone is set to lead us to the only RV park with an opening for four nights. When the Hub got the Great News of his new job in St. George, Utah, I called every RV and camping park within an hour’s drive to find a place to park our trailer. They were all full, even the ones fellow RVers said not to go to. A possible ranch connection was all we had. The new Company was going to set us up in a hotel in St, George but not until Sunday night. The Hub, not wanting to be late for his first day of work, had us showing up four days early. While broke down, I called the best RV park in the region on a fluke of what if (after all, I write fiction and can imagine possibilities). Turns out they had a spot available for four nights due to the small stature of our trailer.
Before we get to St. George it is pitch black. We turn off the road to head to Zion River Resort and I ask Google for a dinner stop. Google directs us to the Stagecoach Grill. To a western writer, that’s a promising name. Inside, the decor emphasizes horses mixed with bold colors. The menu offers fresh food and ice water. Afterwards, I take the lead because I have the phone with our north star installed. Here’s where I think we detoured on a moonbeam, split or fell down a hatch. I do recall feeling woozy, but the road had more curves than Sophia Loren. It felt as sultry, too. Night, yet still blanketed in warmth as if the sun had managed to stay the night. After winding up and down, left and right, my phone died. In a panic, I slowed down and at that moment the Zion River Resort — and no vacancy sign — appeared to the right.
The office was closed but a man with a gray mullet and bright pink shirt greeted us in a golf cart. He pulled up our reservation and we followed him to site #82. “Check in come morning,” he said, waving as he drove off in his cart without a sound. We plugged in the electricity, turned on the AC, watered the dogs and fell fast asleep. The next morning we woke up on Mars. I was not prepared for this red and white, of cliff faces, pinnacles and sandstone taller and larger than the mountain I left. The land is baked and a muddy red river runs through it, bordered with cottonwoods.
My first morning, I stood, staring at a 6,000 foot butte and cliff-face beyond my trailer door. The sun blazed hot, yet felt comforting. Lizards skittered away as I walked past a pool and court yard. Song birds flitted in green trees. Mars is pleasant, I thought. The first thing I saw walking into the office to check in was a large painted sign on faded barn wood that read, Buffalo Bill Cody and the Congress of Rough Riders. I smiled and knew I landed right where I was supposed to be. Let the amazing feats begin.
The hallmark of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show was the “amazing feats” of his Congress of Rough Riders. Here at Carrot Ranch, we play with flash fiction the way musicians jam. There’s no right or wrong to the prompt, but a constraint of 99 words. Here, writers can practice, show off, experiment with new tricks, explore story ideas, develop characters or plot, and have fun writing. If you are pressed for time, add a further constraint of time. You might be amazed at what you accomplish in 99 words. Just as I am amazed by my new home-scape.
September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. What is the accomplishment and why is it amazing? Think small or go over-the-top large. Is it realistic or fantastically exaggerated? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by September 20, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
The First Trick (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.
Mrs. Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”
Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.
When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.
“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.
“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.
“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.
“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”
Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”
Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”
Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.