ModelStory: Idaho

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For the better part of an hour, he more or less had the full attention of a very pretty girl from Idaho.

Idaho.

Staggeringly exotic to a boy from Cincinnati and now that she’s gone, here he sits with a swelling heartache and a kid sister to look after until Mom and Dad come to retrieve them.

Mom and Dad. So pedestrian now, so khaki shorts and white sneakers.

He won’t be able to look at them.

Her name was Belle and it started like all summer vacation romances must, with an errant volleyball.

“Hey, little help?” Belle said.

He scooped up the ball and lobbed it back.

“Thanks.”

She flashed smiling eyes as green as kelp.

“Sure,” he said, suddenly sheepish about kneeling in the sand holding a purple plastic shovel with flowers on the handle.

He gestured toward his sister.

“She, ahh,” he shrugged. “She likes to play in the sand.”

Belle’s smile widened, soft cheeks dusted with cinnamon freckles.

“It’s sweet of you to play with her.”

She held up the volleyball and nodded toward her brothers.

“You wanna?”

Ignoring his sister’s protests, he trotted into the water.

They worked through the formalities – both 14, both going into high school, both visiting Many Lost Ways with their parents. No, he’d never been here before. Yes, she had, almost every summer. Two older brothers for her. Him, just the little sister.

For a while they batted the volleyball, then sat in the sand with waves splashing their feet. She sat right next to him – touching him – her bronzed hips framed in black bikini bottoms, red sand clinging to her and highlighting adolescent curves that fascinated him.

He found it hard to speak, but remembered his uncle’s advice to always ask a girl about herself. (“Keep you out of it, they don’t care.”) So he asked flattering questions and made her laugh.

For an hour.

Once he had talked coherently, smoothly, to Kaylie Schupel for ten minutes at the spring dance but an hour? With a girl like this? From Idaho?

Belle leaned against him, rested her head on his shoulder, traced his arm with her fingertip. Tingling sensations rippled through him, something deep in his belly tightened.

Things like this did not happen in Cincinnati.

But then her dad arrived, by boat of course – no minivan, no car-top carrier – a sleek, modern boat gleaming with chrome, the bow marked with an Idaho registration number he’ll remember until he’s 30.

She stood, crouched gracefully in front of him, held his face in her hands, and kissed his lips.

“See you around.”

She didn’t look back as she waded to the boat and effortlessly boosted herself aboard.

His parents won’t understand his obsession with Idaho this winter. Why on Earth would he write a term paper about the Shoshone? And why does he want to go to Coeur D’Alene? Next summer is Disney – they’ve talked about it – it’s always been Disney.

(Preiser figure, EnviroTex Lite “water,” Woodland Scenics ground foam, natural sand.)

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A Folk History of Many Lost Ways and Salvation Point

The National Park Service explains the phenomenon of Many Lost Ways with some blah blah blah about topography and watersheds and how people who can’t find their way instinctively follow water downhill, and so for 10,000 years those who are lost have been turning up here.

It makes sense – the hills above the Benjamin-Henry River do form something of a giant natural funnel – but that’s overly simple for what happens here. It doesn’t explain the spiritual wayfinding that gives the park its name.

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“Young lovers who found each other along the river.”

The Native lore is rich with tales of great chiefs who found direction in these cliffs, young lovers who found each other along the river, fathers and sons who found understanding under these starry skies.

Many lost ways.

There’s something here – call it a True North of the Soul – that helps them get found.

It’s still happening today.

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“Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.”

Not sure if you should marry him? Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.

Not sure what to do with your life? Come to Many Lost Ways and the answer will go home with you.

Year after year, new stories of people who arrived with a vexing problem and left with clarity and peace. The locals talk it up with the tourists:

“Did you hear about this couple?”

“Did you hear about that guy?”

“Did you hear about the family?”

Many lost ways. Found.

Of course the most famous lost people to get found here are Lieutenants Benjamin and Henry. They deserted John Wesley Powell just before he fell 1,800 feet down the Colorado River and landed fortuitously in the Grand Canyon. Had they stuck with him they might have survived to experience that glorious discovery, but instead they wandered around the Colorado Plateau for some weeks before instinctively following water downhill into what is now Many Lost Ways National Park.

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“A fertile little valley on a navigable river.”

They washed up starving, broken and in despair on the bank of the river that now bears their names. They were taken in by the indigenous people and after a good meal and some rest realized they’d discovered a fertile little valley on a navigable river.

Stick that in your rapids and raft it, Powell.

The FCFL still follows the lucrative trade route they opened, anchored by Salvation Point.

Speaking of Salvation Point, no one’s sure if it was Benjamin or Henry who put quill to parchment, but the line from their log is famous here:

“We need not return as condemned deserters. We need not return as failed expeditioners. Today we have redeemed ourselves. Today we have reached our salvation point.”

So the name doesn’t have a particularly religious provenance, and that’s disappointing to some visitors. There are more bars than churches here.

Now you know.

On Consuming the Outdoors – Take a Hike!

The little SUV is fine I guess, for a rental, but he wishes it was bigger, more lumbering, more … omnipotent.IMG_3031

He doesn’t feel like he owns the road. He’s not consuming it and that’s what he does after all, isn’t it? Consume?

You should see the mighty vehicles in his garage outside Chicago. Three-story jet black behemoths you can really lean against while comparing the rest of your stuff with the neighbors. (“Go Cubbies” stickers in the rear windows? You bet.)

Passionate consumers like him don’t do well in places like Many Lost Ways National Park.

You encounter dozens of them on your way to the trailhead. They roar up, park haphazardly, and leap out – leaving the doors open so you wonder if they might be paramedics – but no, there’s Alpha Male with the camera stretched out in front of him directing the entourage into the frame. Two, maybe three clicks and back they go into the A/C and on down the road, tailgating at 25 mph to the next brown sign.

Consuming the place. Or trying to.

That was Chicago’s plan: Snap photos of the boys at all the scenic overlooks and when he got home he was going to have the guys over for beers and casually pass around the digital vacation.

“Oh is this the new iPad Air?”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t think it was supposed to be out until next month.”

“It’s not.”

They’d be scrambling for weeks to catch up to that one.

But Chicago’s frustrated with his pictures. The colors look bland on the screen. The kids look bored. He frowns to himself – geez, his trophy wife isn’t such a trophy anymore.

What poor service, he thinks, to buy a park pass and not get what he paid for!

He needs to take a lesson from the Europeans.

I don’t like seeing men in capri pants any more than the next guy, but you have to hand it to them when it comes to enjoying our National Parks. Descend the South Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon much farther than Ooh Ahh Point and you realize English is no longer the primary language.

These people understand that to get the full benefit of a place like Glacier or Bryce Canyon or Many Lost Ways, you have to let it consume you.

When your socks are full of exotic-colored sand and the switchbacks zigzag up, up, up, painfully beyond where you can see, and you remember they weren’t kidding, all the signs about plenty of water – you lean against the rocks and close your eyes and melt into the place.

The sun is real on your face, the stone is real beneath your fingertips, the gravity is real under your feet. You feel infinitely small but also that you may be standing on the very hand of God. The trees, the bugs, the quiet, the Earth. There you are consumed by it, and that’s when it becomes yours.

Take a hike, Chicago.

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ModelStory: The Crisp Brochure Stage

IMG_2914[1]Thinking about this poor guy loading Mount Samsonite into the rental car – his wife having packed three dresser drawers and half of Best Buy after admonishing the kids to only take what they really need – I was going to write about how some people travel light and others don’t and what that says about such and so, but that lifting is far to heavy for the month of June.

It’s vacation time, man.

The whole summer is before us and Salvation Point is gloriously awash in tourists:

People who set an “out of office” autoreply and so far haven’t broken the promise to themselves not to look at what they’ve autoreplied to.

People who are nervous about starting high school in the fall but the anxiety is on hold until the ride home.

People who’ve never experienced a National Park and when the train pulls away they look across the tracks at Many Lost Ways and are momentarily struck dumb.

You’re never so rich as at the beginning of a vacation. The whole thing is in the bank, you haven’t spent any of it, and Mom or Dad or whoever’s in charge says something like “Let’s just take a minute to get oriented and figure out the game plan.” There’s talk of “getting settled at the hotel” or “setting up camp” and of “maybe after dinner a little drive to get the lay of the land.”

In the vacation lifecycle, it’s the Crisp Brochure Stage.

Someone browses the rack in the depot and grabs four or six glossy tri-folds with great pictures of river rafting and horseback riding and trout fishing. The corners are sharp and pointy and they are spread out on the hotel bed and pored over, and then they are hauled around in a backpack until the melancholy Unpacking at Home Stage, where they are found creased and dog-eared with little white scars where the paper was chafed. They are laden with memory and are not easily discarded.

In August the Departures outnumber the Arrivals and the depot is a different place. People are heading home to face Freshman Year or The Inbox, and the few folks enjoying Crisp Brochure Stage don’t project the same excitement. August vacations have an air of desperation around them – people are trying to squeeze in some magic before school starts and the leaves turn.

That’s when the mood is right to examine who packs light and why.

Let’s not worry about it now. Forget I mentioned it. Enjoy your vacation.

Assorted Herpa, Wiking and Atlas vehicles, custom-painted Model Power figure, hand-sculpted Play-Doh luggage.

ModelStory: Set in Stone

IMG_2885The fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur secreted away in Felicia’s enormous backpack will one day leave a permanent impression on her life.

She chipped them from the Chinle Formation – inside Many Lost Ways National Park – so if the small square of stone is found out, it’s a $10,000 fine and three years imprisonment.

But she sees herself as a scientist and isn’t she here doing research for her BS in geology?

She closes her eyes and daydreams with the sun on her face.

Yes, a scientist and one day that stone, carefully polished and mounted, will hang behind her desk and students will marvel at its beauty and the brilliant professor who collected it.

That’s the dream but here’s the problem: Felicia is a struggling student. Geology isn’t her passion.

Cutting and polishing stone is and she’s darn good at it. She has a remarkable eye for the textures and colors, which suits her more to a career in countertops or terrazzo floors – good paths in an age of diminishing craftsmanship – but we’ll get to that.

First she needs to graduate.

(Don’t worry about the Federal Penitentiary. She won’t get caught.)

Felicia is carrying a 2.73 grade point average. It is her final semester. She needs every one of the 20 credits on her schedule to receive her degree.

Fifteen credits are actual classes and she’s pedaling hard for four Bs and a C. The other five credits are the self-study “senior symposium” she sold to the guidance office.

Add Working the System to polishing rocks. She’s good at that, too.

She’s convinced the school that a seven-day backpacking trip with her friend Cameron (an actual geology student) is worth five credits. They’ll co-write a paper, give an oral presentation and voila, she’ll walk the stage with a 3.0.

Then?

Then a half-hearted effort at getting into grad school, but she doesn’t really want it and she can’t overcome her transcripts anyway. She will apply to three schools and be accepted by none.

Fine.

There’s a guy who loves her and they’ll do well. She’ll fall back on her Way with People and sell corrugated packaging, adjust claims and eventually inspect worksites for OSHA. (Good thing that Federal background check came up clean).

Years from now she and hubby will move into a new house. The granite countertop guy will be there when the movers split open a fatigued old box and the fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur will tumble out.

A pot of coffee and a long conversation later, she’ll partner with the countertop guy and the little contractor will do $7 million the next year.

During that year, Professor Cameron will lead her annual “senior symposium” to Many Lost Ways. Secreted in her giant backpack will be the fossilized footprints of a tiny Triassic dinosaur. She’ll have a decision to make: Discovering them would define her career, but she will probably just leave them behind.

(Scratchbuilt Play-Doh backpacks, Preiser figures.)

ModelStory: A River Deep and Wide

At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.

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“At first the thing that bothered him most about the whole idea was that they might fall.”

As a dad, falls are a major concern. Traffic and roadway hazards are a close second, followed by choking and other ingestion-related dangers. Dads tend to worry about the things that cause immediate trauma.

Moms fret over the hazards of repeated exposure like dressing properly for the weather and adequate nutrition.

Dads worry about falls.

So the notion that his daughter and her cousin would embark – unchaperoned – on a three-hour river raft trip caused him some heartburn.

(It had to be a three-hour tour? The universal code for nautical tragedy?)

“They’re fourteen years old, Ted,” said Marcia. “As long as you’re there to pick them up on time, how much trouble can they get into? Frankly I was looking forward to some time alone during this vacation. Just me and the Discover Card and those cute shops in Salvation Point.”

That didn’t make him feel any better, but he realized he was licked and agreed to drop them at the dock.

And now he stands here all alone experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She’s not the little girl who couldn’t help but skip everywhere she went, the one who fell out of bed and fell off the jungle gym and fell off her bike and needed him to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

She hasn’t needed any of that in a long time. She’s done some growing up, and he wishes he’d been paying closer attention.

Because there’s this boy, sitting right across from her, and they’re not fifty feet from the dock and already talking to each other.

She’s going to have different kinds of falls now, harder ones to recover from.

He’s not sure he’s ready.

*   *   *

At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.

As a kid, falls were a major concern. Falls out of bed and falls off the jungle gym and falls off her bike – and Dad was always there to fix her up and remind her to pay attention.

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“At first the thing that bothered her most about the whole idea was that she might fall.”

So the notion that she would embark with her cousin on a three-hour river raft trip without him had her freaking out a little.

(Dad kept singing some stupid song about a three-hour-tour, a THREE-HOUR TOUR, like that meant something.)

“We’re fourteen years old,” said Brittney. “As long as he’s there to pick us up on time, how much trouble can we get into? Besides, it’s better than hanging out with your mom in town.”

She didn’t entirely agree with that, but she realized she was licked and agreed to be dropped at the dock.

And now she sits here experiencing one of those unforgettable moments of immense transition:

She WON’T fall.

She’s fourteen and a pretty good swimmer and smart enough to stay seated.

She hasn’t needed to worry about falling or choking or getting hit by a car in a long time. She wishes she’d paid more attention to the growing up she was doing.

Because instead of Dad – well, hello cute boy across from me!

The falls are about to get harder.

She’s not sure she’s ready.

(Scratchbuilt river raft, factory-painted Preiser and custom-painted Model Power figures, EnviroTex Lite water with clear silicone caulk effects.)

ModelStory: Darn Good Soup (inspired by actual events)

It’s soup season in Many Lost Ways National Park. The nights are cold and the days are gray, and the hearty winter campers are fortified by gallons of sturdy soup – freeze-dried chicken and rice, canned vegetable beef, and one very special batch of frozen, homemade split pea with ham.

It was brought by a young couple who, in a stroke of efficient genius, decided to use it rather than ice to keep their cooler cool. I watched them board the steam train at Salvation Point for a long Valentine’s weekend in the park: Two large backpacks, one tightly rolled tent, one sleeping bag, one large cooler on wheels.

They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.

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“They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.”
(Woodland Scenics figures with aftermarket winter clothing added, custom-painted Micro-Trains 40-foot steel boxcar, Play-Doh luggage, scratchbuilt styrene coolers.)

They don’t know it yet but this trip will be their last as a young, carefree couple. Not long after they get home, she’ll find out, then tell him:

“I’m pregnant.”

There will be excitement and fear unlike anything they’ve known before.

They’ll bump along through the not-easy process of growing a family, and they’ll know the immeasurable joy that comes with all that pain.

They’ll never have the time for each other that they do now.

They’ll think back on the life they have now – the seemingly grown-up-enough work of paying the bills and looking after each other – and wonder how they filled the hours.

They’ll have thousands of sunny days. Take dozens of family trips more fun than this one. Eat lots of extraordinarily good soup.

But they’ll never again taste anything like the split pea with ham they brought on that last trip when it was Just The Two Of Them.

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

16-oz dried split peas

1 large ham steak, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

6 or 7 carrots, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 2-3 hours, stirring regularly.

(Love ya, Nik.)