Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cry Me a River

Caretaker’s Log, Saturday, March 14, 2015

I'm lying in bed thinking about getting up when the phone rings. It's Laura, the summer wizard ranch hand, returning my call. I met her last June when the winter caretaking stint was over and the summer people came in. She and I catch up some then she tells me that the valve handle should be turned to the right to open and that is a little tough to move.

I start a fire, make coffee, work a crossword puzzle. I eat two bananas topped with tahini for breakfast. I read while I eat. I start the generator charge and post a blog.

Then I gear up, remembering to grab a shovel this time, throw extra gloves and wrist supports in my backpack, and head the half a mile up the hill to the dam.

I think it's farther than half a mile. But maybe it just seems that way because it's all uphill. Even with the snowshoes it takes me about half an hour to get there. I make a halfhearted effort to dig up the ladder. The snow, crusty and water-heavy, is hard to move. After I don't discover the ladder in the first spot I dig, I decide I'll just slide across the snow the way I did yesterday. I put on the wrist supports, switch gloves, and slide across the snow to the valve wheel installation.

I crank the handle and it turns a fraction of something small. I push with one hand, pull with the other. Tiny revolutions. At this rate it'll take me the rest of my life to get the rod completely turned up. I'm giving it all I've got and nothing happens. After half an hour of this or forty minutes, I crawl back over the snow and take a break. Angry at my inability, frustrated with inadequacy, I scowl at the breathtaking landscape around me. After a short rest, I get the wheel to turn a little more. The rod has risen one and a half screw threads. There are probably a million screw threads remaining. I don't count them, but that's what it looks like.

With my hip against the edge of the structure and my foot set in the snow, and my weight shifted to transfer all power into my arms, I keep on trying. It never gets any easier. During one exertion my left wrist shifts uncomfortably. My wrists are my weakest link and they’re protesting this work. I give it one more go, but I've got nothing else.

I'm not having fun. "This isn't fun," I say out loud. As if to prove this, I go sit on the shovel and cry. I cry like a child. It's my once a year pity party. My yearly sob fest. "Go ahead and cry, get it out of your system," I tell myself. I would welcome a visitor right now even though I look a fool, sitting on a shovel and crying over an immovable wheel valve. I'd be glad to admit I can't do something if there were someone here to complete the job. But it's only me.

I wipe away my tears, slide across the snow, and try one more time. My strength is gone. I pack my things up, throw the shovel over my shoulder, and clomp down the hill. I cry a little bit as I go. I talk to myself the whole way down. "Go ahead, cry, if it makes you feel better." And I talk back to myself, "Easy for you to say, I just wanted one thing to go the way it was supposed to. Go up to the dam and turn the wheel valve to empty the intake pond, they said, it should be easy, they said." I even go so far as to feel a budding resentment toward Porgy for not doing it himself when he was here. But my other self reminds me that I'm being unreasonable and childish and I push away the bad feelings. By the time I'm back at the lodge I'm done with my fit.

The generator is still charging the batteries.

When I feel like I can talk without having a shaky voice, I call Loring to report my failure. His wife Melody makes sure it's not an emergency, takes my message, and says she'll have him call me when she sees him.

I read a little bit, stare out the window, and check to see if the charge is complete.

Loring returns my call. I tell him my sob story and that I'm frustrated. "Now you've joined the long line of frustrated Darwin Ranch winter caretakers," he tells me. He reassures me that if I couldn't turn the wheel probably no one could. It'll have to be dealt with after the snowpack thaws. I tell him thanks for the pep talk. I actually do feel a lot better about everything.

The charge is done. I shut everything off and with a shot of rum in hand go upstairs to clean up.

I call my grandmother.

I'm working on my computer and turn around to see what the cat is up to just in time to see a mouse grab a piece of food out of the cat’s dish and run away. Right in front of the cat! After the second theft, the cat displays some interest. She gets up, stretches slowly, sniffs around, looks under the edge of her blankets. "Too late now, Cat," I tell her through the window.

Laura calls for a progress report. I tell her my story and she and I both hope that things are fixed so that when she comes out in the summer everything isn’t a broken disaster.

I do the nightly walk around. Record the weather. I make Mexican pizza for dinner. I read while I eat.

Then I write. Not very much, but it’s something.

I watch two shows. Drink rum. Eat BBQ chips.

Caretaker’s Log, Sunday, March 15, 2015

I get up. It's Sunday so I water the plants. I heat up some coffee, work my daily crossword puzzle, and putter around.

The cat doesn't need fresh water. It didn't ever drop below freezing last night. It's 41° already when I come downstairs.

Paul, the owner, calls. I haven't heard from him in weeks and find out it's because he's been traveling. They've been to Montana and then he went to Cambodia. He says it was hotter and more humid there than Texas. I tell him about the problems with the Hydro systems—it’s the first he's heard of it. "Sorry to dump it all on you at once," I say.

"I can handle it," he says, cheerfully.

I tell him about the wolves and the melting snow and the moose and the beavers and the honking of the geese that I heard the other day. He says that a group of ranchers from the Jackson area have made reports of a pack of wolves doing damage to the elk herds. I admit to my slight worry about bears and he says that it would be unusual for me to encounter one, or for it to charge, but that if I do and it does to spray as much bear spray as I can and hope for the best. He asks me if I like to fish and I misunderstand and think he's asked if I like fish. I say that I do (sorry, tuna and salmon) and he says there might be a fly fishing rod in one of the cabins and that I could have good success catching trout or white something or other. "Just don't fall in the river," he says.

"That's one of my rules," I tell him.

"You have rules?" he asks.

"Don't fall in the river. Don't get eaten by a bear," I tell him. My other rule is: Don't fall off the roof—in the event I have to get up there to shovel snow off.

Talking with Paul, filling him in on wilderness life, feels strangely the way I imagine receiving my father's call while at college would have felt (I commuted to college from home so my father didn't have to call he could just ask about things when our paths crossed—usually in the kitchen) "How's it going? How's money? How are your grades?" It’s oddly reassuring and friendly.

After a while, I snowshoe to the root cellar to get some potatoes. I bring in the vegetables that have gotten moldy since the last time I went out.

The two moose over in the red willows run farther away when they hear me talking to the cat. There's a songbird singing at the tiptop of the little tree in front of the incinerator shed. The gurgling of the river makes spring seem like an inevitability.

I make an egg, potato, fresh spinach, mushroom, and garlic scramble for breakfast. That's the last of the fresh spinach.

My muscles are sore from the past two days’ exertion. My arms feel stronger from the strain even in the ache.

I take some time and curl up on the couch with a book. I read. I close my eyes and doze maybe. I get up and go outside, say hi to the cat, check on things. The river is coming alive, the bank emerging from underneath the snow, rocks becoming visible after having been hidden away all winter long. Kinky Creek peaks up out of the snow, water now instead of ice. The landscape is changing as the warm days melt the snow blanket away.

I read a little more. I write. I talked to Phinehas. I have kale for dinner. I finish the book I'm reading.

Caretaker’s Log, Monday, March 16, 2015

I'm up after involved and complicated dreams with people I don't know in real life.

It's an overcast morning.

I've been here eleven weeks today. This could mark the halfway point of my stay. But that depends on when the snow completely melts and the roads firm up enough for vehicles to come in.

Those two skittish moose are munching red willows across the river. They take off into the deeper reeds when I come around the lodge to start the generator to recharge the batteries.

After I start the generator charge and have bananas and tahini for breakfast, I sit down to write. I work for a couple hours trying to keep history accurate as I go deeper into the story.

Then I take a break and clean the bathrooms. A mouse has been in the upstairs bathroom. I find droppings on the tub rim. It's also gnawed through the plastic on a bar of soap and nibbled some chunks out. This probably means I should set traps. I hate that thought. Go someplace else, mice, while you can.

I sweep the stairs and den. I spot mop the front room. I'll do a more thorough cleaning of the living room later on.

Michaela calls from Mexico. The connection is bad and I can only catch every third word or so. We shout goodbyes at each other and hang up.

The generator charge finishes up around 4:00 PM. I shut things off and go back inside.

For a snack I have some spicy pecans and an apple.

I call my grandmother.

I write some more.

There's a bird on a far fencepost. There’s a moose on the slope. Isn't there a Beatles song that goes, "The fool on the hill sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round"? I sing that every time I see a moose on the hill—substituting the word moose for fool, of course.

It's still overcast with those gray-white textureless clouds that sometimes bring snow, the kind of clouds that make me yearn for blue sky.

As I make dinner, I put on the Beatles listening for The Fool on the Hill but apparently I don't have it on my playlists.

At seven o'clock, I record the weather and do my nightly walk around. The cat is cozied up in her house and doesn't join in. I step on the Wild Hydro pit’s roof and look out at the river. There's a beaver staring right at me. I freeze and stay still until it is sure I'm not a threat and can move again. It takes to the water and swims around the bank’s curve, crawls along the high gravel, and then disappears under the water again.

The snow level is down to 23 inches. The ground is slushy and slick, hard to walk on. This is what spring is like.

I eat Quinoa Surpreeze for dinner. I had all the right things for it, zucchini, mushrooms, fresh avocado, nutritional yeast, and black beans.

I write a bit more. 

Going the usual nighttime wind down route, I watch a show, drink a glass of wine, and eat a snack.

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