Friday, March 18, 2011

Paradise Lost

Lindy and I are getting caught up on Supernatural since she's sick and home with me all day. She'll be getting her tonsils out in a week, and has spent the past week with a serious infection in her throat. So it seemed like a good time to get caught up on shows we've always meant to watch but never got around to. Today we watched the episode in S5 when they died and took a magical mystery tour through heaven. Naturally we asked the obvious question and swapped answers, concluding it would have to involve The Ranch and summertime. Where else would I want to be? What else would I want to experience? The memories of this place are growing foggier and foggier. They used to be vivid, within my grasp at any time. Playing, fighting, every day, the long summer nights, the brittle winter mornings. And now there are glimpses. No more than that, and there will never be anything that can ever bring it back.

What is The Ranch? Well, for starters, it wasn't a "ranch" by any stretch of the imagination. We weren't ranchers, we didn't have livestock (well no cows at any rate), we didn't work the land, or have a big ranch house. It was just a spread of 40 acres (eventually whittled down to 14) high in the Uinta Mountains, on the bench of a tiny valley about 20 miles east of Park City. It butted up against "the north hills" so we overlooked the entire valley. From our front porch, I saw the hints of every home and road, every field of alfalfa. In the summer, the sound from the local rodeo grounds carried up to our door, and on those still nights we listened to the running commentary. The Ranch didn't have a name, though I suppose it should have. And we lived on a road that didn't have a name. We referred to things like "the ditch" and "the draw" and shared a common language without proper titles.

No, that's not true.

The Ranch is a proper name. It's capitalized because nothing else really mattered in this world. Grandpa would tell us about how it was his paradise, his slice of heaven. That we could have all been dead and just not know it because we were so happy on The Ranch. Nothing else mattered but those 40 acres, and they cared for it so lovingly. It almost seems unreal now when I think about how they truly built themselves a paradise. There was a huge park in the center. An actual genuine park with carefully tended lawns, a fire pit, a "Saloon," a copse of trees perfect for playing hide and seek. My grandparents were the hardest workers I ever knew, and everything around them reflected that. So it wasn't just some property, it wasn't anything that needed a fancy name. It was just Home.

The landscape varied, sloping north and then to the east, dipping down into ponds, flattening down into the valley, split in half by an irrigation ditch that cut a green, cotton-tree swath right through the center. There were trees everywhere, and they felt like they must have been hundreds of years old, but really, they were pretty new. When my grandparents moved their family there in the 1970s, there wasn't a road. There wasn't a civilized piece of land. There wasn't much of a town. It was perfectly isolated, cut off from the world except for a trail that they eventually widened and graded themselves.

And it was brimming with animals. Horses for riding and chariot racing, dozens of dogs over the years and hundreds of cats, an angry flock of geese, strutting peacocks, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. There were rabbits, there were stray animals coming in from the hills. Every winter a herd of elk sedately moved through our backyard. I don't mean a handful, I mean a herd so large they carpeted the field, the hill, and drove the dogs crazy. There were skunks, porcupines, deer, and the occasional coyote. Once there was a bear.

We lived off a spring and a few pumps, hauling water in the winter when the well ran dry. There was a barn we would spend all summer cleaning in exchange for $100 from grandpa. There were garages for all kinds of vehicles, sheds for every imaginable thing, and relics from ancient history scattered here and yon--some were actual Ute Indian relics, and some were just the remains of men I didn't know and lives I couldn't begin to understand. The air smelled green and old, musty and fresh, ancient, like rain, like dust. It tasted like raspberries in late summer and onions plucked from the garden. It tasted like whiskey and water blended over too much ice, sipped continuously through the day.

If I reach back far enough, I can still see things, still remember and even experience a few brief moments. The hazy years before Lindy was born and while Jasie was just a toddler. In those memories, both of my uncles lived nearby, my great-grandmother was there all the time, and the entire Ranch seemed impossibly, unknowingly big. Though even at that time I had the sense of the boundaries, the realization of what part of the earth was mine. In those years, I went to visit my uncle and his wife in a house they built. In those memories, everybody went hunting together, had parties together, smiled. They were close. They were a family.

Unfortunately, the story of The Ranch is about the way that fell apart. Actually, that's a mistake. Nothing fell apart. It was destroyed. Because some people can't be happy, maybe. Or because that's just what people do to themselves and each other. But it's sad to think about how close we could have been, how different it all could have been if there wasn't a destructive, alcoholic, mean streak running through the family. That sounds a little violent, doesn't it? There were moments of violence, but nothing too damaging. It was more of a subtext of a violence, a red tension winding its way through untold beauty, poisoning it slowly.

The Ranch is dead now. My grandparents sold their slice of heaven without so much of a second thought, and I've been bereft of it for ten years. Strangely enough, it's within our grasp again. The people who bought it defaulted on the mortgage, and now it's back in control of the family. But I'll probably never go back. I could explain why now, but I would rather show you.
Jasie and I can't have a blog without talking about The Ranch. It's too deeply inside of us, and we need to record these memories before they're completely gone.

No comments:

Post a Comment