Category Archives: Tales of the Sage

The Seven Stages to Disaster

The little mare, folded in woven wire, lay in a heap along the fence-line; her sides heaving with panic. I ceased to breathe and felt my heart pounding in my throat as I took in the scene before me. Her legs contorted in an unnatural state – none of which appeared to be in the right position. My own panic threatened to overcome the ability to assess and ultimately remedy the situation. Dear God – am I really going to have to put my horse down?

I managed to pull myself together struggling to mask the panic in my voice: “Hey baby-girl –you’re ok…easy…easy girl.”

J’Lo raised her blazed head and nickered. I didn’t have to be a horse-whisperer to recognize the desperate plea for help. The look of terror in her soft brown eyes broke my heart.

I backed away slowly, “Don’t worry girl….I’ll be back.”  I turned and sprinted toward the house. With fencing pliers and halter in one hand and my cell in the other, I dialed my neighbor: “Can you come down here right away… my horse is caught in the fence.” I didn’t have to wait for a response. He would be there.

By the time I returned, J’Lo had managed to lunge to her feet. The woven wire encircled each leg to just below her belly. Her right-hind was tethered by wads of wire lodged between her hoof and shoe. I talked in as soothing tones as I could muster while slipping the halter over her nose. I stroked her neck, sides and legs all the while cutting wire away a section at a time. It’s a bad situation to be in no matter how you slice it. You are in the middle of a thousand pounds of muscled-panic entwined in 20 feet of wire. A wire capable of slicing horse and human flesh to the bone. One wrong move and you’re caught in the chaos of horse flesh and hell.

Of the dizzying images and thoughts racing through my mind while waiting for help to arrive – one thought stood out above all others: This was no freak accident. I remembered something I read on the definition and probability of “freak accidents.” Do they exist? Perhaps, but they are rare. There is an interesting theory on the subject in regards to catastrophic plane crashes in the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell: “The typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors. One of the pilots does something wrong that by itself is not a problem. Then one of them makes another error on top of that, which combined with the first error still does not amount to catastrophe. But then they make a third error on top of that, and then another and another and another and another, and it is the combination of all those errors that leads to disaster.”

It was this thought process that caused me to ponder the seven steps leading up to J’s avoidable accident. While I don’t consider all of the seven items necessarily error’s – I do believe each step contributed to the accident.

  1. A broken water pipe: Our seven steps to disaster begin with one of the worst winters in Washington County’s history resulting in a broken water pipe at my home. Due to the unusual accumulation of snow and freezing temperatures – I had to wait until the snow was gone before digging up the yard to look for the leak. Once the snow retreated in late March – I began to dig in the general location of the leak. My neighbor had hired a backhoe to do some work on his place. The backhoe operator offered to dig up the leak on my place. Unfortunately, we hit two sprinkler pipes, the electrical conduit and numerous roots in the process. The decision was made to stop digging with the backhoe and pretend like the leak was all in my head. Unable to convince anyone that the continual running of the pump and seeping water was indeed a leak and not a faulty foot valve – I would have to prove my theory by digging the hole by hand.
  2. Eye witness to neighbor kid chasing horse: Digging in soggy clay through layers of tangled root system takes time, patience, a strong back and a sense of humor; only the latter of which I possess. I had to turn the pump off before digging so it doesn’t fill up the hole with water. When tired of digging – I turn the pump back on to water the animals, flush the toilets and jump in the shower to wash off the layers of mud covering from head to toe. I took the afternoon off work to accomplish these tasks and prove my theory that it was indeed a broken pipe and not a figment of my imagination. Like who imagines their pump running and water seeping up to the surface in the exact same spot for 6 months? I will admit to having an active imagination – but it usually involves horses, waterfalls and Sam Elliot. Anyway, because I was at home and working outside – I happen to see the neighbor’s horse running around in a frenzied state; the neighbor boy hot on his heels with is AK 47 airsoft rifle. Feeding off one another as horses often do – J’Lo was also running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Now, I really like the neighbor kid. I’ve known him since he was a little squirt that showed up at my house offering to do my dishes for banana bread. I’ve known him long enough to know that he doesn’t lie – he just avoids the truth at times. I’ve asked him if he shoots at the horses and his response is usually the same: “Did you know the Nazi’s used the same stuff in gopher pills to gas the Jews?”
  3. The locked gate: I thought it best to lock J’Lo out of the big pasture and keep her close where she was safe from neighbor kids and Nazi’s. I brought her into the pasture beside the house and locked the gate behind her. She wasn’t thrilled being separated from the only other horse within 40 acres so I tossed her a flake of hay to keep her occupied while I went back to work.
  4. The dreaded awning from hell: If it wasn’t bad enough I had to keep the water shut off to avoid filling up the hole – it continued to rain – soaking the ground and myself. My sister had given me a “Quik Shade” awning as a gift for helping her move. This seemed like the ideal situation to put it to use. Of course – it doesn’t come with instructions. Assembling that thing was like trying to solve some form of sadistic Chinese puzzle. Nothing “quik” about it.  J’Lo would walk by and snort as I wrestled with the finger pinching monster to no avail. After watching a YouTube video on how to set it up, I managed to get it placed over the hole. Not nearly as easy or as quick as the Asian guy in the video, I might add.
  5. The absence of Sir Dee Jack: While J’Lo can be intolerant of other horses – she is rather fond of Jack, her hunky buckskin version of Sam Elliot. Unfortunately for J’Lo, Jack has been at Buckskin Bootcamp trying to discover his inner shooting horse potential. According to his drill Sargent – Jack’s not fond of boot camp, with or without being fired off – but that’s another story. Horses are herd animals. Without Jack here to keep J’Lo safe from AK 47 wielding neighbor kids and horse eating awnings, she’s been pretty skittish. If something spooks her, she has to settle for running to the neighbor horse for comfort and trust me – he’s no Jack… or Sam.
  6. The forgotten gate: Between awning wrestling, wallowing in the mud and swearing – a lot – I forgot to open the gate I’d shut to isolate J from the neighborhood chaos. My first clue should have been her frenzied fence pacing and longing glances toward the neighbor horse. Instead, I remained focus on the task at hand: Proving to my neighbor that IT nerds were ever-bit as smart as mechanical engineers and that this was not a faulty foot valve – but a break in the pipe.
  7. The big one: Everything came full circle when the storm hit. My neighbor sent me a text: Take cover girl – here comes the big one! I dropped the shovel and ran for the house. Within seconds, sheets of rain poured from the sky. Tornado like winds picked up the awning and tossed it into the tree. I caught sight of a streak of sorrel buzz the pasture between flashes of lightening. J’Lo was fast approaching mach-1. If I could learn to shoot fast enough to keep up with that I would be a level 6 in no time! It was then I remembered the closed gate. I raced toward the gate seconds too late. I could no longer hear or see J’Lo. The next sight of my beloved little mare would be of her piled in a heap entangled in wire.

It was the execution of these seven events that I believe led to J’Lo’s harrowing encounter with the fence. Had any one of those events been removed from the equation, I think it’s very likely it would not have happened.

If the pipe hadn’t broke, I wouldn’t have been home that day to witness the horses frantically running from the neighbor kid. There would have been no reason to separate my horse from the neighbors pasture. Had Jack been home – J’Lo would not have tried to get back into the pasture near the neighbors horse. Had I not shut the gate – she would have had a clear path to the pasture instead of running through a wire fence. Had I not put up the awning to cover the hole – it would not have blown into the tree scaring her half to death and causing her to bolt into the fence. Quite the tongue twister: If not for the wind that blew the awning that covered the hole that scared the horse that crashed through the fence that…


Kort arrived within minutes of my call. He took over meticulously cutting away wire as I distracted J’Lo. Scared as I knew she was – she barely flinched; a result in no small part to being hobble trained. He slid the last chunk of mesh from under her belly and peeled back the remaining section of fence still attached to the railroad ties. It took several tentative steps to convince J’Lo she was free from the entanglement. I watched every step she made from the pasture to the dry-lot – willing her gait to be sound.

While Kort pried the remaining wire from between hoof and shoe, I examined her for injury. A superficial cut running diagonally across her chest was the only evidence of the ordeal. I cleaned the wound with iodine, sprayed it with Vetericyn and turned her out to pasture. Without a doubt we had dodged a bullet.

As I watched her walk to the end of the pasture I thanked God for always watching over me and my animal family. Without Him – I know the outcome of this, like so many of life’s adventures, could easily have had a more tragic ending.

My little sorrel mare lifts her head from the new spring grass and gazes into the far distance for what seems like a thousand miles. I know what she searches for. Does she know that he’s coming back? I walk with treat in hand to reassure her. She gently nibbles the cookie from my palm as I pat her neck. “Don’t worry baby girl – he’ll be back.”

Snow Shovels from Heaven


It was getting more difficult to look for the silver lining in this winter as I sat in my car, stuck in a snow drift waiting for the grader to clear a path. With that said, I believe adversity is relative and any situation could be worse if given enough time and opportunity. Cupped hands covered my frozen ears stinging from the 30 mph frigid wind and blowing snow. Like holding a seashell to your ear – ocean sounds filled my head. That’s when it hit me. The silver lining: The risk of a shark attack at this particular time and location has been drastically reduced.

Click here for the full story


Gunpowder, Pendleton and Poop.

Gunpowder, Pendleton and Poop.

wy_cropI sat hunched over the reloading bench meticulously seating Circle Fly wads into brass loaded with canon grade powder and .45 magnum pistol primers. Reloading is to me what I assume knitting is for the crafty: relaxing. My mind is freed from the swirling cyclone of troubling current events and day to day fodder that clutters the human existence.

A repetitive, uninterrupted motion of my left hand sweeps the casing from the holding brick to the drill – the slot-machine action of my right hand seats the wad. I am lulled by the slight crunching sound of compressing powder. The waft of spent gunpowder and Hoppers #9 are aromatherapy to my senses.

Click Here for the full story: gunpowder



Trail Log: 8-28-2016

  • Trail: Whitefish horse camp – Pacific Coast Trail – alternate loop
  • Trail miles: 8.7
  • Ave mph: 3.1
  • Max speed: 8.7
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders: Janine, Linda and Mildred


Trail Log: 8-27-2016

  • Trail: Whitefish Horse Camp – Met-Wind trail to Suzanne Lake and Darlene Lake Deschutes Nat. Forest.
  • Trail miles: 13.35
  • Ave mph: 2.7
  • max speed: 7.5 mph
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders: Linda, Janine, Mildred, Sherry, Nora and Bev



Trail Log: 8-26-2016







Trail: Whitefish horse camp.  Met-Wind trail to Summit Lake (Crescent Oregon)

  • Total Miles: 13.60
  • Ave speed: 3.2
  • Max speed: 10.1 mph
  • Horses: Jack and J’Lo
  • Riders:  Linda Erickson – Janine Townsend, Mildred, Bev, Nora and Sherry

Notes: Erickson and friends annual horse camp-out.

Trail Log: 8-10-2016

  • Trail: West Yellowstone – Continental Divide Trail
  • Total Miles: 13.48
  • Ave speed: 3.1
  • Max speed: 7.6
  • Horse: J’Lo






Notes: I won my class! Diamond P. host donated a vest to all the winners. Looking forward to it. Awesome shoot…

Trail Log: 8-9-2016

  • Trail: West Yellowstone CDT – Diamond P. Ranch
  • Total miles: 7.73
  • Ave speed: 3.0
  • Max speed: 8.1
  • Horse: J’Lo

Notes: West Yellowstone/Diamond P Ranch hosted the Wyoming Desperado’s shoot. I won my class!!

Trail Log: 7-22-2016

  • Trail: Mann Creek – Pole Creek
  • Trail miles: 8.24
  • Average MPH: 2.9
  • Max MPH: 13.6
  • Hours on trail: 2.47
  • Riders: Self, Jaimy G.
  • Horses: Jack and Wildfire
  • Dogs: Shade and Hank and ??



Rock Creek Rattler

IMG_20160515_134427Step right up ladies and gentleman. We have here a sure-fire cure for the common cold. Yes, it’s true: Stone a rattlesnake to death – cut its head off with PVC pipe- skin it and attach it to the back of your saddle. No more sniffling, sneezing or wheezing guaranteed. Who knew I’d missed my calling as a bonafide Snake Oil salesman.

I gazed out the kitchen window at a stormy sky blanketed with foreboding clouds. Wind is one of the few weather conditions that will keep me out of the saddle. Between the pending storm and a full blown head cold – I decided it would be a good day to reload ammo and watch Lonesome Dove. My farrier and friend, Jimmy Mason, however, had other ideas that didn’t involve being a sniveling couch potato.

I’d asked him earlier in the week if he was interesting in riding. I was wrong to assume a more than average chance at getting caught in a thunderstorm would deter a hardened cow hand like Jimmy.

I read Jimmy’s text: “Hey Slacker….go ahead and wuss out if you want to. I’ll understand if you can’t hack it. No problem – we can wait until a nice sunny day when the conditions are just perfect. Maybe we can get somebody to saddle your horse for you too…greenhorn.” Maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but “slacker” and “wuss” were part of the text.

Finding somebody willing to ride with you is next to impossible. I better not chance bailing on Jimmy or he may never go willingly again.

“Oh…I’ll go if you want. Far be it from me to let a little potential pneumonia and thunderstorm keep me out of the saddle.” I said.

“Okey Dokey Artichokee…I’ll pick you up in 25 minutes.” He replied.

I saddled J’Lo and locked Jack in the dry lot. He got his ride in yesterday and I didn’t feel like ponying today. Normally I have everything with me but the kitchen sink tucked away in my saddle bags. Since it would be a quick ride and I was hauling with somebody else – I left my saddle bags, camera and pistol behind.

We pulled off a gravel road and backed into an overgrown four-wheeler trail that meandered through a ranch owned by Jimmy’s family. I felt kind of bare without my usual provisions. I tucked my phone into the inside pocket of my fleece jacket. At least I could take a picture if we saw something cool.

J’Lo is one of the few horses I’ve ridden that doesn’t seem bothered by the wind. When she jumped and minced side-ways I knew there was good reason. She gingerly danced around a half-coiled rattler.

“Let’s shoot it and skin it and stick it to your saddle!” He says.

“Uh..ok??” I said.

“It will be COOL!” He says.

“Do you have your gun?” He asked

“No. Do you have your gun?” I answered.

“No. Let’s hit it with a rock.” He suggests.

Jimmy kind of throws like a girl. Then again, so do I apparently but at least I AM a girl. Jimmy would take a try with his goofy little girlie toss and then I’d take a run at it. Literally. I’ve seen the You Tube videos. I wasn’t taking any chances on become the next internet sensation. I made my girly throws on the run. “DID I GET IT?!” I’d shout at a dead run 30 feet from the snake.

We must have thrown a dozen rocks at it. Eventually one of Jimmy’s girly tosses makes contact.

“We can pick it up on our way back.” He said.

I feared if we left it – it would come back to life and crawl away before we got back.

“Cut its head off so it doesn’t revive and we lose it!” I pleaded.

Jimmy looked at me like I had lost my mind. There was no way he wanted to touch that snake. I could tell by the look in his eyes. Jimmy, fearless farrier and all around tough Cowboy…has an aversion to snakes. Does anybody really like snakes?

“It can’t come back to life if its dead…can it?” He exclaimed with a hint of trepidation in his voice.

We discussed the possibility of it coming back to life before smashing it a few more times with a rock. Still – it just wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted…no, needed, to make sure that thing was dead.

I picked up an old bone lying nearby.

Jimmy looked bewildered.

“What are you going to do with that?” He asked.

“I’m going to kill the snake with it…again.” I said.

It worked for the caveman – why not. I let fly the bone in an over-handed hatchet-type throw. Dang..missed again. The second toss hit home, catching the snake between the bone and a rock.

“Did you see that!? It’s head flew off!”

I confidently (and mistakenly) imagined the last bone toss delivering the fatal blow by beheading our venomous prey. Just like Xena Warrior Princess and her deadly war lord killing chakra. This is my story, my imagination – don’t judge me.

I tiptoed closer to inspect the carnage – because everybody knows that rattle snakes don’t strike at tip-toeing warrior princesses. The snake wriggled and writhed about. Nope – not dead. Head still attached. Xena would not be impressed.

Somewhat convinced the snake would be there when we returned – we mounted up and continued on. We dropped down off the ridge into a creek bottom out of the wind. J’Lo and I loped behind Jimmy and Bling, his palomino mare. We loped up and over the rolling hills of Rock Creek. Wild daisy’s and Sunflower speckled the spring green hills of sage and bogus bluegrass. My inner Lorne Green recalled the theme song to Bonanza.

“Dummdededumdededumdumdum…” Jimmy chimed in. Neither one of us were in danger of winning the next season of American Idol. We best stick to snake killing. We all have our talents…carrying a tune is not one of mine.

We rode along the top of a ridge. The face of a vertical slope dropped to the ravine 50 yards below.

“Hold on Jimmy…let me get my phone out. You go all “Man from Snowy River” and I’ll catch it on video!”

All joking aside – I was not surprised when I asked him if he’d ridden IMG_20160515_131719down anything that steep and he said he had. Jimmy has lived the life many of us merely romanticize about. I love listening to him tell stories of days as a buckaroo for local ranches; of being lost in dense fog and bitter cold bringing cattle down off the mountain. He and his fellow cow hand spent the night in an old Railroad building until daylight…nearly freezing to death. “And that, my friend, is why you use a Navaho blanket over your saddle pad in case you need to wrap up in it for warmth.” Duly noted.

He tells of thrilling rides down hills every bit as steep at break neck speed on a wrangle horse bringing the remuda in off the range. With a big smile and eyes that glint with excitement he exclaims: “AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!”

Neither one of us were carrying a knife. Everything I owned was in my saddle bags back in my trailer. I knew better. A person should never go riding without a pocket knife at minimum. How were we supposed to cut the head off our snake? I don’t care how cool of a story it would have been to tell the grandchildren, I wasn’t biting it off.

I dismounted and picked up a piece of broken PVC pipe. Jimmy asked what I was going to do with it. I informed him I was going to cut the snakes head off with it. Again, he looked at me like I might have gone daft. Maybe so – but you might be surprised at how sharp the edge of that broken PVC was.

Jimmy placed the piece of pipe in his pocket. I didn’t want to carry it. Knowing my luck – I’d go galloping across the open hills, J’Lo would stumble and fall and I’d fly through the air head over heels and impale myself on it. “You know,” he said, “riding with you makes me kind of paranoid.”

We circled around skirting a grassy hillside that met up with the road we started out on. Soon we came to the spot where we’d left the “not quite dead rattlesnake.”

Oh gross! Its guts came out! Part of the entrails had protruded from its under-belly. While Jimmy stepped on its head – I tugged at the guts and laid them on the ground. For somebody who protested the dissection of frogs in biology class – I found the internal workings of this particular reptile somewhat fascinating.

LOOK! Its heart is still beating! Let me get a video of it! Jimmy looked a bit green around the edges. I quickly shot a video of the still beating heart of the disemboweled snake. PETA would not approve.

Using the sharp edge of the PVC pipe and a rock as a hammer, we quickly separated the head from the body. We snatched a few pictures of our trophy. Jimmy said he would show me how to stick it on my cantle when we got home. I guess I’ll try anything once. Even if it is draping a slimy snake over the back of my custom saddle.

We couldn’t just leave the head and guts exposed. I’ve heard the head can still be dangerous. We dug a small depression in the dirt to lay the head in and piled rocks over the top. I placed the bone and PVC atop the snake’s grave as a monument. Jimmy removed his hat and said a few kind words over the departed reptile. “May the snake rest in peace….es. Yes, may he rest in PEACES!”


It was obvious Jimmy was not relishing the thought of carrying a snake, dead or otherwise, back to the trailer. I looped it over J’s saddle horn. It writhed a little causing the rattle to buzz. That wouldn’t do. I couldn’t have the thing acting like it was alive even if it was minus a head and several vital organs. I used the saddle strings to secure it in place just in case it miraculously re-grew a head and come back for vengeance. One can never be too careful.

Having that snake draped over my saddle horn was disconcerting. I don’t care that I had personally witnessed the beheading, disembowelment and dissecting of said snake – I could not make myself lay my hands close to that saddle horn. I rode the remainder of the way to the trailer with my hands and reins chest high.

As soon as we arrived home we went about the task of skinning the snake. It was easier than I thought it would be. I’d already removed most of the guts. All that was left was to slice it down the underside and peel back the skin at the base of what was formerly known as its head. Slicker than peeling a ripe banana….albeit a whole lot smellier. That puppy stunk! J’Lo noticed it too. Looking over Jimmy’s shoulder at the skinning process, she stomped, snorted and made a beeline for the pasture.

According to Jimmy, the underside of the skin is like glue and will stick to the cantle for a good year or so. I had my doubts…but when it was all said and done, it looked pretty cool.

One of the items on my bucket list is to cook a rattle snake. Here was my chance. I inspected the skinned rattler. It looked like a long, skinny fish with just as many tiny bones to deal with. I tossed it in the burn barrel. There’s plenty of time to check it off my list along with starting a bar fight in Montana and visiting Dollywood while Dolly’s still alive. I might better hurry on that last one.

All in all – it was a great day. It would have been too easy to succumb to the sniffles and couch up watching a Lonesome Dove marathon and I’m very glad I didn’t.

You shouldn’t wait for the perfect conditions to do what you love. It’s always going to be too windy, or two hot or too something…but as Jimmy would say: Just being in the saddle makes any day the perfect day to ride.