A Short Walk Up Boot Hill

 

SoiledDove1

[An unknown prostitute of Dodge City]

My reason for being on the road for so long has a great deal to do with my growing dislike of the winters of the North Country.  It also enables me to wander and explore my interests.  I love history, I am attracted to stories of the pioneer days, the cattle drives, the lives of the Native Americans and white settlers on the prairie, the exploration, the hardships and the state of life, love and death in the Old West.

I’m also fascinated with the human stories of individuals that never made the popular history books…those who came into this country with hopes and dreams and expectations.  The lives of people who live on the edges of society are compelling to me because they are so human, and therefore, so flawed and full of missteps and errors and simple bad luck.  Clearly, the life of a woman in these cattle towns is the stuff of myths and stories, real and fictional, romanticized and ugly, and sad.

Those interests brought me to Dodge City, Kansas, a legendary city that sits on the famous Santa Fe Trail.  The 1870’s were a time of cattle drives, lawlessness and violence.  The law was not a strong presence in the dirt streets or along the boardwalks.  This is the time of the development of the myths about Dodge as we know them today through films and TV shows.

That’s what took me to the Boot Hill Museum on Wyatt Earp Boulevard.  I paid my $9.00 entrance fee and found the path to the “real” Boot Hill cemetery.

I had done my homework.  I knew who I was looking for.  I wanted to lay a single flower on the graves of the three “soiled doves” who were reputed to be buried among the gamblers, killers, buffalo hunters and gamblers.

I felt like a dusty cowboy striding into the Long Branch and asking for the affections of one of the “girls upstairs”.  Instead, I was climbing a small rise, a block from the Boulevard, to find myself inside a sparse burying-ground, fenced in to hide the view from the traffic on the street.

It took a little searching.  Few of the original markers remained.

I was looking for Dora Hand.  She was the lover of the mayor of Dodge.  She was also the woman who was fancied by one “Spike” Kenedy, a cowboy.  To teach the mayor a lesson (and to ‘free’ Dora from the clutches of the old guy), this fellow rode by the house of the mayor and fired a bullet.  The slug went through the mattress of a friend of Dora who was spending the night.  The lead continued into the next room and killed poor Dora instantly.  The mayor was visiting Fort Dodge…he wasn’t even home.  She was the victim of a ride-by shooting…perhaps the first.  She died on October 4, 1878.

I was looking for Alice Chambers.  The cause of death?  I never learned that.  I don’t know what brought her to her death-bed where she uttered her last words: “Circumstances led me to this end” on May 5, 1878.

I was looking for Lizzie Palmer.  To me, hers is the saddest tale.  Apparently she loved Bat Masterson.  So did another dance hall girl.  There was a bar-room brawl.  Lizzie died a few days later from an infection that set in after she was cut on the head.  Her death date is unknown.  What is known is that Reverend Ormond Wright spoke the blessed words at her burial.  He was a second choice.  The first preacher who was approached, refused to offer his prayers for her soul.

So much for the mercy of the good Christian man of the cloth.

I bent over and placed a small wildflower at each of the graves.  At Lizzie’s marker, I ran my finger over my shoes and was amazed at the amount of dust that had collected on the tan leather.

But, it got me to reflecting on dust.  These unfortunate women, in this profession by reasons unknown to me, were by now, dust.

Maybe the dry earth and the shallow grave still holds the thin and fragile bones of these three “tainted ladies”, these “soiled doves”, these lost and lonely souls.

SoiledDove2

[Another unknown Dodge City prostitute]

[Images are mine.  I took the photos of posters on the wall in the Boot Hill Museum]

 

There’s Something In My Eye

Stacks

“There’s a lion in the road, there’s a demon escaped,

There’s a million dreams gone, there’s a landscape being raped…”

–Bob Dylan “Where Are You Tonight?”

Well, here I am, driving through the most jaw-dropping awesome landscapes that I have yet to encounter in the Lower 48 States.  It’s always dusty here in the Southwestern deserts, the Mojave, the Vermillion Cliffs, Death Valley and the empty, really empty and desolate lunar-like landscapes of northern Arizona and southern Utah.  Is it really surprising that I feel that something has blown into my eye?  I look down and blink.  I rub my eyes.  Nothing falls into my lap.  No particle of pollen, no bit of detritus.  Then I realize that it isn’t a grain of something wind-blown.  It’s something else entirely.

My view of these sacred vistas is being compromised.  Violated.  These geologic landforms that have taken hundreds of millions of years to create, sculpt and become perfect are now mere backdrops to the human presence.

Industry On Parade.

I’m about 150 years too late.  The 1860’s were the beginnings of the Range Wars.  Once, cowboys would drive a thousand head of cattle across state lines, prairies, gulches…the open range…to the meat markets of Kansas City or a dozen other large towns.  Then the ranchers came.  Is it any wonder that barbed wire was developed around that time? The cowboys became ranch hands.  The fences went up and the freedom to move about, ended.

DesertFence1

[Fences. Fences everywhere]

I pull to the side of an endless stretch of roadway, the end of which is lost in the infinity of the Great Basins.  I want to walk off to a small hill and climb it for a better view.  Instead, a few feet from the shoulder of the road is the endless fence.  I ignore the shards of broken brown glass from a hundred smashed bottles of Budweiser Lite.  When I see green glass, I know they consumed a quality beer from Holland or Germany before they tossed it from the pick-up window.

Okay, some can argue that the fences keep the coyotes from crossing the road.  But, I feel it’s more of: “Let’s keep Pat Egan from wandering too far from his Ford” kind of thing.  I want to sing “Don’t Fence Me In” but I don’t know all the lyrics. (I never got around to downloading that Roy Rogers CD.)

But litter isn’t my main complaint here.  It’s simply that the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen on this trip is obstructed by some ugly sign of human progress.  There are power line towers that seem twenty stories high that stretch across the desert and up and over the majestic mountains.  Power plants surprise you after you find yourself just recovering from contemplating nature in its most desolate and mystical state.

PowerTower

Tower

[What is this for? Why here?]

The excitement and exhilaration of the desert experience is giving away to a depression about violated landscape.  Where is the wilderness?  Where is the place where the signs of the human presence are absent?  And where can I look without getting something in my eye…something blocking out the wondrous void… objects and structures that will take centuries to decay and wither away, until the natural world is the only thing that will dominate a travelers eye?

Honky Tonks, Bordellos And Celery

soiled dove of Cripple Creek

[This soiled dove was from Cripple Creek, CO.]

We watched January turn into February in Silver City, New Mexico.  A former mining town from the 19th Century, was a place where miners, tired and in need of a drink and a little love to purchase, would come up from the valleys and down the mountains…and find paradise amidst the prickly pear cactus.

And, the first person many of these rough and dusty men sought was Madam Millie.  I’ll get back to Miss Millie in a minute.

By association with everything about the Southwest USA and our neighbors to the south, Mexico, our 51st state, the last thing we expected was a winter storm that would freeze our water line, render us helpless in the 13 F weather, keep our inexpensive (read ‘cheap’) Wal-Mart space heater churning full-time, unable to cook (dirty dishes, remember), flush the toilet or even wash our hands, instead we resorted to pouring a noxious (and according to California Law) carcinogenic liquid, RV antifreeze, made from glycol and a few dozen chemicals down into our fragile plastic gray tank (dish water) and black tank (icky-poo stuff from the toilet) to keep them from bursting.  We seemed to be stuck inside Silver City with the Palm Springs blues again.

[That was a long run-on sentence.  Not all my fault.  It’s my inner William Faulkner trying to get out.]

So, what did these American Nomads do to pass the time?  We went to the Silver City Museum.  It was a beautiful Victorian building that was once the home of a restless guy who wanted to make a fortune in Silver.  I naturally gravitated to the shop in search of yet another Ideal Tee Shirt, a coffee mug and a book(s).  The first book I spied was titled: “Madam Millie”.  It was the story of Nellie Clark, who worked her way up from the mattress to running the most successful brothel in town.  (She died as recently as the late ’90’s, I believe).   In another book I found in the local library, “Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains”, by Jan Mackell, I had a chance to read about the history of the girls who followed the miners, plied their trade, were murdered, died of disease, wandered off to another boom town, married clients and lived in luxury, became school teachers…or simply lived as a widow or spinster in a town that eventually mined all the silver that the hills could produce.

Millie Clark had the proverbial heart of gold…her girls would hide Easter eggs for the poor children of Silver City and Nellie was known to give away lots of money to charity and food to the needy.  I was fascinated by the book because local history, however tawdry, is what I seek to learn about when I travel.  The brothels were, without question, an important aspect of the Old West.  The “Red Light” book was researched and written by a woman historian.  I’d be reading it right now, but the $25.00 ( + tax ) price tag put me off.  I walked out with a tee-shirt, a mug, a guide to the wildflowers of the Southwest, and a mental image of working girls (some slender and beautiful and some plump and plain) and sweaty cowboys and miners drinking whiskey and beer in the saloons and honky-tonks along Bullard Street.  (I should mention at this point that there was a madam in one of towns of the west who weighed over 300 pounds!  She was extremely popular, and to this day, the town celebrates her with a festival in her honor…her name escapes me.)

old-west-brothel-tokens-3

[Brothel tokens.  Source: Google search.]

Thoughts of tight corsets, buckled shoes, flowers in the raven-hair, ribbons, rouge and lipstick and thick perfume filled my mind as I sat in a distressed leather seat of the public library to get warm and to allow Mariam a chance to answer work-related emails using a strong WiFi signal…something that was a bit dicey at our RV park.

jennie-bauters-brothel-242x300

[A popular brothel in Cripple Creek, CO.  The madam stands at the far right with her hands on her hips. Source: Google search.]

The warmth of the library made me sleepy.  I put my head back and let my mind drift into a very delicate state of half-dreaming…

I was sitting in the Buckhorn Saloon.  Sitting on my knee was Ivy…the loveliest example of womanhood one was to find west of the Pecos.  I had a sack of silver nuggets in my pocket, so her affections were assured.  I had a tumbler of whiskey on the table in front of me alongside a glass of cool beer.  It tasted nothing like Bud Lite.  Outside, on Bullard Street, the dust of a hundred horses and half as many wagons rose in the air.  I heard gun shots.  Two miners had stood in the middle of the street and were arguing over the honor of a painted lady.  When the gun smoke cleared, one guy remained standing.  He turned to look for Irene, but she had gone off with the preacher’s son.

BullardSt

[Bullard Street in Silver City, NM]

The gun shot made me jump in the library chair.  Someone had dropped a book on a table nearby.  Mariam was busy  in a quiet cubicle so I told her I was going for a walk.  I needed to clear my head.  I was confused as to what time it was, what day it was, what year it was…and what century it was.  I walked over to Bullard Street.  SUV’s and sensible KIA’s lined the curbside.  I went into the Tiny Toad saloon.  Guys with beards and laptops sat around drinking craft beer.

I went and picked up Mariam and we drove back to the RV park and sat shivering until the space heater had the inside temperature up to the mid 50’s.  We decided we’d rest a bit and, because we had no water, we decided to go listen to some music at Diane’s restaurant and bar and have dinner.

The guitarist, who had a gray beard and wore a harmonica neck brace, was playing a Jefferson Airplane song.  It was followed by Wild Horses by the Stones.  I thought it was time for Dylan, and, like he could read my mind, he played Mr. Tambourine Man.  Our waitress was a young woman who wanted to be a jazz singer.  She wore no rouge on her cheeks.

“…play a song for me.  I’m not sleepy and I have no place I’m going to.”

But, I did have someplace I was going to…back to our camper…the one with no running water.

I was confused by the old and the new in this town that capitalized on the old and the new.

“See our old houses…see our ghosts…feel the sense of history” said the pamphlets.  But, all we found were pottery shops and jewelry counters.

We went back to the Tiny Toad to have a night-cap.  This wasn’t like the saloons in the faded pictures I saw at the museum.  Miners with their boots on the foot rail, the spittoons, the foamy mugs of beer, the pretty girls of the night at the edges of the photo, standing for a moment at the center of the attention, and then off to the fringes of the picture frame.  Like they were in life, on the edges of society, young and beautiful in their youth, but often forgotten when age or disease pushed them from the parlors of velvet to the shack on the hill.

I looked at a pair of celery stalks in a jar on the bar in front of me.  The veggies got me to thinking…

“What’ll it be today, Clem? The usual red-eye whiskey and beer?”

“Naw, Frank, I’m dusty from the trail.  Think I’ll have a Bloody Mary this morning.”

At the other end was a gum-ball machine (did I miss something by not going to Bartenders School?.)  I shrugged and ordered a real man’s drink.  I motioned for the barkeeper to approach.  I cleared my throat and boldly asked for a Hot Toddy.

CeleryOnBar

[In an old-time saloon?]

GumballMachine

[In an old-time saloon?]

As I was trying to sleep that night, I kept thinking of Nellie and her girls.  I read that Nellie was buried only about five miles from our RV park.  Were there flowers on her grave?  I thought about one of the girls who was murdered (details are unclear), but unlike the death of a prostitute (then and now) that usually went unnoticed, the girl’s sister came and claimed her body and took it home for a proper burial.  Most of the girls, I suspect, drifted away when the mines began to close in Silver City.  When they died in another boom and bust town, did anyone shed a tear for them?  I recalled reading about a madam in Cripple Creek, who, when she died, was given the largest funeral the town has ever seen.  But the thousands of others?  Those females who lived by their perfume and charm…?

Did anyone say a prayer for their poor souls?  I feel a deep sorrow for those broken-spirited, homeless, drifting, nomadic restless souls…they usually die alone.  That has to be the worst way to leave this beautiful life and this unique planet.

When we drove out of Silver City the next morning, we crossed the Continental Divide just a mile or so from town, from Nellie’s house, from the museum, from the Tiny Toad Saloon.

The Continental Divide is a geographical line.  But among the lives I had been reading about, there were divides of all kinds.  When it rains, the water flows either to one ocean or to another.  People live lives like that…anything that comes down on your soul, can make you flow one way or another.

ContinentalDivide

But, in the end, we all end up in the same ocean that contains all our collected dreams and all our collected sins and all our collected virtues.

Afterword

When the town decided that one of Nellie’s brothels was to be torn down and replaced by the new Post Office, one old-timer told Nellie: “I don’t need the mail as much as I need you.”

 

I Heard The Secrets Of The Grackle’s Song

grackle

[Image: Google search]

A short time ago, perhaps a week, maybe more, I spent a few days in Austin, Texas.  We were visiting with a gentleman, William, that I had met during a writers workshop in Westport, New York in October, 2012.  He has been a good friend and faithful follower of my blogs since I began posting them.

Austin.  The home of the long-running pbs music show, Austin City Limits, the Skylark Lounge, a great blues club, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan that stands on the banks of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River).  Arguably the most famous dance hall in Texas, The Broken Spoke, is in Austin.  It’s where I “learned” to do the Texas 2-step and when my bones and legs couldn’t keep time with the music, I could sit and sip a Lone Star beer and watch the real dudes and drug-store cowboy’s do the dance the way it should be done.  Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played this city, while virtually inventing Texas Swing music.  A statue of Willie Nelson stands outside the theater where Austin City Limits is recorded.

Austin.  A town where the hills glow violet in the setting sun.  A vermillion hue in the afternoon sky.  And, in that afternoon sky are thousands of birds.  The Grackles of Austin.

The Grackle is considered by many to be a disease-carrying bird that is a genuine pest.  Cannons have been used to keep them from clustering in various city parks.  On my first afternoon, a late afternoon, when the sky had begun to redden, I saw black objects clinging to the power lines near the exit ramp of I-35.  I could make out that they were birds…but the numbers were staggering.  I can say one thing straight away: I have never seen such flocks of these starling-like, black-hued avians roosting on power lines in my life.  When they took flight from the trees, shrubs and high wires, they would fill the air and darken the sky.  When they moved, when they were on the wing, they moved as one.  I described this sudden turn of direction in my first novel, Standing Stone, as “one shared soul.”

GracklesInWaco

[The swarming Grackles in Waco, Texas. Image: Google search]

These are birds of legend.  To a person unfamiliar with large flocks of crow-like creatures, these looked like something that was left on the cutting-room floor after Alfred Hitchcock decided he had gone too far.

Birds of Legend?

I was familiar with the real birds of legend.  The Phoenix, rising from the ashes.  The Ibis of Ancient Egypt.  The Dove of Noah.  The Eagle of American power and might.

But, the Grackle?  What legend?  What was it about this Raven-like bird that inspired such mystery and admiration…and contempt?

It seems that in the ancient days, back in the time when even dust was old, the Grackle did not make a sound…it had no call.  It was mute.  But, birds need a song to sing…to communicate a message of warning, spread the word about where water could be found…or to call to one another, to seek a mate…to make a nest…to pass on a new generation of life.  For nothing lives forever…

The Legend begins:

In Mexico, the bird were called zantes.  In Pre-Columbian times, it has been said, the mute birds began to seek a voice. They found a Sea Turtle and the zantes stole their voice from him.  They stole the archaic song of the Sea Turtle.  That was the mystical Song of the Seven Passions.  They now had their voice…their song.

800px-Zanate-Sea_turtle_artifact_icon

[Image: Google search]

For eons, they have sung this most sacred of songs.  But, to the modern ear, it sounds like a common cackle.  The sound and the name stuck…hence, the Grackle.

Annoying and obtrusive to most people these days, I found myself alone in a quiet park one afternoon.  I listened to the cackling.  I listened for the song.  It began to clarify in my head.  I could make out intonation, nuance, emotion and meaning.

I began to hear the Seven Songs of Passion.

I heard LOVE…and I thought of my childhood.  My mother, my father, my brothers, my elders, my girlfriend, my lovers, my wife.  I thought of those I never knew… never knew I really loved them, and those who I never realized, once loved me.

I heard HATE…and I thought of killing in the name of God, killing those who are different, killing those who chose to love those we don’t think they have a right to love.  I thought of those killed by others who believe in another God than the One of our birth.  I thought of the death of the spirit in a child by withholding love, by hurting their tiny hearts and bodies.  I thought of those who hate because…they hate.

I heard FEAR…and I thought of a lonely snow-covered trail in the Northern Forest and the fear that I was losing a dear friend.  I recalled a phone call, and then another, followed by yet another, telling me that a parent or sibling was near death.  I thought of the fear that a woman I loved would simply walk out the door.  I thought of the fear of abandonment and the fear of being unloved.  I thought of the fear of dying, the fear of pain, the fear of being afraid.

I heard COURAGE…and I thought of the brave who have died for their beliefs, not for a flag or a symbol, but for  human dignity and the freedom from being a slave of any kind.

I heard JOY…and I thought of how I felt when my children were born.  How I love and respect my daughter, Erin and how she and her husband, Bob are raising my grandson, Elias, to be an inquisitive and curious and kind child.  I thought of how much fun I have when I sit and have a talk with my son, Brian, who is smart, witty and has the heart as big as Texas (with New Mexico and a good deal of Utah thrown in).

I heard ANGER…and I thought of the misspoken words between a married couple, between a child and a parent, between lovers, between nations, between religions, with oneself for not being able to accomplish something creative and meaningful, lasting and full of beauty.

I heard SADNESS…and I feel a billion tears from a million people crying, at a graveside for the soul of someone they will never see or touch again, at a wedding when a father says farewell to a daughter or a son, in an office when a husband or wife hears of the loss of a spouse or child in a misbegotten war, in the heart of a student when the teacher implies he or she can’t do something, in the doorway of a family home when a parent watches their child walk away into the life of adulthood, never to be a child again.  The sadness of those losses are overwhelming.

MourningFigure

[Source: Pinterest]

I heard all these passions from the beak of that dark bird, the Grackle.  I was overwhelmed by this ability to hear these things.  It’s too much for one person to handle.  If more people just stopped and listened to the zantes, perhaps the burden would be spread out…and lighten the load for the few who stop to listen, not just to this one bird of Austin, but to all life.

WatercolorTears

[Image: Google Search]

 

 

Next Stop: Easy Street

RRStopInPararie

“Well, this is where I get off, Baby Blue.  I got a cozy little spread about a dozen miles out-of-town.”

“This don’t look like no town to me, Buzz.  The flies have taken over the ticket booth in the hole you say is the station.”

“I’m not a man for big words, Blue, but I can manage to ask you to stay for a spell.”

“You don’t look like the kind of guy a kind of girl like me can hold onto for much longer than the next time the whistle from the westbound blows.”

“You once said that I was the sort of guy who could leave his boots under your bed.”

“That was back in Little Rock.  You had a fresh bandanna on that night.  You looked like Mel Gibson without the attitude.”

“That’s sayin’ a lot, girlie.  You kept those cowpokes sweeping the boardwalk so you could keep your Gucci boots clean.  You traded those Gucci’s for a pair of J. C. Penney “cowgirl” shoes that were made in Sri Lanka.”

“We’ve both come a long way since then, Buzz, and almost all of it was rolling down a hill full of tumbleweeds and thistles.”

“You can’t keep looking back, Baby.  It only shows you where you’ve been and not where you’re goin'”

“And you want me to get more dust on my shoes down at your spread?  I’m thinking twice about that.”

“Well, don’t think twice, it’s alright.  Say, I never caught your last name, Sweet Cakes.”

“I didn’t throw it, Bronco Buster.  If you want to know who I really am, check the wall of the nearest Post Office.”

“Why? Are you the Post Master General?”

“Let’s just say I’m the Post Mistress of these here parts.”

“Dang.  And all these years I lived on my cozy little spread, I never ran into you.”

“That’s because nobody wrote you any letters, Larry.  Ya got to have friends to get and send letters.”

“Well, lick my stamps, Baby Blue, you sure are full of surprises.”

“I got one more surprise for you, Saddle Tramp, nobody licks stamps anymore.  They’re self-stick these days.”

“Well, I got one for you too, Blaze, nobody sends letters any more.  It’s all email.  Where have you been?  Out back of the stable braiding horse tails?”

The train lurched to a stop.

“One minute,” the station master yells.

Baby Blue pull her bonnet off and let her wild red tresses cascade over her slender tender shoulders.

Buzz broke out in a sweat.  He hooked his forefinger under his collar and tugged to let out the steam.  It was 106 in the shade.

“So, we’re both getting off.  But you’re goin’ thataway and I’m goin’ thisaway, so I guess it’s good-bye, said Blue.

“Good-bye is too good a word, Babe.  I’ll be seeing you around when my fan mail starts pouring into the Post Office.”

“What fan mail?  Did you go on The Bachelorette again?”

“No, the fan mail from my blog award.  This is just a big blog idea, Sweet Cake.  All this never really happened.”

She stared at him for a full two minutes.

“I think you’d better go saddle up Old Paint and ride off into the sunset, Buzz, you’ve had too much sun.”

“I can’t ride off into the sunset, Blue, I live north of here.  You wouldn’t understand.”

Two hours later, Baby Blue was sorting mail in the air-conditioned Post Office while Buzz was getting a sore bottom on a sour saddle.  He was lost in thought.  But Old Paint knew the way home, after, of course, the bathroom stop at the Organ Grinder Saloon.

“There got to be a better way to end this blog,” he thought.  “In just one of these stories, I should get the girl.”

 

 

Travels 10: The Good, The Sad and the Ugly

Venus goddess of love that you are.  Surely the things I ask can’t be too great a task.

–Frankie Avalon

I’ve just walked to the hedge of cedars and watched the sunset.  As usual, Venus is the evening star…leading us westward…like something Biblical.  Our clocks are set to Pacific Time.  We’ve crossed the Great Divide.  We’re camping for the final night in the center of Washington State, in the Columbia Basin (some might say The Palouse).  This is more prairie-like than much of what we drove through in Iowa and Nebraska.  There’s little out here.  Hardly even a grain silo.  It’s lonely and it’s empty.  At least for some people like us who drive, gas up and drive on.

In one sense, our journey is over.  But only the first half.  If you, reader, have enjoyed my posts, I’m happy.  If you didn’t, I’m not so happy.  What I’m really happy about now is getting out of the car for a week or so, or sleeping somewhere different from the tiny space we’ve been using.  No, it’s to hold my grandson, Elias…hug my daughter, Erin and embrace my son-in-law, Bob.  And not doing this after being picked up at the Sea-Tac Airport.  I also wanted to do this under my own steam as it were.

What did I see?  What did I learn?  What was the sum of my experiences thus far?  Remember, I still have to drive back home…more posts from different places.

I met people who didn’t care where you came from…they saw only fellow travelers.  I’ll always be grateful to the man who got us out of a serious jam (and I mean jam) in Stroudsburg, PA.  I felt somehow connected with a drifter only a few days along on the highway.  The wind on the plains blew me off my feet.  The rain fell like a monsoon in Valentine, Nebraska.  A pretty blue-eyed woman struck up a conservation in a town she probably never left, growing up in a house under trees that sheltered her from the intense heat and glare of the rolling prairie.  I was caught by an early winter snowstorm in Bozeman, MT and was forced to stay an extra night.  Next to a spa that had nine heated pools.  I simply had to spend hours in those pools waiting for the snow to stop.

I was locked out of the greatest National Parks of the west.  I couldn’t show Mariam Old Faithful.  The Grand Tetons.  The awesome National Forests…all closed due to the insane demands of the Tea Party.  (That was the ugly part…that was my karmic luck to be out here when the “Shutdown” happened.

Just today I met a young woman.  She ran the register at a gas station in the middle of a gentle pasture that went on for a thousand miles.  She was ebullient.  But she had many reasons not to be.  We spoke.  She had three children she can’t see.  She had been in three psychiatric institutes after three suicide attempts.  She had bad, really bad luck with men.  Yet, she laughed and smiled and spoke freely of her troubles.  (Her main man now was Jesus).  I’m not much of a praying guy, but I muttered a prayer for her continued joy in her otherwise joyless world.

Today, the last full day of driving, I saw three mounted cowboys a half-mile from the Interstate.  They were rounding up about fifty head of cattle.  If I ever come through these parts again, I hope their sons and daughters are still in the saddle.

I have no illusions about this trip.  It was too fast.  I didn’t see everything and talk to everyone.  And I didn’t do what a million others have done before me.  Sitting for hours in a car made my leg as painful as I can remember, but I would do it all over again.

This is one amazing, large and wonderful country I was lucky enough to be born in.  I’m not saying America is the fairest and most just land on the planet, but we’ve all tried, haven’t we?  Lewis & Clark wouldn’t know a Red State from a Blue State..but they had formidable courage to explore.

Let’s not stop exploring.  Let’s not lose sight of that Evening Star…the goddess of love.

Something of a photo gallery:

I’m no herpetologist, but I’m pretty sure this is a rattlesnake:

Image

Some forgotten rancher broke sod with this:

Image

Seen alongside the highway.  Lost?  Forgotten?  Thrown out?  The tiny photo on the right ear piece…the owner or a logo?

Image

The obligatory sunset picture:

Image

Happy Trails, friends…and now to watch a Grade B Cowboy Movie “Massacre Time.”