Earnest The Extraordinary

I came close to not writing a Christmas story this year. I started typing up a traditional Christmas letter before realizing how redundant it was with the phenomena that is Face Book. Anything I would care to share with folks has already been shared – complete with graphic high definition photos. Yes – you are welcome for the Franken Knee shots – hopefully nobody was eating dinner and perusing my page at the same time.

In summary:

  1. I shoot shit – mostly balloons and an occasional raccoon. I’m not very good at killing balloons yet – but I’m lethal on the coon population.
  2. I continue to cut trees and clear trail for the Backcountry Horseman when I’m not trying out new Dutch oven recipes on the crew. My specialty is dessert. I heard, “Here comes the dessert girl” more than once last year.
  3. I was somehow talked into (sounds much better than tricked) joining a drill team. Something I did not think I would really enjoy but turns out I love it and it’s been great for me and my horse. The best part has been the new friends I’ve met in the process.
  4. My youngest son, Blake, was married in August. He married into a wonderful family and will be starting their own sometime next summer.
  5. My horse had his unfair share of illnesses, injuries and setbacks this year. However, barring shooting him in the ear again, we plan to come back with a vengeance in 2015.
  6. I changed jobs with the department – my primary focus is e-discovery and data forensics. It’s like an interactive mystery novel and I do love a good mystery. Someday I plan to write one.
  7. I had a few pieces and parts removed and/or replaced. Again, you are welcome for the gnarly knee pictures that arrived in time for Halloween.

If I had to reflect on the most important aspects of my life over the last year – I would definitely say it has been my continued relationship with God, my family and the wonderful friends He has brought into my life. Without all of which I would be nothing but a shell and a $75,000.00 leg.

Oh – I almost forgot the Christmas story. A couple days ago I woke with the inspiration to write something. A children’s story popped into my head. As I wrote it – I pictured it illustrated in watercolor. A droopy, sad eyed donkey with long ears and a heart filled with hope. A donkey that no matter how small and insignificant he may appear on the outside, was rather quite extraordinary on the inside.

I hope you enjoy reading this story to your children and grandchildren.

Merry Christmas to you all and my God bless each and every one of you.


Earnest the Extraordinary

The journey of an ordinary donkey

 Ask anyone and they would tell you: Earnest was an ordinary sort of donkey. Not special in any sort of way; just a donkey, nothing more, nothing less. Earnest, sadly enough, felt much less than ordinary.

Earnest looked around the small barnyard he called home. There was nothing special about it at all. Chickens scratched in the yard. Oxen lazily chewed their cud beneath the shade of the olive trees and sheepdogs stood guard over their flock.

It seemed that everyone had an important job to do; everyone except Earnest. He tried so very hard not to let it get him down, but some days he just couldn’t help it. You see, deep down Earnest felt he was meant to be something more than just an ordinary donkey. He didn’t know what that something was exactly – but he felt it just the same.

Earnest was feeling particularly ordinary the day Mrs. Goose found him looking more distraught than usual. “Why Earnest Donkey, you look positively and utterly hopeless with that sad, long ordinary face!” she squawked. “Whatever is the matter?” Earnest explained to Mrs. G how he felt like an ordinary donkey on the outside, but rather extraordinary on the inside. “Nonsense!” she honked. “You are what you are, nothing more, and nothing less. Facts are facts and the fact is, Earnest E. Donkey, you are not extraordinary.

Earnest wasn’t ready to give up just yet. He bade Mrs. Goose good day and wandered over to the chicken coop. He poked his head inside the small door of the hen house. Blustering hens filled the boxes of nests with fresh eggs of varying shades of brown – some freckled, some speckled and some neither nor. “Good morning ladies,” said Earnest sweetly. At once the house erupted with gaggling hens. “Good heavens! What’s he doing here! It has gotten to be where a lady has no privacy! No privacy at all!” “I’m sorry ladies.” Earnest apologized. “I was hoping you might be able to help me. I would like to be less ordinary and more…I don’t know – productive perhaps, like you.” A large red hen waddled closer to Earnest and cackled before pecking him smartly on the muzzle. “Like us? You want to be like us? Preposterous! You could never be like us because you, Earnest E. Donkey, are not extraordinary.

Earnest backed out of the hen house rubbing his tender muzzle. He strolled into the pasture where oxen pulled heavy plows through the farmers’ field. “Good day to you gentleman, I would like to offer my assistance!” Earnest said proudly. The oxen stopped what they were doing and laughed at Earnest as he fumbled to slip the cumbersome yoke around his small neck. The yoke was much too large and much too heavy for poor Earnest –tipping him topside down and bottom side up. The sight of Earnest tipped upside down in such a manner caused the oxen to laugh harder still:  “Away with you silly little donkey! You could never be strong and powerful like us because you, Earnest E. Donkey, are not extraordinary!

Earnest tipped himself right-side up. His head hung low as he left the field of oxen and ambled toward a large sheepdog guarding a flock of black faced mutton dotting the hillside. Earnest marched right up and plopped matter-of-fact onto his haunches next to the dog. He turned his head from side to side surveying the hillside without uttering a word. “Who do you think you’re fooling?” barked the dog. His bark was so fierce and so loud it caused Earnest to jump. His voice trembled when he answered. “I…I only thought I could help watch over the flock, like you.” “Like ME?” barked the dog. “Don’t be absurd. You could never be bold and fearless like me because you, Earnest E. Donkey, are not extraordinary.

Earnest wandered to the far edge of the farm where he was born and raised. He paused at the corner separating the familiar from that which was not. Everything he had ever known was behind him; the oxen in the fields and the sheep grazing on the hillsides. The cackling hens and gaggling geese – all reminders of what he was not…Earnest was not extraordinary.

As Earnest left the farm behind him, the days passed beneath his ordinary hooves – each as uneventful as the next. He passed by Shepherds tending flocks and milkmaids milking the cows. He passed merchants on their way to peddle wares at market and weary travelers on their way to and fro; all much too preoccupied to pay mind to a little donkey that was, after all, not extraordinary at all.

Just when Earnest was beginning to think there wasn’t anything extraordinary left in the entire world – he came upon a caravan of camels laden with treasures the likes of which he had never seen! Jewel encrusted chests stuffed full of silver, gold and fine linens…all adorned with golden chains and strands of precious pearls! Earnest had to trot to keep up with the long legged camels. “Good day my magnificent friends. My name is Earnest. Might I travel with you for a bit?” A particularly regal camel looked down his long muzzle without breaking stride. “Surely you jest. We carry the treasures of mighty kings upon our backs! One might say it beneath one to associate with an ordinary donkey. Especially, Earnest E. Donkey – one so obviously not extraordinary.

Earnest could sink no lower. His long donkey ears practically drug the ground. He trod on in this fashion for days, or maybe weeks. He didn’t know or care. As far as he was concerned, his journey was over. He would spend one last, lonely night along the River Jordan before returning home. Home to his ordinary life on the ordinary farm where he would live out his days as an ordinary donkey – quite possibly less than ordinary. He let out a big sigh.

Earnest stretched his short, grey donkey legs and yawned at the rising sun. The previous day had made up his mind to go home. What changed … he could not say. As Earnest slept that night he was overcome with a powerful feeling compelling him to continue on his journey.

Late morning brought Earnest to a crossroads. The sign pointed in two directions: this way to “Nazareth” – that way to “Bethlehem.” The feeling he experienced the night before returned…pulling him toward Nazareth.

Earnest walked several miles before meeting a group of travelers heading south. A young couple was amongst the travelers; the woman heavy with child. The couple lagged behind the rest. Earnest feared for their safety as the roads were known to be teeming with bandits!

Earnest was pleasantly surprised when the young couple did not brush him aside as others had on his journey. They told him they were on their way to Bethlehem to register for the census as the law required. The woman’s time was nearing. Earnest knew what he must do. “Please, let me help. I know I am just a small, ordinary donkey, but my back is strong and I could easily carry you as far as you need to go!” The woman smiled at Earnest as the man helped her onto the donkeys back.

The young couple was able to travel much faster with Earnest’s help. They passed rolling hillsides with sheepdogs guarding their flocks. They passed oxen toiling in the fields and majestic camels burdened with the weight of untold riches. Not one said an unkind word to Earnest. They merely knelt in wonder as the little donkey and his companions continued on their journey.

The trio reached Bethlehem on the fourth day of travel. The young couple went from inn to inn searching for a place to rest to no avail; each filled to capacity. With nowhere else to turn, they settled in to a manger. The small cave offered privacy for the mother-to-be and a place for Earnest in the outer chamber.

Earnest could not fall asleep. He tossed and turned, worried about his new friends. Suddenly, a beautiful voice came to him out of the night. Earnest had never heard an angel before – but he knew it to be true. The angel spoke: (Luke 2-10)…“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” A wondrous peace came over Earnest such as he had never felt and he drifted soundly into sleep.

Earnest stayed with the young family for several days before deciding it was time to return home. He said his tearful good-byes to the young couple and the child he knew he would carry in his heart forever. As he turned to leave, an angel appeared before him. “My dear Earnest, as a gift to you for your strength of heart and unwavering courage, I place upon your back this shadow of the cross. Let it be a reminder to all who see it of the love of our Father in heaven and the rewards offered to those willing to accept his Grace. And…my dear little one – let it be a reminder to you as well that you, Earnest E. Donkey… are most extraordinary.






Dear Emmett – The lost art of letter writing

Dear Emmett, Long before the computer, long before email and even long before the electric typewriter…there existed the lost art of letter writing.

Haas Rd. Mailbox
Haas Rd. Mailbox

The above sentence starts the first hand-written letter I have composed in more years than I can recall. The letter is addressed to my grandson, Emmett. As a kid, I loved making the journey across our front yard to our galvanized aluminum mailbox perched precariously atop a splintered wooden post. Peeking inside the box and retrieving those letters was akin to opening a treasure chest full of untold secrets, quickly scanning for the individual treasure addressed only to me. It occurred to me that children of Emmett’s age may never experience this lost art. With that thought, I decided I would pick up this forgotten tradition and write a genuine letter written in my own hand. I hope that when Emmett is old enough to read that my writing is legible enough for him to decipher it. I am finding that a person loses the muscle memory required to hold a pen long enough to compose more than a few sentences. I imagine that will improve with practice. As for spelling and grammar – I don’t see time helping with that one much at all. I’m afraid grandma has relied on spell check far too long. My hand cramped and struggled to hold onto the pen and form any real semblance of alphabetical characters. My brow furrowed at the flow of ink lagging far behind the thoughts racing through my mind, begging to be transferred to paper. How did people write entire novels like this? I managed to scribble a little over a page before the hand cramping won out: “Dear Emmett, how are you? How is your little sister doing…how is the weather in Wyoming? Hope you are all well” Signed “Gramma Laurie and Jack. PS: I love you!” I placed the letter in a security envelope (because a letter from Gramma can’t be sent to secure these days) and affixed a .46 cent forever freedom stamp in the upper right hand corner. I bet you a roll of those .46 cent stamps that if you handed a kid an envelope today he wouldn’t know which corner to place the stamp! Not my grandson. I refuse to let this ancient tradition bypass another generation. My boy will know how to properly address an envelope AND tie his shoes in spite of a world engulfed in digitized communication and Velcro. I practically skipped to the end of my driveway with Emmett’s letter. Weighing less than an ounce in physical mass, the words and thoughts within contain immeasurable units of pure love. I smiled at the thought of Emmett’s joy as his mom reads him the letter. Will he have the same feelings I did at his age when I found a letter in our mail box address to me from my grandma? I pulled the plastic red flag in the upright position; a proud signal to the mail lady there was something besides bills and junk mail for delivery…an untold treasure addressed only to him.

The Fundamental Four

Leslie Gulch
Leslie Gulch

Essential items for every hike

 I wrote this article after spending an unexpected 18 hours lost in the Owyhee’s several years ago. I had walked away from hunting camp with nothing but a 16oz bottle of water, a shotgun, three .20 gauge shells and a dog. I had a lot of time to think about what items I wished I had carried with me. While this list might not meet the Bear Grylls Man Vs. Wild approval list – it works for me. Unlike Grylls, I do not have the luxury of a cameraman following my every move, “just in case.”

There have probably been as many articles written on what essential items to take hiking or backpacking as there are people who hike.  Some of the same items will appear on different lists time and again; each hiker having their own preferences and unique methods of performing a particular task.

Much of the gear a person takes hiking will be determined by factors such as the terrain, the time of year and the duration of the hike, as well as the physical abilities of the hiker. Depending on any one of these factors, the list can easily turn into a top ten or top twenty essential items.

Whether day hiking or planning a multi-day trip into the backcountry, there are a few basic items the prepared hiker should carry with them regardless of where or how long they plan to be out. This is by no means a comprehensive list.  Think of the following items as the American Express of hiking and never leave home without them.

The knife: Knives come in many shapes and sizes from pocket knives to gadget-packed multi-tool knives to more sophisticated survival knives. Which one you carry is a matter of preference. Obviously, the multi-tool and survival knives offer more features and options, but a good sharp folding knife that fits securely in your pocked can be an invaluable tool. A knife can be used to clean fish or other game, shave tinder for a fire, manufacture spears for hunting and protection, cut strips of cloth for bandages and remove arrowheads embedded in your thigh after a day on the prairie fighting Apache. Perhaps it is unlikely you will need the latter, but it did get your attention, didn’t it?

Lighter or flint and steel: The ability to start a fire can mean the difference between life and death. Fires provide warmth, cooking, light and protection. They can be used to signal for help and provide comfort. A large part of successful outdoor survival depends on your psychological health and a fire can be one of the most fundamental elements in maintaining that health. Carry at least one good lighter. A lighter is essentially water-proof and easy to use when you are in a hurry to get the fire built. Wind-proof lighters are inexpensive and are an excellent investment.  Flint and Steel kits or magnesium fire starters are practically indestructible and with a little practice can start a fire fairly quick. Water-proof matches are seldom effective and can be difficult to light. There are more primitive means of starting a fire… like rubbing two sticks together, but unless one of those sticks is a match – it can take a lot of time and a lot of trial and error to get a fire going. Time you may not have.

Water purification system:  A healthy and fit person under moderate circumstances can live 3 days without water. Toss in extreme temperatures and exertion and that number is drastically reduced. Carry enough drinking water adequate for the conditions you plan to encounter– then double it. Always err on the side of safety. Water is heavy and carrying enough for an extended period of time might not be feasible. In addition to what you can carry, pack some type of water purification system.  There are numerous systems on the market. Which system you pick is a matter of preference dictated by the type of hiking you undertake. Smaller systems include individual filtration bottles. These filtration bottles look much like any other water bottle but have a filtration system built into them. As you squeeze or suck on the bottle – the water is forced through the filter. Water purification tablets are another means of water purification, are light-weight and take up little room in your pack. Tablets do little for the palatability of water, but are sufficient to kill disease causing bacteria such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Drinking unfiltered or unpurified water runs the risk of becoming contaminated with one of these bugs. The last thing you need while out hiking is a bad case of beaver fever.

Bandana: A bandana is the Leatherman of apparel. A bandana can be used to keep the sweat out of your eyes or dipped in cold water and hung around your neck to keep you cool. They can be used to keep the hair out of your eyes if you have it and to protect your head from sunburn if you don’t.  A brightly colored bandana can be used to signal your location should you get lost. Cut into small pieces, the bandana can be used to mark your trail if need be. Applied properly it can be used as an emergency tourniquet or compression bandage. Use a bandana to soak up water for drinking in an emergency and as a filter to remove sediment; just remember to purify the water before drinking if at all possible. Last but not least, tie the bandana around your head and look every bit as cool as Rambo while continuing safely on your hiking adventure.

One might wonder why food is not on this list of essential items. As stated earlier – a person can only live an average of three days without water, but the same person can live 3 weeks without food. The items listed in this article are basic essential items which can be stored in your pack at all times. Each takes up very little room in your pack but could make the difference between an enjoyable hiking experience and a harrowing plight of survival.  Not to mention how cool you will look in that Rambo bandana. Happy hiking and safe trails.


Monday’s Don’t Exist When You’re in the Saddle

WRT_Soloe (2)

An epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

My epiphany for the week: “Monday’s don’t exist when you are in the saddle.” It’s true. I sat in my state issued, ergonomically designed office chair, pounding away at the keyboard. My head throbbed and my knee ached. I shifted in a chair that felt like it was made out of granite. Ergonomical my ass; pun intended.

I needed a drink of water to wash down a couple million milligrams of Excedrin migraine. I don’t get migraines, but I figured the caffeine infused pain killers would help keep me from falling into a mundane induced coma. I gathered up all the change I could scrounge from my purse and head for the vending machines. I find I am short .50 cents of the $1.50 required for the tinniest bottle of water on the planet. They must have used an eye dropper to get that in there. There’s probably not enough water to wash down a grain of salt let alone a couple million milligrams of Excedrin.

The phone rings – the phone always rings. A sniveling user on the other end rambles on about needing some sort of access to some thing or the other. She has no idea what she needs access to or where this thing might be – but damn it, she needs that access and I darn well better give it to her and PRONTO!  I swig down the pills and pretend like I’m crunching a cyanide capsule international spy’s take to off themselves if captured. Better to die at my own hand than live through this torture.

I must have solved her immediate issue. I don’t really remember. Most of what I do is a blur, especially on a Monday. I hate my job. No, that’s not true. I don’t really hate my job. I hate the fact that society has forced us into to needing a job to survive. I’m not going to say I love it, but I will say that I appreciate my job. It is a good job, if you have to have one…and most importantly – it puts hay in the barn. It’s just hard to remember that on a Monday.

At last the work day ends.  It had been a Monday if there ever was one. I peeled off my work jacket, kicked off the hideous black work shoes suffocating my feet and let loose the tangled mop of hair confined to the top of my head in a scrunchie.

I replaced nylon and polyester dress with blue jeans and a cotton T with “Saddle up and Ride” stenciled across the back. That is exactly what I intend to do: Saddle up and ride. Rain, shine, hail, sleet nor snow would keep me out of the saddle. Except for wind – wind keeps me out of the saddle usually, however, after a day like this particular Monday – a tornado could not keep me out of the saddle.

Jack and Shade seemed as anxious as me to get out for a good run. I chose the Weiser River Trail for our after-work Monday ride, also known as sanity maintenance. Some folks tell me they don’t like to ride the WRT because it’s boring. Boring? I don’t it. There is always something different to see and experience on the WRT. The river’s channel changes with every season. The lighting is never the same, from sunup to sundown, painting the rolling hills with an endless pallet of contrast. I’ve encountered cougars, coyotes, rattle snakes, rock-chucks and a wolf that later proved to be a big coyote. Those damn cameras never do lie.

I seldom plod down the trail on auto-pilot in a state of hum-drummedness. My mind excels at filling in gaps of languor with imagination. I’m a pony express rider being chased by renegade Indians on the last leg of the run. The Indians are gaining on us. Jack must feel it too. He kicks into another gear just when I think he’s run out.  We narrowly escape to live another day – to make another run.

After my retirement from the pony express – times are lean. I hire out as a member of the posse to bring in a band of outlaws hiding out in “The Hole in the Wall.” We’ve ridden into an ambush. Shoot your way out or die! We are off again…blasting outlaws from behind rocks and sage brush. How fortunate for me that my imaginary pistols have an endless supply of ammunition – not unlike those in the Spaghetti Western. If anyone were to see me galloping down the trail pointing at rocks and sage while making “boom-boom” sounds, I plan to tell them I am practicing mounted shooting maneuvers. It sounds more mature than playing cowboys and Indians.

I don’t always have to rely on my imagination for excitement. Often, the trail provides its own. The sun was fast going down and it was time to head home. Jack, Shade and I turned back toward the trailers. We reined in from a fast clip after being chased …I mean, after a quarter-mile exercise run, and pulled to a stop. I straightened Jack’s wind-blown mane while he rested. Shade suddenly dove into a pile of rocks on the hillside. In a flash, she reaches in, grabs hold of something and flings it toward us. Flying through the air, all teeth and claws is what can be described as a varmint possessed. All wide-eyed and hissing, the demon soars straight toward Jack’s head. Jack braced, snorted and took a half step sideways. The varmint landed at Jacks hooves. Had he not moved the thing would have hit him in the face sure as shit! A split second after hitting the ground, Shade was on it again. No five second rule for this dog. She flung it toward us for another round. This time her aim was in direct flight of my saddle horn. If that bug-eyed bundle of hissing fur lands in my lap, I hoped to die of a heart attack before it went for my throat.  I seriously believe it thought if it was going to die – it was going to take out a horse and rider with it. Jack moved out of its flight path for the second time. Shade grabs for it again. I yell at Shade, “Kill the damn thing!” Shade complies – gives the varmint a violent shake and drops its seemingly lifeless body.  Shade was proud of her kill. Jack was impressed. He thought he would give it the old “nudge” to make sure it’s dead. Has this horse never seen a movie?! You never walk up to the bad guy and poke around on him. He’s never dead! He can, and will…grab you buy the ankle for one final struggle to the death. Jack put his nose on the furry fiend. I could have warned him what would happen. The thing twitched and let out a final death squeal. Jack covered it in horse snot and gave it a good stomping. Shade looked at Jack, “I found it first you stupid horse. That’s my kill!” We left the body alongside the road. I secretly hoped it was playing possum and would run off to its family when we got out of site. If not, it would make a nice meal for a hungry coyote. Either way, Mother Nature would make best of the situation.

Evening on the WRT means gnats; lots and lots of gnats. I was not lost in the irony of similarities between those gnats and the user support calls earlier in the day. I pulled the bug spray from my saddle bags and gave me and Jack a good dousing. Problem solved. If only…well, if only they had a can of this stuff for Monday mornings.

The day was near end. My headache was gone. My knee ached less and there’s nothing like sitting in a well made saddle. Those annoying users didn’t seem so annoying anymore. They were just decent people trying to do their job like the rest of us. It was as if Monday never happened. That is when the phenomenon occurred to me: Like bad hair days, uncomfortable shoes and regrets…Monday’s just don’t exist when you’re in the saddle.