Friday, August 30, 2002


For the last two days, while I’ve been waiting for certain other intriguing phone calls to happen, my phone here at the office has been ringing with numbing regularity and repetitiousness.

Had I known it was going to be this effective, this little advertising campaign I put together more or less on the fly, I would have started taking notes on the phone calls, because I think an interesting radio-mathematical dataset could have been developed that someone with better statistics skills than mine (say, Stillllllaaaaay or Canter38 or one of the other Sec-J guys at STATS, Inc.) could use to plot exactly when every single airing of a certain radio commercial I wrote took place, and how effective it was.

Were that going on, it would be much more entertaining to edure the endless iterations of this same bit of dialogue I shall paraphrase here:

“Good morning/afternoon/evening, Saratoga Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce...”

(pause for inevitable cellphone static, either mine or the caller’s depending on the time of day and whether or not I’m at coffee or lunch)

“Hey little lady, I was just listening to the radio and you wouldn’t believe what I just heard.”

“Um, okay. What did you hear?”

“Well, I heard that Gene Watson is playing for free in Saratoga. Is that true?”

“Yes it is.”

The Gene Watson?”


“The guy who sings -” insert name of famous Gene Watson song that I had never heard of before I wound up putting together this ad campaign here “That Gene Watson?”


“So what was the ticket price again?”

“It’s free, sir”

“Ain’t no such thing as free. What are you trying to pull here? You’re not going to bring out some Gene Watson impersonator are you”

(OK, OK, no one has asked me about Gene Watson impersonators. But you have to admit it’s pretty funny, and nicely conveys the depth of skepticism with which I am dealing here)

“No, it’s really Gene Watson.”

“Well hell, where is Saratoga, anyway?”

From these conversations, I feel I can safely conclude that 1) I did a good job picking radio stations and packages to plug this thing and 2) I did a bad job at writing a credible ad.

Maybe it’s because, to be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of Gene Watson at all before this thing came up. And I still wouldn’t know him if he walked into my office and said howdy as I’ve half-feared might happen all week because that’s just the sort of thing that does happen around here.

Fortunately, intimate knowledge of what I’m promoting isn’t always necessary. I know next to nothing, for instance, about what goes into maintaining a chariot race team; I just have to persuade people to come to the Donald E. Erickson Memorial Chariot Races (February 15 & 16, 2003, everybody!). I couldn’t tell a barn swallow from a bank swallow from a tree swallow, but I can still say “Hey birdwatchers, grab your binoculars and get ready for the Platte Valley Festival of Birds!” (May 24, 25 and 25, everybody!).

It’s a good thing, too.

Still and all, though, this event has driven me maybe more crazy than any other. I don’t know what it is about Gene Watson fans, but on the whole they seem completely incapable of imagining a human being who is not of their number. Of course I know all of his 35 top 40 hits! Yes, I know the lyrics to whatever song that was you just mentioned. Yes!

It makes me think of that woman in the original Blues Brothers movie who mentions that her bar features both kinds of music, Country and Western.


As for me, I’m going to go hide in the Lazy River Cantina while this thing is going on tomorrow night. Warren Keldsen is playing, and you all know how I feel about his stuff.

So it goes.

Thursday, August 29, 2002


...The gods want me to be a writer.

There’s no other explanation for the unfathomably weird things that can and do happen to me in the course of a nominally uneventful week.

WTOTD (Weird Thing of the Day): Someone out there has a very intricate and confusing story to tell me, to judge from a slightly anguished pair of messages that were waiting on my office answering machine this morning when I finally sauntered in at 11 a.m. (after a hilarious morning with Tad the Grocer and Ramcharger the Lumber Guy and the Fat Cat Republican Banker managing to turn every innocent beginning to every conversation into an off-color joke about lubrication. No, don’t even try to imagine it. The Jeweler and I are both still in shock from the spectacle. Turn a sackful of eight-year-olds loose at a bachelor party in the Playboy mansion and you might begin to get an idea. We still don’t know what got into them).

See, sometimes, every once in a while, someone can walk into my office for a casual inquiry and wind up staying all day bullshitting with me. We who have the gift of the gab usually also have a complete inability to resist any opportunity to employ it without outside coercion, and there’s not a lot of outside coercion associated with my office hours. I sink or swim here, often as not in complete control of my schedule and modus operandi, if not of my workload overall.

And sometimes, someone can walk into my office for a casual inquiry and wind up staying all day NOT bullshitting with me, but rather having one of those rare and life-altering real conversations that leave both parties happily stunned, somewhat shaken, and careening off on new trajectories forever more.

Guess which kind of someone *I* met yesterday.

Within just a few hours, we felt like best friends. Within a few more, we were making plans to sneak away to an out-of-town jazz festival together this weekend. We had it all planned out, the time table, where we’d stay, where we’d get out of the car on the way and exercise our dogs (his is half border collie, half lab - in mannerisms, all border collie. Great dog). It was exciting, exhilirating, ludicrious.

Then my would-be traveling companion had to shoot over to Laramie for the night or so, but we’d head out as planned on Friday, be ready, this is going to be awesome, we can’t believe we’re doing this, it’s nuts, it’s unbelievable, holy shit, Kate Sherrod is actually going to get out of town and do something fun... with a person she just met....!

But then the answering machine struck this morning. In slightly vague, slightly annoyed tones (of all the times for me to have let my cell phone battery run down; I could have been fully briefed on this still-mysterious situation. Could have. But of course, counterfactual conditionals are always true because the premise is always false), my new friend informed me first that things were looking iffy but I’d know more later when he got through on my cell phone, and then that indeed, he was going to have to go to Boise and I’d know everything later when we actually got to talk, and would I please leave a message on his voice mail and tell him when the hell I might actually be reachable because there’s no way he’s going to get the whole backstory to this surprise onto the answering machine with its fascist time limtations.

So of course I called, just because it sounds like a doozy of a story and because I almost had a doozy of my own - succinctly put, the Collie of Folly almost cost us the trip anyway because it is only through a by-gods miracle that she does not currently and thoroughly reek of skunk.

And now I’m waiting to hear the story.

It’s like being a teenager or something, this day. Every time the phone rings – and it’s been ringing a lot because my latest advertising campaign seems to have been a stroke of genius – I gear up to hear the story, find out why I’m staying in Saratoga again this weekend after all.

Sometimes the cell phone rings, vibrating in my hip pocket and making me jump about 25 feet into the air.

But it’s all still, at 5 p.m., a perplexing mystery.

Guess this will teach me to make vacation plans with strangers, huh?

But you gotta admit, it would have been a great adventure, and as it is it makes a pretty good little story.

Bewildering, bewildering.

Hey, at least I found some words...

...Is going to make a magnificent surrealist novel someday. Someday. Right now, I just don't have the words.

Men. What is it with you guys? You're all insane. You hear me? INSANE.

But you're also really nice to have around, so what is there to be done about it all?

I just don't have the words.

Maybe this splendid, splendid, warm bread, freshly baked by my Enabling Assistant (not her real name) will help me find them.

Mmm... bread good.

Uh, give me a while.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002


It's just shy of 9:30 p.m. as I type this (though you'll not see it for at least 12 hours; Kate's Landing has no land line, so I cannot post, I can only type) and the sky is a battleground all around and above me, alternately illuminated so brightly I could read a book by its glare and glow, and sunken in darkness that seems to coat even the brightness of the street lights whose glare causes such complaint among our town's would-be stargazers.

There is lightning flashing like the sky around a sinister house in a grade B horror flick, one after the other, sometimes simultaneous, huge and sky-rending, fractally jagged like cracks in pottery, splitting the sky into shards that look ready to fly into each other, into us. Will they hurt when they hit us, those shards? Will they make a noise? What kind of damage can pieces of sky do?

And they're all over the sky, these explosions, these fireworks that were missing during that dud of a meteor shower a few weeks ago. They chase each other from quadrant to quadrant, siginalling frantically from one part of town to another. If the British are coming, they're coming by every known form of transportation, land, sea, flying carpet, spaceship, transporter beam, even the goddam Enterprise itself.

The sky has been invaded by giant fireflies and it's their very last chance to find mates before the freaking apocalypse.

It's strangely noiseless, or nearly so. This lightning looks like it's going on right on top of us, but the sounds are so late in coming (and so faint when they do come) that one can't tell which boom went with which flash... so one never knows at what point one's dog, walking cautiously alongside one in fear where usually she bounds along, pulling at the leash in hopes of locating a skunk to chase, is going to completely lose it and try to hide and cry between one's legs.

For yes, the Collie of Folly and I got caught out in this storm that is no storm. The sky is tearing itself apart, and the wind wants to rip the trees right out of the ground, but there's not a drop of moisture falling, it's all concentrated in the thick, towering clouds that glow periwinkle when another flare goes off. We were walking home from fiddling around at my absent parents' house (whenever the parents are out of town, I have to head up there and peek at the sports channels to see if maybe, just maybe, there's a soccer game on) when the air really got violent.

My dog made a beeline for my closet and buried herself in the overflow from the laundry hamper the second we entered the cabin at Kate's Landing. I had to dig her out from under it all just to disconnect her leash – and she's not budging. She's entrenched like a tick in flesh in there and won't come out for a dog biscuit, a hot dog, or anything. Guess I'll see her in the morning.

What finally did it for her kind of wigged me out as well, I think. Just as we crossed the bridge over the North Platte, the wind really whipped up, to such a frenzy that it was forcing the river to reverse its natural course and flow south. How it was I was seeing whitecaps in a streamflow that can barely float a duck's toy boat I am at a loss to explain except to say the wind wanted it that way, by god, and it was going to make whitecaps.

And still the lightning flashes on. I expect a power failure or something any minute (not to malign our local electric power cooperative, which as those things go is pretty much top of the heap as far as I'm concerned) and am smugly pleased that for once the lithium ion battery on my good old iBook is fully charged, that my alarm clock is also completely battery powered, as is my coffeemaker.

(God lord, I am turning into the Unabomber)

Actually, this storm is getting pretty eerie. When I wake tomorrow with no power (really, this storm just demands a power outage; it might be the thing's entire raison to cause one), will there also be a sinister carnival mysteriously arrived by rail in the night (the railroad runs right to the sawmill, which is just a block away; I'll feel the carnival train's passage disturbing my sleep and causing me nightmares) set up on the football field? Will Cooger and Dark be stalking the town with the Dust Witch in tow, looking for new victims?

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

Oh yeah, just what we needed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002


Agenda items: Economic development efforts in Carbon County, town hall politics, the gubernatorial race and its potential effect on this valley, the literary and other merits of Samuel Western’s Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul (about which more anon - since it apparently takes a while to ship. Until then you can read this excellent article Western published on the same general subject in 1999), the hard truth about the fantasy of Wyoming as a land of rugged, independent individualists when its really the most foolish flower of welfare statism, and my role in planning, fixing, and implementing all of this.

Participants: Me, and a specialist in ranch preservation and other high level business and finance issues, who is currently one of the powers behind the push to create a small and high quality ski resort near Encampment, Wyo.

Sounds a bit grim and heavy for an early morning meeting, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t, not only because said specialist/guru is a cherubically cheerful and fabulously well read and thoughtful person who is rapidly becoming something of a hero to me, but also because of the

Setting: A trail winding through Section 36, formerly a state school section, now the future site of the aforementioned Grand Encampment Mountain Resort!

This was, in other words, an ambulatory meeting. Very ambulatory. To give you some idea: the Collie of Folly, who is normally a basket case of pent up energy and excitement by 4:30 p.m. each day, is still calmly napping under my desk, somnolent in a sleep so deep she’s not even having one of her amusing pelican-chasing dreams. This is one tired dog – and no wonder.

My guru/drinking buddy/fellow effective dreamer is a hiking FOOL, folks.

More business meetings should happen this way. We live in Wyoming. What the hell are we doing sealing ourselves up in conference rooms gussied up to look just like conference rooms in the tremendous glass and steel towers of the big business districts in huge, silly cities like Denver, LA, New York, etc? Especially now that things like cell phones with wireless web access exist, making pretty much any information we might conceivably need pretty easy to access (miraculously, I had a cell signal even at the top of the mountain)? Why pretend we’re just like businessmen everywhere else, when we can trek and talk and get just as much done as they do – all in sight of our beautiful, beautiful landscapes?

So even when truly disheartening subjects came up, subjects like the hilarious irony of listening to people fussing and fussing over the attractiveness and up-to-dateness of the playground equipment in the parks in a town that has next to no children in it (almost as hilarious as that of gubernatorial and other candidates thundering on about the need to improve educational opportunities for those same all-but-nonexistent children... so that someday they, too, can leave Wyoming and go somewhere it’s actually possible to make a living, one must presume) (but hey, at least the primaries are over, and we’re down to just two would-be governors, at least one of whom [I’ll leave it to you to guess which] has seen the irony and is giving the matter appropriate attention) – even when we turned, too, to matters of truly grave import like the fate of Saratoga if a buyer is not found for the sawmill Louisiana Pacific Corporation is still convinced it can sell off as part and parcel of its entire lumber division, it was impossible to succumb to gloom or bitterness or cynicism, impossible because of the glorious views opening up to us at every bend and because of the entertaining antics of the Collie of Folly (seeking out absolutely every opportunity to get wet in the tiny little – but still substantially flowing; as we discovered today at one flume, Willow Creek is running at sufficient CFS to meet the town of Saratoga’s average water consumption – creeks all over the section) and because of the very somatic experience of the strides, the breathing, the sweat, different surfaces, different grades, lactic acid in the legs, autumn allergens in the nose, getting used to the “rest step” (new to me, though I’ve been hiking all of my life; my guru used it in his record ascent of Mt. McKinley many years ago, and still swears by it and I can see indeed its metabolic benefits but boy does it feel weird), and bodily gratitude for the many miles ridden on the bike through and around town this year that left me very well prepared for some serious hiking even though this (and how sad is this?) is only my second hiking trip this year!!!

Nothing happened this morning to lighten the load as I snapped photo after photo from the northwest corner/top of Section 36, but in such circumstances carrying it felt like no problem at all.

Best of all, on THIS hiking trip, I didn’t have to report any new forest fires!

(My only other hiking trip this summer, with the Minister of Fun and the Beautiful Cop [not their real names], was highlighted by our having discovered and reported the Hinman Fire in Colorado when it originally flared up. Of course, when we called it in it looked to us like it was burning in Commissary Park, which made it feel a lot more painfully urgent to us when we found ourselves desperately arguing with a dispatcher over whether or not what we were seeing was just some drifting smoke from the Bear Mountain Fire. Obviously a woman 40 miles away locked up in a windowless room would know better than we did what we were seeing. Obviously.)

Monday, August 26, 2002


But today I must be brief. I've been spending all day working on The Official Steinley Cup Web Page and I can't stand one more minute of staring at a computer.

Plus, I just got invited to go on an early morning hike in the Sierra Madres with the Green Mountain Boys (not their real names) and Molly, the Collie of Folly, is having digestive issues originating from some roadkill I caught her trying to eat this morning. She's very dainty about these issues, as she is about all things (including her dining habits, if not her choice of menu items) so it's amusing enough to warrant further discussion, but that's going to have to be at a later date.

Off to give the pooch and my overstrained eyes some relief!

Sunday, August 25, 2002


Today I did something I haven’t done in years if you don’t count things like community choir
performances or major holidays: I went to church.

I’d been thinking about returning to the church in which I grew up ever since I came back to
Saratoga, but something in me always held back. Part of it might have been pride; very few of my
actual peers (by which I mean 30-something semi-hipsters with whom I went to college, hang out
now on my trips to Chicago, correspond via e-mail) have made any kind of organized religion part
of their lives - for many reasons which I still share, including dislike of authority and authoritarian
institutions, dislike of anything that smacks of the herd mentality, disdain for rules and standards
of conduct that aren’t convenient to keep, not to mention the whole crutch/opiate of the masses
doctrine that seemed a lot more realistic and reasonable to us when we were teenagers who
weren’t in a mood to believe anything we were told.

I didn’t give up on religion completely when I hit college, but I came pretty close. I went to some
Quaker meetings in upstate New York, and liked the structure (or lack thereof), the kinship they
had to a really good seminar or group discussion. They had a lot in common with the better kind
of class at Bard, these meetings: there was silence and thought and opinions expressed carefully
and with great consideration, and those who listened to a speaker listened with a care and
attention that I’m sure many a professor would wish for. Something was missing, though, so I
drifted off into secular life, another jaded, educated doubter, like so many others. I eyed devout
people with suspicion and a little bit of a sneer, found them either superstitious or smug or just
plain silly.

I still kind of do, but as I said in the first paragraph of this essay, I’ve been considering a return to
church life since I moved back to Saratoga three years ago. I’ve missed the sense of community
within a community that I enjoyed under rather unusual circumstances growing up here, and while
I think what I had is gone forever (it was a product of a deep friendship among the Presbyterian,
Episcopal and Catholic clergymen who manned the pulpits in the mid to late 1970s when I was
first learning to think about things greater than myself. We celebrated holidays together, the three
congregations; I remember Maundy Thursdays and Christmas pageants over at the Catholic
church, I remember the Presbyterian sanctuary crammed with people come to hear Mike Cole talk
and his wife sing - sort of hippie Presbyterians and people whom I still miss deeply - and how
much I adored ex-footballer [in the European sense; I just recently learned this man was once on
the Irish national team in World Cup soccer!] Father Sheridan, who I know now is at the parish
over in Rock Springs. Look out, Tommy; I’m old enough to gulp some of your whiskey!) there’s
still something there, as I was reminded today.

The occasion was something special, and I think unique to the Presbyterian church in its
methodology: the election of a new pastor. And the candidate was really something else! I had
met her (yes, her!) in passing earlier in the week, and many with whom I met her encouraged me
to come and check her out on Sunday, since they knew I’d kind of been thinking about coming
back into the fold as such anyway.

So I said I would. And I did!

I’m still sorting it all out at this point, some eight hours later. Yes, the woman we elected is
remarkable, as one of my friends observed, to listen to her is to definitely feel one has been to
church, but it’s not just that. There were points today when I cried. Usually while singing. And I
wasn’t prepared for that.

Oh, not tears of repentance, though sure ‘nuff I’m a sinner like everybody who’s at all honest with
him or herself knows himself to be. No, it was something about singing with everybody in that
particular congregational way - maybe six or seven people in the crew really knowing the tune and
the rest of us sight reading like mad, or else listening and guessing, or else just sort of chanting
like plainsong, rendering most hymns a cheerful, vaguely musical din - and realizing that while the
mantles I’ve assumed are heavy (and getting heavier for the conflict and the disappointment that
inevitably come with them) and while I’m the one to whom they’ve been given in name, I’ve
never been required to carry them alone. And no, I’m not talking about God - I still don’t believe
in that God they told me about in Sunday school or that character that appears in the canonical
bible, the Gnostic gospels, the Apocryphal Old and New Testaments, the Zohar or any of the rest
of that vast shelf of religious literature I’ve been sifting through since high school. Sorry, that’s
just going to be a really, really hard sell.

But what is there in that church on Sundays is people, people I can’t remember ever having
actually met, I’ve known them for so long (we’re talking people who have memories of me before
I could read, which is more than I have), and people who came to call this valley home while I
was still off playing city girl in Boston and New York and who have since become my friends
through trips to the opera, festival committees, sports spectatorship and politics (yeah, sometimes
that happens). They’re people who come together once a week to spend an hour or two outside
their own heads, their own concerns, people who, for a little while at least, accept how little
control we each of us individually has over what happens to us, and how that is still OK... people
who can bring themselves to rejoice even amidst tragedy and fear... people who are, like me,
actively hoping and planning for the future.

I need that.

As for the new pastor, I had a feeling about her already, but she confirmed it today. She preached
well and with passion and humor and all the qualities I would want in such a person, but what
confirmed it for me was when, during the congregational meeting after the service, when we were
to debate and vote, she told us very candidly of something that not many people (in my experience
at least) will talk about so openly, especially to strangers: a vision. She had had a vision of a map,
the center of which denoted Saratoga, when she was pondering whether or not she was being
called away from her ministry in Australia.

You see, what finally set me on my way from Boston back to Wyoming was also a vision. I woke
up one night from a dream of Lake Marie and I was crying. I was crying because I missed that
lake and all that goes with it, and because I knew that nothing was going to feel quite right again
until I returned to it.

And it proved to be true, as hers proved to be true, because she did indeed receive a call today.

Good luck, Reverend!