“Horse Enchiladas in the Chain Gang?”

by Calendar Hacksaw

(Note: The ‘target audience’ for this month’s column consists of readers like me: weekenders and occasional visitors who might not have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the destructive power brought on by this year’s storms, and the impact the punishing weather had on the area we all know and love so well. I thought you might believe it better comin’ from ol’ Calendar, since I don’t stretch the truth nearly as much as the locals do)

Homecoming can be a bittersweet affair, even in the best of times. But in the aftermath of el Nino’s fury this past winter and spring, I wondered what ol’ Calendar would find upon his eventual return to the “Basin of Dreams.” For one reason or another, the weeks stretched into months, and it was dang near summer again before I pulled off Highway 58 and started that slow crawl into downtown Caliente. There was no parade, no welcoming committee, no nothing. Seven long months had passed since I last rumbled across those dang tracks; it felt good to be back.

But then I saw the road.

Or, rather, the lack of road. What road? Where did the pavement go? Where did it used to be? Where am I? Why am I driving across the front yards of homes where folks live; people to whom I used to wave as I drove by a quarter-mile away? Dang it; what the heck is going on here?

I hate change, but el Nino loves it. We don’t see eye-to-eye; me and that no-good eye-of-a-storm, spoiler of fun, beauty, peace, and the gateway to weekend happiness, land of year-round enjoyment and clumsy run-on sentences.

Well, I edged my way though the Canyon, always expecting things to get worse around the next curve, and usually they did. The damage had already been done. Caliente Creek flowed with the blood, sweat and tears of every settler who toiled for the right to live off the beaten track. It looked like film footage of war-torn Bosnia or Croatia; very un-American. I felt as guilty as a gawker at a public hangin’. I tried to look away, but there was no “away” to which to look; the damage and destruction were everywhere. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and for the people who live here full time, it must have been a faith-shaking reality capable of not only separating the men from the boys, but also the women from the girls, the cash from your wallet, the bulls from the cows, and the asphalt from the dirt.

Just as there’s never been a seawall built that could withstand the force of the mighty Pacific, there will never be a canyon road that can survive the violent mood swings of Caliente Creek. Yes, the Creek took its toll on a whole lot of asphalt, but it’s quite amazing to see just how much roadway it left in place. So there is hope, and everywhere I looked I found even more evidence of the optimism that first brought settlers to the Basin, and kept them here in spite of the hardships she posed.

Folks still wave as they creep through the canyon, the wildflowers are abundant, waterfalls cast their gossamer spells, and the County ain’t seen fit to dispatch teams of mental health professionals to provide group counseling. Team Penning is still on for June, local crooks are still appropriating property that don’t belong to them (Warning: The Dispensing of Roadside Justice is Doubled In Construction Zones), the Fence Post is still being published with amazing regularity, and it’s still possible to get a square meal in Twin Oaks if you time it right.

But those ‘Road Closed’ signs that you’ll see up at the Caliente turn-off on Highway 58 can put a damper on your spirit if you let them. In my opinion, and the opinion of many, those signs have no business being there. Caliente Creek Road is easily traversed by car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or on horseback. In four recent passes through the Canyon, I’ve encountered nothing that would suggest any need for four-wheel-drive. But I would warn those traveling the road for the first time since the storms not to make the passage during hours of darkness or while under the influence of anything more mind-altering than a glass of warm milk. The pavement ends abruptly, time and time again, and it only takes one time for the unsuspecting motorist to experience what some call the “Express Lane” to Lamont. So choose your time carefully and--most importantly--take your time.

I think Walker Basin businesses need our help. The locals rely on these merchants for daily needs. Karen’s Bar & Grill and the General Store are not considered “cute, out-of-the-way attractions” for local residents; on the contrary, they are vital to life. But without tourists and us weekenders, business has been slow, real slow. So please do ol’ Calendar a big favor when you get to Twin Oaks: spend lots and lots of money. Many of the dollars spent in the community never leave town; they just change hands. Keep the currency in good supply, and keep it moving around. Eat out more often. If you can’t visit, feel free to stick some cash in an envelope and mail it to one of the proprietors, just as a “thank you” for being there in the past, and hopefully being there in the future. Running a business isn’t a charity, but by golly the business people of Twin Oaks have sure helped out a lot of needy folks in good years and bad. I think it’s time to return the favor.

So there I sat, chewin’ my biscuits and gravy on a recent morning, when a young lady approached this ol’ stranger and began her well-rehearsed recitation. I knew the drill, so I cut her short, pulled out my ol’ billfold and forked over enough dough for a handful of winning tickets. To Megan Doherty and the other Penning Queen candidates: you’re our future, and we’re glad you are. Good luck. Now get out there and fix the danged road!

Calendar Hacksaw's e-mail addresses are <calendar@usa.net> and <twistedsisters@hotmail.com> and he’d love to hear from you, even though the correct Wheel of Fortune answer was “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind,” as opposed to the headline on this column. What a loser!

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