Friday, April 29, 2011

Rats, Mice, & Snakes: The Peanut Butter Jar

The cracks in the rocks were a rat's apartment complex dream.
             Jake told me the following story about the rat that lived in the wall of his cabin for many months until it met its sudden and final demise. This particular story came before the rat’s passing – a tale which will be told later.
            Jake spent a couple of winters living in the cabin on Sheepshead Ridge above his Morrisonite workings. Spending a winter here is not a casual undertaking. If you are in the Morrisonite area when the weather turns bad in November, you will not be able to leave until March or April of the next year. You are isolated and alone for 4 or 5 months. The only way out would be to walk the 27 miles to the highway. There is no phone service, and no one is going to come and help you if you cut your finger or bring you water if you run out.
            Keeping your provisions safe from animals is one concern if you are going to be isolated for 4 or 5 months. In the beams under the roof of the cabin Jake had a metal 55 gallon drum lying on its side with the opening of the barrel out in the open air. Nothing could get into the barrel opening without jumping a few feet from another beam or hanging on to the slippery metal sides of the metal drum. Jake considered it a safe place to keep food supplies, including a large glass jar of peanut butter.
            In spring, Jake decided he would go to town for about a week to get supplies. A few days before he left, he opened the new jar of peanut butter, used a small amount, replaced the screw on lid, and put the jar back in the barrel. He came back a little over a week later loaded with goods, ready to be under long siege from daily mining activities.
Some rats prefer a more modern dwelling.
            He did not notice right away, but when he did it was with considerable confusion: There, in the center of the lip of the metal barrel, was an empty glass jar with the metal screw on lid lying next to it. It was not that the rat had somehow got into the peanut butter, but that there was no peanut butter in the jar at all. There was no peanut butter on the lid and none in the jar. The jar was clean. There were no smudges or streaks on the glass and no peanut butter footprints in the barrel. The jar shined and sparkled. It looked freshly washed, or rather: like it had never been used. It was pristine.
            The rat had devoured the entire contents of the jar and left the jar where he found it. There the glass jar sat, like a trophy or offering to the benevolent peanut butter god that had provided the rat with such a delectable treasure.
            Jake still has no explanation for how the rat got into the jar.
I surprised Jake with his dinner.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Roads: Three Days

            It was late spring and Jake and I were anxious to get back mining Morrisonite. We had been making plans for weeks and decided to make the trip out to the mine together. I arrived in Homedale, Idaho after 3 days driving from Wisconsin. We spent several days making final preparations -- diesel fuel, propane, water, and food was packed everywhere. I was pulling my black trailer, and Jake and Bev were pulling their small house trailer.
            We planned on leaving Monday morning and arriving at the mine Monday afternoon. Sunday’s whether forecast warned of a big storm coming over the mountains with colder temperatures on the way. Monday morning came with a low gray sky but no precipitation, so we left. Our desire to get out there trumped our trepidations about the weather. The turn off onto Jordon Creators road is about 60 miles south of Homedale and about 1300 ft higher in elevation. When we turned onto the dirt road the lower sky was spitting a mixture of sleet and rain. I suppose we could have turned around but we were on our way - we were determined to get there. The first 10 miles of dirt road are not a problem even if it is raining a little. After that there would be no turning back, especially with both of us pulling trailers. At the 10 mile split the rain let up a little, and we just kept on going. The road deteriorated fast and we both started sliding in the mud but we kept moving. The rain came back with a great deal of force but we persisted up the low hill to the flats on the far south west end of the Mahogany Mountains. There are some long stretches of soft ground here, and it was not long before we were stuck. Jake’s trailer was half in the ditch tilted at about 20 degrees.  My truck and trailer were in similar positions a little further back. We got out, looked around, and decided we were not moving until the ground dried out enough to get some traction. The ground here contains some Bentonite clay which makes the mud greasy and practically impossible to drive through even with 4-wheel drive. We spent the rest of the day in Jakes trailer listening to the wind and occasional rain.  Even sitting was a little uncomfortable because of the slant. That night we slept on titled beds hoping for a better tomorrow.
             The morning broke gray and windy with no rain. This was encouraging because the wind dries things out fast in this treeless country. We dug a few drainage ditches from around the wheels of our vehicles, put some rocks in the mud for traction, and waited.  The sky was threatening rain again, but it did not rain, and about noon we decided to try again. After a couple of adjustments we were moving. The road improved some with rocky stretches between mud holes. Mud holes are not too hard to get through as long as there is hard ground on the other side – although, it is somewhat trickier when you are pulling something. The technique is to have the proper momentum and still allow for maximum traction. We made it to the corral and were feeling optimistic that we could make the last 4 miles when it stated to rain again. The road from the corral to the rim is so rocky that speed cannot be used to your advantage in the mud. The only way to drive this part of the road is slow whatever the conditions. We made it up the little rise after we went through the gate, down a shallow draw, and around onto the side of a gently slopping hill where Jake’s truck and trailer slowly slid off the road and got stuck. I was a little further back and still had some traction. I saw a place where I could get off the road, pulled up in the sagebrush, disconnected my tailor, maneuvered my truck in front of Jacks rig, chained our trucks together, and proceeded to throw mud everywhere with our spinning tiers to no avail. After some consideration we resolved to spend another night in the mud and hope again for a better tomorrow. 
            The next morning broke like the last - gray and windy with no rain. About noon we tried again and were moving. We both found that with a little more speed we could keep from getting stuck. We were traveling a little too fast to safely negotiate the rocks and were skipping, sliding, and bouncing down the road like rubber balls rolling over gravel. I noticed that one storage compartment door on Jakes trailer had flopped open going over a rock. A few minutes later a white grocery bag full of something popped out into the mud along side of the road. Neither one of us dared to stop. A couple of more bumps and another white grocery bag plopped out on a rock. More bumps, more grocery bags. We made it to the rim, carefully descended to the cabins, and started to set up camp. Three days to go 27 miles.
            A couple of days later after things dried out we drove back up the hill to retrieve  our food which was still in the white plastic bags evenly distributed along the side of the road for a mile or so.  Nothing was ruined or lost. It was a much better tomorrow.