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Sweet As Part III: Sawdust and Sunshine

Finally!  Let’s get a big YEE HAW from the middle of Dubois, Wyoming (DOO-boys – pronounce it in the French fashion at your own risk).  The town is small (900 souls) and high (6,900 feet above seal level), but it’s got a library with wireless internet access.  I’ve been here for two weeks, and I’ve been writing up a storm in between sawing, hammering, leveling, insulating, sanding, painting and sheetrocking.  I’ll try to get you oriented as quickly as possible, and then get on to the meat of the update.  Home, for the moment, is on the Quarter Circle X Ranch, 27 miles outside of Dubois (it’s perhaps a 45 minute drive, but I’m trying to adopt the western manner of telling distances: miles, not minutes).  I’m living at the end of a long dirt road at the bottom of the East Fork River valley.  It’s mostly desert: dry red and brown dust and rocks and hills with a smattering of spruce, fir, aspen, cottonwood, and pine trees down in the irrigated valleys.  I’m living in and working on a 1920s Sears Roebuck log house that’s been mostly gutted and is now about 3/4 of the way to being completely renovated.  I’ve got my own room, upstairs, with a big double bed and mismatched furniture.  Bob, my boss, sleeps next door in an equally countrified room.  There are two cats, Jasper and Cricket, who roam freely between my bed and his, leaving clumps of fur and sawdust and the occasional dead grasshopper.

The situation, thus far, is fantastic. Bob is the man who’s hired me, an acquaintance from the Ice. He’s an excellent teacher: patient and understanding. For the first time in my (reasonably) long career as helper/general assistant/laborer, I’m being actively involved in the work. I am a part of the entire project, from conception to design, start to finish. I am learning. No more am I left on the sidelines, struggling to find ways to help – Bob’s determined to see me made a carpenter, and I’m drinking in the skills like the dry earth outside soaks up the water.  It’s an unfinished house, as I said, which means we’re living in pieces – there’s only one sink with running water, and that’s in the outdoor toilet. Our kitchen consists of a stove, fridge and a fabricated piece of cabinet/counter top to hold food and our few mismatched utensils. These are necessarily moved around every day depending on where we’re working. The front and back doors are always open; when I prepare for dinner, I have to rinse the sawdust out of the frying pan and wipe it off the spoons. This is life in a construction site. Still, I’m incredibly house-proud, living among the work I’ve done, fixing up this and that, slowly making this empty log shell into a home.  So far, I have: filled nail holes, sanded and polyeurthaned the wood trim; nailed down loose floor boards; caulked the bathroom; patched a hole in the wood floor; hung sheetrock in the kitchen; leveled the kitchen ceiling and then fitted the entire thing with tongue-in-groove aspen boards; insulated about fifty feet of hot water pipe; and today will tackle the plumbing so that we can have a sink in the kitchen.  At the end of work every day, around 6:30, I sit on the porch, tired, splintered, and filthy, a bottle of Corona cold in my hand and sweet in my dry, dusty throat: perfect.

In our off-hours, Bob and I sit on the front porch and watch the world turn. The ranch is so removed, so peaceful. There’s a sizeable canyon on the property, about a ten minute walk from the house. It is gorgeous. Tall, reddish walls, soft and round yet full of interesting nooks and crannies and ledges and chimneys just begging to be climbed. It’s narrow – perhaps only 15 feet across, and the water at its deepest point is barely up to my neck. The path between the house and the canyon is thick with cottonwoods, wild roses and gooseberries. When Bob gave me a tour of the property, he pointed out animal prints in the dust, and lectured me on safety in the Wild West: how to survive among grizzlies, mountain lions, bobcats, lynxes, scorpions, rattlers, wolves, coyotes, moose. It’s not all bad news, though – there’s no poison ivy! During the day the sun is hot and the air is dry. Rabbits hop timidly around the driveway, magpies screech in the trees, and cicadas shrill along the fence posts. On Sunday we watched a whitetail deer and her fawn prance and feed in the field next to the house.  There are horses too, five of them, and the promise of rides and pack trips to come. At night, the earth is still and eerily quiet. There are no night birds, no crickets or frogs. Silence. Cold, too – from one hundred degrees during the day to forty at night is the norm for late June at 7,000 feet.

There’s no one else around, except for Cal and Arlene, the aging owners of the ranch. Originally from Minnesota, the two of them have spent their summers out here since 1970. Arlene’s not well, but Cal is still actively involved with the upkeep and management of the property. He cruises around in a John Deer Gator, fixing fences, digging irrigation trenches, and periodically stopping in to see if Bob and I need anything. Two nights ago Cal invited us over to watch the sun set from his porch and enjoy a glass or two of wine. Other than that small excursion, my time has been spent reading, chatting with Bob, and exploring the garages and outbuildings for items to make the little cabin more inhabitable. My best find yet has been a string of party lights shaped like red tractors; Bob nailed it up along the front porch. Now every night’s a party on our porch! Is it strange, you ask, for me to be living and spending nearly every waking minute with this forty-something-year-old man?  Maybe.  Is it going well, so, far?  Absolutely.  He gives me plenty of space and privacy, and my time out of work is my own, though we have a surprising number of things in common, and I’ve found that I enjoy his company as a friend as much as a boss.

We’re still trying to sort out the internet situation on the ranch…there’s so much more to write, but I’m feeling pressed for time.  I’ve still got to stop at the lumber yard on my way back out of town, and it’s already nearly lunchtime.  Until next time, I’ll keep swinging that hammer and you all keep sending me love – peace.

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