Fish lake valley hot springs incident.
Another perfect bluebird east Sierra day, sunday, a day for puttering and then time for an excursion into the vast outback of the northern white mts, encircled by white streaked peaks and promise of adventure, people, hot springs, to see god.
But first things need fixing, the bolt on the negative lead on the battery of the venerable 88 tacoma has broken off. I made a special trip to Bert’s garage and fixit shop on the highway north of town. He shambled out from the front seat of his office, the beaten up pickup, with xm radio, where he presides over his kingdom, 3 acres of cars, parts and other junk, to some, to him, history. Banter first, leading into the real reason for my visit, the battery connection. I had jury rigged the ground when the bolt broke with a hose clamp, but I had to take it off every time I jumped Win’s truck, or the landcruiser huddled in the shelter of the old trailer mitch had given me for a bag of weed and gas money to haul it down from Carson city. His verdict was simple, replace the broken bolt with a new one after prying the mess apart, which he started to do with his knife, but stopped in time so I could get home and finish the job myself.
Anyway, I pop the hood, dig around in the tool box and found some bolt packs, ready made from the hardware, selected something that looked the right size and stick it into the hole I had vacated by prying the old bolt loose and send it flying to a snowy grave. The new bolt in place, all set, but I find the hose clamp is still in the loop, so I end up undoing everything and slipping the clamp over all the important parts that belonged there, and refastening the nut, and another nut to the bolt end, securing the ground forever. Cranking down on the screw end, thoughtfully oriented so I could get the screwdriver to it and 2 nuts on the other end made the whole rig bombproof.
Now what? Too good a day to waste, suddenly the whirling entities of fluid logistics packets aligned and said Fish Lake Valley, Mary Ahnger, warm weather , old friends and locals at the hot springs bubbling at 102 degrees, always an adventure. Prep takes a while and im outta there later than I thought: 2:30, but I realize the truck clock has been changed by the absence of battery, look at the iphone, more like 2 pm, now im happy.
Now for Mary, facebook has her number, but no response. I down a bowl of Terrys perpetual stoop, the latest incarnation of a smoked turkey from the freezer and the contents of the frig and bean suppository.
Finally gas up at the corner and head up the hill, Montgomery pass, with the buttress of Mt Montgomery rearing its head to the south streaked with snow gullies like spiderwebs across the bare rock..
Grind up to the pass, over into Nevada and down the grade into no man’s land, a monster wildness of mountains, fans, valleys, time to space out. I take the turn onto 256 into Fish Lake and stop to photograph the glistening ridges in the sun, punctuated by sage poking through the blanket of snow. Drive slowly past a grazing herd of wild horses, looking fat and happy. Mellow out and head into the valley, finding the hot springs road on the left past the mine yard full of equipment. It is 50 mph dirt rd winding into the wilds of desolate desertdom. I hold it down and finally round the corner to see the springs and a trailer, and a gaggle of locals, kids splashing and big guys drinking cheap beer. OK whats this gonna be like? I’ve dealt with locals before, but never this crowd, by reputation a rough bunch, isolated from the real world.
We start talking. “hows the water?” to a bald older dude, tattooed arms blue sunglasses, “just fine, warm as always”. The others turn and sense my presence, I fall into the conversation, beautiful day etc. Younger bald dude talks about the area, I say “didn’t they dig some geothermal wells just over here?”. He sparks “yeah, and I worked on two of them, on the floor, running the prongs that lift the pipe, and the other guy ran the chain, that was dangerous work. We went down 5 miles into the earth,that’s a lotta pipe hauling”. “I’m a geologist, I’ve been on many rigs. “ He grabs my hand in a firm shake, “ya in the day, I was the main man on the rig, Halliburton ran the show”. “We geologists love you guys, you bring the stuff to us we cant see any other way.” We are instant friends. I see that I would be welcome in the tub scene, only kids in there now, with bathing suits on. I had anticipated this and repaired to the pickup and put on my trunks, grabbed my chair and a plastic goblet of wine, and entered the fray.
A big round Indian looking guy with a badly beaten up face, black right eye, lacerations on the left cheek, and very drunk, approaches me, and starts talking. “Are you looking at my face?” shit I’d better be careful, sounds like a volatile dude, and drunk at that. “How can I help looking at your face?” . I grab his shoulder in a friendly gesture and he smiles, just bsing me, oh well, I’m as good a bullshitter as the best of them, a match has been made. “Joe is mine, goodta meetcha”. “Terry is mine, I live over the mountain in Benton” waving at the long ridge of the northern Whites. Nods all around hes a local, “ya we know Benton, go through it on the way to bishop, the nearest big town.”
A large lady with the roughneck, “I’m from Minnesota, visiting, its different up there, down to minus 70, winds from the north, freezing pee before it hits the ground.” “My woman friend lives in Tulsa, she’s in the middle of an ice storm, the whole city is shut down” my rejoinder, it strikes a chord, and stories of cold start flowing back and forth.
We talk about the land, I mention the sump, and theyve all been there. Young baldie starts in " thousands of years ago the natives here used to drive mastadons and other game off those cliffs, main course at a mastadon bbq." "wow" I come back " can you imagine a monster beast bbq with hundreds of starving people around buiding a big fire and roasting it, chopping off steaks as they get done." All think about that and many grins come out. I can visualize with the best of them and they know that.
I descend the newly repaired ladder into the warm tank, and relish the penetrating heat, buffeted by bouncing kids, chattering, but mellow. A boy about 6 jumps in and out in his underpants, and an older girl finally hauls him off.
Another woman is drunk too, with 2 red haired girls, babbling about nonsense. The kids are running around. I complement one on her necklace, and she proudly shows it off, she made it. She asks about my necklaces, and I tell the story of the split twig figurine, 4000 years old evidence of man in the Grand Canyon, and the Alaska killer whale symbol of the Tatshenshini, they are all listening.
Talk turns to birds; several are poking around the edge of the pond. “Mudhens, that’s what they are called they taste like mud, bottom feeders all” Joe pontificates about the birds. “In Minnesota, we have loons” the large woman shakes her body and a cross on a chain bounces on her breasts. “I used to live in Maine” I rejoin”I found out how to cook a loon. The way you cook a loon is to put a loon and a rock in a pot and boil it until you can stick a fork in the rock, then you throw away the loon and eat the rock” to great guffaws all around. I love these people, living on the edge of civilization, on the edge of everything moral, physical and mental.
I check out the latrine, a concrete shithouse, park service type, then change out of my now cold skivvies and return to a monster fire in the making, of railroad ties, black smoke, looks like they are in for the duration. I listen to the fire talk, the women have disappeared into the trailer, and the men are having men talk. Time to take off, sun getting low on the high ridge of the White mountains to the west, streaks of light emanating from puffy clouds, and high cirrus in the west, a portent of things to come weatherwise.
Goodbyes all around, see ya laters and good feelings as I drive off into the sunset, over the pass, thru the bug station, eliza with her goggle dark glasses wishing me a good day, and home to the double wide to sip whiskey accompanied by the fading of the light on the monster view of my White mountains
1446 words, Copyright 2010 Terry Wright.