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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, February 18, 2011

Adventure Stories

Left Boonville at 9am yesterday morning in 60 degree weather but windy and partially cloudy. Called Bill's friend Paul in Corder to let him know we were on our way but got the answering machine. As we moved westward toward Concordia we saw a flock of ducks on a pond near a flooded area. All heads were submerged eating the succulent new shoots at the bottom. The land here is a bit more hilly than we've encountered for awhile and there is a subtle difference in the appearance of the farms. The contour plowing is so evident now that the snow is gone and with the contours of the hills themselves makes a really pleasant sight. The soil here is very black and as Paul will say later " We have good dirt here in this part of Missouri." Concordia was closer to Boonville than we'd realized and by 945 we had pulled off the side of the road to call Paul once more. My phone which I haven't charged since leaving home was looking a little peaked but lasted for the call which again was picked up by the answering machine. Left a message where we were and off we headed to Corder. Rte 23 to Rte 20 intersection brought us to a BP station --the only thing in sight in all four directions--this is big country with fields that go forever. The BP station had no gas--not that we really were in any trouble that way but thought we'd stop if things were going to be this desolate most of the trip to St Joe. Turned onto Rte 20 and as we came to the intersection for the turn left into Corder and I had my camera ready to take a picture of the sign I realized that I'd seen movement in the lot to my right just as Bill said there's my man. We backed up and here was a guy in farm duds next to a red pickup waving and grinning. And so I had my first look at Paul Gross, a man whose name I've heard for years. We backed into the lot and I rolled down my window and said " Have you just been sitting here waiting for a Vermont car to go by?" He laughed and said " no, but I left you a couple of voice mails!" We shook hands--he saying "Paul" and me replying " Kathy" His eyes searched my face as I know mine searched his. I liked what I saw and I hope he did, too.

Then he and Bill looked at each other and the happiness on their faces was indescribable. These men haven't seen each other in 30 years--Bill said '" You've still got your hair" and as Paul took off his hat he said " and you've got yours--a little farther back than I remember" and I added " And both a bit grayer." And that covered it--now the time was erased. He said his wife was still at work but did we want to come out to the farm and we said sure. He stepped back and looked over the car and said you'll be adding a bit more mud to the sides and we said no problem we're used to mud season. So off we went on alphabet soup roads but some that had names, too.

We were greeted by two getting on in years outdoor dogs--can't remember the black one's name but the little guy is Fred and a kisser! Then we went indoors and met the Queen, a lovely calico who is also getting a bit old now. She's the only animal indoors. We entered through a small mudroom just crammed with ferns and other gigantic plants. Jean used to winter them over in the school she used to work at but the new school won't let her do it. She was planning on putting them in the pig house but they didn't have pigs this year--the supplier had a disease run through his barn. They weren't sure if it was a virus or what but Paul did not want to take any chances and get shut down so no pigs this year. He grows corn for fuel but the pigs are known as crop enhancement. I won't elaborate on this part of the conversation but we did look at the contouring of the land and how it is set up to catch the run off and the soil that goes with it. I knew that it is terracing and Paul said that's exactly what it is.

As we talked I was digging through my computer bag and then the duffel bag to find the phone charger to no avail. Was somewhat upset but not completely because I knew that I'd charged the phone the night before we left on the kitchen counter and that it was on my list to pack. I left nothing on the counter and it was checked off on my list so I knew it was somewhere ( as it turned out--it Was in the computer bag in a zippered compartment I'd forgotten about.) Then there came this awful squealing from the yard--I jumped up to the window thinking one of the dogs was getting hurt. Paul calmly said, no, no Kathy, look up--so I looked up outside and he said No straight up and there on the wall above the window was one of those bird sound clocks and this horrible sound was supposed to be a white breasted nuthatch! We all had a good laugh about that.

Conversation just flowed--getting to know you stuff between me and Paul, catching up stuff between the men and discussion about our girls. Their daughter will be 23 this summer and ours will be 25 in March. He and Jean married in 1983 and we married in 1984, so the last time these guys were together they were still bachelors. They've spoken maybe twice in the intervening years but they are the only two of their PC group that have stayed in touch at all. I know where the guys they were close to went and what they did after Nepal but for the most part that info dried up about 20-25 years ago. One fellow Broughton Coburn has written books and been written about by NatGeo and was in a NatGeo special within the past year. He was really odd and actually left his post in Nepal but because he was developing methane production from ox manure the PC let him stay and eventually he was employed by the Nepali government. Jean bought Paul the most recent book--1995 but he hasn't read it--he wasn't too crazy about BC. Jean says the book is interesting and she lent it to us as we left.

But before Jean came home the three of us hopped into Paul's truck to go over to Dover to pick up some lunch meat that Paul asked them to have ready for us. I asked about the alphabet soup roads and Paul said he never thought about them and has no idea if there is any pattern to them although even numbered roads run east-west and odd numbered north-south. He said the lettered roads can be problematic--Jean's Mom years ago was coming to visit them at the farm. They told her to come out BB and she did but she lived in Lafayette county and they live in Celine County so she was on the wrong BB!! Of course, Paul said, when he was growing up the roads were the red barn road, the road with the church, the road past Gross farm. Then for 911 the roads were numbered but that didn't work too well--no one could remember the numbers. So the roads now have names. For example his farm is on Tabo Rd. Which brought him to the fact that there is a French influence in the area of which all of the German Lutherans are quite proud though to his knowledge there are no French people in the area! Take Tabo Rd--originally it was Terrebeau--meaning as he told me--beautiful land. We Germanized it to Tabo, he laughed. But he continued he was glad they named the road because now his business is known as Tabo Farm Meats and Produce, which he thinks is more appealing than Gross Meats! I just love this man!

After lunch the talk turned to Nepal and their adventures--climbing up to the Anapurna Basin---base camp for the Anapurna ascents. That was as high as Bill went --Paul helped another group of PCV's portage a bit higher. It was raining terribly and a Canadian with them took a closeup picture of Paul---soooo young and sooo far from home. I asked how their parents felt about them going to the other side of the Earth and they looked at each other and said they had no idea--their parents never said anything. The men told them they were going to Nepal and the parents just took it in stride. They laughed about the lack of communication--took a month to hear from home and vice versa. Paul said he was homesick a bit at first but then just forgot about it. The PCV's were the only guys not Nepali in their village--one per village and each a day to a day and a half walking distance from each other. Sometimes being the only white man in a village was an advantage because lighter skin was seen as desirable and being American was a plus but at other times you were made fun of and tricks were pulled on you. Certainly there was no dating or any interaction with the women--who by the way are beautiful and the dresses are to die for--these women look like goddesses. How difficult it must have been for these young men to be surrounded by women like these Paul took many many pictures of them and attributed his doing so to his horniness!

It was wonderful to see pictures--Bill brought none home--his camera had been stolen. The Himalayas are magnificent--Bill says he's never seen a more beautiful place in his life. Every morning these men rose to gaze upon Fishtail--Machapuchari--the home of Sheva. No one climbs it--it is a sacred mountain. The backside is so steep that it is gray most of the time--bare rock--the snow cannot stay. The photos of it are breathtaking. I also saw some of these rounded bamboo foot bridges over raging monsoon swollen rivers. Some of the kids walk two hours each way to school and walk through the river when it isn't swollen but the land is so steep the water is always raging!

How I wished that I had a tape recorder so that our daughters would have a record of these two men telling the stories together that each girl grow up hearing only from their Dad's. The back and forth of questions and filling in the blanks just brought them so to life. Looking at these two men as they spoke the years fell away and I could see them on the Setikhola River in a raft from which they'd lost the oars. In English it is the White River and they said it was White and it was cold. Bill had been an avid kayaker and Paul a canoeist, who had experience in the rafts of the American Green River. The oars in the professional rafts are anchored in their oarlocks--not so on the battered Nepali raft they set out in. Bill didn't remember there was a third fellow with them. At any rate, the oars came out of their locks and within seconds they knew they were in trouble. Bill somehow got a big stick and kept them off the rocks and they eventually shored up on a bit of a sandy spot. Bill jumped to shore on one side and the others got to the opposite shore. They agreed to work their way back apart.As Bill continued down the gorge he found that a few yards down was a 15-20 foot drop off like Niagara Falls. If they'd stayed on the river they would have been goners. I asked if they told their mother's about that adventure and they both laughed and said NOPE.

Anyway more adventures were recalled and Jean arrived home--I felt badly that this conversation hadn't taken place a bit more at the beginning of the visit so that it would not have been the large part of her participation, though we did change the subject to travel comparisons and discussion of her work as a guidance counselor at the local Vocational school and her daughter's graduate school plans. But soon it was 3 o'clock and I suggested we get on the road if we wanted to cover any more ground. Hugs were exchanged and hand shakes. I felt a real bond had been formed and I think we will visit again. We asked that they please try to get East and visit us in Vermont--Jean said she'd love to see our Fall. I hope it happens. We really don't have another 30 years!!

So off we went to Cameron and McCorkle's Pub. We were upgraded to a fabulous room with a jacuzzi and were too tired to use it--makes me sad we wasted it --but oh, what a wonderful day. Aren't they a beautiful couple?

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