I decided to start a trail log of the miles, places and various meta-data of my miles in the saddle for 2016. Later I will figure out how to prevent you from being notified of every trail log entry. In the meantime – please bare (bear) with me.
The last of my nannies finally kidded out. Meet “Inspire and Revive.” Odd names for goats, you say? Well, there is a back story. There is always a back story.
I was perusing the Dr. Carson for President FB page when I came on a photo of a guy wearing the same “Ben Carson for president” T-shirt that I have. I thought to myself – why not. I’ll snap a selfie of me in my T-shirt and post it to my FB page to show support to what I believe may be our only hope for this struggling country that for decades has gone so very, very wrong.
With cell phone camera in hand and donning my freshly washed and oh-so-comfy wearable bumper sticker – I head for the general area of the goat shed where adequate lightning is sure to be had. As my finger lingered over the shutter button, a distressing sound emanated from the goat shed. I have heard that sound often enough to know that a goat was in need of assistance.
Sure enough, my last nanny was trying to give birth. This was her first time kidding and she looked as if she had been at it for some time. She was tired and weak. I could see tiny feed inside of the water sack “bubble” protruding from what I will refer to as “the baby shoot.” I know – silly – but there are some words I have difficulty saying, let alone typing.
I don’t have dainty little girly hands. There wasn’t room for me to reach in and help pull the baby. I couldn’t do a goat episiotomy without running back to the house for a sharp knife. Remember, I was dressed for a photo shoot – not capra aegagrus hircus obstetrics.
I broke the water bag and was able to barely get hold of the tiny hooves. I pulled and “Checkers” pushed. The baby came out backwards. Rather large for a first time momma. He was lifeless. I cleared the sack from around his nose and mouth and gave him a brisk shake. He sucked in his first breath and commenced to coughing. I tossed him toward Checkers head and waited for the next. It’s better for first time mommas to have singles, but not uncommon for them to have twins. I could tell by the way she was acting there was another one in there.
Checkers got up and down several times – totally ignoring the little buck she’s just given birth to. I left her alone for a few minutes while I ran in the house to get some clean towels. I was covered in goat-goo from my favorite T-shirt to the bottoms of my Dickies.
Back at the barn, Checkers was on her side and struggling to push out baby number two. I was able to reach in this time and feel for two feet. Backwards like the first. I winced as I pulled. It always feels like you are going to pull off their little legs. Out came a multi-colored, lifeless baby goat. I cleared her mouth and nose. Nothing. I hung her upside down by the feet and swung her around. It sounds cruel – but has revived a lot of babies by clearing their lungs. Still nothing. Shit. Aside from the momma and twins I’d lost a few weeks earlier – I’d had an excellent survival rate of 100%. I cupped my hand over the babies muzzle and blew several good breaths. A few seconds later and the baby sneezed and coughed to life. I tossed her alongside her brother and backed away. I learned if you interfere too much – the mommas can reject the babies.
Checkers is doing exceptionally well for a first time momma. The babies are thriving and healthy. Inspire and Revive buck, kick and strive to keep up with their rambunctious cousins nearly two weeks older than they. I soaked my Dr. Carson for president T-shirt in Shout and set it to cold wash. It came out surprisingly clean with no trace of blood or goat-goo.
Needless to say, my photo-op would have to wait until another day. Back at my computer I posted a reply to the post of the man wearing the identical T-shirt. One of the posters suggested I post a picture of the babies and name one of them Ben. I thought about doing just that. However, I’m not sure how city folk would respond to being named after a goat. I thought about naming them Ben and Candy – or maybe Carson and Mrs. Hughes… (Downton Abby friends will understand where I’m going with this.) Instead– I opted to call them Inspire and Revive, part of the slogan representing the healing hands of a man I feel would make an excellent President. A man who has not lowered himself to the reality TV circus that has become the norm in today’s politics. A man who in every debate has been the only contender to answer every question to the point and with integrity.
Unlike my T-shirt – we can’t toss the country in the wash and hope for the best. We need to wake up, pull our heads out of the sand and take action. Like two little goats that came into this world kicking and fighting for their first breath – I pray that Dr. Carson kicks and fights his way to the White House despite the odds. I whole heartily believe the very breath of our country depends on it.
brought to you from the crazy goat girl of County 70
Status date: 2-9-2016
Summary: 12 baby goats have been born to 7 nannies. 1 nanny is still to kid out. She looks as if she might burst any day. I don’t know what’s holding her back. The last nanny to kid out is a first time momma and rejected the female of a set of twins. She will let the buck nurse – but not the doe. This is not uncommon with goats, especially first time mommas. I still want to club her over the head with a 2×4 but I refrain. Twice a day I would stanchion the nanny and let the doeling nurse. This gets to be a pain in the butt when you need to be at work by 7:00AM. So – I opted to give the little girl goat to my granddaughters to bottle raise. Problem solved.
The enclosed attachment is a picture of “Polka-Dot” being coddled by Emily. No doubt this is going to be one spoiled goat.
PS: I am testing posting to my blog via email. This is kind of cool….you are likely to be inundated with blog notifications until the novelty wears off. I apologize in advance.
Life would be a lot less complicated if the events and the people comprising them were accompanied by appropriate background music. Like in the movies. Think about it. You’re watching a favorite episode of GUNSMOKE. You can bet your bottom dollar on the light-hearted, silly composition to precede the appearance of a beloved Festus. A symphony of dramatic sonata might usher in the stoic, no-nonsense figure of Marshal Dillon. Listen for the oeuvre of melodramatic depiction of a love un-culminated as the lens zooms in on the lovely, forlorn face of Miss Kitty. Fancy yourself the villain? Good luck with that. You were tagged the moment the first two howling notes of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” pierced the screen.
Reality is far more complicated. There are no sound bites to warn us of pending doom. We are obliged to assess the situations and people we encounter based on…what? Their spoken words? Written words? People can say or write anything whether they mean it or not. There’s only one written Word I put faith in and it was written LONG before the first episode of The Sagebrush Burns.
I use the two extreme opposing views of the situation occurring in Harney County as an example. The general public has been presented with few actual facts. Media of all formats including news, independent, mainstream and social, have been on fire touting opinions and “facts” regarding the situation. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I certainly have my opinion, but it is just that…my opinion. My opinion is one based primarily on my gut instincts. I would be foolish to present otherwise because I have not been given all the facts. That is where I see the problem. We live in a society rarely presented with pure, unbiased fact void of ulterior motives or political agendas.
It’s easy to be an arm-chair “opinionator.” We all do it. We sit behind our keyboards cutting, pasting and sharing the latest “fact” that supports our opinion. Justification for any stance is a mere Google click away.
I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to the unfortunate situation in Harney County, but I do know a tell-tale track of background music isn’t going to mysteriously appear….directing us audibly down the safest path. I must base my opinion on gut instinct built on a foundation of what I do know.
Two people were imprisoned for arson; allegedly setting fire to their own property and subsequently setting fire to less than 150 acres of leased BLM land. Such action, according to the courts, is a crime punishable by five years in prison. To my knowledge, the evidence presented to the jury in that court room have not been publicly disclosed. Did father and son intentionally back burn to save their own land from wildfire? Did they set the fire to cover up an alleged poaching?
Questions come to mind. Why would cattle ranchers need to poach deer? Anybody that would fill a freezer full of gamey venison when they have fatted, grass fed beef might have messed up taste buds….hardly justification for five years in prison. If the poaching, of which they were not convicted, did occur, why? I doubt they were going to eat the animals. It makes more sense to me that if poaching occurred – it may have been done to eliminate nuisance vermin. Bambi and friends can wreak havoc on a haystack faster than piranha on a dead cow. I don’t really know if piranha can strip a dead cow to the bone in under 2 minutes, but if it’s good enough for Theodore Roosevelt, it’s good enough for me.
Regardless, it is my gut feeling the Hammon family did not maliciously set fire to public land. The scenario that makes more sense to me is this: The federal government has wanted to acquire the Hammon ranch and the surrounding area. According to local citizens of Harney County, the BLM has harassed the ranch for over 30 years. I have no proof of this – but I am more apt to believe my neighbors than I am a bureaucratic entity.
Why is it difficult for us to trust the autocracy? Because of their track record. I’ve seen it in action. Stealing land from citizens under the guise of “preserving” it for…what…I’m not really sure. Possibly to sell off the mineral and natural resource rights as collateral for the national debt? Sound like a conspiracy theory? Perhaps. According to Barack O’Bummer – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk9l3brCenI) the American’s tendency toward conspiracy theories have been ingrained in us by our forefathers. Huh…I guess we inherited it. Fortunately for O’Bummer…it’s a trait he doesn’t have to worry about inheriting – being it’s an American trait and all.
Call it what you will –it is a theory more plausible to me than a couple of hard working cattle ranchers running around willy-nilly shooting Bambi and playing with matches. And what about the disgruntled young “witness” who claims his grandpa gave him a box of matches and told him to light the place up? I’ve raised three kids. One of them still talks of the alleged gigantic 2×4 wooden spoon I broke over his backside.
Right or wrong – two people are now in prison for a little bit of nothing. I’ve heard some say that’s justice. Really? Does the punishment fit the crime? I read another article “on-line” supporting the actions of the courts to imprison the Hammons. The document stated the Hammons negotiated the dismissal of certain charges in exchange for a promise of a minimum sentence as mandated by law. I suppose to some, that puts a new twist on the Hammons culpability. Not me. Many cases involve a plea bargain of some sort. I would go so far as to say that most do. When you’re negotiating with the devil – I guess you take the lesser of two evils – either way, your ass is going to get scorched.
Will we ever know if the Hammons maliciously torched 135 acres? Maybe…maybe not. I don’t think it matters anymore. Two wrongs don’t make a right and those people and thousands like them have been wronged by the very government that was designed to protect us and work FOR us. It is a fact the federal government is “acquiring” private land at an alarming pace and seem to stop at nothing in their endeavors to do so. I have my opinions on that as well…but I’ll save it for another episode of “as the conspiracy theory turns.”
Guilty, innocent, justified or not – the Hammons have been tried and sentenced…twice actually. I watched a movie once that called such an illegal practice “double jeopardy.” I guess that’s another one that only counts in the movies. It is beyond sad. Prisons are for serial killers and rapists. Not for people trying to eek a living in a world determined to consume their way of life and toss them aside. Prison is not a place for people who may have made a mistake in trying to protect that way of life. As the Hammons sit in prison, the world will go on without them. Their ranch will likely end up in the very hands they fought so hard to keep it from. Maybe not today or tomorrow – but eventually.
The America that once was, is an America that is becoming harder and harder for me to recognize. Is there hope? I so desperately want to believe so. I don’t believe the majority of the American people can possibly remain oblivious to what is going on around them forever. Our freedoms are being chipped away bit by bit, chunk by chunk…acre by acre. I hope that what has occurred in Harney county (and other counties across our nation) will force us all to open our eyes – unbiased and outside of political and religious boundaries.
Say what you will about the protestors at the Wildlife Refuge…their action has opened the eyes of this nation and drawn attention to what they and countless others see as a gross overreach of the federal government. Yes, they are protestors! They are not terrorists – they are not militia – they are protestors. No different than the protestors that occupied Wall Street or the protestors that march down the center of town shedding light upon various causes. Just because they wear cowboy hats and camo does not make them any more of a terrorist than someone in a beanie and rainbow suspenders. How many protestors have chained themselves to a giant redwood to prevent it from being cut down? Were they labeled terrorists? Was the FBI and the S.W.A.T team brought in to protect the locals? And don’t try to tell me it’s different because some of them exercise their second amendment right to bear arms. You can bet the S.W.A.T team didn’t arrive with bags of candy to throw at them.
History is bound to answer my questions and more. I pray that same history finds us a free people living in a nation we can once again be proud to call our Country. A history which may well prove we have people like the Bundy’s to thank for some of those freedoms. People who are willing to take a stand and fight for the constitutional rights this country was founded on regardless of personal cost. People with the backbone and fortitude some of us wish we possessed.
No, life is not a television episode or a Spaghetti Western. The good guys don’t always wear white hats and Marshal Dillon won’t be riding in on a buckskin to save Dodge. I sure wish he were. Our country could use a Matt Dillon. Heck, it could use a Festus and a few more Miss Kitty’s, too. In the real world, a person must wait for the scene to play out before them. The only Toccata and Fugue warning us of what is to come may be the one beating within our hearts.
Another year has gone by. You would think 364 days would be ample time to dream up what has become my annual Christmas letter. Similar to last year, I could not get motivated, inspired, call it what you will…perhaps simply too lazy, to write.
I had made up my mind to bag the letter/story, snap a picture of a can of Beanee Weenees with a dollar store Santa hat and call it good. I changed my mind when I received a Christmas card from my Aunt Doris. Aunt Doris and I have exchanged Christmas cards for as long as I can remember. Aunt Doris will be 99 years old in three months. Her handwriting is not only legible, but it flows with the artistic stroke of a calligrapher. Aunt Doris has always inspired me. From her stubborn independence to her simple, steadfast faith.
First, I’d like to share Aunt Dori’s card with you.
I so enjoy your stories and letters. Hope you keep them coming! Got them in my scrapbook to keep – (if that isn’t motivation enough to get my butt in gear, nothing is.)
I’m still able to take care of myself even though I have (“old age pains.”) I don’t phone anyone now cause my hearing is about gone and can’t hear without keeping repeating. I guess that comes with some of us, depends on our heritage. Being 3 months away from being 99 years old, I am well blessed. Have 2 wonderful sons and daughter in laws that look after me. I hope God takes me home before I am much older – But like Jesus prayed in the garden “not my will but thine be done.” So I live with joy and thankfulness! I love you,
Aunt Doris Parrott.
PS: I remember the times you visited us before and after Floyd died. I think you are pretty special.
After reading Aunt Dori’s letter I pretty much had to come up with a Christmas letter. Not only does she actually read them – she looks forward to them and keeps them in a scrapbook! Best Christmas present ever.
I didn’t write a typical Christmas letter or a typical Christmas story, for that matter. I took an excerpt from a story I’ve been working on for some time. I refined it only slightly to make it more “Christmassy.” The story I’ve been working on is tentatively titled: A Man Misunderstood. The events are real. The characters are real. The names have been changed to protect the snobbish and unkind.
The Christmas Raffle
Excerpt from: A Misunderstood Man
He looked nothing like the Grinch. One might say he bore a closer likeness to Ebenezer Scrooge – more so in attitude than appearance. He was a man with little time for the frivolous things in life. He was a hard man, at times coming across as strict and unfair, seldom giving in to unsolicited displays of affection. It wouldn’t be until one Christmas Eve, many years ago, that another side to this man would be revealed: A man misunderstood.
He was the younger of two boys who grew up without a father. The oldest both brother and father figure. He could be stern and unyielding and in the mind of a child at times unapproachable.
He was a business man and a meat cutter by trade. He built the small town grocery store with a mixture of sweat, calloused hands and a heart beating to the rhythm of independence and entrepreneurship. The concept of “borrowed money” was inconceivable. What he built, he would build by his own means.
The luxury of 9-5 does not exists for the small business owner striving to eek a living from a rural town of farmers and ranchers. He worked day in – day out. Sixteen to twenty hour work days kept him from the family that couldn’t understand why the man seldom shared their supper. Many late evenings found the children waiting for his arrival, nodding drowsily over a plate of cold, black pork-chops and fruit cocktail.
The man hunched over a plywood desk. A strip of white ribbon curled in a spool of printed numbers as his fingers punched the numbered keys of the adding machine. A fistful of paper slips in the other hand. “What are those?” Asked the child perched behind him on a wire milk crate. “Charge slips.” He growled. “What are charge slips?” She asked. “Charge accounts.” He growled with more impatience. “What are charge accounts?” She asked. The adding machine vibrated across the plywood counter with the slamming of his fist.
“Can’t you shut up for five minutes” Just FIVE minutes, please!” He barked.
The child recoiled. She’d made him mad again. She hadn’t meant to. It was late, she was tired and she wanted to go home. She didn’t like being at the store after closing. If the pistol under the meat counter and the other laying on the desk within reach was supposed to make her feel safe, it didn’t. She didn’t know how to use them. She was especially scared when the man left her in the office alone while he worked in the back recesses of the dark, cavernous building. Tears streamed down her face.
He mopped at her tears with the blue bandana he pulled from his front pocket. It smelt of laundry detergent and suet. He explained to the child about charge accounts in what would pass as an apology for his impatience. People, he said, came in to the store for groceries and left without paying for them. The charge slips were a promise in writing to pay for the groceries later when they had the money. Feeling braver than usual, the little girl pressed on.
“Don’t they have money to pay for the food?”
The child looked around her.
“There’s a lot of food in here. Why don’t we give it to them if they can’t pay for it?”
It was an opportunity to teach his youngest child a little about life.
“Most of the names on these charge slips have steady jobs. They could pay their bills, but they don’t. They don’t see anything wrong with taking a handout. I suppose they weren’t taught any better. The folks that could use some help are the ones who won’t ask for it. You won’t see many of their names on these slips and those you do are good for it. Those folks always find a way to pay their bill even if they have to do without.”
The child thought back earlier in the day. She was standing next to her father behind the cash register ringing up a customer. The customer was a portly woman with blue polyester stretch pants and hair the color and texture of straw. She couldn’t help but imagine her pony grazing atop the woman’s head. She couldn’t imagine even her garbage-gut Shetland would find it appetizing.
The woman hauled herself to the counter with two scrawny kids in tow – both in dire need of a good bath. A girl and boy no older than 4 and 5. The woman pulled a carton of cigarettes from the shelf and slapped them down on the counter to be rang up. “These too.” Her voice was hoarse and her breath reeked of tobacco.
The man’s jaw tightened. He’d witnessed the familiar scene countless time before. It sickened him.
“You can’t pay for those with food stamps.” He said.
The little girl heard the woman mumble under her breath something that sounded like “no good cheap mustard” before pulling a wadded twenty from her purse for the cigarettes. Strange, the girl thought – she hadn’t bagged any mustard.
The boy standing behind the woman tugged on his mother’s sweat shirt. The woman acknowledge with a sharp, “WHAT!?” that made all three children instinctively duck. The boy handed up a chocolate bar. “Can we have one?” The woman snatched the candy from the child’s hand and tossed it back on the counter. “NO! We can’t afford it!” She sneered at the man across the counter. “This store don’t let you have candy if you ain’t rich.”
The little girl finished bagging the groceries before helping to carry them to the customers’ car. She was the only one to see the man slip two chocolate bars into the pockets of the children in tow.
It was that time of year. The holidays. Eleven months out of the year the girl could have passed for invisible. Most kids paid her little mind and the teachers less so. Until the holidays. It was the same every year. Donation asking time. Surely she wouldn’t mind asking her farther to donate the Christmas Turkey for the school raffle. She couldn’t even tell you what “worthy cause” the proceeds went towards. It was her responsibility –heck, it was her duty – as the daughter of the man who horded the entire towns food supply to ask him to ante-up the holiday bird.
She sat across the table from him. He seldom looked up. Dinner was a necessity. He wolfed down his food in haste. The faster he finished, the sooner he could get back to the store. She didn’t understand it. He didn’t seem happy when he was there – why was he always in such a hurry to get back to it? Maybe it was because she talked too much and annoyed him. She kept silent and watched him over the top of a spoonful of mashed potatoes and gravy.
Still, it was her “duty” to ask. She did so without making eye contact.
“My teacher wants to know if you could give ‘em a turkey for the Christmas raffle.”
At the time she didn’t fully understand his answer.
“Half that school owes me money and the other half has nothing good to say about me until they want money for something. If they want a damn turkey they can come ask me for it themselves. You tell them that.”
She wouldn’t tell them that. The truth seldom came easy for the horribly shy and self-conscious. So, she did what any red-blooded American kid would do: she lied. “The stores not getting any turkeys in this year. There’s a shortage on them. I don’t know what caused it. Some sort of turkey eating fungus wiped ‘em out, I hear.”
Somebody somewhere had mustered up the courage to ask for the turkey donation. He reluctantly complied; 22 lbs. of frozen fowl…fungus free. Each year the man hoped the turkey went to somebody that truly needed it. Somebody like Mrs. Smithers, the elderly widow raising her granddaughter. Yes – he would happily donate a dozen turkeys if Mrs. Smithers could get just one. He knew life didn’t work that way, though. The turkey, as always, would end up on somebody’s table that had more than enough. Somebody who had nothing pleasant to say to him, or about him, other than grumble under their breath of “cheap mustard.” This year would be no different.
The raffle was held during the Christmas programs intermission. The little girl scanned the bleachers from behind the black music stand. The elusive notes for “Deck the Halls” splayed in front of her. Who would be the lucky winner? The bleachers were full. Practically everyone in town was there to listen to their adoring band student’s rendition of classic Christmas carols. The Smiths were there. The Jones, the Wilkins and the ever important Parker family. Aunts, Uncles, moms and dads – all lined the bleachers in anticipation of the drawing. Yes, practically the whole town. The girl looked for Mrs. Smithers. She wasn’t there. She’d been ill and unable to make the drive into town to watch her granddaughter’s Christmas concert.
Trisha Christianson, student body vice-president and all around snob, reached a dainty, manicured hand into the coffee can full of raffle tickets. She pressed the ticket closer to her face in order to see the name. With much pomp and circumstance, she cleared her throat in true raffle fashion: “And the winner is….Mrs. Elouise Parker!” The bleachers erupted in applause.
Elouise Parker was an important person. All one had to do was ask her or any one of her important family. She was on all the important committees and boards. She attended Sunday services at least twice a year (on Christmas and Easter) and never grew tired of spouting the family’s generous donations to the widowed and orphaned. The school should feel lucky such an important person found the time to grace the Christmas program with her presence.
Mrs. Parker leapt from her seat atop the upmost bleacher waving her hands above her head. “Here! Over Here! I won! I won!” It took her a second or two to realize nobody was going to hand deliver the turkey to her. She parted a sea of spectators as she bound down the bleachers. You would have thought Johnny had just called her name to contestants row on The Price is Right. “Mrs. Elouise Parker….COME ON DOWN!” From behind the notes of Good King Wenceslas, the girl wondered if she’d be going to hell for envisioning the woman taking a header off the top bleacher.
Trisha handed the prize turkey over to the raffle winner. Mrs. Parker raised the bird over her head in triumph before bouncing back to her seat. All without a thank you or mere mention of the birds sponsor.
The child pounded on the locked glass doors of the grocery store. She shivered as she peered through the glass hoping to catch the attention of the man in the office. He heard a faint pounding and looked up from his bookwork. His youngest daughters face peered back at him. The Christmas program. He’d forgotten about it. The main compressor had gone out in the basement and he’d worked late fixing it before everything in it thawed. He didn’t mean to forget. He never meant to, it just happened that way.
She shrugged when he asked her how the concert went.
“Eh..it was ok, I guess. Mrs. Pretty Important Parker won the turkey.”
“Figures.” He said. “Grab a cart and help me before we head home.”
She pushed the cart down one isle and up the next while he filled it with groceries. A 10 pound bag of potatoes. A package of dinner rolls. Cans of green beans, peaches and creamed corn. Lastly, he took a fresh turkey from the cooler and placed it in the cart. Odd, she thought – they already had their turkey in the freezer at home.
“Box this up while I finish checking up and we’re out of here.”
It was a good snow year. Fence posts barely emerged from a blanket of white covering the pristine valley rimmed in snow covered pines. She was mesmerized at the millions of tiny snowflakes reflecting in streaks off the headlights of the truck landing in muffled silence as it piled up around them. He drove down the center of the road, unable to see the edges. She thought he’d missed their road when he drove past the gravel road crossing the bridge to home. When he pulled into the driveway of Mrs. Smithers little red house…she understood.
He dropped the snow plow on the front of the truck and made several swipes to clear the driveway before going inside. They placed the boxes of groceries on the kitchen counter and the fresh turkey in the refrigerator.
“My daughter tells me you won the drawing at the Christmas pageant. We figured we’d drop it by on our way home since you weren’t there to pick it up.”
Mrs. Smithers new the man long enough to know it would do her no good to argue. She knew she hadn’t won a raffle she never entered. With eyes glistening, she embraced the man in her thin arms. He hugged her back with ease. “God bless you, son. You are a good man.” She said. “A very good man.”
The little girl broke the silence as the old Ford pushed snow from the last of a half dozen driveways on their way home.
“You know they’re gonna be mad at you if you don’t tell ‘em why we’re late on Christmas Eve.”
She could see the fatigue in his eyes as the corners of the man’s mouth turned up in a half smile.
“Yes…yes they will.” He sighed.
“Aren’t you gonna tell them where we been?” She asked.
“It will be our secret, ok?” Said he.
Adults were difficult to understand but none more so than the one sitting next to her in the truck. Her thoughts caught hold of the events she’d witnessed that night. Thoughts of Mrs. Parker’s game show like win of the Christmas turkey. Bounding down the bleachers to greedily snatch her winnings. The gracious, gentle kindness of Mrs. Smithers when she received the fresh turkey and boxes of food.
She could almost smell the stale tobacco breath of the straw-haired woman with her hoarse voice and polyester pants. She wished she could see the children’s faces when they discovered a chocolate bar in each pocket.
Through the years that followed, the girl watched the man drive a thousand miles to collect a ninety dollar bill. The same man that looked the other way when the old timer who lived in the one room shack stuffed a package of hotdogs in his tattered coat pocket. She watched him tolerate the folks that cussed him Tuesday through Saturday, went to church on Sunday and were the first in line for the big sales on Monday.
People like the Parkers, she thought, need to be recognized for their good deeds. They make sure the entire town knows what swell, giving people they are. She guessed they didn’t feel like they had accomplished anything unless everyone knew about it.
It seemed to her a person was seldom remembered for the kindnesses they’d done unless they advertised it, like the Parkers.
The town folk remembered him as the cheap old “mustard” that didn’t like donating to every cause they deemed worthy. They would never know he was the same man that kept a single mother in her home through the winter by paying up three months’ of her rent. The same man that found it hard to donate twenty dollars to the towns fireworks display was the same man that donated thousands every year to the Shriners Children’s hospital.
She glanced over at the man behind the wheel, his thumb tapping to the rhythm of Oh Holly Night. There would always be much about this man that would remain a mystery. A self-made man with a fierce desire to succeed independently. A man who knew the difference between a hand and a hand-out. A man that this Christmas Eve… became less of a man misunderstood.
It’s been close to ten years since my first “real” published works: CORNUCOPIA – A Journey through the Mountains of Gold, hit the book stores. A story I did not intend to be put in book form. I originally wrote the piece as an article for a digital photography magazine. I was having difficulty hacking the story to under 10,000 words. A friend, who was editing the story, thought it was pretty good and suggested I stop trying to shorten it and instead submit it as a Novella. Thus – CORNUCOPIA – A Journey through the Mountains of Gold – became my first official published work of non-fiction.
The format was not the only change to be had. I titled the piece “Green Jell-O.” The publishers felt…on second thought, why reinvent the wheel. I’ll let them justify their reasoning behind the title change:
Editors Comments on the title:
As a title, Green Jell-O might snare a few readers who are looking for light juvenile reading, but I have difficulty with it as an apt title for this particular book, a true-life tale of intense suspense and life-threatening situations, written for adult readers.
The author, Laurel Anne Sappe, does make a case for her title, bookending her Preface and the final scene of Part I of her narrative with short scenes that focus on herself, her boyfriend, her son, and her dog after they have successfully survived their harrowing adventures in the mountains. They, along with Sappe’s mother and grandmother, are sitting around her grandmother’s kitchen table and eating green Jell-O. The author mentions how “insignificant” and “ridiculous” the green Jell-O is, compared to what she has just experienced. As the Jell-O begins wiggling, the author begins giggling, and she notes how “unassuming” the florescent green Jell-O seems. Despite trying to tell her mother and grandmother about her harrowing adventures, the author feels that both her mother and grandmother will never be able to understand the life-or-death drama of what happened in the mountains; to these women, the green Jell-O seems to have more authenticity.
In her brief epilogue, the author again mentions green Jell-O, and she says that she hopes her readers will “get the chance to experience for themselves their very own life-altering, spoonful of green Jell-O.”
I’m confused. How has green Jell-O-O become “life altering”? Earlier, it was described as “insignificant” and “ridiculous.” Jell-O is a sort of silly, wiggly-jiggly dessert. This is an odd invitation. We don’t pick up a book hoping for a green Jell-O experience. Most of us read in order to jumpstart our imaginations into other worlds. Figuratively, our own worlds are already too full of green Jell-O. Books entertain us; they take us to places we’ve never been before, describe things we’ve never experienced, introduce us to People we’ve never met, and they teach us new ideas and new ways of looking at life. I fail to see how the title Green Jell-O epitomizes this particular book.
However, if the author believes that Green Jell-O is appropriate for this work, I hope that she’ll consider choosing a subtitle that offers a brief, but more literal suggestion of what this book contains. Sappe has a style that will instantly captivate readers. She’s written a can’t-put-down story of survival that readers will instantly lose themselves in. I hope that the title Green Jell-O attracts the readers that her book deserves.
Well…that was nicely put and I appreciate the critique – however, it would take the threat of potential trade-mark/copy-write infringement lawsuit from the makers of Jell-O to convince me to rename my book. I never have liked the new title. I put little thought into it. I was on a deadline and needed to come up with something relatively fast. I figured my best chance of selling even a single copy would be to slap a locally recognized title on it and put it in the local Bed and Breakfast type establishments of my home town….viola, CORNUCOPIA was born.
I learned a few things about the book publishing process before my book went to print. I learned about trade-marks, copy-write and when to use italics in place of quotation marks. I learned I can’t spell worth a hill of beans and my grammar totally sucks. I learned that spell check cannot replace a good copy editor. I learned the difference between words like “then and than and further and farther.” Or would that be: then/than and further/farther? Whatever…I still don’t care for the title and wish I would have held onto “Green Jell-O.” Err….I mean, Green Jell-O. I also learned when referencing titles of books, one is to place them in italic – not quotation marks. Go figure.
I suppose I should have been flattered. Was anybody really that concerned the makers of Jell-O would give a cats behind about an insignificant novelette written by an unknown, and likely to stay that way, author? An author. I am an author. Am I an author? I write, but I do not consider myself an author. I consider myself a writer. There is a difference, at least in my head. To be an author has a sophisticated, if not staunch, cadence to it. I am neither. Shoot, I can barely spell sophisticated. If it weren’t for spell check, sophisticated would have an “f” or two in it.
Authors write things like, The Great Gatspy, The Odyssey or The Iliad. I’ve not read any of them. I only googled famous works of classical literature so I’d have something semi-intelligent to include in this write-up. Google: The great IQ equalizer and my best friend.
With a new title, minor modifications to the cover design and some major copy editing, CORNUCOPIA – A Journey through the mountains of Gold was delivered to the masses in both print and digital format. At least once a year I get a whopping dividend check that has yet to exceed $12.00. Fortunately, I have retained my day job.
I may never feel comfortable referring to myself as a published author. Yes – there is a book full of words out there with my name on it and perhaps, on a good day – more than 3 people not directly related to me have read it. If that qualifies me as published, so be it.
I do not seem to possess the attention span to write thick novels spanning 360 plus pages. My limit hoovers in the 50-60 page realm. Enter…blogging. I discovered blogging a few years back. It seemed a perfect medium for my style of writing. I am able to get my “geek fix” by maintaining the web site hosting my blog and the internet offers a vast audience limited only by the web master’s (that would be me) ability to optimize search engines. I think I have 12 subscribers. The web master is still working on her search engine optimization skills.
I write whatever inspires me whenever I’m in the mood. I write about personal adventures, exploits and quite often the mishaps that seem to be my constant companion. I prefer to call them adversities. Adversity builds character, so I hear. I should have a lot of character if nothing else.
There are times when I just don’t feel like writing. Much like the case the last few months. I can’t tell you why it happens. It just happens. Instead of letting my blog sit stagnant (not good for search engine optimization) I sometimes post older pieces of my work. I figured: Why not post my one and only published book as a blog post? Sure, it might cost me a book sale or two by posting it for free. However, I feel confident in my ability to scrape by on $12.00 less each year.
So…that’s where I’m at. I’ve decided to post sections of CORNUCOPIA, my Green Jell-O story, along with the editorial review comments from the publisher. You heard me, I said: “GREEN JELL-O” story. If the makers of Jell-O read my blog and decide to sue me for copy-write infringement – I would be totally honored and thrilled to death. Just think of the free publicity? I can see the headlines now: “Local unknown author takes on the Green Giant of gelatin!
I wrote CORNUCOPIA – A Journey through the Mountains of Gold after returning from a backpacking excursion into the Eagle Cap wilderness.
Gold was discovered in the small mining town of Cornucopia, Oregon, sometime around 1884. It is said its gold ore was so rich that nuggets would literally fall out of the rock, thus giving the town the name of Cornucopia: signifying wealth and plenty.
In the early 1900s, my grandparents, Emery Jennings Bryan and Alice Rose Aklin Bryan, purchased a small piece of ground in this once-bustling town. They built a cabin just off the banks of Pine Creek. Grandma planted two pine saplings: one on each side of the cabin’s porch, which faced the creek.
Cornucopia is now a ghost town. My grandparents’ cabin is long since gone. The only thing remaining of the original cabin is two towering pine trees standing guard over my family’s heritage. I never knew my grandfather; he died when my own father was nine months old. My grandma often spoke of Grandpa and their life together so many years ago.
Even though I never saw the cabin or met the man, I have always felt a special bond with the land where they once stood. Pine Creek, Cornucopia, and the beautifully rugged Eagle Cap mountains hold a lifetime of memories for me.
I never panned for gold in its creeks or staked claim to its many mines, but wealth and plenty I certainly have derived from its bounty of heritage, adventure, and a magic which cannot be bought with all the gold her mountains contain.
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS OF GOLD
Wrapped in my grandma’s worn terrycloth bathrobe, I sat at the kitchen table, mentally and physically exhausted, staring at a spoonful of green Jell-O. I don’t think I have ever seen anything more insignificant, or more ridiculous, than those little, pie-shaped pieces of pineapple, suspended in a blob of florescent green gelatin. My grandpa use to say: “There’s nothing like a spoon full of Jell-O to make you giggle when it wiggles.” I think maybe he was right! This spoonful of Jell-O didn’t have to wiggle; it didn’t have to jiggle, or even move. What started out as a subtle grin soon developed into insuppressible giggles each time I glanced at the spoonful of green Jell-O staring up at me from my plate. It was only a matter of seconds before the giggles turned into insuppressible laughter. Tears streamed down my sunburned face as I tried to contain what was fast becoming an embarrassing case of hysterics. I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying … probably both.
Five people sat around Grandma’s kitchen table that afternoon: my mom; my grandma; my boyfriend, David; my son, Dillon; and me. Only David and Dillon could possibly understand what had come over me. Only the three of us knew what we had endured and how we came to be at my grandma’s house in little Halfway, Oregon, the heart of Pine Valley.
One person’s spoonful of green Jell-O may be another person’s adventure of a lifetime.
It was Saturday morning, June 26, 2004, the second day of my vacation. I would have an entire week off from work. No phones, PDAs, pagers, or computers. No ringing, beeping, buzzing, or mysterious reboots for nine glorious days. Nine days to do anything I wanted, or nothing at all. My boyfriend, David, my son, Dillon, and I decided to pack into Pine Lakes. Dillon and I had packed into Pine Lakes the year before, but David had never been there. We decided to take a different route than before. We would start at Summit Point, make our way to Pine Lakes, and return by way of the steep, grueling trail that switched back and forth along Pine Creek, ending our trek at the Cornucopia Pack Station. We hoped the difference in elevation would make our ascent from Summit Point much less difficult than the switchbacks we conquered the year before. We later learned those switchbacks were appropriately dubbed the “Nip and Tuck.” The hike would be longer, but the climb less severe. Pine Lakes—elevation: 7560 feet—can be found nestled deep within the Eagle Cap Wilderness, a stunning example of nature’s most treasured creations.
We made arrangements with my father, Jerry Bryan, to move our truck from Summit Point to the pack station. I couldn’t help thinking, “Man, I hope Dad doesn’t forget to move the truck. It would certainly put a damper on the whole trip to walk all the way off the mountain, only to find we had no vehicle waiting for us on the other side.” I could imagine Dad scratching his head and mumbling, “Oh, that pack station!”
We parked the truck at Summit Point and began strapping on packs full of carefully chosen gear. We had matches of all sorts and sizes: flimsy book matches, strike-anywhere matches, and those green waterproof matches that I swear must have to be wet before you can light them. You sure can’t light them when they are dry. They remind me of childproof medicine bottles … the only people who can get them open are children. We packed various types of food, including packages of freeze-dried entrees, assorted flavors of instant oatmeal, a couple of military MREs (meals ready to eat), and a lifetime supply of instant potatoes ranging in flavors from butter and chives to herb and garlic.
Most importantly, I had my camera. For me this was the sole purpose of the entire trip. A $900 5 mega-pixel Olympus DC5050 with attachable lenses and filters ranging from polarized to UV. Oh, yeah! I placed the camera in a blue canvas fanny pack, bought specifically for the occasion, and strapped it securely around my waist. I could hardly wait to get started.
Even Spud, my 92-pound, white, German wirehaired pointer mix, seemed to anticipate my excitement. As I dropped the tailgate to the extended cab Dodge pickup, he easily jumped to the ground. The Rimadyl pills his vet prescribed seemed to be helping with the arthritis. I reached down to pet my big, beautiful, take-a-bullet-for-me dog. It is hard for me to admit that he is not a puppy anymore. Over the last few years, he has started showing his age. I think it is easier for me to accept my own ever-increasing age than it is to realize my loyal friend is ten, almost eleven years old … seventy in human years. He stood patiently while I strapped the extra-large dog pack to his back. Even with the Rimadyl pills contributing to his increased agility, I packed his load lighter. This year he would carry only his dog food and the first aid kit containing my expired bee-sting allergy kit. I wondered if an expired kit would do me any good if I actually got stung in the middle of the wilderness. I’d take it anyway. It was light enough. Besides, I think they put expiration dates on things just so you have to buy new ones.
With Spud properly packed, David, Dillon, and I flung our own packs across our backs. Were they this heavy last year? Surely not; but how could we pack any lighter? We would need every single item, including the little bottle of hair gel I had tucked away with my trial-sized shampoo and disposable razor.
So our ascent began on a crisp morning just after daybreak. It was a beautiful day: not too cold, but not too hot. A nice, cool breeze stayed with us most of the morning. “Man, these new packs sure are heavy. I don’t think they fit us right. I wish we knew how they were supposed to fit. Are they supposed to ride low on your hips or high on your shoulders?” Dillon carried the pack I had used last year. It had ridden directly on top of my hips. By the time we had made it off the mountain, my hips were bruised and swollen. Not wanting a repeat of last year’s discomfort, I purchased a new internal pack. This one sat higher on my shoulders—maybe too high, for it was hard to breathe.
We stopped beneath an old, gnarled ponderosa pine to take our first rest and check the elevation. My GPS read 6485 feet. We had come an entire one hundred yards. Already tired and breathing hard, I looked back toward Summit Point Lookout and was surprised to see a patch of snow, lying sheltered from the sun beneath a grove of pine trees. I didn’t expect to see such a sight in late June. Good. The existence of snow meant an increase in water; and an increase in water meant the lakes would be filled to capacity. Last year’s hike was in September, a few days before Labor Day. By then the hot sun had long since melted any remnants of snow, causing the lake to be half-empty … or half-full, depending on your outlook.
We took the time to nibble on a handful of tropical blend trail mix. It was here that we discovered Spud’s fondness for honey-coated dehydrated oranges. Good, this would give me something in which to administer the Rimadyl he would take twice a day.
Now rested, we trudged on, following the trail along an old barbed-wire fence—the last remnant of anything resembling civilization. Another good mile and the trail crested a small hill overlooking a lush meadow. Smack-dab in the middle of the meadow lay a pond fed by an underground spring. Not until a year later would we learn the meadow’s name: Little Eagle Meadows. Snow rimmed the west bank of the little pond. Bright sunlight reflecting from the waters’ surface lay in complete contrast to the crisp, white snow that met the water’s edge. I was overtaken by an urge to run barefoot through the snow. There were no thistles or stickers of any kind … nothing but lush, green grass, shallow water, and that rim of cold, white snow, hanging desperately to life before the oncoming summer robbed it of its form forever. Off went my shoes, and why not? There wasn’t anyone to tell me it wasn’t proper; and besides, I knew what my feet were about to undertake. It would do them some good to soak in the cold water. It says so right in my Bradford Angier’s Backcountry Basics. Old Bradford himself said proper care of a person’s feet is of utmost importance while hiking through the wilderness. The author goes on to say a good hiker, or poor lost soul, whichever the case may be, should stop and rest every twenty minutes, removing their shoes and soaking their feet in a cold stream whenever possible. I stripped my feet of shoes and socks and gingerly stepped into the ice-cold pond. Not even Spud was going to put his feet in that water! He watched me from shore with a look I can only describe as saying, “My human is an idiot.”
David removed his pack and sat by the underground stream, playing with water skippers as Dillon took after the numerous frogs inhabiting the pond. Though my son made several attempts to bean one with his wrist rocket, he assures his toad-loving mom to this day that he missed every one. It is hard to believe he missed. I have seen the boy shoot a magpie in the head with a BB gun at thirty yards.
Once everyone was rested, we hoisted our packs up on our backs and took to the trail. After a few hundred yards, the trail began to wind its way up the first of many ridges. Good-bye, barbed wire. Good-bye, little pond. Good-bye, civilization. Our adventure had begun.
The trail wound us higher and higher up the ridge. When we reached the top, an hour from the little “frog pond,” we were panting and out of breath. Each of us slung off our packs. David and Dillon reclined against a large boulder. Dillon pulled his hat down over his eyes. He reminded me of the cowboys in those old westerns. I didn’t have a hat; I slathered on more SPF 50 sunscreen. I knew from experience how quickly the sun at high altitudes can redden even a person with my darker skin tone. I snapped a few pictures, looking back toward the direction we had come. You could barely make out the frog pond, with its little patch of white snow gleaming in the distance.
While the boys rested, Spud and I walked to the edge of the ridge to see if we could spot where the trail would pick up again. To say that “what lay ahead was something of a shock” would be an understatement. The ridge overlooked a huge bowl littered with pine trees and much more snow. So much snow, in fact, that it completely covered the trail. I walked back and forth along the ridge, trying to make out where the trail might be.
Soon David and Dillon joined me. David thought he saw part of the trail leading off the top side of the ridge, heading somewhat west. That didn’t make sense to me, but I probably have the worse sense of direction known to man. Leaving his pack behind, David disappeared over the top edge of the ridge to look for the trail. Dillon and I waited seemingly forever on the rocks. We joked that David had been kidnapped by Bigfoot … never to be seen again. Dillon laughed, “It’s more likely he wandered off after something with antlers and got himself lost.” I could believe that theory since, next to new white socks and toilet paper, antlers are his favorite thing. But get lost? Not David. He was a walking compass. After we examined a few other ridiculous theories, David finally popped back over the ridge.
David discovered a trail heading west along the ridge. It appeared to wind around and head in the opposite direction of the lake. That might very well be. Many times last year, Dillon and I had checked the GPS to see where we were in relation to the lake. More than once the lake had actually been behind us as the trail wound its way around. At times the GPS had shown the lake at less than a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies, but still three or four miles away by trail. Oh, how sweet to be a crow at a time like this. My GPS! I forgot I had it! I still had Pine Lakes marked from last year’s hike. I took the GPS out of my pack and started walking back and forth across the ridge. For some stupid reason, you have to be walking at least 1.2 miles an hour before the GPS can get an accurate reading. Who comes up with this stuff? Watching the little arrow, I wandered around in a tight circle, trying to maintain the proper speed while finding our bearing. There. The needle pointed to the northeast, the opposite direction of the trail David had seen. We assumed there must be two trails and agreed to head on into the snow-covered bowl.
Without an actual trail to follow, we took a more direct route down into the bowl, side-hilling ridges of snow as we went. At times the snow made it difficult. If you lost your footing, you would slide toward the bottom of the bowl and have to start back up, sometimes waist deep in snow. It was a pain, but not impossible nor dangerous. Now and then the trail would emerge from a bare spot where the snow had melted, giving us a glimpse of hope that, indeed, we were going in the right direction. Again, I was surprised at the sight of so much snow. I assumed it would have long since melted. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We continued along the edge of the bowl, fighting patches of snow as we went. Several hours later we had made our way across the bowl to the opposite ridge. I glanced at Dillon’s face as he looked back over our trail. He hated the whole thing. I could tell. You didn’t have to be a mind reader to know he was thinking he would rather be doing just about anything other than trudging up a mountain with 50 pounds strapped to his back. David didn’t look much better. He is a little harder to read; but the quiet, almost restrained look in his eye told me he hated it, too. I didn’t like feeling responsible for their discomfort. What did they expect? Dillon had hiked with me before. Other than the addition of some unexpected snow, this particular route was actually less severe than the route we took last year. Still, I did feel responsible for their misery, and I hated it. I didn’t mind the hike, the steep hills, and waist-deep snowdrifts. I didn’t mind the hot sun beating down on the top of my dark hair. I didn’t even mind the ill-fitting pack that dug into my shoulders and bruised my hips. What I hated was worrying about everyone else’s discomfort and feeling responsible for it. There wasn’t anything I could do about it now; besides, I didn’t force either one of them to come. I could have easily gone by myself … and would have.
Each of us stood atop the ridge and looked down into yet another bowl, scattered with even larger areas of snow. The horizon was notched with two saddles sitting opposite each other on the rim across from us. We could barely make out the trail as it zigzagged its way up the hill from one saddle to the next, and back again. There was no way of knowing through which saddle the trail would lead. David checked his watch: 8:30 pm. It would be dark in less than an hour. I wanted to kick myself for choosing this route. I had no idea how far we were from the lake, or even if we had taken the right trail. I turned my face upward. The bleak, cloud-covered sky mirrored my darkening mood. We needed to find a place to camp for the night, and fast. If the sky was any indication, it was likely to rain. Great, just what we needed. There was no way I was going to pitch a tent on the top of the ridge. By the looks of the clouds, I feared they contained much more than rain or even snow. I had no intention of being the tallest thing on the mountain.
We walked down into the bowl, looking for a good spot to set up camp for the night. Near the bottom of the bowl, the trail came to a fork. Placed at the fork was an old sign in the shape of a cross. Barely legible were the words: Crater Lake, 8 miles; Pine Lakes, 5 miles. It might as well have read: Here lie three really stupid people and a big dog. We could only assume that we were closer to Pine Lakes than we were to Crater Lake. An even bigger assumption was which fork went to which lake. Again I glanced up at the darkening sky. More rain clouds joined the others. We needed to set up camp soon, or we would be setting up in the rain.
We walked another quarter of a mile before it became apparent there would be no ideal spot to set up camp. We were no longer in the bottom of the bowl, but had started ascending the other side. This meant finding a flat spot was all but impossible. The only semi-flat spot clear of snow was right smack in the middle of the trail. The ground was soaked from melting snow that trickled down the side of the mountain, searching for the lowest ground in which to form puddles.
Dillon and I pulled out the little two-man bivy tent and proceeded to assemble our shelter for the night. David had brought only a piece of plastic to use as his tent. The plastic wasn’t even the good kind. This plastic was that flimsy, light stuff a person might use to cover a casserole! David had brought Saran wrap instead of a tent. To this day I have no idea what he was thinking. Why he didn’t bring a real tent is beyond me. One thing I do know … he will never make that mistake again.
There wasn’t a minute to spare between the time our shelters went up and darkness consumed the night sky. Spud lay just outside the head of our tent. Dillon and I were crammed into the bivy tent like sardines. “Two-man” was a stretch of the imagination. You might get two people in one coffin, but who would want to! This tent reminded me of a nylon coffin: barely six feet long, bigger at the head and tapering off toward your feet.
I don’t remember the ground ever being this hard. I could feel every little rock and twig beneath my sleeping bag. Dillon, on the other hand, seemed to be snug as a bug in a rug. Soon all I could hear was his heavy breathing and a low, distant rumble, rolling slowly across the night sky. I adjusted my pistol, flashlight, and knife within reach. The pistol was for protection against ax murderers and cougars that might be roaming the wilderness, prowling for their next victim. The flashlight was needed in case I had to find the tent’s zipper in the middle of the night. The knife was insurance, just in case I couldn’t find the flashlight. I have a little problem with claustrophobia and confined spaces … such as tents. If I couldn’t find the zipper, I’d cut my way out. With my gear laid out and the location of the zipper burned into my brain, I closed my eyes and prayed for sleep.
Moments later it began. With a splat … splat … plop, heavy drops of rain pelted the top of the tent. The third drop brought Spud diving for the small opening I had left in the tent door. He smelled like a dog and shed profusely, but I didn’t argue. It was comforting to have my big guardian close by. Seconds later more rain fell, accompanied by even louder rumbling. Soon the distant rumble turned into deafening explosions of thunder, as if shot from the barrel of cannon, directly over our heads. The rain, no longer distinguishable as drops, came in buckets, as if poured from the night sky.
It could have been three minutes or three hours before it dawned on me: David was out in the storm, wrapped in his little piece of Saran wrap. What kind of girlfriend thought of her dog’s well-being before that of her man? I think I hesitated for a few more seconds. How would he fit? I wasn’t about to send my dog back out in that storm just because the guy wasn’t prepared. Besides, it was his own fault; he had chosen to bring a roll of Saran wrap instead of paying thirty bucks for a real tent. I called out his name. “David?” He didn’t hear me at first over the booming thunder. “David, how are you doing out there?” What kind of a question is that? What did I expect him to say? “Are you getting wet?” Another profound inquiry on my part. I sincerely hoped that, by some miraculous feat, he was tucked up under a tree, dry as a bone, and I wouldn’t have to kick my dog out to make room for him. After all, why should poor planning on his part constitute an emergency at the expense of my puppy! I didn’t have to ask again. Of course, he was not OK. David crawled into the tent, dragging his rain-soaked sleeping bag behind him. He was a mess. Shivering from the cold, David curled up into a ball at the head of the tent. The dome-shaped pop-out was barely big enough for the six feet two, 240-pound drowned rat. Spud, who appeared to be making himself as small and inconspicuous as possible, seemed to vanish farther back into the cramped little tent. He must have thought if nobody noticed him, he wouldn’t be tossed out into the storm. Later we would be glad to have him in the tent with us. A big, smelly dog was a warm dog, nonetheless.
More than once during the night, lightning seemed to strike within inches of our tent. I counted the amount of time that lapsed between the deafening cracks of thunder and the flashes of lightning that followed. “One, one thousand … two, one thousand …” Crrrrack! Thunder echoed through the canyon like a high-powered rifle. You could no longer distinguish the time between the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning. Each flash lit the inside of our tent with an explosion of light that left us temporarily blinded. The wind howled and whipped at the walls of our little tent. I feared the tent would be ripped apart at any moment. Without our combined body weight to hold it down, I am sure our tent would have ended up somewhere over the rainbow, with a dead witch under it. “Spud, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
I adjusted the minors head lamp to high beam, stretched the zipper of my coveralls to its maximum height around my neck and lowered into the crawl space leading under the house. If I pulled the ball cap any tighter I’d risk cutting off the blood supply to my brain. The last thing I wanted was to pass out under the house with the source of the horrid odor permeating the house and surrounding yard for the last two weeks.
On hands and knees, I glanced back at my dog peering down the crawl space at me from the breezeway. Her large shepherd ears cocked in curiosity.
“I’m going in girl. If I’m not back in three minutes…go for help.”
Shade shook her head, sneezed twice, whirled and left me under the house to fend for myself. Some Rin-Tin-Tin she turned out to be. Ungrateful canine.
The smell hit one night about two weeks earlier. My dreams incorporated the undeniably pungent mephitidae odoripherous, aka “skunk stink.” I swore the thing had crawled through my bedroom window and sprayed me in the face. The smell was worse inside than out. I opened all the windows for several days. The smell subsided only slightly.
Under the guidance of my neighbor, the great white hunter, we baited the raccoon trap with tuna fish and Vienna sausages and lowered the trap into the entrance to the crawl space under the house. Retrieval of the trapped skunk was a bridge we’d cross when we came to it. “If you catch ‘em – throw a tarp over the trap and lose my cell number.” He chuckled. I nodded my head in false agreement. Images of shooting it when the time came danced in my head. I wondered if skunks could spray the moment a .22 entered their smelly little skulls.
Every morning for a week I opened the trap door to the crawl space in anticipation. Like some sort of morbid Christmas like anticipation. What would Santa leave me this year? One skunk? Two skunks? Perhaps a whole family of tuna fish and Vienna sausage eating skunks!
At the end of the week, I pulled the trap up by the small chain we secured to it before setting it under the house. An untouched can of tuna and a fuzzy can of green Vienna sausages was all it contained. No skunk. The smell was stronger some days than others. It seemed to focus around the front of the house. We (my dog and me) determined it must be living under the front porch. I tossed out the moldy can of Vienna sausages no self-respecting varmint would eat and placed the trap next to the hole the cats use as an escape when being chased by the dog. I assumed the skunk entered the same way when he wasn’t repelling into my bedroom window for a direct hit.
I woke early to a commotion of crashing and clanking on the front porch. This could be it! I grabbed the .22 and slipped quietly out the front door. I have no idea what my reasoning was behind the stealth approach. A desperate varmint is a dangerous varmint I suppose. Shade barked at the caged critter. “Get back before you get sprayed girl!” I took aim making sure a stray bullet had a safe backstop. A blur of black and white flashed across the cross hairs of my scope. I needed a clean head shot. I searched for the eyeball of my trapped nemesis. A curtain of metallic yellow with black lettering came into focus…”S…N…O..W..B…A…” SNOWBALL! OMG! I almost shot the neighbor’s cat! Snowball was released back into the wilds of her neighborhood haunt and the now empty can of tuna fish tossed into the trash. Who names a black and white cat Snowball?
The days passed and no skunk. No company coming to visit and no solicitors. Those nice folks at the Watch Tower searching for Jesus must have found him because their visits dropped off significantly, too. UPS deliveries were being left farther and farther from the front porch. If something wasn’t done with the smell soon I could expect my next winning eBay delivery dropped off at the neighbors and my soul condemned to hell for an eternity.
The odor had gone from pungent skunk to something hideous and unworldly. I remembered a friend mentioned finding a dead skunk under her front porch. The search and rescue mission for Pepe Le Pew had turned into a recovery operation.
I searched through the cracks of the front porch. Unless Pepe was buried under a pile of leaves, a collection of spoons that went missing 15 years ago and cat hair, the porch “grid” was cleared. The last option to pursue was under the house.
I prepared for battle secured in an oversized blue mechanics jump suit, lace up boots, leather gloves and ball cap. All I needed was a hockey mask and I could have auditioned for the lead character in Friday the 13th. I giggled while stuffing my pockets with grocery bags, “Would you like plastic or paper?” Plastic please – because everyone knows you don’t bag a dead skunk using paper.
To say I am not comfortable in confined spaces is the understatement of a lifetime. The crawl space under my house might be larger than most but accessible on hands and knees only. I crawled through a mine field of spent bug bomb. When was the last time I bombed under here? Man, I hope it was recently. Shivers spread across the back of my neck with thoughts of spiders inhabiting the labyrinth of cobwebs dropping down the back of my coveralls. I wove under electrical wires and over sewage pipes. I felt like a huge, blue boa constrictor slithering through a maze of urban jungle. Boa Constrictor. Great. Wish I hadn’t thought of that. You read in the papers all the time about a pet boa that escaped 20 years ago discovered only after the disappearance of small children and neighborhood pets. I started to back up and retrieve my pistol before remembering I had lent it to my son. Great. Boa Constrictors.
Armed with a headlamp, mag light and pocket full of grocery bags, I continued my mission. The light from the flashlights reflected off old concrete blocks, hunks of true 4×6’s and a cardboard box. I don’t even want to know what’s in that box.
The underside of my house is divided into two sections separated by a concrete ledge and 16” headers made of 2×4’s. In order to get into the second section, you have to slither…I mean crawl…over a black sewer pipe without putting weight on it, mind you, and through one of the 16” x16” squares. The first section was clear. I slid over the concrete ledge into the second section of hell.
“Shade…?? Are you still up there? Don’t you leave me down here all by myself. Shade?” I heard what I chose to believe was my dog whimper in acknowledgement that she had not abandoned me. I continued to mumble to myself and pretend like I was not crawling under a house full of spiders, boa constrictors and varmints dead or alive. Suddenly, water gushed through the sewer pipe. Who the hell just flushed the toilet up there? I live alone! Toilets don’t just flush on their own! I would have attempted to slow my breathing….had I been breathing.
My eyes burned. A putrid taste in my mouth appeared as the smell grew stronger. The beam from my light scanned from left to right and back to…there it is. A large black and white pile of stench in the far side of the house. The closer I got, the stronger the smell. I started to gag. I can’t gag. I’ve been to confine space training. If you gag you risk choking…or was it you let yourself throw up and pass out – then continue on? No, I’m pretty sure if you gag, you choke and die. “Shade??? Where the hell are you? Lassie wouldn’t leave me you damn dog!” I held my breath for as long as I could. For reasons beyond me – I started to laugh. Ever try holding your breath in the worst, most horrid smell imaginable and getting the giggles at the same time? Nothing good comes of it.
I can do this. Never weaken. Get in there and get ‘er done. I tucked my face in my arm, took a deep breath, pulled out a plastic bag to cover my gloved hand and the other to bag Le Pew. The second I disturbed the body the rancid stench compounded 100 fold. I wasn’t going to make it. I jabbed the maggot covered hide into the bag and started backing out at mock 1. I somehow managed to back out through the 16” header and over the sewer pipe feet first. At that point I didn’t care who had flushed the toilet or if the pipe broke and dumbed on my head. Nothing could be worse than this. I needed to take a breath – dragging the bagged Le Pew behind me as far from my face as I could reach – I took another breath and scampered for the opening.
I flung Le Pew up and out of the hole smacking Shade in the head. “Shade! You didn’t leave me!” I burst out from under the house gasping as if I’d emerged from the ocean depths. The smell would not cease. I crammed the bagged skunk into three more grocery bags and tied it off, opened the trash can, stuffed the bagged Le Pew, along with my gloves, into a thick feed bag and slammed the lid down. I rolled the trashcan to the end of my driveway for trash pickup in a wake of putrefied stench. Thank goodness tomorrow was trash day.
My neighbor met me at the end of my drive as I came from leaving the trashcan on the side of the road. “What the hell have you done this time?” He muffled from behind a hand clasped mouth and nose. I recounted my tale of the Le Pew recovery mission and its tribulations and successes. It was hard to see his face through his hand, but I swear I saw him tear up a little. I’m not sure if that was from the smell or trying to keep from laughing at me. “My god girl, don’t you ever move away from here. I couldn’t pay for this kind of entertainment.”
The smell has subsided considerably in the few hours post Le Pew recovery. However, I’m certain I will be making another trip under the house; this time with a bottle of bleach, tomato juice and Fabreze in hopes to hasten the dissipation of Le Pew. As for the burning in my eyes and the rancid taste in my mouth – I’ll let you know the effectiveness of a shot of Visine and Pendleton.
Jamming my foot in to a pair of dress shoes for work wasn’t happening, but I was cramming that mashed toe into a pair of cowboy boots come hell or high water. A week earlier a treated 4×4 fell from the rafters and headed for my big toe like a missile on a mission. Naturally, I was barefoot when it happened…because barefoot was how God intended farm girls to be.
An extra layer of gauze and duct tape ought to do it. I eased my left foot into the oversized Durango’s. Perfect. Fortunately I wear riding boots two sizes too big. That way if I get dumped, my boot is more likely to come off. Like most riders, I have a fear of being drug.
I wasn’t the only one needing extra medical attention for the ride. My horse, Jack, had been laid off with a girth sore for the last two weeks. I’d been riding bareback until it healed. The wound had healed nicely except for two small scabs behind his left shoulder. I added a strip of sheepskin under his cinch for good measure and headed for Mann Creek store to meet up with Joanie and Dusty.
The caravan of 10-12 trailers followed Lee, the ride organizer, from Mann Creek Store to a parking spot just above Spring Creek Campground. I was third in line. Dusty and Jones followed behind me. The recent rain kept dust at a minimum.
A handmade poster-board sign hung on a fence a few miles past Mann Creek reservoir. I squinted to read the small print. Something about please slow down – horses, dogs and children playing in the road. I couldn’t make out much more. At 10 MPH I couldn’t go much slower. I kept an eye out for rouge horses, kids and dogs and proceeded with caution.
We approached a 5th wheel RV parked on the right hand side of the road 100 yards from the sign. No rouge kids, horses or dogs; just some crazed woman waving a spatula and ducking in and out from under the tongue of her 5th wheel. Crouched over like a spatula toting predator– she darted in and out of the road at the passing trailers spewing expletives. Lady – I can’t go much slower – but I can promise that if you dart out in front of my truck I have no intentions of slamming on the brakes and tossing my horse around. I suggest you hand that spatula off to your husband hiding behind the RV – he’s going to need it to peel your sorry hide off the road.
Somehow we managed to squeeze the dozen rigs off the road at a wide spot Lee had chosen for the trailhead. I was already saddled and went about filling my saddle bags with the necessities of life: camera, SPOTS, GPS, extra batteries and Beanee Weenee’s.
I checked the sheepskin under Jack’s cinch; everything intact there. I stood staring up at the stirrup. It sure seemed like a long ways up. I’d been riding a much shorter horse for the last month while Jack was on a ranch with my son and later healing up from the girth sore. I wasn’t sure my wounded toe had enough leverage to hoist my butt quite that far. I positioned Jack downhill and swung into the saddle. Ironic, isn’t it? I couldn’t get on a pair of shoes for work the last week but I managed to swing a leg over the saddle. Everyone has their priorities.
I’m always happy to be riding but today was extra special. I’d not been able to ride Jack outside the pasture in over a month. I really do like my new horse, but all things said and done, she’s not Jack. I reached down to stroke his neck. I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face if my life depended on it. I was at home. I doubt most people would understand why I found myself choking back a tear more than once.
It was a perfect day for riding. The sun occasionally peaked from behind a cloud covered sky. The gradual climb to Sturgill Lookout offered scenic vistas in every direction. The picturesque lookout perched atop a massive krag; old glory painted the breeze with her majestic colors of red, white and blue.
I paid the local outhouse a visit while the horses rested. It was the cleanest little outhouse I’d ever seen and cleaner than most public restrooms for sure! Complete with crossword puzzle and a wooden stick for opening the outside latch from the inside in the event you found yourself locked in. The thought of someone finding themselves locked in an outhouse made me giggle. You know it had to have happened at least once for them to come up with the idea of needing an exit strategy.
The ranger manning the lookout warned us of a pending storm expected to arrive at 13:00 hours. I was never in the military. I have no idea what time 13:00 hours are in American. It didn’t matter. I’d been keeping an eye on the sky since we left the trailers.
The majority of riders would make a loop down the back side of Sturgill to the trailers. The trail was steep. I didn’t want my saddle riding forward and reopening the delicate skin under Jack’s armpit. I don’t know if horses really have an armpit but that’s what I call it. Dusty had been towing their yearling, Rooster. The young horse was showing signs of tiring. I also had to be back in time to meet the brand inspector that afternoon. Dusty, Joanie and I decided it was best to head back the way we came.
Distant thunder rolled across the sky. I hoped the rain and lightening would hold until the others returned. It wouldn’t take much rain on that back hillside to slick things up pretty good and no sane person wants to get caught on horseback in a lightning storm. Our small group made it back to the trailers before the storm.
I kept an eye out for the crazy, spatula toting woman on the haul home. I passed another of her signs. I couldn’t read the black scribbles of permanent marker on this one any better than the one coming in. I slowed from 10 mph to 8 mph. I was ready. I half decided if she darted out at us again, I was pulling over to suggest if she was so concerned she might camp farther than 6’ off the road next time. The RV was more deserted than before. No crazy lady. No spatula. No horses, kids, dogs or otherwise. I’d cheated confrontation yet another day.
I pulled into my drive just ahead of a micro burst. J’Lo was visually happy to see us. She tossed her head, dashed across the pasture and commenced to kicking and bucking for all she’s worth. Hopefully she refrains from expressing that happiness when I’m on her!
Jack dropped his head for me to slip the halter off. There was nobody around to judge. I threw my arms around his bowed neck and let the tears fall.
I have a theory: If you really want to know if you’re compatible with someone…take them camping. I learned this theory works on horses, too. I’d been invited to participate in an Idaho Mounted Orienteering (IMO) race on Ola Summit. Being navigationally challenged, I didn’t have much going for me. I could not read a map and the only thing I knew about a compass was that it pointed mostly north…most of the time.
I had purchased a young horse less than a week prior to the IMO ride. I knew little about her. I was fairly confident the little sorrel mare had never been camping let alone high-lined, confined in a portable electric fence or hobbled. I figured if my camping theory worked on humans it could work on horses, too. I accepted the invitation as a way to hone my navigational skills and get to know my new horse; a chunky, Doc O’Lena sorrel mare I call J’Lo.
I woke early Friday morning to prepare for the weekend. The morning grass felt cool beneath my toes. My tired eyes came in and out of focus as I pressed the palms of my hands into the sockets. An ethereal creature walked toward me as I stood on the ditch bank in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle PJ’s and irrigation boots. I rubbed my eyes again. Yep – that’s a horse alright. A waspy grey and white paint filly floated toward me. Her hooves seemed never to touch the ground. A long white mane cascading like a fine cloud of mist fell a foot past her shoulder. I expected to see a golden horn protruding from her forehead. I shut the gate behind her as she followed me into the yard.
I called my neighbors to see if anyone was missing a horse. When that proved futile, I called the Sheriff’s office and let them know that I would leave the horse in my pasture over the weekend. If anyone called looking for her, they could pick her up there. It was safer for her than wandering the roads and train track.
J’Lo, who had been with me less than a week, quickly staked claim to “her pasture.” She let the filly know exactly who was boss around these parts. She didn’t have to hurt her. The filly understood perfectly well and followed J’Lo around the pasture from a safe distance. She was well cared for and friendly. I was confident she would be gone before I got home from the IMO ride.
I was packed and ready to roll by the designated meeting time of two o’clock PM. I’d meet Dusty and Joanie at Park Street and follow them to the IMO ride. The couple had been IMO members for 18 years. I was excited to learn from them and looked forward to a weekend in the hills with friends.
As excited as I was to try out my new horse, I could not help but wish I had Jack for this ride. Jack excels in the mountains. I know what he is capable of and I trust him to carry me safely over any type of terrain. He is big, strong and predictable. I trust him to act sensible in most any situation. I knew little of J’Lo. Would her unshod feet hold up? Could she pack me up and down hills without stumbling? How would she do on the trail with other horses? Would she take the lead if needed? Would she willingly leave other horses and go on her own? How would she react to deer, bears, cougars or heaven forbid llamas? These questions and others were exactly why I had chosen to leave Jack with my son to use on the ranch for 30 days while I got to know my new horse. I patted her on the butt and sent her into the trailer. “This is it girl, let’s see what you got.”
Perfect timing; I pulled out of the Park Street RV dump and fell in behind Joanie and Dusty as they slowed on Hwy 95 past Park Street. We stopped at Maverick in Payette to top of the tanks before swinging northeast toward Emmett on Hwy 55. I held my breath passing the Triangle at the junction of 55 and 52. I’d been pulled over here twice by the state brand inspector. I had all my ducks in a row then; not true today. J’Lo was yet to receive my iron and lifetime brand inspection. It freaks me out to think they might impound my horse. I wondered if I could pull out the “tears card” if I did get stopped; something that never worked for me in the past. Instead of looking sad and vulnerable like an endearing cocker spaniel – I look like a leaky, puffed up cabbage patch doll in need of an epinephrine injection.
I exhaled a sigh of relief when Joanie signaled right on FS Rd. 644/High Valley Road. I pulled out the IMO flyer for an idea of the distance yet to travel on this curvy, washboard of a road. The turnoff to the IMO camp was somewhere between 5 and 17 miles. Not only could I not read a map – I wasn’t exactly fluent at written directions, either.
The road climbed and climbed. The temperature gauge on my old Dodge matched the ascent. Less than three miles into the climb and the trucks console turned into an array of warning bells, whistles and flashing lights to put a carnival ride to shame. The smell of coolant permeated the cab. I searched for a flat, shady spot to pull over and shut down. Coolant boiled and hissed from the radiator. This old truck wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I wandered around in circles trying to pick up enough signal to send Joanie a text: “Overheating. Pulling over.”
I calculated I was somewhere between one and fifteen miles from the IMO staging area. I could either sit here for a few hours while the truck cooled, or not. I chose not. What better way to get to know your new horse than to saddle them up in the middle of nowhere for a destination to who-knows-where and ride for who-knows- how-far. I sent Joanie another text: “Saddled and heading your way while the truck cools.” A notification of an incoming text arrived shortly after hitting the send button. It was from Joanie: “Turn on your heater. Waiting at the turnoff” I wish I had thought of that earlier. I was already in the saddle and committed to this leg of our adventure. I’d keep it tucked away for future reference.
I flagged over a truck and trailer. The two ladies were IMO participants. They knew Joanie and Dusty and would let them know I was on my way. They didn’t think the turnoff to basecamp was more than a couple miles.
Another belated text from Joanie came in as I entered in and out of service: “Leaving the turnoff, will see if we can find a gator.” I wasn’t sure what good a gator was going to do me or even if they could find one this far west of the Bayou. I hoped it was a friendly gator if they did find one.
J’Lo didn’t hesitate. She threw her powerful hindquarters into the steep pull. I let her pick her way. Nothing files down horses hooves faster than pea-gravel. She minced her way as close to the dirt edge as possible. Cars and four wheelers came around blind corners in both directions passing uneventfully by the calm mare.
We came to a dirt road forking left off the main road. Perfect time to realize I left the map and directions in the truck. No matter, I couldn’t read them anyway. I followed the dirt road for a bit looking for signs of traffic; nothing bigger than a four wheeler had been over it in some time. We trotted back to the main road and proceeded on.
A picnic plate with “IMO” and an arrow drawn in black marker pointed to Joanie and Dusty strolling up the right hand fork. I squeezed J’Lo into a trot. They had their dogs, Dealer and Savanah, with them. No alligator in sight…they must have left it back at the trailers.
I tied J’Lo to Dusty and Joanie’s trailer while they introduced me to the IMO folks that had arrived so far. Evelyn, the ride organizer, lent us her side-by-side “gator” to go after my truck and trailer. The boiling and hissing had ceased by the time we reached my abandoned rig. I cranked up the heater per Joanie’s advice and climbed the remaining 2 miles to IMO basecamp.
J’Lo respectfully centered herself in the portable corral. Her senses tuned to the sound and smell of current flowing through the electrified tape. I watched her closely the first few hours. Her hyperactive tail switched at pesky flies. I saw it coming and braced myself for the launch. She had backed to within tail-switching reach of the hot tape. Her tail reached out like a frog’s tongue nabbing a bug and wrapped around the hotwire pulling the tape against her ample backside. All four hooves came off the ground in one startled snort. She whirled and faced me with accusing eyes. “Don’t look at me, horse. I didn’t do it!” I chuckled.
Joanie gave me a quick rundown of how this whole IMO thing worked. You are given a topo map of the area showing the general location of five markers. You ride to each marker using the map. When you arrive at the marked area, you follow clues on the back of the map corresponding to the specific marker. The clues point to two bearing points which in turn point to an IMO “plate” marked with an ID number. You ride in teams. One person takes one bearing, the other the second. Once you find the plate – you record the number and race to the next location on the map. It is a timed event. You are racing against other teams. Our initial goal was to leisurely walk the course and find all five markers. Somewhere over the next 24 hours we lost sight of our initial goal.
Joanie and I pooled our dinner resources. She boiled hotdogs and I made a quick batch of what I call cheater beans: A can of pork and beans and chili mixed together. Cheater beans are simple to make and taste like you slaved over a hot stove for hours. Chips, dip and various beverages topped off our dinner.
So far I was impressed with my new horse. She did not balk when I asked her to set out on our own when my truck broke down. She watched where she put her feet and tolerated the gravel road without complaint. She didn’t spook at oncoming traffic or passing ATV’s that seldom slowed down. She took the hotwire fence in stride and didn’t end up in Parma when it bit her in the bee-hind. I wiped bug-spray around her soft, gentle eyes and ran my hand down her broad white blaze. “If you’re still here by morning girl…I guess I’ll keep you.”
A truck stopped on the road in front of our camp. The driver leaned heavily out the window. “There’s gonna be 300 head of cattle coming through this camp tonight.” He warned. “Might spook your horses –thought I’d let you know.” He drove off without further ado. Cows…fantastic. I had no idea how J’Lo was going to react to 300 cows wandering through camp. Heck, I wasn’t sure how well I’d react!
Later in the evening cattle began wandering through camp in small groups of a dozen or two. We made a human barrier to prevent the cattle from wandering directly into camp. J’Lo’s pen sat front and center. She never lifted her head as cattle filtered by throughout the evening.
Evelyn handed out the maps Saturday morning. Joanie, Dusty and I comprised the “Circle 4 Ranch” team. We were signed up to ride at 9:00AM. We studied the map and decided on the best route. We would hit markers in the order of 1, 4, 2, 3 and 5. You could run the course any direction you wanted. I was excited – I love treasure hunts and trail rides. This sport combined the two. What I didn’t count on was the unfamiliar competitive streak lurking within.
Marker 4 was fairly easy to find. A pile of rocks on a culvert marked one bearing and a flagged pine tree marked the second. The numbered plate hung from the center of a tangled mass of brush. We recorded the number and set out for marker number two.
Number two, according to the topo line contours – sat on top of a ridge about 1.5 miles as the crow flies. As impressive as J’Lo was to this point, I was certain she would not be sprouting wings anytime soon. We long trotted the straight stretches stopping ever so often to verify with the map. We came to a T about ¾ of the way into the second marker. “Gator” tracks lay beneath a splattering of hoof tracks leading down to the north trail. The trail heading south showed less evidence of traffic. Another team had arrived at the T. There was much discussion as to which was the right trail. Dusty and I wanted to head north; Joanie south. The other team was split as well. I couldn’t see the tiny lines on the map well enough to make a decision either way. I favored the trail north because of the tracks. Turns out – you have to be careful following such a line of logic. This was more than a sport of navigational skill. It was a sport of strategy and trickery; of who could fool who into going the wrong direction. It was a game not only between members of opposite teams – but between teams and the course organizer. Had Evelyn laid those gator tracks to throw us off course? Had a previous team doubled back on the north trail to fool us into thinking it was the right one? Another team rode up from the north trail. Their faces showed hints of discouragement. Dusty and I whirled our horses and followed Joanie up the south trail leading to marker number three.
Several teams searched for the clues to the bearings pointing to plate number two at the top of a scenic ridge. Team members exchanged discrete signals before slipping away to the next marker. If a member of your team found a plate – you didn’t want to alert the opposing teams. Joanie and Dusty exchange “the look” as we drifted over the north side of the ridge and due east to marker number three.
Dusty set his compass at 50° from the flagged half-dead bush on the upper road. Joanie and I set ours for 236° from the big rock with the white quartz stone on it next to the barricade boulder. The bearing lines paralleled each other. That’s not right. Evelyn later apologized for transposing the numbers on 236°. I thought it made it more fun. Everyone had the same obstacle to overcome and the plate was discoverable using the one bearing. We were off to the last marker on our route – number five.
Number three to number five was the longest stretch of the day. It ran northwest, across three drainages and shared a section of common trail with number four. We picked up the pace and alternated between a long trot and an easy lope. Joanie and I noticed a possible shortcut at the third drainage. A trail leading straight down from number five disappeared at the head of the ravine where we stood. Was it an error on the map or did the trail really disappear? I pointed J’Lo up the ravine and followed what might be considered a game trail if you used your imagination. J’Lo stuck her nose on the ground and pushed her way through brush. It wasn’t worth taking the time to find out if we could bushwhack our way to the top. I emerged with scratches across my arms, face and belly. Our team opted against the shortcut and continued on the dirt road.
The sounds of barking voices, four wheelers and bawling cattle preempted a large herd coming at us from around a blind corner. We scurried to find a place to move off the road for them to pass. We did not move fast enough for a rather upset woman sprawled across a four-wheeler. The revving ATV engine was no match for the woman’s lung capacity. “GET THOSE @#$%@ @#$%! #$ HORSES OF THE @#%$! #$@!! #$ ROAD YOU STUPID @#$% @!!” I feared the woman might stroke out at any moment. Dusty, Joanie and I lunged the horses up a steep hillside and watched the herd pass below us. Another team assessing the situation followed suit. We looked down on the herd as they passed out of site…the irate woman’s string of expletives faded into the canyon.
Some of these folks take their sport mighty serious. The opposing team wasted no time diving off the hillside in pursuit of marker number five. Dusty hastily followed on Zeke, his Arabian gelding. Joanie followed on her big morgan, Honor, and me on J’Lo. Honor was not happy to watch his pasture mate bound off the hillside without him. Taking the easy way down would take too long for the powerful horse. Honor leapt sideways down a 20 foot embankment parallel with the hillside. Joanie centered herself in the saddle, closed her eyes and yelled “Honor!” I wanted to close my eyes, too. It didn’t look at all like it was going to end well. To the relief of all concerned, Honor landed upright in the road and bounded after Zeke without missing a beat. J’Lo and I scurried down a less treacherous descent and raced after our teammates.
We rounded a corner at a fast trot. The vocal woman who had yelled at us earlier popped up from the bushes beneath the road. I could hear another voice coming from behind a thick wall of leaves. “I can’t get out…I’m stuck!” The disgruntled woman paced up and down the brush presumably looking for a place to enter the fortress of leaves and rescue her girlfriend. “Stay right there – don’t move. I’m coming!” She blustered. Apparently, the gal in the bushes had either run off the road or gone in after a cow and got stuck. Whatever occurred – I might be going to hell for laughing out loud. I asked over my shoulder if she was ok and if they needed help. The threatening look she threw me didn’t reveal an answer to either of my questions. I squeezed J’Lo into a gallop and put a safe distance between us.
The pace had picked up considerably. I loped alongside Dusty and Zeke. I heard Dusty say something about the opposing team that seemed to disappear in front of us. I took the comment to mean he wanted to catch up with them. Far be it from me to hold back the team! I gave J’Lo her head and the race was on. Hooves pounded the earth as we ducked around brush and under limbs. I’d glanced back under my arm to see a low hanging limb, evaded by the rider behind me, await its victim in the next.
We reigned to a panting, sweaty stop in front of a green gate – the wrong green gate. In our haste we overshot the trail to marker number five, which also explained why we had not caught the other team. Joanie and Dusty quickly assessed our error. We spun around and fled back down the trail, passing marker number four on our way to our last marker, marker number five.
Several teams drifted through thick brush and pines in search of two bearing points. If they were trying to fake us out, they were doing a good job of it. Everyone looked equally perplexed in their search. Joanie and I studied the map. The yellow marker on the map sat in a dog leg section of the trail that double-backed to the south. The teams were not looking far enough into the dog-leg. Joanie’s map reading reputation precedes her. Opposing teams made a bee-line after Joanie into the dog-leg.
We recorded our final plate ID at marker number five and sped back down the home stretch. The Circle 4 Ranch team clocked out in sixth place finding all five markers in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 24 seconds. Not too shabby for a navigationally challenged IMO newbie who intended to walk the course riding an unfamiliar horse.
I hung the camera strap around my neck and set out to stretch my legs and take my dog for a walk. I didn’t make it far from camp when a pick-up pulling a stock trailer pulled up next to me. Concern emanated from the drivers face. “Ma’am…we’re sorry to bother you – but would you have any water to spare? We have a very sick calf in here and there isn’t any water up here.” He was right. It was a dry camp. There was water in some of the drainages – but those weren’t accessible pulling a big rig. The IMO flyer was specific in telling everyone to bring water for the weekend. I had a 30 gallon tank in my trailer. “Yes – I have plenty of water.” I said. I pointed to my trailer across the way and signaled them to follow.
I filled my rubber bucket with water and handed it to one of the hands. “Thank you, thank you. You are a sweetheart, darlin! Thank you so much!” The younger cowhand repeated over and over. You would have thought I’d offered a dying man his last drink. The 250lb calf wheezed heavily as he slurped at the water. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked. The rancher called it sudden pneumonia. He said the hot days and cold nights bring it on and asked if I knew how cold it got last night. I said it felt like the low 40’s in my camper. I told him I had butte and Banamine but didn’t know if that would work on cattle. He said he gave him a shot of Nuflor and if anything was going to work, that should.
Then the strangest thing – he looked right at me and asked me what else I think we should try. I stressed again that I didn’t know anything about cattle and looked at him as if he’d lost his mind for asking. I looked for a hint of sarcasm or jest in his kind face. He was genuinely interested in my opinion. What the hell…that never happens. “Well,” I said. “If he were a goat or a horse, I think I’d want to get him on his feet as soon as possible. I think I heard that cattle will die if they lay down too long, is that right?” He nodded, “Yes – that is right. They can bloat.” While the calf was not lying on his side – he wasn’t exactly upright either. I asked if he thought we could get him up. The rancher replied, “Reach on in there and see what you can do.”
The calf struggled to stand. It took two tries before he managed to get to his feet. A big grin spread across the young cowhands face. “Well, would you look at that!?” he grinned. I asked if they thought the calf would make it. The rancher looked at me with simplistic sincerity that comes from a man who’s lived life by the sweat of his brow and the strength of his shoulders. “He has a chance now, thanks to you. If there is anything at all we can do for you – anything you want, it’s yours.” Holy cow – I fell in love right there in the back of the stock trailer. All I could think to say was: “Well, if you see my horse running down the road in the middle of the night, you might return her.” What that had to do with the price of tea in China, I have no idea – but that’s what came out of my absurdly socially challenged head at that particular moment. Smooth…really smooth.
I continued on my walk hoping to snap a picture of the bear one of the gals had spotted earlier. I’d turned toward camp thinking it was about time for the potluck. I met the rancher with the calf on his way to where they were parked. He stopped the truck and leaned out the window smiling. I asked if the calf was still standing. “Crawl on up there and check it out.” He said. Sure enough – the calf was still standing. I gave the thumbs up and smiled back.
They invited me over to meet the rest of the crew helping to move cattle. I was introduced to a lady from somewhere I can’t remember and her nephew from Texas. A nod and the expected drawl of “Ma’am” preceded a handshake from the tall Texan. I turned to shake the next hand and came face to face with the large and angry woman we met on the trail earlier. She half grunted something before turning away. Apparently her disposition had not improved over the last two hours.
A skinny arm darkened from hours in the hot sun reached out to shake my hand. Our eyes met…almost. One eye went one way while the other shot off in the opposite direction. Her eyeballs rolled to a stop eventually settling somewhere in the middle…ish. She introduced herself without a hint of humor: “Names not important – people call me knucklehead.” What do you say to an introduction like that? “Nice to meet you….knu..uh..nice to meet you?” I seriously said it as more of a question than a statement. I lay my bet on this gal being the one stuck in the bushes earlier.
I bade fare-well to my future husband (I don’t care if he did have a wife and 18 grandkids) and headed back to camp shaking my head. “Man, you just can’t make this shit up.”
I missed the passing out of trophies. Joanie handed me one of my very own: a metal cutout off a horse and rider mounted on a block of wood. I don’t care if it was sixth place or sixteenth place – it was my first trophy ever and I’d won it fair and square.
Most of the IMO riders left Saturday evening after the potluck. Dusty and I decided to move the horses’ portable corrals to grassier areas. This put J’Lo farther from the others; in hindsight, probably not a good idea.
When I woke Sunday morning, J’Lo was still in her pen. She seemed nervous so I tossed her some hay even though she was belly deep in lush grass. I went back to bed convinced she was pacified. About an hour later, I heard the pounding hooves of a loose horse.
J’Lo ran to me expecting me to save her from whatever horse eating creature lurked in the forest. It was as good a time as any to see how she took to high-lining. I secured a high-line next to the other horses, hooked J to it and went about picking up the portable corral she’d knocked down.
A group of cowboys dismounted outside my trailer. Was that my rancher? I made a futile attempt to smooth my bed-head hair and straighten my flannel PJ’s. I jumped expectantly out of my camper. It wasn’t my future husband after all. “What can I do for you?” I asked in a tone sounding more disappointing than I intended. Another hundred head of cattle would be touring our campsite in an hour. I thanked him for the warning and let him know we had it covered. At this point we were experts in cattle diversion.
Joanie was sitting at her trailer when I finished breakfast. “Did you hear all the commotion?” she asked. I said I heard some dogs barking earlier and wondered if that wasn’t what scared my horse. “Those were bear dogs!” She said. “They scared a bear right through our camp! If I hadn’t moved my chair he would have ran over me! He ran around the camper, somersaulted to a stop when he saw the horses and ran into the trees…right over there!” She pointed. “He was a big one! I thought it was a moose at first!” Joanie’s eyes were as big around as J’Lo’s butt! I asked how the horses reacted. She said they got a little excited but she was able to talk them down. I looked over at J’Lo, yep, she’s a keeper.
Shortly after the last cattle run of 2015, we saddled up for a short, uneventful ride before breaking camp. I was glad Joanie had invited me. I learned a little about navigation and the sport of mounted orienteering. I discovered I possessed a fair amount of competitiveness that had laid dormant most of my life. Most important of all, I got to know my new horse better and if I had to guess – I’d say my new horse got to know a bit about me, too.