The Unpublishables: Vernal - A "Calling All Souls" Valentine's W/O entry.Feb 10, 2003 (Updated Sep 2, 2008) Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Finding a soul mate can mean putting some skeletons to rest.
jankp and DavidMac are co-hosting a soul mate write-off for Valentine’s. Here’s my small contribution. See their profiles for details and a list of participants:
The Unpublishables are poems or stories I wrote years ago. Some are juvenile, some are funny, some are quirky, some are laughably bad. They’re not among the stuff I routinely send out to various journals (who routinely send them back with form letters attached). These will never be published, while the others may have a chance (and there are a couple that haven’t come back). But there’s something I nostalgically love about them that makes me keep them around. That same something keeps me from editing them, even though the simplest of improvements are painfully obvious. I hope you enjoy that quaint something too.
This semi-autobiographical short story fits nicely in with the soul mate theme of the write off. Unfortunately, I think it’s overly opaque, and will never see the light of day other than this posting. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’m hard and calloused from rejection already!
Saturday afternoon, Emily came home from work feeling spontaneous. And when you’re newlywed students with a vise-like budget, spontaneity is a lot to ask for. That’s why I hesitated.
Emily had anticipated my inertia. “Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and we don’t have school. I don’t want to sit around here all weekend.” The emphasis was on “here.” The novelty of our little studio apartment had worn off after the first month. “We haven’t gone anywhere since Thanksgiving.”
I looked around for an argument, but the walls seemed to have closed in on me. Desperate for air, I offered a capitulating smile and went to get the map from the car. It took us half an hour to find a suitably spontaneous destination.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument were the only two orange blocks on the Utah map that I hadn’t dragged Emily to yet. I’d been to both more than once as a kid. Papa Casey and Nana had a ranch at Flaming Gorge, and I used to beg to see the dinosaurs in Vernal. It had been a long time. My great-grandparents were dead, and I guess I grew out of dinosaurs. But in the few months of our marriage I=d learned at least one thing: don’t disparage spontaneity. So we packed some clothes, bought some gas and licorice, and drove east.
It wasn’t a long drive. The weather was mild for January. And there’s something refreshing about dying rural towns you can pass through without stopping. They’re picturesque, but don’t require the commitment of a stoplight. We got to Vernal in time for dinner, and were lucky enough to find a restaurant in the parking lot of Motel 6.
“What don’t they understand about medium-well?”
“Maybe they thought you said medium-rare.”
“Shh. Honey, here they come.”
Both the waitress and the cook came up to our table. “Alright, let’s see if this is okay for you.” The waitress slid the plate down in front of me.
I stuck my fork into the steak and made a cut with my knife. They had given it a charred, brittle rind but it was still wet and red in the middle. I looked up at Emily, and without turning to the waitress and cook said it would be fine.
The big cook in his nasty apron leaned forward. “You sure? Cause if it=s not done enough I’ll do it again.” He said it politely, but I still felt like he was bullying me.
“No, no. That’s okay. It=s fine.”
The waitress and cook left and Emily laughed. “Are your going to eat that?”
“Well, we’re paying for it. I’m not going to throw it away.”
The brochure I took from the check-in desk claimed there were some fabulous petroglyphs just northwest of Vernal, and I was anxious to get some pictures. I didn’t mention to Emily the short hike we would have to make to see them. She was already annoyed at having to wake up early.
“I wish we could relax instead of running from one thing to the next.”
The area northwest of Vernal was dominated by a series of long, pale sandstone cliffs that extended parallel to each other. Grassy valleys and ranches filled the low spaces between.
“I think they call them ribs,” I said.
“You’re making that up.”
“But it sounds good, doesn’t it? It might as well be true. Maybe it is.”
Emily watched the ranch houses slide by her window.
The slope that led up to the cliff base was steep, but the trail was short, like the brochure said. Small logs had been laid across the trail, and dirt piled behind them, making steps where the rocks allowed.
“You could have mentioned we’d have to climb the mountain.” Emily=s shoes weren’t as good as mine for hiking, and I had to give her a hand a few times.
“We’re having a spontaneous adventure, remember? We can’t complain if we get a little dust on our feet.”
She didn’t respond and I thought it best to be quiet.
There were some petroglyphs where the trail met the cliff base, but nothing as wonderful as the brochure promised. “It looks like a preschooler scratched them,” Emily said, leaning close to a square-bodied stick man with dots for eyes.
“The brochure says they were made by Native Americans of the now extinct Fremont culture.”
“Yeah?” Emily turned around to face me with an eyebrow raised. “Is this all?”
“The trail keeps going that way,” I pointed north. It continued along the cliff base, but Emily wasn’t going any farther.
“I’ll just jog ahead with the camera and see if there’s any more.”
“Fine.” She sat down on a rock.
It wasn’t long until I found them. There were whole panels of white stick men, some high up on the cliff face. Around every corner I found another group, hidden behind outcroppings and niches of the Navajo Sandstone. Some seemed to be drawn on with crayons, others were obviously pecked from the stone. A few of them had horns and masks and looked dangerous. One panel looked like a family: a horned father, a mother with a pecked-out bead necklace, and a couple round-bellied kids. I took pictures of them all.
Emily had started to follow and was calling out my name. Her tone was either worried or impatient, and I had to leave the last few panels undiscovered and undocumented in order to run back to her. She shook her head, but smiled.
We went back to Vernal for lunch at McDonald’s, even though I wasn’t very hungry. Emily ate slowly.
“If we’re going to see Flaming Gorge we need to get going,” I finally said.
“Andy, how much else do you have planned for us today?”
“We still need to see the museum here in Vernal, and the dinosaur quarry.”
“And Flaming Gorge.”
“How far away is Flaming Gorge?”
“Maybe an hour.”
“And the quarry?”
“Half an hour from Vernal.”
“Honey, I know you want me to see where your great-grandparent=s ranch was, but do we really have time?”
“It was your idea to come here in the first place. I just thought it would be nice to show you some things from when I was a kid.”
“Thanks. I just thought it would be nice to get away and relax. I wanted to rest, Andy, not go on tour.”
“I’m sorry if you=re not interested.”
“You know it’s not that. Maybe we could come back another time”
I watched her eat. “Well, maybe we could spend another night.”
“We can=t. We’ve got too much to do at home.”
“Fine. We just won’t go to Flaming Gorge.”
I stirred my drink with a straw.
Eventually I started talking again. “Papa Casey used to take us on walks, and if we found deer antlers we would take them back to the ranch and stick them on the fence. It seemed like there were hundreds of them--a lattice of horns.” Emily smiled. “And Papa Casey would explain that they weren’t really horns, that the deer would shed their antlers every year and grow new ones, just leaving the old ones in the forest for us to find and hang on the fence.” She put her hand over mine on the table.
After lunch, we drove down main street to the Utah Field House of Natural History and Dinosaur Gardens. Inside the museum were Fremont and Ute Indian displays, stuffed bear, deer and other animals, a replica of the largest trout taken from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and display cases of minerals. A closet with a black light proved geode fluorescence. The big black skeleton of Diplodocus giganticus was standing stretched from one end of the main hall to the other.
“He’s just where I left him when I was a kid,” I said to the lady at the information desk. She laughed awkwardly, and Emily pulled me away.
“You remind me of my dad when you talk to people who don=t know you.”
I held her while we walked around the giant Diplodocus.
“This and the quarry were always my favorite places to come as a kid.”
“Yeah, I bet kids love this place.” There weren’t any children there at the time. Apparently winter was the off-season for Vernal.
“You know, when I was a kid I never thought of dinosaurs and their skeletons being the same animal.”
Emily bent down to read the plaque.
“In my imagination the skeletons chased and fled each other as bones.”
Emily tapped the floor with her foot. The reverberation was loud in the empty museum. “Diplodocus would have made a clattering stomp.”
I smiled. “Let’s go out to the gardens.”
“Someone made a bunch of life-sized dinosaurs out there. Maybe twenty of them.”
Giant dragonflies, Stegosaurus, a fleshed out Diplodocus, and the old adversaries of my illustrated children=s books: Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. There was even a recent addition, the Utah Raptor, made of a steel frame and concrete body painted over in reptilian shades of green like the others. I had Emily by the hand, pulling her along, and taking pictures of her posing with the beasts. Finally we came to the end of the path and found my favorite, the great red Wooly Mammoth.
Emily took the camera and insisted, “No. I’m going to take your picture next to the mammoth. I’ve had to listen to you talk about the stupid thing ever since we watched them dig one out of the ice on TV.” She smiled as she pushed me toward the replica.
“You know, I still think they should clone it,” I teased as I stood next to the grimy fur of the mammoth.
Emily gave me the “incorrigible” look before taking the picture. I knew her opinion on the matter: she felt sorry for the elephant they would impregnate with the mammoth clone.
Half an hour later we arrived at the quarry in Dinosaur National Monument. Again we were alone in the building with the caretakers.
“This place always amazes me.” I said as we walked up to the guard rail.
Emily read the plaque, “The quarry is a fossilized river bed containing the remains of hundreds of animals. It was heaved almost perpendicular to the horizon by inner pressure shifting the earth=s crust. After its discovery and many years of excavation, this building has been built up against the ridge, encasing the quarry.” Most of the digging had stopped long ago, and it had been decided to leave the remaining fossils where they lay, half exposed in the rock. I tried to take a picture of Emily in front of the fossil bed, but we had used the last exposure for the mammoth.
“I can’t believe I forgot extra film.”
“It’s okay, honey, we can buy a postcard.”
I leaned against the railing and looked at the tangled bones. It was like a battlefield. There were diagrams that helped you pick out individual dinosaurs from their neighbors, and a few reconstructed skeletons to give an idea of what you’re looking for. “My dad has a lot of pictures of our family trips here. I loved this place.”
“I know.” Emily hugged me when I turned back around.
On our way toward the stairs I stopped again to look at the fossils. “I wonder why they don=t dig the rest of them out and put them all together?”
“I guess it’s enough that we can see them where they are,” she said, and led me up the stairs to the next level.
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