by Patrick Branyan
This is supposed to be an obscure travel blog written by an aging-to-aged Boomer couple as they RV their way across the country. A country, I might add, that still occupies the same gorgeous land mass it always did if not the love and respect it once had in the world’s broken heart.
We know it pretty well. Young hippies in the early 1970’s, we travelled in the old green van or hitchhiked packing a pup tent and a toothbrush. Mostly out West and we’re still doing it, but now we’re also liable to travel back and forth in time, way out there on the windswept edge of our dotage.
It’s been good lo these many years meeting hundreds of colorful characters on the road. They were generally delightful but a handful needed a good switching on their bare legs. Most of our 50 years of traveling found us sleeping in cabins or crummy motels or at the homes of far-flung friends when we got lucky. The RV thing started late, nearly 8 years ago when the inevitable idea sauntered up to us like a drowsy old cat.
During the motel years we were fortunate to have close friends like Betty who’d happily drive out to our country place to feed, water and horse around with our dogs and cats while we were gone. We still have close friends like Patty and Sally that will housesit them while we’re gone on longer trips, including the dogs too if necessary.
Allan and Becky live nearby and haven’t grumbled too much about coming by to feed our evil Miho, a small but fierce cat, plus a big deer herd, flocks of migratory birds and our 900 lb. Duroc pig. Her name is Miss Letty and she’s named after a special friend from days long past.
You’ve heard of Belle Starr I’m sure. Well, the lady Letty Jones was a tall, elderly and skinflint cattle rancher and multimillionaire uranium mine owner who befriended Dahna and I back in the 1970s. That’s when we dry land farmed wheat and pinto beans 17 miles out of Monticello, Utah on Summit Point. High Desert.
She checked on her herd in an old Buick Electra with freaking left hand threads on the lug nuts. I found that out the hard way when I changed a flat for her. According to the locals, when Letty was young in the 1910’s and 1920’s she and and her husband robbed and cattle rustled their way through the open territory as notorious outlaws. Maybe, but she got away with it.
She was pretty much a loner when we met her, but she liked us and came for dinner now and then when she wanted company. She crocheted a sun bonnet together from triangular pieces of white Clorox bottles with various colors of yarn, and it was a treat to watch the brim of that thing flounce around when she strode up on her long legs.
She sat all splayed out like a man and was great fun and still as mischievous as a raccoon. She also had a girlish “hee hee” laugh that was warm and a little conspiratorial with a ‘know-what-I-mean’ look thrown in. We laughed and laughed but she never said a damn word about her past occupation nor mentioned her long dead husband. Always brought us ear corn.
Dahna spotted Letty’s namesake pig about a year ago lying across our fence to the west. We thought it was probably feral and would, no doubt along with its bristled companions, get on our place eventually and tear it up good. Texas, including Comanche, has a terrible feral hog problem. These guys wreak incredible damage to property and will come at you too when cornered. When they get through with a place it looks like a giant rototiller got loose and went psychotic on the ground and vegetation. It’s bad.
Some time later, we saw Miss Letty again but a little closer and noticed she had a plastic tag punched into her ear. O Hallelujah! A feral hog became a stray domestic pig in the blink of an eye. Some time after that, we found her lying against the fence next to our shop. We walked up and snorted at her and she snorted back like an old pal. We asked her if she’d like a little deer corn and it turned out she liked it quite a lot. That and anything else you bring her and that’s why Becky has to feed her too when we’re gone. Like today.
Often after she eats, she’ll sidle up against the fence, lie down and roll over so we can scratch her belly, reaching through the net wire with the handle of a counter brush. Then I use my hand to scratch behind her thick ear and pat her huge head goodbye ’til next time.
When she lies down she’s about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, 3 deep and you might think of her as just a nasty ol’ hog. But we think of her as our own sweet little pig and we worry about her when we try to snort her up and she doesn’t show. She lopes up pretty fast on a front leg limp when she does, drooling like she’s as rabid as Old Yeller.
So, here we are finally at Guadalupe River State Park, a fine place that caters to the wet set for rafting, canoeing and kayaking. It’s not far above San Antonio and it’s heavily forested in scrub oaks, Ashe juniper and the like plus plenty of brush—good for critters of all types like the dead rattler we saw stretched out on the road. Lots of good rock for their dens. We’ve tried to come here twice before but couldn’t thanks to incredibly destructive flooding when the river shut the park down for months. There was another time we tried to come but couldn’t for some other reason I can’t remember.
It’s a popular park and was probably booked solid when we wanted to come that time. The fine state park system here in Texas got even more popular when the pandemic struck. Camping is about the safest way to get out of the house when you’re worried about a super contagious disease dropping thousands like dominos with yourself possibly in the lineup. But, we almost didn’t make it this time either and I was beginning to think the place was off limits to us in a jinxed sort of way. Really though, it’s this:
Why didn’t I prepare earlier like any other halfwit traveller? Instead I waited until the trip was practically on top of us to find the truck battery doornail dead and the trailer brake system out of sorts. Not to mention the shower faucet in the RV that wouldn’t shut off. Not even packed and still putzing around out in the woodshop. Jammed again and I’m thinking, ‘Man, you’re too old for this. You need to get rid of this thing and drag the old rocker out to the porch.’ Actually though, it was probably just Covid.
We’re both vaxxed to the max and reasonably careful. I don’t think either of us has caught it yet, but my quotient of stupid to smart has gone way up a lot in the last 3 years. Coincidence? It could be the constant distractions of 2020 with its bleach injections, horse wormers and a good election with its awful, never-ending aftermath. Maybe it’s just the natural onset of old age dementia knocking on the door.
Well, something is lousing up my golden years and I’m putting my money on Covid in particular and in general for good measure. Internally, externally I don’t think it matters. I’m sure there’s only a handful of people on the planet still alive who haven’t been negatively affected by this disease, and Dahna and I have it way good in comparison with just about everyone else. Even so …
Nearly 3 years ago when this horrible thing washed up on our shores and then turned around sucked out the tide, we discovered that all of us were swimming naked as the saying goes. This was especially true of our former president. With all his shortcomings exposed to the world, a droll David Niven would have given us a good laugh. He lost reelection perforce and nearly half the country lost its Ivermectin-addled mind.
Well, winter’s coming as everyone knows and there’s reason aplenty to be worried about everything in the next few days, months and years. So, I say let’s indulge our geezer selves (only if you qualify) and be unreasonable. Maybe take a tip from the old Peggy Lee song and just keep dancing.
My pal Rocky up in Montana said to me, in effect, “Hey, for years we did our bit for the country and the planet. But if people are going to vote for idiots that don’t give a shit about anything but power there’s not a whole lot we can do about it now. We can still keep a hand in, but let’s enjoy ourselves in the time we have left, stop worrying and not let ‘em get to us.”
Maybe easier said than done in times like these but it’s good advice when the arthritis and achy joints set in deep enough. Old is as old does I guess and I do forget things these days. Things like the fact that this is supposed to be a travel blog. But like I said, Covid is to blame, not me.
With that excuse in hand, let me say we met a cool gent camping alone next to us in a new and magnificent Gazelle tent that he somehow erected by himself. Dahna watched how he worked slowly and deliberately and up the big thing went for what could have been its maiden flight thanks to the windstorm we had that night.
The next day he told us the tent met the rigorous blow your house down test and would do quite well with a few tweaks. It’s sort of a tent mansion for him and his little white fur ball, Beni, and certainly for others later on. Very interesting guy. He’s about Dahna’s age and sports what he calls his “wild pandemic beard” and longish, white hair brushed straight back. He seemed mildly embarrased about it and said, “My wife would never let me look like this.”
She died a little over 3 years ago and you can see the love he has for her plainly on his face. When he speaks of their 40 years together it’s best not to interject. He won’t ignore you exactly but he’ll turn you down like a radio while he remembers and tells you a little about her.
He met her in New Orleans while playing nights in a band around town. The daughter of a prominent chef of the city, she was a French citizen, registered nurse, and mother of his son and daughter. Her speciality was in oncology and she was even published in scientific journals for her research on the disease. My own chemist wife perked up at that, a cancer survivor and published a few times herself.
But, I gathered that her toughest job was when she worked as a school nurse for some years, dealing with the same kind of things that make teaching harder these days than it has to be. Any version of being a nurse, anytime, anywhere has got to be tougher than just about anything. “Essential personnel,” indeed.
Once in high school, I felt crappy and went to the school nurse so I could go home. I told her I had a “temper” and didn’t catch it until I got home with my fever. She must have thought, ‘Dumb jock.’ I had a flattop at the time and was, in fact, a dumb jock. I am no longer a jock.
Kerry’s is no fantasist but he can imagine one as you’ll see. He lives in this world and thinks mostly about his kids and bandmates and what’s in front of him like that tent. Even so, he seems a bit wistful and looks out past you when he thinks back to her.
I think most men married to their wives for a long time don’t expect to outlive them because, first, they know the probabilities recorded in the actuarial tables are solidly against it. Second, living alone without your true love is just unthinkable, unacceptable. But sometimes it happens anyway.
He tapped a few times on his phone and then held it up to us. And there she was, this absolutely beautiful young woman.
He’s immensely proud of her and said, “You can see I was way, way out of my league.” Kerry is a trained musician, a percussionist in fact. But after uncounted gigs playing in bands around the country and in Europe, he thinks of himself as a drummer. It’s well known to horny young boys eagerly buying their first guitar, or drum kit in this case, that girls lean to the dulcet and seductive tones of music, its special resonance de la vie.
I’m not saying this is why Kerry became a musician or why Anne Marie first considered smiling at this young, ginger haired drummer because, at least from this man’s point of view, there’s an awful lot of good stuff in his head beside music. I’m sure she noticed that too, right away.
For one thing, he has another degree in landscape architecture, spending many years working days as a professional with the highway department and retiring vested. He duly showed me on his phone a CAD design he made of the elaborate landscape changes he’s making in his backyard. Seeing that clued me in about how the man was able to pitch that new tent by himself so straightaway. I can’t do CAD or even text very well, and I gave up on tent raising many years and many expletives ago.
He’s also a fine artist specializing in beautiful line drawings in intricate detail. He showed me several on the phone and now I think he can draw anything perfectly. I saw wonderful portraits, animals and landscapes including one of a rich fantasy world out of something like the Ring Trilogy. I can draw much simpler things in 2 or even 3 dimensions but need a T-square and a 30° triangle. That and a big eraser.
Well, it’s a perfect day in every way and I’m sitting here at the picnic table happily listening to Stephen Stills’ hoarse voice through the camper’s external speakers. Sacha’s lying at my feet and Dahna just walked up after a long spell birding with her stomach growling. Maybe that’s mine. Off to town for lunch. Kerry’s gone off with Beni canoeing a nearby lake and we hope to meet up with them again later.
Okay, we finally did get to The Limestone Mexican Grill in Bulverde that Dahna picked out, but things weren’t auguring well for our dining experience. Getting there was a bitch first of all because of a bumper-to-bumper traffic snarl that took 20 minutes to go less than a mile through 3 or 4 eternal red lights. After overshooting the place because I’m apparently not good with signs, and pirouetting that big truck through a couple of tiny, insanely curbed parking lots to backtrack, we sat at our table out on the patio with Sacha.
The waitress brought out a little basket of tortilla chips and a tiny bowl of water-thin salsa. The flies got to it about the same time we did but fortunately, I guess, the wind picked up. The flies blew away but the wind chill arrived with its nip. Dahna had her back to it and wore a light jacket. I just wore one of my cheap pull over Polo type shirts and a pair of shorts.
Waves were about to form in the salsa and I was starting to get cold when across the road a small Bobcat backhoe with a crazy loud backup beeper started darting back and forth in a maniacal frenzy. Dahna and I looked across the table at each other. We scanned the flat plastic Waffle House style menu, sighed and ordered from the lunch menu; enchiladas verde for her and, what the hell, beef fajitas for me. They were cheap enough.
Our brisk and quiet waitress brought our food out seemingly too soon for comfort and set the plates down quickly and left. The fajita meat was piled high mixed in with grilled onions and peppers and hissing loudly in its cast iron dish with its potholder. The big plate of double rice, guacamole and pico de gallo was also too hot to touch and I learned about that on my own. I warned Dahna but she ignored me as usual and I must admit I had to suppress a giggle when she let out a yelp followed by, “Jesus!”
So, the wind died down and the backhoe left and the flies stayed gone and we had a fantastic lunch because … Well, I don’t know. That’s just how it went down, one bite at a time. One of the great lunches and only 26 bucks with tip! Sacha got fed lots off our plates, and we were so stuffed that later for dinner we just split a single ham sandwich and an apple between us. Sacha got her usual cut. To be fair, that apple was a very big Honey Crisp. Sadly, there were cookies too.
We were at Guadalupe River S.P. for 5 days and 4 nights and they were all good ones. The birding was middlin’ in spite of Dahna’s intrepid stalking, and she suspects the lingering effect from last year’s terrible winter bird kill. This happened during the infamous big freeze that also planted not a few Texans. But, the weather was fine and so was the company and the food. Nothing much not to like about the place.
Dahna left the big D-500 Nikon with its huge telephoto lens at home because it’s too ungainly and heavy for her. In fact, just looking at that lens makes my neck hurt. I think she’s going to sell the lens for a smaller, lighter one pretty soon. However, she got some good shots as usual with her P-900 and that brings me to this:
Is there anything on this tiny blue ball spinning way out on the edge of this pissant little galaxy more beautiful than a grey fox? Sacha is? Okay, I’ll give you that.
We broke camp the same time as Kerry. He was taking down his tent when I walked over and offered to help. He said, “Thanks, but I’d better teach myself how to do this so I can do it better next time.”
Yeah. That’s the secret to the good life in this wonderful place where we all live together. Somehow.