Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[travel] My mom, on tumbleweeds

tillyjane, a/k/a my mom, recently spent three weeks traveling around the West, much of at the Grand Canyon doing trail maintenance and habitat restoration as a volunteer. When she returned to Portland, she began writing up her days as a sort of irregular journal. The emails were so delightful that with her permission, I'm going to post them here as guest blogs — mediations on people, travel, nature and the American West.

Her first installment, from an email dated September 21st, immediately after her return.

Tumbleweed, Russian Thistle, Salsola tragus, Saltra.

This icon of the west is a non-native. According to the botanists at Grand Canyon it is an invasive non-native. The narrative they seem to have agreed upon is that the seeds arrived rolled up in carpets along with immigrants from Eastern Europe or Western Asia. Why not rolled up in work pants cuffs? I dont know.

Another way to look at tumbleweeds...amazingly successful and adaptable organisms that do fine far from home.

Like C—. C— is an exercise physiologist by academic training, and a botanist by profession. She is 26 years old, from Michigan. She was a competitive skater in high school, has run several marathons, does yoga and rides a bicycle over thirty miles at least once a week...as well as to work every day. She weighs about 95 pounds. She swings a pick and makes it work. She climbs rocks and rappels down cliffs. I am convinced theres nothing she cant do. She is at Grand Canyon as a temporary worker. This is at least her fourth or fifth gig as a temp working outdoors in the west, teaching herself the habits of the plants all the while. She would love a permanent job with benefits. She is cheerful, positive, committed and energetic. She appreciates and enjoys the volunteers she works with.

When I stayed at her house for a few days I learned that she was in a car accident a couple years ago. No insurance, of course. She is still paying the hospital for the xrays they took that showed she needs surgery for two compression fractures in her vertebrae. She cant afford surgery, so she manages the pain as best she can, and puts up with what she cant manage.

Like M— who is 53 and has been a field ranger and a biology teacher. Once upon a time he was even married! Now he goes from temp job to volunteer job, to temp job. He wants to stay outdoors in the west. He is on a six month gig gathering seeds for the revegetation program. He reads Kant for fun. M— turned down housing in favor of camping for his time at the park; he likes to look at stars.

Like A— who single handed manages the huge nursery at the reveg program. they have a full time nursery full of plants of all ages and stages staffed by a single temporary employee. He is on an eleven month contract, and hopes he will be renewed. He is a very young man, just out of college. He is tender and respectful of his charges, plants and humans. One of our Sierra Club volunteers, a woman my age from NYC, sort of collapsed of dehydration while working in his nursery. He was on the spot, and what he didn't know he found out in a hurry, including that it was covered by workers comp and she should not worry about the charge for the ambulance to take her to the clinic.

(Did you know they have a clinic and ambulance service in the park? And a helicopter to transport the gravely ill or injured to Flag? Did you know they have already had forty-nine deaths this year, two while I was there?)

Like all the young people who keep the park services and many other services going for us. The river runners, the ski instructors, the pack trip guides, the food servers and pump jockeys. All those human tumbleweeds that make our vacations a sort of paradise on earth. Let me never take them for granted, or call them invasive non-natives.

The final tumbleweed...my car. I bought my little used low mileage Hyundai almost on a whim about five months ago. I wanted it for road trips, I do most of my local rolling about on public transport, feet, and bike. I have not been sure it was a good idea. I have not been sure I even like the car all that much. Now I am sure. I have developed quite an affection for her because she is uncomplaining, dependable, and willing to try anything. She didn't even wince when I dragged her through the juniper shrubs trying to avoid the worst of the washboarding on the gravel road to Crack in the Ground. It came to me that she is one more tumbleweed, and now that is what I call her. The first thing I did when I got home today was to unload her and take her for a wash and vacuuming. Tomorrow I shall take her for an oil change. She is a fine car and Im glad she's mine.

What tumbleweeds have drifted through your lives?
Tags: family, guest, personal, travel

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