Below Zero

I don’t wish you were here.

I doubt you would like this place,

blue light on old snow,

sage drained of chlorophyll,

indefinite sky seen in a frozen pond.

You say, the dead of winter.

I hear the revving of an engine

as a rancher warms his truck

to feed the bawling cattle.


This below zero day

freezes complicated thought.

The slow death of desire makes me tired.

I want to sleep until spring.

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In Meteorology, Virga Is…

In meteorology, virga is

An observable shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground and winds may push the bottom ends of the virga so it falls at an angle making the clouds appear to have a comma attached.  “Virga” Wikipedia


 Where I live

the formidable sky

is punctuated with virgas

and we are sentenced

to read  disappointment

in every direction

when the  rain fails

to  reach the ground.

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If I Were Deaf

If I were deaf

I would watch the motion

of bare branches outside my window

and think the apple tree nods yes

to some delightful question.

If I were deaf

I might be amused

by the animation of a single leaf

and its sudden dash

across the gravel driveway.

If I were deaf

I might be enraptured

by the dazzling light of the waves

on the pond below my house

forgetting to notice the water goes nowhere

I am not deaf

and the wind conspires

with the walls of my house

in a low, unrelenting sound

and I remember the names of my enemies.

I am not deaf

and the way the wind conjoins

with everything within my sight

wrecks my quietude

wrecks my peace of mind.

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The Ecumenical Nature of Slush

 Suppose the Pope were in an Oldsmobile

on Interstate 80 driving over

the Sierra Madres as snow becomes

slush and the whoosh of eighteen wheelers turns

the windshield wipers into frantic hands

helping his eminence see the road,

and the Pope, now in the middle lane, sees

he, too, expels a mix of dirt and snow

on those behind and beside him.  Because

he is trained in forgiveness and  knows not

to cast needless blame, he sighs at the ways

we sully ourselves and each other

to get to the places we need to go.

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December in Deeth

December is a season of secrets.  It is the month when the boundary is clearest between children and their parents.  In December, from the child’s point of view, there is a heightened sense of the mystery of adult life.  Doors close that are usually left open.  Conversations stop when the child enters the room.

It is December and  I have  been thinking about the year we lived in Deeth, Nevada.  It was only one year, one winter of my life,  living on a ranch  about thirty miles from Elko and about twenty from Wells.    Deeth is  one of those “If you blink, you’ll miss it” places in the West.

I don’t know if December is  still as cold in Deeth as it was in 1957.   Every morning, Dad would read the outdoor thermometer on the back porch.  The following morning, he would check the Elko Daily Free Press  for the lowest temperature in the USA, usually some place like Fargo, North Dakota.  Often, Deeth would  be as far below zero as Fargo, sometimes farther below.

Once that winter, Dad woke me up  after midnight and told me to get dressed to go outside.  As we stood on the back porch, he pointed to the pulsating  glow in the night sky.  “The Northern Lights,’’ he said.  The blue-green light on the horizon seemed to come  from a faraway city, maybe Oz.    I thought the magical glow  was because it was so  cold in Deeth.  I didn’t know we were occasionally within range of the magnetic North Pole more than three thousand miles away.

In December, a  meander of the Humboldt River flooded the hay meadow closest to the ranch.  Enough clumps of dry grass poked through the thin layer of ice so  Dad could get traction with his pickup.  He tied one end of a long rope to the trailer hitch  and the other end around the handle of an aluminum saucer sled.  I sat cross-legged in the back, my sister tucked in front of me, both of us holding tight in anticipation of  the wild ride ahead.  Dad drove lickety split  in great wide circles and the sled wagged back and forth over the icey field.  We laughed and waved, “Keep going!  One more time!”

In other places, the Humboldt River is narrow, willow-lined, and freezes hard and smooth.   In three or four  wide spots along the banks, Dad  lit fires in  old truck tires doused with diesel.  The tires smouldered and smelled more than  gave heat but added to the adventure of ice skating on a glass pathway. One Sunday during  Christmas vacation Mom invited my best friend and her family to come from Elko to Deeth for a skating party.  That meant a lot to me. We moved  at the end my sophomore year, which meant leaving Elko High School when I was right in the middle of everything that mattered to a small town sixteen-year-old girl.  I thought my life was ruined.

When they broke the news  we were moving to Deeth and  my nine-year-old sister and I  would go to school in Wells, I remember Mom’s simple explanation.    “It will be easier on your dad if we live at the Marble Ranch headquarters.”  She said the ranch house had become vacant.  There was  little discussion.  I accepted their decision.  “No yeow, yeowing,”  Dad would say. They were the parents.  That’s just the way it was.   I sometimes wonder if   acceptance of my fate, tragic as it seemed at the time, was an unconscious  sense of the necessity of the move. I wonder if I knew “It will be easier on your dad,” meant something more than shortening Dad’s travel time from  ranch to town, which he had managed to do successfully for the previous five years.

I did  know that managing the Marble Ranches was my dad’s dream job.  He was in charge of what was at the time one of the largest ranching operations in northeastern Nevada.  Now, more than half a century later, I’m hazy on the details. I remember someone saying there were two thousand head of mother cows, although I know you are not supposed to ask how many cattle a rancher owns.

There were seven ranches, all totalled:  the River Ranch, along the Humboldt to the  west of Deeth; the Seventy-One Ranch, the showplace ranch near Starr Valley; and then the smaller   ranches running up the gravelled county  road north of Deeth and stretching into the open range near Charleston and Jarbidge, where Marble Ranch buckaroos with their remuda and a cook and his chuckwagon spent the summers.

Dad had near autonomy in decision-making.   John  Marble, the owner,  was  from a wealthy family of San Francisco bankers.  He and his wife  divided their time between Rancho Tularecito, their elegant spread  in Carmel Valley, and their elegant home in San Francisco.  Their son, Peter, was at Stanford University majoring in business.

In 1957 there was a lot going on in Deeth, relatively speaking.  Across the tracks from the ranch was a railroad maintenance station and three or four section houses occupied with families.  When you drove into Deeth you saw  a small grocery store combined with  a post office.   Deeth had a bar, although I can’t remember the name.

It’s amazing to remember how many outbuildings there were at the ranch headquarters and how much activity there was.  We moved into the freshly painted, two-story ranch house with high ceilings  and a sweet front parlor, the window facing the road.   We were told that as a youngster, Charles Russell, governor  of Nevada from 1951 to 1959, lived in that house  and went to school in Wells.

In a cabin on the west  side of the ranch house, a full-time carpenter lived with his gentle wife.  Adjacent to the house on the east   was  a small office where Dad kept the payroll in a rolltop  desk.  I remember a storage closet  filled with canned goods and cartons of Camel cigarettes for the hired hands.  Across the road  was  a cook shack with a small house behind, where Zelda, the cook,  and her husband, Clay, lived.  The nearest building to the cookhouse was  a long cinderblock  bunkhouse.

The  barn included  a tack room big enough to hold the regular saddles and bridles as well as all the harnesses  for the workhorses, mostly Clydesdales, still used for haying.  A shop  building  where the full-time mechanic worked on the ranch trucks also stored the mechanized haying equipment–the tractors, mowing machines, buckrakes.   I remember  a labyrinth of corrals, several with loading chutes.   In the fall  the corrals were filled with bawling cattle waiting to be shipped.

It has been more than half a century since that winter in Deeth.  Here’s what I think:   after the hubris of youthful analyzing and judging and often blaming our parents,  after reflecting on our own lives and our great distance from childhood, after our parents are dead and gone, we realize how little we understood.

I think we moved to Deeth that year because my father knew he had been “made redundant” as the British say. Let go.  Fired. Replaced.  No word could change the reality, but “making it easier on your dad” had a deeper meaning.  Although he was losing the job he loved and facing an uncertain future,  we were living in Deeth so Dad could make a smooth transition for Peter Marble, the wealthy scion and recent Stanford graduate,  to take over the Marble Ranches.  In June, Dad would be out of a job.  He was going to have to start over at forty three,  which seemed much older  than it does nowadays.

I have no doubt that my father was an excellent mentor to Peter Marble, who had taken up residence at the beautiful Seventy-One Ranch.  “Leave good tracks” was a saying my parents lived by their whole lives. I will never know of their late night or early morning conversations about the future.  Where would they go?  What would they do?  In their twenties, each of them had experienced  the Depression.  Both spoke of those days, how no one had any money, how hard jobs were to come by.

One fall day in 2011, two years before she died,   I took my ninety-six year old mother on a little road trip to Wells and then  to Elko the back way, along the base of the Ruby Mountains.  Our first stop was Deeth.  I took a snapshot of her standing by the green and white road sign.  We took the exit down the badly rutted road into Deeth and to the ranch.  We stopped in front of the abandoned ranch house with plywood nailed over the parlor  window, a bare yard, a dog chained to a dead tree; a small trailer adjacent to the house with a beat-up pickup in the back.  The rest of the place was abandoned, broken windowpanes in the outbuildings, doors gone.

Mother didn’t have much to say about the year in Deeth.  Their lives had gone well after that transitional year.  They prospered.They had a long and happy marriage.  I’m sure they had other secrets.  All parents do.


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Christmas Party Bernalillo County Medical Center, 1973

‘Tis the season of the obligatory Christmas party in the workplace.   My most memorable holiday workplace gathering was in 1973 at the Bernalillo County Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I worked for six months in the steno pool of the radiology department.  With headphones, a tape recorder, and Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, I sat in a cubicle transcribing radiology reports dictated by radiologists sitting in their cubicles, feet propped on their desks, reading x-rays into dictaphones.  Having recently achieved a Master’s degree in English from University of New Mexico, I was in demand for transcribing because I could distinguish “spondylosis” for “spondylolisthesis,” and words like that.

 Recently, I went through a box of papers from those New Mexico days and found a vignette I wrote about  the radiology department Christmas party.  Being P.C. hadn’t reached Albuquerque in December 1973, although Rodney King’s plaintive voice was still in the air:  “Can we all get along?”

 Here’s what I wrote:

 “Someone announces over the loudspeaker, ‘Christmas party in the radiology conference room at noon.’  We chipped in for cold cuts, brought goodies from home–deviled eggs, swiss cheese and crackers, cranberry relish, pink jello salad, fruitcake, and Mexican wedding cookies.  Mary Dullea brought posole, which we eat in paper cups.  The spiked punch is gone in fifteen minutes.

 Mrs. Petty stage whispers, ‘We shoulda made chicken soup for Dr. Kopperman.’

 Sandra brought bunuelos, learned to make them in her Mexican cooking class.  Consuela spits hers into the wastebasket, hisses to Teresa, ’I’ve never tasted anything like that.’

 Sandra hears her, gets huffy, says, ‘They’re Mexico City style.  Not New Mexico.’

 Kyle, the security guard, plays Santa.  Evie drew my name, gives me three pair of bikini panties, each with a drink recipe on it.  On the q.t., Mary Dullea tells me she is selling hot Navajo jewelry for her brother-in-law in Arizona.

 The custodians are having their own party upstairs.  Lucille doesn’t like their food, comes down to our party and complains, ‘They’re playing Spanish music and I can’t understand a word of it.’  She writes her recipe for sweet potato pie on a pink While You Were Out pad.  She tells me it’s her new husband’s favorite.  He’s from the Bahamas, hates Albuquerque.

 They pass around a card to slip into Poopsie’s in-box.  She’s secretary to Dr. B, the chief of radiology.  The card is a photo of a penis with glasses and a little Santa hat.  Underneath it says, ‘Season’s Greetings.  Guess Who?’

 Poopsie won’t come to our party.  The way she refers to herself as, ‘executive secretary,’ emphasizing the ‘zec,’ I know she won’t show.  Evie thinks Poopsie is having a mad affair with Dr. B.  That may be true, but I think Poopsie simply hates us all, especially this time of year.

Evie is pregnant, thrilled about it.  We laugh when she pops a button on her blouse because her boobs are getting big.  The conference room is near the nursery and the maternity ward.  When someone opens the door, you can hear an infant cry.

 ‘Baby Hay-Soos,’ Mrs. Petty says every time.”

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Don’t Let Mom Spatchcock the Turkey

Lately, I’ve had the thought that I could have been a butcher.  I wonder why you don’t see many women butchers.   Is it a union thing?  I’ll have to ask one of the guys  at the grocery store in town. I need to learn their names. Any French housewife or gourmet cook gets to know her local butcher and I don’t mean in the biblical sense.

I like deboning.  I deboned some chicken legs and thighs not too long ago.  I like the precision, the clean feel of chicken flesh, and the technique for turning an inexpensive cut of meat into tidy bundles for stuffing.  Farce, I think it’s called.  I felt like Julia Child.  She could talk and  cut up a chicken at the same time, on television, as a matter of fact.  There is a  cute food blog where the young woman in a small kitchen in Manhattan films herself cooking  while drunk.  That would not be a good idea if you decide to spatchcock the Thanksgiving bird.

I really enjoy  spatchcocking.  This technique for splaying a fowl came to my attention  on several internet food sites as a speedy method for barbecuing the holiday bird. Several weeks before Thanksgiving I bought a six-pound capon  just to practice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right tools.  I needed a sharp cleaver and a mallet to make strong whacks through the backbone.  Instead, I resorted to vigorous sawing with  my serrated bread knife.  It worked, but the sawn backbone was rough along the edges. Also,  I needed a boning knife to cut around the edge of the breast bone, severing it from the rib cage.  I got it right on one side, but the other side  looked like a collapsed lung.

“Spatchcock”  is an Irish term that means “dispatch the cock.”  I can see some medieval Irish housewife standing in the barnyard, declaring that the mean old bastard has to go, referring to an irascible  rooster who  outlived his usefulness. “Dispatch the cock!” she declaimed with her arm raised.  I wonder if her husband shuddered in his rubber boots.

Admitting  how much I enjoyed spatchcocking a capon just for practice might make me seem like a figment of Stephen King’s imagination.  The truth is that being  a housewife  is getting on my nerves.  My family is gone.  My spouse is getting cranky.  I feel like  time is running out.   I need a new hobby.   I’m getting a wee bit peevish.

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Thinking About Mincemeat

On the first day of November last year, I was admiring the gutted mule deer  in my friend’s garage in Elko, Nevada.  When the hunter, my friend’s son, said he was hanging the deer  for a couple of days to age the meat, I hinted,  “I wouldn’t mind some venison.  I’d like to make venison mincemeat.”  Unfortunately, he didn’t take the hint.  I didn’t get any venison and I didn’t make any mincemeat.

That same day,  I bought a forty-dollar bag of  pinenuts from the  Native American guy who parks his pickup at the north end of the Shell gas station in Elko.  “They better not be from China,”  I said.  He assured me they were from the traditional gathering area down near Ely.   I spent the next week cracking pinenuts with my teeth as I watched the evening news and thought about the Italian holiday cookies I would bake.  “Thought about” is the key phrase.

Late in October last year,  I gathered chokecherries in a canyon high above a friend’s ranch near my home in Tuscarora. A neighbor had given  my husband a sourdough start from Alaska, no less.  I thought chokecherry syrup would be the perfect complement to sourdough pancakes on Christmas morning.  You guessed it.  The bag of chokecherries wintered in the freezer next to the pinenuts.

As I reflect on my behavior last fall,  I resembled  folks   who are “re-creators.”  You know, the ones who load their black powder rifles, don their buckskins, pack their dutch ovens  and head to Wyoming for a Frontier Rendezvous. In a pathetic way it was  as if I were looking for a Country Christmas Rendezvous  go to, so I could recreate the wonderful ranch holidays of my childhood.  Also,  I recognize  I was in a what-to-do-about-Christmas funk.  Everyone in my immediate family is grown and gone, but  the urge to “put on” Christmas is a habit forty years strong.

This October,  I made mincemeat pie filling from elk meat I purchased  at the big farmer’s market in downtown Boise.  I decided it wasn’t in the right spirit to research mincemeat recipes on the internet, so I looked through my Tuscarora Homemakers Club cookbook, stained, spiral-bound, and printed in 1956.  Before I got to the pie section, I noticed more than a dozen recipes for venison, including Pickled Deer Heart; Corned Venison; Deer Burgers; Roast Saddle of Venison; Leftover Venison Roast; and Venison Enchiladas.  The plain, thrifty recipes reminded me that even in 1956 homemakers ranching a long way from town and often during hard times sent their men out to put meat on the table.  In the cookbook I found several recipes for mincemeat pie, all the mincemeat pressure-canned to be stored for winter.

Also, on a beautiful fall day this  October  my husband and I gathered chokecherries in a canyon gold with aspen, and I made  a dozen pints of chokecherry syrup. In late September, I  made peach chutney with peaches from my Utah cousin’s favorite fruit stand in Brigham City, famous for its peaches and famous to us because of fond memories of family gatherings at our grandparents’ home in “Brig.”  On the Saveur website  I found all kinds of  holiday cookie recipes calling for pignoli.

This fall, the pity party was over and I busied myself finishing what I started the year before.  Also, I  came to realize several important things.  For one, how happy I am to be back in northeastern Nevada, not at the base of the same mountain range where I grew up, but close enough that all my senses register this place as home.   I accept the nostalgia imbued in the holidays, and I  am grateful for my  childhood memories of snow-bound Christmases and holiday meals at the ranch with family and friends.

I understand more clearly my  urge  to put food by.   It has something to do with the death of my mother, four days before Thanksgiving last year.  I miss her more than I let on.  She is the one who I watched can Brigham  City peaches, who taught me how  to let bread rise on the shelf of a wood-burning stove, and, when dehydrators came out, who sent us shoeboxes filled with delicious beef jerky and  dehydrated  soup mixes made from vegetables in Dad’s garden on their ranch at the base of the Ruby Mountains.

I have thought about  the heritage of my Mormon pioneer ancestors.  The religion didn’t stick, but the admonition has stayed with me to stock the larder for  winter and for hard times.

Finally, I am aware that this is  the autumn of my life. My roles as wife, mother, homemaker are diminished and, truthfully, I have lost interest in much of it. But I still enjoy home preserving.    I have come to think a woman’s role as gleaner and preserver of nature’s bounty  is as instinctive as a man’s role as hunter.


Our plans for Christmas this year  aren’t firmed up yet.  We’ll have to wait and see who’s around.  And it’s okay.  At some point, I will make a mincemeat pie.  I don’t know what the occasion will be. Mincemeat is a humble, hearty, traditional fare and you either love it or hate it. I do know I will make sure it’s for someone who has fond memories of mincemeat pie.

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Close Call

         “The flames that neared Tuscarora were part of the Dunphy Complex of fires that scorched roughly 163,00 acres.”

Elko Daily Free Press October 5, 2011


October 6, 2014

Tuscarora, Nevada

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful fall day than today here in Tuscarora.  I just returned from a walk above town, stopping to kick at rusty tin cans and to notice how the shards of blue, brown, and purple  bottle glass shine in the morning light.  In its glory days of silver mining in the 1870’s, Tuscarora had a population of five thousand people.  It takes  imagination to conjure the lives and the activity when all you see are a few stick houses; a scattering of trailers; abandoned hopes and dreams in the empty or unfinished buildings.   It’s so quiet here. There are fewer than a dozen full-time residents.  It’s the place I call home.

We had heavy rains last weekend.  On Saturday a  flash flood roared down Taylor Canyon, inundated the Taylor Canyon Club, and filled  the kitchen, the bar, and the dining room with four inches of mud.  Across the road, the water was forceful enough to move two  of the cabins  about six inches off their foundations.  The deluge took everyone by surprise, especially Tom, the owner, who was in the kitchen slicing a  prime rib he had just taken off the smoker.  As a young cowboy said to me the next day about the violent profusion of water, “That’s not supposed to happen around here.”

 That day, Sunday,  neighboring ranchers, cowboys, miners, and several of us from Tuscarora showed up with flat-edged shovels, shop vacs, mops and buckets–and a backhoe or two–to help muck out the building, assess the damage to the cabins, and swamp out  the mud and debris from the parking area .

 Anyway, it was a close call.  On Sunday the mud in the bar and restaurant  and the damage to the cabins seemed daunting.  We wondered whether Taylor Canyon would  open again.   Moved from the Rio Tinto mine, the Taylor Canyon Club  has been standing in its current spot for at least sixty-five years.  However,  the bar, restaurant, and cabin rentals comprise  a   marginal commercial enterprise at best.   Tom, who has owned the place for the past two decades, is in poor health  and he’s not getting any younger.

 I heard that Tom is feeling a little more optimistic this week.  He’s hiring a  cleaning crew to come on Monday and Tuesday.   As soon as he gives us the word, the Tuscarora Ladies Club will have a clean-up day to get the kitchen back in working order.    Hunting season is in full swing and everyone understands that Tom counts on the business of hunters.

 I suppose outsiders  would describe the building as a big old shack in the middle of nowhere.  That’s true.  However,  if the Taylor Canyon Club had been washed away, it would have been  a significant loss.  We’ve come to depend on its being there, whether we stop  for a drink, celebrate with family and friends with prime rib dinner on a Saturday night, or just slow down on our way home, checking to see if we recognize any of the trucks parked in front.   Also, the humble place represents the rich and complex history of ranching, mining, and hunting in northeastern Nevada.   Anyway, it was a close call.

 October 3, 2011was another close call.  Tuscarora almost burned to the ground.  Because today is such a lovely fall day, it’s difficult to remember how unseasonably  hot September and October were that year. I do remember the sequence of events.  I  spent the weekend in Boise with my daughter.  After dropping her off at the airport to catch a flight back to California, I headed home.

 About thirty  miles south of Owyhee, I noticed smoke in the air and  tried to place the fire.  Maybe it’s in the Tuscarora Mountains.  No, it seems more towards Carlin.  No, it’s further away.  It’s hard for me to judge distances, especially in  the basin and range country of northeastern Nevada.

It was after eight when I pulled into my driveway.  My neighbor Milt  was standing on his porch looking west toward an unnaturally dark part of the  sky.  “Where’s the fire?” I called.

 “In the Midas area.  Thursday night there was dry lightning everywhere,” he said as he turned back into his double-wide trailer.

 When I woke up on Monday morning, I felt like hell.  My lower back was killing me. I got up periodically to take a couple of Advil and then crawled back to bed.  I didn’t bother to open the bedroom curtains.  About one o’clock my phone rang.  Julie, our postmistress,  said, “Nancy, you might want to pack some things.  There is  some speculation we might be asked to evacuate.”  That snapped me to attention.

 From this point on, the tempo changed.  I forgot about my aching back. After throwing on some clothes,   I went outside to see what was going on.  A dark shadow of smoke filled the sky to the west, somewhere beyond…What? Where?   I couldn’t say.   Not  long after Julie called, my neighbors  showed up.  Retired  firefighters, Sidne  did dispatch in Nevada and Alaska and Mike was a smoke jumper all over the West. We  grabbed binoculars and walked to a nearby  ridge  to see if we could get a better look at what had coalesced into  a gigantic black smokestack in the sky.

 Mike was trying to judge our  distance from the fire, when Sidne said, “Look! a borate bomber.”  She named the model.  “They’re fast.  They can be here from Battle Mountain in twelve minutes,” she said as we watched the borate bomber fly overhead.  When we turned to go home, we saw  the town was swarming  with firefighters.  Trucks hauling equipment  were streaming  up the road to Tuscarora.

 Shortly after I returned to my house, an official in yellow firefighting gear knocked on my door and politely told me  we weren’t officially being requested to evacuate, but we were being encouraged to leave.  As he spoke, two young firefighters began  hosing the deck and the woodpile and clearing brush on the northeast corner of my property.  “The fire is at the Rhoads ranch,” one of them told me.  I realized that in unchecked wildfire time,  seven miles was way too close.

 Less than an hour after that preliminary warning,  a sheriff’s deputy knocked on my door and said, “Everyone is being asked to leave.”  His gruff tone told me  “asked” meant “now.”    I gathered my laptop, camera, a little bit of jewelry,  and an overnight bag, as if I were  spending a couple of nights at the Marriott in Elko, which is exactly what happened.

 After putting my bags in the car.  I told the two young guys dragging hoses around the house, “The door’s unlocked. ..”

 “That’s the right thing to do,” one of them said.  “If they needed to get in, they’d break it down.”

 “I put out coffee and mugs in the shop, ” I continued, as if they were guests.   “And there’s a bathroom out there.”  As an afterthought I said, “If it looks like I’m going to lose my little house, there’s  a bottle of Jim Beam under the kitchen sink.”  They smiled.  I started  my car and headed down the road, away from the fire.  As soon as I was in cell phone range, I left a message for my husband  in California.   “I’m headed to Elko.  Tuscarora has  been evacuated.”

 I registered at the Marriott in Elko about eight o’clock. There was nothing I could do.   I  fixed myself a couple of drinks–I left the Beam for the firefighters but took the Makers Mark–watched tv and went to sleep, once again aware of my aching back.  It didn’t seem real.  Isn’t that what they always say?

 Two days later I went back to Tuscarora, saw black hillsides, burned sagebrush, and the town intact.  Because Mike and our friend Ron are two thirds of the Tuscarora Volunteer Fire Department, they were permitted to stay.  Hearing Mike and Ron talk about  about that first night  reinforced how close the town came to being destroyed.  They told me  crews were all over town cutting brush, hosing down the sides of houses, dozing a firebreak and lighting backfires that  burned to the top of Mt. Blitzen.

 Once home, my first phone call was to my friend who ranches on the flat land halfway between   Taylor Canyon and Tuscarora. I was praising the manpower, equipment, and efficiency—including the Army helicopters taking water from the Glory Hole and putting out fires in the canyons all day Tuesday.  “It was one helluva close call,” I said to my friend.

 “They should’ve let the town burn!” she interrupted.  She launched into a criticism of Nevada Forestry and the BLM for letting the fire get so out of control and destroy so much rangeland and wildlife habitat.  She told me about the chaos at our friend’s ranch, how ranchers and cowhands from the north end of the valley showed up, unloading their horse trailers, riding to open gates and move  cattle out of danger. “The fire,” she said, “was spitting distance from the house.”  That turned out to  have been an exaggeration, but not by much.  She told me about the loss of  nine prized horses, she didn’t know how many cows, but most of all, it was the irreparable loss of grazing land.

I let her vent her anger and frustration.  She talked  about how these  rangeland holocausts never used to happen until they started to restrict the grazing; about how the BLM and environmental groups will use rangeland fires to justify reduction of  grazing allotments and to reinforce endangered species claims.  I knew what she was saying, There was the insinuation that in saving Tuscarora, the interests of the ranchers were sacrificed.  It wasn’t true.  Later she apologized more than once for her outburst.

 What is true is that the people who live here, stay here, can withstand the formidable natural forces.  As a matter of fact, pride themselves on their endurance and their ability to pull together when needed. However, ranchers here and throughout the West  see a greater threat in human forces at work:  in  urban sensibilities that mythologize a noble, untamed wilderness;  federal government agencies with obstructive and unnecessary regulations; and certain environmental groups  antagonistic toward the use of public land for grazing cattle and, even more basic, to beef as a food source.

 Some predict that  within thirty years  range cattle will be gone from the Great Basin. Open range cattle ranching will be a memory.   It’s hard to say.  Right now, the price of cattle is good; it was a wet spring and summer and the range has made a remarkable comeback.  This year, there are fifteen children in the Independence Valley school, located a mile or so up the road from the Taylor Canyon Club.  Our local cowboys made a good showing at the Elko County Fair.  So far, so good.  The  value of a way of life becomes instantly apparent after such a close call.

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Going Through Airport Security

The blue-suited man with a  badge

waved paper over  my hands.

I  dared to ask what he wanted  to find.

“Traces of explosives,” he explained.

“Wow!” I remarked to my  palms.


The blue-suited stewardess said

they wanted to know if I recently

built a bomb or fired a gun.

The blue-suited guy across the aisle

snickered, “She’s old enough to be my mother.”


“I am a dangerous woman!”

I wanted to shout, but kept my mouth shut.

If all the mothers and grandmothers

were screened for  violent  thoughts,

airlines would go out of business.

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