Rants from the Hill is cross-posted from High Country News Last Saturday around noon I was still feeling desperate for more alone time when my daughters Hannah (age 10) and Caroline (age 7) asked if I was finally ready to play with them. I had been making excuses all morning, explaining that I needed to get Beauregard the dog out for a hike, that I had to spend some time splitting wood, that it was important for me to haul rock to riprap a drainage trench I had recut with the tractor. In truth these chores were an excuse to drink beer, listen to tunes, and have a little time to sift the week’s detritus through my partially clogged noggin filter. “It occurs to me that you girls haven’t watched enough TV today,” I replied, beer in hand. “Let me recommend Scooby Doo. Facilitates cerebral development. Worked for me, anyhow. Besides, your teachers aren’t going to help you learn important words like ‘Zoinks’ and ‘Jinkies’. Why don’t you meddling kids go fire up a couple of episodes?” At just that moment my wife Eryn stepped around the corner of the house, frowning at her irresponsible husband. “Ruh-roh,” I muttered, changing my tune. “Girls, much as I hate to deprive you of more Scoob and Shag, let’s go play. What did you have in mind?” “Let’s build something ginormous!” exclaimed little Caroline. “I think we should build a gigantic one of those,” said Hannah, pointing at the label on my beer bottle. “What is that cool thing, Dad?” I had been drinking the best beer brewed in my town, an Ichthyosaur IPA from Great Basin Brewing – a barleypop fondly called an “Icky” by all brewfully inclined western Great Basinians. “That, my dear, is an Ichthyosaur. It was a giant marine reptile that swam around Silver Hills when this place was beneath the ocean a couple hundred million years ago. It also happens to be the state fossil of Nevada.” At first the girls didn’t believe me that states have their own representative fossils. “Yup,” I continued, “but most of them aren’t as cool as ours. Arizona’s is petrified wood. Lame. In Tennessee it’s the bivalve. Bivalve? Lamer. Connecticut? Dinosaur tracks. Lamest of all, because the state fossil of Massachusetts was already dinosaur tracks. But Nevada has a big old sea lizard. We rock.” I hoisted the bottle in cheers and downed the last of my Icky. With that Caroline raised both puny arms above her head and shouted “Let’s build a giant Itchy-sore!” Of course Hannah wanted to know what we would build it out of, and I confess that the prospect of constructing a giant sea lizard registered with me as the ten thousandth time I had felt myself inadequate to a task that was suddenly very important to my kids. “How about firewood?” Eryn suggested. I grinned in reply. “That, my friend, is genius. Let’s do it! Girls, y’all go make a quick sketch of a sea monster, and I’ll hook up the trailer and get your work gloves.” Twenty minutes later I had us ready to haul wood, and the girls had drawn a prototype marine reptile. In addition to having a serpentine shape that would make it look like it was wriggling through the ocean of our Nevada desert, it would also have a series of big humps, each of which would be larger than the last as we worked our way toward the head. And Eryn added a creative twist: if we could build our sea beast with high humps but low saddles in between, a good snow would bury the arches and reveal the humps, making it look like our marine reptile was swimming through a frothy ocean of fresh powder. In order to keep packrats from colonizing cover too close to our house (we’ve had Neotoma cinerea, that furry hell, nesting in the crawl space more than once) we keep the woodpile about a quarter mile down our half-mile-long driveway. The girls pulled on their gloves and climbed into my small utility trailer and we bounced down to the woodpile and started loading bucked juniper, pinyon, and ponderosa, a little sugar pine and white fir mixed in. Returning to the house we selected a flat area near the garage and began laying out the logs, starting at the tail and at first using only a single-log construction so as to establish the shape of our giant reptile. As we did, Eryn sat nearby in a lawn chair, reading about Ichthyosaurs to the girls from something she had googled on her phone.
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