Dear Ma, I hope you don’t think me soft, but Skinny Beans and I slept indoors last night. We’re still in Fish Lake Valley, but instead of sleeping in a cold breezy mesh tent, we slept in our own warm cozy bed with the furnace on half of the night. Some sort of magic, you might ask? Perhaps. Skinny Beans is quite good with magic, especially when in combination with gasoline. Well, I think maybe what happened was that Skinny Beans and I decided we would rather not spend so many dark hours of the long winter nights sheltered inside of our dinky mosquito tent. And I know for a fact that we are both tired of holding our elbows in like pigeons as evident by the “you’re on my side” squabbles. These tiny battles start off as exaggerated gestures of confinement—my favorite is to try to place both of my elbows on my belly button—with accompanying sideways glances and huffs that say “you’re too big.” And just between you and me, I’m not so sure that Skinny Beans’ elbow jabs are as “accidental” as he claims. Each hour in the tent continues to retro age us until we’re like a couple of siblings fighting over “no man’s land” in the back seat. Anyway, I think Skinny then realized that, while we have been away for several days, we’re actually only five hours—as the paved highway drives—from Reno. And then I think maybe he realized he could do that ride in just four hours if he didn’t have a passenger and gear. And he also realized that while he was home, he could pick up our covered-wagon van plus a couple of fresh horses and leave his big BMW workhorse in the barn for a rest. This way, we can stay out here on the road, exploring the secret drawers of the desert, and in the evenings, we can comfortably cook our suppers, play games and sleep indoors. Anyway, Skinny Beans left early this morning before the frost thawed. I felt quite alone in the big valley as I watched his plume of dust shrink and blow away until he ceased to exist other than in my imagination. To pass the time in his absence, I entertained myself with the camera. This particular camera is different than the camera Pa gave me when I was a little girl. This camera doesn’t hang around my neck like a rapper’s belt-buckle-sized necklace charm, but rather fits in my pocket like a spy gadget. It even has a little window where I can see all of the pictures that are stored inside. The problem with color photographs lies in their inability to transmit the cold salt precipitating within my soul. Colorgraphs capture well the thick copper dew of summer heat—the fun and splashing and laughter—but the photographic paper fails to capture the sensations of cold I am experiencing out here in the winter desert—my sluggish fingers; my cold teeth; the constant silent focus on finding, creating or saving heat. To lure the cold into the camera and trap it inside where it will settle into the photographs, I’ve used both the black-and-white film as well as the color film. I do think the black-and-white photographs project the bitter cold just a little bit crisper than do the colorgraphs. I will send you both, so you can determine for yourself which feels colder. Night rolled in quickly, and along with it the heebie-jeebies that chased me from the murky waters of the hot spring to the safety of the mesh tent. I made myself comfortable in the middle of the tent and nested inside both sleeping bags. It sure felt colder without Skinny Beans giving off all of his heat. After a few hours of verifying the thread count on my pillow case, I realized I was quite bored in the tent without Skinny Beans. Penelope kept wanting to have a serious discussion with me about responsibilities and my future and such, but I told her I was busy. She’s too serious. I much prefer talking to my alter ego “Peanut Butter.” She’s a little dumb, but she’s a hoot to hang out with, always up for a good time. Anytime I want to do something fun, Peanut Butter is game. She just shrugs, smiles and says encouraging things like “here goes nothing.” When Penelope found out that I'd told Peanut Butter to ride up that rock ledge last month—the one we didn’t make it up—Penelope lectured us the whole way to the hospital… “you needed more clutch… watch where you’re falling… blah blah blah.” Anyway, Peanut Butter and I lit strike-anywhere waterproof matches and blew them out to watch the smoke curl and hover in the tent like ghosts. Then Penelope found out, and Peanut Butter and I had to lie quietly until String Bean and Skinny Beans returned. Big hugs, Peanut P.S. The white mineral growing on the grasses along the water’s edge is indeed frost, and the white mineral growing on the rock is not frost. Peanut Butter says it’s an alkaline carbonate precipitate somewhat akin to travertine… I think Peanut Butter inhaled too much match fumes.