Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Outlaws and Mormon Cricket Soup

For Tana, who has not only helped me to find my own memory places over the years, but who has been kind enough to share a few of hers as well - including Josie's cabin.    

           My sweaty left hand slips across the cracked, leather steering-wheel of my mum’s old Ford Mercury Zephyr as I take the left off U.S. Highway 40, just past the L & M Country Store onto UT-149. I’m heading toward Dinosaur National Monument, toward all the pasts and all the futures this beautiful, cursed basin collects in her deep, sandstone bowls. No getting around that fact, so I have a plan, or peace-offering, or trade, or bribe; call it what you will. Turn successfully navigated, I drive slowly, tires sometimes crunching over, sometimes sliding through, the swarm of Mormon Crickets huddled on the asphalt to gather the last of summer’s warmth. No wonder these damn insects are more road-hazard than pest, I think, driving just far enough that I have to squint the L & M into focus in my side-mirror before pulling off the road.
            Fifteen miles to the ranger station marking the entrance into the park; I have to pull myself together. I unbuckle the seat-belt and wipe my hand on my jeans before shoving it into my pocket to pull out a lighter.  Plucking a Lucky Strike from behind my left ear, I put it between my lips and light it. Tobacco and paper crackle loudly, as I close my eyes and inhale. A sudden thought catches the smoke in my throat and chokes me; mum’s gonna kill me if she finds out I’ve been smoking in her car; so I slide across the front seat, grab the passenger window crank in a newly-sweaty palm and turn it for dear life. Not fast enough. I jump out the passenger door and open the back doors on both sides of the car to let smoke escape. Too late. I buckle myself in again, the cab reeks of smoke. Shit! Just what I need. I hang my left arm out the window, cigarette dangling between twitchy fingers, and for some reason I’m crying now, maybe because this whole scene is ridiculous, and the reason I’m out here in the first place is ridiculous. And even though I’ve graduated from bubble-gum cigarettes to the real sort, I’m still five years old, coming out here for the first time on my kindergarten fieldtrip; sure as shootin’ I’ll see the ghost of Josie Bassett Morris. Just breathe, Bree.
            As the Discovery Elementary kindergarten bus rolls up to the parking lot in front of the cabin, a dozen tiny noses are scrunched up against glass inside, creating a thick veil of wet fog. The world outside is blurry, like I’m looking through a snow-globe from the inside out. With great effort, I peel my nose off the window and wipe the veil away with the thread-bare sleeve of my Tears For Fears sweater to get my first glimpse of Josie’s cabin. My breath catches; the cabin is small and squat, with slightly crooked walls, like a giant stepped on it or something. It’s made of wood, but not the flat, shiny kind like our shed at home. This thing looks like it’s built of life-sized Lincoln Logs! While the other kids are bouncing up and down on jungle-green seats, I hold my breath and slip past Miss Massey and the bus driver. No one notices me until I’m walking through the cabin’s front door and I hear a muffled voice screeching “Bree-AANNN-AH PYYYEE, YOU GET BACK HERE THIS INSTANT!” My feet stop; I’m suddenly sure Miss Massey is an evil witch who can freeze me in this spot forever and the next bus rolling up is gonna laugh at the snot permanently frozen in place as it hangs off my chin.
            That twat can’t even say my name right, I think, and suddenly my feet unfreeze just enough to step inside the cabin. It’s dark in here; the only light is jutting across the room in perfectly straight beams, like thin little Lightsabers in training. It smells all musty, too, sorta like my papa’s cooler after a fishing trip. I’m kinda confused because the floor is made of dirt, and this place doesn’t have any furniture, but it’s sure a ginormous improvement over the puke-colored shag-carpet in my living room at home. Making a mental note to inform my mum of this fact when I get back, I walk over to inspect the giant fire-place in the center of the cabin; it takes up the whole center wall and has two doors on either side of it leading into another room. In a dark little nook just above the actual fireplace, there are a whole bunch of shiny cans, all lined up in a row. I get just close enough to notice they are the exact same soda my mum and papa drink (Busch something or other) before Miss Massey grabs my arm and yanks me back toward the door. Once outside, I huddle in the cold with the rest of the noses until the witch and the park ranger tell us we can come on inside. While the old ranger rattles off legends about Josie that we’ve all known for ages, I notice the soda cans aren’t in the nook anymore, and just like that, any doubt I had in my mind that Josie’s ghost still lives here, vanishes.

            Around fall of my sophomore year in high school, mum figured out I was erasing the thin black line she’d been drawing on her liquor bottles with a Felt Tip Pen to mark how much was left. Cover blown. It was time to move on to safer methods of obtaining booze for the crew. And while we managed to score a bottle of Boone’s Farm for very special occasions, the method of acquisition for such a luxury was no longer worth the trouble (you can only take the gas attendant from the Last Chance out back and lift up your shirt so many times before the novelty wears off). Out of options, I headed for familiar territory, absolutely sure (though she’d been dead for over three decades) Josie’s place would provide a solution to this very pressing problem. By this time, I knew those soda cans from my kindergarten fieldtrip weren’t actually soda; they were tributes to Josie’s legacy of bootlegging during Utah’s alcohol prohibition from the 1920s-1930s. Aside from supplying her infamous beau (Butch Cassidy) and his outlaws (the Hole in the Wall Gang) with fresh horses, (allegedly) stolen beef and whiskey, Josie cooked up batches of apricot brandy and chokecherry wine and hauled it down to the Green River (a location now known as Moonshine Rapids) to sell thirsty Utahans some liquid courage. Turns out Utahans like their whiskey now just as much as they did back then, so for as long as anyone can remember, they’ve been leaving alcoholic tokens of appreciation in and around Josie’s homestead as small thanks for her “service” to the community. It didn’t occur to me until our show-and-tell sessions behind the Last Chance were no longer an option that Josie wouldn’t mind if my friends and I consumed a little of all that appreciation. Problem solved.

            Exhaling, I field-strip my cigarette and flip the butt out of the car window – just another ingredient for the highway’s Mormon Cricket soup. It’s now or never. I turn the radio up to drown out the crunching beneath my tires, Ace of Base blaring as I pull back onto the highway and drive the rest of the way to Dinosaur National Monument. Breathing a little easier when I notice there’s no ranger on duty at the fee station, I realize this is the first time I’ve ever brought alcohol into the park. Ten miles down Cub Creek Road, I take the left fork toward Josie’s Ranch and navigate the last mile of washouts and bottomless four-wheeler ruts before pulling into the empty graveled parking lot at Josie’s. Thank God. I’ve made it in before the place is crawling with khaki pants and straw sun-hats. I open the glove box and take out the bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine I’d picked up from the Last Chance this morning (turns out a two-year dry-spell is all the encouragement our old attendant needed to reinstate our prior arrangement).
            The cabin and surrounding ranch complex are shrouded in the shade of countless Cottonwood trees, planted by Josie herself when she settled this homestead in 1913. I take a moment to peek inside the old cabin and grin when I see a few full bottles of Bud Light in the fireplace and a few empty bottles on the floor in front of it. Strolling inside, I gather the empty bottles up, leaving the full ones untouched, and an overwhelming sense of teenage comradery fills me as I head back outside to toss the empty bottles in the trash. I can almost picture Josie leaning against the wood-framed doorway of the house she built with her own hands, bib-overalls stained with the day’s work, Winchester rifle resting casually in the crook of one arm, thin-lipped smile turned slightly up at one corner as she watches young women like me wander in and out of this place – decades of kindred rebellious spirits, passionately inspired to both mischief and greatness by the memory of her outlaw legacy.  Tipping an imaginary hat to her imagined ghost, I leave Josie in the doorway and head north up the dirt path behind the cabin.
            The pungent, bitter smell of sagebrush permeates the air as I make my way through a field, thick with sage and yellow rabbitbrush, past the old chicken coop (now more rotting wood and sunken earth than chicken coop), and over a narrow, bubbling creek. After walking up the trail a while, I pause when I spot the ridge marking the entrance to Hog Canyon and squint my eyes against the sun to look for the white bell-shaped pedals of Ute lady's tresses, a threatened species of orchid known to grow in the ravine’s mouth. No luck today, but I’m here on business of a different sort so I continue on, keeping Josie’s livestock corral (the very same one she used to hide her allegedly rustled cattle and poached deer in when the law came calling) on my left, until I spot the landmark I came here to find. Two old Cottonwood trees, fused together at their base create a deep crevice where they deviate into twin trunks, their branches spilling over the corral and concealing the nook from prying eyes. Sweeping the branches aside, I clear out dead leaves, dirt and feathers before placing the bottle of Boone’s Farm (only the best for Josie) inside and letting the branches fall back in place.
            I had planned on sayin’ something real elegant, but seventeen years of gathering vocabulary aren’t sufficient enough to express the depth of my emotion in this moment. The words catch in my throat and the best I can manage is a weak “It’s the least I can do, Josie. Thanks.” Lame, I know, but it’s not just a bottle of wine and this isn’t just a cool tree; it’s all the twists and turns I’ve navigated from that kindergarten trip to this one. It’s a heart-felt “thank you” for the kinship I’ve always felt with Josie and her legend, a kinship which kept me fighting when I didn’t have any fight left in me and moving forward no matter how many steps I’ve taken backward first. It’s a plea that she’ll keep my past safe and treasure it, in case no one else ever does. It’s a peace-offering for all the appreciation my friends and I have borrowed from her over the years, and it’s a deep appreciation all my own, something owed a long-dead outlaw who gave me so much, still gives me so much. And it’s also a pact, that even though I’m leaving the Uintah Basin for the Army in a couple of weeks, I’ll always remember to come back here… and remember.  

(Josie Bassett Morris Photos (black and white) courtesy of the Uintah History Center, Uintah County Library, Vernal, Utah. Color photos by Bree Pye) 


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Blood Money

      Permanent damage. The disability check I receive from the Veteran’s Administration every month has a rate attached to it, the value of damage incurred while performing my duties as a Soldier. One by one, every ailment suffered during active duty is assigned a percentage rate. Thirty percent for a twice-broken jaw, thirty percent for two traumatic-brain-injuries, ten percent for hearing loss, and so on – a carefully calculated formula for just how much the government thinks my body and mind are worth.  I just wanted to go to college, see the world. The price of dreaming is steep in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The check is a matter of permanent public record. The stain of blood-money will follow me for the rest of my life. But hey, at least my tuition is paid. “You’re lucky,” some kid said to me on my first day of class at CU Boulder. The real damage is invisible – I can’t wash it out.

     True or false? Honestly, it’s hard to tell these days. My last deployment felt like a dream. Twenty-seven deaths in less than ten months and I wrote the press release and covered the Ramp Ceremony for every one of them. The slow march down hastily-constructed aisles to pay final respects to shiny dog tags and too-clean combat boots while trying to ignore the muted sobs of survivors became routine. After the first few, I just went numb. I thought things would get back to normal when I got home. I thought I’d be safe – but the world moves around me so fast I can’t stop spinning.

     Sacrifice. Before joining the Army at 17, I’d only heard the world “sacrifice” during seminary class. Now, every time someone talks about the “sacrifice” my fallen brothers and sisters have made, my head feels like it’s going to explode. They didn’t sacrifice their lives – their lives were stolen from them for dreaming of a way out of their small towns and inner cities, or a college education, or medical coverage for their families. You shouldn’t thank them, I think every time I hear that empty “thanks.” You should apologize – every single one of you should apologize…

     Death is a familiar companion. According to veteransandptsd.com, more than 2.7 million Americans have now served in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than fought in the Vietnam War. Five-to-eight-thousand of those take their own lives – per year. Nearly twenty percent of Veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have suffered a TBI. When I returned from my last deployment, an Army psychiatrist diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder after months of insomnia, irritability and loss of appetite. I still haven’t told my family because I have no idea what Adjustment Disorder is – other than a small percentage of my monthly disability check.  I am still chasing the dreams I have left after war tore the rest from my memory. I still run from statistics – Tell me again how lucky I am. 

(2010-2011 - U.S. Army photos by Sgt. Breanne M. Pye, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Raider Public Affairs Specialist)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Advice for Millennials - from an Old, Army Salt

Put your cell phone down. Look at the world around you – it’s 365 degrees of screaming color, without a pixel count.  Talk to strangers – the stranger the better. Get to know your neighbors, it will expand your community and help you find solid ground to stand on when the ground you’re standing on is shakier than you’d like. Interview your family members – their stories are already running through your veins so creating deeper ways of knowing them will only help you to know yourself better. Hold the door for the person coming in behind you. Drink from a garden hose. Say “yes” instead of “yeah.” Go out to eat by yourself once in a while– you’ll find moments of quiet introspection and peace when you’re not always trying to be the you that you are in the presence of others. Practice random acts of kindness. Take your shoes off now and then and experience the world barefoot. Make sure the folks you love hear you say “I love you.” Get lost on purpose – you’ll be amazed at the perspective you gain from walking or driving around someone else’s neighborhood. Read a book – a real book – with the sort of pages you have to flip with a little bit of manual labor. In fact, read a book out loud to yourself or with friends – the art of storytelling takes on a life of its own when it isn’t restricted to a blinking cursor. Ask lots of questions. Chase down every last thing you’re curious about. Travel. Remember to say “thank you.” Drive with the windows down now and then – a little fresh air goes a long way and who knows how much fresh air we’ve got left. Don’t be afraid of me, the old salt – we’re really not as different as you might think. Try everything once. Okay – try everything legal once. On second thought, break a rule or two – it will help you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. After you’ve taken a drink out of that garden hose, drink lots more – much of what ails us can be cured by staying properly-hydrated (once a sergeant, always a sergeant). Memorize important numbers in case that cell phone of yours runs out of juice or gets dropped in a toilet. Be kind to animals. Put more joy into the world that you borrow from it. And above all – practice kindness in everything you do – there’s enough misery floating around the world, so a little love, laughter and joy goes a long way. And please, please put your cell phones, laptops, iPods, headphones, video games, and social media everything away long enough to look at the world around you. Humanity is holding your place in line – all you have to do is step up and join us. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Loaded twice-baked potatoes with garlic-herb-butter, pesto and avocado.

Ingredients for 8 servings:
                   4 medium-sized russet potatoes
½  stick Kerrygold garlic and herb butter (found at Safeway, Albertsons etc…)
½ stick salted butter
½ cup Philadelphia cream cheese OR 3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp of your preferred store-bought pesto. (A table spoon is just your ordinary sized spoon for eating)
1 avocado.. 2 if you REALLY like avocado
1 bundle green onions
8 strips of thick-cut bacon (Alt: One portabella mushroom, halved, then cut into thin strips)
1 package of Colby-jack or Monterey-jack cheese (Tillamook is my favorite; cheese will be to taste… I like a dump-truck load)
Extra virgin olive oil
SPICES (and herbs): Salt, Pepper, Garlic-powder, Cumin, Thyme

1.     Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.     Put a layer of aluminum foil over a baking / cookie sheet.
3.     Clean the potatoes then pierce with a fork about 6 times on each side of the potato.
4.     Lightly coat the skin of each potato with extra-virgin olive oil
5.     Sprinkle both sides of the potato with sea-salt, pepper and garlic powder)
6.     Place potatoes on your covered baking sheet and bake in the oven for 120 min.
7.     When the potatoes are half-way done, cut the slices of bacon into inch-sized squares and then cook on medium/high heat until crispy. (ALT: Sautee the portabella strips with a bit of butter or olive oil until tender).

8.     Crumble up bacon and put on a paper towel to de-grease. (ALT: Put portabella strips on a paper towel to de-grease.)
9.     When the potatoes are done baking for 120 min, pull out of the oven and let stand until cool enough to touch. LEAVE OVEN ON… Then slice the potatoes in half.
10.             Scoop potato flesh out of potato skins into a mixing bowl.
11.             Once you’ve scooped the potato flesh in a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese (sour cream), avocado, pesto, garlic-herb butter, salted-butter, herbs and spices (to taste) until well blended and creamy.
12.             Using a table spoon, scoop mix evenly into the potato skins.

13.             Place potatoes back in the oven at 375 degrees and bake for an     additional 20 minutes.
14.             Take potatoes out of oven, then top with cheese, green onions and EITHER bacon, OR portabella strips TO TASTE

15.             Place back in the oven for an additional 5 minutes. If you would like the cheese to be a bit browned, BROIL for an additional 45 seconds)
16.             ENJOY!  SALIVATE! DEVOUR! ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dachau Concentration Camp... a Photo Blog.

A re-post. Of all the blogs I lost on my old myspace, this was, by far, the most important.

Originally posted on July 18th, 2007


As many of you may or may not know, I have spent the last 2 and 1/2 weeks in Germany. For the record, I had an absolutely amazing time, and plan on posting blogs with plenty of pictures and stories concerning those times. There was one experience, however, which affected me much too deeply to clump it in with all the other stories and experiences.

I took so many pictures in Germany, it was hard to figure out which I should use for blogs, and which I should store for future remembrances.

In the end, I decided to tell the most important story first, and so it is that Dachau Concentration Camp gets its own blog...

A blog to be shared before all the others, that you all might take a small moment out of your day to reflect, and to mourn. To recognize and be thankful for all the freedoms we have today because so many people before us suffered unimaginable horrors.

My trip to Dachau Concentration Camp will haunt me for the rest of my life.

In memory of the thousands who died within the camp, as well as the thousands who died on their way there, this is Dachau, through my eyes.


This is the gate every single prisoner walked through to begin their imprisonment. The inscription on the door was a popular saying among the SS. It reads "Work sets you free" The same inscription mounts the entrance gate to Auschwitz concentration camp.

Roll call grounds were a big open space of hard, rocky ground, between the prisoners barracks and the Jourhaus. The roll-call area was bordered by the maintenance building; to mock the prisoners its roof carried the following inscription: "There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, diligence, honesty, orderliness, cleanliness, sobriety, truthfulness, sacrifice and love of the fatherland." The prisoners were forced to look at this saying at every roll call.

Life in Dachau

Each prisoner was given a badge according to their offense or heritage, homosexual prisoners were marked with a pink triangle. If a prisoner was both homosexual AND Jewish, he would receive a badge that consisted of a pink triangle with an upside-down yellow triangle behind it, the two triangles forming the Jewish star.

This photo came out extreemly eerie, as the uniform in the locker deplicts a homosexual prisoner, and Tina is reflected in the window. A German boi reflects...


The result:

Cruelty and Murder

The Toll

The barracks.
There were a total of 34 barracks buildings when Dachau was operational. Today, all that remains are 2 reconstructed barracks, and 32 numbered foundations.

Old photo of the barrack grounds, notice the road going through the middle of the barracks and the trees lining that road.

The same view of the tree-lined road as it stands today, with nothing more than numbered foundations behind it.

A numbered foundation of an old barracks building


Bunks: Toward the end of Dachau..s operation, the camp was so crowded that they often forced up to 5 grown men to sleep in one tiny bunk

Changing Room

Tina in front of a locker


Murder in the camp

In the course of the war, the Dachau concentration camp increasingly became a site of mass murder: From October 1941 many thousands of Soviet prisoners of war were brought to Dachau and shot. Other prisoners, condemned for execution on Gestapo oders, were transported to Dachau and executed.

A large number of prisoners were abused by SS doctors for medical experiments; an unknown number of prisoners suffered agonizing deaths in the course of atmospheric pressure, hypothermia, malaria and many other experiments.

Beginning in January 1942, more than 3,000 prisoners were sent to the mental home at Hartheim Castle near Linz on the so-called invalid transports and murdered with poison gas.

Besides the 30,000 recorded dead, thousands of prisoners who were not registered lost their life at the Dachau concentration. They died of starvation, disease, exhaustion, degradation, from blows, and by torture. They were shot, hung and killed by injections and other experiments. reference


The original, built in 1940

The crematoriums in "barracks X" otherwise known as the death chamber, build in 1942/1943

Barracks X, "The Final Solution"

The gas chamber was to be the final solution for prisoners at Dachau. It is widely beleived that the gas chamber (constructed in 1942/1943) was never put to use, but was instead, used as a model for other death camps, such as Auschwitz. There are, however, prisoner accounts which state that small, select groups of prisoners were , in fact, escorted to the "bathhouse" and executed with gas.

Prisoners never questioned the construction of Barracks X, as they were told that the new facility was an additional bath house for the increasing population of Dachau. The gas chamber is a series of 3 rooms. You enter the building from the left, and soon find yourself in a small, tidy waiting room, where SS soldiers were to explain to you the process for using the new "bubble showers"

A small door in the middle of the wall leads to the next room, which is the preperation room. Here, you were to remove all your clothing and await your turn for the "bubble bath"

The next room is the actual gas chamber. You would enter the gas chamber through another small door with the inscription "BRAUSEBAD" (bubble shower). The first thing you see when you enter the gas chamber are the numberous shower heads in the ceiling. Shower heads that will never spout running water. Shower heads with no other purpose other than to fool prisoners into herding themselves to death quietly.


Inside the chamber, errily enough, most of the pictures taken of me in the actual gas chamber came out blurry. Appropriate, all things considered.

Tina in the chamber

On the other side of the gas chamber there is another door. It is much bigger than the first two, as it leads into a large storage room which is connected to the cremetorium. After the mass murder in the gas chamber, prisoners were to be dragged out through that door, and thrown in one mass lump to await their cremation and anonymous burial.

Outside of "Barracks X" , there is a path that leads you through the tree line, to sites of mass execution, thousands of unknown graves, and memorials that leave you aching and raw.

above inscription

Tina, kneeling over an execution mound with a blood ditch beneath her. The point of this picture was to demonstrate what thousands of men had to face every day. A prisoner was forced to kneel over the ditch, with his hands behind his back, so an SS officer could stand behind him, point a gun at his head, and pull the trigger. The prisoners were forced to kneel with their heads down so that they would fall forward, into the blood ditch. Convenient. Of all the photos I took at Dachau, I beleive this one haunts me the most.

A boi mourns


On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps; more than half of this number were in the main camp. Of these, 43,350 were categorized as political prisoners, while 22,100 were Jews, with the remainder falling into various other categories. Starting that day, the Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee far to the south. During the death march, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion. On April 29, 1945, American forces liberated Dachau. As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition. In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march. reference

Memorial Sculpture at Dachau

Memorial plaque for U.S. Troops, who gave thousands back their freedom.

6 million people died during the Holocaust... all we have left are the shells of their prisons, and their ashes. Millions of unidentified ashes, that will forever serve as a reminder... NEVER AGAIN.

This photo blog was made in memory of those who lost their lives in Dachau, and those who survived, to share their stories with us, that we might never know their torment.