“Your mom is dead!”
Yes, I had heard her; I just couldn’t believe that she was saying those words to me.
“I said your mom is dead.”
In a flash, or less than a flash, I wondered how this woman could know that my mom was dead. My co-worker, whose name I still do not know, was standing across from my work-station, stretching as far away from her own station as her head-set cord would allow her to reach. Her eyes were wide open and she had a pale, freckled face and curly, long, brown hair, the images of which have embedded themselves forever in my mind. They are as vivid as if this happened yesterday, and not six months ago.
How could she know that my mom was dead? Why was this woman, this fellow call-taker, telling me that my mom was dead? Why hadn’t my supervisor taken me into one of the offices and told me, gently, that my mom was gone? Why? Yes, my mom was sick. She had a mitral-valve prolapse that was slowly worsening, and if she didn’t have an operation pretty soon, the valve was going to give out completely and she would die. The heart would lose its compression and not be able to pump the blood through her body. It would still beat, but the blood wouldn’t go anywhere. So, knowing that my mom’s surgery was scheduled for the next week, and that she was doing OK the last time I had spoken with her, I couldn’t grasp the reality of what this lady was telling me – that my mom was dead.
I stood up from my terminal after telling my own caller to hold-on a second.
“What…what did you say?”
“Your mom is dead. You know…from your call.”
Oh…not my mom…the one from my call. The call I had taken 15 minutes ago. The one that I had already tried to place in the back of my mind so I could move along and take whatever other calls were going to interject themselves into my life, one beep at a time.
One beep at a time. We never know what is going to be happening on the other side of the phone when we hear the beep and answer it with “9-1-1, What is your emergency?” The callers may be misusing the emergency phone system and want to know how to get from one side of the city to the other; they may want to talk to an officer about their Elvis on black-velvet painting, “You know, the one I reported as stolen last year,” that they found this afternoon at a garage sale; or it may be serious…like the one I had several minutes earlier.
A near-frantic woman’s voice answered my question by saying that the two neighbor girls just banged on her door and told her that they had just escaped from the bathroom in their apartment where they had been locked-in since about 7:30 that morning. In the background, the girls were talking very fast, whimpering, crying, rambling…. “He broke through the door and pointed his gun at us and shoved us into the bathroom. He had some cord and tape and wrapped us up real tight and then ran into the other room where he started yelling at our mom.” The voices were excited, scared, and it seemed that they were almost unbelieving of what their own eyes had witnessed those many hours before, and were now reliving, as they told their neighbor what they thought they remembered seeing.
The lady went on…“The mom’s boyfriend then went into her bedroom and started throwing her around. The girls said they could see him tying her to the bed and then he started choking her. When they came to my door they said they didn’t know where their mom was…they think the guy may have taken her somewhere…or that she may be dead…and you’ve got to send someone over here quick!”
My mind was racing and trying to get it all down right and to remember to hit the correct keys and to ask the right questions and to code it properly and my mind was getting stuck on what to call this because this was the first call that I have ever had like this and I’m scared and I know that if I don’t do it right all kinds of things can happen and I’m still on probation and what if they pull the tape and review it and…. I managed to get everything done and then I hit the transmit button and the ‘Hot-Radio’ button and told the lady to hang on a second while I got the officers going.
“Radio,” she answered. “Radio, this is for Chase North. Incident Number 3694. We have a possible kidnapping or murder or something…at such and such an address at the San Carlos Bay Apartments in Number 3122…. The little girls think their mom’s boyfriend may have abducted her and the last time they saw her this morning, the man was choking her…and they just got out of the bathroom.”
“Ma’am, we’ve got officers started…help is on the way. Can you ask the girls what the man’s name is? Do they know where he might have taken their mom? Do they remember what he was wearing? Have they seen the kind of vehicle that he drives? Can you ask the girls….”
…those little girls, the ones right there beside you, the little girls who saw their mom strangled to death…can you ask them….
I was gone. I was lost. There was nobody else in the call-center. The other operators had disappeared like so much dust and left me there, alone at my console. There was no laughter; there was no sound from the ring-down lines from Fire or DPS. The supervisor’s station to my left had vanished into the misty haze of my periphery and the fax and computer printers were mute. The large bank of windows in front of me might as well have had bricks mortared into their frames, for I saw none of their light. Someone must have put black canvas over the several sky-lights…silenced the other 25 phones, and…taken it all away…there was nothing in the world but the screen in front of me with its lines and the words that I was feeding it…and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough. My mind couldn’t think fast enough. My ears couldn’t stop hearing the little sobs on the other end of the phone. The lady was brave for them. Her strained voice rose and fell. I could hear the words cracking as she forced herself to repeat my questions to them. My own throat was tight with the need to cry, and I could almost see their tears as they were glistening down their cheeks. I could feel the girls’ shaking bodies in my own. My face was burning; adrenaline was flying through my veins; my heart was pounding in my chest; there were four heartbeats echoing in my temples as the lady and girls huddled there around the phone and shared their horrible sadness…asking me to help them.
Somehow…I got the call to Radio within 50 seconds of the tone sounding in my ear…the dispatchers had it over the air within another 15 seconds and the officers arrived in less than another two minutes…and then I heard them at the door, and the lady hung-up…and I don’t know what else….
My arm felt like lead as I reached up to press the ‘Not Ready’ button that would prevent another call from coming through to my phone. I guess that motion was like releasing a spring that held the shade down over my eyes, for suddenly, there was light in the room, the other operators were talking, and I could hear them tapping out the words that would send help to another caller in another part of the city. The supervisors were moving about their station, leaning over now and again to listen to the Chase-dispatchers who had taken my call…and the other calls. The bricks were gone from the windows, the canvas was removed from the sky-lights, and the other familiar sounds began, once again, to move in and out of my awareness. I leaned back in my chair and stared blankly at the air in front of me. My burning, tear-filled eyes didn’t move as other people glanced in my direction; my chest slowed from its heaving while my left index-finger twitched with an abnormal pulsation.
I looked at the phone and saw that the ‘Calls Holding’ light was blinking and knew that I had to get back to work. Someone else was calling for help, or for whatever. Another reach of my arm and the “Not Ready” button was released. And the tone beeped in my ear again…and again.
I don’t know how many calls I had taken after that one call, but the minutes passed, and before I could take the time to look at the call-history to see what the officers had found at the girls’ apartment, that co-worker of mine stood up and said “Your mom is dead!” I suppose my own mental trauma, or whatever one would choose to call it, of having taken that call, must have caused me to separate from my surroundings, so that when she said those words, I didn’t think about what I had just gone through, but instead thought of my own mom. I can’t sum-up the psychological processes that were working at those moments, but what I do know is that, when my co-worker said my mom was dead, that is exactly what I thought she was saying – that my mom was dead.
But she wasn’t, and isn’t…but those little girls’ mom was, and is…and that tone still beeps in my ear.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2009.
Reading Steinbeck makes me long for the days when I worked with the health department, makes me long for the time when I used to be out and among the people, touching their lives, sometimes touching their hands or bodies in ways that let me know that they and I were alive in a human sense that also touched me in my deepest heart.
As I write this, tears are coming to my eyes and my throat is getting tight at remembering that life, that previous life when my days were filled with more than the talk of a police radio and the answering of 9-1-1 phone calls, when I could drive about the city where I lived, my city and county where the people were mine and I was theirs and charged with doing something for them. I could see and feel them, could smell their smells and walk in the dust of their roads and unkempt back and front yards.
I long for the smell of a hot palm tree as it is baking in the August sun with the pigeons and other birds shitting down on those people and me and my car, where I could walk among the duck shit at Encanto Park when I was taking a break from my many field visits and rest in the shade or watch the white middle-class moms taking their three and four year-olds decked-out in Oshkosh-by-gosh jumpers and short-sets to play in the sand entrenched playground while watching the transients wander between the bathrooms and pay phones, watching who might be watching them and not.
I would sit in my car and watch the people who came to the park on their lunch breaks, wondering at who they were speaking to on their cell-phones, or wonder at what they were reading or writing as they sat at the picnic tables and looked up every now and then as the swarm of pigeons took wing and brought up the dust and dirt from their wings and the ground in their leaving.
I long for the days when I would walk down 12th Avenue and Buckeye and feel the stares on me as the locals wondered what they hell I was doing in their neighborhood. Some would recognize my white car and white self parked along the curb and come out to talk with me, while many others stood inside at their windows waiting for me to leave.
I can see the area still as it used to exist, with Dixon’s Club on the south east corner of 13th Avenue and Buckeye, old gray and purplish stuccoed building with the one scraggly Palo-Verde tree there on the corner with the dirt parking lot and old wooden door jamb that had seen many fights and raids and strange white cops darken its doorway, and then across the street on Buckeye proper at 12-something west, the Social Club and its parking lot on the east side of the building where I got some blood on my hand after drawing someone at the trunk of my car, with my little black fanny-pack of a blood kit, elastic band to tie off their arm, the tubes and needles and alcohol wipes for cleaning the puncture spot…the wipes that came away filthy brown most times and lightened that tiny patch of skin where I would insert the needle to take some of their precious blood to see if it was tainted with the curse of syphilis.
I would then drive the sample back to the clinic and deliver it to the lab and watch patiently as the techs spun it down and then took a drop of the serum and mixed it with the reagent that would quickly, slowly, or not at all react with its charcoal grains that meant those people or persons had been touched with that curse, that same curse that made me scream in my soul at receiving the blood test results of the newborn that was four times higher than its mom’s blood results taken at the same time.
Reading Steinbeck causes me to see the little insignificant things in life and marvel at their simple-ness and integral-ness to what we call life. He draws a big picture but fleshes it out with the details that I seem to be away from now that I’m in an office or call-center all day. I hear the distress of people on the phones or the excited-ness of the officers as they’re chasing someone and the usually calm voice of the sergeant saying that we are not in pursuit and watch the new dispatcher get amped-up and tense in her typing as she’s trying to get it all down in the officers’ radio traffic….
I see the same two hundred people every day or week and they all look the same in their uniforms and combed hair and large and cumbersome work bags and headsets and their lunches and breakfasts and coffee for their two best friends and supervisor who used to be only their friend but is now their friend’s supervisor, and the radio consoles and phones and computers for call-taking and dispatching and the tables that move up and down and the many chairs that must be arranged so just so in the corners to hold their extra bags and the ones that nobody wants to sit in because they stink or have strange stains where the person’s crotch would be sitting or the one wheel doesn’t turn or it’s wide enough to be a loveseat and some of them bring all kinds of shit from home with them that their desks look like their office at home with pictures of kids and husband and dog and their personal box of Kleenex and Lysol wipes and their three pens and packages of gum and this book and that and the notepad….
My car used to be my office, too, as I drove around from one side of the county to the next, taking my little binder with green cards that represented infections or contacts to infections and carried my notes of efforts to contact and find them on the back, and my pens and pencils in the cup holder and the extra napkins from McDonalds and Jack-in-the-Box and Filiberto’s and Armando’s and Adelberto’s and Los Betos from my own various lunches and breakfasts amid the wandering of my city and then.
I now drive only two or three roads to get to work and back and the commute is a sterile representation of only getting from one place to another, not the driving about and looking for people and noticing the shrimp shack or burger shack where they served pancakes or menudo on the weekends or used a small pickup truck to block the entrance to the car stereo shop when it was closed for business….
Sometimes I’d drive to El Mirage or Surprise and wonder at the surprise of being there, or wonder at what was seen in that first mirage seen out there so long ago before it had a sign naming the year of its incorporation and how many people lived there at the last count…and its cotton fields along which I would stop and pick a couple tufts of the white stuff and wonder at the years of oppression of people who were dragged from African shores to pick the stuff….
I would stand there for several minutes and wonder at the dirt and the irrigation channels and see and hear the aircraft from Luke AFB nearby and be thrown further away and into my childhood where these sights and sounds were a comfort and a normalcy of everyday stuff and business, and then get back into my car and drive past the fields of roses and other flowering bushes and shrubs and be amazed at how fields and fields of the things could be grown here in our hot scorching desert and then cut and shipped to other parts of the country or world to adorn people’s dining room tables….
Then I would drive past fields of onions being picked by hunched over brown skinned people and there would be a smell of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips in the air and I would drive to the far western side of Maricopa county in the truly bum-fuck-Egypt part of our world and find myself surrounded by the huge and monstrous and beautiful female cottonwood trees in full bloom with their white cottony shit flying thick and cloudlike in the afternoon breezes among the trailers and mobile homes parked and anchored in their allotted spaces with the Big-Wheel trikes and Tonka trucks tucked under and beside the wheeled homes that did or didn’t have the nice grating or plastic wall skirts all around their homes….
And the people were gentle and welcoming or suspicious as to why I would be all the way out there in their neck of the woods with my health department identification looking for their daughter or son or whomever and is the water not ok to drink out here or what?
When I read Steinbeck I wonder how I could abandon those field and dairy workers and their little families of infected people and cousins, leaving them to other devices and treatments when I used to be able to tell them to go to the clinic and don’t have sex until you do and the smell of chicken and cow shit is strong on the hot breeze as I stand there in the scorching sun with sweat running down my cheeks as I also smell their beans and ham hocks and rice cooking on the stove, emitting their own clouds of steam or the chilies roasting on the fifty-five gallon drums with the smoke penetrating the neighborhood and my clothes so that I still smell them when I’m driving home to my house in Glendale or Peoria and find some of those same chilies at the ABCO market or Food City…and I could look in their dark eyes and see the hope and trust or wonder or doubt as my white self told them what they needed to do to take care of themselves as their little Juanito ran around in his diaper and nothing else eating a peach with stickiness on his face and hands and arms and belly as he chased their dogs from the trailer to the shed and back….
Now it perturbs me when someone steals my favorite spoon out of my desk drawer at work and I feel the need to send scathing emails to my coworkers accusing them of thievery or asking who dropped the coffee bomb on my desk and among my pictures and I used to not care about such things as I drove my client to Jack-in-the-Box on the way to the clinic so I could buy her two Jumbo Jacks and a large curly-fries and a large Coke because she only had a package of dry Ramen noodles yesterday….
I had found her at her shit-hole trailer at Sixth Avenue and Jones that day and looked into her home and saw daylight shining up through the plywood covered floor and the kids were missing some of their front teeth as they eyed me suspiciously and asked me in their maturity what I wanted with their mom….
The older one noticed that the last name on my ID tag was the same as his and asked if I knew his family…and his name was also Josh, like my 12yo son and he was going to be 12 in November, too…and he was cute and had the same gentleness in his eyes as my Josh did/does…and I wondered at how life could be so unfair and so fucked-up for this little Joshua when things seemed and were so nice for my little Joshua….
I could smell his house and home and filth and dreams for the rest of the day, even after I blew my nose several times, chewed sharp and tingly gum and had enchiladas and salsa for lunch…I could still smell those things of that other Joshua’s house as I drove home to mine those several hours later after taking his HIV positive mom to my clinic so we could also treat her gonorrhea and chlamydia and try to convince her to stop sleeping with her boyfriend who was already dying from AIDS….
But she wouldn’t and didn’t and we came to see her on the foster care review board and later saw that she died and was no more and that her other children went the way of the wind and some and now I’m concerned with ferreting out the problem with the radio and is it the jack or the bottom part of the dispatcher’s headset that suddenly crashed and made the sergeant call me to say that we lost our dispatcher so we’re going car to car, thought you’d like to know….
I know there are Steinbeck stories in the radio room and among the 9-1-1 operators…and their hair is so shiny and their perfume or lotion smells so sweet and their cars are so pretty in the parking lot and the digital picture frames of their children and vacations are so expensive and their cruises are so interesting and so far removed from the shit side of life…and they do have their trials and difficulties and their parents die violent deaths in car accidents and murder-suicides and their lives do suck sometimes too….
But somehow there is no parallel between this and sitting in the small interview room of the clinic or sitting in the dirt under one of the ancient eucalyptus trees in an alley on the south side of town while a hugely fat, dark purple-black man who just told me about the hood rat who sucked his dick and gave him syphilis changes the subject so quickly and asks me if I know Jesus….
I love reading Steinbeck.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from November, 2009.
We were sitting on the couch, my little one and I, with his mom on the love-seat across from us, watching a movie. We had a bowl of popcorn between us, and as my little one reclined into one of the pillows, he took handfuls of the popcorn and not so delicately or accurately plied the fluffy stuff into his mouth. When the majority of the bowl was gone, he started playing with the pieces of popcorn, alternately flicking them into his mouth or smashing them in his palm and then licking-up the pieces like a dog. We paused the movie occasionally to ask or answer a question, to run to the bathroom, get a refill of one of our drinks or the other…and then continued watching and eating and enjoying the movie and each other’s company. The further into the bowl we got, the more broken pieces of popcorn there were on the little one’s blanket, pillow, pajamas, and surrounding couch area.
I reached over to pick-up some of the crumbs and broken pieces to put them back in the bowl…and made a mistake….
“Do you think you’re making a big enough mess, you little slob?”
Did you just…call me a slob?
My little one asked this with a quivering chin and downcast eyes as he picked a piece of popcorn off of the blanket beneath his chin and placed it anxiously into his mouth.
“Well yeah, look at the mess…hey….”
There were big alligator tears and an immediately running nose and the sobbing of words and half words that I couldn’t understand between his crying and the movie and his mom and my questioning and….
“Hey there…I was just playing….”
Why…did you…call…me that? What was…why are you….
And more tears…and my heart was breaking at his breaking heart and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and oh….
“Hey, Buddy, look at me,” as I patted his foot, “I was only playing…you’re making such a mess here…hey…look…I was only playing.” I reached over and dragged him to me…. “Hey…I call your mom a slob too, sometimes…when she makes a mess…I wasn’t trying to be mean….”
And his chest was shaking and he was wiping tears across his face and his mom brought over a Kleenex to blow his nose…and I was holding back a smile in my amazement and tears in my sadness at how I had just crushed his little heart…his daddy calling him a slob.
“Hey there…why are you crying? I was only playing….”
I…don’t like…being…called names.
“I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, Buddy. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings or upset you…I was just playing with you.”
I accept your…apology. Sniff….
An important aspect of my little one’s life and existence, at this point in his eight years (now eleven), and possibly for many more years as he learns to decipher and remember the various meanings of our vast array of socially constructed and freighted expressions and intentions and nuanced meanings, is his acceptance of things as they are presented to him. He doesn’t see the gray or shading in many of our words and intentions. The idiosyncrasies of our speech and the subtle and not-so-subtle meanings of our paired words sometimes escape him, even when we’re joking around…they mean, to him, what they literally mean. In my playing, I forgot about the concreteness of his brilliant little mind…and the tenderness of his easily broken heart.
Oh…how it hurts sometimes….
This is a Favorite Re-post from April, 2010.
There is much that we simply cannot see when we are down in the valleys and canyons of the mountains that surround us…however…when we find ourselves perched atop a ridge-line or peak, it is almost as if the world has been opened for us and we can see…and see. I found myself atop the ridge-line between Days Fork and Cardiff Fork a couple of weekends ago…and almost could not believe the view. These are some of the various peaks that comprise our Wasatch Mountains…the eastern border for the greater Salt Lake Valley.
I saw your face and thought of a name, but was it yours, I wondered, and couldn’t say for sure. Was it at work, in the clinic, in front of the vet, or down the road at the gas-station, the gym, or…? I know, I remember now…it was when you were getting out of your car that day with your little ones in the grocery store parking lot and I hesitated before pulling into the spot next to you because your kids were standing there with big eyes looking at the car, my car, that was coming at them. I just sat there in my patience and waited for you to grab their hands or usher them in some other way out of “my” spot. You looked up and glared at me and angrily waved at me to drive on in. I still waited, as I do, for you to get the little ones’ hands, to offer them your security, that sense of “Daddy’s got you, so it’s OK” before I continued in with my car. You were swearing at me when I finally parked and you were walking away, little ones in tow. As my car alarm beeped in my leaving, your words of “What the fuck are you looking at?!” bounced into my ears and around in my head and I couldn’t imagine “what the fuck” you were talking about. I shouted “Hey!” and you yelled “What, bitch?!” and I said “I was waiting for your little ones to move.” You suggested that I stop being such a fucking idiot and just park my goddamned car as your little ones’ eyes went from you to me as they were being tugged bodily up through the asphalted parking lot and into the store where the air-curtain above the door whooshed and splayed at their hair and yours and mine as I followed, not following, per se, just going in the same direction.
And it’s you I see again one day, inside of another store, with you waiting in line for the lady to ring-up your stuff and me walking past to go into another aisle. Your kids aren’t with you and we, consequently, have nothing to talk about, but you see me and I see you and I remember very clearly where I know you from. I see you looking after me as I turn into the aisle and my face is calm and your brow is furrowed. “Where do I know you from?” you’re wondering, maybe, as you were wondering, still, when I left the opening to the aisle and was gone again.
Today, literally, these years later, I still see your little ones’ eyes. Their tiny, large brown eyes looking at me through long and curly lashes and framed with clean black hair. I see them looking at me behind the windshield and then walking through the parking lot, seemingly at and after them and I wonder at their wondering. I see them looking up at you and your full brown angry face and silver black hair, first one and then the other, and then back at me. I see their little arms tugged in their tiny t-shirts as you hauled them out of the parking spot and across the lot and into the store.
I see them still….
This is a Favorite Re-post from October 2010.
I saw Superman walk down my hallway today and he didn’t and doesn’t care what you think about him. He was a white-boy with dread-locked hair that’s long enough to tuck behind his ears and he smelled like the stink and rot of unwashed bodies in tight and closed places. I’ve smelled his kith and kin in hovels bare and small. I’ve sat and listened to their stories of life and things passed-by and wondered at their truth and then found that it didn’t matter, those things and they, well…they became true in the telling. And today, as he shuffled past me in his coke-bottle glasses with scratches and old and yellowed tint from age and sun and wear, the arms hooked over ears with huge and fearsome gauges stuck in the lobes causing holes that would be large as a ring on my thumb, he shuffled past in that mess and whatnot with torn jeans and ravaged converses as he huddled his face into the small baby of two months or less and whispered his whiskered and loving words into his tiny self. He whispered kind nothings and stink and I didn’t smell his breath, but neither did the baby as he lay there cuddled and warm against that chest in the torn and fake-leather jacket and was loved by him in all that it meant to him. That baby there was cherished in those moments where he existed in my life and Superman had him and rocked his world…and I hope he remembers that love when life comes on him hard and rough as it sometimes will…I hope he remembers that his Daddy loved him, then.
***This is a Favorite Re-post from October, 2010.
This is the final post in a series in which I have shared my hike up into Days Fork Canyon, another of the tributary canyons that extend off of Big Cottonwood Canyon, just east of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. I’m not sure what this large piece of iron might have been during the mine’s operation, but it remains with us in its multiple pieces, somehow resembling a face-plate for a piece of machinery…brought west from Bridgeport, Massachusetts, in whatever year. I have Googled “iron works Massachusetts” and have found a bit of information, but nothing with “Roberts” in a company’s name…so who knows what this is or might have been.
Another hiker has made a stack of remnant bricks atop the machinery, telling those who follow that this is part of the trail….
The hillside has begun to slide and cover the hoist…and the mine is slowly swallowing one of the remaining boilers….
I like the rich colors of earth and rust and the greening of Life that wants to take back what is hers…with a touch of pink on the Indian Paintbrush nearby….
I don’t know the proper name of this petalled piece of cog-ware, but we can see its former function in the third photo below this one…as it appears to have a twin on the left side of the hoist that is also pictured above.
It’s pretty up-close, too….
Empty boilers that have seen more productive days….
The trail continues to the left of the area shown in these photos. It goes for another quarter of a mile or so into the terminus of the Fork…a sort of bowl-shaped dead-end that is littered with rocks and trees…and has some other mining tailing-piles up on the surrounding hills.
This is the last picture I took of the area, below, as the clouds that had been moving in my direction all morning had started to sprinkle and then rain. I think it might have been just as well, though, because as I ventured further above the remaining snow and onto the lower portion, and then to the right on that slope you see in almost the dead center of the photograph, I had a feeling of sadness come over me and rather lost the desire to take any more photos.
I think the melancholy was due to witnessing the remaining damage that had been caused by our forebears’ attempts at industry…bare hillsides that must have been pristine and thriving forests before their arrival. I don’t know how long the mining operations continued in the area after the burning of the Eclipse Mine in 1888, but if they were to have stopped immediately after that incident, this area would have had/has had approximately 124 years to recover. Yes, we can see that Nature has begun to reclaim what is hers by slowly swallowing the boilers and with the hillside sliding down to envelope the hoist, but it seems like it’s going to take quite a long time before we can no longer see traces of ourselves out there. We have the ability to obliterate forests in a couple of years…but they will take hundreds more to return on their own.
If you’d like to visit the two earlier posts, Days Fork – I and Days Fork - II, just click on their highlighted names to do so. Thank you for stopping-by and spending a bit of time with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the hike….
This photo picks-up exactly where we left of in the earlier post, Days Fork I…the image is only slightly different, providing just a touch of another perspective…anyway, here we are, heading toward the mine near the end of the road/trail…and we are enjoying the journey…because that’s what it’s all about….
I think I turned around and looked behind me more on this hike than I have on most others. This is the only trail that I’ve been on in the Wasatch Mountain canyons that border Salt Lake City where I’ve seen a sign warning that this was BEAR COUNTRY. The sign was posted in the Spruce’s Campground area where the Days Fork trail actually starts. So it was a little freaky for a bit of the hike, especially walking on the trail that skirted the woods…and then went into the meadow…and then skirted the woods again. I was trying to imagine where I would be more likely to see one…would it be in the open meadow, on the mostly clear hillside, similar to where I saw the moose in Cardiff Fork…or would it be in the thicker pine woods…? I mentioned all of that to say that this is a shot of my back-trail. The tree in the immediate right foreground is the same smaller tree that you saw in the above photo, just to the left of center.
And the beautifully textured bark in this photo is from the tree that you can see to the left of the trail in the above picture….
This almost looks like some of the red rocks that one can see in Kanab, Utah…or in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Forest in the southern part of our state. If you’d like to see some beautiful photographs of those last two areas, stop-by for a visit with Kerry Liebowitz at his Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog. He just completed a series of his twelve-day photo-excursion to southern Utah and northern Nevada…stunning photography. The below photo is my version of a red-rock canyon wall…but from the inside of a decaying tree stump….
Indian Paintbrush flowers come in at least two varieties here in our Utah mountains…this wide-petalled version and another with more spikey petals. I’ve noticed the spikey version at higher altitudes than the other…. Wikipedia says that there are around 200 species of the flower, ranging from Alaska down to the Andes Mountains in South America, as well as in northern Asia and Siberia….
I want to say that this is a White Pine laying in a bed of Lupine, but I could be wrong on both counts…. Whatever they are, they struck me as beautiful…and notice the “baby” pine tree tucked against the side of the downed tree…more of that fascinating circle-of-life stuff.
I would say that this was essentially the first sign of the mine after I rounded a bend and came up the hill a bit…. You can see the pile of tailings there in the middle of the photo. It’s my understanding that all of that dirt and rock came out of the mountain, shovel-full piled upon shovel-full and after a bit, it became a platform upon which the men worked as they dug their mine…or in this case, dug a shaft a couple of hundred feet down to a tunnel that had already been dug into the area from the other side of the ridge.
Remains of something…maybe just a retaining wall to prevent the earth from spilling back down onto the now almost non-existent road.
In his book, The Lady in the Ore Bucket, author Charles L. Keller tells us that mining activities were conducted in Days Fork for many years. He also mentions that the “best-known remnant from those days is the remains of the Eclipse Mine” (p. 205)…the rusted contraptions of what-not that we can see in the following photos. While there was something about all of this that I found (and still find) incredibly fascinating and interesting, I still had the thoughts going through my head about why it was all still out there…. It struck me as being analogous to “space junk,” all of our left-over pioneer, trail-blazing garbage that we just didn’t want to drag back home with us. But then I kept taking pictures, and kept walking around, kept getting eye-ball-close to the tangible remains of a history that helped make the place what it is today. Keller said that the mine operated from late 1877 until early 1888 when it was reported to have burned to the ground…nothing remained but what you see in the photos of this and the next post, along with some huge timbers and cord-wood that managed to return to the earth in one fashion or another.
I understand that these are the remains of the hoist motor that lowered lumber and supplies down into the tunnels that connected with those of the Flagstaff Mine that was being operated on the other side of the ridge that you can see in the background. Within a couple of years of this mine’s discovery and subsequent addition to the other mine’s tunnel complex, about 10 tons of ore were being extracted from this mine per day…none of it came up this shaft and out through Days Fork, but it was extracted from this mine.
Below is another view of the hoist motor (probably/maybe?), one of the three remaining boilers, and some miscellaneous pipe.
More to follow….
Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the three major canyons in the Wasatch Mountain range that creates a beautiful and natural eastern boundary for the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The early years of pioneer settlement saw the canyons being ravaged for their lumber…stands of pristine forest with pine and fir trees that had diameters between three and four feet across were taken down to build houses, supply wood for stoves and furnaces, and for developing industry.
As the years passed, and as the political climate of the Salt Lake area changed, exploitation of the canyon’s natural resources continued in the form of mining for precious metals. The early 1860s saw numerous individuals and companies filing claims with the local courts so they could dig into the mountainsides and remove what they might…often packing the ore down their constructed roadways with wagons and mule-carts, and later with narrow-gauge railcars, depending on their location. The pretty flower shown below is a Sticky Geranium.
If you looked at a map of the area’s canyons today, you would be able to identify gulches, tributary canyons, and various forks in the mountains by the names of people who had filed either mining or lumber claims in the particular areas…or had built a road into the woods and charged a toll for each wagon load of lumber…or who had been the ”first” (Anglo?) to explore particular peaks or ridges…or had been a mine superintendant…or…. Albion Basin, near Alta, at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon, received its name from the Albion Mining Company; Alexander Basin in Millcreek Canyon was named after a man and his sons who harvested trees from a particular slope…and Days Fork was likely named after one of the Mormon settlers who filed a mining claim in the area. Day was a common name among the pioneers, but it is not known which particular one filed the claim in this tributary canyon of Big Cottonwood Canyon proper.
Those blurred and brownish cone-looking things in the below photo are Western Coneflowers…they’re part of the Sunflower family.
The eventual goal of this and the next two posts is to share my hike up the three-plus mountain miles that lead to the Days Fork mine near the canyon’s terminus; I could just share the pictures of the abandoned mine site, but as with many other pursuits in life, it’s not so much the destination that counts, as it is the journey that takes us there…. I’m told that the brownish, chewed-off branches or sticks that you can see in the photo below are actually young willow trees…a favorite snack/meal of the moose who wander the area.
For those of you who are interested, the trail is reported to be three and a half miles in length and gains 2,000 feet in elevation from start to finish, ending at 9,400 feet. I had hoped to capture interesting images of the rocks that you can see in the above trail…but ended-up with the below image of one part blurred rock, one part not-blurred rock, and one part beautiful water-droplets-on-grass-blades from the previous evening’s rain.
The historical information I mentioned above can be found in The Lady in the Ore Bucket, by Charles L. Keller…a retired engineer and an avocational historian who still leads hiking excursions into the local canyons…at more than 80 years of age….
I am still struck by the beautiful examples of the circle-of-life that I find on my canyon and mountainside hikes…like the sapling that is growing next to the broken trunk of an ancient tree that is slowly returning to the earth…its minerals nourishing the new tree that will take his place in the forest landscape, providing food and shelter for the small animal life and recycling life-sustaining elements that will be used again and again by his forest neighbors.
The above flower is a Colorado Columbine…a weighty name that evokes memories of a horrible event in our modern history of America…. I often find the flower standing alone, or with only a couple of blossoms on a single plant…making me wonder how it got there and why there are no others around it. I understand seed dispersal through winds and bird/animal droppings, but it still strikes me as strange that there aren’t more together, or at least nearby, when I find one or two of these alluring and beautiful flowers.
I believe the flowers below are Mountain Daisies…although, some of the pictures I’ve found of flowers with that name show varieties with wider and fewer petals…and others with white and yellow petals…so I’m not absolutely certain…but they do look like daisies, and I did find them on a mountain…so they’re Mountain Daisies anyway….
You can see the large white patches of Cow Parsnip in the mountain meadow shown below…beautiful umbellifers that can grow to several feet in height after particularly wet winters and springs. Can you imagine standing there on the trail with me…absolutely nobody else around for at least a couple of miles…or more…? A slight breeze stirs the pine branches overhead…causes a ripple in the wild grass and flowers in the meadow…and brings the scent of wet forest mulch, like a natural perfume rising from the earth itself….
More to follow….
It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen? My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.
The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas. The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest. And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer. The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings. The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished. The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.
When the sun goes down, more people come out. The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless. Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious. In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies. Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim. In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:
West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality. On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue. There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver. The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree. A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old. The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital. Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.
South City Precinct – Death of Child. On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue. A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house. The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand. (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours? How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?) The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department. Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide. On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting. The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend. The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home. Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out. The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene. When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.
West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting. Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road. On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house. The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times. The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd. One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1. I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.
9-1-1, Where is the emergency?
“4321 West Why-Not Lane.” The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.
Is this medical?
“It’s kind of…yeah.”
Do you need paramedics?
What’s going on?
“I shot my wife and children.”
When did you do this?
This is Tuesday morning. You shot your wife on Friday?
Where is your wife now?
“She’s in her office, or my office. She’s laying on the floor.”
And where are the children?
“I don’t have any children.”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house. They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. You shot your wife on Friday, right?
And she’s dead?
Ok. And are your kids there in the house with you?
“I said I don’t have any kids. There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”
And the dogs…they’re ok?
“Yeah, the dogs are fine. I like them.”
You like the dogs.
“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”
And you said you might need paramedics. Are you hurt or something?
“Yeah. I shot myself in the chin.”
You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?
And you did this on Friday?
What’s your name?
And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?
Ok. Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?
“It’s there in the office. I put it up on the desk.”
Are there any other weapons in the house?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”
And where are you in the house right now?
“I’m in the living room.”
Are you going to be ok when the officers get there? We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.
“No. I’m fine. I’ve already fucked-up my life enough. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Ok. It looks like officers are in the area. Can you see any police cars outside yet?
“No. There’s nobody here yet.”
Ok. You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?
“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office. I can see a police car out front now.”
Ok. Are you outside?
And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?
“Nope, just the phone.”
On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.
“Should I put down the phone now? She’s telling me to.”
Yes. Set the phone down.
My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children. He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids. When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call. He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.” The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.” He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.
It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things. They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?
**This is a Favorite Re-post from July, 2010.
I went hiking today…it’s Sunday, and that’s typically what I do on Sundays….
And you might ask me…did I enjoy myself out there, did I have fun…did I like it…and maybe even, did I love it? Well…I couldn’t have said it better myself….
If you’ve read my “About the Blog” page, you will already know or understand that I spent more than ten years working as a police 9-1-1 operator, dispatcher, and communications supervisor. While I no longer do that type of work, my daughter and several friends do…so the memories of “answering the call” are still fresh.
April 8-14, 2012 is National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week…as decreed by Congress at least three times over the last twenty or so years. During this special week, 9-1-1 call centers often host open-houses and sponsor tours to give their tax-paying public a glimpse into their work lives and a better understanding of what actually happens when they dial 9-1-1. This is also a week of celebration, essentially, when those same call-center employees are honored by various businesses, agencies, and private citizen groups and individuals for the role they play in contributing to the safety of their communities. There is often a festive atmosphere in the call-centers during this week, when there are gifts and raffles and theme-based banquets and pot-luck dinners, all sponsored by the particular police/fire departments, the call-center administrators, and those businesses and citizen groups mentioned earlier.
In tribute to those women and men (and my family members and friends) who have worked and/or still work “answering the call,” I am re-visiting an earlier essay that details the work performed by those police 9-1-1 operators and dispatchers. Please click on this link “Inside the Roller-Coaster” to take a closer look.
the orchard is empty and the fruit is all down and the trucks have driven away and left only their tire tracks in the grass and the delicate lingering fumes of their exhaust as a fine mist in the treetops, a filigree of vapor and chemical rind that leaves slowly and at the whim of the breeze. we put the ladders away, back in the barn where they will collect the seasons’ dust and cobwebs as they long for the touch of our hands and the trod of boots on their rungs in the night of the year
a quiet has returned to the place where the buzzing of bees and bird-song are the loudest sounds we hear and a fox peers tentatively from under the fence in the far west end and a man I know steps lightly on the morning stairs, down and down from the ancient painted house and into the yard as the newling morning sun peeks over the distant mountains and the crisp in yesterday’s air left in the evening breeze behind warm currents that lofted lazily into the yard and scooted the leaves yon and away. the quiet will be here for a long while and the trees will settle for their slumber and life abides and kindles a slow flame like a warm and hiding light…and the orchard is empty and the fruit is all down as we pray to our gods for a gentle winter and wet
From one day…so many years ago….
“The sun’s light has faded and gone with its setting more than two hours ago. The star of stars ended its daily cycle behind our valley’s western mountains as it has done every evening now for what must be the past several million years. Now, left in the twilight created by the nearly concealed bathroom light around the corner from where I sit, my eyes perceive this bedroom-world in hues of light and dark. Only gray, black, and lighter gray can be divined by my night-adjusted eyes. In focusing upon the slowly closing eyes of my little loved-one, they disappear with my concentration, but if I look to either side, I can see them clearly, rather, as clearly as the suffused light will allow. My baby’s purple dinosaur pajamas are only a darker gray than the blackened, navy sweat-shorts that I am wearing. She is singing ‘I love you’ in her fifteen-month-old’s dialect as she fights the valiant efforts of the Sandman. Holding her on my lap, I can smell the fragrance of her baby-shampooed hair, just as she, maybe, can smell the scent of ground weeds and back-yard vegetation that lingers on my hands as I caress her ever soft cheeks and jaw line. The contest is finished, and that enchanter of sleep, Mr. Sandman, is victor yet again. His wooings are too much for the protestations of my little one. She has succumbed to the calling of sleep, where, hopefully, she will rest the night through – so that my bride and I can do the same. Good night, Fair One. Sleep well and know that you are loved.”
And from another….
“The Angel sleeps in the lighted room, peacefully unaware that the sun is as bright here as it was in the out-of-doors where she spent the afternoon playing. Looking at her sleep, I am captured by the essence of a baby completely at rest. The tiny curls at the back of her neck are slightly wet and somewhat darker than the rest of her not so long crowning glory. Lying on her belly with the two middle fingers of her left hand motionless now, still from their suckling, she is oblivious to my presence and adoring eyes. Her feet are bare, thanks to her own playfulness; you know she is proud that she removed the socks, smiling with her eyes almost closed to slits…she sleeps. Tousled hair and tiny ears adorn her face and perfectly shaped head. Her right arm is thrown forward and up where it rests on her favorite blanket; miniature lungs cause her little back to rise and fall with sustaining breath; sleep my Little One. Rest safely for another day. Sleep at your ease. When she is gone, my chest will be empty where my heart now beats. I never knew I could love like this. I never cherished holding a tiny form as I do now when I hold her. I was reborn too late. My soul is miserable for not knowing how to love my own then, as I do her, now. Those ticks of the clock have ceased even their echoing. I hope they will forgive me.”
This is a Favorite re-post from March, 2010.
There were too many photos from our field-trip to Antelope Island to share in one posting. I hope you’ll enjoy the second batch, as well.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to drive the bridge that spans Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana…and I’ll have to admit that it was rather un-nerving…nothing but water on both sides for 24 miles. Traveling the causeway that leads to Antelope Island out in the Great Salt Lake was very different. I don’t know if it was that there was literal dirt and earth beneath the roadway, or what…but the seven miles out to the island seemed no different than driving on a regular road out in the city or across the country…it was just a road.
I thought the layer of haze would negatively impact the result of the photos when I was out on the island, but when looking at them later, I find that I actually like the way it causes the mountains to almost appear to be rising up out of the lake.
My younger daughter looking out at the lake. I believe those are the visitors’ center buildings in the distance.
I love the sweeping earth tones, but am excited to see the island in the full green of spring and summer.
There were several horse trailers parked down by the bay on the west side of the island. These were the only riders we saw out on the trails.
I love the fence rails and the golden hills…. It’s almost hard to believe that all of this is on an island.
There’s something about this view…kind of stunning…beautiful.
Lightning or nerve endings or naked Aspen in the sky….
It’s always pleasing when a recommendation (direct or otherwise) from a friend results in a rewarding experience. About two weeks ago, Fergiemoto commented on my Salt Lake City Seagull post and mentioned that you can see LOTS of sea-gulls on the causeway that leads from the mainland to Antelope Island out in the Great Salt Lake. As I have lived in the Salt Lake area for just over a year and had not yet ventured out to visit the lake up-close and personal, let alone traveled the 40 miles north of the city to visit Antelope Island, it seemed like a good time to do so. It was a rather chilly and windy February morning and afternoon, and while there were plenty of birds flying about and resting in the lake’s water, I have to admit that I didn’t take particular notice of the gulls…there were too many other things that captured my attention and begged for me to stop the truck and take their pictures. Anyway…thank you, Fergiemoto, for your recommendation. It was a wonderful day-adventure.
Antelope Island is about 15 miles long and 4.5 miles wide and is the largest of the six or eight or more islands that exist in the Great Salt Lake. This photo was taken on the road that lies on the eastern side of the island and leads out to a farm/ranch near the north end of the island that was originally established in the late 1800′s. Even though the island is smack-dab in the middle of a lake that has greater salinity than the oceans, there are more than 40 fresh-water springs on this eastern side of the island that serve as water sources for the natural and imported wild-life. Aside from the prong-horn antelope, from which the island gets its name, there is also a herd of more than 600 imported buffalo, or American Bison, that roam freely over the island. There are also long-horned sheep, mule-deer, bob-cats, coyotes, and many ducks, gulls, other water-birds, and raptors. The state-park literature also reports that Bald-Eagles frequent the island during their seasonal migrations.
We didn’t spot this antelope until we were actually leaving the island. As I got out of the truck to take the photos, I heard him making some barking-type sound…almost like he was calling to his friends to come back. A cyclist who had also stopped to look at the antelope and listen to his calls said that this particular antelope was a male, as only males have the black cheek markings and a bit of a mane that runs down the middle of the neck.
I think it’s remarkable that we could be on an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake and see buffalo resting in the tall and winter-dried grasses.
The boys were eager to get out of the truck and climb the rocks…having fun with their own little adventures and seemingly mindless of the chilling wind. There was a bit of haze on the lake…maybe an inversion layer of vehicle particle emissions…or salt dust carried in with the winds from the desert south and west of the lake. Those are the Wasatch Mountains in the background.
I’ve seen these deer in the mountains of Colorado and in the mountains and canyons of Utah and Arizona…but on an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake? Yep…
When I mentioned in my earlier post, Mass and Form, about trying to get a good profile shot of the bison/buffalo, this is the closest and best that I could get. He kept moving in circles away from me….
Everyone had a nice time driving and walking about the island…even my 3yo grand-daughter. This last photo was taken near the farm/ranch on the north end of the island. You can see that the winter grass has been mown beyond the fence.
Does it ever exist in a pure form? If we are not deaf, can we really experience it? If we are deaf, do we really experience it at all? I cannot answer for the deaf. Their response may depend on the level or nature of their deafness. It may be that, for it to truly exist, one must have never heard words to have them become thoughts. For the hearing, however, I do not believe it exists. We are only familiar with its silhouette, the mere image of its self. This shadow is what we call “silence.”
When it appears that there is nothing present to stimulate our hearing, when we would normally say we are in the presence of silence, something creates a sound. Even when it is just our thoughts, fears, imagination, or blood coursing through our lobes urging a tingling hum, true silence is not there. Its image, however, is a normal part of our lives.
Sometimes, it enters with a sly, tiptoe step; other times, it is so vivid, one would think it is the resounding tromp of a platoon of soldiers. Casual circumstances, anticipated events and unexpected tragedies are all tinged with silence.
Walk with me…into the penumbra….
Overhead, the loudspeaker commanded certain somebodies to go or come to such and such station on the third floor. Swinging doors crashed open and closed, before and behind her. The gurney banged into the delivery-room table, jarring her through the pain, making her wonder, again, if this was all worthwhile.
A multitude of thoughts sped through her mind while she was lying there, exposed with disregard, looking up at the ceiling, pushing, breathing, hurting, waiting. But what about during that pause in her heart’s beating, in that long silence before the doctor spoke, what was she thinking then? Did that interminable moment incubate the seed of anguish or jubilation?
Agitating the silence was the lazy humming of the overhead lights, the clanging of instruments into stainless-steel bowls, the beeping of the baby’s monitor and the rustling of paper gowns. It seemed to go on forever. The silence was too long.
The doctor was quiet, he didn’t say a thing; he just worked. With swift, confident hands he untied the cord from their baby’s neck. Still the silence, a moment more. Did she dare breathe when her child had yet to take his first gasp of air? Could she live if he didn’t?
Finally…the tiny cry! “He’s fine – you’ve got a little boy!” Happier words were never spoken!
He was just standing there, trying to be someone or something that she needed, telling her how beautiful their baby was, how beautiful she was, asking her, awkwardly, how she felt. Snap-shot photographs of the last several months crashed through his mind as he watched with awe, this orchestration of birth. Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his cheeks. The silence was over!
For the last two months of his life, he would have spells where something inside of him would cause him to cry out, almost scream with a nameless pain. At first, they thought it was probably kidney-stones; then, they thought it might be his hips getting worse – they had known for years that they were bad.
Their veterinarian was businesslike in his description of a not-so-uncommon immune-disorder that affects older dogs. This miracle-worker for animals went on to detail the possibilities of tumors, intestinal bleeders, etc., that could be causing the myriad problems.
After their dog was on mood-altering, immune-system-enhancing medications for about four or five weeks, they came home one day to find the evidence of internal bleeding in several locations throughout the house and yard.
One more trip to the vet. One last trip to the vet. The doctor explained how there was really nothing he could do to fix their dog. There was nothing he could do to restore sound health to this old man of a canine they called their pet. It was time for him to go on – to go wherever it is that old dogs go when they die. After that last injection, that last yelp, that last beat of his heart, he just lay there. He was gone.
Normal sounds of life still ring throughout their home. The children and the other animals are still there; the planet hasn’t ceased its orbit; life still goes on, but…it is quieter than it used to be. He doesn’t follow the man up the stairs or down the stairs, out into the yard or around the yard and back into the house again. He’s not there waiting for a morsel to drop to the kitchen floor, not there to nudge a hand for some love. No longer is he heard breathing, lying next to the bed at night. They still step over his sleeping form when they get out of bed, but he’s not there. He is gone. Except for the quaking in his master’s heart, he is silent.
One could describe her life as very busy. There was seldom time for her and her husband to be alone. Hell, there was rarely a minute that she had to herself without interruption, without someone or something demanding her attention. Managing a house-full of children and pets, attending the university with a full schedule and perfect grades while holding down a full time job required an enormous amount of time. A full life. One with many facets. One with many colors. A life with many concerns.
Not a torment, but a near constant preoccupation with the deeper, heart-wrenching aspects of other people’s lives filled her mind. The lives of children. Not only her own kids, but the rest of them too. The ones whose lives were documented in the newspapers and chronicles of the day. Children whose lives were put to paper in big binders with case numbers attached to them. Innocent ones whose lives were casually thrown away by the give-a-damn adults who ran the world. These were the ones who filled her mind.
Most disconcerting to her was the fact that she could not do much for these children at the time. She still had to finish school. Until it was over, she was bound to her current occupation. Nowhere else could she make the kind of money she did and nowhere else could she have the time off from work to do the things she wanted to do. Essentially, she was indentured to her meaningless, mindless, of-no-consequence job. She would continue to be a flight-attendant until she had reaped every possible benefit from the company while pursuing her goal; until school was over.
From her occupation, one would be inclined to think that she liked dealing with people. One would think she was a people-person. One would also think she enjoyed the hundreds of faces and personalities she ‘mingled’ with every day at work. One could not be more wrong. She thought people were okay in the right setting, but not in those amounts and not in the confines of an airplane.
Where is refuge when one is inside a Boeing 737, traveling at 535 mph, at 35,000 feet? Where does one hide from the constant analyzing, discriminating and stereotyping eyes of everyone aboard the plane? Where does one go to flee the leering eyes of half-drunk, red-blooded males? Where does she go to escape? She locks herself in the bathroom. In that closet-sized hideaway, she finds solace from the airborne hundreds. She mutters oaths at the closed door and cries tears of anger and frustration in the company of her only friend, the woman in the mirror looking back at her. Aboard the plane, locked in the bathroom, she finds it. It has been there waiting for her. It removes her from the meaningless chores and takes her home, if only for a few minutes, where she is important, where she is loved. In spite of the engine noise and the storm of people on the other side of the door, it is there. She has found her silence.
They arrived on a Thursday afternoon in the last week of January. Nobody answered their knock at the door, but they knew where the extra key was hidden, so they let themselves in and made like they were home. In a sense, they were. This was where she had spent the last several years of her childhood and this was where they had started their courtship. Now, this was their haven from the adult world. They felt safe here. It was always a pleasure to come home after being away.
He went to visit some friends for a while and she stayed there with the kids, recuperating from the trip. After a bit, her sister came home from school and there was the usual heartwarming reunion that made the long drive worthwhile. It was so good to be home!
An hour or so later, he came home and went out to the shop to put together some toys that her mom had bought for the kids. Meanwhile, the older son was out in the acre, beyond the walled-in back yard, playing with his trucks. The younger son was following her and her sister around the yard and house, visiting and wondering at all the things that fascinate two-year-olds like himself. The phone rang and she and her sister went inside. In what may have been minutes later, the older son called from outside the gate for his dad to come and let him into the yard.
Leaving the shop, where he was still working on the toys, he noticed the big-wheel floating upside down in the pool. He let the older son into the yard and then went to see if he could reach the toy – floating out there, near the middle of the pool. He noticed that the big-wheel was just sitting there, upside down, not moving and not causing even the slightest ripple in the water. Just sitting there. Suddenly, everything was quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something floating near the opposite side of the pool. Not something, but someone, a very small someone, face-down in the pool.
Rushing to the other side, he noticed again the stillness of the pool. How long had his little one been there? What period of time would it have taken for the water to calm after he had ridden the big-wheel into the pool? How many minutes had his son been floating there in that god-damned silent pool? Where was the noise that water is supposed to make when someone falls into it? Why didn’t he hear the silence of the big-wheel? Why in the hell wasn’t he watching his son?
No! What would he do without his son? It wouldn’t be the same. Life would never be the same. No! He couldn’t die! He fought the numbness in his mind and began to do what he’d studied so many times in the past. Just last month he had taken a refresher course and he specifically remembered not to breathe too hard into his baby’s mouth. Pounding on his back as if there was something stuck in his throat, he cursed and prayed for him to come back. God, how long did this take? Over and over again, breathe into his mouth, not too hard. Push onto his tiny chest. Now flip him over and pound on his back some more. Come on! Breathe! Please, come on! Yes! Cry! That’s it! That’s it! Breathe! Come on – that’s it, cry, come on! Damn the silence – Cry!
The excitement of graduation night paled somehow in comparison to the spectacular event that would take place the next morning. She and her family were going up north for a vacation and they had asked him to go with them. Each of her sisters was bringing a special friend – and she invited him, her special friend. The trip was a graduation present from her parents. As a family, they had been to the lake several times in the past, so they knew he would enjoy it.
They left home early in the morning, hoping to reach the lake with enough daylight remaining so they could work on the boat when they got there. In return for letting them borrow the houseboat, her mom’s boss had asked them to replace the carpet and fix some things that needed to be repaired.
The six-hour drive seemed to pass in less time than it actually took. New scenery and friendly conversation caused the miles to slip away without notice. Before he knew it, they arrived at the lake-town, located the boat and started to work.
With all of the work completed and only an hour of daylight remaining, they set off to find a suitable spot to spend the night. When they pulled away from the marina he turned around and looked at the sky. It had been brushed with magnificent hues of orange, yellow, rose and gold. This sunset would have made the sun-god proud.
The whole experience was an adventure to him. In his seventeen years he had never been on a vacation with anyone other than his own family. Now, he was there, at the lake, with his girlfriend and her family preparing to enjoy one of the most memorable events of his life – ten days on a houseboat with absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy life and its offerings.
Their days were filled with leisure. They would cruise through the waterways of the lake’s filled canyons staring in awe at the massive boulders and rock lining their passage. At different times of the day, they would pull over to the bank, tie up the boat and go hiking. Climbing the rocks to the highest point they could reach and then just sitting there, admiring it all, wondering at the forces that combined to create such a marvel. Other times, they would get out the inflatable rafts and go off by themselves, paddling along, enjoying the theater of nature before them. Whatever they wanted to do, they did. Sleep, eat, drink or swim. Whenever they wanted to do these things, they just did them. No schedules were allowed.
One of the best things about the whole trip was the time the two of them had together. Uninterrupted, they could talk for hours. If there was nothing else to say, they would sit in the quiet splendor of their retreat and simply be together. Saying nothing, just being together. Near enough to touch, near enough to feel each other’s spirit within them. A time of true communion.
At night they would lie next to each other on the roof of the houseboat and watch for stars shooting across the sky. They felt as if they were in a cathedral, looking up past the darkness of the canyon walls to see the ceiling of stars overhead. It was truly a magnificent sight. The greatest artist ever commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling would have balked at the thought of trying to recreate the incredible brilliance of this heavenly portrait.
To say it was quiet on the lake would be an understatement. Barring all other experiences from their memory, this place would be the origin of silence. There were no clocks or schedules on the lake. There was no screaming society telling them what to do and when to do it. Silence ruled…and because it ruled, they were free.
Once again, I do not believe true silence exists. For a hearing person, I do not believe there is a condition possible where there is absolutely no sound. We can only recognize the shadow of silence, its image. Whether it is tarnished or golden, blatant or subtle, mediocre or spectacular, the silhouette is what we call “silence.”
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.
This is from my first visit to the Bells Canyon’s lower falls in October 2010…
…and five months later in March 2011….
…and in July 2011 at the height of the snow-melt…it was hard to photograph any closer because of the spray….
…in September 2011…
…and a couple months later in November 2011….
…and now in January 2012…the only time I’ve seen it frozen-over…. I could barely hear the water trickling beneath the ice….
It still thrills my heart to live in a place where there are significantly changing seasons…different times of the year when the natural world puts on another face and shares a side of herself that we would miss if we didn’t visit her often….
I found you here the other day, in a windswept cemetery next to a highway where trucks and cars and all manner of other wheeled things go rushing past in their hurry of doing this and that.
…and saw you lying there with a stone for a crown and wild flowers and grasses for a burial gown…and I wondered so at how you came to be there.
…when I was a passerby on that same long highway, going to get my little one, to join her with the one who traveled with me. We stopped to see you on a cloudy day with drops of rain both here and there.
…as I walked among your family members, as I trod the grass and smelled the wet desert air swirl about my reddening cheeks and numbing fingers, as I wondered about my days and yours in the steel-flavored wind.
…and saw you there and noticed that you shared your birthday with my little one, although yours was 110 years before his. You only lived for 13 months and were gone, and gone away, and brought here, to where I would find you.
…and you were special in my heart, even though I never knew you. The wind froze tears on my cheeks as I thought of your mother holding you that last time, as I thought of my little one…and I wondered so…
…and I found you there.
Little Cottonwood Canyon has become something of a treasure trove of subject-matter for my winter-snow-ice photography. Upstream from the Mormon Temple Quarry, and situated in the Wasatch Resort area proper, there is a water-plant (?) where water from the stream is captured and diverted into huge pipes and transported into Salt Lake City and surrounding cities for further processing and eventual incorporation into the cities’ water supply.
After I had taken the photos of the ice crystals standing upright on the white granite boulders in the empty stream bed…and had taken the pictures of the evolving ice-tubes, I continued up-stream to the water-plant and found this nice bit of frozen water coming down the chute from the plant. I thought it was a pretty sizeable chunk of ice….
Looking rather large up close…
If we continue up the trail that follows the course of the stream, we will come to a huge rock…and behind this rock is another cement chute that has been touched by taggers…an unsettling find out in the middle of the forest. We will come back to this rock in a moment, but this is what it looks from the front side -
Probably another half to three-quarters of a mile up the trail, there is another collection point that gathers water from the main stream and another pipe that seems to bring water in from another smaller stream that comes from one of the gulches or draws further up and away in the canyon. I had thought that the bit of ice from the first picture was rather large until I saw this chunk growing out from the pipe at the second water collection point. This mass of ice might not actually be as large as the first one, but it does appear to be somewhat more dramatic…or unusual -
And now if we turn around and go back down the trail to that huge rock, we will see something that makes this chunk of ice appear less awesome…
This was actually the first time that I have been on the left side of the stream and behind the huge rock. All other ventures to this location have been from the right side of the stream and essentially behind the massive rock. The water level of the stream was low enough this time that I could step or jump from stone to stone and make it to the other side relatively safely; on other occasions, the stream has been flowing more forcefully and there would be no way to cross the stream at this location; it could only be gained by parking off the road in the canyon and then hiking down to the stream….or crossing the bridge another mile up-stream and going off-trail all the way back. At any rate, this bit of water has created a huge ice curtain…and invited me to engage in further explorations “on the other side.” More to follow….
Rugged and beautiful, to me….
Pusch Ridge is along the western edge of the Catalina Mountains, the range that provides a natural northern boundary for Tucson, Arizona, USA.