Saturday, October 25, 2003

Robert Wrigley - Moscow, ID

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a 29' motorhome to go up a dirt road near the Idaho border. Yet, this is what we did today. The accomplishment of that was so thrilling - the dust, the bumps, trees and branches slashing at us - that when we got to the home of the poet Robert Wrigley, I locked the keys in the big tin can for fun. Oh, how we will laugh, I thought. In an hour or so I'll be finished with the interview. And to really make my visit memorable, I'll force the poet to endure an extra hour of Beth and me standing and waiting for a locksmith to arrive from Godknowswhere, Idaho. We're making memories, after all. What fun would it be if I just showed up and went away when I was done? Where's the gimmick in that? Instead, I'm thinking of ways to make sure all the poets on the trip get a story or two to tell. I can't always lock my keys inside like today, so some days I might spill an entire Pepsi onto the carpet, or release a baggie full of wasps that I smuggle in. Maybe at the end of the trip I'll just burn someone's house down. Stay tuned.

Robert Wrigley lives four miles outside of Moscow, Idaho, a rugged college town near the Washington border. Our newly named rolling tin can (Winnie Cooper) squeezes up a combination of gravel and dirt roads, through severe switchbacks to the top of a towering hill that looks south and back toward town. The view is extraordinary, three mountain ranges, one more than 100 miles away on the horizon. On a clear day you can see all the way to Oregon.

Wrigley greets us and shows us his studio, a 12 X 15 building he built himself. Inside it's full of books, pictures, and a gleaming white Fender Stratocaster that Wrigley won in a raffle. Wrigley played as a kid around St. Louis, but now just uses the guitar to help delay the inevitable work that awaits him at his desk, where his hard backed journal and mechanical pencil await.

Robert and I sit in the studio, and while I'm setting up a camera, he shows me a 1934 Webster's unabridged dictionary. It's on a wooden stand covered with a small towel. It's a prized possession. He points out that the book, being so old, is missing a lot of words in use normally now, and it's an idea that surprises me, but that seems to really please him.

He sits in a high backed office chair and I'm on the couch/futon and we talk easily. It's not hard to see how the natural world that populates Wrigley's work ended up there; we're in the midst of a mountain forest that teems with animal and plant life. He tells me about moose, coyotes, owls, snakes, and bear.

After we finish chatting, we go out of the studio to discover my wife sitting by the Winnebago, locked up nice and safe, the keys resting politely and disarmingly on the dash.

Wrigley takes us into the main house and we take turns calling locksmiths until we find one open on this sunny Saturday.

For 30 minutes we play with Opal, the 4 year old Australian Shepherd who is happy to see us. I silently fume at myself as we wait, but my wife is relaxed and Robert is a perfect host. He shows us some photos of another house he says has a better view than this one - though I can't imagine such a thing exists. He shows me another photo of a mutual friend.

When the locksmith arrives, we go down to greet the guy and his wife who apparently travels with him on his weekend calls. The locksmith tells me it'll be $20 and then inserts a small wedge into the space between the window and lower window jamb on the passenger side.

Then he pulls out an 18 inch "slim jim" and begins wriggling it in the opening till the lock pops. He reaches in, unlocks the other side and we're about ready to go. I'm pulling out $20 when I hear a gurgling. The locksmith's wife hears it too and looks at me. It sounds like hot water on metal, which of course it is. The locksmith's truck's radiator has had enough and is giving up its water and coolant like an open faucet on July 4th. I stand back, a little alarmed - such is my bravery - but the locksmith goes right up to the boiling radiator and gingerly loosens the cap. Once it's off, he goes back to the back of his truck, gets some more coolant, and begins feeding it in the radiator.

I think to myself that things couldn't get any better. I've been stuck in Robert Wrigley's driveway for an hour, and now my new friend is stuck too, and he's right behind me. We're here forever. I wonder if Robert has guest rooms for all of us. Maybe I'll just move in. I hope that the next poor sap who wants to interview Wrigley lets a few months pass. This shan't be forgotten.

I fetch a gallon of water from underneath Winnie Cooper and give it to the locksmith. The combination of a little time, the coolant, and some nice drinking water has calmed the locksmith's truck. He backs out and leaves us to say goodbye to Robert.

My wife and I shake Robert's hand. I apologize some more, just for good measure, and then we slowly back out of the long driveway. (This is the only way to get out; there is no turning around the big beast on this narrow and rocky path.) I lurch backwards, pushing one time toward the edge of a cliff which would kill me - but me alone - and then toward the rocky side, which would likely only scrape up the Winnebago, but probably crush my wife. My self-loathing - and you must know that I make Richard Nixon look like Anthony Robbins - is raging. But we get out of the driveway; my wife joins me. Gives me a shrug that lets me know that "Shit happens," and we angle slowly down Wrigley's mountain, aiming toward a road made of cement, running north, and headed to Spokane.