I'd seen the sign on one of my circuits and thought "What?" A National Wildlife Refuge? Here? It seemed unlikely. This place is a tiny blemish on the butt of Nevada, not a destination. No one lives here and no one (well, me, but I'm odd) would set out to come here on purpose. By all means, protect the wildlife, but would you really build a little center there? I pulled into the parking lot through the gates and was immediately encouraged to see that there were public restrooms. Even a porta-potty is preferable to finding a spot in the desert, so I got out of the car and hurried toward the place that beckoned me. I noticed an RV and a pickup truck in the parking lot. Four adults were chatting pleasantly. I appeared to be the only other person around.
I opened the door of the restroom tentatively. Sometimes these places aren't very pleasant and one wants to brace oneself. Yep, a porta-potty, but to my surprise, the facility was large and clean! But that was only my first impression. When I sat down to take care of business, I began to really study my surroundings. The toilet was clean and no odor emanated from the depths. The floor sparkled. The desired paper products were abundant. And while there was no sink or running water, there was an incongruous substitute. For, hanging from the disabled visitors' handrail, were several bottles of scented hand sanitizer attached by ribbons. Not string, not twine. Decorative ribbon. Lilac, lemon, pine and citrus hand sanitizer. Upon the walls of this palatial porta-potty were long rows of blue disks, marching in line like a platoon of soldiers. Orderly. Not rag tag. "What the heezy?" thought I. I stood on tiptoes and craned my neck. Air fresheners. Miles and miles of air fresheners. I gave a rueful moment over to thinking about my own bathroom at home. The health department is not down my neck, but my floor was not as clean as this outhouse floor and I hang nothing from anything else with ribbon. I pay attention to keeping the bathroom pleasant enough, but I have the one oil fragrancer, not miles of disks. One bar of soap and one pump bottle of a liquid formulation. I made up my mind. I was going out for the camera and coming back in to snap one in this interesting place. Alas, I was waylaid.
When I left the restroom, I was not moving at the speed I was when I entered. I was a bit more leisurely. I noticed the pickup truck was gone and the RV owners seemed to have gone inside. I aimed for the car, but some color caught my attention and I stopped for a moment. Posters. Lots of posters on the ground. Regular poster board one would buy at Wal-Mart and illustrations probably taken from the internet, printed at home, cut and glued to the poster board. Much text had also been printed and pasted, but there were handwritten comments added and arrows from text to picture and picture to text. From these posters I quickly learned that this place was a refuge for dragonflies and damselflies and several species of little bitty Nevada native fishes. I am charmed by dragonflies and damselflies! Who knew? As I mused on this information, I looked around to take in my surroundings more deeply.
There was fence surrounding it, so I could tell how large the refuge is - not very. The landscape is native and wild. I could see a stream and some springs for which the area is named. Well, yes, if some of the protected species are fishes, water is needed. But it was the quality of the structures that struck me. For here in Puckerbrush, USA, is a tiny but world class wildlife refuge. There are several patio areas with picnic tables, enclosed by adobe style curved walls. Wooden paths and bridges lead to several pools where one can observe the fishes, rather like viewing the stars on the Hollywood Blvd. Walk of Fame. The parking lot is in glorious repair, and I've already described the bathrooms. I can attest to the reader that one department of the U.S. government seems to have deep pockets, and that would be the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I was processing a lot of information, but all of these observations took place in a few short seconds after I stepped out of the restroom. I took one step toward the car and a very loud slamming noise startled me.
I looked toward the RV and saw a large, older woman charging down the steps at me. Clearly, she had thrown the door open in order to make my acquaintance. Behind her, an older man took the stairs with more care. They aimed themselves at me and they were talking. Both of them. A mile a minute. When the woman reached me, she tugged at my sleeve - literally - and shepherded me to a long folding table set up in front of their RV. Before I tell more of the story, I want to describe the couple. I am 57 and I take care about using the words "old" or "older". They were older. Their RV was shiny and clean. Their faces were scrubbed and their clothes very decent. They exuded cleanliness, good health, good humor. It was not my impression they were newlyweds. No, this pair of bookends fairly screamed, "Decades together, four kids and now grandbabies." They are the sort who would call each other "Mama" and "Dad". And they were passionate about their avocation ~ for these good people are the volunteer curators of the refuge. They come in their RV virtually every day of life, sit parked in the parking lot and wait for the visitors to arrive. They give tours through that small microcosm and they give information. Oh, do they give information. As Mama regaled me with stories about the fishes, Dad smacked brochures, bookmarks, maps and guides into my hand like a mad card dealer. I did a lot of smiling and head bobbing, beause there was no pause for me to slip a word in, even if to ask a question. Finally, with some regret, because I liked Mama and Dad, I spoke with my hands. I touched Mama on the arm and said, "Thank you so much." And I turned to take my leave. Climbing into the car, I was reminded how much I am attracted by passionate people. I am passionate myself and I like seeing fire in others. These people touched me with their dogged commitment to what they love. And I imagine they clean that restroom every other day, Dad emptying the waste baskets and Mama scrubbing the floor on her hands and knees. Now I'd made a pair of human friends. I hoped, sincerely, that the odd traveler and a lot of school field trip visitors come to see Mama and Dad and the damselflies and the fishes.
Along the way to where I wanted to stop and eat a bite, I thought, "Why not?" I'd befriended horses. Why would I pass up an opportunity to greet a sheep or two? They were beautiful to look at. In fact, I think a sheep is a more attractive animal than a horse. I just like the way they look. This flock were lovely, neutral colored creatures with black heads and hooves. They charmed me. As long as I was in the car. I'm a city girl and that's OK with me - I'm not apologizing. I'm open minded and adventuresome and I have myself some desert exploits. But I'm not as keen about farm animals. Especially the ones that smell. Really, really badly. The pen was in very good order, so I knew the stench wasn't due to neglect. I deduced that sheep must simply smell this way. I didn't care for it much. I stepped up to the fence and spoke softly. After all, those horses had found me quite fascinating and I was willing to endure the funk for a short while if the sheep would come over and connect with me. Uh-uh. It wasn't to be. The specimen featured stared at me for about 10 minutes and showed not a shred of curiosity. I am not sure what this means. Perhaps I am simply not a sheep charmer. Perhaps horses are more personable than sheep. Maybe that sheep thought I was stinky. Regardless, we made no connection.
I was empty. I'd had nothing to eat all day, and too much coffee. Some calories were needed. I'd seen pretty much all I wanted to see, except the car seemed to have a mind of its own and pulled off onto the shoulder. "Make this the last stop, Les. You need to eat." I was feeling like a horse expert by now, so imagine my surprise when I stepped up to the rail fence, spoke, and was completely ignored. Perhaps they had not received the horse memo that I was a grand friend to horses. I felt a little stung, a little miffed. And then it occurred to me. They were eating! They weren't going to desert a meal in favor of coming over to greet me. I could understand that. I was hungry too. I called out, "It's OK, horsey homes. I understand." I put the camera up to my face and as I did, one horse gave me the loveliest wave hello and good-bye! Can the reader tell which horse was happiest to meet me? I give that animal high marks for exuberance and congeniality. I got into the car and drove to my picnic spot, feeling delighted to have made so many friends in one day.
I drove a short distance to a high spot on a hill. The breeze was light and the sun warm. I ate outside standing up. I just wanted to be outdoors. I could see the highway far off in the distance and far below me. I planned to take a long downhill (Ha, Tag! Going downhill!), really fast few miles to the highway and then spin around on my heel and motor myself back up that sharp grade without breaking stride. Reader, I know about gradient. This one was at least 10% (maybe as much as 12%) for a very long stretch. After that uprising hill comes a false flat and then another hill of 8-10%. I felt that strong. That confident. I'd do it withoutbreaking stride. Getting ready was rather involved. Keys? Check. BlackBerry? Always. MP3? Yes, with an extra battery tucked into my pocket. Big bottle of water? Uh-huh. Need some more hands, Les? Absolutely! I powered up the MP3. It started to play Track 47. I selected it purposely. It sets the tone for a fabulous walk at a really good pace. It makes a woman do a few dance steps in the highway before she begins to stride. You may listen to it below.
In my ears right now: One of the best tunes in my MP3. Check David Ruffin's eyeglasses and the choreography and the collars and the saxophone. I defy anyone to listen to this and not dance on the sidewalk or the highway! Oh, I like it by the Rolling Stones, too. Mick Jagger with his eye makeup and knickers and his narrow ass. But the Temptations rock this. I've left it large so the video can be enjoyed.
Something that charmed me: This day. This day charmed me. The sun and the breeze and the simple fare of cheese and melon and a hard-boiled egg I took along. The sound of no phones screaming charmed me. Having no bitchy people in my personal space charmed me. Looking a fear in the eye (horses) charmed me. Seeing a lovely old couple doing what they love charmed me. Getting ready to step off for some road miles charmed me. I was so charmed, I even felt charmed about returning to work the next day. But that would be hours and hours after my hilly picnic.
One photo credit (LimesNow only half paying attention): J. D. Morehouse