|One gets up very early for ballooning — but then you may get to see a full moon at 5:32 a.m.
|Our pilot Jeanne.
You can teach new tricks to an old llama — even after year I still regard
July and August the "summer break time", despite our kids' school
already ended in May. I have already described the asylum rules of getting up
at wee hours for six days out of a week, last time, and perhaps I won't need to
reiterate — this kind of summer break seems to me unfortunate — and
I shall focus on some more summer break-ish affairs. This year's summer orbited
a lot around ballooning events. Unlike in California, here we live close to the
mountains, and a trip to an alpine hike means a short drive in the afternoon,
and we simply lost reasons to plan driving out and camping.
Jeanne and Tom, our ballooning friends, came to visit us on the last week in
June. They stayed for two days and then moved on to Frederick, Colorado, where
the had secured a stay at a hotel near the ballooning rally. We figured that
since Frederick was so close that it would not pay booking a room —
instead we had to drive for an hour every morning — but it would be some
twenty minutes from the hotel anyway — and we would have to spend nights
in a strange noisy place in a strange bed.
On Friday, only Sid and Tom went to help; I stayed at home, because Lisa had
a shift at her workplace and needed a taxi driver. Boys lucked out, for on
Friday the balloonists had no clients or sponsors, and so even they got to
fly in the basket — and in a beautiful spot, with a view of the Rockies.
|A view from the balloon to Frederick, CO.
|Twelve thousand feet high mountains are
around the corner, we drive there on day trips.
By 4 a.m. on Saturday, we were just pulling out of our garage when a text
message came that we can go back to our beds, for it rained in Frederick and
there was no flying. Sunday then was nice again, but sponsors took up the
basket, and we only got to "work" and then chase the balloon in the
fields east of Frederick. A lazy breakfast ensued thereafter, and we had the
rest of Sunday to recover. Jeanne and Tom than stayed some more with us, before
continuing on west to Driggs, Idaho, to another ballooning event. They tried to
talk us into participating, but with Lisa's job, my goats and Sid work
engagement, it simply was not possible. Moreover, Driggs happens around the
Independence Day — located near Grand Teton National Park — which
is a kind of extension of Yellowstone. That means: busiest weekend in the whole
year, near the most famous national park. A place and a time that compels one
to rather take it easy at home, instead of crowding with other tourists.
The other reason was Riverton — which was held less than two weeks after
Driggs, where we wanted to go very much — and before which we wanted to
gather our strength (and sleep off) after the previous ballooning —
getting up at 3:30 instead of my usual 5:45 is not refreshing indeed.
As soon as Jeanne and Tom departed, we got other visitor. Luba and Mirek
stopped by for one night on their way to their daughter's competition in
Colorado. They demonstrated a high degree of selflessness — flown in
to Denver late at night, rented a car, slept at a hotel, went for a hike in
the Rockies in the morning, in the afternoon drove up to our place in the
north, had a chat with us, and in the following morning drove south past Denver
to Colorado Springs. It was such a quickie, but it seems that creative friends
will always find a way to us.
|Even a teenager enjoys the view.
We did not go anywhere on Independence Day — and in the end enjoyed
a nice view of fireworks from our porch — on the third, there was a party
at our south-east neighbor's place, which could be seen from our entrance
porch. On the fourth, from our kitchen porch, we could watch fireworks over the
rest of the city, including — presumably — the official show over
the airport. Sitting at your own home, with a good chilled drink in hand,
without complications of travel and parking, has its own benefits.
A relaxing week ensued and on the weekend we made another trip to Medicine Bow
and Snowy Range — this time, Tom came along. Snow had melted enough to
let us reach Lewis Lake by car, and from there we took a walk along small
lakes. We were again pleasantly surprised, how pretty our new home is —
and that we don't get sick even at ten thousand feet. Living at six thousand,
we are nicely acclimatized.
On Thursday we set out for Riverton. We held a room reserved there for many
months at our favorite hotel. Local Holiday Inn appealed to us as practical
for a stay in the company of teenagers — for one can reach several
restaurants from there on foot, there's Walgreen's across the street where one
can buy some snacks and ice cream. The hotel has its own restaurant —
with a bar — where one can sit down in the evening, order a beer, and
subsequently roll off directly to bed, omitting the necessity to drive, or
stumble through down town. All good and well.
|Montana smoke has reached us here.
On our way to the other end of Wyoming, smoke situation kept worsening —
we were passing through a gloomy landscape without a sun, while Lisa and I
coughed our lungs out. Fortunately later in Riverton it was not as bad,
apparently Wind River Mountains stopped some of it. But then it rained on
Friday morning, and balloons were canceled. One could breath better in that
— and we used the free day to a trip to Cody, into Buffalo Bill Museum.
We had visited it already three years earlier and liked the fact that actual
altogether five different museum branches operate under one roof — and
each of those often offer multiple exhibits. A museum of William "Buffalo
Bill" Cody branches off to trappers and prospectors, generals (for whom
Cody often worked), bisons, Pony Express (bad rumors say that Cody never rode
with Pony Express) — and naturally to a famous Wild West Show, which
had been seen even by Queen Victoria. Natural history museum is also very
interesting — a spirally arranged displays let a visitor descend from
mountains down to prairies and plains. We found the Indians' museum most
foreshortened — it lacks discernible time scale and attractiveness.
Artifacts with labels, displayed along the route, don't captivate one as much
as an interactive presentation would. I admit that this year, I skipped the
firearms museum (again — many glass boxes with labels) and the art
gallery. We did not fit into the lecture about birds of prey, and did not feel
like standing outside in ninety degrees heat.
Despite being this spoiled and picky, we spent many hours there, and eventually
returned back to our hotel with a pleasant feeling of a well enjoyed vacation
On Saturday it was OK to fly at last, so we enjoyed ballooning —
especially the chase, as our balloon had landed in a nice place belonging to
the county, with a wide access road for the truck and the trailer — alas,
behind a locked gate. Fortunately a dude who came out of his house in his
undies to check out what's happening, eventually tracked down his alleged
brother, who happened to work for said county — and who knew the code
of the gate's lock; we could pack the balloon and load it up comfortably.
|Hot springs in a break between ballooning — water was low this year.
We lured Tom and Jeanne to join us at breakfast in our hotel — but then
they kicked us out, saying they were about to close in fifteen minutes. We had
no other choice but to join the rest of the ballooning crowd in the nearby
Trailhead Restaurant. Invigorated, we set out in the afternoon to hot springs
in Thermopolis. Water was low this year, springs were reluctant, and so one
had to more or less wallow in the shallows than bathe; therefore chilly water
dominated the river stream, and we avoided it. Still, wallowing in warm water
was truly relaxing — and for the first time in this summer I had felt
like being on a VACATION. My impression got only reinforced by a dinner at the
local Thai restaurant.
We helped to fly on Sunday, had breakfast — at our hotel for a change
— and aimed to get back home. It's a four hour drive — and Tom
drove all the way. We're happy that our son has no problem to embark on
a longer journey, and that he drives nicely and orderly, so one does not need
to be afraid.
Right on the next Monday, Sid went on a business trip to North Dakota, and I
sharpened my scythe and began to cut the prairie. With the house, we also
bought a used riding lawnmower — the one in the shape of a miniature
tractor — but when we needed it, the mower broke down after first start,
and refused to engage a gear. We tried for several weeks to find somebody who
would be able and willing to fix it, but we had no luck. Thus we face the
option of buying a new mower (for several thousand dollars), paying
a landscaper for mowing, or leaving the prairie be. I reckoned that until we
resolve to buy more mechanization, I would buy a scythe for a fraction of the
mower's price, and I would cut the most outstanding parts, and pay the
landscapers for the rest.
|In ballooning, the hardest part is spotting the right place to land.
It transported me into the realm of miracles, and I learned a lot of new facts.
For example, there's a difference between American and European scythes.
American scythe has an S-shaped handle, while the blade is shorter than
European one — and uses a different steel composition, so one does not
need to hammer it sharp. The whole affair, however, is much heavier than the
European one. It seems to me that it cuts at slightly different angle,
requiring a different technique, but that may come from the fact that my scythe
is a cheap Wal-mart one, and has no way to adjust angles. I made it my goal to
cut a swath through the space around the trees — we have five rows of
wind barriers, and though a sheet is stretched through the rows, poor trees
and bushes can't compete with grass and weeds that have pulled up three feet
tall. It appears the trees were machine-planted — and the sheet is
surround by sallow ground and rocks, which thistles and weeds prefer. Hence I
always had to first cut a swath of prairie grass to have space into which weeds
would fall. Original prairie grass grows in sparse clumps, which before I made
it to the purchase of my scythe, dried up, and the blade would just slide on
them. Weeds and thistles were, on the other hand, heavy and wood-like, and I
sometimes felt more like in a rain forest, cutting with a machete. In the end
it was luck that I did not manage to obtain a European scythe (for which one
cannot find blades here), but instead had a shorter, heavier, and CHEAP
American one — which is also very simple to sharpen. The fact that I
haven't broken it, seems more like a miracle than an accident.
|Sid visited Devil's Tower along the way on his business trip.
|Meanwhile I began to cut out trees from three feet of grass and weeds.
Given the fact the the total length of our wind barriers comes to several
hundred yards, and that in July it is hot even here on our windy hill, the
whole project took me about two weeks — I could cut only on evenings
when it got cold enough that I was not fainting from the heat — I spent
mornings that would come more handy by milking and taking care of animals,
and by chauffeuring Lisa. Sometimes I diverted to clear cutting our driveway,
house and barn — having the same problem like with the wind barriers
— all this having been recently a construction site, only thistles and
weeds grow here, which would resist a mower anyway, and one almost needs
The previous house owner had set up another project for me by establishing
a driveway loop around our well and water tank, having planted the center
(on top of said well and underground tank) with flowers and decorating it
with red gravel — which is great, as it marks it quite obviously as
something inherently unsuitable to drive over with a car — but he did
no put any sheet under the gravel — so this whole circus grew thick with
weeds within a few weeks, like a castle of Sleeping Beauty.
I had to engage my son — and take advantage of his youth and strength
to gradually uncover a section of the gravel, stretch a sheet on it, and put
the gravel on top. He then pulled all the weeds from the rest. He was not
happy about it, but unlike his sister, he had not arranged for any summer job,
and I found it somewhat unfair that I should toil from six in the morning till
nine in the evening, while he takes it easy sitting at his computer all summer
|To my surprise our tiny choke cherries brough some fruit.
|Goaties received another shed upgrade — bunks.
Some day around that time Lisa approached me with a request that I drive her
to a date. She met a similar aged colleague at her summer job — and now
my household intermittently contains, besides my original six-feet tall chaps,
also Ian — who is taller than both Tom and Sid. A great discontinuity
occurred with Lisa around her sixteenth birthday. We got used to her earning
all A's at school — but she found a summer job at a veterinary clinic,
and further agreed to continue on during regular school year, signed up for
a biology class, which accrues college credits, and announced that she would
no longer practice and compete in vaulting — but she would continue
helping in a training of a new vaulting horse, and giving lectures to younger
girls. And she started dating.
I'm not sure if it's related to the whole covidisaster situation, but I'm
actually awfully glad that she has a chance to experience dating. Ian, being
a local guy, has other friends, and the whole group took on Tom as well —
thus teenagers had been so far together at a western fair, organized campfires,
and keep getting and spending time together, getting opportunity to discharge
energy. We even experienced a situation that Lisa and Tom called us at ten
thirty in the evening that their car had boiled over, and they needed rescuing
— such are the joys of an American parent — for our children don't
ride trains and buses, but in their own cars. Tom, fortunately, had his wits
about and when the engine temperature went up into the red, he pulled off the
road and called us. Given that Horace also smoked and smelled, it was obvious
that waiting for it to cool off and topping of the radiator would not be enough.
We're glad we have our car mechanic, who was willing and able to conjure
a flatbed trailer on a Sunday morning (naturally, Horace broke down on Saturday
night, and being a Subaru, cannot be simply towed). He diagnosed a ruptured
radiator — and fixed it in the subsequent week (when he could get spare