Day Seven: Buff Steals the Show

Still at Sylvan Lake, soaking in water and woods by day, and cocktails by night. Because the wifi is hard to get, I’m putting all the photos and video at the bottom in a string again.

When you’ve seen a six-foot male buffalo kick up his heels in a dirt bath, you know the definition of “party animal.” These massive creatures turn into eight-hundred-pound puppies, legs waving in all directions as they wriggle on their backs like worms. It’s like watching the Pope go swimming: one minute plodding along all dignity and grace ignoring the tourists with cameras, the next doing a high dive yelling “Bonsai!”

Thoughtfully, the buffalo had aligned himself about twenty feet beyond a sign describing the American bison, so the braver tourists dashed three feet from their cars to take a picture of Buff the Bather gamboling about like a prairie dog, just beyond the interpretive plaque depicting him as the symbol of Prairie Dignity.

In the car, Oliver, Barbara, Jack and I agreed: Buff had drawn the afternoon shift. While all the others were hiding out from the heat at the local watering hole, buying each other rounds, he had the high-traffic entertainment shift. Hence his need for a party piece, the ol’ hof-waving, back-wriggling, kick-’em-up high routine. Packs the house every time.

About an hour later, leaving the Wildlife Loop Trail, we passed the Custer State Park office. Barbara indicated it with a nod of her head. “That’s where they collect their weekly wages. Buff is the highest-paid, because of his dirt dance routine, but he’s training twin calves to take over next year so he can retire.”

It is a sign of how far we have traveled together that the rest of us nodded agreement, Jack adding, “Took him two years to work his way up from night shifts.”

None of the crew are as interested in the antics of the prairie dogs, though, and I have had to resort to trickery to get my daily fix. While Oliver very much enjoys the charm of the wildlife and the beauty of the Black Hills, he tailgates the person ahead until they pull over, then races on. Even a rare sighting of an antelope failed to stop his drive to, well, drive. So the next time I saw a particularly cute prairie dog village, I shouted, “Look there!” Oliver practically put us into a ditch, swerving to the side. I snapped the dogs, and since we now had to let all the people we’d passed pass us, Oliver scanned the horizon for what I’d been pointing at. Turned out to be a dying Black Hills Spruce. (The beetles are doing for them, 95,000 acres damaged). Oh dear, so silly of me to mistake that reddish tree for a buffalo/coyote/antelope/mountain goat. Well, let’s press on, shall we?

Tomorrow, I drive….

 

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Day 5 and 6: Parade of Animals

Note: I skipped day four in Rapid City to go back later and hook it to some other cultural activities. Today let us tell you about the Badlands and the amazing wild(ish) animals we saw there. You may have to expand some pictures to see what we were seeing; I only had my phone for taking them.

Oh, the animals! Oliver and Barbara were mad keen to see a buffalo, and I am a prairie dog geek, so we took them around the Sage Rim Road (unpaved) of the Badlands, and saw four sets of buffalo. Jack sat in the back and clung to the armrest with white knuckles. My beloved does not care for “unimproved” roads, but he knew how badly the rest of us wanted to see Robert’s Prairie Dog town and the Buffalo Wallow.

We were not disappointed. The first buffalo was far distant, available only with the binoculars, and walking away from us. Still, B&O were happy: they had now seen one. We drove around a corner (note to self: do not let Oliver drive the wildlife loops because he turns into the guy who wants to Get There, even when there is no There to Get to) and nearly careened into a male and two females wandering aimlessly across the grasses.

Buffalo are majestic but when they’re walking, it’s like watching an animal cracker move. They’re such odd shapes as they amble, like a pushme-pullme of Dr. Doolitte fame. It takes a bit of practice to tell which end is front.

Replete with buffalo, we started up again and hadn’t gone a mile before I saw something in the grasses moving the opposite direction. It took a second to realize, but when I yelled “OMIGOSH a COYOTE!” Oliver threw us onto the roadside and was out of the car before the rest of us could get our seatbelts off.

The coyote, a very large male, walked along the side of the road less than a quarter mile from us for a few miles, so we started driving along, getting a bit ahead and watching him coming. So long as we didn’t get into the grass, he didn’t care. He was in fact much more interested in the prairie dogs who were very interested in what he decided to do next. He must not have been hungry, because he didn’t do much more than stare at one in a “do I want salad or protein” sort of way.

He finally ambled off into the morning rain (which is why we were seeing so many animals; the drizzle had cooled everything nicely in a pleasant blue half-daylight.

We figured it didn’t get any better than this until we climbed a peak and saw an enormous deer below. Mule deer it turned out, but I shouted Moose so Oliver would stop. I wasn’t sure “deer” would cut it.

And in reaching the top of the peak to watch the deer watch us, we discovered why the Badlands have so little water. The hard rock hills we’d climbed the day before were now so soft, we gained five pounds in shoe clay and had a nasty moment when we all thought we were sinking. Now I know why they warn through hikers in the Badlands that you’d better know what you’re doing, not just about the water, but about climbing the rocks. They’re not really rocks, but porous clay cliffs waiting for unsuspecting people to sink into them.

But we made it out, cameras full to the brim, went around the corner, and found a herd of long horn sheep resting, including one baby who wanted quite badly to cross the road and meet us. We had to shoo him back as the adults lay there, placidly chewing in the drizzle. It’s hard to get good child care these days, but he finally understood he should stay there.

A coyote in the wild, four herd of buffalo, a second mule deer when we reached Sylvan Lake, and all the prairie dogs in the world–it was a good two days.

I’m just going to string the pictures below here because the Internet is hard to use in the Lodge and it may go out again any moment.

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Filed under animal rescue, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Day 3: Roadside adventures in SD

IMG_4188We planned a day of looking at stuff as we meandered across South Dakota’s Interstate 90 until  we reached the Badlands. Jack and I dragged the unsuspecting Barbara and Oliver into the Porter sculpture park first thing. Greeted by a gopher on arrival, Oliver looked suspicious and annoyed.

But he cheered right up when Wayne remembered us, and traded us t-shirts again–our shop one for two of his–and then comped all four of us into his park. I brought him a long-promised copy of Little Bookstore, and he asked how long it had taken to write. I asked how long it took him to make that huge bull that is the park’s signature nationwide. Turns out, it took us about the same length of time.

IMG_4224If you expand the goldfish picture to look under it, you will meet the gopher who unnerved Oliver. We remembered Wayne feeding the gophers chocolate last time we were there, but he told us they were on peanuts now. “Chocolate is bad for them, turns out. Too much carbs and sugar.” So even gophers are on the Keto diet now…

Next stop: Mitchell, because if you are hauling Brits across the States, you need to see some tacky stuff. Also, they have really good ice cream. Barbara and Oliver were suitably impressed with the idea that someone could cover a brick building with decorative corn murals and revitalize a dying economy. “Heavy price to pay,” they noted, given the traffic and the, well, corniness of it all. Remembering Farmington’s gentle dignity down by the river, plus the empty buildings everywhere, who can judge whose choices?

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime, we sped our little Nissan along 90 to Chamberlain, where the famous “Dignity” statue awaited at the Lewis and Clark interpretation center. The sculptor used three indigenous models to create her: a girl, a mother, and an elder.IMG_4240

Finally, I found out what Lewis and Clark had been doing all that time: looking for a passage to the Pacific. (Who knew?) It’s one of those things Americans feel like we ought to know, but when it comes down to it, you don’t.

And then, the Badlands. Which gobsmacked the Brits as much as we expected it to. *smirk* More on that tomorrow.

 

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Day Two: SQUEEEEEverly

Farmington, Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota

highway 2 mapSo there are a couple of things you need to know about our rag-tag band of Brits: Barbara is famous back in the UK, as in, can’t eat out without being approached for an autograph famous. Her husband Oliver is the calmest classic Englishman ever, complete with handlebar mustache, and Jack, well, y’all know Jack.

So when Barbara the “seen it all twice” star loses her cool, it is fun to watch. The words “Everly Brothers” send her into full meltdown fangirl mode. Which is extra funny because the unflappable Oliver is the one who met Phil during a filming–a fact he uses to great aplomb in scoring marriage points when needed.

We missed the Everly birthplace in Kentucky on the way out because it was west of our desired trajectory, but when I took coffee to the porch of the Farmington B&B and opened my laptop to plan our route across Iowa, the musical muses of mischief intervened.

Who knew the Everly brothers had a museum at their childhood home in Shenandoah, Iowa?

barn 1Iowa has three or four ways to cross it, the swiftest being Interstate 80. But across the bottom is a little thing called Highway 2, cleverly populated with unusual barns in a desperate attempt to get people to drive it. You know the tourism board is reaching when they tell you why a particular roof slant is “unique.”

But I wanted to drive it because, as one rather caustic Trip Advisor review pointed out, “The main selling point of Highway 2 is that it isn’t Interstate 80.” So it took about .2 seconds to convince Barbara that we wanted to go the slow route to Sioux Falls and enjoy the scenery, because at the far end of Highway 2 lay Shenandoah-gri-la.

everleyWe called the museum, as it looked like one of those places that closes if the volunteer’s granddaughter needs picked up from ballet lessons. This was fortuitous; when the volunteer heard Barbara’s enthusiasm, she offered “the works,” a tour of the home and an overview of relics collected from this corner of musical America.

We arrived in yet another dying small town’s main street, full of beautiful buildings with nothing in them, but the Depot Deli proved full of artifacts as promised; Barbara could scarcely eat for excitement.

At 2 pm our dignified diva left us in a mad dash, smoke curling behind her feet in Flintstone-esque fashion. Oliver came back from the loo, noted her absence, and said, “Ah, it’s open then?” We nodded. Oliver picked up his hat and followed his wife.

Post-tour and equipped with a guidebook gifted by “her new best friend” the volunteer,  Barbara entertained us with Everly Brothers trivia as we turned sharp north and headed up the side of Iowa, following the Lewis and Clark Trail toward Sioux Falls. The Brits had hoped to bag another state briefly in Nebraska, but we missed it by about five miles–which meant we also missed seeing my friend Kate Belt, who lives in the area. But by now Barbara had the guidebook memorized, so count your blessings, Kate.

Since we had crossed Iowa at an almost-perfect right angle, it took longer to, as Oliver put it, “get out.” The Brits now understand that some parts of America are indeed flat.

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Day One: Frankfort to Farmington

MaryAfter ensuring Charles and Mary-the-Storyteller had enough AirBorne to save them from our creeping crud, we set off, a-tired and lighthearted to take to the open road. (Sorry, Walt)

Today held a “get some miles behind us” plan because I had to teach an online writing class that required pulling in at our Farmington B&B no later than 5:30 to set up. No sweat. With Barbara and Jack tucked into the back seat making “stay on your own side” noises, Oliver and I would defy speed limits and sound medical advice (this was his worst of the three-day misery plague this bug seems to give most people; I was on the mend and Barbara was almost back to normal) to play “who’s got enough funding to staff the highways” with assorted state patrols.

We blitzed Kentucky and made our way across Indiana and Illinois into Iowa, a happy chain of I-states that left Barbara and Oliver exclaiming over landscapes  and roadside attractions. We hit on the scheme of looking up “10 Interesting facts about [state name]” which was fun, but we had to work quickly in Illinois, given how fast Oliver was driving.

Did you know that gas pumps were invented in Indiana? And that the world’s largest ball of paint is there? Now you do.

We also invented a car game. Since all four of us have musical careers of some variety, any comment touched on song lyrics meant someone would start singing them. The person who could get the most lyrics out without getting shouted down by the others wins–or perhaps loses. No one is sure yet. Since we are all but Jack sick with a virus affecting the throat at this point, keys were declared optional. My rendition of “Downtown” was a personal low note.

We reached Farmington in good time and said hello to Elizabeth and David, owners of Porch Time Bed and Breakfast. It may tell you something of Farmington’s charms to know that drinks at the American Legion Bar are $3, and the bartender is the mayor. She has a list on the front door of people who have been barred, some for a month, some for life. Be warned, Farmington Visitors: do not mess with Mary.David and Elizabeth

We were there because Elizabeth and David had walked into our bookstore a year or so before, out of the blue, and told us how much they enjoyed Little Bookstore. “It’s so like our town, how people reinvent themselves and make things stick when others say it won’t work,” Elizabeth enthused. “If you come visit us, I’ll show you around. You’ll see. You kind of wrote our story, or at least what we’ve been trying to say with our lives, too.”

Elizabeth had escaped a cult life after 38 years, losing a family member in the process but gaining a real life for which she shows more appreciation than most people. She and her husband married later in life and moved to Iowa to start together in a neutral place. As a graphic artist, he was portable, and she soon found steady demand as a substitute English teacher. They became integral parts of Farmington, this quirky little town holding its own by the side of the Des Moines river, offering artistic refuge and tourism options for equestrians, canoeists, and hikers. There is an artists’ co-op there, and an art festival, and about eight painters, several songwriters, a writing group that feeds out from Iowa’s Famous Writers Workshop, and a general feeling that everyone in Farmington is walking around with some level of masterpiece working its way out of them with less angst than enjoyment. These are nice people.Porch Time

The 1860s carriage house renovated into an upstairs flat and downstairs studio, which David and Elizabeth’s friend Anne created, is but one example. Never let anyone tell you what you want to do can’t be done; they did all the work themselves without a mortgage and that building is magnificent. (No photos because dusk was falling as Elizabeth toured me around.)

swimholeThe river offered a local swimming hole away from the tourism end which Oliver and I availed ourselves of the next morning – there is nothing like swimming in live water. Already at 9 am the shallow river was bath-water-warm, portent of the heat to come as we headed across Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And made an interesting discovery we will tell you about tomorrow.

 

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The Day Before The First Day

A bit of background: Jack and Wendy are hosting Oliver and Barbara, dear friends from Scotland. Jack and Barbara are old singing pals, and Oliver is a TV Producer. They’ve always wanted to see some of America’s West, so we are on a road trip until July 25, headed out through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and possibly a bit of Kansas. We’ve been planning this trip for a year now, starting July 9. Read along from an armchair where the sunburn and skinned knees won’t hurt quite so much as our plucky band of woefully unfit Brits and their bemused, disorganized token American take this road trip.

Spirits are high, and so are temperatures. Our Barbara got off the plane carrying more than her enormous red suitcase; she’d picked up a fellow traveler that stole her voice and brought the hacking, coughing, ear-clogging, cotton-wool head of “that thing going around.”sick-on-vacation-1

We all still love Barbara, but she was better on Friday, and I was down with it. Whatever it is, it strikes fast. As I was stewing in my bed of misery (Okay, upstairs on the chaise lounge in the classic room, covered in foster kittens) OIiver came by and said, “Have you got anything for a sore throat?”

Third victim claimed.

Jack, of course, never gets these things, because he smokes, drinks, and doesn’t eat vegetables. He’s a genetic anomaly, and he is cheerfully watching the rest of us hack up small pieces of lung and down Sudafed, emitting sympathetic noises and downing doctored cokes. Maybe I should drink more whisky.

Still and all, we were so excited to begin this road trip that we piled one recovering, two hacking, and one pickled passenger into the little Nissan van—we gave my parents the Prius in return for the loan of this larger vehicle—and headed off to Frankfort, KY right after Barbara’s last concert Sunday. Old friends Charles and Mary had agreed to bed and breakfast us overnight, being sweet people. I was very much looking forward to catching up with them as well. As storytellers on the early road, Mary and I were used to artists asking for a crash pass.

All this I explained driving up the road. At the end, Oliver commented, “Yes, I’m sure your old friends will be delighted with our in-chorus coughing.” Well, yes. I still wasn’t ready to admit we were sick, despite the fact our voices were so low, we were covering Statler brothers tunes in the car.

C’est la vie, and we did try to avoid touching anything much at Mary’s, and put our laundry in the washer. The most magnificent breakfast was laid out on their glorious screened-in back porch, including “Eggs a la Charles,” a mixture of all that is good in the kitchen world.

Thoughtfully, Charles and Mary had arranged a racoon visitor from their nearby woodland. He’d clearly been out all night partying and was working his way home when he passed by. Jack offered him a whisky.

And so we start out on Day One with spirits high, fevers somewhat abated, and more Sudafed. Hi ho for a life on the open road.

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Filed under humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Spoken Blog

Those of you keeping up with the Madcap Adventures of Jack and Wendy will know that we are leaving for a long-overdue holiday this Sunday, after a short series of concerts by longtime friend Barbara Dickson. She and her husband Oliver Cookson will be joining us for a Way Out West extravaganza that loops through Wyoming to Montana and back down through Wisconsin, just to bag as many states as possible.flying_away_by_cinnamon_sim-d45l4fp

Getting ready to go has been wild, with the usual bookstore, college, healthcare, and foster cat duties going on. So in lieu of getting a blog written, I offer a really pleasant interview I did for my latest book, Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia.

Enjoy! And I look forward to blogging from new and strange mountain peaks over the next two weeks.

Wendy’s interview on Fall or Fly

 

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