To all my loyal readers (a.k.a. Beth and Dad), I will be taking a break from blogging for a couple weeks. Lots of summer fun coming up. Don’t worry I’ll be back soon.
I wrote this story about something that really happened to me during field camp in college, but from someone else’s perspective. I used all facts available to me including what the rancher’s son later said to his father who repeated it to the professor. It was really fun to write from this perspective. Can you guess who I am in the story?
In the far northeast of the state of Utah there is a rural town that sits on the border between two places that have the same name. To the south, the Uinta Basin stretches down and away, a desert good for oil drilling, ATVing, and slowly dying of thirst. It is not the picturesque type of desert one sees in the movies, but rather the kind you sleep through on a road trip, secure in the fact that you will not miss anything significant as the miles roll by. To the north, the Uinta Mountains rise, billions of years in the making. They start imperceptibly in the desert, dusty, with hardly the fertility to support the gnarled sage brush and juniper trees whose lot it is to grow where no other flora would. As the elevation rises on the bones of ancient seashores, the sage mixes with lusher vegetation. Meadows of wild flowers, moist with dew, carpet the soil. Sparkling streams and peaceful lakes are more beautiful for the lack of water just down the slope in the basin below. Up higher, proper trees grow straight and tall unlike the hunchbacked junipers; pines and aspen who have scares in their trunks that almost tell a story if you only knew the language. Finally, the trees give way, and at the very top where, again, almost nothing can grow, are the lichen cover rocks. Everywhere there are the rocks.
The Unitas, mountain or basin, are not a place to find amber waves of grain. Too dry. Too high. And always too many rocks. Here the soil is not soil so much as sand and dust. But we are Americans and we have a heritage on the land. If it can’t produce golden rows of wheat, we find another way.
Cattle. Cows cover the west. Drive a western road to nowhere and you’ll see them. You’ll cross a good number of cattle guards along the way too. The beasts wander freely on their land, seeking shade from the sun, cover from the storms, and always, always chewing.
And where there is a ranch with cows, there must be a rancher. And sometimes when there is a rancher, and he has been on the land for a long time, that rancher will have a son. And the son will drive in his truck (always a truck) along the dirt road (that can hardly count as a road) that runs through his father’s property. And one spring, when the meadows on his father’s land were a blanket of yellow and blue flowers and the stream really was sparkling and the sky was a painful blue, the rancher’s son did just that. This was not particularly remarkable. In fact, the young man probably didn’t even think about the idyllic meadows and sparkling streams. He had seen them all his life. These are not the things that made him stop the truck. Only something more unexpected, something even more beautiful than the land he’d always known could do that.
No, the rancher’s son did not stop the truck to admire the scenery on that late afternoon in spring. His foot hit the break because two girls had appeared on the hill. Lit by the sun, their shadows stretched before them as they tramped through the sagey meadow, each step bringing them closer to him.
Never before in all the drives and all the afternoons and all the springs in the rancher’s son’s life had he seen such a sight. Never before had two girls appeared in the middle of his father’s land. Girls don’t appear places, and this ranch barely qualified as a place. They were lean and tan, wearing hiking boots that were covered in dust and mud. The bottom of their worn jeans looked similarly crusty. Both girls wore t-shirts, and no make-up (as far as the rancher’s son could tell). Their hair was pulled back, but strands had escaped and there was a wildness to the texture as if it spent more time in sun and wind than in curling irons. Each had on a backpack and carried some kind of cardboard in her hands.
The rancher’s son had never seen anything like it and he because he couldn’t look away, he realized they had changed direction ever so slightly and were no longer going to cross his path. This was a thing that he could not let happen.
He put the truck into gear and drove slowly to intercept them just as they reached the rutted track that fancied itself a road. He reached the point of intersection with just enough time to roll down the window before they were there. Right before him. Not imagined, but real. Completely female and real.
“Afternoon, ladies,” he said trying to sound dashing, but afraid, in his nervousness he only sounded odd.
They must be in their twenties, about his age, he thought watching as they looked at each other and smiled hesitantly at him. It seemed they didn’t know what to make of him anymore than he knew what to make of them.
“Can I help you with anything?” he asked, not really sure what he was supposed to say to a girl who appeared out of nowhere on his (father’s) land, let alone two.
“We’re geologists?” the taller one said. She was more assertive and her companion let her talk. “We’re mapping. Our professor talked to someone and got permission.” Both girls held up the cardboard they were holding as if this explained everything.
The rancher’s son understood little of what she had said, and was mortified by the idea that they had misinterpreted his question. He really had wanted to know if he could help them. He wasn’t trying to politely question their motives for being on the ranch land. He didn’t care that they were there. (Okay he did care. It was the best thing that had happened in…) The quiet one was looking away, and suddenly he was afraid they would leave, disappearing just as they had appeared. He had to say something to keep them from going. “Mapping? Like streams and roads, or something?” he asked, hating how silly his question sounded.
“No, mapping the rocks,” the talkative one said. The other girl nodded in confirmation. This made no more sense to the rancher’s son, and the girls realized it. “You know, finding where rocks outcrop and marking them on our maps”—she pointed to the cardboard again—“so we can map the geology of the region. We’re here for a week. There are people all over to the east and north. Everyone is mapping a quadrangle and then we’ll put them together to help determine the geologic history of the region.”
The rancher’s son was just going to have to take their word for it. He still didn’t really know what it all meant, but he was glad for it anyway. The quiet girl was giving him an apologetic look as if she knew it was all gibberish to him, but there was nothing she could do about it.
The talkative one went on. “We have to meet our colleagues along the road soon…” Both of them took a step back.
“I could give you a ride,” the rancher’s son offered, desperate not to lose the company of the two young women, but his words did not have the desired effect. The quiet one skittered a few steps further back.
“There are some rocks we have to map along the way,” the talkative one answered. “Thanks though.”
They began to walk away to the east, right through the sagebrush and wildflowers, unconcerned at the lack of a path, just as they had come. The rancher’s son slumped in disappointment. Pretty girls in dirty jeans do not come along every day. If only he had been more charming, or clever, or—
He watched the girls disappear below another rise, walking away from the sun and walking away from him. If only.