How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part One



"On reflection, what has raised me is not the truth but the road."  --Ko Un


UPS finally brought my iPod. 

I left it in our motel room in Pocatello, Idaho.  I just put in the earbuds to listen to music while I write this.  I borrowed them from my daughter because I broke the headphone cable on my Bose headphones in Colorado.  It was during the apocalyptic fires, though we were safe in Aspen--and all the locals kept telling me, "We're going to burn."  Ah.  Nine Inch Nails just picked up in the middle of shrieking: "Will you bite the hand that feeds you?"  Right where I turned the unit off and dropped it beside the bed after about 6,500 miles or so of road trip.  Then put ice the cooler and drove away.

We were driving toward Wyoming, and our daughter started freaking out in the back seat because she had lost her sweater.  I was all Philosophical Dad in the 104 degree heat, gazing upon slaughtered fields of deadness all around.  I started to recount the story of how I once forgot my iPod in a hotel room and, well, doggone it, you just have to let things go.  They're only things.  And.... "I left my iPod in the Best Western," I said.  "So, uh, you don't see me freaking out about it! DO YOU?"  Go, Dad.  I was freaking out on the inside, ha ha. I was the Big Loser: I had earlier lost my prescription sunglasses in Disneyland.

Fortunately, we stopped in a pioneer museum that re-enacted the travails of the Oregon Trail. I loved it, especially the ride in a covered wagon.  Upstairs, Bigfoot  lurked among fake pine trees.  They had cabinets of Bigfoot footprint castings and video loops of the Squatch walking through the woods.  Recordings of his howls cool enough to prickle up your skin a little.   I bought a plaster foot casting.  The best souvenir, ever.  It's beside me now.

Frankly, it pains me to write anything at all.  I made believe for a few thousand miles that I wasn't any kind of author.  Maybe a Debbie's Snack Cakes delivery guy.  Got home and hid out.  Can't bear to look at e-mail, texts, FB messages, Tweets.  Refuse to answer the ringing phone.  However, after socializing with more famous authors than would fit in a school bus, we ventured back out to Anderson's Bookstore just yesterday to say hello to Robert Goolrick, touring with his new book.  It was a kind of afterword to our epic summer story.


Note to Team Juan and all the kind readers who have followed my big brother's travails (see last blog): he fought back from the brink.  He is recovering at home.  I don't know what the future holds, but if there are miracles, perhaps this is one.  If you call Juan today, he sounds like he was never sick.  My carnal is a bad-ass: he beat cancer like a bad dog and sent it squealing into the alley.  I am...stunned.


Early June, we headed west.  I had some things lined up, as I always do.  What I think I'll line up one day soon is vanishing into a mountain valley where I'll put out food for the elk and grow carrots. 

I had the Aspen Writers workshops followed by their Global Story Summit, followed by San Diego's all-city-read celebration for INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH, followed by Fishtrap's 25th anniversary in Oregon, followed by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction conference in Dallas.  Stuff like that.  With 12 year old Chayo in the back.  And planned stops in Denver, and Zion and Bryce and Disney and Portland and whatever else we could fit in.  The big kids could not make it, being all adult now and busy.  And, frankly, the awe of seeing national parks had worn off--at least for our college gal.  Chayo didn't mind--turned out, she liked being the star of the car.

First, to Iowa City, where we had a dinner date with my lecture agent, Trinity Ray and his Family Stone.  Big love and gorgeous B&B and lots of neighborhood cats and coffee-crusted pork.  Then, across Nebraska.  Across and across and across Nebraska.  Chayo proved she will be a great author one day by defining Nebraska thus:




Gothenberg, NE.  Sweet folks there, good grub in the Ran Dazzle restaurant.  The drought broke for one hour.  Good hard rain.  Tornado clouds.  Donkeys across the way from the motel let the sky know what they thought of that.  I could hear the guy in the next room peeing as though the toilet was in our closet.

Twilight Zone moment  the next morning, when we went for breakfast and walked into a diner that was behind some road work--machines and road cuts and piles of dirt and abandoned pick-ups.  We stood in the gloom.  Nobody in there, but the tables were all set.   No sound.  Nobody at the register.  Nothing. "Hello?"  we called.  Silence.  "Uh...hello?"  Like the Rapture had finally happened.  We hurried out and rushed back to the safety of Ran Dazzle.

Then, we were lucky enough to visit the pioneer museum in its red barn.  Mrs. Seuss ("Like the doctor") gave us the history tour.  I will write more about her one day.  I was in love.  She had clear bags full of water hanging in the doorways.  When we asked why, she told us it made the flies nervous.  Later, she confessed that she was still mad at Willa Cather.  Apparently, Willa did science experiments on live animals in her basement.  "Willa makes me want to puke," noted Mrs. Seuss.

Outside, the soddy stood in its shaggy whitewashed glory.  Inside, the bed seemed ready for a pioneer.  The kindling box was still full...of dried buffalo crap, ready to burn.  Pans and a gun on the walls, spiders enjoying the free rent.  In the field, the settler had made a life-size buffalo bull out of 4 1/2 miles of old barbed wire.  Then he added an Indian warrior on his horse using 6 more miles of wire.

An outlaw biker waited for us in the barn and pointed out on a map all the best places to see wagon ruts along the Oregon Trail, then he roared off on his black Harley.


It only took the lifespan of a housecat to get to Colorado. 

Here's the thing about driving an Escape Hybrid in 105 degree drought: the a.c. barely works and shuts down completely when you slow down.  You grow delirious in your suffering and believe somehow that if you can get it up to 90, the cool air will flow.  It just makes the boiling steam drop about a third of a degree.

Fort Collins was burning, and the smoke went all down the Front Range.  We got to our friends' rancho in Castle Rock and crawled inside and rested.  Donkeys, chickens, dogs, barn cats, a bull.  The bear in their woods had run across the pasture right before we arrived, and according to the dog and cat hysteria at night, was laying siege to the house in the dark.  You had to duck at the bird feeders on their back deck because the hummingbirds were dive-bombing everybody, including butterflies.  They were in no mood for guff.

I wrote this in my journal: "I am a magpie."

Benjamin Percy e-mailed me to ask if he needed to bring fancy clothes to Aspen.  I told him I was bringing some because I was getting an award.  He answered: "Pussy."  I couldn't figure out if this was funny.


We left Chayo to collect eggs, feed cattle, learn Reflexology and help babysit grand-kids while we drove on, Cinderella and me, to fair Aspen.  I-70 was shocking to me after these few years away: the forest was dead.  Miles and miles of dead lodgepole pines, standing gray and dry and waiting for a lightning strike to annihilate the entire Continental Divide.  No snow on the peaks.  The end of the world right there above the fast lane.  Odd sight:  Maw and Paw in twin rusted-out '63 Volvos grinding slowly up the Rockies.

We took the cut-off to go up to Independence Pass, and passed through one of my favorite towns, Leadville.  LEADVILLE--THE GOOD LIFE AT 10,000 FEET.  Elk in the road. Up, up, up and over and into Aspen.

We crept into the Aspen Institute condos like spies.  Authors were everywhere--it was a name-drop bombing range. Daniel Alarcon, Gioconda Belli, Darrell Bourque, Edwidge Danticat, Andrew Greer, Randall Keenan, Ben Percy, Mona Simpson, et al.  Francisco Goldman showed up.  Edwidge and I received the Aspen Literary Awards.  Yes, I am The King.  Just like Elvis.  I'ma get a white jump-suit.  XXL, but with a nifty giant gold TCB belt.

I taught a happy workshop for a week.  Eleanor Brown came to town on book tour.  We hung out with her, too.  I dreamed Cindy had a job as a barrista at Starbucks.

Wrote tiny poems:

"spent my years

speaking seductions

to dragonflies"


"kicked a bone

watched the ghost gallop"


One night, at dinner w Darrell and Karen Bourque, I ordered stew.  It was about 92 degrees.  The waiter shouted:  "Stew!  What is it, snowing?"

--Here endeth Chapter One.--

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