Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moved to New Blog!

I have moved to Canada for the summer, please check out my new blog Oh! Canadian Cowgirl

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Morning Swim

I woke up around 6am and decided to go swimming in the cool morning air. The bullock’s orioles where nice to hear and see, they had nests in the cottonwood trees surrounding the pools. A western wood pewee was screaming his heart out nearby and several robins were perched. I talked to an older lady with knee trouble, then floated around the large cooler pool with a floaty and listened in on a Swiss German conversation between three very fit looking older people.

I went to shower off the algae from the natural water, but the water wouldn’t turn on! I wrapped a towel around myself and stepped outside. A man came out of the shower room next to mine and I asked him how the shower worked. He laughed and said I needed quarters, and he dug in his bag chatting in a heavy French accent from Canada, and gave me 50 cents for a 5 minute shower. I’m glad I had two quarters, because the water stopped at a time when I had soap everywhere, and with slippery hands I put the next quarter in. The little box hummed and my water came back. It brought up a good memory of an apartment that brown eyes and I had in Bonn, Germany were we had to pay for the shower in the basement of the building. The country just switched over to Euros, but the shower still took Deutschmarks. I kept asking brown eyes why we couldn't shower, and he said I had to wait. Then his landlord came one day with a huge bag of Deutschmarks from the shower and he gave him money for them.

Ayla and I later headed to Worland and ended up staying the night in a campground so I could use their internet. I don't like library summer hours, they close at noon, and I depend on them so much. The lady who runs the Worland Campground is so nice and takes good care of the place, and extreme opposite of that place in Lusk. The bathroom is so cute even with the gilded mirrors. More tourist families were excited to talk with me, it always starts like (sometimes them speaking in unison)...
"Hi, We are the Smith family from Ohio!" Big smiles all around, a few pets to my dog.
I say, "Let me guess, are you on your way to Yellowstone?"
"Yes, how did you know?"

Then I tell them about the bear and lightning deaths and they leave me alone :) or invite me to have hotdogs and beer with them as they tell me the exciting time they had at Mt. Rushmore. Tonight there was a guy I could tell was from Germany alone at the sight next to mine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thermolopolis Hot Springs

I woke up early, had a pop-tart and followed and elk trail to my point for over a kilometer. I was so high up in elevation in the mountains that I heard some olive-sided flycatchers. The fallen trees were extremely thick and hard to climb over all day.

I decided to take Ayla to the vet in Thermolopolis after finishing my bird point, she needed her shots to go to Canada. The vet there helped out so much when she was sick over a week earlier. I drove over some of the hottest land in Wyoming, much of it covered in oil wells, and Ayla dealt with the heat with pants and by hanging her head out the window. When I got to the vets office, I was told that he just left on vacation to Alaska. So the dog and I got a campsite nearby with the “largest hot spring in the world” they advertise at the Fountain of Youth Campground. I had visions of getting a lot of work done with my laptop, I had a plug in for it. Ayla and I made a trip down to the river and she swam just offshore for a little while, I had a hold of her leash so she wouldn’t be swept downstream. Then I tied her to a picnic table with a bowl of water while I went swimming in my brown polka dot bikini in the giant pool that felt like a hot tube. She barked in protest from the table, telling me she wanted to swim too. Dog aren’t allowed in a lot of places though, and she pictured the water being cool I’m sure, not hot. I got out and put on my t-shirt and new cut off jean shorts that I made when I couldn’t find a decent place to buy shorts in town.

Being in a social mood, I ended up talking to several people on the phone, then talked to another camper for a while. She had rented one of those “Cruise Across America” RVs and said she was on her way to Meeteetse with her young son, she grew up there. We mostly talked about bears and mountain lions, she was more scared of mountain lions having grown up around the bears. Then I had a beer with another camper, as we built a fire with the free wood I still had from the game warden out north of Cody. This camper is a former marine, and has been working down here with dinosaur bones for a few weeks before he heads back to med school in Montana. He talked about being stationed in Japan as a medic mostly. He had a German Shepard who was scared of my dog as she kept barking, her tail between her legs. It was late, I crawled in my tent instead of my car, because the nights thunder clouds were already broken up and I could see the almost full moon through my tent mesh.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Dog Barf

I woke up to the hum of a street sweeper, but it wasn’t a bad night staying in the city park by the flooded river in Douglas, WY. The dog and I slowly got up, and I was determined to go swimming today. I checked by the pool though and they didn’t open until noon, so we went on a few river paths, and visited a veteran memorial. I decided to go to the library to get caught up on a lot of work and my blog. I never can spend much time in the library now because I’m worried about leaving Ayla in the car.

I parked in the shade and rolled her window down the whole way and cracked the other a few inches. I wasn’t gone too long when I came back to check on her…she was in the back seat. I knew something was up and let her out of the car and could smell throw up. I chose to ignore the smell for the moment as we went on a long walk around the city, she was certainly sick again, and I was heartbroken for her. I tied her in the shade and took out my makeup remover wipes to deal with the throw up all over the front two seats. It could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t made up mostly of the Iams dry food that I gave her the night before. My car smelled like throw up though, I needed to shampoo my seats. She looked at me with sad sick eyes and I wished I had a house that I could leave her at until she felt better.

The chamber of commerce told me to go to the Ford dealership, which was the only place I could get my seat shampooed in town. It was too expensive though for a broke biologist, $50. I can still remember when money wasn’t an issue a few months ago at my past corporate job, but somehow I seem a lot happier in Wyoming. A sales man got a hold of me, which led me to ask I could trade my Nissan Versa for a 2003 Chevy Silverado truck. He started up the paperwork, and said he would call back in a few days if they found a lender willing to give me a loan. He was the nicest sales man ever, and didn’t even cringe when Ayla threw up water right next to his feet. He talked to me for a long time about the bald eagles down by the river and about how exciting my wildlife job is.

I later drove out to Lusk, WY (somewhere near Kansas) for the night and now have my laptop plugged into an RV hookup. The campground here is not so nice. All the bathrooms were locked and I rang the doorbell hoping the person who owned the car out front from South Dakota would answer, and she did. She doesn’t run the place but rents an apartment above the office. She helped me unlock the bathrooms, and mentioned that the owner was out of town. I was so pissed that I set up my tent on an RV space for the electricity. Trust me, no one will want to fill it, this place is empty.

Ayla is looking so sick and sad, I didn’t even bother tying her up to some pole. She went in my tent for a few minutes then laid down under my feet at the picnic table, where she still is. I keep saying encouraging words to her and her tail wags a little every time. She hardly touched her water, which worries me, I will try some more dry food. The lark buntings are going crazy out in the “prairie” behind me, and coal trains from Gillette keep chugging through headed east at just enough distance to not be annoying. Each open car is filled with the exact same amount of the black energy in a mountainous pile, the one going by now has hundreds of train cars of coal attached, the same amount of energy as a couple of pieces of small uranium that could be held in a gloved hand.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#@%&*! Wind

The wind tried to blow my tent over with me in it this morning, and I didn’t sleep much last night. A lightning storm came in late, a pink cloud full of electricity and lightning but not enough thunder it seemed. I had a hard time finding my flashlight I was so disoriented, and Ayla didn’t want to get out of the tent. We finally made it to the car and she laid down in the front passenger seat with a sigh, her snout over her paws. I was so tired that I didn’t even unroll the blanket over me that I pulled out of the tent or put the pillow behind my head, I was out quick. When I woke up in the morning light, the sky was clear, but the wind was strong and crazy. I tried to get as much sleep as possible in the tent, with the rain fly flapping wildly, and the whole thing lifting up around me.

I started cursing when I tried to take down my tent in the wind, I'm sure no one could hear me over the its loud lion like roar. I noticed a boy hiding behind one of my juniper bushes, spying on me. I yelled at him for being rude and he ran, but not far, and was still watching me. Creepy kid! My dog saw him soon after me, and she kept looking at me telling me that we were being watched.

I got out of there as quick as I could, and headed to Douglas to try to organize myself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Fresh Grizzly Bear Track

I was out on the ranch early, and soon discovered that I had an access issue. I talked to an oil man headed in to work on another the ranch I didn't have access to and he showed me which fence lines separated the properties. I had to walk 3 kilometers to get to my bird points without being shot at. It would have been a short stroll across the other land down the private road, but even when no one could see me I was trying to follow the rules. I parked my car, and Ayla was mad at being left behind again, so she wouldn't scare the birds. I left all the windows down for her and put shade in the windows, and a water bowl on my seat. I started my long hike in over sage covered hills.

I hate it when ranchers don't label their fences, because I don't know whose land I am on. It was a struggle today. A large group of elk spotted me and several cows and babies ran from me for miles, they were so sure I was stalking them. One brave cow was the lookout. She would run back to were I was and would let me know she was there as she stared at me and made noise, then she would talk to her friends and report I was still following them, they were all sure I wanted to eat their babies like everything else in Wyoming. This went on until they crossed the fast rough Meeteeste Creek to the other side and I passed them. They stared at me from a hill above the creek, talking among themselves in elk mews and barks.

Exhausted, I arrived at my first bird point, which was easy, then realized the next point was across the creek. I walked along the creek forever to find a good crossing spot, but the fresh melted snow made it a wild bubbling river that was too fast and wide to cross. I finished the few points on my side of the creeks and then gave up when I found the fresh grizzly bear track. The rancher had warned me that he had seen a mama with two cubs and a single male down in his creek. Here was the proof, so fresh a chill went down my spine. I was being loud and noisy, but this track looked like it was following me, my track next to it, I didn't see the track on the way in. There were so many willows the bear could be hidden anywhere. I went the other way, and headed up into the open sage, as if being in an open place could protect me with just my bear spray.

I then cheated and walked a few meters to the main private oil road instead of over rough terrain for miles. I walked up the long winding dirt road for over an hour with the sun beating down on me, I didn't bring water, I wasn't use to it being so hot. I worried about my dog and told myself that was the last time I would keep her in the car like that. I kept picturing her dead from heat exhaustion which made me walk as quickly as possible. Several oil men passed me, leaving a cloud of dust for me to breath. They weren't so helpful and friendly like the man in charge I met in the morning. I really wanted one of them to give me a ride to my car, but they didn't even slow down. They weren't even curious why a woman was walking so far from anything in the heat! When I made it to my car, Ayla was cool and fine, the car had a nice breeze and she wasn't hot. She barked at a few cows on the way out. A bull stood in the middle of the road and challenged me, I stayed on the other side of the cattle guard and honked my horn, no luck. A cow walked by and smelled too good to him, he left the road to chase her. I sped by the love scene grateful that she came by.

My next point was in Saratoga, WY, which was across the state! I stopped in Thermolopolis determined to go swimming in the warm pools on such a hot day. Ayla was acting weird, and very anxious to get out. I told her to wait, I was looking for my camera. When we finally walked out of the car I got an email on my blackberry which captured my full concentration. I started to reply as we stood there, she was dancing with impatience then she got really sick, so sick that it scared me, blood was involved. I was crying as I took her into the vet office, and they assured me it was because she had a change in diet. The vet gave her a shot of penicillin and gave me some mild dog food to feed her. I didn't know what she use to eat, who knew that new food would cause such serious problems for a dog.

I drove for hours, the prettiest spot being some kind of reservoir made up of the Shoshoni River. I drove through Rawlings around sunset. It was ugly, and there were signs for a jail and a state prison. I stopped at a Pamida, some kind of state wide store filling the need of a Walmart with cheap stuff in it, for a can opener to open the dog food. We then continued on to Saratoga. It was dark, and since I had been talking to my boyfriend on the phone for hours, I almost ended up in a flooded river, stopping just short of the water that covered the road that led to the campground.

I went to town and asked where to camp at a Kum and Go gas station. It was now so late and so dark, I could barely see as I drove around the lake he recommended. I set up camp, and we both collapsed in a deep sleep from the tiring day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Real Cowboy

Sleep is priceless, and the sound sleep that I can get in a dry cabin is the best. I woke up kind of late to the sound of a text message. I turned on the TV, just because I could, and got up slowly. My boss would be stressed out if he knew I wasn’t working today, but sometimes I just need a break from this exhausting job. The boundaries between working and free time are so blurred, and there is never a full day off that I can enjoy. I am always driving to the next point, setting up camp, calling landowners to access their land, work never ends. There isn’t a house I can go to escape work.

The people in the cabin next to mine were fighting. He later introduced himself as being from New York, it was around 7:30 and he had a beer in his hand as him and his son walked around the RV park. The kid loved my dog, and my dog loved them, cuddling up to them and getting as much attention as she could. Their van broke down and they couldn’t go back to New York yet after their week long vacation at Yellowstone.

I put my wet laundry back in the dryer, because I still have wet clothes in my trunk from last week when they didn’t dry all the way. Took the dog for a walk and fed her while I packed up. Ayla was on my front porch eating when the owner drove by in her golf cart, she couldn’t help but stop and pet my dog again. We talked for a while and I learned that she lived in Saudi Arabia for a long time while her parents worked as teachers for the oil company. She also had a cabin near Sunlite on the very street that I struggled with to find a way to my point the day before. She was going to take the day off and head to Yellowstone, she had never been. I said I would join her, but my boss would freak if I took another day off from work.

Ayla and I got in the car and headed to Meeteetse, WY. I put my cowboy boots on, it was time to drive out to the ranch and talk to the rancher in person to see if I could do my bird points on his land. I drove forever down his road, through cattle standing around on his land. His property was nicely marked with his name, and I was nervous when I walked up to the beautiful log cabin mansion at the end of his road. I rang the doorbell, and almost gave up until he came out of the garage. He was one of the nicest guys I’ve meet and we talked awhile about what I was doing, and where he has seen bears on his property. He warned me of a few down by the river, and I went on my way.

I camped at the Oasis campground right in town. I set up my tent in the back by some shady trees, then left Ayla in my car while I walked down to the local bar to have a beer. There were a few old crusty cowboys sitting alone in different corners of the Cowboy Saloon, a historic place that has been there since the late 1800s. I ordered a beer and looked around for someone to talk to, and eventually started talking to a 37 year old cowboy a few seats down the bar from me. He just moved to town a few weeks ago and was working out at the largest ranch in Wyoming he told me. He said he had been a cowboy his whole life since he was 14, and has worked in all the cow states of Kansas, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. He was wearing a pair of wranglers covered in mud or cow shit, a cowboy vest that looked like gray felt, a beat up black cowboy hat, and a pair of boots that have seen a lot of miles riding horses and tending cows. I told him I was a bird biologist and just like everyone else, he asked me about a bird he saw. This was black and white; it looked like a skunk and had orange on top. He saw it on a fence post near a creek with cottonwood trees in Montana a few weeks ago. I thought maybe a black-throated gray warbler, from the size he indicated from his hands, but wasn’t sure.

His phone rang out a country song from his pocket, I was too tipsy to remember which one. He picked it up and started talking about his new job to an old buddy, mentioning the other cowboys that he had to bunk with only during calving season, and how he liked Wyoming. He hung it up, and said he hated cell phones and didn’t know why he had one. He ordered another beer offering me one, but two is enough so I declined. I ordered water, and proving how tipsy I was off my two beers I accidentally spilled it all over the counter trying to pick it up. I got a chuckle from the cowboy on my left who started talking to me soon after, and the older cowboy in the corner laughed silently to himself again, he kept doing that.

The one next to me agreed that two beers was enough for me as he chugged what must have been number four or five for himself. I could see he was starting to fall for me, I’m sure he doesn’t talk to many ladies, and I did shower the night before and my hair was pretty and styled instead of in my usual pony tail. I told him I should call it a night, because my dog was still in my car. I was at the door when the older cowboy in the corner said to me, “It was a flicker.”

“The bird he saw?” I asked.
“Yep, he saw a flicker.” Meaning a northern flicker, yellow-shafted variety most likely.

The three of us talked about the bird, and from what he described now, it was blue jay sized, but he was sure about that white strip down the back, not a flicker but Hairy Woodpecker maybe. The older cowboy was a teacher for many years of history, and was really smart, we talked a while, the cell phone cowboy ordered another beer. He then walked me outside and talked to me more as the sun was low in the sky. He was reluctant for me to go, but I had told him all about my cattle rancher in Canada, he knew he couldn’t change my mind. I went back to my car and got my dog, then walked her down to the bar to met him. He was talking to a guy at a table, probably because they were the only two left in the bar. He petted Ayla and she loved his attention, rubbing her body against his leg with dog joy. He said she looked like she was eight from her teeth, and walked me back to my campground. He said he could get me a job with the BLM in Montana if I ever changed my mind about Canada and we parted ways.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Magic of Fire

I sat in front of my beautiful fire, poking the glowing coals and enjoying its warmth. I started with a piece of toilet paper tucked in between my much hated unopened mail. I stacked three dry pieces of wood into a tepee shape over it then lit the toilet paper. It took some effort adding new pieces of mail to keep the fire blazing, but once the wood caught on fire, there wasn’t much effort at all, just adding new wood. I had the game warden to thank for the dry wood, I talked to him earlier to tell him what I was doing. He has a little cabin with his family here on WY Fish and Game land about an hour outside of Cody, WY in the mountains.

I read from my book, The Valley of the Horses, about Ayla and her solo survival in prehistoric times. She was also building a fire, with dry seeds, wood shavings, kindling, and wood. How similar our fires are really. You start with something flammable to catch the first big flames that will catch other items on fire. There has to be something more durable like my mail and her wood shavings to catch flame, then they have enough mass to burn longer and catch the split wood on fire. Ayla, in the book, roasted a rabbit over her charcoals, I tucked a potato in foil into mine, but wished that I did know how to hunt small animals and dress them for dinner.

It was lonely, even with my dog Ayla, who has slept all day. I’m not even worried about a bear, even though I saw one earlier this morning. I’m not scared of rattlesnakes, why should I be scared of a bear. Both could kill me if they choose to, but my keen wildlife observations and respect for the animals will make it very unlikely that they would have to resort to that.

I have begun to wonder why I have chosen such a difficult journey. Sure it is my job, but I sought out such a challenging job. I have such silly fears sometimes, this job has taught me not to fear. I’ve pondered death a lot, which has made me focus on life, and what is most important for me to have in my life.

I think of these days as my last free days too. I’m being pulled by my destiny into something. Then I will never be so free again to be selfish and can not do stuff like wander this wild state of Wyoming for months...

I'm in grizzly bear country right now and think I will sleep in my car just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Grizzly Bear Story

Male Grizzly Bear Running from My Car

It was around 5am as I drove to my bird point of Rattlesnake Rd north of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. I kept seeing elk run along side of car, so didn't think too much when something big and brown was running along my left side. I turned to look and it was a grizzly bear, his powerful arms keeping up with my car at a good 30mph. He disappeared into the creek between my car and him which worried me. Then he popped out right in front of my car and before I could click a photo, he ran so far ahead that the shot just got a blur of his butt. Ayla finally noticed him, and gave me a weird look like "What was that?" Then she scratched at her door as if saying "Let me out, I want to follow it." He ran up the mountain on the right, and I drove a little ways longer to my bird point. I took me a good 45 minutes to get out of that car, I sat there sipping coffee, and listening to the radio. I attached the bear spray to my belt and with new determination decided I was going to do at least 4 of my 16 bird points. Ayla whimpered as I left her in the car again, not being able to join in on the excitement of wandering around the bear infested hills.

I did the first point just 30 meters away then ran back to the car, out of breath and still scared. I decided to drive to a different spot and parked down by the creek to reach another point. I got out and two twin boys about 11 years old on an ATV drove up and stopped to talk. I told them what I was doing and about the bear I just saw. They said that bear has been around for a few weeks, but they didn't see him themselves yet. They had a gun holder on the ATV, these kids were smarter than me. Just talking to humans relaxed me a lot and I was able to do several more bird points before it started raining. A new courage came over me, as I nosily sang a made up song about how much I hated my job, while walking through the hills.

I talked to a rancher on the way out about the bear, he was also on an ATV. He said he saw the bear right were we were standing a few days ago in the creek on my bird transect. The bear ignored him and kept searching for food as he drove by, also with a gun attached to the ATV. He mentioned that the twins got up early every morning to work on a ranch further north, and we talked a lot about guns. He advised me not to get a gun because I would be fined several thousand dollars if I killed a grizzly bear unless I had claw marks on my body. I joked that by the time a bear made claw marks on me it would be near impossible to shoot the thing, we laughed at the irony of it. He gave me a ride back to my car balancing on the front of his ATV and returned to mending the fences on National Forest land so his cows could graze the leased land soon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

In the Pines

I got up early the next morning to do my bird transect. I had to leave Ayla in the car with the windows down so she wouldn't scare away my birds. My whole attitude on life was different now that I had company and protection with my dog. The air was filled with the fresh smell of pine, and the creek was swollen with fresh ice melt and looked violent and fast. I walked quickly in between points, some along a ski trail, and saw a wide variety of mountain birds on my bird transect, several squirrels, and even a marmot. There were small streams everywhere and plenty of waterfalls among the pine and spruce forest. It was an easy day, and I couldn't wait to get back to the car to check on my dog. She got excited when I was back, and we headed down the mountain together to move on to the next bird points.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ayla...Who Could Very Well Be a Cave Bear

I think about death all the time, not because I am suicidal, but I'm am really scared of dying everyday. I remember John Muir admitting some kind of defeat while alone in nature, I don't know how the birds do it everyday. Wyoming is a very wild place indeed, and I even considered quitting my job because I didn't want to face the predators and lightning anymore. I left my campsite at Petrified Tree out by the cattle ranches on Crazy Woman Creek, and drove into Buffalo with a mission. I needed a dog. I don't really talk to God much these days, but I said a little prayer at breakfast over my subway egg biscuit, extra bacon. "Hey God, could you find me a dog today...and can you keep the grizzly bears away from me? Thanks. Oh P.S. I've never wanted to see a mountain lion either." I've seen pictures of mountain lions in the Bighorn Mountains, they are bigger than normal, people hunt them. Some wild Wyoming men hunt them with their bare hands even.

I dropped by the Occidental Hotel to ask if someone had an extra dog. The Alan Jackson lookalike, was there. He once told me over a beer in the bar that he doesn't camp anymore, although he use to most the time, because of the bears in Wyoming. He's met too many of them. He understood my need for a dog, being lonely and scared of my own job, and went to talk to the bar tender about it. She loves dogs, and happened to have three of them in the back of the hotel in her red pickup truck. She said I could have an old black lab. I went out to pet this dog and talk to her, but she wasn't too responsive to me as she just tried to sleep on the spare tire in the truck bed. A huge fur-ball of a dog kept jumping in front of her, stealing all her attention from me. I went back in the bar, to ask just how old the lab was, and if she would be able to keep up with me. I explained that I was a bird biologist, camping every night across the state of Wyoming, and that after my job I was going to move onto a ranch in Canada, and the dog would have to live outside. The bartender said that the lab's fur was too short to live outside in Canada and offered me Ayla instead who must be some kind of huskie/German shepard/grizzly bear mix.

I went back outside to take Ayla, the huge diva, for a walk on a very big piece of rope. She was all too excited to be allowed off the back of the truck without the other two dogs. We walked around the nice city park along a clear cold creek and came back to the old bar. With some tears from the bartender over a goodbye, Ayla was mine. I couldn't believe how generous she was just to hand a stranger her dog! She had found Ayla lost in a snow storm in Casper, Wyoming a couple of years ago and brought her home. She trains dogs and horses, and I have never seen such a well behaved dog, I'm so grateful for that. Finding Ayla was so easy, it has to be destiny.

I had to shuffle around the crap in my car again, half of it wasn't suppose to come with me, but life changes. Pots, pans, a fancy dress, art supplies, and books get on my nerves everyday. It would be worth the cost to just mail it to Cananda, I'd have more space, and would not look so homeless to everybody. I made Ayla a space in the front passenger seat, but she was so big that her paws kept slipping off the seat while she was just sitting. I put one of my pillows on top of my work bag and put a towel over the whole seat so she could be comfortable. She even managed to lay down, although really scrunched up, with my pillow there. She smiled at me at thank you. I had to drive all the way to Sheridan to go to a Walmart to buy her some stuff like a brush, dog food, leash, and dish. She was already becoming expensive.

Our first stop was at a city park in Sheridan and I brushed such a huge mountain of fur off her, I could have knitted a scarf out of it. She loved being brushed, and her fur glistened in the sunshine afterward. We headed on up to the Bighorn Mountains to do a point near Sheridan off Hwy 14 near the Tounge River again. She was so happy and excited about the trip, I snapped a picture of her as my my car and now my life. I haven't had a dog or cat since I was a child. I traveled too much for all my jobs to have a pet, but now, I'm feeling more stable with my life. I feel like I can take care of a dog now.

We camped for the night by a lake in a lodgepole pine forest high in the mountains, she got out of the car and it was the first time she wasn't hot with all that fur. I loved how excited she got about every new smell and noise. I didn't like the red mud covering her belly and paws after a hike to the lake. I tied her to a pole to dry off while I spent a couple of hours making a fire to cook my pathetic pan of ramon noodles. Hey! They were warm at least, and not crunchy. Supper tastes so much better after all that effort too, no matter how bad it is.

I showed her the tent when she was dry, her eyes got big and she went right for the mess of blankets, pillows and sleeping bag on my side of the tent. I yelled at her as she was scrunching up my down comforter into the right spot and she just looked at me and plopped her big furry butt down on top of my bed and stretched out. Then she laid her head on my pillows! I gave up and let her stay. I zipped up the tent and went out on a hike to find my bird point for the morning, I looked behind me and she was staring out at me from the tent mesh. I went through a forest, crossed a raging stream formed from melted snow, and then I saw a wild animal on the other side. Was it a wolf? At first my heart panicked a bit until I saw that it was a dog, although very wolf like. There are no wolves in the Bighorns after all. Then I realized it was my dog! "Ayla" I shouted and she sprang into action, running toward me. I was glad I left her leash on when I put her in the tent. She came with me, I forgot to tell her to stay. I hoped she just unzipped my tent and didn't tear it to shreds.

At night, I had to fight her a while for my bed, pushing her onto the Therm-a-Rest and towel on her side. Her wet paws, from our late hike, jabbed my side in defiance as she stretched her legs out as far as they could reach into my back. She stretched her neck over and placed her head on my pillow, and I pushed it off. She finally fell into a sleep, paws still extended, while I wrote a poem using a book on how to write poetry as a guide. I might have cuddled her if she wasn't such a muddy mess, it was cold up in the mountains. I looked at the grizzly bear in my tent, and was grateful that God helped me find her.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Horse Ride

I was in a very remote place today for my bird transects, and most the morning I was walking around in fear rather than enjoying the beauty of the wild Big Horn mountains. I saw some fresh moose tracks walking down French Creek Road, they were small so I thought they might belong to the young bull moose that hung out with me the night before. Then I started to see the big moose prints next to them and thought it was probably a mother and calf, something to worry about. What made me most scared though were large rocky cliffs that might attract a mountain lion to the area. I was very alert and at one point even smelled wet fur. I stopped, looked around carefully until I saw a group of deer trying to hide from me.

I felt like Hansel and Gretel while walking through a thick lodgepole pine forest and my GPS started acting weird because the trees were blocking out the satellites. There was an eerie mist in that forest, and I kept looking over my shoulder. When I made it back to my campsite a man from Italy, Paolo, pulled up with his horse Dakota. We chatted for a little bit, then he went on his way and I crawled up in my tent. I pulled the covers over my head and just remember feeling warm as I fell asleep. I woke up a few hours later when Paolo was back. He said that if he knew he would meet a friend out in the mountains, he would have brought me a horse to have ridden along with him. He let me ride Dakota down the road and back, then offered to buy me a dinner of ribs. I'm not one to turn down a free dinner. I told him I had a boyfriend, and he said he wasn't trying to date me, just have dinner. So I went with him. After dinner he said to give him a call next weekend and he would bring two horses for his weekly ride, one for me.

Later that evening I felt alone and depressed. This job was really wearing me down. I treated myself to a Shrek movie, and enjoyed the escape from my life. I was so tired of being alone, and of being scared of dying out in wild Wyoming. I camped at petrified tree.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sharing My Campsite with a Young Bull Moose

From Buffalo I drove up into the Big Horn mountains on Hwy 16. I pulled off on a side road that my GPS indicated was French Creek Road. My little car took a few hits to it's under belly from the rough road until I decided to park it and set up camp for the night, just a little over 1k away from the next morning's bird point.

I went to pull out my tent when I saw him, a young bull moose just about 100 meters away from me, laying in a patch of grass by the creek that was lined with quaking aspen trees. He looked at me and his ears went back, I froze, not sure what he would do next. We both relaxed and just went on with out night really. After I set up my tent and starting knitting on my hat for Quick, he decided that it was dinner time. He got up and stretched and without even a glance my way he started eating the same vegetation he was just lying in. This went on for hours, he browsed all around my tent, but my camera quickly ran out of batteries. I didn't want to go to my car though to get more and upset the moose, so I glanced up at him from my knitting or reading every once in a while to make sure he wasn't too close to trample me by accident. Night fell, and I lost track of the moose. I drifted off to sleep after a few pages from my book.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"You Have Bigger Problems Than Sage Chickens"

I took my time leaving my crappy campsite. First I took a free shower while doing my laundry. The bathhouse had a smell that reminded me of camp when I was a kid, its very weird how smells can take you so quickly back to a moment in childhood. I got my passport renewal at the post office afterward, it was very easy and didn't cost too much.

I couldn't get a hold of a landowner to do bird points on his property, but unfortunately did get a hold of another landowner who chewed me out about loosing his water rights because someone like me took water samples on his land. He didn't want me to count his "sage chickens" or "find some bird that has been extinct 10,000 years" on his property. I asked him at least for access to the state trust land, and he agreed, but then when we were talking more about where his property was he told me that he was in Colorado, not Wyoming. He yelled at me for wasting his time and said "you have bigger problems than sage chickens" and hung up as I was apologizing for my company providing me wrong information. I felt angry, not just at his ignorance but at my job for not having things together. I felt sorry for the person working in Colorado that would have to call the man to access his land.

That was the second time I was embarrassed for having the wrong landowner number for a point. I couldn't shake my anger, as I went to KFC for some supper. I needed a few days off!!!! ARRRRR! I saw Target, glowing on the hilltop in the dark and went inside. I tried on some spring dresses, feeling very pretty, then lingered in the book department until they announced closing time. I didn't want to stay in Casper another night, I drove to Buffalo for some comfort. I camped in Petrified Tree, happy not to be woken up in the middle of the night by someone wondering why I was sleeping in my car.

This towel brings me comfort of being home in strange places.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Cursed that Mud...

After the 10k hike round trip over vast grassy BLM owned hills, I was tired and craving of all things...seaweed salad. My diet of coffee and gas station chips might not be full of protein and vitamins like seaweed, so maybe that was why I was craving it so much. I searched for sushi on my car GPS and followed its directions to downtown Casper. I haven't been in a "big" city since Denver a few months ago, it was a nice treat. I was glad to see that everyone at the sushi restaurant was Japanese, thus lowering my chances of food poisoning by eating Wyoming sushi. I ordered some spicy raw salmon and seaweed, savoring every bite of the luxury. There were two flat screen TVs behind the chefs as I sat at the bar, one was turned to CNN and the oil tragedy. The other had Anthony Bourdain and his show "No Reservations", he was in Uzbekistan. I was captivated by both TVs, having seen so little in weeks. I wished I had an excuse to travel the world like Bourdain, I did once date a guy from Uzbekistan though...he had a strange mix of Middle Eastern and Russian culture. I walked around outside a bit and noticed the Wyoming skyscraper, an oil building.

After the sushi, I hung out in the library for a long time doing work, reading magazines, and thinking up story ideas to send editors queries. I didn't want to think about the night. I bought some army green yarn to knit my friend Quick a hat, then went into the Sex and the City movie, or "Sex and the Sand Dunes" as one magazine called it. Yes, I knew it would be a bad movie of me staring at old women with wrinkles giving me no hope of looking good at their age when they are movie stars looking so bad and I am just normal. I was worried about Samantha getting arrested for having sex in a Middle Eastern country going into the movie, and she did! It is just rude to completely ignore the morals expected by other countries while visiting, even Americans should pay attention not to offend the natives. The movie was a long three hours of complete escape from my job and situation of living out of my car for it. There was a lot of over the top luxury, and some very ugly dresses that they paid thousands for I'm sure, it was fantastic!

I just wanted to camp in town somewhere, so went to a few places with pictures of little tents on the map. One was in a scary neighborhood along a raging river, another was a pathetic expensive patch of grass surrounded by RVs, and I finally gave up and stayed at another RV site with slightly more grass under some trees, I was so tired. I asked if I could sleep in my car if their was lightning, but still set up my tent in case I wanted to sleep in it in the morning for some good rest. Mud stuck to my flip flops, and I was just annoyed at that mud. I cursed that mud, I cursed my flip flops, I cursed the junk in my car, I cursed the "camp site", I cursed my job, I cursed the lightning, then my brave boyfriend called and calmed me down a bit before I fell into a peaceful sleep.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Banjo Dual with a Meadowlark

I drove down to Casper, WY to get in a few bird points around the area. I parked my car down a BLM road. I had to drive it by putting one tire on the center grassy part and the other tire on the veg covered side of the road to avoid scraping the underpart of my small car if I just followed the two track road. I think my car only has a clearance of three inches, but I'm just guessing here. I stopped in a really rough part of the road and decided to camp there. I looked at the huge cloud over me, and decided to sleep in my car. I pulled out my annoying box of art supplies that just seems to be taking up valuable space, since I have no time to draw or paint, and put it in a grassy field. I decided to sit on the box while I practiced playing my banjo. Birds competed with me and meadowlarks bellowed out their mating songs, their music sounding way better than mine. I put the banjo away around dark and read a little with my headlamp laying in the backseat of my car.

I was about to fall asleep when the lightning started. I didn't want to feel trapped if my car got stuck on the soon to be muddy road, so I drove back down to the paved road and parked there for a little while. I texted my boyfriend for some comfort, then couldn't stand it and drove around to take the lightning off my mind. I got hungry so drove to Casper for some greasy food at Taco Joes, then drove all the way back to the spot where I had to hike in the next morning to my bird point for 5k. Out of pure exhaustion, I finally fell asleep, careful not to touch the metal frame of my car with my bare feet.

This job is really getting to me, my stress level is high. My boyfriend saw a very grumpy side to me for the first time.

Monday, May 31, 2010

On the Tounge River

I stayed last night a campground off HWY 14 north of Sheridan in some little town, Rayson maybe. I was pretty frustrated after trying for hours to get close to the bird point that I was suppose to do off the side of a sharp mountain in the Big Horns. It was 4k away from the nearest road, and then down a step rocky slope put there to build the road. This point seems impossible to get to. I gave up and found a campground in town I was so tired. I looked at the cabins they had, but they reminded me too much of the crappy motel me and my co-worker lived in for two months in Coulee City, WA while mammal trapping. The lovely Blue Top Motel or "Blu op M el" with all the letters missing, the walls were so thin that I would hear our neighbor watching Law and Order at night. I preferred a tent site. The owner was really excitted about the birds and we talked forever about them as we walked around her property, she knew most of them but asked what a few were, like the yellow warbler that was happily singing along the raging Tounge River. I asked her if the river ever flooded the place, and she said that it did sometimes and told me which sites to avoid for that.

I set up my tent across from some people from Oregon who in a beat up van that had a few orange doors that were not rusted like the rest of the van. Someone else had a rusty suburban, and then there was a new looking sedan. They all started getting dressed up in nice clothes, the women spread out in the bathroom with curlers in their hair, complaining about their men to each other. I walked back outside and the men were putting on ties. Maybe it was a wedding or a graduation, so unexpected though.

I saw a grassy RV site with a plug in and got a good idea. I asked my new friend, the campground lady, if I could move to the RV site and she agreed. So I dragged my tent over there and plugged in my laptop from my tent, and the internet was excellent! It was the best luxury. I called my friend in Canada while looking on the internet for barn houses and cabins. My Oregon neighbors returned from...wherever they went. A teenage girl got out of the multi-colored van yelling at her boyfriend calling him a few names as she slammed the door and stormed into the bathroom, he sped off out of the campground and I chuckled to myself.

I tried reading but fell asleep in the middle of it. My eyes are way too heavy these days to stay awake past 10pm. I really took advantage of the internet today at that campground till check out time. I got some much needed coffee from the gas station and made it back to Buffalo.

Last night I had a text message asking me to pay my phone bill, and this morning they shut off my phone! I've never had it shut off in the five something years I've had it, but chasing birds around Wyoming doesn't pay very well. It put me in a really bad mood, increased by sugar, coffee, and lack of sleep no doubt. I had a hard time finding a pay phone, then the T-mobile office was closed for the day. I paid through the computer and my phone still didn't work. I was so mad! Then I realized that it was Memorial Day and I couldn't go through with my plans of getting a new bank, a new passport, or my business license in Buffalo. I'm in an old soda fountain in downtown now, using their free internet in exchange of shakes and pretzels, because the libraries across the state have been closed since Friday. Living in my tent in Wyoming is isolating enough without loosing my phone. I did pay for the rest of my banjo at CeCe's antique shop though, her sweet face helping me to bring me out of the bad mood.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jeans and Dreams

After I made it out of the far reaches of the northeast corner of Wyoming with my car in one piece, I headed to Gillette for some much needed jeans. All of my jeans seem to have holes in them, some from barbed wire, some from over wear that have the thighs rubbed out from hiking so far, and one where the pocket started to rip because I have plenty of junk in my trunk. I had three choices, Walmart, K-mart, or Boot Barn. I figured I would get the best quality at Boot Barn, and tried on all kinds of brands. The sales girl remembered me from the last time I was in there and spent several hundred dollars buying new clothes that I could feed and ride horses in. I settled for some Carhartts, and asked to wear them out because my Cruel Girl jeans were on their last leg.

I really needed a shower, so I went to the new rec center run by the city. I have never seen such a nice place to work out, for $4 I got my shower and an hour of playing like a little kid on the water park quality slides and swimming. I couldn't jump off the high dive though. I knew it wouldn't hurt, I saw little kids doing it even, I just couldn't jump off of it. I'm not scared of heights, just really respectful of them I guess. Feeling refreshed I headed towards Sheridan for a point that was on public land and should have been easy to access. I decided to take the next day off, I was so tired and it was late. I called the Occidental Hotel and asked Chris if there were any rooms left. I mentioned that it was Angela and he was lost on who I was, then I said "the biologist who lives in her tent." He knew exactly who I was then, and said I should try the Blue Gable Cabins down the street. I promised to come by a little later for a beer.

My cabin was adorable, I just wanted to crawl in bed and turn on that black box hanging from the wall...what is that called...awe TV. I got wrapped up in several phone conversations with my boyfriend and parents though, then went to the Occidental to have a beer and listen to bluegrass music. It was nice talking with Rex and Chris, who looks like Alan Jackson and plays cover band songs in there once a week. Rex gave me some creepy looks the first night he saw me weeks ago, but he is a nice guy now. I went back to my little cabin and tried to turn the TV on, but my eyes wouldn't stay open long enough to see where the buttons on the remote were.

Me and Jimmy talked a lot about his ranch during that days phone call, what improvements it needs, he told me of new plans to get 12 more quarters of land and another 200 cows soon. I couldn't stop talking about ranching with my parents. I've seen pictures of dad as a teenager showing cows at the state fair, the man knows his way around a ranch. I tried to convince them that they didn't need to teach anymore, and they could start a Buffalo ranch in Wyoming. All they need to do is feed and breed, it could someday be an expansion of me and Jimmy's ranch.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sleeping in the Middle of an Oil Field

Just as I was nodding off to sleep around 10pm out in that oil field, the lightning started. I got in the front seat of the car and decided to drive off the hill I was sitting on. There wasn't any rain, just the bright flashes and rumbles. I parked next to a large metal building that must be some kind of oil pump house and tried to sleep in my backseat. I pulled my down comforter over me, as if it was an extra layer of my cocoon to protect me from a deadly lightning bolt. It was hot, and I really wanted to roll down a window, or plop my bare legs on top of my nest of covers and pillows, but fear kept me under the covers. 3:30am came, I should have drove back up the hill and hiked to my point, but I was so tired I didn't. Then around 6am I heard a door slam shut and could see two figures come toward my window through the rain drops that clung to it, plaid shirts blurred right outside.

I opened my door, aware I was just in my underwear and a tie dye t-shirt, it was so hot in the car. The cowboys peered in at me on my bed with curious looks, and one just came out and said it "Mam, did you realize that you are sleeping in the middle of an oil field?" there was a slight twain to his voice, having never lived in a city I'm sure. I was so tired I could barely talk, I wish I didn't look like a hippie in my tie dye, sleeping in my car like a homeless person.

"Sir, B.W. himself gave me permission to be on his land, I talked to him a couple of days ago." The cowboy relaxed a little at the mention of his boss' name. I explained that I was a biologist doing bird points and their rigid faces softened into sympathetic looks as I explained my sad story of the lightning and how the I felt safest next to the large metal building surrounded by telephone poles. Then almost broke into tears as I mentioned that I wasn't even able to call my boyfriend for comfort because I hadn't had cell service since early yesterday morning, and couldn't call his boss to remind him I was coming either. Then I added "Believe me, someone does not find this spot to camp in without a very specific purpose, hours of driving through the middle of nowhere, help from the neighbors, not to mention that 17 mile drive down B.W.'s ranch road. I have full permission to be here." They both apologized for waking me as they slowly backed away, and wished me luck with my bird surveys. The care taker said he probably just missed and email or phone call from B.W. and they got in their truck and left me in peace.

I drove up the hill and walked 3k to my bird point across some of the prettiest fields of flowers with butterflies everywhere. The birds were the most abundant on this point with all the oil wells than I had seen them anywhere else. The hike out was easy, and even though I got lost a little on the drive out and mixed up with big oil trucks leaving with black gold, I found my way out of there. I stopped at a small town that had a grocery/hardware/auto parts store for some tea and breakfast. The spark plugs were on the shelf next to the brownie mixes, something that made me laugh. The owners had a flat screen TV turned to CNN with oil spill coverage. We talked a bit about the tragedy and I explained I hadn't seen TV for weeks, so they filled me in on it. They said I was still in Montana and wished me well on my way back to Wyoming. The sign on their door said "Take off muddy and oily boots before coming in here." I giggled as I left this strange place.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rual Wyoming...wait is that redundant?

I woke up to a bright light in the dead of night. Pete the park ranger was checking to make sure that I paid for my campsite at Keyhole Lake. I'm a few days past the need of a shower, and my now fire red head is a grease ball. I also have lots of crap piled in my car and may appear homeless. He asked me how long I planned on staying, he remembered me from three other nights. I explained I was a biologist studying birds which got him excited and chatty while I looked down to see if I was even wearing decent clothes. I had on my Mylie Cyrus $3-on-sale-Walmart mini skirt, and a t-shirt.

After getting just a couple hours sleep, I drove to my bird point off Highway 14 and walked across a grassy field with mud puddles, climbing over a few barbed wire fences. I disturb pronghorn all the time, and they grunt at me which sort of sounds like an armpit fart.

It is getting a little boring counting meadowlarks, but it has to be done. I walked as quickly as I could in between points to get the transect over with quickly. I then headed to Moorcroft to check if my paycheck was automatically deposited. I tried filling my car with gas, and it worked. I had a nice breakfast of biscuits and gravy with an egg over easy and bacon on the side. I had gone hungry the night before having put my last $10 in the iron ranger to camp and having taken back my camp stove to Walmart earlier that week for the much needed money. I spent a few hours in the library while a librarian with a British accent keeping an eye on me wondering why I lingered so long, I did some paperwork and read some more magazines. The ones that rural libraries subscribe to are pretty funny. Usually they have all the quilt magazines, a few on farming and livestock, and "Country Woman". Pink on the cover of Cosmo really stood out and I grabbed that one, having already read all the other ones at libraries across the state. There is a great article about raising chickens in city areas in "Organic Farming" by the way.

I had to drive sixty miles today to my next bird point, and never left a red gravel road covered in black cows, the North East corner of Wyoming is extremely remote, I only saw one truck on that road. The isolation from buildings, people, and my cell service really got me down. The dead town of Rocky Point is just a cemetery, after that the gravel road turned to clay and was rough to drive on with my three inches of clearance in my small car. Ruts carved the hardened mud causing me to have to balance on top of them. The ranch I was driving to was so remote, that I had to drive through Montana to get there, going through the small "town" of Ridge, MT...complete with a homemade sign proudly displaying "Population 2" in front of a red barn. I took a right and got lost trying to find my ranch.

I stopped at a pretty ranch house and boldly knocked on a screen door in my Census job sort of courage. I introduced myself to a ranch wife who was very friendly and surprised to have company. She said she was horrible with directions and we went out to the barn to find her husband while a teenage boy in chaps looked at me, standing next to a saddled horse. A man as leathery as his chaps came out to see what was going on. He finally smiled when I mentioned his neighbor's name and that I was looking for the right road leading to his ranch. He looked at my maps and gave me detailed directions down to an airplane hanger on the left of the road. They laughed when I asked if I was in Wyoming, and said I was still in Montana. The rancher looked at my little car and wished me good luck driving down to my point in my "puddle jumper". I joked that it couldn't even jump puddles and left, praying that it wouldn't rain.

I took a nice road, built with money as free flowing as the oil that paid for it, for seventeen miles into Wyoming and one man's ranch. At the end of the road was an oil field with beautiful spring flowers and dozens of oil wells making grinding sounds all around me. I cleaned up my car, gave myself a pedicure while sitting among the flowers, and had a peanut butter, walnut, and Nutella sandwich. I didn't hike out to my far away point to camp, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky, because I had a feeling that I shouldn't...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beauty in a Dark Forest

The BLM office windows were bright as I gathered my trash out of my car, there was bags of useless crap sucking the pennies out of my purse in extra fuel use, and I snuck them into their outside trashcan before Dan came out and caught me. I woke up around three something to meet him there at 4:30am to go out to a bird point together on BLM land. He was an eager intern as we loaded up his SUV in case the roads were bad and headed out to a ranch owned by a woman next to the South Dakota border. We were amazed to find the most beautiful red cliffs in the black hills hidden behind her private property on public land, and no one else will be able to visit it.

It was a hard day crashing through brush on the virgin forest floor, I was constantly getting smacked in the face by branches. I was blank the first few points on the forest birds, being so use to sparrows in grassy sage fields, and thought I must look horrible to this kid who asked me what every bird song was. Years of birding helped the familiar songs come back to me eventually and I was able to write which birds they came from on previous points because of my detailed notes on unknowns. It helped to track a few birds down, as they sang from ponderosa pines as high as twenty-five meters. We were both excited to find a visible ovenbird high in a tree, he was the loudest bird in the forest, usually the robin is, it was the first time either of us had seen one. We also saw several rare white-winged juncos endemic to the Black Hills, and the beauty of the forest was amazing and kept us going though we were so exhausted.

I found Erin in the library again, with a kid from Mexico bugging her. She looked creeped out, until he gave up and left. We did paperwork and talked about our transects. After she left, I read some magazines then sat on the floor in the poetry section, trying to find inspiration for my lack of creative haiku.

I thought of the two Facebook emails a long lost friend sent me today. I had checked my phone for the time while climbing up a particularly huge mountain earlier and saw the first one. The name shocked me and I stopped in my tracks while Dan asked what was wrong, because he was sliding down the slope. I quickly read it, then pondered what it meant to me the rest of the day while wandering that forest.

It was dark when I made it to Keyhole Lake at Wind Creek. I put my last $10 in the camping envelope, and said a little prayer that my paycheck would be in my bank tomorrow. I am too tired to brush my teeth, or set up my tent, I'm falling asleep as I write. My eyes are so heavy...(pen mark where my hand slipped off my handwritten diary page).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Organizing My Car in the Middle of a Forest

Even though last night had a clear sky, I woke around 1am and checked the clouds to see if a lightning storm was coming. In the dark even I could tell that the clouds looked like happy clouds, but I wasn't taking any chances. I broke down my tent, put away all my sleeping stuff, and slept in my car with a pillow and a blanket. I woke up around 3:30am and drove to my bird point, and of course the skies were clear and beautiful. Even on nice nights I can't sleep and think too much about lightning.

The county road was now dry, and my car had no problem making it to my point. I hiked in for a ways, the whole landscape had standing water like a bog. There were lots of meadowlarks, and my favorite, upland sandpipers which sound like a guy whistling at a girl. I think I accidentally did some points on private land, but no one asked me what I was doing.

When I was done, I drove the short way to Upton then I drove to Newcastle. I spent hours in the library, and emailed Erin to give me a call when she was in town. She emailed back right away that she was in the Newcastle library. I emailed back that I also was in the Newcastle library and I looked around a bookcase and saw her. We talked about frightening lighting storms, muddy roads, bears, and hard transects. Then we did paperwork and she called landowners while laying on the library sofa, her bare feet out of her flip flops dangling in the air. She sounded like such the surfer girl she is on the phone, with such a friendly tone, and from what I heard she got all the landowner permissions that day. Even a long conversation about birds with someone on native land granted her her access, something she was worried about. I was waiting till 7pm to call my landowners, because that is when ranchers actually answer their phones in my opinion. So many at home wives tell me that they have to consult their husband when he comes in from the ranch. I did make a call to one up by the Montana border though, and he was a friendly oil man and granted me access after a quick chat. He laughed when I told him what I drove and said I should make it alright on his nice roads though, if I made it there even.

Erin and I had dinner at a restaurant across from the library, she was set on having a burger but changed her mind when she saw the ravioli special. I could only afford a slice of pizza, money was really low. A lady at another table talked to us about saguaros in Tucson where she was from, while I savored every bite of my dinner.

I stayed late reading magazines long after Erin left at the library, just trying to be selfish and reclaim time for myself. It seems this job blurs the lines of working and not working, and I don't get to do the things I normally would after coming home from work after a long day. I finally drove to South Dakota to camp for free up on Forest Service land.

I just went across the border and looked at a detailed map of forest roads the lady at the headquarters gave me earlier that day when I talked to her about camping. I didn't drive far down one road, until I parked my car. I could hear the highway and several forest fire trucks that kept coming down a nearby road. I pulled everything out of my car to move the large trunk in my backseat to the car trunk, allowing room to sleep in my backseat on scary weather nights. I even organized my food in an easy to find way, and put everything in a good place. Everything at easy access for living out of my car. I had a good nights sleep surrounded by tall pine trees, not scared of lightning. I'm such a city girl still sometimes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Good Night's Sleep in the Worst of Storms

Text messages between me and Kari.

Annie: "Scary lightning storm, hail too. Can I please stay with you in Gillette tonight? I had to leave my tent up at Pine Haven, too risky to take it down"

Kari: "Sure, I just cleaned the bedding for that bed too."

I was completely terrified at the bright flashes of lightning and the booms of thunder. I had fallen asleep in my tent again in the morning to be woken up by a afternoon thunderstorm with hail. I ran out of my tent, hopped in my car, and drove to the bait shop down the street to inquire about the weather for the day. I jabbered on for several minutes out of nervousness with the kind lady inside, about the storm and what I did for a living. She pointed outside the window next to us and said that she once saw a tornado right there a few years ago. That was enough for me, I left, said I was driving to Gillette and hoped I could stay with one of my friends there.

I can't even remember when I've seen rain pour down so hard, I had my windshield wipers on full blast, but still couldn't see out very well. At one point I had to pull over on the side of the highway and wait for the rain to drop down a little less severe. I finally made it to Gillette and went to Walmart first to get some brownies to bake. In the parking lot I broke down, trembling and crying still sitting in my car for a good 30 minutes as I tried to wipe the tears from my red puffy eyes. I bought some chicken too, since I had been craving it for days and ate it in the park. It tasted horrible, and made my car smell like Walmart chicken. I was really craving the tasty BBQ chicken that I had eaten several nights in the US Virgin Islands almost a year before, but I couldn't have it.

I drove to Kari's still shook up. I felt better after a long warm shower, then came up and we talked a bit about her move to Alaska coming up.

It was the best sleep in weeks, and when I went back to my little tent in Pine Have, I found it wrapped around a tree from the storm. At least is was still there! It popped back into shape and my stuff inside was very dry, I beamed with pride for how well my little tent kept everything dry in the worst of storms. My tent just needs a lightning rod now.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Keeping the Hearth Burning

I slept for eleven hours last night in my comfy hotel room, I was so tired that I didn't even watch TV, read, or write in this journal. I grabbed a cup of hot coco in the morning with a handful of animal crackers for breakfast and read a book of Emily Dickinson's poetry. I was sitting next to the Bordello Room, and heard a couple fighting inside of it. It was pretty funny listening to how silly their argument was. She was upset she didn't have a change of clothes, and at one point he actually yelled "talk to the hand". When they came out of their room with suitcases, they both looked at me a little embarrassed. They were both attractive, staying in a beautiful hotel on some sort of vacation, why they were fighting I don't know.

I drove to Upton hoping I could do a point just west of there, but I was not prepared for the horrible storm later that night. I managed to drive down a county road to my point, then a two track road lead even further it, and my car did well on it being dry. I knew I would be stuck down there if it rained though and went to Keyhole Lake just north in Pine Have to camp for the night. I have gone to this lake before, on a bad day when it was still frozen over.

I was proud of myself for starting the most beautiful fire with bags of unopened mail and small logs gathered around my tent site. It was a roaring fire for a while, then the logs turned into the most perfect charcoal good for grilling meat. I was sad that I didn't catch any fish, nor was I hungry to cook something over the fire. It reminded me of grilling lamb over charcoal in Germany. The fire master waited till it turned to charcoal before the put the lamb kabobs on top. There were sheep in a nearby yard, and I felt sorry that we were grilling up their cousins in front of them, but they didn't seem to notice.

There was something very comforting about having my own fire, as I spent hours tending it with care. Something very ancient indeed in keeping the hearth warm and burning. I finally went to bed, knowing it would burn itself out.

It was pouring down rain, the lightning was on top of me and close, so I ran to my car. I looked up what to do in a lightning storm on my blackberry, and wasn't comforted at all. There were even pictures of people smiling with their hair standing up and the caption read that these people died or were seriously injured right after the pictures were taken. I shouldn't have put my tent under a tree because of super heated sap that would gush out if lightning hit it. I emailed my co-workers from my car to see if they had to deal with the same conditions as me. I didn't sleep anymore that night, but first drove to Pine Haven, then just wandered the highways listening to Lady Gaga, not wanting to think about lightning.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cliffs of Insanity

Rain drops started to plop down onto my dusty windshield as I drove out to Crazy Woman Creek again. I was determined to make it to my transect though as I turned down the ranch road onto private ranch land. Black Angus cows stood in the middle of the road, reluctant to let me drive by. One small male calf even challenged my car refusing to move until I honked my horn and he ran to mama. The rain was really coming down now, but the methaners used this road and had put down gravel for easy access. I drove for a while with no problem through herds of cattle in bright green fields until I passed the last methane check station. My little car slid around on the mud like it was ice. I was 3k away still and knew the road got within 1k, but didn't want to get stuck, so I parked it. I put basic necessities in my backpacker backpack, no pillows or extra blankets, and hiked in the pouring down rain the 3k. It got sunny above the sage that would be my home for the night. I had cliffs nearby and hoped lightning would strike those before my metal poles.

I put up my tent and was amazed at the vast open landscape so far from civilization, except my phone worked. All I could see was a ranch house in the far far distance. I let the cowboy boots dry in the sun and changed out of my wet muddy pants into a fresh pair in the bag. I read my book "I Capture the Castle", a cheap find at a consignment shop, while a lark sparrow wooed females with his alien space invader gun sounds and occasional farting noises. Meadowlarks were abundant and a sage thrasher went off on his cute rhythmical song of romance.

Night came, the wind blew hard again bringing rain droplets that hit my water-proof tent with load thuds. A flash illuminated the darkness...lightning. Fear lodged itself in my throat, maybe I should have camped in a canyon. I counted the distance for every bolt, it started at about four miles away, then came as close as 2 miles. I finally decided that if I died, I didn't care because I would finally get some rest and nodded off for the night.

I was reluctant to get out of bed after a late night phone conversation with my new boyfriend, a cattle rancher, that drained my phone battery. The storm didn't help either. I hiked up the cliffs above my tent and was shocked at the intense landscapes I had to walk over that day, it was so hard. First point was easy enough with a Northern Shrike sitting on a fence post for me to count. I spent the rest of the morning climbing up and down the most insane crumbling mud cliffs. I nicknamed them "The Cliffs of Insanity" and kept repeating the lines for "Princess Bride" in my head to inspire my legs to move.

I was so worn out and covered in mud with no extra change of clothes to hike out in. The pack felt heavier hiking out, and my shoulders and hips ached by the time I made it to my car. Immediately I changed and tried to scrap mud off my poor boots. I put them by the floor of my car and turned the heater on full blast back to Buffalo to dry them.

I went to the Occidental Hotel, and was barely understandable as I asked for a room. I couldn't afford it, so she offered me the bunk house for a low price and I took it knowing I was using my car payment money. I'm looking forward to my paycheck already.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lightning at the Hole-In-The-Wall Hideout

I was just trying to find a free camp site on BLM land for tomorrow's points when I made the most amazing discovery of these beautiful red cliffs contrasted against blue patches of ponderosa pine on grassy hills. Even better is that this place was once the Hole-In-The-Wall hideout for some of the Old West's most notorious outlaws. Well my little car got stuck on a rock going up to the actual hideout, then almost rolled off a cliff in neutral when I jumped out to see what was wrong. For a split second I thought I would get a much needed truck, I'm very well insured.

I can still feel the excitement though as I imagine the outlaws riding their horses fast up between the cliffs and I can hear their stolen cattle in the moos of the black angus cows grazing here down the canyon. The wind came around sunset when I was trying to set up my tent, I had to use my heavy wood carved bear again but it wasn't enough so I put my heavy bag of canned goods in another corner to keep it from blowing off the nearby cliff. The beautiful red cliffs were hidden in the dark somewhere, and everything felt so grim. I tried to remember the peaceful place I had experienced a few hours earlier. A vesper sparrow sang his heart out still in the dark, and a sweet smell of flowers drifted in from somewhere. The tent was violently shaking until somehow I blocked out the noise and drifted off to sleep.

A bright flash woke me out of a dream of being covered in ticks in the middle of the night, I could hear it now raining with the pitter-patter of drops hitting my rain fly. Lightning! Having not seen lightning since I was a kid in Texas, I never even considered it when I put my tent up under the dense gray clouds that hovered above me. I started shaking with fear, here I was laying on the ground with just a tent and some bedding in between me and the wet grass and mud, and the only place I could set up my tent was on a bare hill. Even worse I parked my car next to my tent to block some of the wind rolling off the cliffs. There was another flash, and about five seconds later I heard thunder, the lightning was just one mile away up in the sky right over me. I grabbed my cowboy boots out of the corner of my tent and put them on, then crouched in my tent with just the rubber soles touching the ground. I could hear my heart quicken with fear as I looked for my keys in the tent side pocket, then waited for another flash before I ran to my car. Flash! One one thousand...two one thousand...five one thousand BOOM! I struggled to unzip my tent then ran for it, rain soaking into the sweatshirt I always for to bed for extra warmth. I turned the key and Lady Gaga started singing bringing me instant comfort as my little car rolled down the slick red roads out of there. I had to leave the tent, I might have been hit by lightning if I took it down. I hoped it wouldn't blow away without me in it.

Kaycee is a small cow town, so the 2 motels (one in an actual trailer the other a run down house) and cabin site were all closed around 1am in the morning. I had no choice but to sleep in my car at the local truck parking area with several semi-truck diesel engines purring around me. I pulled out the human mace from my job gift bag, and considered the bear mace but figured human mace would be enough to give a trouble making trucker something to worry about. I put my butterfly covered sun shields in the front car window to block out some of the glaring light in my closed eyes, and was glad I am so over prepared and had extra blankets and another pillow in my trunk. It was a rough night, but the next morning my tent was still there on the hill, and not burning in some kind of lightning fire or blown off the cliff. I was going to take it down, but my sleeping bag looked so comfy inside. I was proud of my little tent for keeping everything water free in the thunderstorm. I crawled into my bed, and realized with some joy that my tent really was my home. I had several hours of restful sleep that morning.

Cow Town

I am renting a small slice of Buffalo, WY, with a P.O. Box. I guess that makes Buffalo home, and I haven't really had a home since February.

I did several bird points around the town of Buffalo then drove south to Kaycee, WY, population 250, for today's points. After taking several country roads with an old AM country station playing, I turned down a dirt one with fluffy black free roaming Angus cattle everywhere on BLM land. Almost every cow had a small calf with her, each freshly branded with an "8" on it. I waited for a few cows to leave the spot where I wanted my tent, then set it up in the crazy wind. My tent tumbled away as if it was Russian thistle, and I chased after it. The whole scene would have made a cowboy chuckle if there was a person within miles to witness it. I had to pull out my friend's carved wood bear sculpture from the trunk to keep the tent from flying away, and the tent tried to hover off the ground like a space ship with just the bear keeping it tethered in the center. A few cows passed by and mooed at me, their calves keeping close for protection. Never have I seen such vast grasslands with no human structures in sight, I've only witnessed similar landscapes in the desert where not many people want to live. I went to bed early, a little worried that a bull might find my tent and mistake it for a lovely cow, but slept well in the first warm night in Wyoming.

After counting birds this morning, I went to the small town of Kaycee to mail a book I sold online. The lady with a large belt buckle at the post office suggested the resturant/bar across the street and said I should get a hamburger, even though she confessed she didn't like red meat. I told her she should keep that to herself in this town and she laughed and agreed. I listened to the conversations around me while eating the best burger ever, people were talking about rodeos, branding, and horses. Real cowboys walked in and out with the sound of their spurs going, clink, clink, clink, clink, on the floor. There were horses in the parking lot, and nothing but feed and tack stores in sight. I keep having the old song "Cowtown" going through my head, and popped it into the CD player as I drove just west of the town to my next bird points.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ghost Girl at the Occidental Hotel

I woke around 6am and slowly got dressed then put my tent away. I drank the gas station coffee from the night before as I shined my copper colored cowboy boots, then used the same light color on my dark hiking boots since I can't find my polishes and shining brush. It seemed to condition the dried leather though. I put on a nice pair of jeans with my cowgirl belt buckle, a horse t-shirt, and the cowboy boots. Today I needed to talk to landowners in person about going onto their land to count birds the next morning. I even put on makeup and might have brushed my hair.

I went into Buffalo and found the library…that wouldn’t open for hours. So I drove around town looking for my 12 bird points. Most were around a high school, but several were on private land.

In the adventure that is my life, nothing goes as planned. I parked in front of a downtown hotel, eager to go to an old fashion soda fountain down the street. A woman was in front of the hotel, lacquering some very old chairs that may have held the bottoms of famous outlaws in a century old poker game.

We started talking and complained about men together. She invited me into the hotel, and I really didn’t understand its historical importance until tonight.

Part of the Occidental use to be a brothel, evidence of a porch once overlooking the street can be seen. The owner who had two loose braids on both side of her face was nice and encouraged me to look at the historic quilt collection upstairs. I inquired about what ghosts lived there and she grinned, I knew a good story was coming.

“There was a woman's daughter who died of cholera in the the NW wing where the brothel was, she was just a child. Some times people can feel her tapping her fingers on their backs, but one guest really got to meet her. His hunting party was snowed in, down in Denver so he was the first and only one to arrive. The whole northwest wing was empty except for him because the other rooms were held for those stuck in Denver. He was the guide, a mountain man, so when he called up screaming around 3am I knew why. He said that something was trying to pull his covers off the bed and they were throwing things around the room. I went upstairs, found his covers on the floor and the stuff on the dresser on the floor too.

With that story in mind I walked up creaky wooden stairs in the brick building. I looked at the quilts, my favorite made from men's work shirts. Old boots with the tiniest ankles belonged to the former owner, her clothes also on display. I looked down the dark hallway of the northwest wing and felt a little dizzy, it might have been fear. I went down the other wing and loved the outlaw room with a river view and brick exposed wall.

The owner encouraged me to explore the northwest wing, so I did and felt dizzy again, I couldn't find the light switch. Doors of unoccupied rooms were left open to show off the historic beds I'm sure, and light from the windows of those rooms was the only light. Dawn said the hall light should be on, but it wasn't. I left but I could tell which room the little girl died in, I felt pulled to it and wanted to turn the door knob.

Many outlaws have stayed there, the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, Tom Horn, and many others like Teddy Roosevelt, Calamity Jane, and Buffalo Bill. I want to write historical fiction, so I have several books about pioneer women from the area. I just started reading one about Martha James (Bull), and she was married in this hotel in May 1883. I read that tonight! Like a new word learned then heard everywhere, the Occidental Hotel keeps reveling itself to me. I wonder what importance this hotel will have in my future, I feel like I was meant to come to the Occidental for some unknown reason. Buffalo, Wyoming might be my home.

I talked to five landowners and have all my points to count birds tomorrow morning with my silver tongue. People are so friendly here. I decided to camp in the same spot at Petrified Tree on BLM land, since its free and close. I went on a hike around the petrified meta sequoia trees, their rings and shape clearly seen in solid rock. I was taken back to a time long before the Occidental Hotel when mammoth roamed these hills covered in meta sequoia trees and the red hills were given their color from coal deposits that burned so hot around them that the sandstone turned to a red "Scoria" or "Clinker" rock. Will get up at 3:45am tomorrow to take down my tent.