Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saving a Montana Silverback Gorilla From Rites of Passage by Peter Reum

My family and I have recently gone on a long trip across the USA in our new minivan. My two youngest accompanied us going and coming. Lola is 7 and PJ is 6. At 62, I am the family silverback, and I found out that my days of marathon driving, rolling on through the night, to quote Lowell George, are not possible anymore.

Christina, my long suffering spouse, alternated with me in this 3500 mile drive to Florida, and we were lucky to have Sirius Radio to supplement cds and local radio as we drove. It became apparent early in our trip that occasional "desquirreling" of the kids was absolutely necessary. Those of you with preschoolers and primary school age children will easily relate.

The first major stop was Devil's Tower in Wyoming. The stop was mostly for "desquirreling," but the kids enjoyed the prairie dog town immensely. Perhaps it takes a squirrel to enjoy a prairie dog. Back in the car, and off to Mount Rushmore. After getting through the Black Hills, we saw Mount Rushmore dramatically lit up in a ceremony done each night. Several Veterans of different Wars and services were honored. Even a diehard anti-war guy like me was moved and grateful for their service.

We followed the national weather quite closely, and we always seemed one day ahead of seriously inclement storms. Oklahoma and Texas seemed to be storm magnets. The kids were awed by Montana's own Missouri River, and then by the Mississippi River itself as we left the West and entered the East.

It was fun to see America's Heartland, a land of bounty, enough to feed the entire country and others as well. We stopped every three hours to "desquirrel," and enjoyed the contrast with Montana's high desert climate. I thoroughly loved Robert Palmer's Rhythm and Blues album, marveling at the sensuality it
exuded, a welcome diversion from the driving.

As we left Kentucky, amazed by the civility and good manners of their drivers we entered Tennessee, whose drivers made 4 person Olympic bobsledders look cautious. The terrain of Tennessee is gorgeous, with beautiful valleys revealing themselves every few minutes. The amount of water we saw, in rivers, in lakes and in storms was amazing. In the Mountain West, where I have lived my life, 15 inches of rain is a wet year.

As our destination neared, the air got heavier, and I noticed that my mountain bred lungs did not like the humidity. Georgia turned out to be a wonderful place to travel through, and the people were helpful in the gentile Southern tradition.

We made it to Orlando a day early, and our own graduate-to-be suggested we take the squirrels to Cocoa Beach to frolic in the surf. This beach was ideal for younglings, and we had to drag them away from the waves to get back to meet my wife's mother's plane.

The time we spent in Vero Beach, former LA Dodger spring training headquarters, was more anticipatory than expected, and the hotel pool became the new "desquirreling" center. PJ and Lola love the water. The day after we were at Cocoa Beach, a 7 year old boy was hospitalized after a shark took a chunk out of his leg. We again counted ourselves lucky.

The kids loved the time they got to spend with my wife's mother.

The actual graduation, a rite of passage that seems to grant the status of near adulthood, was mercifully short in the humid Florida morning. Ana, our graduate, was justifiably proud of herself. Her efforts to keep her grades high resulted in her self-esteem being strengthened. Ana, being the middle child of my three stepchildren, desired that her mom and dad's families be together during and after the graduation. We drove around 125 miles to the restaurant, for the graduation celebration dinner. Everyone was on their best behavior.

We left Florida the next morning on the drive back to Montana, this time through the Southern USA, with a stop for an afternoon and early evening in New Orleans. The girls went on a Muffaletta safari, and we couldn't turn it into a Beach Boys tune, even Surfin' Safari....

The beignets at CafƩ du Monde were to die for. The Market was full of the stuff you'd see at a carnival. Overall, New Orleans is a Disney World for adults, and little ones and teenagers are not proper for the Vieux Carre. Still, there is the levee, and the joggers, cyclists, and artists, enjoying the Great River. For me, the levee is a place that I could spend a full day at, watching the river in it's great turn toward the sea.

The drive across Texas was long. I had made up my mind that the entire car full of family was going to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We cleared Texas and spent the night in Carlsbad, and got to the Caverns early the next morning. We were advised by a ranger just before the Caverns entrance that we would be descending the equivalent of walking down the steps of an 80 story building. The ranger was more than right. My thighs were screaming by the time we made it to The Big Room, the largest single chamber in the Western Hemisphere. The hike was short, but the next day everyone's legs were screaming in pain.

We drove through the High Chihuahuan Desert šŸŒµ, with New Mexico's state flower the yucca in bloom everywhere. Real roadrunners traversed in front of us. There was not a coyote to be seen.

We spent our final day in New Mexico. The contrasts between cutting edge science at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the earthiness of the Rio Grande Valley below was especially quite striking. The Dia del Muerto was here and my emotions were churning beyond my ability to control them. I had not been to our family graves since my mother's death in 2006.

I was determined to give Lola and PJ an idea of where I grew up. The entire group piled out of the car and helped me look for the headstones.

The last time I visited was to bury my mother. The cemetery at that time was bone dry without a blade of grass alive anywhere. This time, the grass was plentiful, and PJ and Lola enjoyed placing a small wreath between my parents graves. I was also glad to see that my mother had a lovely carved headstone. I introduced my little ones to the grandparents that they will only know by the stories I tell. I began to appreciate the oral stories of my Indigenous friends all the more, knowing they pass oral history to their kids the same way.

We drove the 1100 miles home. Montana never looked better. After 6600 miles, and a cross continent drive, I better understood the saying Dorothy utters in the Wizard of Oz film...there's no place like home. My mouth will not again complain about my bed at home. It never felt better than that first night after getting home. The real ringer is that we get to do it again next year when my last stepdaughter graduates! Oh oldest stepdaughter will be married two weeks after we got back from Ana's šŸŽ“ graduation. Someone call šŸ“ž off the rites of passage!