Sunday, December 29, 2013


Today we took the kids to the local pool.  It was indoors of course.  Corvallis is definitely warmer than Pittsburgh but most of our evenings there still required a sweater.  We left a little early so that we could get Colby and Evan home to their surprise birthday party back at the house.  Colby’s birthday was still a few days away and Evan’s was a week after that so they were both thoroughly surprised!


8 ball is finally cured!  The Vaughn family were so sweet and supportive through the whole thing and really shared in our happiness that the little guy had finally emerged from sickness and gotten back to his goofy puppy self.  He woofed and howled at us for more food in the morning and then tore around the house trying to get Ginger and Sadie to play. 

Amy and Jenny went out on a Trader Joe’s run and Owen took Rex out for a ride since some of the older kids were still sleeping.  Juniper wanted to know if she could jump on the trampoline with me. 

“Well, we have to kind of supervise 8 Ball so he doesn’t get into any mischief now that he’s finally better.”

“I can get him to take a nap in his crate,” she said.

So we went into the bedroom and I settled in to work on the blog, doubtful that she would be able to get the now rejuvenated 8 Ball to relax.  About fifteen minutes later Juniper said,

“OK, Daddy, he’s asleep.  Let’s go.”

I looked over and saw that she had opened the door and crawled halfway inside the crate with him where she had stroked his ears and nose until he had fallen asleep.  Juniper is like a 4 year old dog whisperer.  She has already bonded a great deal with Ginger too in the short time we’ve been here.

I locked up the crate as quietly as I could and escorted little June bug outside to the trampoline.  We played dodge ball and another game where we she was a puppy and I was some kind of monster trying to catch her.  It’s always nice to get some alone time with one kid, but surprisingly difficult to achieve when you have three of them.

When everyone came back Owen and I took all six of the seven kids on a bus ride to the local library, Ava stayed back with her Mumsie.  Corvallis has a lot of nice amenities for a relatively small town, one of which is absolutely free public transportation.  The Vaughns have a bus line within a few blocks of their house that runs all the way to town, the university, and back again.  My kids were pretty excited about riding a bus regardless of where they were going. 

The library was a short walk down the dark, tree-lined streets in the moist night air.  We came up a rise and crossed railroad tracks that bisected that part of the Corvallis shopping district.  A train whistled nearby and as it came barreling down the tracks behind us Juniper climbed up into my arms.  Train whistles are one of the very few things she is frightened of.

The kids gathered around a round table in the children’s section where they met a little blonde haired girl that looked to be about Sullivan’s age.  I eavesdropped on their conversation. 

Little girl: I am 6.  I am the oldest and I go to first grade.

Juniper: I’m four.  We’re homeschooled so we don’t go to school.  It’s pretty nice.

LG: We like to go camping and to the lake.  We love the outdoors.

Juniper: One time when we were camping Blanca got burrs in her fur.

LG: Who’s Blanca?

Juniper: She’s our dog.  She died.  It was so sad.  I really loved her a lot.

LG: We have a dog.  Her name is ----- and she is 3 years old.

Sullivan: My dog’s name is 8 ball.  He’s a puppy.

Juniper: Sometimes he chews stuff.

Sullivan: yeah.

It was around this point that Sullivan started leaning back in his chair in what I assumed to be a bid to impress this young lady.  I wasn’t too worried since they were those little kid library chairs that are all of about 9 inches off the ground but somehow he overbalanced and fell backward and smacked his head.  I held him while he cried and assured him that the little girl would still think he was cool.  I actually saw her shoot a couple glances over at him after she returned to her mother’s side to hear a story.

Later the little girl’s younger brother made his own efforts to start a conversation with Juniper who he later told his mother was his new best friend.  We took the bus back and when we got off at our stop the Vaughn cats Tang and Pudding were waiting for us.  They accompanied us back home in the evening fog that seems to be ubiquitous in this town.


Amy finally got to have some much needed rest today.  She slept in and I took the kids grocery shopping with Owen so she could try to get some sleep in between taking care of the dog.  We gave him some more subcutaneous fluids in the morning before I left and he seemed to have a little more fight in him than he did two days ago.  It’s really frightening to see the light start to dim in a little puppy’s eyes.  I don’t think we would have had a chance without my wifey’s veterinary skills. 

When we got back to the house 8 Ball hadn’t thrown up at all and Amy was able to get him to drink some broth and Pedialyte.  His poop also seemed to be taking on a more solid consistency.  I never would have thought I would be so attentive to what came out of a little dog’s butt.

Jenny and Owen made homemade play dough for the kids.  What a hit that was.  The thing about play dough is that it gets dried out so easily.  It was really nice to have such an abundance of it so everyone could do their own thing with it and Ava wouldn’t have to worry about dismantling her creations in the name of retaining the clay for future use.  I also notice the homemade variety was a little softer, easier for little hands to squeeze and shape.
Ava's "Blob Family" 


Ames took 8 Ball to bed early.  He was really starting to look a lot better by the end of the night and was starting to show some good signs of appetite and actually wanted to play with the other dogs a few times.  We did our best to keep him subdued for fear of him getting too worn out from sheer lack of calories in his system.  Amy said tomorrow we could feel a little more confident about him being “cured.” 


8 Ball threw up all night last night, almost every ½ to every hour according to my wife who got up to check on him each and every time.  Her research on the internet continued until she found a company that marketed some kind of homeopathic parvo treatment called Parvaid.  After a little Internet magic we were able to identify a store that carried the item in a town called Springfield about an hour and a half away. 

Owen offered to drive for the road trip down to Springfield, OR.  On the way we shared good conversation about wives, children, fathers, and sons as blueberry farms and lush green fields dotted with sheep cascaded past our windows.  I think Oregon may be the greenest, wettest place I have ever known.  It is so lush that every roof has moss growing on it.  Even concrete parking bumpers are covered in the stuff.  At times it feels like if you stand still too long the Earth will swallow you whole, suffocate you with its fertility. 

 We picked up the medicine at this little co-operative organic food store that had a cooler full of local craft beer right next to the six aisles worth of holistic medicine for pets and people.  So yes after you pick up whatever rare herbal root your wife has sent you out for and you’ve located the chamomile/dandelion concoction that is supposed to relieve stress you can pick up a more masculine stress relief method such as this one.
(UGH! Wife can't load the picture of the beer...sorry boys)

On the way back we stopped at Eugene, OR, home of University of Oregon, to pick up some donuts.  The place is called Voodoo Donuts and I highly recommend you stop by if you are ever in the Portland or Eugene area.  This place serves the wildest donuts you have ever seen.  Enormous glazed bad boys covered with Captain Crunch cereal, chocolate donuts covered with Rice Krispies, every kind of filling you can imagine, bear claws that looked like they would take two sittings to eat. 

The store itself reminded me of a funky coffee shop.  It was long and narrow with high tin ceilings.  We walked toward the back of the store to the ATM and just beyond one of the walls we could make out some of the donut machines, shimmering silver behemoths of industry lurking behind the brightly covered wall decked in art for sale and corny, old landscape paintings you might see in a motel populated with little pictures of people holding their bright pink box of Voodoo donuts.  The people looked like they had been taped or glued on.  The other wall was covered almost entirely by a mural made out of duct tape and depicting silhouettes of donut hungry people.

The gal waiting on us looked like your prototypical hippie chick but she was a well-oiled machine behind that counter.  She wrapped and boxed that dozen faster than Jerry Garcia could roll a joint.  I claimed the Captain Crunch donut and ate part of it before we even got back to their house.  I was really impressed with how fresh the cereal part tasted and Owen and I agreed they must have to throw out every single one they don’t sell at the end of the day lest the cereal absorb the moisture of the donut and turn stale.

 When we got back to the house Jenny cut the donuts up into little pieces so the kids could eat them like hors d’ouevres.  I’m ashamed to say I didn’t save the other half of the Captain Crunch for my beautiful wife.  I actually kind of ate a large portion of the rest of the donuts.  Owen and I talked about how the kids didn’t even seem all that interested and we compared that to how we would have responded to the donut tray at their ages.  We both felt like that could be attributed at least in part to ours and our wives collective efforts to raise all 7 of these kids in an environment where food is not controlled and they are allowed to make their own choices.  Raising your kids in nontraditional ways can be pretty stressful at times; you get a lot of stares and catty comments from community members and sometimes even family members but this was one of those times where I felt like, “Aha!  See it does work.”  I made sure to mention this to Amy since she really had to facilitate me working through a lot of my own issues with control before I was sold on the idea.

Later that night Owen and I took most of the kids to a Jr. High School football game.  The Vaughns neighbor, Zach, is friends with all of their kids and was playing in the game so Owen thought it would be fun for them to watch him play.  His team was in some kind of regional quarterfinal so they played the game at the big stadium where the Oregon State Beavers play.  It was the first live football game my kids have been to.  They’re still a little young to navigate the chaos of a Steelers game.  They enjoyed being able to meander all over the stadium and choose whatever seats they wanted.  It was a cold night so the hot chocolate that Owen brought was a big hit.  I told them, “Drink up.  It’ll warm you up.  When you get older you’ll put different beverages in that thermos to warm you up.”
Zach is the sweet kid on the far right.

Near the end of the third quarter a layer of fog descended on the field.  The lights of the scoreboard shimmered in the damp wetness of the air.  Zach’s team mounted an impressive comeback effort but it was in vain.  Meanwhile back at the ranch Amy and Jenny were trying to help 8 Ball mount a comeback of his own.  He was still sluggish and having vomiting and diarrhea.  That night Amy woke up every hour AGAIN to give him the Parvaid and finally his vomiting began to ebb.   


Today we rode scooters and bikes all over the Vaughns’ cul de sac.  Sullivan really liked using the scooter and was able to get it moving pretty good after only a little bit of practice.  He challenged me to races across the blacktop.  Whenever I started to take the lead he would shout “red light!” so he could catch up.  Then he’d shout “green light” as he passed me.  I must have looked pretty silly hunkered down over the kid size scooter handles trying to keep it close enough to feel competitive without ever actually winning.  Colby joined in some of the races and I could tell he was doing the same thing to some degree. 

Juniper and Valerie took turns on one of the scooters and an old school tricycle complete with the super heavy wheels that are made of some hard granite like substance instead of tires making it harder to tip over.  The trike’s pedals were a nice height for Juniper but she was really interested in the scooter probably because all three of the Vaughn kids could get theirs going so fast.  Owen told me that Valerie was riding as early as the age of two.  Another example of why learning at home works so well.  Siblings can teach things in ways that adults cannot, whether it’s offering their recent experiences on the thing the younger brother or sister is struggling with or just watching them in action, they offer a much closer bridge to the adult world than mom or dad towering above.

In addition to a private racetrack just beyond their driveway the Vaughns also have a trampoline in their back yard and a cool playhouse that Owen built for them.  Ava and Juniper spent a good portion of the day on it, taking turns with Rex and Valerie as well.  Once they got accustomed to the exhilaration of plain old bouncing they made up elaborate games involving chasing one another, synchronized jumping, or dodging lightweight balls they threw at one another.

Amy and Jenny spent a good part of the day researching different treatments for 8 Ball who seemed to be getting progressively worse.  We had fluids we had purchased from the vet that Amy was giving him subcutaneously as well as antibiotics to keep him from getting a secondary intestinal infection, but she wanted to do everything she could to make sure the little guy survived the ordeal.  Amy was understandably worried about how Sullivan would take it if 8 Ball died.  Out of the three kids he was probably the one who was most attached to Blanca and then of course he was very sad to see Regis go as well.  We were honest with him and both of the girls about what was going on with 8 Ball.  He seemed to take it well in the parking lot outside the vet clinic but I knew he had to be pretty torn up about his new puppy being so sick.

That night Owen and I went to pick up an enormous pizza for the fam and we all watched Regular Show.  I think I’ve already mentioned how that’s my current favorite show on Cartoon Network so I was pretty excited to learn they were into it as well, although Rex is more of an “Adventure Time” guy.    
Juni and Valerie with Ginger

YAY! Trampoline







Our friends, the Vaughns


I met Jenny Wright at Frank Borman Jr. High in Phoenix, AZ.  We went to the same high school as well and she later became close friends with my wife.  Jenny and her husband, Owen, moved to Corvallis several years ago and this is the first time we had gotten to visit them.  They sold their house in AZ right before the bubble burst and chose Corvallis as a nice, family friendly/bike friendly place to live.  They live there with their four kids: Evan 10, Colby 8, Valerie 5, and Rex, 2; two dogs: Ginger and Sadie; and two cats: Pudding and Tang.  So that made a grand total of 4 adults, 7 kids, 5 dogs, and 2 cats.  Wow.
Meet Valerie (with Juniper)

This is Colby and Evan
Pudding!  Probably one of the greatest cats to exist.  So great I think we forgot to get a picture of tang.  (Sorry Tang!)

The patient and loving Ginger

Sadie (Frank's love interest and BFF)



I know what you’re thinking.  Chaos.  Noise.  Kids and dogs fighting.  But honestly that was one of the most peaceful weeks I’ve spent somewhere in quite a while.  Everyone got along incredibly well and somehow we were able to work together to share the one bathroom though I think we might have been breaking some kind of building code there.  A large part of this was probably due to how welcoming their whole family was, sharing everything with us from their toys to their bedroom.  I think the pets sensed the generally peaceful vibe and just followed suit.

Their kids are homeschooled like ours so they were home with us all day and their dad, Owen, was nice enough to take the week off to spend with us as well, so that meant there was additional adult coverage available for all those kids which proved helpful.  Owen is also a great cook and teamed up with my wife to feed the small army of constantly hungry people.

The Vaughns let us have their bedroom.  They will never know how much we appreciated this kind gesture.  We slept in two great big beds that were pushed together for us and the kids.  The window looking out on the backyard had a nice heavy curtain over it.  Amy said it was like sleeping at a high end hotel.  Without the clock radio we would never have known how early or late in the morning it was.

That first day we spent some time getting to know the Vaughn kids.  Their living room is the home base for most of their creative explorations during the day.  We made enormous structures out of Legos including some two foot high tunnels that Sullivan insisted I work on.  The Vaughn kids were all really sweet about ours kind of swooping in and using their stuff.  Jenny and Owen have a pretty similar parenting style to us and I think would agree with me that if you let kids work things out on their own they can generally come up with a solution all of them can agree to.     

Eight Ball didn’t seem too sick that first day but Amy and I knew from experience that the worst was coming.  Ginger was kind enough to donate her crate to the cause of giving 8 Ball a cozy spot to sleep when he wasn’t feeling well.  He did a lot of sleeping and wasn’t really very interested in food.  Frank was ecstatic to be around so many other dogs.  We had to remind him a number of times that Ginger and Sadie didn’t want to play ALL the time.

Later Amy and Jenny went out to pick up supplies to make dinner.  I could tell my wife was pretty happy to be back in a regular kitchen again.  She buzzed around so fast it made me tired just watching her.  She made one of hers and my favorite dishes: tacos and enchiladas with homemade salsa.  She even made two batches of salsa, one hot and one mild.  This was a habit she developed in the Burgh since many of the kind folks who live there just cannot handle hot food.  (guessing it’s got something to do with the Eastern European roots of that town.)  Jenny and Owen were actually impressed with how hot the hot stuff was.  I guess I forgot for a moment they were from the southwest like us.  Duh.


“Behind the 8 Ball”


This was the longest travel day out of the whole trip so far.  After consulting the map and getting some advice from our friends in Corvallis as well as a gas station attendant we opted to take US 20 across the midsection of Oregon.  The Interstate route is, of course, faster but would have taken us all the way north to the Columbia River west to Portland and then back down to Corvallis. 

It wasn’t long after leaving Ontario that we realized why there isn’t an Interstate across the middle of Oregon.  This was quite possibly some of the most sparsely populated country we had seen yet.  Rolling hills with tufts of green hedges scattered across wide swaths of lush prairie grass.  Blistering winds cut across the road, the slate gray sky above, smooth, unforgiving, and as inert as ash.  The 50 mph road wound up and down and between hills.  There wasn’t much truck traffic but the two lane road made dealing with them a challenge.

Since it was a US highway when we came to towns the speed limit slowed to 45 then 35 then 25 as US 20 became Main Street and stoplights appeared then receded into the distance.  Apparently we were still on the Oregon Trail.  We saw this mural commemorating it.


We also found this roadside attraction.


When she got out to take the picture my wife spoke to an old guy in a thick denim coat who said he knew the owner of the place.  He said they get a fair amount of business from people who just want to say they stayed at the Bates Motel. 

West.  Past lingering diesels and rusty sedans.  No cell signal, no radio stations, no humans for miles in every direction.  Nothing but the iron sky, unrelenting hills, and barbed wire.  We had to use turnouts for pit stops. 

My wife has a sixth sense when it comes to some things.  It was somewhere along desolately beautiful Highway 20 that she became worried about 8 ball’s appetite.  We pulled over at the entrance to a recreational dirt road reserved for ATVs and dirt bikes.  We poured out a portion of the dry food he usually devours within seconds and he showed no interest.  I wasn’t nearly as worried as she was but I agreed that we could take him to a vet at the next major town: Bend, OR.

We drove up a steep hill adorned with high pines to get to the clinic where a kind but highly pessimistic vet informed us that 8 Ball had Canine Parvovirus--he told us that he didn't even want to spend our money treating him because at his age his prognosis was so poor.  Parvo is one of the most deadly viruses for puppies.  Years ago our little Dalmatian Telly and his 3 brothers had parvo.  My wife saved 3 of the brothers but one didn’t make it.  We were stunned.  The other two Dalmatians were adopted by close names and given Shakespeare names.

Amy called our friends the Vaughns to make sure they were ok with us bringing a sick dog to visit them.  They were very understanding and confident that their two dogs would be fine since they were adults and parvo typically only affects puppies.  We pressed on.  By then the last of the light was gone and it was brutally cold.  The kids were tired and everyone was worried about the dog, but we had to keep going.  The road took us directly across the Cascade Mountain Range.  Unfortunately a route that would have been scenic in daylight was altogether different on a moonless snowy night.  As the road climbed the snow increased and the road conditions worsened.  There were few other cars on the road which only made us worry more that we were doing something we shouldn’t have been doing.  But there weren’t exactly an abundance of hotels at that point.  There weren’t even very many safe places to pull over.

I switched on the fog lights but whenever the wind gusted snow the visibility reached zero and I had to slow to a crawl.  I found myself whispering to the kids, “Shhh, quiet.  Everything is going to be fine.”  It was like I was frightened to wake some kind of mountain demon prowling the dark slopes for cars that got too close to the guardrail.  The last 20 miles of that drive took an eternity.  I drove most of it at 15 miles an hour for fear of sliding out of control if I had to brake too hard.  Finally we made it to Corvallis, Oregon and arrived at the home of our very welcoming friends.  We fell asleep in a bed so soft I thought we might never leave.

Born Free


Today we cut west across the widest part of Idaho toward Boise.  First stop was the Snake River.

Early settlers diverted its water to create irrigation for crops.  Not far from where this picture was taken we could see the Oregon Trail.  If you’re close to my age you remember playing this game on the Apple II E in your grade school class once or twice a week.  You had to make it across the United States in the face of starvation, broken wagon wheels, and family members with names like Rachel, Emily, and Amy that seemed to constantly get sick with cholera.  Well, we saw the real thing complete with wagon wheel marks and everything.  Surprisingly they didn’t have big pixelated buffalo for us to shoot with square bullets.

We didn’t get a chance to hop out and look at it closely but I’m assuming they sprayed something on the dirt track to protect it from being erased by the rain and snow over the years.  Just outside Twin Falls, ID we stopped again, this time to see Shoshone Falls.  Tiny waterfalls decorated the hillside as we made our way down the switchbacks to the falls viewing area.  The valley was lush and green and filled with the sound of water moving.

We ran into a local who assured me the falls were even more magnificent in the spring months after the snow melt.  He said you could feel the spray of the water clear over on the viewing platform where we were standing.  I was still impressed.  You could really appreciate the sheer vertical drop from our vantage point.  Birds made nests in tiny holes in the rocks level with where we stood.  further down river we saw the site of Evel Knievel’s failed rocket jump over the Snake River Gorge. 

From Twin Falls it was just over an hour to Boise where we had planned to see the old Idaho state penitentiary.  Someone at the Lava Hot Springs had told us the 19 century prison was an interesting tourist attraction so we added it to the list.  The kids are fascinated with laws and police and jail right now.  We’ve talked about what a speeding ticket is and why going 15 over and getting a hundred dollar ticket is a little less serious than going 100 miles per hour and potentially going to jail for the night for felony speed.  I remember when Sullivan asked one time, “Do kids ever have to go to jail?”  Somehow I knew he was worried that he would make a mistake and inadvertently end up there.  L  It made me realize how even when they do things that frustrate me it is almost never purposeful.  They’re just trying to make their way in this big scary world just like we are.

We ran into a great city park on the way to the state pen and stopped to let the kids play for a good hour or so.  There were no dogs allowed so I walked Frank and 8 Ball down a bike path that followed the park and, according to a posted sign, went all the way to downtown Boise.  Amy just carried little Abigail over to the park anyway, because after all she's not actually a dog.  She's more human than canine.  She’s happiest when exercise— well everything for that matter— is on her terms.

The Boise state pen was built in the 1880s to house an influx of criminals from the new western territories.  Some of the buildings were destroyed in a fire set during a prison riot in the 1970s that actually led to the prison being closed; however, most of the old stone structures were intact and looked like they would easily last for another hundred years. 
When we walked into the housing units and looked at the cells I was taken aback at how small they really were.  I’ve seen plenty of episodes of Lockup and, of course, tons of fictionalized movie/TV accounts of prison life but I never really understood the lack of space.  We were the only people touring the place and still it felt hard to breathe in such a small space.  Men stacked on top of each other like boxes in storage and the cells in turn queued up in rows of ten and then stacked four floors high.  I imagined guards armed with the strange leather “saps” we had seen near the main entrance scanning their eyes over the heavy bars, the outstretched hands and decided that prison must change just about anyone that spends too much time there.


The kids didn’t have a ton of questions.  They spent most of the time just taking it all in and talking about how small everything was.  We saw the basketball court, the innards of the cafeteria that had been gutted by the riot fires, and the laundry room where clothes were washed in water heated naturally by nearby hot springs.  We also went inside a weapon museum they had on site.  This was the only building that wasn’t part of the original campus.   It was an ambitious collection of guns and weapons spanning from the Roman Empire to the present day.

Next door was “Siberia,” a group of even tinier cells that were used for punishment.  The signage said that prisoners could be sent there anywhere from a day to a year depending on the infraction and they were never told in advance how much time they had to serve.  The room was about as wide as two large bathtubs and twice as long.  I’m not good with distances: maybe four by seven feet?  The only light came from a round ventilation hole in the ceiling high above.  Bread and water was passed through a narrow slot in the bars and the bathroom consisted of a bucket in a corner.  The only thing they were given was a Bible. 

Our last stop was death row, two stories worth of cells not much different than the others only they were for one inmate each.  A door at the end of the row of cells led to the gallows viewing room.  There were chairs and a window that looked in on the room where they hung people.  We went down a flight of steps and were able to look at the trap door that they used for hanging.  I found it particularly gruesome that a drain had been installed in the floor of the execution room.  It was strange to think about a man being pronounced dead on that very floor, crumpled over his legs, his head floppy inside the bag around it. 

I haven’t been sure about how I feel about the death penalty for the last few years.  Personally I think all child molesters should be publicly executed but I can see the shades of gray for almost every other offender.  The increasing number of death row inmates freed on DNA evidence coupled with my mistrust of the American legal system makes it difficult for me to support it but I can’t get behind having a candlelight vigil for someone like Tim McVeigh either.  Amy and I didn’t give the kids our opinion about any of it.  We just explained what each of the things was and answered their questions as best we could. 

When we left it was cold and darkness had begun to collect in the eastern sky.  We stayed at a motel just across the Oregon border in Ontario where we could hear the rush of freeway traffic every time we took the dogs out.  After spending half the day at a prison it felt good to hear the sound of so many people on their way somewhere and know that we were on the road and free.

Mormon Temple, UT and the Hot Springs, ID


This morning we woke to four dogs running loose in the grass park of the parking lot.  Amy said they looked like herding dogs.  I guess we weren’t the only ones who spent the night there.  I rolled up the sleeping bags, packed them in the carrier, and we got back on the road unbelievably quickly.  The girls actually went back to sleep while Sullivan watched the scenery out the window. 

Just outside of Price, UT the tufts of grass and trees gave way to tall gray hills blasted with rock and shadowy crevices where bits of snow from the night before remained.  A thick column of smoke hung in the air on the other side of the hill.  It had the solid, immovable quality of industrial steam and as the road wound between the hills we saw the cold steel structure that had emitted it, clinging to the barren hillside like a space lander on the dark side of the moon.  Above it a sign about coal flashed past too fast for me to read.

Soon the heavy trucks and odd yellow lights faded into the distance and we climbed higher toward a new ridgeline covered in heavy snow pack.  Soon there was fresh snow falling to add to it.  The wind rapidly increased as we made our way through what became a winding mountain pass and suddenly we were in a full blown blizzard.

Visibility was very poor and large sections of the road were not yet plowed.  The sections that were plowed had been covered with dirt instead of salt for some odd reason.  It was slow, nerve wracking driving but once we were down off the mountain the snow ebbed and the road straightened out.  Once everyone was awake we told the kids they could choose where we ate for breakfast since we saved money on the hotel.  Can you guess which chain they picked?


In the parking lot we realized that I had not done a thorough enough job of dog proofing the interior of the vehicle before I fell asleep the night before.  In my defense I really didn’t expect him to chew up a beer can.      

Soon we had left the mountain range in the rearview and exchanged it for new ones on either side of us.  Apparently Salt Lake City lies in a valley nestled between mountain ranges much like Phoenix.  We drove past the dense skyline of downtown and after a few turns we arrived at the Mormon Temple.  We parked across the street next to the LDS library with its imposing blockish structure resplendent with square windows and lamps that dangled like orbs from three and four story vaulted ceilings.  There was another building on the other side of the street that I didn’t identify that had an exterior waterfall that tumbled five stories to the fountain below.  Like the library every outer facet of that building was perfectly squared off or round.  Imagine someone trying to make a bank look decorative and you’ll have an idea of what I’m getting at here.

The temple itself was more ornate.  The tall spires invoked European cathedrals only a gold Moroni adorned the highest spire instead of St. Peter or the Virgin Mary.  Unfortunately a tall smooth concrete wall surrounds the temple so it’s difficult to get close enough for a decent picture.  The temple is not open to any kind of tour.  Only a select few are allowed inside.  Amy and I joked blasphemously that there was liquor, coffee, and porn on draught in there.        

The kids were thrilled with all the fresh snowfall and had a snowball fight that lasted from the parked car all the way inside leaf-strewn Temple Square.  I spent the first few minutes worried about their clothes getting wet until I realized they were having way too much fun to mind.  It was their first snow this year. 

While we were watching them play we met two young female missionaries who wanted to pet the dogs.  They were happy to tell us a little about Mormonism and why each of them was in Salt Lake.  They corrected me that it’s not hot beverages that are prohibited, it’s coffee and tea because they contain caffeine and thus are considered potentially addictive.  That explains why in addition to beer the Moab Brewery crafted its own caffeine free root beer.

From the temple it was only a half hour or so further to The Great Salt Lake.  The road ran right along the base of the mountain.  We parked in the windy deserted lot and walked down to the beach.  Millions of years ago an enormous ocean covered much of Utah.  When it dried up it left an enormous underground salt bed that coupled with erosion to create Arches National Park. and with snowmelt and rainfall to create the Great Salt Lake.


Sea gulls loiter in the sky around the lake just like they do on any coastline only there aren’t any fish for them to eat.  Because the concentration of salt in the lake is so great the only animal that can survive there is a tiny brown prehistoric shrimp that is not found anywhere else in the world.  The water was far too cold to swim in but when I leaned down close I could see thousands of the little shrimps scatter from my outstretched fingers.  As I walked back to the car I realized that what I had first thought was dried seaweed left behind on the sand at low tide was actually a brown curtain of thousands and thousands of these little shrimp.

We drove across the border into Idaho.  Flat roaming prairie dotted with lonely cattle for miles and miles with the looming mountain range always in the background like a watchful patriarch.  We continued north until we arrived at the famous hot pools at Lava Hot Springs.  The hot pools were at the far end of the wind-battered little town, past wooden storefronts that look like they probably used to have hitching posts outside, up to the foot of a large hill.  There was a playground across the street where we let the kids and dogs run and play for a good 20 minutes.  It’s always to go somewhere to “relax” when everyone has pent up energy from being in the car all day.  Better to burn some of that off first, particularly for our mischievous friend 8 ball. 

It was very cold outside and windy too.  I actually drove everyone across the street so they wouldn’t have to walk.  I heated up the car to sauna like temperatures for the dogs and then walked over to join everyone else.  The hot springs flow from a source somewhere close to the base of the steep hill.  Thus the hottest pool is right at the foot of that hill where you can hear semis thunder past on the road back to the Interstate.  The pools get progressively cooler as you move away from the hill.  Some of them have gravel at the bottom where a good portion of heat builds up offering a massage like experience for your feet if you dig them down into it.


We started out in the coolest hot pool and worked our way up.  The water flows continuously downward through all of the pools, the bottom of which filters down to a river so no filtration system is needed.  Each pool is filled with pure, hot, unadulterated mineral water, constantly being cleaned and purified by gravity.  The steam rising from the hottest pool mingled with our breath in the cold night air.

The kids enjoyed swimming in the hot pools and seemed to have a good sense of when to get out and cool off.  Ava thought it was funny how the air didn’t feel as cold after we had been in the pools for a while.  They have been in plenty of hot tubs before but there was something much, much more relaxing and cleansing about this, for them as well as us.  I got them some drinks to enjoy poolside and marveled at how mature they looked drinking them while they talked with me and Amy and each other.  I walked inside with everyone to get changed and then I snuck back out to get into the hottest pool one more time.

I dunked my head and then floated on my back for as long as I could handle.  I felt so relaxed yet not sleepy.  It was closer to an altered state of consciousness.  My mind was completely empty, the place where you don’t have thoughts about the things you see and hear around you.  They just sort of pass through you as you look on.  And then two things came to me, one at a time, each as tangible as a stone I could turn over in my hand. 

“The Earth can heal you of all of your hurt.”


“Your family reminds you of who you are and want to be.”

When I got out the dark sky seemed to swallow everything around me and my legs felt like they were floating.  I promised myself I would remember those things.  Regardless of their origin I felt the truth of the words running through my veins.