Tag Archives: Kemmerer

Out of Hibernation

The sun has come out, briefly. Its light bounces rainbow colors off of the heavy frost that lingers at mid-morning. The snow has left all but the shadiest spots and green grass shoots cower flatly on the still cold ground. It’s not over – yet. Winter holds on as the temperature hovers around 30 degrees and a brisk wind shifts the shivering branches on the trees.
“It feels like Wyoming.” I converse with our mutt as we walk around the block. “Let’s get back home and warm up.” He seems to understand and agree since he doesn’t even look toward the long route we usually take.
I’ve come to enjoy winter less and less. I appreciate the change of season, understanding the need for winter’s sleep, but I can’t recall the last time I felt the childlike excitement in seeing the snowfall. Maybe I know my frosty foibles too well – the thump of pain and humiliation as I fall on the ice; the ache of joints and muscles from what seems like endless shovel loads of snow tossed off the walks and drive; most likely what dampens my enthusiasm is the inability to warm up after even the slightest chill – the cold sticks to my bones.
Winter walloped us this year. I can’t say that I blame him since he has been rather silent for a while. I hesitate to complain too much, relative to the winters I experienced in Wyoming, this has been only average, and fortunately, not nearly as cold. Reports from home have come in with ambient air temperatures way down to minus 20 and that is WITHOUT wind chill factored in! Old Man Winter knows how to consistently sock it to Wyoming.
Winter proves that you have to be strong to reside in Wyoming, physically and mentally. A new local friend spent a week hunting with my husband near Kemmerer in late September. When he returned he commented, “No-one is soft out there.” I agree, Wyoming people are tough and strong, but I’ve never encountered kinder hearts. I think that’s the only way that everyone stays warm.
For the past three months I’ve cowered from the winter like the grasses laying low. I cocooned myself in a blanket by the fireplace and stopped. Maybe it’s better said that I’ve been in hibernation, popping out rarely and only as needed. In that time I’ve allowed something worse than physical hibernation to transpire. The bout with winter turned into total mental stagnation – brain freeze. The imaginative production of words slowed down around Halloween, and finally froze up solid sometime in early December – frustrating.
But the sun has come out again. I am like a grumbling bear waking up, (still a bit foggy from the drowse.) Rubbing my eyes, seeing the light, I brace myself against the still sharp chill. I reach inside for the warm heart of the tough Wyoming girl to awaken. Like the daffodils beginning to reach up out of the soil I need to stretch up to the light. I see the trees have fuzzy buds – I know that West Virginia winter won’t go on much longer. I thaw the ice from my stored ideas and go out into the world of words again.

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Looking at the Leap

We’ve all experienced it, the “holy crap” moment when we finally let loose and take a leap of faith. Maybe it was when you finally popped the marital question, or said “yes” to the same. Likely it was the day that you decided (or found out) that a baby was on the way. Buying a house, quitting or starting a job – they are all leaps into the unknown, and so we jump breathlessly into the abyss.

My husband and I took the most outrageous leap of faith when we set out to remodel our house. It started nearly the moment we moved in. The major tasks complete, buried in boxes, the kids asleep, I stood in the doorway to the master bathroom and looked. I was hit hard with the reality, (buyer’s remorse?) of the condition of our newly acquired home. The outdated cabinet falling apart under linoleum countertop left unfinished on the ends, toilet and shower smashed together on one end with nary a hair between, the shower door dangling open showing peeling paint and broken tile within. I broke down sobbing, braced within the doorframe, I couldn’t move. Certainly this breakdown was an exhausted coalescence of closing on a mortgage, packing and moving our boxes of belongings, and keeping the kids present and accounted for in school. Or maybe it was a peek into a proximate madness. My husband’s gentle arms wrapped around me, “I’ll make it beautiful for you, you’ll see.” He assured. I took a deep breath and let loose the doorway. So we planned, researched, strategized, and searched the stars and the gut to determine when to jump.

For nearly a year we stood on the precipice curling and stretching our toes over the edge, poking our noses out just far enough to peer into the deep crevasse, and would pull back – “Not yet.” But ours was not to be a calculated leap; we were forced off the edge by Mother Nature. A winter storm that froze the house solid resulting in damage to the heating system and subsequently to the walls propelled us into the uncharted depths of a DIY remodel so extensive it took nearly half a generation to complete.

So I take a new leap into a chronicle (not chronological) of the endeavor. I look back and find catharsis in seeing the project as an assemblage of humorous sketches in the taking apart and putting together of a place called home.

Kemmerer’s Music Festival – Oyster Ridge

Are you looking for a barrel of fun for the weekend? Not much money? Need a break where you can be yourself and feel perfectly comfortable? If you are in or near southwest Wyoming the Oyster Ridge Music Festival http://www.oysterridgemusicfestival.com/index.html is the place for you beginning Friday, July 26. This weekend marks the 20th year of the festival that swells the host area to nearly twice its population and gives the music lover an opportunity to sample the up-and-comers of  bluegrass, folk, blues, country and rock – most of it a mish-mash of many combined styles – musical bliss and it’s free!

Early on the going got pretty rough for the free music festival. The little town of Kemmerer, Wyoming is a sleepy haven of coal miners and ranchers speckled with a smattering of public service and government workers; not folks that typically engage in social musical entertainment. I recall driving by the Triangle Park in the late ‘90s, knowing that the music festival was in “high gear” with nary a soul in sight, the lonely band on the stage singing into the empty space. I looked on feeling sad and guilty, sad that yet another local celebration seemed to be dying before my eyes and guilt that I wasn’t contributing with my presence. I returned home after some errands to announce to my husband that we should be in the park supporting the musicians and the community.

“Maybe next year.” He said and went on with the work at hand.

“There might not BE a next year!” I retorted with some desperation.

Lucky for us there was a next year. We spread a large quilt on the grass of the park and positioned the family around to partake of the music. We delighted in the entertainment as we whiled away a Saturday in the summer sun. By evening everyone was up dancing barefoot in front of the bandstand. We went home with dirty feet and singing souls . . . we were hooked.

In the following years, we dropped all projects and plans so that we could wallow in the “Oystergrass”. It wasn’t long and we were volunteering, my husband at the beer booth and me at an information booth. When family came to visit we would drag them along drawing them into the musical revelry. Over the years we eagerly awaited ORMF saving back vacation days to fully enjoy the three days of music and merriment in the park – with an extra day off to recover on Monday. We watched as former residents would return for the community celebration, and always delighted in the many friends that gathered together over blankets and beer.

I brought Oystergrass to West Virginia with me on a bumper sticker that went the way of the dodo when my car was rear-ended several months ago. (Heidi, I need a new bumper sticker!) I also found a way to reuse those music festival t-shirts that had become ragged around the edges from so much wear – pillows. Leaving behind the people of Kemmerer and especially the Oyster Ridge Music Festival was more difficult than I could have imagined. There is a big blank space in my calendar for this coming weekend, an emptiness that I long to refill. Hopefully next year I can revisit and revive, but until then I will need to get by on the spirit of Oystergrass that I brought in my heart, the friendly spirit that gathering around music can bring. I hope to sprinkle it around the neighborhood a little and watch it grow.

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Sights and sounds of ORMF: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GT7sXYiO9Bk

A Prayer for the Farmers

Saturday morning dawned clear and pleasant, a lovely day to do something outside. I dragged my husband out of bed early to experience the local farmer’s market. He was more enthusiastic than I anticipated, likely due to the two large cups of coffee that had been delivered to him hot and strong while he sat in bed.

On arrival to the marketplace, we wandered like lost sheep through the multiple vendors. As neophytes to the experience, we were overwhelmed by a sea of color and choices. Even this early in the season, the stands provided a bounty beyond expectation. Upon the tables were spread multiple varieties of leafy greens, onions, beans, and herbs in overflowing piles. It took us over an hour just to decide on a course of action, which was the proposed menu for the next few days as well as the list of fresh edibles to build the entrees.

Farmer’s markets are not uncommon in the west, but you will not find one in Kemmerer, Wyoming. The growing season there seldom goes beyond about 30 days, which is the average of frost-free days in the area, and the main reason that the primary farming that goes on around Kemmerer is of livestock. Livestock farming can be moderately successful barring any “unusual” circumstances of weather or disease or market fluctuation which are all too common. The ever-burdened timeworn look of the Kemmerer rancher is deeply chiseled into my memory. These men and women, truly Jacks and Jills-of-all-trades, were the backbone of every aspect of their operation from before sun-up until well after sun-down every day of the year. I didn’t know of a rancher who rested (unless under anesthesia) and vacations were all but unheard of. They poured their very soul into the ranch – it wasn’t just a place or an occupation, it was their life.

I worked with the Kemmerer ranchers for over 13 years and I truly miss these denizens of the range. They would come into the office briefly, usually under great difficulty of time or disposition, to manage paperwork and accounts. Sometimes (rarely) they would stay for a bit and discuss matters other than concerns with business. Most often they would meander in, pay a bill, grumble a little about the weather or costs or changes, notice that their cow dog was now ¼ mile down the road, and hasten off leaving but a puff of range dust where they once stood.

One particularly poignant memory is the good-bye from a rancher who was not only a community fixture, but also someone who was more of a “regular” in our office.

“So, what do you think you’ll do when you leave this place?” He softly questioned while sharing a gentle hug.

“I was thinking about doing some writing.”

“Well, don’t you forget about us, OK?”

Saturday I looked into the eyes of the market farmer and didn’t see the red from the western dust and sun, or the wrinkles from worry, or the hunched shoulders from years on the back of a horse. I saw a robust man with a round-cheeked smile and thought of how I hoped his years on the farm were showing in the glow on his face. He helped me remember, so I said a prayer for all farmers that this year would bring them something to smile about.

Rain

It didn’t rain yesterday. This is only notable because it had rained for the previous ten days; some days more, some less, but rain all the same. Having come from the water-starved west, I rejoice at the rain while missing the blue sky and sunshine. In other words, I’m still getting used to it.

Getting in the groove of a wetter climate has been a bit of a stretch for our family. It was most evident much earlier this season when we planted new grass seed and shrubs. We dutifully watered every day to “establish” the new plantings. Our neighbors would walk by the house watching our antics in amused curiosity. Of course, our activity all stems from past experience. Back in Kemmerer, Wyoming we would have never neglected to water the lawn. (Item number 2 on the “Never” list.)

My husband has done better at adjusting to the weather than I have. Our patio conversation from a month ago confirms –

“We should water the lawn.” I stated while nervously shifting in my patio chair.
“No, it’s gonna rain.” He responded.
“We’ll at least my roses, they’re wilting.”
“No, it’s gonna rain.”
“There’s not a cloud.”
“Sit down, it’s gonna rain.”
“No way.” I remarked confidently.

By the next day at noon almost ½” of rain had fallen.

So I’ve worked very hard at restraining myself from the daily watering addiction. The garden hose has stayed rolled up on the keeper with the exception of a couple brief moments when I used it for the flower pots on the porch instead of hauling a watering can around. I don’t know if this was out of convenience or the melancholy of walking by the lonely looking garden hose every day.

However, I haven’t even looked at the garden hose for the past two weeks. Our unofficial rain gauge, tea light holders on the patio, have filled to about an inch and been dumped out three times in that period. Three inches of rain is impressive to this Wyoming girl. I came to West Virginia quite unaware of the precipitation. My ignorance was demonstrated when I recently remarked to my spouse, “well at least it’s not as wet here as in Seattle.” WRONG – upon brief research the truth was revealed that Morgantown is wetter than Seattle – MUCH wetter. Morgantown averages almost ten inches per year more rain than Seattle, Washington.  I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut on “intelligent” climate remarks to my spouse since it’s causing him to believe that he is often right.

Remarks on the extensive gloom and rain were a brief topic in my Father’s Day chat with dad. I lamented on the grey sky and tempered the woe with light-hearted discussion of the many beautiful blooms that we have been graced with. He listened patiently, interjecting a knowing “yes” and “you don’t say” every so often to be gracious. He eventually wearied of my doleful conversation and cleverly concluded the subject with the following:

Dad, “You know the old-timers have a name for the weather you’re describing, don’t you?”

Me, “Really, what’s that?”

Dad, “Spring.”