In the early days of our courtship, Joel and I took a road trip. We had been dating for about a year (and by dating I mean that I was in the Peace Corps in Outer Mongolia and he was in grad school in Chicago). I came home for a bit in the summer and drug Joel back from Chicago to join me in Montana. It would be fun, I said, plus we’d get to spend more time together.
We lit out of Bridger, chaperoned by Roci, mum’s German Shepherd of the era, a dog that Joel unfortunately decided to make friends with by feeding her teriyaki jerky. We were headed to Cody, Meeteetse (if one can really opt for Meeteetse), and ultimately Thermopolis, then doubling back through Yellowstone Park, Cooke City, and the Beartooth Highway. Our first adventure on this western road trip was the Wind River Canyon, where we planned to float the Wind and Bighorn rivers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still need to get to the Bar X Ranch in Clark, Wyoming.
The Bar X Ranch was the home of an old family friend. She raised buffalo, two sons, and hosted a multitude of vet-clinic strays over the years. When I finished high school, she was the one to drive me from Bridger to northern Illinois, depositing me just north of Chicago where I was to spend the next six months riding horses. She had heard rumors (or read letters that I had written to her) that I was seeing someone, and she wanted to meet him.
We pulled up the drive in the late afternoon. I seem to remember that she had some other houseguests at the time, perhaps Swedish, perhaps children drawing on walls, perhaps a stop at the Edelweiss Bar for libations. Country hospitality being what it was, she showed Joel around the house. The guest room was occupied by the artistic Swedes, so she showed us her own bedroom, thoughtfully asking if we wanted to sleep there. I looked at Joel and he looked down at the floor, shifting from foot to foot. Finally, he looked back up at our hostess and me.
“I don’t think I can sleep in the same room as John Wayne. I’m not man enough!”
Once we all stopped laughing–and that did take us a moment or three–we discussed alternate sleeping arrangements, which is how we wound up pitching our tent on the front lawn. For those of you that have seen Joel and I put anything together–desks, hang packs, meals–you know that we had a good hour of arguing. I think the only thing funnier to our fair hostess was the time she watched me and dad move cows. But the tent did go up, even before we went in for dinner.
Later that night, I was jarred awake by a hard elbow to the ribs.
“What the hell is that?” Joel said, alarm in his voice.
“What? What is what?” I mumbled from the depths of my sleeping bag and buffalo skin. (It is really cold at night up, even in July, even for someone that had just wintered in Outer Mongolia.)
Then I heard the scream, which was right on top of us.
The peacocks. I’d forgotten to warn Joel about the peacocks.
Much like Flannery O’Connor, the Bar X Ranch was known for having some rather showy fowl. Over the years, there had been unfortunate chickens, some geese, and yes, even a peacock, strutting around like he owned the place. And now, now the current resident Bar X peacock was on top of our tent, clutching the uppermost ribs, screaming into the night as it swayed in the wind. Was this a rural homage to Sleater Kinney? Who knows. All Joel knew was that there was something on top of the tent, screaming its fool head off.
“It’s just the peacock,” I said. “He’ll leave off here in a bit. Go back to sleep.”
Sometimes I feel badly for Joel. He grew up in Chicago, and no amount of city prepares you for summer nights of John Wayne and screaming peacocks and German Shepherds on road trips. Over the years, he has survived impromptu family reunions, rodeo queens, SalsaFests (condiment, not dancing), and blizzards that caused us to hole up in eastern Montana for days. He’s not had an easy time of it.
Joel did survive the Bar X hospitality and the rest of our Wyoming adventure. Perhaps it is memories like this that make him fly to Montana instead of driving with me and the dogs?
I spent the past week up in Montana (too darn hot here in Texas during the summer, so when the dogs and I have had enough, we drive north for a bit), and I convinced a coworker to drive with me as Joel had to stay in Austin and work to keep our dogs in kibble. We drove through Clark early yesterday morning, past the Edelweiss, through Cody and Meeteetse and Thermopolis, stopping in Wind River Canyon to let the dogs out to swim. I told him about the Bar X Ranch, John Wayne, and the peacocks, but I don’t think he believes me.