Tabatha Deans

Bringing Integrity to the Written Word

Spirit Lake 2017

Family Ties

Tensions were running a little high as we left Longmont en route to Spirit Lake, via Vernal and Kathy’s house. We were leaving a day late and going three weeks later than we usually have. I picked Jess and Petra up and we headed out, both of us concerned about how cold it would be this late in the year.

It had been a busy and stressful year for all of us—Me planning my wedding to Robert, she finishing up the barn, taking on new projects and getting divorced, and Petra discovering that every one dies, Grammys can sometimes be a “peanut head” and going through a divorce. If ever a trip to spirit lake was needed this was the year. They were both in the end stages of a severe head cold, and looked like they felt pretty lousy when i picked them up. Petra announced that she was “tired” when I arrived.

We loaded up Jessica’s ’88 Volvo wagon, which I must say is as smooth as they come, but this trip began with a flashing red oil light on the dash. I checked the oil and she ran fine, so we hit the highway. Last year we had gotten into such a heated discussion that I overshot our turnoff to Utah by 90 miles. So we took a different route this year, and I only overshot our turnoff by about ten minutes, then quickly admitted my mistake and turned around when she renavigated us.

The drive from Meeker to Rangely was truly incredible. Petra announced she was going to sleep for the night, since she had already had ice cream and realized we were indeed, very, very far from Kathy’s. We listened to music and looked into the darkness. The sky was dark, but the moon sat on the horizon to the left of us, not quit half full, but it was as orange as a Dorito. It seemed to sit be sitting on the land, taunting us to come touch it. It was a magical moment.

I remember when it was just Jess and I who made the spirit lake trip. We would have these moments of magic, both of us in awe of the world. Jess was seeing it through her young eyes, I was seeing it through my eyes. It’s beautiful both ways, and It took my breath away to realize that we now had a third set of eyes to see it all over again. I was proud of Jess as a mother for keeping the tradition alive. I had floated the idea of starting a new tradition someplace closer, maybe in Colorado. But she persisted. Even when Kathy, a tent camping virgin, tried to persuade her, she persisted. Spirit Lake it was. The ultimate test of camping stamina. Good luck Kathy.

We spent the day leisurely packing, running errands and hanging out at Kathy’s. The sun was low in the sky when we headed up the mountain, but we arrived with plenty of light to set up camp. We scored the number 2 campsite, a deluxe site that does not have a view of the water, but has an entire backdrop made of jagged boulders that protect the pure water source as soon as it comes out of the mountain. The site was spacious, so Jess pulled the Volvo up to the bottom of the boulders and laid out a bed for her and Petra in it. Then she helped Kathy and I pitch our tents.

The temperature was perfect, I couldn’t tell you the exact degree, but it was cool but not chilly. Just enough cold to feel great after the city heat. And there were very few mosquitos. Bugs are always a concern at Spirit Lake, ranging from swarms of mosquitos to horseflies that will bite you just for the fun of it, and bring welts the size of mothballs wherever they feast. This year there were nearly none. We sprayed up with repellant just to be safe. School was back in session and it was the middle of the week, so the campground was mostly deserted, and we mostly had the place to ourselves. Overall we scored quite well.

We built a fire and took our time making dinner, and after cleaning up we sat around the fire, officially kicking off the 2017 hen party. Petra fell asleep in her lap listening to our stories of old and thoughts for the future. After putting Petra to bed in the Volvo, Jess returned for more adult talk. Life, relationships, a touch of religion and men were popular topics, and I was happy that I was able to impart my wisdom upon Jessica, and turns out I learned a few things myself as well.

Sadly, I didn’t think to talk to Kathy about what to expect her first time sleeping in a “plastic house” as she called the tents. I remember when jess insisted in sleeping in her own tent for the first time. Granted, she was probably 9, not 49, but it can still be scary. I also remember the time Mitch decided to sleep in his own tent. There was a mutual reaction. At some point in the night they both woke up and were disoriented, and yelled out into the darkness of their own personal universe. Jessica sat perfectly still until sunrise, hoping not to attract attention from whatever beast lurked outside. Mitch declared he “couldn’t see” before realizing his surroundings. “Oh, I’m so embarrassed.” I could feel his head droop in shame in the darkness.

We went to bed, and after twisting and turning to adjust my many blankets and sleeping bags, I finally fell asleep. Suddenly I heard loud talking, coming from Kathy’s tent. Something about porcupines followed by “I’m okay now.”

Backtrack here. After realizing Kathy was serious about going all the way to Spirit Lake and sleeping outside in a tent all alone, her husband, DAVE, insisted she bring a gun along. He gave her shooting lessons, and she did indeed, inside her Rec Center polka dotted gym bag, have a pretty nice blue handgun, with a clip rubber banded to the handle. It was an impressive display, and she affectionately called him Big Blue. We shortened that to  BB, which comes into play later in the story.

Some late campers had been arriving at the campground, which resulted in much circling and lights on our tents, suspicious shadows and amplified sounds of people bickering in a still forest. When Kathy yelled out Jessica rolled down her window and asked if she was okay. Kathy realized her moment, and declared she was fine. She had passed the first mark. If she could stay in her tent until the morning, she would have passed the ultimate test of camping.

We all laid back down, and just as i was about to doze off, a really big RV decided to take up residence in site number 1, maybe 60  yards from my tent. It was 11:30 at night, and I unzipped my windows so I could watch the show, since all the noise meant I wouldn’t sleep for a while anyway.

“He’s gonna hit a rock! he’s gonna hit a rock!” I heard a distressed woman’s voice. Then some muffled bickering, then the rev of the truck engine as the driver starts to give it another round.

“Turn this way…Excellent, excellent, excellent…” I heard a single calm male voice through the darkness. The good thing about a tent is it seems to amplify the sound in the darkness.

“Turn it now…Excellent, good job, good job..shut up. Shhht. Excellent, excellent.”

The calm guider did the trick, the trailer was settled for the evening, and i attempted agin to sleep. I had chosen the Wild thing pajamas to wear, a striped thermal type outfit Robert gave me for Christmas, it was perfect for this occasion. I thought I had the best PJ’s to wear for this trip, but Kathy gave me pause for thought. She was adorned in a one piece, footed pajama , with some type of animal print on the outside. It had feet in it, but I think she put socks on over them sometime in the night, because the next time I saw her it appeared as if she were wearing cowboy boots.

Sometime during the new neighbor debacle, Kathy emerged from her tent, clad in her sleeping suit, and declared “What is the situation out here? I think we need to rally.” I wasn’t sure if she was fully awake, and I remembered she now owned a gun. Jessica “lit her up,” as we had come to call it, and Kathy assumed a stance that I wasn’t sure of—It looked like she was laughing her ass off and trying not to pee, which resulted in her dancing about from foot to foot, much like Yosemite Sam in the old cartoons. Which made me and Jessica both laugh, which resulted in all of us bouncing around trying not to pee our pants.

“Kathy, do you have Big Blue?” I yelled from my tent.

“No.” She gasped, and I realized she was laughing.

“Good. Jessica, do not let Kathy come out here with BB in her sleeping suit.” I was aware that what I was saying was out there, but the warning needed to be declared.

“I won’t mom. Go back to sleep.” Jess shone the light on me and my tent, before authoritatively turning it back to Kathy. “Are you okay?”

“Yes.”  There was some other small talk but I took the chance to try to go back to sleep. There were a few more hiccups throughout the evening, including me coming down with the seriously sucky symptoms of the nasty cold Jess and Petra were on the tail end of.

The next morning our new neighbor came over as soon as they saw us up and drinking coffee. She apologized profusely and we ended up having a wonderful visit with her. Their family had owned the lodge many years ago, and we reminisced about the magic of Spirit Lake.

We spent two days wandering, driving to Manila for a Coke, committing the crime of trespassing, both at the fire tower and the lodge, which was for sale and boarded up. We went in search of a treasure we buried nearly 20 years ago, but wasn’t sure which rock we had buried it under.

Weather wise it was one of the best years I’ve ever been to Spirit Lake. Emotionally and spiritually, I have to say this year was THE best year I’ve been to Spirit Lake.

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September 17, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Traditions

I don’t remember how old I was the first time my parents took me and my siblings camping at Spirit Lake. I do know I can’t remember ever not going to Spirit Lake in the summer when I was a kid. So I’m going to say it’s been about 40 years that I have been participating in this family tradition. For the past 20 years I have been taking my own daughter,Jessica, and the past two years have included the attendance of my granddaughter, Petra.

Spirit Lake is not for everyone, as the air is thin, there is no running water and cooking breakfast can be a morning-long event. Coffee is made over Coleman stoves or an open fire, dinner often involves a stick and some sort of processed meat, and the main source of entertainment is a trip to the lodge to see what everyone else is up to. There is no reason to rush at Spirit Lake, and the altitude has been blamed for killing brain cells, thus removing any thoughts of stress, angst or irritation of everyday life. Life is good there, and sometime in my life Spirit Lake became “my” place. All of my friends have made the trip with me to experience the magic, at least once, although apparently not everyone is as enchanted with the place as I am.

This year’s trip began with some mild drama, as Jess and I vehemently argued with the navigational app lady who sent us circling the I-70 on ramp rather than just getting us on our way. After a little cursing, wondering and a few blocks, we turned her off and relied on Jess’s atlas. We had a relaxing drive across Colorado, en route to pick up my childhood friend Kathy. Kathy is one of my trusted “Grand Council” members, and has had a great influence on Jessica’s life. I knew this trip would not only be entertaining, it would be epic.

This trip was a “girls only,” at least for the first four days. After which time Robert and Jess’s significant other would be joining us. After stopping in Vernal for food and provisions, we headed to Spirit Lake in separate cars. I had Petra in tow in hopes she would nap along the way, and Kathy and Jess tied up some loose ends in town. As soon as I turned off Highway 191 onto the road to Spirit Lake, I rolled down the windows and inhaled the fresh air.

The next few days were pretty much the ultimate Hen party, full of hours sitting around the fire, hiking through the woods, cooking, cleaning up and generally doing a whole lot of nothing. Petra made friends with the little girl whose parents were running and living at the lodge, and we made friends with just about anybody who passed our campfire. We took our annual boat ride, which involves me protesting loudly and adamantly about my fears and the lack of safety of boats. Jessica won, as usual, and I found myself with a death grip on Petra as the four of us rowed about the lake. Naturally Petra was not okay with me holding onto her life jacket, and insisted I “move away” so she could sit by her mom and be a big girl.

People from all over the world come to Spirit Lake, and most of them begin their conversations with “last time I was here.” One morning I was taking a short cut along the stream toward the lodge to get some water, and as I came around a corner I came within about ten yards of a giant male moose. Moose are a common sighting at Spirit Lake, and my family  has had several run-ins with them, but this was my first up-close encounter. I slowly backed away and headed up another trail, which took me directly through another camp. As I reached the edge of the camp I came upon two young boys, about eight or nine I would guess.

“Sorry,” I said. “But there’s a moose in my path so I have to go around.” The oldest of the two got a scared look on his face, his eyes got big and he looked toward where I had just come from.

“When I was here last year there were 50 mooses.” He said enthusiastically.

“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” I said.

“Yeah, and I wasn’t scared at all.” He said proudly. “But this year, I asked Siri about moose,” He paused and blew out a breath dramatically as he ran his fingers through his hair. “And Sheeeesh. Sheeeesh.” It was clear Siri had taught him about his previously unknown dangers of moose. He quickly went the other direction, back toward his camp and the safety of his father’s supervision.

The trip gave me plenty of time to ponder. Mostly about my life. My life now, my life when I was younger, and my life when I was young. There was a moment when Jessica and Petra were standing out on the dock looking into the lake, that it was clear to me each phase of my life, at least vicariously, was present at Spirit Lake this year. I remembered being there as a child, then as a young mother in charge of a child, and now as a grandmother in charge of a young mother who is in charge of a young child. The dynamic kind of blew my mind, and brought tears to my eyes. It’s long been said that “the minute we are born we begin dying,” and naturally as I grow older I can’t help but fear my ultimate future, which, like everyone else, ends with death.

But watching those two–my child and my grandchild–standing on the dock, I was overcome with a sense of peace, almost joy, as I realized that ultimately I will never be completely dead. I caught a glimpse into the future, and saw generations upon generations standing on that dock. Parents holding their children’s hands, and the little one saying “Mommy, tell me again about Grammy Deans…”

 

 

August 11, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment