Chapter 2 – Rural Life

          The weekend visit continued with places to go and visits to friends all of which were taken cautiously talking cheerfully avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes.  She didn’t feel the strangeness again.

       Anne felt anxious to return to her rural home out in Never-Never-Land. Escalante, Utah was her chosen retreat from the world. Jack & her had spent twenty years looking for the perfect place to retire. Who could have guessed that they would find it 20 years before retirement and be able to move there? The small telephone company had offered her a job in her chosen field with more money than she was currently being paid and with full benefits. It took Jack and her only an hour or two to decide to leave their home of sixteen years and make the jump. The kids, mostly grown were outraged. They felt that no one had the right to sell their home. Most of them were living somewhere else anyway so there was no relevance in their objections.  

           The little town had only about 1000 permanent residents and it was two and half hours from the nearest Walmart….so it had to be one of the more remote places left in the United States. There was something about the land that held attention from moment to moment. Rock canyons of multiple colors that were almost effervescent in their color scheme would shift with the light, so by looking at the same place you might notice a outcrop of rock or a cave one day that you never saw before. The effect was enchanting. Anne was sure it was the only place on earth with so many colors.  She remembered the day as an epiphany in her life and had written an article for an e-magazine in first person mode to explain her elation.

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“Boy this is REALLY out there.” Jack said as we pulled to the side of the road to let us stretch our legs.  We had been driving 4 hours and had only 35 more miles to go to get to Escalante, Utah. “Boulder was really beautiful with its white rock and the forest around it.”

 “Yes, but it’s too high in elevation. Just think how cold the winters must be.” the beauty of the past little valley had dwindled to juniper and sage of the high desert. I was getting worried that this targeted town was really just a dead end, and envisioned a road stop like the ones on the Death Valley highway. That is when Jack pointed out 30 head of deer not a rocks throw from the car…looking at us.  We watched them transfixed as they casually walked, leaped and continued their journey.  “Wow, that was a great welcoming committee.”

We got back in the car rejuvenated….and the next 35 miles were unbelievable! First we were driving on Highway 12 (a two lane road) and found what the locals call “The Hogs Back” where the road is built on the RIDGE of a mountain and on both sides of the road is a drop off of a thousand feet or so.  We had to stop and look and crossed back and forth across the highway peering off the side with NO other cars in sight.. In fact I think the whole last hour we hadn’t seen a car. We looked over the hundred mile vistas in either direction and saw NO man made object except the one upon which we stood.

 Next the car drove into a beautiful red, yellow, black, and white rock area where the highway cuts through the mountain and we found ourselves slotted between mammoth colors.  The water below was called Calf Creek and allowed brilliant green trees to dot the landscape, add that to the real blue sky above, and the whole scene gave us the perfect example of God’s ability to duplicate a rainbow out of terra firma.

The final approach took us to an area of rocks we had seen before…Car commercials had shown this very spot where the road winds through white rolling rocks and the sport cars making their speedy ascent are photographed from a helicopter.

 We pulled into Escalante truly delighted.

 The little town was surrounded with crème-colored cliffs pitted with valleys and troughs totally unique.  The elevation was about 6000 ft above sea level.  On close examination of the map the single HWY 12 that passed through this small town had to cross over a 9000 ft pass on either end. That would mean this valley would have a totally unique weather pattern from the surrounding area. Intriguing!

 Ahhhh but the town…now, that was the test.  We had been shopping for the perfect little town now for twenty years, ever since my study of demographics indicated that the baby boomers would make rural property more valuable than city property when it came to their retirement time.

 We had looked in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. There were some towns that were small-minded gossipy type.  Some that were centered around one business. Some that I swear no person there had ever had an original thought.  Each town had it’s own personality. There were ex-mining towns, totally tourist towns, yuppie towns, towns where most of the population were ex-cons, artist towns, seasonal towns, government towns & those where the inhabitants were just waiting out their time to die, but none of those stereotypes fit us.

 We wanted a friendly town that enjoyed differences. We were looking for a place that had diversity and possibility…but hadn’t yet been discovered by the rat race.  It was kind of an impossible dream, but worth the quest.

 We checked into the old motel and found it in need of repair but acceptable.  We talked again with the proprietor and the hopes of its Chamber of Commerce.  We asked about law enforcement, schools and personalities. Seems there was certainly a diversity.. Artist, rednecks, environmentalists, business people, ex-cons, government, and the tell-tale small town gossips.

 We drove around looking at signs in this four-mile square town.  It had a couple of restaurants, two grocery stores, a bank, a high school & an elementary school, a couple of gas stations and quite a few little motels. The local phone company for the area was centered here and the little town offices were across the street.  Apparently there was also an oil drilling location somewhere that supplied jobs, a saw mill, and the center of the government offices for BLM , Forest Service and the Department of Transportation.  This looked promising…..

 Our next step would be to ascertain if the inhabitants were friendly and if we would fit.  We started asking people on the street.  It was March and the weather was cold so figured the chances of avoiding a tourist was good.  We talked to some lady walkers and they were excited that we would even think of moving out here.  Talked to a real estate agent but he was too busy… Hesitantly we asked the tattooed guy at the register of the restaurant, “How do you like living here?”

 Without hesitation his whole scowling countenance changed to a glowing friendly angel, “This is the BEST place in the World to live!”

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She had been living in her dream place for almost four years and the realities of her chosen retreat had saddened her somewhat from her first elation level.  Yes, this was a town lost in time, but that also meant they had no concern for the welfare of animals, and women had no rights, or rights to have opinions. Females were there just to support the men and be good obedient servants.

 The job she took repeatedly insisted she shouldn’t expect to be treated in any other way than what she was originally hired as, even though she had taken on all the responsibilities of an ISP; tech support, customer service accounts, reports, programming and taught herself web design.  She constantly did research in her area of expertise and when the illegal ideas of her superiors were confronted with reality they were upset with her, because she would point out the discrepancies They believed they were unproscecutable  because they were so far out.

 Indeed that was true; no one had the time to drive out here to check some infraction such as wages or time sheets or even FCC communication irregularities.  They were breaking so many laws, but felt rules didn’t apply out here.  When they fired her on a pretense of customer complaints, none of which were ever mentioned to her until she was handed her last check and all of which, had she had back up or anyone who understood what she was saying, would have been found invalid; they replaced her with five men.  The service continued to decline as they continued to hire more people to do what Anne had been forced to do without any help.

   Still it was the land that called to her; and despite the trials it hadn’t released her to look for fortune elsewhere, so they struggled with little income.

  She read to Jack on the way home. It was another of the fantasy novels he so enjoyed and it occurred to her that maybe she was just having a fantasy overdose and none of this was really happening. She relaxed a little at that thought and enjoyed the journey home. 

 Back at the ranch… It really wasn’t a ranch, just a 1/2 acre lot that was fenced off in back with a couple of shelters for the animals, but it’s as close as they had gotten to the dream. Anne hurried to the back to check to see if her two goats had had their kids yet and if the cabin renters had indeed left as they were suppose to.   

 The cabin in the back was where she had first lived while waiting for Jack to sell the house and where she resided while doing the contracting for their current house. She found that the goats were still there with one little kid from her largest goat, and the renters appeared to be gone. She gave a sigh of relief both because she hadn’t been sure the goat, Puts, had been pregnant; and because the renters had taken advantage of her for as long as she wanted. Once again the backyard could be quiet and her haven, without the commentary of the-end-of-the-world dooms-dayers. Once more she could talk on the phone without them always insisting that they needed to make a call…which was so much more important that what she was doing. What started, as a courtesy by allowing them to use her phone, shortly became what they perceived to be their right…and they were not shy about forcing the issue.  

 Jack would just say…”They are leaving shortly…don’t get upset.” He had an easy manner about him and most of the time nothing anyone said got him too upset. Anne suspicioned that that was because he really didn’t listen. He just knew how to “Wow, ooh, and ahh” at the proper times and if you ever cornered him and asked him what you just said…he wouldn’t have a clue.    

Anyway they were gone, at least until the world ended and they could come back and pillage over their dead bodies. They believed they were the only ones that would survive God’s thinning and often bragged about how they would come back and take over all our things. They felt they were the only true believers in God.    

 Anne sighed. Why is it that many canned religions believed that they were superior? It was just like any other earthly thing. The value of something was in denying someone else, either because they couldn’t afford an item, or get approved by the right educational institution or take the correctly named course in college etc.

 What happened to the core of truth, love and self-sacrifice? That was the measuring stick that she held up to judge if something was true. Did they live love and self-sacrifice in the service of others? Most of the time the only truth she held, meant that most everything else was wrong. That meant she felt sad, ..a lot.

She couldn’t find value in what the world held dear. Some people lived for sports and their favorite team. She couldn’t get excited about which way a ball went and the atrocious salaries this insignificant effort went to pay its players and owners. The improper balance of wealth proved that money was not a good yardstick. The drug & sex pushers were rich. The ones that took advantage of the weaker members of society and wrecked carnage on the earth, well, they were the ones that were rich. So money was certainly not a reason for living. Fashion, partying, fame, also didn’t stack well against her yardstick.    

 What she loved was silence, and the knowledge that comes from listening to the world, and her thoughts. She HAD loved to ponder on the significance of life and her place in the cosmos, but now with the strange things happening…she wondered if she wasn’t too afraid to do that. That would really cut into her enjoyment. 

 Jack called her in to show that the renters had left the key but NOT the additional cash they had promised to cover the additional days they had stayed.  They never asked her if they could stay, just told her. She had hoped that their religious devotion would have meant they were humble servants of God and that they were out to serve others, but later the fact that they were as self serving as anyone else, telling falsehoods and not keeping promises if they were too hard, disillusioned her and she counted the winter days till the time they would leave. Taking in warfarers as a Christian obligation was going to have to be reexamined.   

 The next day Jack returned to work and Anne prepared for a Monday of quiet. She fed the goats and checked the garden and then worked on her self-taught piano lessons. Now, she felt courageous enough that she could once again let her mind return to the memory. She sat down on her beloved enclosed porch and stared at the canyons and wondered if there could be any truth to the memory.    

 The pond rippled again in her thoughts…and this time she closed her eyes and relinquished herself to the memory, and she was transported in time..

 The morning was clear and her soul was suffering with weight. She had been thinking of her boyfriend in California, but now her current thoughts and troubles were incorporated into the walk. The sky was cloudless the birds were a welcome noise. The walk was short but needed. She found the pond and sat down to peer into it’s five or six inch depth. The whooshing feeling came again, along with the feeling of vastness. She could see herself sitting by the pool from under the ripples. The voice came and told her, “Who are you?”

 And she struggled with the question.  Was she the pool,…. the trees, the person  by the pond… or the clear sky above?

 “Where do you begin…where do you end….are you all?” The ripples communicated in comforting waves, but the question was unsettling.

  That is where the memory repeated. It left her puzzled and out of place. Each time it came she felt that there was something more being said in the background, a sound or feeling, but she could never quite hear it or grasp it. The feeling was so total, the confirmation so strong; she had begun to believe it. Then something would move her, like her dog or an insect would buzz in her ear and the whoosh would return her to the present.     

 How could this feeling intertwine with her beliefs in God and her yardstick of truth and love. One thing that didn’t allow her to discard it, was the wonderful feeling of acceptance that she had of all things. There was overwhelming love for the existence of a pebble and the immensity of its creation and purpose. It seemed to be a love. It seemed to be good. But now her “all” things was starting to be experienced for real, not just when the memory came. How could this be? How come this fantasy was now seeping into real life. A person could not ‘be all things’ and certainly not at the same time. That incident with Bach was still too disconcerting, cause it happened against her conscious thought. She couldn’t remember feeling any more ‘love’ for Bach, although she did feel a little more compassion for his pain.    

 Later when Trista was visiting – being the baby, and Trista, and her husband Carl, had made her sick to her stomach. That couldn’t be good…or maybe she just wasn’t ready to understand or let go. She had seen thru the babies eyes and the fog that was her perception, and wondered if the little girl had vision problems or whether all babies that age saw that blurry. The feeling of mesmerizing fascination for a black spot of a barrette in her mother’s hair finally made her smile.  The child was curious and that was good.

 When she saw through Trista, the feelings she got from her were of confusion and a  little out of control with the needs of this baby, but everyone seemed to comfort her that the baby was fine and she was doing a good job. Trista was seeking acceptance from Anne and confirmation that she was proud of her. Anne tried to complement without seeming out of place, but she had never been much on false praise and real praise was said once and then expected to last.

 When she felt the feelings of Carl his thoughts were of  fear and love. He wanted so bad to be better than his father had been as a father, and he wanted Trista to love him, but unsure, felt that at least the baby would love him. None of these occurrences were totally complete. She was always still been herself, while at the same time looking outward from the eyes of the others. If she had ever gone in for drugs, she thought while shaking her head, this could have been one crazy trip.

      It was much easier for her to examine the incident a few days down the road, it seemed all too confusing as it was occurring or right after. Her religious up bringing brought out the commandment, “Love one another.” and when she had occurrences, she couldn’t possibly hate or feel anger.  The problems, pains and perceptions of the person she was experiencing them from, were just as intense and saddening as any of her own.

The exchange of places had let her see for a brief glimpse the capsuled understanding of the other person. 

 Her daughter, Trista, had always been a problem to try and understand.  She would manipulate anyone to do anything she wanted by lying, complementing or throwing a tantrum.  It was always such a pain to put up with her switching of moods and faces, that most of the family members would quit and give in just to get out of the circus of presentations that would display themselves in rapid succession until she got her way.  While seeing through her eyes she learned a lot about her red-headed daughter.  Trista felt panic, lots of panic.  She felt she had no control and only others could give her what she wanted.  So just like a person getting washed down river and failing at the shore she would try quickly different tactics to get a grip on a situation.

 “Mom, you’re not listening.” Trista had chided at the time she was seeing through Trista’s eyes.

 “I am, dear. I just had a pain for a moment, but it’s gone now.” She rebutted. The understanding had got her more insight into her child, than Trista’s words would have ever conveyed.

 Odie started barking at the neighbor’s puppies and broke her line of concentration. She wanted to go away from any distractions.  So she thought about her rock.  This rock was mammoth size and was surrounded by the most glorious collection of  diverse stones all truly unique by a somewhat dried up river bed.  She made preparations to go and think on her rock.  She grabbed her hiking stick, hat, and power lounger chair and double checked all the animals. Got a bottle of water for herself and did the bathroom thing and then got out the junker car that was her drive-around-a- four- mile-square-town vehicle. 

 The rock was only eight minutes down a dirt road from her house, but it was really wilderness out there.  Her house was the last subdivision on this side of her rural town that bordered the wilderness, the large new Grand Staircase Escalante National monument. 

 There were hundreds of miles of dirt road running through the land that the president so arbitrarily designated a monument for his election year votes, but most of those roads where you could drive and be totally alone were being closed. Once again eliminating the very value of solitude the land was meant to be monumentalized for.  She could envision down the road this becoming a park and duplicating the one-road-thru-the-park limit that plagued Zions National Park. 

You were never alone in Zions.  Even in the dead of winter when visitation drops off there were hundreds of others also looking for quiet and beauty.  It always confused her why people trying to get away from it all, would go camping or stay in a RV park where a person was packed in closer to other people than ever would have been tolerated while in the city.

 She got the feeling of urgency to leave for her solitary place and took off. She would just go for an hour or so and be back before lunch.

 The day was clear with a brisk breeze and as she turned off her paved road to the well-maintained, dirt road with a feeling of escape enveloping her, and “Ping” she was in adventure mode.

 She saw no one else on the road, but she could still see the remnants of the local’s anger taken out on the Grand Staircase border sign full of shotgun blasts and other target shooting rounds, which pretty much destroyed the formerly quite attractive sign.  The road weaved through the large slotted canyon of the Smoky Mountain Rd. and she mentally made note of her I-am-in-wilderness border, which consisted of very large yellow mammoth rocks streaked with the black varnish lines. They must have fallen from the cliffs eons ago. 

 The way continued to the first crossing of a small trickle of a stream; a stream that must have once been a torrent to have cut this canyon.  She crossed the thin wet line and marveled that there was any water in it at all.  The days this last week had all hit 100 degrees. While the East coast was flooding they would have a very dry year.

 She parked the car to the right shoulder of the road and removed her keys and threw them under her front seat. Then opening the back door got the bottle of water and her ground chair and started the short walk up to her destination. She scolded herself for having gotten her hiking stick but still leaving it behind when she got to the car.

Yellow cactus flowers were in bloom and along her way she could see the “Arnold Swartznegger” bees working madly at the feast.  They were gray and black and bigger than traditional yellow bees and each of the buds had at least two bees. Anne made a mental note of the cactus in bloom so that in the fall when prickly pear season came and the urge for jam and canning hit she would return for the harvest.

 She passed her “perfect” Christmas tree, which Anne and Jack had designated a family reunion tree for whenever the whole family could all be together for the holiday.  However when it was first discovered it was only five feet high and in the last two wet years it had exceeded the eight foot limit the BLM had put on harvesting Christmas pine trees in the monument. So she picked out another small one that looked just as good as a future target.

 The boulder was sitting there providing the only shade on this side of the road. Anne walked around to the shady side and sat down in the tan sand. She had picked this place of wonder because of the great variety of small collectable rocks.  Everyone who she brought here found some unique rock gathered around this boulder. Her youngest daughter had found one that looked like a box of crayons had melted into a clump. Today, though,  she was not interested in rocks.  Today was a time of quiet reflection.

 The lizard tracks ran up along the base of the rectangle shaped boulder to what appeared to be a small rock cave about two feet wide and a foot or two deep.  She was always curious as to what was in that little alcove, but not curious enough to reach her hand down into a black hole.

 She sat and took a deep breath and looked out over the flowering sage and other desert plants. The chair allowed her to recline against the base of the rock quite comfortably and the fragrance of the Russian olive mixed with the sagebrush aroma was quite intoxicating. She felt sleepy and crossed her legs and leaned forward to rest her head on her rather robust chest. The breeze would continue to announce its arrival with the rustling of trees long before the actual wave of wind made its appearance. The gusts were never very strong but she loved to hear their travels through the canyon before they passed over her on their journey, often questioning the identity of the sound because it so closely resembled the sound of a car coming down the gravel road.

 In another favorite spot along the Burr trail the wind announces itself with so much clarity she could feel the voices of past travelers hailing her visit. But here there were no voices in this proclamation, just quiet gusts and flies buzzing enough to required active waving of her hat to minimize.

 She rested in this yoga type position and listened to the sounds around her. The possibility could have occurred that she had dozed off for a time, but she raised her head slowly when she had the feeling of being watched. Reluctantly she opened her eyes to meet square in the face a large cougar sitting on the top of the embankment not more than five feet away.