Sunday, January 3, 2016

Lone Oak

We drove the last few miles to our new job at Wind Point Park just outside Lone Oak, Texas.  The chilly morning was blanketed by snow on the ground. The weather forecast promised this would be the last snow of the season.  Winter was officially over.  We pulled up to a nice portable building that served as the office. We were excited about meeting our new boss and setting up camp.  

The campground owner, Ryan, introduced us to Nadene, the front desk clerk and fellow work camper.  She called her husband, Norm, who lead us, via golf cart, into the park through the electric gate to our site.  He drove past baseball fields and basketball courts.  We followed him off the road onto cracked asphalt pathways leading to a long narrow and un-level pull-through site which would be ours. "Campsites need work," we noted! We were here to work.

After driving up onto five leveling blocks on top of some wood we knew we needed to move. It would do for now but we'd talk to Ryan again about a different site soon.  Fellow work camper, Norm was sweet and offered to build a brick step so we could get out of the RV without jumping.  Instead, he found a large stone to use for a step.  

We met Lonnie, our supervisor who was all southern hospitality with yes ma'am and no ma'am.  I thought he'd break his neck they way he kept tipping his hat to us.   We also met the original work campers Scott and his wife, they moved down from New York to help update the park with fiber optics.  Instead he was heading up mechanical and plumbing repairs and she was the head of housekeeping of the cabins and kept the books.  

Then we met the girls, Cindy and Tracy. They had been working the same "maintenance" work we would be doing  through the winter.They were nearly worn out.  They had been clearing brush by hand without power tools.  We would be doing their jobs on their days off.  It was going to be real hard work.  I was scared.  Kathy was excited.

Lonnie got us to work right away.  We had two basic jobs clearing land and pulling staples if is was raining.  Clearing land consisted of cutting poison ivy and other weeds and brush between and off trees between campsites.  See pictures below of Kathys poison ivy event!

We also picked up trash along the beaches and helped keep the campground clean.  Mornings began with bathroom duty and during fishing season cleaning the fish house.  We emptied large buckets of catfish guts and heads into a ditch on the edge of the property so the vultures cult feed on them.  It was amazing to see how quickly the meat would disappear off the bones.  Then we would start clearing land with not much more than a machete.  Well, actually it was a pole saw, weed wacker, and limb cutters.  We cleared at least two acres of land using these tools during out stay.

On rainy days, we'd pull staples in order to prepare buildings for painting.  The park had over a dozen screened in cabins which were rented by campers that preferred a roof over their heads. These buildings each held a picnic table and a garage can. They offered electricity and lights so crafty campers would bring rolls of 3mm clear plastic and a staple gun.  They would enclose the screens, bring an electric heater, and rent the shelter for less than half of the price of a cabin. (Not to give any of you ideas!)  The problem was there were no rules about hanging the plastic so the buildings were being destroyed by people stapling into the wood.  In one shelter we pulled out over a pound of staples!  

A few days later Cindy and Tracy, left.  They headed to Florida to work on their new house and their candle business, Swissted Scents.  They also got a work camper jobs closer to home.  It was nice working with someone our age and making friends with them so quickly.  

Nadene, once a cafeteria manager, is an excellent cook.  Norm had received a bunch of catfish from a sports fisher so we were having a potluck. Dinner with all workkampers and supervisors was a nice celebration of all of our hard work.  It made up for all the fishing without catching that Kathy and I did.  

Janelle and Jerry, friends of Norm and Nadene, moved in.  We had met them a few weeks prior when they came to check out the park before deciding to move in and stay.  Ryan and Lonnie apparently recruited them based on Norm and Nadene's recommendations.  Janelle would be helping in the office and cleaning cabins while Jerry would be camp hosting and garbage pickup.  The ladies were very professional.  They ran the office and insured the phones were answered no matter how late they rang.

Jerry and Norm, in their late sixties or early seventies, could and would outwork any of the thirty something locals when given a fair shot!  If it wasn't for them, the Beach House project would have never been finished properly.  The Beach House was a building one could rent for family reunions, meetings, or weddings.  It had a complete kitchen and folding tables for dining as well as a bathroom.  It was slated to open a week after we arrived and instead opened a week before we left.  

Besides being parked on a hill, our refrigerator began tripping the breaker on the pole but not the one in our RV.  When we turned it on LP we got a sensor code.  Something was wrong. With the help of the Internet and out friend and mentor Jim, the RV Tech in Washington state, we tried to determine what exactly was wrong.  We called a local RV repair shop and got a new fridge board.  Then we moved to another site, sensor code came back on.  Did we need a new frdige board.  A few days later it tripped again...were we pulling too many amps with the space heater? No heater, it tripped again.  Now we had a new breaker (non GFI) placed at box.  No more sensor code, lesson learned.  Our RV doesn't like GFI outlets or breakers.  Time to enjoy other things.

We got a few blogs posted.  As we did, we got requests for more pictures.  One of Kathy's best friends, Leticia, offered to give me a camera.  As a bicyclist, her ten year old digital Cannon was too big to be practical.  I received a her camera in mail!  Wow! I had lots to learn.  I don't know if I'm getting any better but I still love taking pictures.  I loved taking photographs of the thousands of white Pelicans migrating north.  

Kathy and I feel like we lost a few pounds and built muscles.  Work was hard! Trimming trees with hand tools is ridiculously hard. Since we worked weekends, we weren't allowed to use power tools so we didn't bother campers or residents.  Instead we used machetes, pole saws, and loppers.  Then we cleaned fish house.  People caught thirty pound catfish on a regular basis, some were even bigger.  We took the fish buckets, filled with heads and guts, put them on a trailer and dumped them into the pit.  During the drive we would sing the Fishheads Song. The buckets weigh fifty pounds and a were wet and slippery.  There was an ever present fear while dumping them that we would slide into the pit with the guts. Luckily, that never happened.

Our time in Texas was about our friendships, old and new.  Loosing our best bud, Keila was an adult choice we made.  We had hoped, Dr. Cooper in Houston would have been right but Keila didn't like the ramp we bought her and her pain was getting more devastating.  She wouldn't play ball anymore and her neuropathy was affecting her bowels.  We had to do what was best for her and let her go.

We relied on friends and family to help us through our grief.  We were able to see friends, Michelle and Cindy.  Both lived in the area and met us for lunch and catching up conversations. Our fellow volunteers, Mary and Fay were traveling through Texas with Mary's mom and stopped by for a visit.

Family visits included Kathy's mom and sister Karen staying in one of cabins for a visit and my Texas family, Mike and Jill from Corpus Christi.  They drove up in the rain, stayed in the rain and left in the rain, without windshield wipers as the motor had burned out.   I'm so glad family will do that for you. Besides the photography lessons, Jill crawled up on our roof and sewed a patch on our awning, now that's love!

Speaking of love, a furry little friend came along.  A cat was living behind the office.  Apparently, she and her siblings had been abandoned by the previous campground manager when he moved away.  We began feeding her fresh catfish from the fish house cleaning trips to the buzzard pit.  One day she showed up at our RV.  I named her Ketlin.  She needed a real home.  I didn't want too, but I took her into to the animal shelter in Greenville.  We tracked Ketlin the cat on the adoption webpage and with phone calls.  She was pregnant and the shelter reported they worked with a rescue group that took expecting mothers.  When we stopped by for a visit, she was gone. That's all the shelter would report. One of the workers did remember her as a pretty and sweet cat.  

It was hard leaving as our family and friends are mostly in Texas but our mission was complete.  We made some decent money, got to visit our loved ones, and refocused on a different future as work campers instead of just volunteers.  We looked forward to volunteering in Minnesota so we could see my family and began looking for work in the fall.   

In Memoriam: Keila January 2, 2001 - March 23, 2015

You came into my life as baggage
Baggage of a an old relationship
The relationship which left your mom with wounds
Wounds inflicted by another woman on woman
The woman that I love
The love that carried me out of depression
A depression caused by loss
Loss of a job, a house, a parent, a lover, a dog
The dog which had my heart
The heart that I gave to you
The you that is now just baggage

We discussed our decision to take two dogs on the road long before we left Houston.  Even then, we knew Keila's days were numbered.  We spoke of her not being quite so active but even last year, I wrote this:

Keila 'March 2014

One very excited friendly puppy awakes and searches for her favorite toy.

This determined energetic canine believes her job is to play ball.

Before seven am on a Saturday, the obsessed happy retriever forces sleepy people to toss the red rubber repeatedly. Then a tired panting dog stares with continued intent until her understanding loving mom feeds her favorite creature.

Keila no longer played ball.  Her old tight hips hurt and neuropathy took her dignity away.  Euthanasia wasn't any easy choice and became a sporadic, months-long discussion.

We bought a ramp for the RV, we cleaned up after accidents, slept lightly and listened carefully.  We noticed she didn't smile any more. Why make her give us any other signs. She stood still, facing walls and staring at nothing. It was time.  

We celebrated her final day by creating more memories and saying goodbyes.  We let our friends share her with us on her Facebook page and requested a photo of her favorite place, a trail in Tok, AK behind the Tetlin NWR headquarters. 

It was her favorite because she loved the springiness provided by the moist, dense thawed tundra.  She sprinted through those woods like she'd been poked by a cattle prod, enjoying the hell out of how the ground supported her fragile hips rather than hurting them.  Keila's favorite playground is now fondly referred to as Keila's Trail by national wildlife refuge volunteer coordinator, Kay Lynn. 

Late in the day, in a town in northeast Texas, she has crossed the rainbow bridge to be with all the others loved by us and others. 

First day on the road without her
We loaded and hit the road after a short walk and lots of goodbyes
No kolaches sons Subway sufficed
We discussed fill ups and breaks

We crossed the state line to Arkansas and she wasn't there
We bought brownies and chow chow at a fruit stand
While Frances was stalked by the cat she did not see
We looked for LP

A second outing this time with a bag
We arrived and set up camp with only one to tell "stay"
No one begged at dinner
We took a hike down a long trail next to the river
Walking through mossy lowland forest without her

We stopped to watch the rushing waters and sat on a bench
We discussed our happiness with our life and family of three four or five
I said I'd consider another but Frances deserved the opportunity to be an only
Kathy said the next would find us
We remembered her running through the bouncy bog of Tetlin

We made discoveries on the walk home
We looked for TV channels and set up the DVD player
No one sat on our toes or leaned against our legs
We paused and planned our day tomorrow
We told a barking Frances to "sshh"

We got comfortable and fell asleep watching Allie
We put the dishes away and got ready for bed
Kathy took Frances for a very quick walk
We slept well until the rain came again
I awoke to go to the bathroom

I tiptoed to the microwave to see the time
No one thumped a tail
No eyes watching me in the night
Only one in a kennel sound asleep
This was the first day on the road without her