Marshall Pass

cliff

All illustrations by Michele Murray

All roads lead somewhere if you can make it that far…

Hmmm, I’ve been on this road at least a thousand times before, though maybe not in this lifetime …

The situation was the result of an error in the phenomenon of mechanical navigation. Batteries must have been running low in the sextant. The stars were wobbling on their axes, not speaking truthfully to my technical instruments. Night-time astral-bodies in the sky were obscured from my eye by The Big One — that great ball of plasma in our sky: the Earth’s Sun. Once you make a couple of wrong turns and realize you don’t know where you are, you find yourself committed to your journey because now I have to see what’s around the next bend. Yeah, you could turn around and maybe you should turn around — you might even ACTUALLY TURN AROUND before all the other people wonder WHY DIDN’T SHE TURN AROUND? when they read about the discovery of your foolish ass a year after you have disappeared on the other side of this new (to you) mountain.

Maybe I “should” turn around. “Would-should-could” — those are some kind of auxiliary verbs, I think, like the other verbs joggling around in my 5th-grade memory cells:“be-am-is-are-was-were-have-had-has-will-shall-would-should-or-could.”  Yes, I think these are all some kind of verbs unlike the action verb, “turn around.” Why am I perpetually in this situation, unable to do something as seemingly simple as turn around?

Examination of the immediate vicinity: The edge of the dirt road is crumbly and fairly steep, but the width of the road is not completely unmanageable should I decide with logic to turn around.

I “could” turn this Subaru around if I wanted to, utilizing about 5-7 forward-and-backward turns. That wouldn’t be a K-turn or a Y-turn; rather it would be a W-turn or a VW-turn.

Cliff: Unfathomable in the sense of leagues below the abyss “SHOULD” I go over the side, demonstrating another action verb: PLUNGING TO DEATH. At the least, I would-should-could sustain a serious injury if I crash.

If I decide to turn around, I would have to be vewy vewy cawful.

The edge of this dirt road is unreliable in that sort of soft shoulder kind of way.

This is exactly the kind of place a person in a car goes over the side and no one finds her until the middle of elk hunting season — the last hunting season — the one right before Christmas when men return home to their annoyed wives all smelly and dirty but nonetheless happy with themselves for that personal stink of freedom.

Hmmm, I might not go over the edge if I turn around carefully and I might even find myself headed safely back to the starting point where I THINK I made a wrong turn and I might then possibly figure out where I am. On the other hand, there is one more bend in the road, one more high spot beyond my current topographical horizon and a person really probably should see what’s on the other side for the sake of that time in the future when a person will have to rely on memories of places she’s explored because I’ll likely end up sitting beside the window sill of the State Mental Hospital for a long time one day. SIGH … I look forward to wearing jammies and working on jigsaw puzzles all day when I am retired.

THE MIGHTY LORD O’ GOD DIRECTS MY SUBARU!

I have no say in the matter. A power larger than my steering wheel is in control. I’m just a piece of biota in the sea of life. Besides, I am certain the LORD-O-GOD has been here before, probably just this morning. Thing is, sometimes the LORD-O-G puts a big impassable boulder in the road, or washes it out, or arranges other events of interest — such as that wild buckskin mustang mare with the soft eyes trapped up to her bloody belly in a cattle guard way out in the remotest part of central Nevada. My, that turned out to be quite a day … Sheesh! I’m not ready for a day like that again…

I don’t know where this road goes but I am going to follow it as long as my car keeps rolling.

I am bleeding like a leaking box of wine, too, and down to my last single tampon and last single beer (Stella Artois — a tall can and an O.B. — the super-dooper kind).

This has got to be Gold Camp Road. I know where I am now. I am somewhere above Cheyenne Mountain. I’ve been here a thousand times before.

Fork in the road with a sign pops up: “No trailers beyond this point.”

Hmmm, well I’ve got that going for me. No trailer. No boat. No ATV no dirt bike no cellular service no tampon and no beer in reserve. Where the heck does this pass come out? How far from my destination have I strayed? Can my Subaru make it?

These questions enter my mind, as does my underwear. Some women are completely fastidious about their moon-cycle. They keep gear handy — things like “emergency applications” — and they always have a plan. I knew a woman who would change up her hygiene equipment every twenty minutes or so in order to avoid the sensation of actually feeling that warm, moist, evacuation of human-genetic-effluent being expunged from her body. She washed compulsively and changed her panties all day long. A great amount of money and women-lore goes into learning how to get rid of that dark little stain of dried blood on cotton.

Cold Water. That’s the key to removing fresh blood from fabric. If it’s dried blood — then that solution ain’t gonna work, though. If it’s a blood stain on your skirt or dress slacks, yer looking at an awkward visit to the dry cleaners. You can tell the Korean behind the counter that it’s grape juice or wine. They know what it is. They can get it out for $. It’s not worth the embarrassment to me. TAKE MY MONEY, GIVE ME MY CLEANED SKIRT BACK AND DON’T TELL ANYONE.

Women sometimes have fevers, feel nausea, suffer headaches, a bit of disorientation and intermittently experience emotional sensitivity during this celestial-vestigial-carnilogical-uterineal event. If I “spot” (that is to bleed through the gear a little bit), I toss my panties away. Forget that cold water and neurotic gotta-clean-it-like-a-raccoon-with-a-fish-at-the-river reaction. Throw it away. Done. Such was the case today: stuff the offensive panties under the car seat for trashing later. Stuff some facial tissue down there instead. Good. Unfortunately, in about an hour, my jeans got spotted as well.

No problem. I can handle this. I’ve still got a swimming suit and fishing waders I can put on.

A woman colleague of mine confided to me an event in the Amargosa Desert where she had been mapping volcanic stratigraphy with her male boss. She is a bit older than I am and recounted that the onset of menopause for her meant higher flows for a while — flows that verged on draining the life out of her. During that field excursion, she began to bleed like that giant Achilles in “Jason and the Argonauts” — the ORIGINAL Argonauts movie with Kirk Douglas (1960s science fiction at its finest). Kirk Douglas unscrewed a door in Achilles’ ankle and emptied his entire bodily contents of fluid like a discharge from Hoover Dam. That’s how my friend was describing her bleeding. She was literally draining to the point of passing out. All she could do was apologize to her boss, who turned the expedition around and headed back to the truck to return to base camp. She bled heavily through her pad, her panties, her trousers and left a pool of blood on the front seat. She had to lie down to rejuvenate and try to generate more blood overnight before getting up in the morning. Her flow eventually stopped short of a medical emergency.

That scenario made me wonder how women in Neolithic societies must have dealt with the flow? My lesbian gym teachers in Jr. High school (What? Yeah — they were Lesbos for real. So what? I’m not making this up. They were.) — told me that some primitive societies consider menstruation to be a curse — “The devil is with her,” they said of the Neolithic people muttering in Neolithic camps.

bear illustration

DIGRESSION 

I asked my huzbun if anyone in his family ever told him Bible stories. He said no. I asked him who then told him about the devil? He asked, “What’s the devil?”

END DIGRESSION

Those lesbian gym teachers told me a lot of information about adolescence, but not in enough detail for me to grasp the entire picture. For example: sex-Ed. Yeah, all of us kids knew it was called sex-Ed because it was supposed to be educating us about sex. We were nervous. However, at no time did the “film-loops” we watched ever show any sex. There was a cartoon of a uterus and a diagram of menstruation. They showed where pubic hair was going to start growing one day. (“Over my dead body! Not me!” I swore.) They showed a cartoon of the egg and then the sperm swimming against the egg’s big body, and then the egg began to multiply. I saw a schematic silhouette in cartoon of an erect penis but they didn’t show a sperm coming out of a penis. They didn’t show a penis in a vagina, either.

As a consequence, I left the room not knowing exactly where my vagina was (I was skeptical about that) or that I would be bleeding from a mysterious place between my legs from which I also pee. (Clueless.) I also did not know that a penis goes into the vagina or that sperm comes out of the end of the penis or that babies come out of the vagina. Why would I figure that out on my own? I didn’t live on a farm. I never saw what animals do. Television and movies simply did not show that stuff back then. When I did learn about what happens during sex from Patty Sellers — she was Catholic and was the most experienced girl I ever knew — I thought that she was making it up. Sex was completely science fiction: a lie, a bad story, had to be some sick person’s idea of a joke (a joke from a sick person like my VBF Patty …).

grasshut illustration

I left sex-Ed class and stumbled through my adolescence one incident at a time, all the while Patty Sellers (my college roommate by then) laughing at me. My first date in college was with a handsome timpani player in the orchestra a couple of years older than me. I went to his house to “neck.” I was ready for some “heavy petting.” During this process, the poor man partially disrobed me and attempted to “go down on me.” I had no idea WHAT he was doing and was so freaked out that I grabbed my clothes and ran straight out of his house half naked and snuck my way back to the dormitory. I woke Patty up to tell her the weird action of this psychopath. She laughed her ass off at me, told me what he was attempting to do, and then tried to get me to introduce him to her in the future. I was aghast people would do such things to each other and avoided him the rest of the year. I hope he understands now that’s what happens when you date a really naïve virgin from Aurora, Colorado.

My current exploratory drive up the pass of this very familiar mountain consumed a quarter of my already half-empty tank of gas before I considered myself lost. The errant journey required at least half of my last beer before I reached what I assumed was the summit. I pulled off the road to peruse the scene and assess my situation (and to formulate some explanation to provide my huzbun should I ever see him again, as to maybe why I did not make it home that evening).

View: Wow! Ponds! Time to fish! In the meadow below me, beaver ponds leaked through a marshy bog down the inclined valley linked one to another in a sequence like pearls on a string. No sign of rising brookies on the surface, though. That might change if I were to look more closely.

My plan: I needed to change into my swimsuit and waders for hygiene’s sake anyway. Stuff those tainted blue jeans under the seat with stained panties to commiserate together in the dark. The hike to the ponds would involve sinking and trudging through knee-high slime and lumpy bumpy marsh grass with mosquitoes sticking their proboscises between every sweaty pore in my exposed face and forearms. The ardor of this feat will require my beer ditty bag. My beer can rides in a little ditty bag that attaches to my fishing fanny pack by a thick Velcro strap. My huzbun thinks this little bag was designed to carry a water bottle, but I know better.

I nursed my warm, half-a-beer on this hike through mucky marsh to discover there are no fish in the meadow ponds out in the middle of this mountain paradise. My legs were sinking knee-deep into the black ooze. I tried to turn, but my feet were stuck. I was now a human popsicle stick for a bear should one come by. My legs were stuck in the marsh by suction and sinking an inch with every tug. I had to sway my body forward and allow air to seep down into the mud before the bog would release my foot. I did this leaning, sucking, teetering march under the afternoon sun, with mosquitoes blaring in my ears all the way back to the car, every once in a while turning to see if some sneaky trouties were rising behind my back. No sign. By the time I made it back to semi-solid ground — enough solid ground to stop and partake of my Holy warm beer — the can was severely diminished. Sadly, a light came on the side of the can: “Low on beer.” I wasn’t totally without emergency rations. I was on my way home from a party in Gunnison the night before and in my Subaru was a vat of vegetarian lasagna, 1½ gallons purple pomegranate-blueberry juice with rum, tossed salad, 2 pieces of homemade pound cake, jumper cables, a tool box, 2 shovels and a spare 7-foot 3-weight fly rod. I had 5 royal wulffs, assorted elk-hair caddis, baetis, terrestrials, nymphs, pulpa, pupa, larvae and octopus patterns. No spare tampon or beer, though.

In primitive societies women were (are?) removed from the community arena and made to stay inside special huts away from everyone else because “She gots the curse.” On my return hike to my car from the beaver ponds, I had the insight that these poor girls had been poked, impregnated, miscarried, birthed, lost babies and suckled babies ever since they were nubile enough to become the apple of some horny old goat’s eye and this was not going to end for any reason as long as they were fertile. By the time these girls had been through the gamut month after month for a couple of years, it was probably one of them who had the idea to make a special hut and to get away from the bastards for a while — no men, no kids

Tell ’em I gots the curse. Tell ’em all to stay away and I mean it.” The ancient women probably had lovely candles, incense, soft music and chocolate in the special huts.

DIGRESSION 

When women spend time together, say working in an office or taking the same class on a regular basis, they begin to menstruate at the same time. Fact.

END DIGRESSION

Sign on the primitive society women’s hut: “Stay away — Devil in here!”

I returned to my car from my marsh hike sweating, bleeding, nursing the dregs of my dying can of beer and having not seen a trout. I got in my Subaru and rolled it back onto the mountain road wondering where I would come out and how far off course I was from any road leading home.

What will my huzbun think of me? Will he make some kind of “rule,” like I have to start calling him and telling him where I am, when I am leaving or HEY!! I know where I am now — I’m on Rampart Range above Rainbow Falls. I am near the Hayman Fire area. Hmmm, maybe this is Idaho …

I drove on but not so apprehensively now. The road was in better condition on the far side of the pass. Strangely, I saw in the speckled shadow being thrown by aspen leaves overhanging the road ahead a doe lying in the road on her belly with legs folded under her. Her head was up and her ears bent toward the sound my approaching car.

Oh, God. Is this the big event you planned for my day? Is this why you directed me here? Is this deer partially severed? Half-paralyzed? Broken-legged? Semi-eviscerated? Did you bring me here to dispatch her? Move her? Comfort her? Bear witness to her suffering?

I slowed my car down, shifted to neutral, rolled the window down and turned the engine off. As I quietly approached, she attempted to get up by extracting one leg from under her belly. My car slowly rolled past her with only the sound of my rubber tires crunching in the gravel. I looked. She flopped her ears at pesky flies and settled back down in her spot on the road in the shade. Just resting her fat deer belly. No traumatic event in my path to deal with today.

I rolled a little ways past her, reengaged the engine, turned on my music. Lucinda Williams popped up on my iPod through the radio singing one of her soulful, burnt-out-old-whore kind of songs. After not very long, a convoy of ATVs approached me coming from yonder mountain head-on driven by brown-clad BOY SCOUTS — the older ones who have peach-fuzz cheeks and bony knees and bobbing Adam’s apples. They probably did not know the downhill-uphill law of mountain driving, which would require that I (being the downhill driver) was required to yield and backup so that they (being the uphill party) could pass.

They slowed down as we all approached head-on. Eyes were big. I don’t know what they thought they were looking at, but it was simply a woman in a Subaru wearing a bikini and rubber pants. Not like I was a cougar or anything as exciting. I know they were waiting for me to speak, like what could I possibly say? They were expecting the beginning of an adventure, I am sure. They were expecting me to say, “HELP! My baby is lost in the woods and I don’t know where to find her AND my leg is broken — a compound fracture. I think I’m going into a state of shock and I have a snake-bite!”

That’s what Boy Scouts look for in the forest: women with compound fractures, snake bites and missing family members — babies are better. Instead, I told them:

Hi, fellas — hey, please watch out for a deer sleeping on the road up there. She’s OK, not hurt or anything, just napping in the shade on the road. Say you guys, I haven’t been on this road before. Am I gonna bust an axle if I go any farther — because I’ve busted an axle before and I don‘t want to do that again. Do you think the rest of this drive is OK for a car like mine?

They surmised my situation, evaluated my vehicle and told me no problem that the road is good enough for cars and they would watch out for the deer. I wondered if any of them had any beer. Better not ask. There were old guys with them — the protective type. I waited until they all passed — all nine of them. Probably Eagle Scouts. They had no idea they are talking to a lady without panties bleeding in her waders. I am pretty sure they didn’t have any beer.

Maybe this is Old Monarch Pass or maybe Red Mountain Pass. I should have asked them what this mountain pass is called.

Willie on the iPod!!! Everything will be good for sure now. Keep going. Watch out for boulders and deer on the road. Never you mind about the rum and purple juice in the cooler. The LORD-O-G doesn’t believe in mixing hard alcohol with driving.

At least not yet.

DIGRESSION 

I dated a Greek bookie in New York City for a while whose sole objective was to make a living without doing anything legal for his entire life. When he was a kid in New Hampshire, he worked at a fast-food joint and accidentally left the fry-o-lator on high after his first shift. The place burned down and he was given an insurance adjustment with all the other employees for the rest of the summer. Same summer, he got new job at a movie theater and learned that during the show no one knew where he was, so he would slip out and go to a third job with the highway department hired to sit in a folding lawn chair on a cliff and count cars that went by every hour. He would take a nap in the chair while collecting three paychecks and make up numbers to write on the log sheet. One afternoon, he woke up because the boss had come upon him and kicked his chair out from under his napping ass. He liked the money, though. He was only 13 years old but he was already completely addicted to having a lot of cash in hand for little or no output.

THAT GUY — the flaky dishonest illegal shifty two-timing lying slippery weasel Greek bookie from New Hampshire living in New York City — that guy once barked at me, “Why do YOU WOMEN always run out of tampons? You know you’re going to need them. It happens every month. Why the big surprise every time it happens, like you forgot? Why don’t you buy more than one month at a time of those things???

I don’t know. He runs out of cigarettes all the time and it’s not like he’s ever NOT going to want a cigarette again for the rest of his life. Despite that, I started to buy boxes of tampons by the case. I stowed them in my purse, office drawers, my bassoon case, my sister’s house, my mom’s house, my other sister’s house, my boyfriend’s house, my other boyfriend’s house … I had caches of tampons on the scale of a squirrel going into deep winter with a bevy of teenager girl-squirrels menstruating left and right in squirrel moon-cycles (which I think is like every other week …). I kept this up for a really long time until I began to travel internationally. I really had to limit myself to the barest of minimum of carry-on stuff so as to avoid checking luggage and I took to buying tampons on the road again rather than transporting caches of them. THAT is how I ended up in the High Country without a beer or tampon, both of which I direly needed.

END DIGRESSION

I headed down the mountain enjoying my iPod despite lack of beer and noticed the little lever that points to a series of tick marks that symbolize the state of my gasoline capacity was hovering BELOW the letter E. I know exactly how much forward motion I can get out of one gallon of gasoline in each of my vehicles. I also know that the little lever will move up or down with respect to how level the car is and therefore how skewed the last drops of combustible carbon-based liquid might be lying in the tank relative to the floating bobber in there. (I don’t know if there is a floating bobber in there, but that is how I imagine the system works, kind of like a toilet bobber turning the input of water off in the reserve tank — right?) I don’t usually get excited about the E on the gas tank meter. That lever can go way way below the E before the red gasoline-gauge light comes on the dash. If I am driving with a nervous type of person and he or she seems to be getting upset about that little red gasoline-gauge light, I will cover it up with something like with a piece of black electric tape for their sake until we can coast into a station. Besides, there is a reserve, and that is usually a gallon in my experience and a car can usually get AT LEAST 10 miles more on reserve — even if it is a gas hog — so 10 miles is a lot of distance yet to put on the wheels. No worries.

In this frame of mind, I focused my energy into downhill economy mode utilizing coasting and gravity whenever possible, cursing any slight incline in the rolling mountain road.

OMG —  I’m in New Mexico — I know where this road goes … WHERE DOES THIS ROAD GO?

I was in an urgent state.

One time I came rolling out of a steep, rocky mountain gully into the back pasture of an apple orchard in New Mexico. The rancher would normally have shot first but he was so amazed to see a little red clown car of a Toyota come climbing over the boulders that he allowed himself the opportunity to get to know me. Another time, I made my way onto another dirt road way below the “E” on my gas-o-meter and about five miles into the red gas-tank light being on. I had no idea how far I would have to go to find gas. I evaluated the quality of maintenance on the fences along the roadside to try and determine how close I was to a habitable place where I might beg for some gas, provided I was not surrounded by pit bulls, dobbies, rotties and guns. On that other trip, I eventually drove past a lively Mexican dance going on under a tin-roofed pavilion, so I spruced myself up, entered the bar area and asked for gasoline. No gasoline there, but the tortillas were fresh and the beer was free.

I don’t remember any painful long walks due to lack of gas — OK, maybe one. I have actually run out of gas and had a dead vehicle on the side of the road twice. The first time, however, after I slept in the vehicle till morning — the condensation created a mini-reservoir of liquid from vapor phase overnight, and the F-150 straight-six 3-on-the-tree pickup truck started up “va-ROOOM!” and we (truck and I) made it to the next off ramp somewhere north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and coasted into a gas station right next to the pump before she died for good. It was at least 30 years later that I ran out of gas for the second time and I attribute that to being in someone else’s car (the gauges you know are all in different places in different vehicles …)

On today’s particular journey, I eventually popped out on a more-developed dirt road and took a left because left went downhill. I passed the Boy Scout jamboree camp full of chaperones milling about, big tents and empty pickup trucks with ATV trailers. That road joined up with a paved road, which led to a four-lane highway, which led to Poncha Pass, which opens out onto the Great Alluvial Plains near Salida. Bought gas, beer, tampons and some of those cheesy-peanut butter crackers. Made it home before my huzbun got home from work. He had no idea where I had been. I didn’t tell him about the journey, either. Save that kind of info for when we are old and I need to tell him something to get him all riled up about so he won’t die. Just being with him in our house and being surrounded by calm, stable time together makes me feel centered. Keeps me out of jail, too. When he came home, I could tell he sensed my day had been full of stories that I was not going to share. Instead, I told him:“I don’t know how old I am on a day-to-day basis, but I do know that when I finally become really old, I am gonna scare myself. Oh, and I’m on my period so watch out.

He shook his head slowly in agreement.

Long-time contributor Michele Murray is a geologist, concert bassonist and dog trainer who lives in Lake George, CO. 

One thought on “Marshall Pass”

  1. I loved this story to no end!!! Ms. Murry really hit the nail on the head with her comment about the “virgin in Aurora” I have never laughed so hard in my life. I too am a native of Aurora and this is just so true! Everything about the Gay gym teacher who taught sex ed to the terror of the first introduction to sex….. hit home! She could have been writing this about me. Can’t wait to read more of Ms. Murry’s stories in the future.

    Thanks for publishing this!!!!!
    Amy Kilroy

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