At the Buffet – Reno Fiction by Suzanne Stormon

An excerpt from the novel I’m writing set in Reno in 1975. It will be a while before I finish it because I don’t really know where it will end up. I’ll post occasional excerpts as I go. Hope you like it.

Lee saw the woman as the waitress seated her at the table just down the row from him. Curious, he wondered why she was wearing that rumbled fringed skirt and that big cowboy hat? It reminded him of the costume his daughter, Linda, had worn on Halloween the year she was seven. Why would a grown woman wear be wearing it out to lunch? The woman took off her hat and laid it on the table. She would be beautiful if she didn’t look so tired. Dark circles under her eyes. Were they green? He couldn’t quite make out the color from where he sat. He couldn’t miss the color of her hair though. It was the lightest platinum blond he’d ever seen. It hung, lanky, down to just below her shoulders, the ends looking crispy and dry. He wondered what her story was. Women like that must have a story.

The woman didn’t take long to go over to the buffet line and he watched her fill her plate. She filled it like a man would, nothing but meat and potatoes piled high. Could she eat all that? She wasn’t all that big. He watched her wolf down the fried chicken, stopping only to wipe the grease off her chin and fingers now and then. When she finished the chicken, she started in on the ham, then sat back, closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before finishing that plate and pushing it away. Dessert now?

She got up and went back to the buffet line and he noticed that he wasn’t the only one watching her. People stopped eating to stare at her when she walked by. At first, the woman didn’t seem to notice those rude looks, but when she did, she stood taller, like a queen who was going down with her realm. Instead of carrying a scepter, she was carrying another plate of food just as big as the first one. This time he smiled at her as she walked by. It seemed she could use at least one person who recognized her vulnerability and was on her side.

His wife had had that same sort of vulnerability after the cancer hit. She dealt with it the same way. Too proud to let anyone see her weakness. But the disease eventually overcame even that proud woman and now he had been alone for the last nineteen months. He’d gotten to the point where he didn’t think of her every minute but he was still stopped short when the grief hit. This pretty, sad, white woman had touched that grief point.

He studied the woman. She was nothing like his wife in any obvious way. The woman was tanned, but it was obvious that without the sun she would be pale. His wife was the color of dark chocolate. His wife was rounder, softer looking; the woman was slim. His wife never left the house without getting dressed for the occasion. This woman obviously didn’t know anything about that.

But there was something about the woman that reminded him of Mary. Maybe the way she attacked that fried chicken. Mary was so polite, almost dainty when she was out in public, but get her alone with a piece of fried chicken and it was a joy to watch her devour it. The woman had the same way of eating her chicken. What else? Their lips were the same. Not the same color obviously, Mary’s were the color of ripe purple grapes, this woman had lips just a little darker than her tanned face, but he could imagine that the inside of the woman’s lips would be a soft pink and they were the same fullness as Mary’s. Not that he’d really know, it was just his imagination.

He was surprised at the reaction he had from looking at her. Part of him wanted to retreat into the memories of what he’d lost, the other part wanting to go ahead, to rejoin the living. That part was new and he felt guilty for feeling it. He felt he’d been cheating on the memory of his wife but he smiled at the woman again as she went back for more food. She smiled back at him and Lee couldn’t eat another bite. He left the waitress a big tip and left as the woman sat back down with her big piece of apple pie.

He wandered through the casino for a while, not ready to go home. Everything there reminded him of Mary. He drifted from casino to casino watching people pulling handles and making bets at roulette tables. They were all after something, He didn’t gamble but he liked to be among people without being challenged with conversation. He missed the easiness of marriage, the ability to talk when he wanted and to be silent in her company but not feel alone. Would he ever have that again? That’s what he craved.

Photo by aresauburn™

Photo by quinn.anya

I Had a Brother

A Poem by Ken Adams and a Reflection by Suzanne Stormon.

I don’t know anyone else like Ken, the way he brings the past of his family into his art and his writing. The absolute way he is a carrier of the stories. I believe he feels a responsibility to those who went before him and his story is deeply rooted in Northern Nevada, in Dayton, Carson City, and Reno. When I talk to him these days, I can almost feel the dust of the Nevada high desert in the air around him. The ghosts of his family live with him. He is currently working on an installation, an almost life-size diorama of his Aunt Margaret’s life and death. These stories haunt him.

I Had a Brother

I had a brother,
Born a year before me
But we never met
He died on his first day
Or maybe his first hour

If he had a name,
I never heard it
In fact, my other siblings
And I never spoke of him
Until after our mother died

But now, every year
On Memorial Day
We put flowers on his grave
How do we know where he was buried
I don’t know, but we know

He lies on top of my grandmother
It is very convenient
We might talk to him
If only we knew his name

Suzanne’s Reflection

Ken’s poem about a brother born and died on the same day brought up many memories and thoughts about the missing people in our lives and especially in our families; the silences around them and the yearning to know them. Poems like Ken’s brings them to mind and we can bring them back for a moment.

I don’t know why Ken’s family didn’t talk about this brother, but people didn’t always talk about death like they do now. It was as if there was some sort of shame or failure attached to it. Death often became a family secret. Linda, a woman in one of my writing groups, was in her nineties when she told us this story. Her mother died when she was about 3 or 4 of the Spanish Flu that swept the world right after WWI.  We were astonished to learn that the family never told her what happened until she was in her teens.  One day her mother was there, the next she was gone and no one ever talked about her again. Linda remembers sitting on her mother’s bed and wondering when she would be back, she remembers longing for her. Her aunt moved into the house and took over the mothering, but the hole, the yearning was there for all the rest of her life. I see this yearning in Ken’s poem about the brother he never knew. A hole in the family story that is so important to him. In one of his other post’s Ken talked about how the family stories are so important to members of his family, how the living relatives keep those who have passed on alive in a way by telling those stories. How the Dayton cemetery is where these stories are told. What would this brother’s story be?

My mother had a series of miscarriages between the birth of my brother and my sister. I think there were about seven of them if I remember correctly. Some of those miscarriages came late in the pregnancy when the babies were nearly ready to make it on their own. My mother never talked about this to us until she was much older. I was probably 40 years old when she told me this story. How did she stand that much pain? How did losing a child affect her? Who could those sisters and brothers have become? Ken asks the same question, but he has a place and a time to ask them. The cemetery at Dayton. The place that brother has taken, lying on top of the grandmother. He has a story. The family knows where he is. My almost brothers and sisters were never memorialized. They are lost to the family history unless a poem like Ken’s brings them back to mind.

My daughter has brothers that she doesn’t know. She found out about them through a family story from a part of her family she has recently gotten to know. They didn’t know much about these brothers, but she managed to find them with the help of a private detective.  She found out about them about four years ago and has yet to meet them.  Like Ken’s mother, Linda’s family, and my mother, Hoat never mentioned them to MaiLynn or me. All of them trying to save their children from the pain of loss, often creating gaps in the souls of the people they were trying to protect. Ken lost his brother but knows part of his story.

We all spend a lifetime trying to fill the holes in our family stories.  I thank Ken for bringing these missing people back to light.

 

Life on Buffalo Mountain

An Online Series By Mark Stormon

From a miner with the soul of a poet, here’s a story about what it’s like to be a wildcat hard rock miner on a perfect Nevada day.

Episode 2 – Sensuality and the Art of Rock Drilling

THE INVITATION

You already know that one of the great rewards of the reading life is the opportunity to vicariously live the lives of others.  What a limited place this world would be if each one of us could only lead our own life.  For the next little while it will be 1974 and I will be a young and fit wildcat silver miner in the remote desert wilderness of Nevada.  What follows happened to me, and now you are invited to come along and join in my memory of a special day up on Buffalo Mountain.

THE CHALLENGE

….I stand at the portal to the mine and intuitively know that many others would be dreading what I am about to encounter.  When looking at the mine entrance the weak at heart might envision Dante’s inscription above the portal to the gates of hell — abandon all hope, ye who enter hereBut I have no fear, as an infusion of strength courses through my body in anticipation of what is to come.  I have faced this challenge before, and I know that the experience will be a test of my ability to withstand a prolonged assault on my senses.  I also know that occasionally, on very special days, what will begin as if it were one of the Seven Labors of Hercules will mysteriously morph into a transformative experience.  It is my hope that today will be one of those magical days.

BATTLEDRESS

It is a sizzling June afternoon on Buffalo Mountain, and I and my father, who is also my assistant today, have just finished loading our equipment into the ore car.  We are both dressed as if we were soldiers about to go into battle.  We are each wearing steel-toed boots, work jeans and a shirt covered by a heavy water-resistant padded jumpsuit, work gloves, a miner’s helmet with an attached miner’s lamp, a set of heavy-duty hearing protectors like the ones you see on airport runway workers, and thick plastic safety glasses.  Here, above ground, this battledress is hot and unnecessary, but below ground, it will be essential.

THE DESCENT BEGINS

My father engages the winch and the ore car begins its descent into the mountain with me trailing close behind, manhandling two long hoses, one an air hose, and the other a water hose.  The hoses snake their way through the inclined shaft as they are pulled down by the ore car, and I wrestle with them to keep them from tangling and snagging on the ore car tracks or the jagged walls of the shaft.  The inclined shaft that I am entering descends at a forty-degree angle, about the same steepness as a flight of stairs between floors in a house, but there are no conveniently level steps here, only steeply angled slick rock waiting to inflict painful falls.

During my descent, I have time to reflect on the two primary ways in which I, and others, experience life.  Most often, I inhabit the world of words.  During my recent stint as a student at the University of Nevada-Reno, and while working as a bookseller in a bookstore, the world of words was the focus of my existence.  But there have been times when the other world, the realm of the senses, came to the forefront and forced words to go and hide for a while.  These times were always special, and while continuing the trip down the shaft I embark on another journey, a journey of remembrance in the form of a daydream.  My vision is of riding a single wave during a transcendent day of surfing, back before I became a Nevadan.

RIDING A WAVE IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES

…. The ocean is a cerulean blue, a sky mirror of liquid glass.  I revel in these glassy conditions, with no wind chop to interfere with a waves perfection.  The smell of brine and seaweed permeates the still air.  I am not here to compete with anyone or anything, including the waves.  Instead, I am here soul-surfing, ready to embrace whatever the sea brings my way.  Straddling the board, staring out to sea waiting for the next big wave, my mind is empty and watchful.  I detect the oceanic horizon begin another of its heavenward ascensions as the swell I have been waiting for makes its approach.  Furiously paddling, I head for the prime position to make my drop into the curl.  Effortlessly coming to my feet on take-off, I perform a fluid sweeping turn and feel the rush of speed as I find the wave’s sweet spot.  Sensing the subtle changes in the shape and speed of the breaking wave, I deftly maneuver, rocketing down the fall-line of the evolving wave.  Scanning ahead, the sea is opaque with only its surface visible, but when I shift my gaze and look straight down, the water becomes transparent.  The seafloor here is a shallow shoal, and jagged rocks rush by below.  The danger of an uncontrolled wipeout on this reef of stone adds to the thrill of the ride.  Nearing shore, I sense that the wave is about to close out in front of me, and at the last moment I safely kick-out.  I slowly head back out toward the break, basking in the afterglow of the ride.  Emerging from the daydream, I realize that in the dream, as in the actual ride long ago, I had no need to enter the world of words.  The ride, like most intense experiences, was lived totally in the immediate realm of the senses.

CONVENTIONAL SENSUALITY AND A FINAL DAYDREAM

Looking around and seeing that there is still some distance to go before reaching the mine’s bottom, I consider returning to my reveries.  I suspect that the dreamscape that I wish to enter next, explores what most people visualize when they hear the word sensual, although this particular form of sensuality inhabits only a tiny fraction of the greater realm of the senses.  As I subconsciously manage the hoses while descending, I enter a new vision of a past memory, the dream begins ….

…. My college girlfriend lights the cinnamon scented candles and turns down the lights.  She slowly walks over to the record player, hips swaying like luxuriant palm fronds immersed in the trade-winds.  Sliding the album from its sleeve, she places the record on the turntable and puts the needle down gently to avoid scratching the vinyl.  The sultry voice of Roberta Flack enters the room…the first time ever I saw your face…emerging from the speakers.  Recognizing that this is my girlfriend’s romance record, the hair on the back of my neck rises.  She dances across her apartment floor with bare feet, her cotton candy colored toenails looking as sweet as spun sugar.  Arriving at the couch she enfolds herself into the curves of my body.  The vanilla fragrance of her perfume mixes with the waft of cinnamon coming from the candles, the combined scent that of nibblicious Christmas cookies.  I start to speak, but she quickly yet gently puts her fingers to my lips, stopping me before I can say anything.  I realize that she is right, no words are needed, or even welcome now.

record player

Her little kisses travel slowly up the side of my neck and come to a lingering halt at my earlobe, finally giving it a tender playful bite.  I can feel her warm breath in my ear and my breathing begins to deepen in response.  She slides around in front of me and reaches for the top button of my shirt.  Smiling saucily, she unbuttons the buttons slowly, deliberately pausing for a short time between each button to increase the anticipation.  The unfastening complete, she opens the shirt and ever so gently begins to run her fingernails over my chest, giving me goose bumps.  Detecting my response, she gives a short quiet laugh, delighted by her powers of seduction.  My excitement escalates as her painted nails take deliciously dangerous detours across my chest.  Finally, she begins to slide her warm fingers down in search of – wham, I slam into the ore car, which has come to an unnoticed stop at the bottom of the mine shaft.  The painful arrival here has brought an abrupt halt to my dreaming, but I am not overly disappointed as I know the memory is still available for future retrieval.  I realize that today when I entered the realm of the underground, I entered a world where the senses dominate, and that the likelihood of new sensory experiences can be just as enticing as dreams.

AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SHAFT

At a couple of hundred feet down, I have reached the working face of the mine.  I drop the hoses and face back up the shaft where I can see a distant circle of light that reminds me that another world awaits above.  Some natural light filters down from above, but most of what I see is brought to life by the beam from my miner’s lamp.  Every time I turn my head, new scenes are illuminated and old scenes recede into the deep shadows. Later, when my father joins me, the random movements and unexpected crossings of both beams of light, mine and his, will become surrealistic and kaleidoscopic.

This new world is both immediate and enveloping.  When I stretch out in the form of a cross I touch both walls at the same time, and when I reach overhead I place the palms of my hands on the roof and suddenly I am Atlas holding up the weight of the world.  I idly wonder why miners call the rock overhead a roof instead of a ceiling, but the question remains unanswered.  I do not fear the mountain, but respect it, always knowing that it could easily make me a permanent part of its being.  Dropping my hands to my sides, I contemplate that as long as I am down here I will continuously feel these walls and that roof and that even when I am not touching them, they will permeate my psyche.  At times the roof will become the sword of Damocles, hanging by a single hair from a mustang’s tail, precariously poised for a final downward thrust.  Moments later, the entire shaft might transform into an all-embracing womb.  I feel as if these vagaries of perception are the result of the uneasy treaty between me and the mountain.

A CONVERSATION WITH THE MOUNTAIN

Buffalo Mountain

I remember the conversation I had with the mountain when I first began mining its rugged slope.  The mountain and I came to an understanding back then.  The two of us agreed that if the mountain would refrain from killing me or my father, I would work to make the mountain greater.  I explained to the desert dome that I would gift it a cave and that mountains with caves are more noble than those without.  I promised that our digging would last only a geological heartbeat and that the manmade shaft we left behind would almost instantly transition into a nurturing cave.  I convinced the rampart that our gift was likely to last for millennia, and that as a result, countless generations of subterranean creatures would be able to dwell in its mountainous heart.  The cave would soon become home for bats, desert pack rats, mice, scorpions, spiders, and countless insects.  Other nonresident animals would be able to take advantage of its welcoming shade in summer, and the protection of its warmth during the killing cold of deep winter.  Snakes, lizards, coyotes, and jackrabbits would occasionally enjoy the cave’s protective embrace.  Perhaps sometime in the distant future the greatest of the desert predators, the mountain lion, would decide to make the cave its den.  The cave would then truly become a gift from one wildcat to another.

mountain lion on rock

I recall that the conversation with the mountain was completely one-sided, with the mountain remaining typically mute.  But I noticed that there was no negative response in the form of an earthquake, and willingly interpreted this inaction as the mountain’s agreement.  I would hold up my end of the bargain and trusted that the mountain would not renege on its end of the deal.

RUNNING HOT AND COLD

While on the surface I was hot with all of my protective gear on, but now welcome the perpetual 52-degree air found at this level underground.  Summer or winter, day or night, the temperature remains the same at this relatively shallow depth.  Only in very deep mines does the Earth develop a fever.  I spuriously speculate that the hellish heat of deep mines could easily be the result of the perpetual probing of the steaming fingers of Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.  Though the cool air at this level is refreshing, soon I will be wet and begin to feel the chill.

THE ULTIMATE INTIMATE ACT

For a moment, I am singularly aware of my surroundings, then my focus shifts to the task at hand.  I have come down here to participate in hard-rock mining’s most intimate act.  My father and I, and our machines are going to penetrate the mountain to prepare for blasting.  We are going to do this by drilling a number of holes in the working face of the shaft so that these voids can later be filled with explosives.

Blasting is dangerous but easy, after all, the explosives are doing all the work.  Mucking out the ore after blasting is hard physical work, but it is a mindless task that requires nothing but muscle. Drilling is different, it requires skill that sometimes rises to the level of art, and it is likely to be one of the most intensely sensorial activities I will ever take part in.

ONE MEAN MONGREL OF A MACHINE

I prepare to unload the equipment from the ore car.  Sticking out of the top of the rock carrier, and attached to the two hoses that were dragged down, is the most unlikely looking machine that I have ever seen, with the equally unlikely name of  a jackleg drill.  I reflect on the nature of the beast.  The machine is a mongrel, half jackhammer, and half rock drill, with a gigantic tail in the form of a telescoping air leg used for holding the machine in yoga-like positions.  This mongrel is no Poodle/Chihuahua mix, instead, it has the attitude of a wrecking yard Doberman, and the muscle of a Bullmastiff.

I believe that machines are either male or female in nature and that this machine is as masculine as it gets.  First of all, there is the name, it’s a Jack, not a Jill, but that’s the least of it.  I chuckle when considering what Freud would think about this tool.  When the air leg is fully retracted, and there is no drill steel attached, the combined length of the drill and leg is about seven feet.  But, when the air leg is fully extended, and a ten-foot-long drill steel is mounted in the chuck, the combined length of steel, drill, and air leg, grows to nearly twenty feet.  This increase in length might make even Freud a little envious.

man with Jackleg drill

The jackleg drill’s primary purpose is also decidedly Freudian.  It is designed to penetrate Mother Earth and help release seeds to be scattered across the globe.  These seeds of silver, trapped for millennia within the mountain, could soon be found in a beautiful silver and turquoise bracelet on the wrist of a Navajo woman, in the scalpel of a doctor in Africa, or in the electronic switches and wires that keep the world’s lights aglow.  I feel pride knowing that thanks to our efforts, the precious progeny of Buffalo Mountain will no longer reside just in Nevada, but will be found worldwide wherever silver performs its magic act.

READY – SET – GO

Like a bridegroom lifting and carrying his bride across the threshold, I hoist the 105 lb. drill out of the ore car and carry it to the working face of the shaft, setting it down gently.  I return to the ore car and extract three drill steels, probably better known as drill bits to the uninitiated.  I observe that these steels are two, four, and six feet long, and not surprisingly given their name, are made of steel.  These steels are no toothpicks, as they have enough girth to drill holes wide enough to welcome sticks of dynamite.  Each steel has a tungsten carbide rock bit at its front tip and a raised collar near its rear tip that keeps the steel married to the machine when the chuck on the drill is locked.  These steels have a small hollow chamber running down their length so that water can be injected at the bit face.  The injected water serves three purposes, it helps to cool the bit, it helps lubricate between bit and rock, and it greatly reduces the amount of rock dust that ends up in the mine shaft.  I carry the three steels over and place them next to the jackleg.  Due to their length, my father will have to bring both the eight and ten-foot drill steels down with him when he descends.

While I prepare underground, on the surface my father starts up the air compressor, a rackety but serviceable old machine about the size of a VW bus.  He checks gauges and turns on valves, assuring that the air that travels down the hose to the drill will have the necessary power to break solid rock.  He turns on the water feed valve on the water trailer, then grabs the two long drill steels and descends to meet me at the bottom of the shaft.

With my father’s arrival, I raise the drill into position steadying it with the extended air leg that I wedge into the shaft’s floor.  I place the rock cutting bit near the roof of the shaft, knowing that I must drill from top to bottom to keep residual water from filling the lower holes.  I open the tools water feed valve and water begins to travel through the drill steel down to the cutting bit.  My father sees that I am ready to begin drilling and responds by surrounding the shaft of the drill steel with his gloved hands, as he prepares to help hold the steel in place while the hole is started.  He nods his head, and I slightly nudge the throttle valve handle forward.  The drill steel begins to slowly rotate and hammer, spinning within my father’s grasp.  After a few seconds, the bit catches and the entrance to the hole begins to take shape.  As soon as my father sees that the hole is sufficiently deep to keep the bit from skipping across the shaft’s face, he lets go of the steel and I push the throttle valve all the way forward.

INTO THE MAELSTROM

Like the primordial Big Bang, a new universe explodes into existence and I am at the center of the maelstrom.  Air, normally gossamer and benign, slams into the piston inside the drill with the force of ninety pounds landing on every square inch of the surface of the piston head.  The piston furiously transfers power to the drill steel which begins to pulverize the rock at the tortuous rate of thirty-eight blows every second.  Both drilling and hammering, the tool becomes a bucking bronco.  Without the aid of the stabilizing air leg, even an unshorn Samson couldn’t impress Delilah by handholding this whirling dervish at the odd angles required.  Straddling the air leg and pushing against the drill handles, I add my weight and muscle to the power of the machine.  Like a boxer’s knockout punch, vibration is transferred into every fiber of my body yet I continue to stand.

BOUNCING TO THE BEAT

Added to the mayhem of the physical power of the tool is the deafening roar of the machine doing its work.  I am inundated by the sound of steel chewing rock, the piston slamming back and forth inside the tool, and pressurized air screaming from the exhaust port of the drill only inches from my face.  This cacophony is multiplied by the perfect echo chamber of the engulfing walls and roof.  The heavy-duty ear protectors can only provide something like the serenity of a Saturn-five rocket launch.  Like sitting three feet away from twelve-foot-high base speakers at a Rolling Stones concert, the sound cascading down on me is so intense that I feel the air in my lungs bouncing in time with the tool’s beat.

SWIMMING IN MALT-O-MEAL

The sensory overload continues to increase as water mixed with crushed rock forms a watered-down Malt-O-Meal textured slurry that pours out of the hole I am drilling and slides down the drill steel, onto and along the raised drill, down my arms and body, and onto my boots.  Much of this mountain ooze is caught and blocked by my jumpsuit, but as usual, some of the rocky syrup makes it underneath my battledress and intensifies the chill from the mine’s fifty-two-degree air.

PURPLE HAZE ALL IN MY BRAIN

The air pulsing out of the exhaust port has enough power to kick up the loose dust near the bottom of the shaft.  The exhaust air contains machine oil from the inline oiler that continuously lubricates the tool.  This machine oil exhaust looks like the smoke coming from an old car, and it rapidly mixes with the multicolored rock dust in the air.  The light from both of our miner’s lamps, and the sliver of light coming down from the mine entrance combines to illuminate the dust and oil cloud and the effect is that of a purple haze worthy of a Jimi Hendrix lyric.

Jimi Hendrix poster

THE SMELL AND TASTE OF DRILLING

The odors of vaporized machine oil, dry rock dust, wet rock slurry, unwashed miners, and explosives residue from previous blasting permeates the air.  This witches’ brew is strong enough so that not only can I smell it, I can taste it as I begin to breathe through my mouth due to my exertions.  Though I am chilled, I am sweating from my efforts and the taste of salt is added to the mix as a drop of sweat drips down into the side of my open mouth.

TWO DOWN – ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-EIGHT TO GO

The assault on my senses continues for the next couple of minutes as the steel plunges ever deeper.  When I see that the steel is fully buried, I pull back on the air throttle valve and the bull ride comes to a temporary end.  I have drilled two feet of hole, only one hundred and forty-eight feet more to go.  The prospect is daunting.

My father reaches out and unlocks the chuck that holds the steel in the machine, and I pull back the tool and move it to the side so that my assistant can remove the steel from the hole.  After extracting the two-foot-long steel he picks up the four-foot steel and pushes it down the hole until it contacts the bottom.  I lift the unwieldy machine back into place maneuvering it until the end of the steel slides into the drill chuck.  My father locks the chuck, I push the throttle all the way forward, my world explodes again.

The cycle of drill … change steels … drill … change steels … drill …. continues with each hole ultimately penetrating ten feet into the mountain.  Before I began drilling, I determined that I would have to drill fifteen of these ten-foot-deep holes to get the desired result from the next blasting session.  Experience told me that I would need more holes vertically than horizontally, to match the shape of the existing shaft which is higher than it is wide.  The necessary pattern would consist of three vertical rows of five holes each, with one row in the middle of the working face, and another row on each side of this central column.

MAN, MACHINE, MOUNTAIN, MAGICALLY MELD

I reflect on how each drilling session is different.  Most sessions are a battle from beginning to end, with me fighting some combination of the mountain, the machine, or even myself.  Today I am lucky, with the mountain putting up no resistance.  As more holes are drilled successfully, I begin to sense that rare transition that occurs on a few special days.  Combat becomes cooperation.  Man, machine, mountain, magically meld.  The act of drilling becomes an exercise in Zen meditation.  But unlike the quiet fusion with the world that you would normally associate with the essence of a Zen-like state, I have now entered a very intense relationship with the sensory world.

Without entering the world of words, I feel the changes around me.  The cacophony becomes a symphony and each time I slide the throttle valve open, the speed of the drill accelerates just as a musician’s pace quickens as the conductor calls for an ever-faster tempo from allegro, to vivace, to vivacissimo, to allegro vivace, to presto, and ultimately, to prestissimo.  At full throttle, I hear an ultra-powerful Kumi-daiko group performance of Taiko drumming in my head.  The rapid Japanese-like drumbeat being perfectly harmonious with this unconventional Zen meditation masquerading in the guise of rock drilling.

As more holes are completed my trance becomes deeper and my ordinary sense of time disappears.  I can no longer tell whether I have been immersed in this state of total sensory exultation for a moment or for many hours.  The narrow beam of my miner’s lamp seems to illuminate the entire world, and in a very real way it does, as my world has narrowed to the single act of rock drilling for the duration of this meditation.  My senses are on maximum overload yet my underlying state is one of complete serenity.  I have become one with the mountain for at least this undefined and indefinable moment in time.

A TIBETAN SAND PAINTING

As my father pulls the last steel from the final hole, I heft the jackleg drill back into the ore car.  Freed from the behemoth machine for the first time in several hours, I turn toward the bottom of the shaft and slowly sag to the mine floor.  I gaze upon my creation, a geometrically satisfying pattern of holes that looks something like a high-numbered domino piece covering the face of the shaft.  I have not yet reverted to thinking in words, but later I will reflect on how this creation is reminiscent of a Tibetan sand painting.  Just as Tibetan monks enter a state of meditation while creating the sand painting, I too have entered a similar state while creating this pleasing pattern of blast holes.  Both creations, mine and that of the monks, are meant to last for only an artistic heartbeat.  Just as the monks will intentionally sweep away their sandy artwork almost immediately upon completion, my father and I will blast away our rock and hole creation later today.  For now, I immerse myself in the pattern’s beauty without thinking about the transitory nature of its existence.

makiingDestroying Tibetan sand paintings

REBIRTH

My father begins his return to the surface as I load the remaining steels into the ore car and organize the hoses for their upcoming journey.  Upon reaching the surface my father turns off the air compressor and engages the winch to bring up the ore car.  I hang on to the back of the ore car as it ascends, while from the surface my father pulls up the hoses, keeping them just in front of the car’s wheels.  I feel as if I am undergoing a true rebirth, with the hoses acting as an umbilical cord as I make my way up the mine shaft, a birth canal leading from the womb of the mountain to the new world above.

INTO THE LIGHT

Still in a Zen-like sensory trance as I near the surface, I squint against the emerging brightness of the summer sun.  As in the reports of those who have died and then been revived, I have an enveloping sense of heading into a bright and welcoming light.  Finally, I burst forth into the nearly overwhelming surface world of the desert mountain.  Immediately upon my emergence, my father walks away heading for the trailer where he will collapse in his bunk.  His silent departure is welcome, as wordless solitude allows me to remain in my meditative state for a while longer.  As my eyes begin to adapt I am in wonder over the deep celestial blue of the high desert sky.  The air’s intense color is only exceeded by its diamond clarity.  I raise my eyes and gaze on the far distant mountains, their serrated ridges appearing sharp enough to inflict visual paper cuts.  The only thing moving is a distant dust devil, miles away on the valley floor. I timelessly watch as the desert wind does its preferred dance, the Coriolis twist.

EMERGING FROM THE COCOON

Like a desert butterfly emerging from its cocoon, I begin to shed my miner’s battledress.  Off comes the hard hat and ear protectors, and I immediately notice the absence of all sound except for the brief and rare song of a desert songbird.  I pull off my damp boots and struggle out of my soaked jumpsuit.  My remaining clothes begin to steam as they immediately begin to dry in the hot desert air.

THE LIZARD KING

Pleasantly exhausted, I lie down on a large flat boulder near the mine’s portal, welcoming the sun.  Stretching out, I notice a lizard frozen still on the edge of the boulder I am occupying.  He stares at me with his reptilian gaze, as the sun glints off the hypnotically iridescent scales on his belly and throat.  I am mesmerized by the flashing scales, the intense deep royal blue color of a fine lapis lazuli crystal.  I lock eyes with the lizard and instinctively perceive that he is the true king of this desert domain, and to him, I am just another one of his subjects.  Finally, he tires of granting me this audience and rapidly departs to wreak havoc on the nearby kingdom of the ants.

MY RETURN TO THE WORLD OF WORDS

With the mesmerizing lizard’s departure, and the sun’s welcoming heat slowly penetrating my weary bones, I gradually transition back to the world of words.  Although this total immersion into the world of the senses has come to an end, I revel in the afterglow of the experience.  During my dive into the sensual world of rock drilling, I lived in what Paul Tillich called “the eternal now”.  With my return to the world of words, I inevitably return to the worlds of the past, the present, and the future.  With the entirely verbal concept of the future back in play, I cannot escape its ever-present, and often oppressive shadow, planning.  A plan for the rest of my work day begins to emerge.  I know that after a brief break I will need to set my charges and then blast.  This chore must be done today for the noxious fumes from the blasting to clear out of the shaft overnight.  I know that tomorrow morning I can safely start mucking out the newly blasted ore.

FOREVER GRATEFUL

As I head for the trailer to take a well-earned break, I slowly realize that this was one of the few days when rock drilling became a sensual meditation.  I suspect that when I am much older I will look back on this day as one of the highlights of my time on Buffalo Mountain, and for that memory, I will be forever grateful.

 

 

 

 

Non-Wedding Day in Nevada

by Suzanne Stormon

The woman stood by the side of the road and took the box that held the small engagement ring and the wedding band out of her wool jacket pocket. She opened it and fingered the rings.

I don’t need you, she said, thinking of the man she had left at home. I will go on without the comfort of the institution. I will be my own woman. She slipped the rings back into her pocket, unwilling to totally let go of the broken promise.

Photo by LadyDragonflyCC
Photo by LadyDragonflyCC

She filled the three tiny cordial glasses she found in a tiny antique shop on Wells Avenue with the Kalua she had brought along. The brown liquid, thick and syrupy, mirrored the consistency of the feeling in her heart. She handed two of the glasses to her friends and they lifted them to each other.

“So begins my not getting married ceremony,” the woman said.

They clinked their glasses, drank the dark liquid, and got back into the car. The drizzle that started early that morning continued as they made their way from their homes in Reno out toward Gerlach and the Black Rock desert beginning to melt the earlier snowfall.

The woman sat in the back seat and began to tell her story. It was good to tell it out loud. She’d been telling it to herself for the last month. Going over it again and again as her depression worsened. The only thing that kept her going for that month was the touch of her baby, the baby that she loved so much, the baby that kept the woman and the man together.

“I tried,” she said. “You should have seen me right after the baby was born. All of a sudden I felt so helpless. I didn’t know how to take care of her, you should have seen how messily I put on her diapers, how slippery she seemed to be when I tried to dress her. I had trouble with the nursing. He sent me to my mother’s for a few days. ‘Go, learn,’ he said to me.”

She laughed at herself a little, then said, “I’m better at all that now, but I don’t know if I could do it alone.”

The friends listened as they traveled down the two-lane road out past Pyramid Lake, the window of the car open just a crack, enough to let in the brisk air and the sweet smell of wet sagebrush. They hadn’t seen a car for miles. No one seemed to be going their way on this damp November day. They told stories about the bad parts of their basically happy marriages, trying to cheer up their friend.

“We were doing alright.” the woman continued. “We were just taking it one day at a time, through the pregnancy and the months after she was born. I was fine with that. I’d figured on raising her alone if I needed to, but I was open to staying together too. After nearly a year together he asked me to marry him. I was really sort of amazed, but I said yes. I’d seen how much better it was to have two of us raising the girl.”

She handed the wedding invitations up to her friends. They had this November date on them, they were nearing the time of day when the wedding reception would have taken place when they drove through Empire, the gypsum mine quiet because of the rain. Even wet, the town looked gray and dusty. A few kids were out playing in a field with their winter jackets open to the cold.

“Just a few days after he asked me, he went to talk to his mother. He had lent her some money and he wanted it back for the wedding. She refused. She didn’t want him to marry me. I wasn’t the kind of girl she wanted for him. He told her he was going to marry me anyway and left her to stew. But I guess he was stewing on it too.”

The woman thought back to the days when they went to get the rings, decide on a place to marry and order the invitations.

“The invitations came the day after he told me that he thought we’d better wait. Maybe his mother would come around someday. He wanted to wait until she paid him back. He said he knew she never would return the money if he married first. I knew his mother would hold on to that money to control him, but he was resolute. We would wait.”

The woman was stifling tears as they pulled into the little town of Gerlach.

“I cried for days. I yelled. I told him he was a coward. He didn’t change his mind but he didn’t leave. I was happy enough until he asked me to marry him. I didn’t expect it, but I allowed myself to get caught up in this different dream. Then he dashed that dream. My heart just feels cold now. I’ve been stuck in this depression for the last month.”

They pulled into Bruno’s parking lot.

“It looks like this is the only place in town to eat,” the driver said. “Good enough place for your alternative reception.”

Brunos

The friends helped the woman out of the back seat and put their arms around her and led her to the entrance. The waitress pointed them at a table in the nearly deserted restaurant.

A bit of sun came through the clouds and the mist of the drizzle lifted for a few minutes and the women enjoyed the light of the desert and the shadows of the buildings and trees in town.

They ordered the specialty of the house, ravioli and red wine. The women told more bad stories about their husbands and congratulated their friend on not getting married.

The woman began to feel better. Her friends were with her. That’s all she needed. Her friends, her family and her little daughter.

On the way home, they stopped for one more toast in the desert, in the drizzle. The woman picked up a couple of stones and put them in her pocket next to those rings as remembrances of the day.

She would go home, she decided. Stay with him for now. Stay for the sake of her child, but her heart and all of her love would revolve around that little girl she loved so much. Her happiness had to come first.

Photo by Nouhailler

Photo by sfslim

Nevada Masons Rededicate Grand Lodge Cornerstone in Carson City

For you Nevada History Buffs

I got this announcement from Chet Hayes, one of our Nevada Narratives readers. It sounds like a great opportunity to discover more about the history of the Free and Accepted Masons in Nevada and tour this historic building.

MASONIC CORNERSTONE 150 YEAR REDEDICATIONFOR U.S. MINT IN CARSON CITY SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

On September 24, 1866, at 2:00 pm, the Grand Lodge of Nevada, Free and Accepted Masons dedicated the laying of the cornerstone of the original U.S. Mint in Carson City, Nevada. Exactly150 years later to the day and time, the Grand Lodge of Nevada, Free and Accepted Masons will rededicate that cornerstone at what is now the Nevada State Museum.

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, at 2:00 pm, the public is invited to participate in the rededication ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone. This historic community event will begin with a Grand Procession from Carson Lodge #1, Free and Accepted Masons located across the street to the Nevada State Museum at 600 N. Carson Street. The ceremony will begin at 2:00 pm, with the rededication of the cornerstone by the Grand Lodge of Nevada and accompanied by speeches by State of Nevada dignitaries.

An open house will follow at Carson Lodge #1, Free and Accepted Masons at 113 East Washington Street, Carson City. The public is invited to tour the Carson Lodge building, which was the original V & T Railroad Depot. Carson Lodge No. 1 was the first Lodge of Freemasons in the state of Nevada and has operated continually since 1862. The building is on the National Historic Register for Historic Buildings and features the original Depot clock, a Comstock silver Knights Templar Riding Uniform and a register of all guests to the Carson Lodge with the signature of Masonic Brother Samuel L. Clemens (most famously known as Mark Twain).

For more information, please contact Secretary Mike Williams at Carson Lodge #1 at 882-3931.

If you have any announcements about events that help tell the Nevada story, let us know here at Nevada Narratives. We may be able to help you publicize them. Use the contact us page to submit your announcements.

Nevada Narratives Coffee Get Together

Patio of the Oxbow Cafe and Bistro 2365 Dickerson Road, Reno, NV
Patio of the Oxbow Cafe and Bistro
2365 Dickerson Road, Reno, NV

Hello Nevada Narratives Readers and Writers,

I’m going to be in Reno for a couple of days and I’d love to get together with all of you who enjoy Nevada Narratives. Let’s meet on Wednesday, August 24th, at 10AM. Hopefully, we can share some stories and brainstorm some new ideas for the site.

I picked the Oxbow Cafe and Bistro because I really want to see the transition from old industrial warehouses and buildings to an art(full) district on Dickerson Road. One of my former students has a moved into the Reno Art Works on the road and I hear that the Water Garden there is wonderful as well. Maybe we can walk around the area after the meet-up.

Let me know, in the comments, if you think you’ll be there…Or just show up.

Here is a short video about the Dickerson Road transition

Again, Hope to get to meet you.

A newer picture of me...just so you know who you're meeting.
A newer picture of me…just so you know who you’re meeting.

 

Smokey the Bear Sutra

Gary Snyder is one of my favorite poets. I’ve always loved how he mixes his love of the earth and its beings with his Buddhism and his actions.  In the Smokey the Bear Sutra, he mentions Pyramid Lake, one of Nevada’s sacred spots. He calls the lake a great center of power. Snyder seems to be a true creature of the land in the American West.

Fire is raging near Big Sur, another of Snyder’s great centers of power, maybe 25 miles from my current home. Smoke fills the air and firefighters are helpless to get in and fight the fire face to face. All they can do is build the firelines and light backfires.

Snyder wrote the Smokey the Bear Sutra in 1969, but this seems to be a good time to publish it again. He reminds us that it’s not only physical fire that can ravage the land. Our everyday actions and decisions are also important.

So without further ado….

Smokey the Bear Sutra
By Gary Snyder

Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago, the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite Void gave a discourse to all the assembled elements and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings, the flying beings, and the sitting beings–even the grasses, to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

“In some future time, there will be a continent called America. It will have great centers of power called such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur, Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon. The human race in that era will get into troubles all over its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth. My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger: and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”

And he showed himself in his true form of

SMOKEY THE BEAR

A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the mudra of Comradely Display–indicating that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers, the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save but often destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the west, symbolic of the forces that guard the wilderness, which is the Natural State of the Dharma and the true path of man on Earth:

all true paths lead through mountains

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round-bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs, smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the task: his followers, becoming free of cars, houses, canned foods, universities, and shoes, master the Three Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind; and fearlessly chop down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but calm. Austere but Comic. Smokey the Bear will Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would hinder or slander him…

HE WILL PUT THEM OUT.

Thus his great Mantra:

Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana Sphataya hum traka ham mam

“I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND BE THIS RAGING FURY BE DESTROYED”

And he will protect those who love the woods and rivers, Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children:

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution, television, or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S WAR SPELL:

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

DROWN THEIR BUTTS

CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy out with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands of Arizona and Nevada.

Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick.
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature.
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and beasts.
Will always have ripened blackberries to eat and a sunny spot under a pine tree to sit at.

AND IN THE END WILL WIN HIGHEST PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT

…thus we have heard…

(may be reproduced free forever)

Here is a video for those of you who like their poetry read aloud.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Let me what you think in the comments.

 

Photo by USDAgov

Nevada Narratives Video Tour

Ken Lund: Winnemucca CC BY
Ken Lund: Winnemucca CC BY

Thought I’d let you have a look at a new video about Nevada Narratives and how you can be part of the community. It’s my first attempt at on-line video, so I hope you enjoy it. (The flickering camera happens when I switch from page to page. It seems to be a function of the app, or maybe it’s operator. Please excuse.)

Hope you enjoyed it. Now that you’ve seen the tour, go to the Home Page, look for the stories that might interest you. Read them, comment, or better yet, write something for us. Send your ideas to the Contact Me page, or leave a comment here or on the Home page.

A Different Type of Ghostwriting

By Suzanne Stormon

I’ve been thinking about the stories I tell myself. So many things are mysteries. Why do I stop and look around at one point and not at others? Why do I always find myself starting over from the beginning? Why does the smell of sagebrush mean so much to me? Why do I always seem to write about ghosts, when I don’t even think I believe in them?

Writing is one way of tracing down the source of these mysteries, of ferreting out the clues to myself.

One of the usual suspects is the force of my mother’s words. How she shaped my rebellion, my self-doubt, my absolute resolve to live my own way. She, who seemed to be so influenced by what others may be thinking. My flight to new ways of doing things emerges from my rebellion against being labeled by that prickly, strong woman.

Her ghost, now standing over my shoulder, is begging me not to write about her that way. I want to stroke her arm and tell her that I know she did her best. I want to thank her for helping me to become myself. I want her to tell me I’m good enough as I am. She keeps shifting, changing. Family ghosts have a way of softening, their imperfections washed away by time.

The love of sagebrush and the outdoors comes from long drives our father would force upon us when we were kids. Him, singing the praises of every mountain or pasture we would pass on those Sundays. When he got his dream of moving to Nevada, it gave me a chance to live out my dream of ranch life in Fernley. I stayed there with the family for several months, the high desert smells seeping deep into my heart.

My father’s ghost, farther in the distance, all his seething anger burned away by his long dying, is a comfort to me now. I see him up on the mountainside, near the mine tunnel, at the failed silver mine he worked before he first got sick. He’s watching the wild horses and wishing he had someone nearby, so he could again sing praises of all that he sees.

I remember too, the smell of sagebrush as my lover, Stan Halemano, and I would clear the summit on Kingsbury Grade, coming from our little rented house in South Lake Tahoe. We would head our old Ford truck into the Carson Valley, bound for Sunday dinner in Fernley. Our mischievous puppy, Max, bouncing around in the back of the truck. Sometimes, we’d take the real long way, traveling the washboard dirt roads out near Lake Lahonton, before heading north to Fernley.

The sudden smell of sagebrush always brings back the ghosts of Stan and Max. I think even of that old truck as a ghost.

I started writing about ghosts even before anyone close to me had died. No ghost had yet tapped me on the shoulder. Could I have known so young that all passes away? That is a mystery I’ve yet to unwind.

What ghosts ramble around in your mind? Leave a comment. If your ghosts reside in Nevada, consider writing about it for Nevada Narratives. See the home page for submission instructions.

Photo by Shifted*Exposure

Two Went to War

In this piece, Ken Adams has written about war, the first WWI fatality from Reno, and his own experience in Laos and Vietnam.

I have posted his introduction and background to the poem here and a link to the poem itself.

I need to warn everyone. The poem itself is quite disturbing and a very graphic picture of  the carnage of war. It’s not for everyone. 

Two Went to War

Darrell Dunkle Soldier True

American Legion Hall, Darrell Dunkle Post #1, in Reno, Nevada
American Legion Hall, Darrell Dunkle Post #1, in Reno, Nevada

While walking around my neighborhood in Reno in 1971, I discovered the American Legion hall, Darrell Dunkle Post #1.  It had been named for Dunkle because he was the first person from Reno to be killed in World War I. In 1917 at the age of 22, he left the university to join the army. On July 18, 1918, he was killed in France. World War I was called the war to end all war. I wonder if Darrell believed that?  His story intrigues; what would he think about the world today?  I composed a song in his honor; Darrell Dunkle, Darrell Dunkle, where are you, where are you?  Sung to the tune of Frère Jacques (Brother John), the question has stayed in my head for forty years.

Darrell Dunkle fascinates me because we traveled the same path. His took him to Europe to end war and make the world safe for democracy.  Mine led from Reno to Laos and Vietnam.  My war was meant to stop the spread of communism and to protect democracy.  In the end, we went in different directions. He was killed. I survived. However, the outcome of our efforts was the same.  The world is no safer today than it was in 1918 or 1963.  And thus my little tale.

Two Went To War – The Poem

Ken Adams is a fourth generation Nevadan, writer, researcher, blogger, and artist.