COVID-19, cohousing, snowstorms, and last meals

ssv corona spam shelf

Going to the food store was depressing with not much on the shelves. I switched to shopping on line.

I quit going to the grocery store, mostly because it was so depressing to see all the customers there grabbing whatever was remaining on the shelves, as if the last can of Campbell’s soup will be their last meal.

I live in a cohousing community. In the pre-COVID-19 world, if someone is homebound, neighbors step forward and provide a coordinated care giving response.

That would include picking up groceries or medicine from the store, providing prepared meals, and stopping by to say “hello.”

With COVID-19 self-isolation, those tenets of community have pretty much ground to a halt. There are occasional meetings on web streaming services like Zoom, but the personal connections are nil.

ssv zoom happy hour

Community members get together for virtual happy hours, but it’s not the same as face-to-face gatherings.

There are some community members who view themselves as more bullet proof than others and are gadding about, much to the dismay of others who are much more vigilant and take the self-isolation mandates issued by the city of Boulder, Boulder County, and state of Colorado much more seriously.

There are exceptions from the mandate. Going to the food store is viewed as “essential.” I’ll be suggesting that all my fellow community members come up with a list of ingredients for their “last meals” and have the more cavalier neighbors go on food and beer runs over the next few weeks or months.

What’s your “last meal” – you know the one you’d scarf down if you’re on death row and your fateful number finally pops up.

These days, as my personal movements are constrained by the local and statewide COVID-19 “stay at home” mandates, I have accumulated the fixings for my last meals, just in case.

Around the time time I was recovering from my death-defying illness back in 2014, King Soopers started home delivery. I resurrected my account and have food delivered to the house now, which is handy.

Over recent years, I’ve been in and out of some harrowing situations and think about my last meal.

black ice tie siding
Snow and blowing snow; slick and slick in spots from the state line to Laramie.

One weather-related risk I, as well as most anyone who’s lived in Wyoming have experienced, is winter driving. While I no longer live in Wyoming, I spend quite a lot of time on the road traveling around mostly to other towns in Wyoming, and haven’t had any death-defying driving experiences nor any really close calls other than a couple 360 degree black ice spins and sliding off the highway after winter weather closed the road behind me.

On March 9, 2019, after attending the inaugural Boulder International Film Festival in Fort Collins, I took off for an uneventful Saturday drive through Fort Collins and north toward Wyoming for a community-building workshop presented by my friend and colleague Yana Ludwig at the Solidarity House Cooperative community in Laramie.

Before deciding to drive up to Fort Collins for the film festival, there was snow in southeast Wyoming. I was undecided if I wanted to make the trip, in the first place, but figured if I got on the road fairly early in the morning, there would be plenty of daylight if I had to turn back.

Do Mother and Father Nature plan for weather to drastically change at the Colorado / Wyoming state line?

The  the trek suddenly became very eventful at Virginia Dale.

Early-morning sunlight glistened off 30 miles of the black ice encrusting the highway. Blowing and drifting snow buffed the icy road surface to an opalescent sheen from the state line to Laramie.

I didn’t eat anything before I left thinking I would get something along the way. Based on these road conditions, that may not happen. “What if my ‘last meal’ was nothing,” I thought to myself as I passed jack-knifed trailers and cars stuck on the sides of the road. Some nutty driver in a pickup going way too fast was fish-tailing his way up my tail pipe, before he slid off the road behind me.

That in turn, reminded me about a drive I made from Riverton to Laramie in November 2015.

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Iggy John C’Hair explains the traditional Northern Arapaho bison uses to Wind River Reservation students.

I was on the Wind River Indian Reservation documenting a traditional bison ceremony, which was a big success. This was my third trip to the Wind River Indian Reservation in three weeks. It takes a while to come to consensus.It was a successful hunt and traditional ceremony. I was anxious to get back on the road, but didn’t think to check the road reports.

When I hit the road, it was a typical November fall day in 2015 when I was driving back from Riverton. The weather was pleasant with the skies a little overcast and the outside conditions requiring a light jacket.

As is my routine I made a stop in Rawlins for a gas and a pit stop. The clerk informed me that I-80 east and west were both closed due to snow and blowing snow.

What gives?

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I-80 was officially closed when I was driving back from Riverton recently. White knuckle driving is an art form in Wyoming.

It’s calm, sunny and warm in Rawlins. The options were to turn around and return to Riverton or backtrack and go way out the way to Casper and Interstate 25, which would likely be worse. I stuck it out in Rawlins.

It was early and I decided to get a room before the truck traffic started to back up.

I didn’t want to give an arm and a leg for a nuisance stay-over and took a room at the Econo-Lodge.

Even as Econo-Lodges go, this one was stark. It’s nestled up against the north side of a bluff where it didn’t get much afternoon sun.

Might as well make the best of it.

I cruised around downtown Rawlins. The streetscape has drastically improved over the years. Before Rawlins created its Downtown Development Authority in 1991, it was a declining business district. The year I drove through, Rawlins was awarded the coveted Great American Main Street Award.

alan i80 topo chico

I stopped at this Tex Mex place in downtown Rawlins. I was impressed with the offering of TopoChico agua mineral.

I prefer local joints to the chain restaurants and tried a chili relleno at a small Mexican place called Rose’s Lariat. The meal was pretty good especially when I could wash it down with Topo Chico fizzy water, which is my go-to agua mineral when I’m in Mexico.

I made my way back to the room, if that’s what you want to call it. The Econo-Lodge was more of an Econo-Fridge. The heater hadn’t been on for quite some time. I flicked it on. The heater parts banged and clicked and finally started began to whir and spit out heated air.

While the room warmed up, I’d always wanted to take a look at the “Frontier Prison.” It was the old state penitentiary that was abandoned in 1981, but now a tourist attraction. As a kid one of the parental threats when I was scolded was, “You don’t want to end up in Rawlins making license plates, do you?” The prison made money from inmates stamping out car tags.

I pulled up to the now historic sandstone block building. By this time, it was snowing again and the attraction was closed, probably because of limited “winter hours.” It was getting late in the afternoon and I headed back to the room for good.

Closed roads are a growth industry in Wyoming.

The Department of Transportation closes the interstate because there are no more parking spaces along the route to accommodate any more trucks, let alone passenger cars. All the cities lining the road sell out motel rooms from Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Wamsutter, Green River, Rock Springs to Evanston.

Pizza Hut advertises on the plastic room keys. Bored, I decided to order my “go to” Canadian bacon and mushroom thin crust with extra cheese. I was able to eat half of it.

Rawlins has pretty good cable. There’s not much to do here on a school night in the dead of a snow storm.

wreck on i80
Roads can be treacherous, even when there isn’t much snow.

I dozed off with the TV on and at 2am, the “REEEEE REEEEE REEEEE!” screeched out on the TV speaker. The roads were open. I would still wait to get out around 10am when the sun is higher.

After waking up, I gobbled the rest of the cold pizza and downed a warmed over cup of yesterday’s coffee before getting on the road.

It was a bumper-to-bumper parking lot from Wolcott Junction to Laramie. Traffic was stopped by an accident on the westbound lane. It took three hours to go 90 miles.

Wyoming winter driving takes practice – more like baptism by fire. If you can successfully drive in Wyoming during any small snowstorm, you can drive anywhere.

Riverton, like most other Wyoming communities, is centrally isolated from just about every place else when the weather gets nasty.

verns prime rib
The day I drove from Fort Collins, I stopped at Vern’s Place in LaPorte twice.

There aren’t any places to stop. In the event of road closures, there are lighted barriers like at a railroad crossing that prevent traffic from passing and drivers are required to turn back.

I grew up in Cheyenne and let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced a blizzard in southeast Wyoming, it’s quite the experience. During certain times of year, it’s so windy, there’s no Final Net hair spray on any store shelf.

I always felt lucky about living in Lander and now Boulder, Colorado along the Front Range foothills.

It’s so nice to wake up, look out the window and notice that the snow has fallen into neat little piles on tops of fence posts and not rudely strewn about in seven-foot-high drifts.

I’ve met several people in my travels who have been to Wyoming. Besides having visited Yellowstone Park, the second most frequent comment is, “Oh, yeah, one winter I was stranded in Cheyenne on my way to California.”

Hmmm.

eggs verns

My last breakfast consists of eggs over easy and bacon from anywhere. This trip to Laramie, I ate at Vern’s Place in LaPorte, twice.

Under most circumstances, I’m a calm and collected driver, but when the interstate suddenly disappears in a puff of white, the highway turns into the “Snow Chi Minh Trail.”

Luckily, I didn’t get stranded on the interstate this time. When that happened back in the days before cell phones and GPS, travel could get problematic. The seasoned drivers keep on plowing ahead since the weather will likely get worse before it gets better.

Back in those days, cassette tapes played music mixes through the stereo that soothed me while my car pounded through invisible snowdrifts and crept around 18-wheeler convoys near Elk Mountain.

White knuckles.

This time, the roads were open but barely navigable. Espying disgruntled travelers examining their jack-knifed u-Haul trailer and contorted semi-truck silhouettes in the highway median made me realize how out of control these drives can be.

pork noodles 20th street

My last lunch would be pork noodles. This bowl was at the 20th Street Cafe in Denver.

I couldn’t imagine being killed by a wild and crazy trucker or freezing to death knowing my last meal was cold pizza and day-old coffee.

My romanticism has me eating bacon, eggs over easy with a pancake for my last breakfast at the Luxury Diner in Cheyenne; Japanese-style pork noodles from the 20th Street Café in Denver as my last lunch; and a good steak from just about anywhere for my last dinner.

Black ice covered the roads right into Laramie. It was a relief to negotiate slushy roads in town.

By the time my meeting was over around 4pm, the sun had warmed the pavement and dissipated the ice.

Just another winter drive in Wyoming.

I pulled into the parking lot at Vern’s Place in LaPorte for a well-deserved prime rib dinner, hopefully, it won’t be my last.

Unless my neighbor agrees to pick up my COVID-19 King Soopers run, the order includes, bacon and eggs; I have T-Bone steaks in the freezer, and always a healthy supply of Japanese udon noodles. If I catch the COVID-19, I hope my reaction doesn’t include loss of smell and taste.

Environmental politics and the euthanized bison calf

bison yellowstone

Waiting for a bison in the road – Yellowstone National Park a couple years ago.

Bison have been in the news lately.

President Obama signed legislation designating the American Bison as the national animal. (See, Congress can get stuff done when it wants).

One of the more bizarre bison stories made the rounds this week which explains why the Northern Arapaho community in Wyoming has had a tough time getting any bison for its tribal ceremonies.

Seems a couple international tourists visiting Yellowstone National Park was quite concerned about the health and safety of a newborn bison calf that had wandered away from its herd.

bison_calf

This now famous bison calf was collected by a couple tourists in Yellowstone recently. They thought the young animal was cold and in danger.

The well intended park visitors scooped up the maverick and placed it in the back of their SUV and proceeded to notify the park rangers of their concern.

Turns out their unlawful act of kindness resulted in a ticket and fine.

The story has a not-so-happy ending because after repeated attempts to reunite the calf with its mother and herd, it was rejected and park wildlife officials had to put the young animal down.

Some of my friends were aghast wondering why there isn’t a bison rescue organization,  that could have taken the orphaned calf and nurtured it.

That makes a lot of sense but unfortunately, bison are among the most political animals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

gye map

Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been the home for conflicts between wildlife and livestock interests.

This bison calf would have a big identity crisis had it wandered into Wyoming because it could be treated as livestock or wildlife or both.

There’s a political skirmish between cattle ranchers and wildlife managers as to the proper jurisdiction – in fact, the state vet and wikdlife managers both have jurisdiction.

What complicates the matter is a contagious disease called brucellosis which isn’t harmful to people, in most cases, but when the bacteria gets into a cattle herd, all animals generally have to be destroyed and the state quarantined.

You’ll recall there was a big furor a few years back about mad cow’s disease. Most recently, there were many chickens destroyed because of avian flu which is why poutry is still expensive.

How does all this happen?

The disease epidemiology is very complex biologically, but causes huge economic impacts that not only include the domestic livestock industry and wildlife management, but also the tourism industry.

Over the years, due to US National Park Service herd management, certain elk populations outgrow their environments. Bison contracted the disease from the over populated elk herds in this case, the GYE.

Bison wander out of the park, elk migrate to and from and the conflict originated when cattle ranchers began to develop infected herds and the blame fell primarily on the bison because they are more sedentary, as opposed to migratory.

Montana treats bison mire like wildlife and through the state veterinarian’s and wildlifr offices there and the US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has a brucellosis quarantine facility set up just ourside the park. (Fun Fact – APHIS is the agency that oversees the safety of airports so the chance that birds smack into airplanes is minimized).

Bison that leave the park are given a blood test and checked for brucellosis. if they are positive, they are slaughtered, if they are negative, they are put into quarantine and eventually released back to the park.

kids bison

This bison was part of a Northern Arapaho tribal ceremony in November. There are community members who want to reestablish bison on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The bison calf in question could have been tested. If it tested positive, it would have been put down. If it was negative, it would have been quarantined and someone, would have had to stick with it for 30 days or more.

Even if that care taking did happen, my druthers would have been to give it to the Northern Arapaho Tribe to help them reestablish a bison herd on the Wind River Indian Reservation in a highly managed pasture – as opposed to free-roaming.

The fact is, Wyoming is currently NOT a brucellosis free state. In the Cliff Notes version of the process, this means the bison calf, if it was tested and found to be brucellosis-free, as well as others could be culled from the Yellowstone herd, quarantined on Northern Arapaho land and allowed to propagate for tribal ceremonial purposes.

There’s currently a prototype already operating at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins with Yellowstone brucellosis-free bison. There’s a small herd now on the Soap Stone open space park by Livermore.

Take away the politics and this isn’t rocket science.