One-Upsmanship 16

Bringin’ on extra help doesn’t always help—Frank

Evidently Bob called Orine who radioed me to pass on a message. Well, bein’ a busy person that tends to not hang around the radio, takin’ care of twenty horses and three camps, I did’t quite hear anything at all—and that’s normally a good thing, but not always. So when a truck pulls into the corral area and unloads a horse and gear and a complete kitchen without even askin”, I get a little curious—and territorial.

Sometimes words you hear change your life, and sometimes they don’t. Some take weeks to memorize, like a Tennyson poem, and some words you hear one time and never, ever forget. Never!—”Hi, my name is Wes Johnson and I’m the new camp cook, but the hands just call me cookie”. And just as he says it, the truck that brought him here fired back up and started to drive away fast—like they already knew something I was about to learn. “Well, hi” I said. “I’m Frank, so…what’s your plan…Wes?” He said he had talked to Bob, and Bob had mentioned I could use a little help up here, and since he had worked a chuckwagon before that he could just sleep in the cook tent do all the cookin’ since I had so much to do already—well, I just happened to love cooking and when it comes time to feed guests I was all in it, spared no expense, and always found time to do it. It was my visitin’ time to bond with my new family for their stay and I treated them like royals. It was a natural occurrence for me to do so, and I didn’t care if he was Chef Boyardee, the cook tent was my kitchen when I was in it.

I leaned over and made a quick comment that this here was old Indian territory, and by natural law the chiefs did all the cookin’ when they were up in the mountains. He just said, “huh?”. I didn’t have the time to spell it out, and it wasn’t gonna change the fact that he was here, and his ride was gone.

“Is that tanning lotion I smell?” I asked. He went on to tell me that he burns easy and at this altitude he really needed to watch his skin, so he always wears it on his neck, ears, nose especially, and on the backs of his hands. “And is that your horse over there?” I asked. Turns out it was his uncles horse that hadn’t been ridden in a hundred years, foundered* this spring and he was hoping that we could use the horse to get it back into shape, but for now, no, and no shoes either. Then he asked me where he could keep his duffel. I asked him what was in it, and he threw it down on the ground and opened it up really fast and deliberate like a commando—Candy bars. “There must be thirty pounds of candy in that thing. Wes, you eat that shit all the time your gonna be a diabetic like my aunt Martha”. “I am diabetic”, he said. “That stuffs in the other bag, so where can I keep it cool?” We cut snow and ice out of a cave up in one of the gullies and bring some down to camp once a week. But the cave melts away by the end of August, so then we go to plan B—plan B flashed through my head but I didn’t say it—send him to town with a quarter tank of gas and no money to get back would be my plan B—at least he didn’t bring a dog.

He moved into the cook tent, and the second thing he did was rearrange everything with no flow. This was not to my likin’, but I let it be for now as I had work to do, and fighting the inevitable is not my style.

We had 14 guests coming for lunch the next day, so I’d see pretty quick if our little red-headed step child could make a sandwich. I had just rolled back into camp from our ride, unsaddled and got everyone standin’ straight and dusted off a bit and wandered over to the table. Have you ever seen someone with OCD spread mayo on breadone slice at a time? I washed my hands and grabbed a rubber spatula, laid out all the deli bread like I was a Vegas dealer and in one pass had mayo’d half the lunch, while Wes was workin’ his piece. I said, “we like to feed everyone at the same time, and on the same day if at all possible Wes. We might have to pick it up a little”. I could tell you the rest of the story, but that would be a whole ‘nother book full of my sarcasm, and like I said, ain’t nobody got time for that. We managed to get everyone fed and on the road, and I think we pulled it off. A guest can have blisters and saddle sores and all types of bodily discomforts, but if they eat good, they’re usually pretty happy.

Doin’ the little things right can make the big things seem little—Frank

I scooted out to the tack tent to finish puttin’ some stuff away, and when I went back to the kitchen, Wes wanted to move the flat top grill to another spot. He had set up a little Coleman two burner on the table and let me know that was what he was used to, then asked me if I could scrub the grate and make it shiny. He didn’t bother to tell me he had just shut it off after a test run, and the burner had just changed color from glowing red to chrome. My fingers looked like a flame broiled hot dog. White blisters rose to the surface like a swear word—that little move cost three weeks use of my good hand. I let out some words I normally don’t use, since swearing is a reflection of your person—unless it comes to Wes.

I assigned him a thirty year old swayback horse that was fit to retire. Mud was good horse and pretty much the go-to horse for any new rider. The next day we had to go up to Skookum camp, supply it, spruce it up a little, cut some firewood, then be back in time for a group coming at 6:00 to spend the night so they could head out early in the morning. He came out of the tent at daybreak with spurs and a crop dressed lookin’ like a Spanish bull fighter. When I asked him about it he said that just what he was used to, and liked to have something in his hand when he rode. “No, the outfit Wes” I said. I let him know he wouldn’t be needin’ that crop and spurs here but I didn’t push it.

Abuse has no place in horsemanship. If you need a crop for trailridin’ a dude horse you need to find a new hobby. They call it pleasure riding for a reason—for you, and for the horse. I had a been around people that train with pain first when I comes to animals. There’s no need for it, and I wasn’t about to tolerate it here, but I just waited on it till the time was right. I knew a little about peckin’ orders and timing was everything. I’ve seen miniature horses rule a whole herd of real horses, and once they use their heads and take the top spot, the others will follow.

I didn’t do much talking on the way to Skookum. I didn’t have a chance anyway. He was pretty full of himself—I hadn’t had this much quiet since I visited the Weyerhaeuser plywood mill before it burnt down. I had a feeling Wes would do the same, and I figured right—just had to give it time. We finished our chores—he did know how to split wood and that was a good thing. I dragged in some logs in with my horse and we made short work of the day, put everything away and saddled up.

—Wes kept swattin’ his leg with that damn crop. It was annoying to me, but kept reminding the horse he’d been mounted by Genghis Kahn, and Mud was getting a little perturbed by the disturbance as well. Wes was like a dude with attitude, wantin’ to show who’s boss.

in the morning Wes came over to the corral askin’ if I’d seen his crop. “Nope”, I said, “not since yesterday”—but in my mind I recalled it might be a hundred yards downstream in the river since last night. “Well Wes, we have a busy day today”, I said. We were headed up the Esmeralda Basin with a small group, taking them on the first ride I ever went on in these parts. Wes was comin’ along to ride drag and learn the area. It was a good day overall, and lunch at Gallagher Head always gives me good memories. We made it back to camp, had dinner, saw our guests off, then cleaned up for bedtime—And just after midnight on August 3rd, was the beginning of one of my best days ever.

Sleepin’ in the cook tent is never a good idea—unless it helps—Frank

I woke up with a startle—blood curdling screams were coming from the cook tent. Seems as though a little ol’ mouse decided to roost on Wes’s forehead. “A mouse, a mouse”, he shouted. “Hit him with the riding crop!” I yelled. That little incident was all he could take. He radioed Orine in the morning and she called a ride for him—he was gone the day after that.

The worst and best days can be separated by margins as small as a bread crumb—Frank

Where’s that bag of bread crumbs anyway?

* A foundering horse suffering from laminitis experiences a decrease in blood flow to the laminae, which in turn begin to die and separate. The final result is hoof wall separation, rotation of the coffin bone and extreme pain. In severe cases, the coffin bone can actually rotate through the sole of the horse’s hoof where it becomes infected and usually results in the death of the horse.

Wandering 15

Decidin’ which way to go doesn’t really matter when you’re just lookin’ around—Frank

But finding your way home when you weren’t lookin’ may be a bigger challenge. I was wondering if Chloe had just lost her bearings during the chase. Who knows, but hope is in the drivers seat when that’s all you’ve got. Or worse yet, she caught up to whatever she was chasin’ and got killed.

The next day was depressing. We had a schedule to keep and a semi on the road to get a load of cows out from Bazzoli. There were only two numbers that had to go, the rest could be random—it was slow going without the dog. It had been a full day and a half since I’d seen her, but I was still hopeful some news would surface. I put an ad in the paper, but that doesn’t come out until Thursday, and so far nothing but an empty answering machine at Orines. If I could get done early today the plan was to go back up to look again. My mind was wandering down roads of second guesses, which never helps a damn thing, but I guess it’s human nature.

Second guesses ought to be made the first time—Frank

Losing a family member in the wilds is nothing but stress and worry. A friend of mine disappeared off the other side of Tiger Mountain when I was just a kid. The biggest search party in history turned up nothing. He was gone, and his desk sat empty till the end of the school year. I can’t really compare that to this, but the feelings were there, and the story kept replaying in my head that I should’ve done something different. I’ve never been one to sit back and watch life happen from the sidelines, and if push comes to shove I’d rather lose doing something I love than just watch life pass by.

I went through the motions of the day, stopped by Orine’s to check for messages, then drove back up to camp. It was gettin’ late when I passed LT’s turn off and drove by—I am not in the mood.

This went on for a couple of weeks and I had to let her go. She was the last dog I’ve ever partnered up with, although I did see her again about five years later.

Finding your way home is hard, especially when you stop lookin—Frank

I went out to the pocket to get some hay one day and they had a border collie laying in the yard. She’s was a little heavier lookin’ than Chloe with some grey hairs on her head and face. I told the gal I used to have a dog just like that, then she told me a quick story about how they found this dog along the freeway a few years back near Cabin Creek—She looked really out of place considering the area. She got right in their truck and went home with them—If she was at Cabin Creek, she was on her way home. I knelt down and whispered, “Chloe”. She didn’t remember who I was. I just let it be. She was alive.

Reopening disappointment only goes one direction. Mine, or hers—Frank

She looked very content.

Ways from here to there-

Matters not the distance met-

Withers on embrace—Frank

Lodge Lake 14

Below the forested canopy old mossy timber prevails above its own darkness, casting shadows on shadows, listing in soaring breezes, groaning beneath their own immensity—Frank

—But it was near calm at ground level. Fear rarely crosses my mind, but one small piece of the PCT* that had been eluding me for several years, put a little jeebie in me one day while I was out alone with Wiley and Chloe. I’d decided since I had a couple of days off, we’d trailer over and take a look since it’s just a little more than an hour drive from base camp. After inviting a few different folks to tag along, I was on my own. LT wanted me to stop off on my way back to tell him how it went—said he needed a good laugh. I asked him what was so funny, he just said, “you’ll see”. “What?” I asked. He just laughed and walked away over to the barn wavin’ his arm and hand at me from behind. I shook my head a little side to side squinting, “what the hell?”

The first part of the trail passes through a ski area up on Snoqualmie Pass —The only leg of the Washington section I had not been a part of, was from this starting point over to Goat Peak, near Easton. Be a good long day ride and a half—My brother lives just north of there so I can get a ride back to the trailer. Wiley started off eager and made pretty good time past Beaver Lake and into the dense timber. It had rained a lot the night before and the trail in that section was full of mud-bare, old-growth roots and standing water. The trees were still dripping but the skies were fairly clear. Thick moss, salal, and ferns spread out into the dense timber for what looked like an endless jungle—it was dark as dusk.

I kept thinkin’ about LT and what he was sayin’, then I figured he was just tryin’ to put some kind of doubt in me. But, so far so good, and I can’t see lettin’ someone else’s fear of somethin’ make me afraid too—just not my nature.

We pulled along side lodge lake and up at the far end was a little camp area. I got down for a minute and took a quick look around when of the sudden the hair stood up in the back of my neck like I was bein’ stalked. Wiley unsettled himself at the same time—that’s always the first sign of trouble. Horses are flighty creatures—run like hell and ask questions later. You can train a lot of that fear out of them with trust, but when fear takes over you better hope you’re not in the way, or on em’—maybe—well, it depends on the situation. I didn’t want to get left behind so I climbed aboard with Wiley circlin’ away to get movin’. When I got back on everything went back to normal and bein’ the kind of person that trusts his horse (more or less) I figured it was all ok. Then I got to thinking, maybe Wiley was thinkin the same thing. Well, now I just don’t know if he’s trustin’ me, or I’m just trustin’ him. All I know is if the time comes, I hope to hang on.

We spun around and headed back to the trail and on our way. Chloe ran point as always—that dog does two miles to every one of mine. She heads up a quarter mile and then trots back to check in. Then off she goes again. Back and forth all day scouting’ the way. She stays back till I say ok, but she can hardly wait on her own. She’s just wired to be wired I guess—weird. Much of the trail started to open up into logging country and even crosses some logging roads along the way, but about two miles past the lake the horse just froze and backed up a couple steps rearin’ just a little. Chloe took off into the brush chasin’ after something and that damn dog just disappeared. So I called out, whistled and waited. Wiley wasn’t likin’ the whole thing, and I could just feel his horsepower tensin’ up, and then he’d relax. He was smellin’ something, but we weren’t seein’ anything, including the dog—she had never left my line of sight before. Fifteen minutes went by, then thirty minutes went by. I was whistlin’ loud and hearing nothing. I was beginning to think maybe this whole day was a bad idea.

It’s never too late to regret. People only regret when it’s too late—Frank

I had a dog named Monty when I lived in Bellevue for a while, and every so often he would run off. There was a house he would go to in Issaquah—twelve miles away by car and about seven as the crow flies—not sure how he ever found it the first time, but there was another dog he had a thing for. It was across busy streets, up over a mountainside development and through timbered areas and several neighborhoods in a cul-de-sac. But, a lady called the number on the tag and said she had my dog. When I heard where, I was thinkin’, “what the hell?” Just like today. But every time Monty would get out, he’d go back to that same house. It got to be a running joke. “Hello? “You have my dog again?” I wished somebody could do that for Chloe about now. We needed to get moving—or go home. We started lookin’ around the general area. My worry was startin’ to get serious. Two hours then three…then four—I had to turn back. It was 4 o’clock. Not sure if you have ever galloped a horse before, but galloping on a mountain trail is about as crazy as can be—but the reality today was panic and fear—where was my dog? We pulled up to slow down at lodge lake to manage through the mud and the roots and Wiley stopped again. He balked at even one more step, so we took a little side detour towards a high spot to see if I could call her in one more time. The terrain started up, but leveled off lookin’ like a mud bog for about a thirty feet, but appeared well used by something, but Wiley stopped again and just refused to go further. “Well horse friend”, I said, “you won’t go the other way, and you won’t go this way, you won’t go that, and I sure as hell don’t want to be here for the night, so what do you want to do?” I rarely ask a horse for his opinion, but now was a good time for suggestions. I urged him on a few more times and he finally relented, took a couple of stutter steps like he was gettin ready to jump, put his front feet down in the edge of the mud and the bottom fell out. He lunged in belly deep mud and I was able to bail off the side and see if he could buck his way out of it. He barely crawled out the other side and had black mud a foot from the top of his hind quarters. I was so focused on lookin’ for the dog, I forgot who the trail boss was.

If a puddle looks deep, doesn’t mean it is, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t. Trust your horse—Frank

That was a pretty close shave right there, but after checkin’ Wiley out, we managed to get back under way, picked a better lie back to the main trail and made it down to the truck. I figured I’d just sleep in the trailer in front of Wiley, but I figured wrong. I’ve done that quite a bit lately—sleepin’ in a horse trailer with a horse is about like sleepin’ on a waterbed with a automatic tsunami timer set to go off once a minute. They just don’t stand still, and every time I’d wake up, it would be to more worry. C’mon dog! I finally fell asleep and woke at daylight—still no Chloe.

We went back to the spot we lost her and nosed around for a while but nothin’. There was not any weirdness or balking horse this time. It was calm and empty.

I left a sign at the resort map board and a couple at the summit stores, rest area, gas station, talked to a few people and went back home, hoping for somethin’. I started thinking about Monte, and how he was able to find his way through the craziest of neighborhoods and navigate his way in the city and hills. Maybe Chloe just went home.

*PCT is the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico

View From a Horse Chapter 12

Sometimes you miss the best scenery watchin’ where you’re going—Frank

Riding a horse on the trail is near like bein’ a truck driver on the road—a bird’s eye view down into places most folks think ought to be private. I told LT this piece when I dropped by his place—I think he actually peed himself. I won’t do that again. Bein’ careful who you talk to is important, and he may just remind me about this the rest of my life—plus everyone else. He knows how I was raised in the strict confines of religion—and so do I—most of the time.

I’ve hiked nearly the entire Pacific Crest Trail within the Washington border and a thousand other miles between, and never saw what I’ve seen riding half that time on a horse. Walkin’ you spend a lot of time checkin’ the trail and watchin’ your footing to keep you upright—like one time I was on an eight day backpack from Darrington to Stevens Pass. I’d been into it about sixty miles or so when I stepped off the edge and rolled down about fifty feet. I crawled out of it ok, but one second of distraction at the wrong time can be a catastrophe in the back county. Riding a horse alleviates a lot of that—it also makes me about nine feet tall which allows me to see, and seein’ too much in the pejorative sense can make you go blind, according to my mother.

A lifetime of parental warnings does not necessarily protect you from anything, sometimes goin’ blind can be a real eye opener—Frank

My first time seein’ nature happenin’ in the human sense was from the trail, and it looked like more of a scuffle than I had imagined it would. A hiker would’ve never seen it bein’ too short, and that particular part of the trail was a little bit technical, so watchin’ your footing was important—I caught a glimpse of a red blanket down my the stream, so I backed up my horse just a touch to see what was going on, peering over the brush I aimed to solve this curious eye catching red amidst the greenery. Nature was taking its’ course in the wild—two buck naked souls in a passionate tussle. I sat back in my saddle for a spell and watched. I decided I’d better move along…but then I watched some more. I thought for a minute there something was wrong ’cause she was hittin’ him on the back and makin’ a lot of painful noise, but after they were done doin’ what they were doin’ she gave him a big hug.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but I did find myself pressing my toes hard into the stirrups. Maybe I was gettin’ my footing there a little bit too. The year before I was in Jamaica and we went to a nude beach—optional, but the only people that had no clothes on were the ones that shouldn’t. This wasn’t like that at all. I thought about it quite a bit over the next few days, then I thought about it again…and then some more—hell I was seventeen, what was I supposed to do?

Some people aren’t so subtle or sneaky about their nudity. I was headed down to Deroux from Gallagher Head Lake and there was a female hiker coming alone up the trail—topless. She stepped up on the high side to let me pass, said hello, and I said hello back—but what I was thinkin’ was a whole lot different. Keepin’ eye contact is not as easy as they say it is, and back to nature was takin’ on a whole new view for my wanderin’ ways—and eyes.

Changing your thinkin’ is hard…especially when you don’t want to—Frank

I reminded myself of Saint Augustines prayer when he was a young man. “Lead us not into temptation Lord, give me chastity,” he prayed, “but not yet”. I did a lot of thinkin’—and even more thinkin’ after this happened.

Bein’ on my way to base camp one day I came up to Lake Ann and stumbled into another situation once again, but things aren’t always the way I’d been raised. I was heading up from Van Epps, and from that direction the lake is just appears in front of you with no warning—a bit of a nice surprise. Coming in from the top you get a bird’s eye view and you can see what’s ahead of you, but not this way.

It doesn’t matter where you are, only the direction your headed—Frank

I wasn’t payin’ close attention and rode right up to the lake to see two guys standing there on the boulder naked, holding hands looking at the water. They heard me, and when they saw me they just looked over their shoulders and said hello, then the taller one jumped down and walked over to me to ask a couple questions. We talked a little about the area, then I let them know that the ridge on the trail to the west had the best view of Mount Rainier anywhere—it’s amazingly close as the crow flies, and breathtaking to see, to say the least. My household growing up was a modest bunch, so after contact of this nature I had some thinking to do, and somehow nudity didn’t equal shame anymore. When I told the story to LT he said I looked like I’d seen a ghost. And that ain’ all I’d seen, that’s for sure, but un-seein’ is a whole other story. That makes two things I know.

If you look around and cut through all the deception, things are rarely what you’ve been told—Frank

I guess if you spend enough time anywhere you’ll find oddities and different ways of life. Funny it was the open wilderness where I slowly started to see life from another point of view, although a bit of it was a little too “up close” at the time.

Things aren’t always what they seem, even after they seem like it—Frank

Peckin’ Order 11

Doin’ what you love sometimes includes what you hate, then rememberin’ that you’re forgettin’ sparks the memory—Frank

Have you ever heard an old song on the radio that you hated as a kid, but when it comes on the oldies station you think, hey, I kinda’ like that now? Yeah, this isn’t one of ’em, and this isn’t one of those stories either. It had been a hot summer already, and only the first part of June, but at least the river was still cool enough to give you a headache at bath time—whooya! Short and sweet was all you could take, but good to soak the feet for a spell to take out the swellin’.

It had been three weeks since I’d seen another human—just horses and the dog were my only company. They don’t say much, so I did a little talkin’ to myself while I set up camp alone. I used the pickup truck to pull up the big wall tents, securin’ the two A-frames with rope, and then usin’ another rope in where the ridge pole sets, I’d yard it up nice and slow in granny gear. Once the heavy work was done I could take my time with the rest at my leisure—so I got ‘er done pretty quick with no free time. We put in a catch basin up on the hill from camp the year before, so all I had to do was run the water lines and get that flowin’ to various areas of the settlement. Lodge-pole corrals cut and hung to USFS specifications, (twine tied, not nailed) tack tents, bathrooms and sleeping quarters erected, and…wood stoves installed with all the gear stored on the racks, etcetera. The initial group was comin’ on the first to stay up at Skookum camp, which had yet to be put together. So, four trips over the hill pullin’ a string and I got it all done with three days to spare. But, all the horses had to be rode out at least once, and saddles fit and labeled, and well…that’s just the beginning. There was a lot to do.

It’s easy to get caught up in the importance of what you’re doin’, but it only takes one second to put importance back in its place—Frank

Everything came to a halt at feedin’ time.  I had finally put up enough lodge pole to combine the two smaller pens into one much bigger corral a little more central to the flow of the operation.  After turning out all the horses and filling the stock tanks, I threw out some  hay—but not quick enough. There was some posturin’ goin’ on and a few of the horses were gettin’ pretty puffed up and aggressive to get their feed first when two of them really started to fight hard—like wild horses fightin’ hard. It wasn’t like puttin’ a new horse in the bunch, these guys already knew each other and the peckin’ order had been well established since last year. But Big White had a higher notch in mind and was not backin’ down. They went butt to butt with a fury, backin’ into each other and kickin’ hard when I heard a crack, like the sound of two horseshoes crashing together at a hundred miles an hour with the force of a wrecking ball. They both went up at the same time and Tony’s leg buckled and down he went. Both bones in his back leg were broke, and his leg was all folded under the weight of his body.

I grew up with animals in a small farm setting. I butchered chickens and rabbits like a professional, but it never set well with me. I’d been deer hunting since I was 12, but never shot anything even though I had the chance. I’ve always had a soft spot for life, and figured I had found my place as a tolerant observer of such practices.  Packin’ and skinnin’ game here in the hunting camps, quartering elk, hell, I even packed out a black bear on the very horse that was on the ground in front of me. He had one eye behind him the entire way, but he did it—no phone, no radio, and nobody around for 35 miles, I went to the main tent to get my rifle.  Never before had I considered doing what I was about to do now. Two years ago at this time I was playin’ baseball in the city league, datin’ girls and goin’ to movies, cruisin’ the loop with my brother and buddies. What the hell was I doing now? I was angry. Not sure at what, it wasn’t at anyone or anything, I was just mad. Really mad that I had to do what I was about to do.

I never shot anything with it but once, and that is one I’d like to have back. I pulled the bolt back and put a round in the chamber and pulled the trigger—right in the wrong spot. He flailed around and rolled to the other side and back again and let out a horrible screeching bawl, then as he settled for a moment I shot him again—he was done.

I hooked a chain on him, dragged him down the road a couple of miles, up an old skitter road and into the brush. I cut his belly open so he wouldn’t bloat and rot too bad and left him there for the animals to eat. In a week he was gone.

I might do things a little different if I had it to do again. Being in a rush may have cost me a better decision than I made, but I did what I thought I had to do in tough spot for any grown man. I was seventeen.

Bob and Dean came up a couple days later and I told them what had happened.  They didn’t say a word about what I had done. It was already time to move on with lessons learned. Dean is gone now, and Bob is 83 and frail, but I remember a lifetime of lessons spent with these good men, and grateful every day to have known them.

Sometimes you get what you pay for. I got paid the year before with a hunting rifle. Maybe they knew something I didn’t —Frank

Henry Field 10

Far enough is when you’ve come a long way and it feels like like it—Frank

Being outdone by a kid is sometimes a difficult pill to get down, unless of course, it’s your own kid. One of my daughters kept bugging me to go cattle drivin’, so I finally gave in and talked to the boss about bringin’ her along. He said, “Frank, you do what you gotta do, but she’s your responsibility, and it can’t be slowing us down”. I told him that was fair enough, and I’d keep an eye on her and make sure she knows how to get back to the corral. Leta had tinkered around in the Teanaway long enough I figured she’d be ok—and I figured right. We’d been in a pretty long day already, and I’d just caught up to Sam up off Indian Creek. We were just sitting in the trail talkin’ about where to go next when he asked me where the girl was, and like it was right out of a movie script we heard this yell, “Go cow, hut hut chi chi chiiiiyah! Go cow!” We looked down in the gully and saw Leta through the timber wavin’ a rope, jumpin’ her Arab over a log and circlin’ wide below this cow to push her back up to the road. Sam looked at me and said “I’ll be dammed Frank, looks like we got another one for the A-team”. “Yeah”, I said, “kid can ride ok”. We gathered a few more cows and pushed about 20 head or so down through Henry Field and across the river up into the fresh grass at Camp Lake. We did about twenty miles total for the day, enough to wear out the best of us, but this girl still had a plenty of go left in her when we got back to Bazzoli.

My older brother had a firewood business when I was about 14. I can still remember his business card; “The Woodchuckers” Split, Delivered, and Priced Right! Those were good times. We’d travel all over the western half of the state cutting wood and delivering. It was hard work, but I was good with a saw and could split wood like a man. Just given the chance, kids can be pretty amazing.

Leta worked herself from a summer and fall spot at a dude ranch, to workin’ year round at a dude ranch when she was 14. Later in the year that she began her gainful employ, school was about ready to begin and she came home to let us know that she would be homeschooling the year with some other kids at the ranch—so they could keep workin’. “Ok”, was about all I could muster, so she spent her teen years learning her way with livestock and people—a very independent sort, but I can’t say where that all came from. She is one of a kind.

I’ve always had a soft spot for kids, and turning them loose comes at various times and in different ways.

If you can find what they love, you can find what they’re capable of—Frank

She never did move back home, but filled her own life with her own dreams and in her own way. I couldn’t be prouder, and goin’ far doesn’t mean you can’t be close.

Later in the evening I got a call from a house out in the Wagon Wheel. Seems as though a couple of the cows had taken a likin’ to tulips. By the time I got out there the cows were gone, and so were the flowers. Well, if it wasn’t cows it would’ve been elk or deer.

If things don’t go right, put up a fence. If they do go right, put one up for next year—Frank

Indian Creek 9

If you have to ask what was he thinking, he wasn’t—Frank

Seems the shortest men always have the tallest horse and the best horseman is most likely to have the buckinest. But not all of ’em. Ken was short and had the buckinest horse I ever saw, not the tallest, but without doubt one of the best trainers I ever knew. Brian came along too. His department today was havin’ the tall horse.

When Ken moved to Texas we had a little goin’ away party and gave him a custom cowboy boot with six inch heels, mounted it to a plaque that said “Guaranteed to Intimidate Texans”. It was an adaptation of the trailduster award we had going for a while.  We’d routinely present this sought-after item to whoever recently got bucked off a horse. It was a privilege to finally give it to the best horseman in the bunch, since I already had too many cluttering my window sill.

Ken was into training these high strung quarters out of Elko, and this one particular day he brought a new mare along to ‘season ‘er up’ with a little cow tailin’. We rode up Indian Creek and things went pretty well all the way up—and most of the way down. He did a lot of circlin’ and trainin’ stuff along the way as he tried to wear his horse down to some kind of teachable level, disappearin’ at a stiff trot now and then, over and around and all over. There’s green broke, and there’s really green broke, and this horse was definitely on the high side of wild “under saddle”. I was beginnin’ to think the wayside trot was some new trainin’ technique for pullin’ a pony cart as Ken put at least three miles on to every one of ours, but nothing had changed. Brian came along too ridin’ his 17 hand retired race horse—try ridin’ that under the pine boughs a few times if you can. And of course, Brian stands about 5’2″ with his boots on. It was a adventure of sorts waitin’ to happen.

It’s always a pleasure takin’ folks up in the Teanaway for the first time. Even locals bypass this spot, somehow missin’ out on some of the most beautiful country in the world right on their doorstep. But I’m guessin’ if everyone knew about it the character of the place wouldn’t be as special as it is.

Go out in the world and discover the wonders of nature. Just don’t do it here—Frank

We rode back down into the flats at Ryepatch and Ken’s horse got spooked walkin’ through some dried skunk cabbage—it was rodeotime. “Stay with ‘er Ken!” I shouted, but damn that horse could jump! Brian on one side and myself on the other, we could make eye contact under the horses belly. Ken did pretty well two-handin’ it for the allotted 8 seconds, but this mare was just getting started. He finally got leanin’ to one side, flew high and sideways doin’ a little twist up in the air—but it weren’t enough. He hit the ground upside down and backwards, landing on his neck, one shoulder slumping into the ground he laid there in a pile.

He rose up slowly out of the cabbage like a Phoenix wearin’ a dusty flannel, then squatted there for a full minute to get his bearings. The first words out of his mouth; “don’t tell Nancy”, as he struggled to catch his breath. Hah! That’s the most popular phrase in all of cowboyin’ history. I told Ken it was a good thing he wore down that horse or she might’ve really bucked. He didn’t laugh—I don’t think he could have anyway. We caught the horse and wound up walking it back to the trailer. Ken was limping with one arm, if you can imagine that’s possible.

Nancy called me the next day to ask how Ken broke his ribs—after pausing a second I said that was up to him to tell her what happened. So…after I told her everything I heard “KEN”, what were you thinking taking that mare?”—then the phone went dead. Four broken ribs and a few weeks of hurtin’ while laughin’, but in the end it was all worth it—to me.

Ridin’ in the mountains is a beautiful way to break a new horse—and some ribs. You really showed that mare who was boss today.

Nice work buddy.

High Country Packers 8

Dreaming’ of something’  your whole life is just a shadow of spending your whole life doin’ somethin’ you never dreamed of—Frank

Back in 1933, the year my father was born, Mount Rainier National Forest was divided into four smaller forest sections; Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Gifford Pinchot, and the Wenatchee National Forests were the eventual results of the division, with of course, Mount Rainier National Park being the icon of it all. My stumbling grounds lay in the Wenatchee National Forest—and that’s just the way I like it. ‘Wenatchi’ is a old Sahaptin word the plateau Indians used for ‘river which source is the canyons’, and it’s no wonder I took a likin’ to the place as finding headwaters and mountain springs is a hobby of mine―not much intrigues me more than a bubbling spring of pure water pressing up out of a mountainside.

Forty years ago some family friends had just started a mountain adventure called ‘High Country Packers’, and the base camp was near the end of the North Fork of the Teanaway River. We were going up for a day ride eight miles off the end of the blacktop. The trip was an eight-hour loop ride up the Esmeralda Basin around a huge cluster of crags and mountains, then we lunched at Gallagher Head Lake. Galloping ’round the meadows and jumping the inlet waters was purely optional (and not really in the rule book) but on the way back to base camp we toured some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen. I’d never been in the saddle quite that long before, and my butt was definitely feelin’ the ride. I had blisters on my blisters with my pants glued to my legs.

When we got back to camp I shook myself out, had a little dinner and a good visit to end a great day. As we were loadin’ our gear and gettin’ ready to leave, Dean asked, “do you want to stay here and work”? “Huh?”, I said. “You wanna work?” He replied—seven words that changed my life forever. My parents, brothers and sisters-in-law all drove off and there I was, livin’ in a wall tent and sleepin’ on an army cot. It reminds me now of an ad Shackleton put in the paper back in 1907 for the Antarctic expedition. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success—and I was the stowaway. At the end of the season my pay was a new hunting rifle. I played the part but never shot anything with it but once*. I just liked being there.

Two weeks after I arrived, and wearing the same clothes I came in I went home and got some gear—that was the start of a 40 year love affair with the Teanaway Valley.

Learnin’ the basics of packing came pretty quick and within no time I was ferryin’ supplies and customers into the high camps. The ropes of the trade were pretty simple, but avoiding catastrophe on the trail took a little more practice—and planning. By fall I could sleep in the saddle and since the horses mostly know the way, it all got pretty relaxin’ for me. I was hitchin’ and diamond hitchin’ and tyin’ every knot in the book on my saddle horn while packing wood stoves and wall tents and everything in between. I was also introduced to the local ranchers, and cowboyin’ them critters gave me time in the back country to see places I would have never seen, and many I will never see again.

Long hours don’t feel so long when you love what you’re doin’—Frank

On my days off I’d ride solo leadin’ a pack horse to find new places to explore. I’ve marked my spot among the numerous springs and mountain peaks, tall timber and meadowed valleys filled with wildlife and wonder. Skies that shone the deepest blue one day and the blackest black the next. Snow in the summer and ice caves full of food stores for the hottest parts of the year, where cold breezes funneled through cooling my sweat and renewing my spirit. Clear, cold waters, unspoiled banks of mountain flowers and shrubs ingrained in my mind the beauty of life—and the fragility of it too. Many a grande vista are engrained in my mind to recollect and reflect where I’ve been, is who I am. I am not an object or a thing—a noun, it seems I am a verb**—an integral part of the natural world around me. A functional interaction of past and present in a grand universe of beauty—Frank

*chapter 11 **Buckminster Fuller

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Blowout Mountain 7

If I can’t do somethin’ right I’ll go ahead and do it anyway—next time I’ll know—Frank

Figuring out the weather gods had been a futile endeavor of bad guessing and over planning—except today. The Greeks called them ‘Theoi Meteoro’, with Boreas being the chief god of north wind. He’s been out of touch so to speak, but today what started out with clear skies and no chance of rain, turned to violence late in the day—I think Murphy must’ve slipped into my saddle bag.

Anticipating the worst takes a back seat to the one day you didn’t—Frank

An old friend came along for a day ride up Blowout Mountain trail to scout for a new elk camp. He’s always been an adventurous sort and I thought it wise to have a partner for the day. We both rode new horses that needed a little ride time to see what they were made of. Mark was ridin’ an ex-barrel racing Appaloosa, while mine was a four year-old green broke* gelding called T-Bone. I thought this should be interesting to say the least.

We trailered as far as we could go, but a recent bridge washout was going to add a few miles there and back, even riding on the logging road had a lot for my eyes to see—I counted 42 bucks before we hit the trailhead. This was lookin’ to be to my likin’, but still no elk. The biggest surprise so far was that we saw any animals at all—I think Mark may have learned how to whisper in a sawmill.

Blowout Mountain trail wound it’s way up through the trees, breaking open into majestic alpine meadows, benches with pools and springs dotting the landscape, marmots stood upright to stare and eagles took note of our presence. We narrowed our future campsite down to a couple of different choices, but then as if someone flipped a switch the woods got eerily quiet. The skies darkened and swirled overhead and the temperature quickly dropped near freezing. Trees along a far ridge line; decapitated  their tops in bunches, then came the hail. Gail-force wind, torrential rain, and ice pellets with lightening clashed deafening sounds around the mountain ledges.

Fear creeps through minds uncertain of immortal tact—Frank

I was thinkin’ it would blow over, turns out I had a lot of time to think about it. Mark and I had been in some tough spots before four-wheelin’ and gettin’ stuck in the dark. We walked eight miles in the cold rain one night to get some help—I just hated gettin’ pulled out by a Ford. A few years back my brother and I camped one fall on the back side of Granite Mountain, near Gifford Lakes and it rained six inches that night. We had a lean-to tied off on the pickup rack, yet still the water hit the ground so hard it splashed all the way under the cover. We couldn’t even start a fire with gasoline and diesel—this was another one of those times.

When it’s time to perform and the time to prepare is past—improvise. Or at least try to—Frank

It had been a long hot summer so we had left most of our gear back at the trailer. I had my duster plus a small tarp in my bedroll, along with some essentials in my saddlebags, while Mark had his slicker and some food. We high-tailed it into a spot of old timber and huddled with the horses under a big fir tree giving us a little extra cover. The storm turned to hard, and then harder rain. By the time it let up to a downpour it was nearing dusk and imperative that we hoof it down the mountain as quickly as possible—rain or shine.

We worked our way into the deep timber and darkness closed in. Our next surprise came with a stumble, only this particular bombshell had been under saddle with us the entire trip—a night blind Appaloosa

No matter how bad things seem to be, they can always get a little worse—Frank

I had read about the Appaloosa horse and congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB), but this was first time I’d witnessed it with my own eyes. It’s a non progressive condition, a genetic anomaly particular to the Appy breed. I’d heard stories about these horses getting caught in the dark and they just stay put till morning—a little like a roosting chicken, only bigger. Whatever the cause, it was my problem in the here and now. I figured we had about three miles of trail left, and then another three on the road. We’d see if we could lead him down the mountain.

It was slow going through the new deadfall of trees surrounded in near total darkness and driving rain. My horse led the way at a snails pace weaving our way through the woods, working to keep from boxing ourselves in. Timber lay like a wickerwork in spots for three miles. Appy was stumbling and stopping, and we was coaxin’ and comfortin’, shinin’ a flashlight for the poor horse. I figured we hit about one mile an hour by the time we got to the trailer—3am on the truck clock. I couldn’t have been much colder, or wetter if I’d gone swimmin’—that was a close call. I’ve only been that cold once before, and that was on a backpack where it rained for seven straight days. Rollin’ up my wet tent and sleeping bag four days in a row, I finally got too cold to function. My friend Gary saved me from dyin’ on that trip. Today we were lucky enough to save ourselves. We trailered the horses, wrung out a bit and hit the road. That was the best heat I’ve ever felt warming my numb hands and feet when the truck warmed up. Another hour back to High Country Packers, we made it to camp right before breakfast.

Being alive after a close shave with fate should teach the lessons it should, but of course—Frank

*A green broke horse is one who has recently learned to accept a rider on his back, or to be “under saddle.” But “green broke” has various shades of meaning.

Fire Maps 6

Long forgotten trails lead me to remnants of an older time, awakening my past—Frank

Possibly the happiest sight in the world is a dog in the back of a truck. Chloe and I went to town last week for a supply run. She loves ridin’ in the back, but her herding instinct goes into full gear as we pass signs and other cars. The idea that we’re the ones movin’ hasn’t occurred to her yet—crazy collie tries to head-off everything. We stopped by the U.S. Forest Service to see if I could get an old fire map. These maps are very detailed with everything from water sources to sheep trails. And by sheep trails, I mean sheepherder trails from an older time—for five dollars I can spend a lifetime lookin’ around—or just lookin’ at it. The lower part of the valley actually used to be a town and more populated than today. The first white man came in 1814 looking to trade for Indian horses. The Cayous, Nez Perce, and the Yakama Indian tribes used this place for part of their summerin’ grounds, and the name Teanaway, actually comes from an old Sahaptin* word tyawanwi-ins, meaning “drying place”. It’s hotter here in the summer than the surrounding areas and colder in the winter.

Later, trapping and logging came in, then the town and rail line. The last of the track was taken out in the 50’s, and the town disbanded and moved about 20 miles to be near the new highway. It’s a quiet place now off the beaten path, and it’s really hard to see much evidence of bigger times. Holidays can get pretty tricky when campers are in a hurry—especially when we’re moving cows down the blacktop. Anyway, these sheep camps and sheep trails are a delight to my wandering ways and finding the old is all new to me.

If you’re off the beaten path and it’s still looking like a road, Go a little farther—Frank

Dean was pretty passionate about old maps and places too—maybe that’s where I got it from. He rode a thoroughbred called Radar, and wow that was a hard horse to keep up with—a little like Dean and his talikin’. Whenever he spoke, he was the type of guy I would always listen to if I could keep up. Wise man—really grumpy sometimes, I’d say…horse smart with a temper. He and I wound our way up Bean Creek to the Beverly Turnpike, took a right up Hardscrabble, when just on top of the rise about a mile up we found the old overgrown trail. It was covered in thick brush at first, but soon broke out open in the clear. We could just barely follow along meandering through the alpine scrub, but that was good enough. If I was a sheep herder I think this would be my base camp. Views of two valleys, a 7000 foot peak to my right, and snowy crags to my left, and good water. After finding another spring bubbling out of the ground we made camp for the night.

My parents house where I grew up has a similar sound and feel to it. It was nestled on the north side of Tiger Mountain, just outside of Issaquah. Fifty feet off the back of the house the East Fork Creek soothed my ears with endless music cascading down the gentle brook, tumbling through rocks and pools. I’d sleep with the window open at night just to hear the constant flow, trickling thoughts and sweet dreamy melodies permeating my soul. It too, was a quiet place, but the brook was never subsiding, feeding the tall cedars and vines that graced its banks.

In the hills of my hometown were also remnants of an older, harder time. Coal mines underfoot with old growth stumps in deep forests laden with huckleberries make it interesting, but a stark and obvious difference from today. Now what is a perpetual traffic jam, used to be quaint and quiet.

As we packed up camp in the morning, Wiley and Radar’s ears perked up to full attention and Chloe quickly came and sat by my side. Whatever it was, we could hear it, but we couldn’t see it. The vine maples shook and bowed, cracking like a freight train comin’. Then, as the sound neared and crested over the hill to camp, in came a seven point bull elk—that’s seven tines on each side for you southerners. Y’all would call that a fourteen point. Dean was off on a morning stroll takin’ care of some business, so the dog and I just stood still while the horses were blowing out hard through their nostrils breathin’ heavy—then that bull just walked right through camp payin’ no attention to us one bit, but kept one eye on the horses. He was a big boy, passing within about ten feet of me and the dog, and then he was gone. What a majestic creature. And that brings me to rule number two—always keep a clean set of underwear in the saddle bags. We’ll talk about rule number one a little later—it’s nothin’ personal, just a matter of practicality.

I do love a good loop ride. Doubling back sometimes can get a little boring, so this trip back to camp continued around and over Iron Peak then down to the North Fork. About the halfway point the horses remembered the route and picked up the pace, even took a shortcut, bypassing a run of switchbacks and over to the main trail.

We stopped at the top of Iron Peak and I told Dean he could go on ahead without me. Its about 45 minutes from there back to camp. I moved down the summit aways off the trail where I tied the horse, then worked my way through the rocks about a quarter mile or so to the highest point. I sat down in a shady spot and took out my knife.

*Sahaptin – Although many dialects existed among the differing plateau tribes, Sahaptin is a general term for the various native languages of the area

Bazzoli Field 5

Familiarity breeds contempt and seeds of guile, slow cooked and seething—Frank

Roundup came early this year and stayed late into the cool change of fall. All the high grass had either been eaten up or dried up, so time to do some movin’. If I’m not at High Country Packers, I’m tailin’ cows for a rancher just down a bit in the valley. He leases 12 sections of high range land. It’s a mixture of timber, mountain meadow pastures, deep valleys and ravines, with high peaks and hills. The cows have their own network of trails and habits—a lot like people. Learning their whereabouts takes a little practice… and luck.

A few cows will make a beeline to the hayfields at the entrance to the valley. Hay here is a premium product and the farmers don’t take kindly to strays eatin’ all the profits. It’s all fenced and what not, but these range cows have a handful of beefalo cross breeds, and those just happen to be the most bull-headed, obstinate creatures in the world of cattle—or they’re just smart, and always go for the best feed.

If you ever start to think your real important, try tellin’ a cow what to do… or someone else’s dog—Frank

One of these abnormal creations was orange and white with ear tag 454, which was fitting for a cow of his kind—he was like a muscle car—or a small brain mixed with a bulldozer. He had a keen eye for me and most encounters were chance at best, so I had to lay him a little trap now and then to get the best of him. I talked with the boss and we decided this was the last time we were bringin’ in this steer and when I did, it was all the way to market.

Last year Sharon put a rope on him and he just charged straight at her, crushed her leg, and knocked the horse back on his haunches—I watched the whole thing play out in slow motion. That wreck put her out for the rest of the season. She knows this country better than me, so that was the longest autumn of cow collecting in my recollection. But, riding alone with my dog in the fall mountains is a pretty good mix—It’s good time to see new ground and it’s quiet.

Forced to ride alone amidst the changing colors, falls’ drifting leaves marks on my soul—Frank

Cullin’ cows that cause trouble is a part of my peaceful existence, so I set a trap at the Bazzoli coral. It’s a quiet place that sees very little action, but I’d seen this steer pass through there a time or two. I laid a sweet pot of grain and a trail of crumbs right into a squeeze, then I went for a ride to locate the beast. I pretended I didn’t see him as I circled long, but he headed back up the draw, over the hill and into Bazzoli field. I sat back on the hill, through the woods a hundred yards, tied my horse and crept up to the crest of the rise, then just waited and watched through the drizzle. I can still smell my old oil-skin duster and leather chinks from when I hunched down in the rain—we all smelled like wet horse and dog.

I got the idea from trapping and tagging elk over on state forest land a few years back. They’ll walk right in it if you set it up right and leave it alone. This would be the first time I’d ever watched one walk into it. He tripped the wire and the gate closed behind him—and there he was. With no one there to see it but me… this doe…and my point guard, Chloe. Outsmarting an animal with an IQ of 14* shouldn’t, but it sure does make for a happy cowboy—Frank

I got back on Wiley and went back to the ranch to get the trailer. On the way I stopped at Orines for a hot coffee and that’s the first time I met my wife—I just didn’t know it at the time. She stood in the doorway for about a minute, waiting for me to finish my conversation, then she got all nervous lookin’ like she was lost or somethin’ and left. I wrote this down that night. Eyes brown sea green eyes, chance meeting briefly staring, doubling glances.

I wouldn’t see her again for ten years. It was that sort of feeling, as though she had a familiar presence about her that I’d never known before. Well, at the time I couldn’t place it, but ten years later when I saw her again I walked right up to her.

Life has a way of slipping past, but the way from there to here matters not the time or distance, for it all withers on embrace—Frank

A decade later there had been an accident up on Mount Stewart and rescue was unable to make the trek to the base of the mountain. I don’t remember why, but someone contacted us to see if we could go get someone off the trail with a broken leg. Dean went up and got him, brought him ten miles on horseback, then I drove him to the hospital. I walked in the ER for a wheel chair and then pushed him into the waiting room—and there she was, like it was yesterday.

* Historically cows have been labeled as dumb, but actually rank right near the horse in intelligence.

Break Time 4

In my own mountains, alone I wipe away the stains of life, renewed and at peace from pain—Frank

Getting a break during the busy season requires a little creativity now and then, so all I do is seek out opportunities every chance I get—or I could just ask. I had plenty of reasons with Jo leaving.

Reasons are answers designed deceptivities, opulent excuses—Frank

Eighteen hour days had been wearing me pretty thin these few months and it’s good to take care of the mind from time to time. I talked to Bob about getting a little break, and he said he’d fill in for me if it wasn’t too much trouble. I really like the way he thinks, so I gathered my things and took his favorite horse, along with a pack horse and Bob’s new Stetson hat with the gold headband—he’ll be lookin’ for that for a couple days. I’ll crack some eggs in it and put a couple of bullet holes in it. I owe him that much I guess. Not sure who started this long standing procedure or where it came from, but who am I to break tradition? Besides, I like it.

Everybody needs a favorite place that nobody else knows. Mine is called Solomon’s camp, where the high mountain grass is green, and my space in the thickets is nursed by a bubbling spring. Up above, granite cliffs are scattered with groves of evergreens. Wild sheep and deer, black bear and porcupines accept my presence with only mild trepidation. It’s my place. I feel like I own it. Every time I go feels like going home.

Naming it Solomon’s camp wasn’t my idea. Some old timers had been there long before my time and left a small sign by the spring. One other person I know has seen it, they just don’t know it by that name. I pretended to stumble upon it during the high-hunt last year and my customer at the time spent half a day there with me, then we moved up into the timber. It’s well hidden and and that suits me pretty good.

Secrets can be kept in varios ways, but they all involve a little friendly deception—Frank

This is a place where my mind gets realigned and every breath renews my clarity of the goodness of life. Solitude and wisdom often follow one another, not to claim any wisdom, but a claim to feel right with the world in my own. Solomon would appreciate a spot like this with all the wives he had.

I set up camp, put away a few supplies, high-lined the two horses and went for a little walk. The creek that carved this basin is also a haven for the brook trout. They keep the secret too, like an undertaker they just do what they do and keep quiet about it.

The wilderness lends strength and perspective to my insignificance—Frank

About ten years ago, a gentleman at the cafe in town was talking about an old gold claim up in my area, so I took a little detour to see if I could locate it. The claim was well disguised, and just up from the banks of the creek I found the entrance to the abandoned mine. An old carving overgrown in the brush read ‘Van Epps Creek’. Good to know these things if you ever need it. This high up things will change pretty quick, or they don’t change at all.

Inside the mine was cool with a spring running through, no headroom and about six feet wide. I’m guessin’ these miners were a short bunch since there was nowhere inside you could stand up straight. I found an old pick head, a few muskrat traps, an oil lamp, and a few relics to mining. Everything looked fairly organized, like nothing had been touched for quite some time. Inside the mine about 40 feet another shaft went straight down. An old pulley and some rope hung over the opening like a gibbet—there was nobody home. It looked like someone left in a hurry about a hundred years ago and never returned.

Often the way back has forks in it too—Frank

My dads brother owned a decent sized mining claim in Nevada. It sits right at the foothills off the black rock desert near the Oregon-Nevada border. It’s about a hundred miles out of Winemucca near Denio—we spent some summers there in the late 60’s. My uncle Vernon lost everything after killing a squatter. It was a wild place when it wasn’t quiet. At night the bunkhouse was full of drunk men. In the daytime they all disappeared in the canyon into the mines and the place got quiet. After Vernon got out of prison the place was all but a shell; looted, full of rats and bullet holes, surrounded by dead trees and grass. It was heartbreaking.

I took my time back to camp, stretching out the day wandering, taking in the sights and smells, noticing the little things. I pulled my fish trap and took home a couple of trout but when I got back to camp, the horses were gone and I realized I had left some of that wisdom of Solomon behind and forgot to open the ends of the wall tent before I left—always leave the tent open when you leave, that way the black bear uses the door instead of making one. I patched it up as best I could, put a fire in the stove and slept—I knew where to find the horses.

If you find yourself right where you want to be, enjoy it—Frank

In the morning I woke to almost a foot of snow. It’s unusual this time of year, but it happens, and this just happened to be the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Summer skies and resting snow gently sways in the morning sun, while old man winters’ wife being overdue with child, last night she delivered—it was 80 degrees by afternoon.

Few things are more beautiful in contrast than winter in the summer. I reckoned I’d have to stay another day—perfect.

That Just About Does It 3

Learning to say no isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s better that way—Frank

Orine radioed me this morning to see if I was coming by any time soon. Her cousin Joe was in town and wondered if he could come up to base camp for a few days and camp out. Orine runs a little store about 17 miles downstream and she monitors our base radio if we ever need help or a rescue of some kind. It’s a little store, but comes in handy since we only make it to town every month or so.

I told her that would be fine, and I’d be down a little later in the morning. She more or less sits behind the counter all day chain smokin’ and watching an old tv on the shelf. She has a gravelly voice and I think in her old life she might have been a truck stop waitress, calling everyone honey and sweetie—or maybe she just means it. She came from a family of old settlers and before the railroad pulled out her family owned about half of the valley.

I pulled off the road into the little dirt lot, and went inside.

I guess it’s better to suppose wrong and have it turn out right, than to suppose right and not get what you want—Frank

I’ve never been real speechless too many times, but my visitor was Jo, not Joe, and she stopped me in my tracks and tied my tongue with a looks-knot that shook me, considering the setting. On the radio I just assumed Jo was a guy. Boy was I happy to be wrong about that.

She was dressed in her fancies and a black, flat brimmed cowboy hat with a champion barrel racer belt buckle. I tried to play it normal like and kept my comments mostly to Orine about where we would go and what we would do. I remember at the time feeling like I was reporting to mom about a date, but I think I pulled it off. We got in the truck and headed up to the trail head at base camp. I was supposed to be off for a couple of days for some ‘lone time—but this was looking ok too. She was from the city but raced out of a corral up north and spent her summers working on a dude ranch, so she knew the trail gig pretty well. I never could figure these girls and Native Americans riding everywhere bareback, but when we rode up to the high camp the next day, she left the saddle on the rack.

We decided since I had no plans for a couple of days to just head in the high country and do some sight seeing to find some real quiet, but quiet never happened. We talked and hiked, went for a swim, and crafted a nice Dutch oven supper. We just had a overall great day—plus I like doin’ all the cookin’. At bedtime we skipped the wall tent and laid out some saddle pads in the meadow to sleep under the stars. She held my hand, leaned in and kissed me long and proper. We held each other all night talking… then slept. I woke from a dream of chains in my sleep rattlin’ ka-chink, ka-chink. Over and over ka-chink, ka-chink. I finally opened my eyes and saw Wiley lookin’ down at us. He was hobbled but he still got around pretty good. Ka-chink!—crazy equine is more like a dog than a horse.

Mornings are the most glorious time of day, where wildlife is slowly stirring and the cool, early mist fogs the reflections of the lake—Frank

I got a hot cup and took a short walk alone. I have a little skilled procedure I must perform whenever going somewhere new, or when something good happens—or both. On the other side of the lake, just up off the rocks where the timber gets heavy, I picked a tree and carved JN and FC—1980. I have my initials all around the cascade mountain range. I got the idea from my grandfather who loved to hunt this area back in the 30’s. He told me about a camp he had in the Snowall Basin, just on the downhill side from Cradle Lake. I found the camp one day on walkabout. It was hidden on a natural outcropping against the side of the valley in a grove of old timber. There I saw the coolest thing—a carve-out in an old tree in the shape of a tombstone, with my grandfathers initials FC, and with it said “Elk Camp 1938”. I’ll be damned.

Jo and I went for a morning stroll, threw some rocks in the lake and had a little hand in hand, but it was time to go. The ride back to base camp was quieter. I could feel the feelings, but couldn’t say the words, hoping something would keep her from leaving. I dropped her off at Orines, and that was the last time I ever saw her. Well, almost…I did see her sing the national anthem at a rodeo about twenty years later.

Finding words to fight the inevitable is a futile road to second guesses—Frank.

Hindsight has taught me to take chances, go ahead and say it and lay it all out there ’cause you got nothin’ to lose—but it wasn’t the last time I made that mistake.

It’ll Do 2

Swearing can be a self portrait of your person, unless it has somethin’ to do with livestock…Or Vern—Frank

Vern is a good ol’ boy if there ever was one. The kind of guy you just like to like, but has a way of showin’ up just at the wrong time and takes over the barn like he built it. While everything he owns is half bailing wire, twine, and duct tape with other personal touches. He has a routine just to start his truck; pump four times, turn it over four seconds, if nothin’ happens, get out and take off the air filter and screwdriver the choke…. and on and on. He’s been starting that thing off and on with a screwdriver on the S terminal for about two years.

Same with the mower and the tiller and well… you get the picture.

Vern showed up at 5 this morning with a 28 foot gooseneck full of pack horses, and enough gear to run a circus—that’s about how it goes when you try to make up for poor planning with quantity. Eleven borrowed horses, six sawbucks, three decker pack saddles, and enough manty canvas and panniers to haul an Everest expedition. And guess who he volunteered to be Sherpa on this little pack trip? Me. My old buddy Brian came out of the army and said the only thing he remembered, was never get volunteered for nothin’. Today I wish I’d heeded that advice, especially when I thought he meant 5—pm.

I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to packing, and a few little things done right, can save a whole lotta trouble on the trail. Last time I went into the basin with Vern, we lost a wood stove that rolled at least 500 yards and there were other odds and ends spread along the country. When you have five horses in one string and four in the other, importance is…important!

I stoked the fire up a bit, put on some coffee, went out to the tack tent to get my scale and started to warm up my tongue with a few practice words I hadn’t used in a while. By the time I got out to the show, Vern had about half the canvas already knotted up. “You wanna weigh any of these out?” I asked. Then I heard the two little words which are actually three that have made Vern quite famous in these parts…It’ll do”.

Balancing packsaddles is more important than breakfast. When a load rolls to the underbelly on switchback and she starts to buckin’, it’s worse than trying to ride a yak in the rodeo. And you lose the whole string, not just the guilty one. Unbalanced loads get you about a mile, and no amount of cinchin’ and diamond hitchin’ will keep it on top. “Tie the heavy one high and the light one low,” he says, slowly nodding. “It’ll do, it’lldo“.

“Any of these horses been out this year?” I asked. He went through the list of what everyone said, but in the end we knew two of these horses, and they were rides only. I loaded four horses and tied my string together then took ’em out for a little test run around base camp. I switched ’em up a bit to get the leaders in the front, that way they’re not running up double in the trail too much. Keeps things orderly. And most things do well in their natural place.

Forcing a leader to follow in a pack string is like gettin’ a horse to push a wagon—Frank

We made trail About 11:30. The first mile is pretty calm, but the trail is too wide in spots—and I already had horses side by side; Then I had my first close call of the day. While trying to keep everything orderly, the lead rope went under my horses tail. He clamped down and started to crow hop with his butt sucked down to the ground, and the harder they fight it, the more they burn it. He stopped heading into a rock wall, just in time for me to hop off and get him calmed down a bit to get the rope out. At least I learned a little something about him before the switchbacks hit. Horses are pretty good teachers about what not to do.

If your hangin’ on to somethin’ and it’s hurting you, let it go—Frank

I’m guessin’ that horse had never used a breechin before. He got a pretty good burn under there so I’ll put somethin’ on it if we ever get to the high camp—if!

If you stick with a bad idea long enough, you just might prove it’s a bad idea after all—Frank

Horses feed off the energy of a rider, and I hadn’t had the best of attitudes yet, so I climbed back on and did a little saddle yoga. I read somewhere, that saddle yoga can be ‘intense, yet therapeutic, stimulates your kidney meridian, and opens your quadriceps, hip flexors and sacrum’. Whatever that means, but that calms the mind, that calms the rider, that calms the horse. And up here, a calm horse…is important!

We made it over the top and in to the basin with only one other small incident. Vern jumped off his horse, left his string standin’ and ran off into a grove of trees. He wouldn’t talk about it, but when he came back he was missing both shirt pockets.

If your mad about everything but everyone else around you is doing ok, then you might be the problem—Frank

Turned out to be a pretty good day after all.

LT’s Horse 1

Two or three ways that one can get a blister, but the list is infinite—Frank

Just today I managed to get all three, and all from a cow I’d never met, on a ride I’d never planned on takin’, on a horse that wasn’t mine.

I don’t usually ride on a Saturday.  By then my butt and saddle are all too familiar with each other and being that close for too long gives anybody a chopping irritation. LT called me and let me know his horse was tied out back since last night (I didn’t ask why) and if I would be so kind as to bring it over for him while he replaced a clutch in his truck. “I’m guessin’ that would be fine” I said, and thinkin’ he’d be done by the time I got there, he could give me a lift home—he’ll move fast so I don’t get into his ice box.

Seven miles on the shortcut trail to LT’s house, or eight on the old grade and the horse knows both ways, so I’ll just let him decide.

Baldy was already saddled and pawin’ at the dirt, tied short and probably hungry so I unsaddled him and let him air out a bit while he had a little hay and water. I picked his feet, gave him a once-over, saddled him back up and hit the road. Baldy chose the shortcut trail over the hill. Half way is all up, and the other half is all down. Both ways. Although, LT lives about 500′ higher than me and the way there is harder than the way back. But we won’t tell Baldy—Appy’s are kinda slow that way anyway.

We were about a mile into it and I was getting a blister on the inside of my knee, so I got off to fix the stirrup. LT had some awful home-made buckle welded at the top of the cinch, and the front riggin’ dee left a bulge in the fender right where it hurts, and about an inch too short. I guessed at the time I’d just live with it, but I guessed wrong. I did a lot of fitchin and sittin’ sidesaddle, but in the end it was a regret.

If your stirrups are too short, your knees will hurt. If your stirrups are too long, your butt will hurt. If your knees and your butt hurt, they’re just right—Frank

The trail over was a mess. The summit trail into the basin usually has a dude ranch riding it all summer, but it was still spring and no one had been in to clean it up. Besides, all the shady spots were still pretty deep winter, so I had to pick my way through the woods and vine maples, winding all around to add another hour.

Just over the summit we broke back into the clear. The temperature on the southern side was about twenty degrees warmer and out of the shade on this particular grade. But, as they say when it comes to horses—when you want a little action, just get comfortable. If you’ve never felt the rush of full-on adrenaline pounding into 1200 pounds of fury, you are missing something spectacular. You can feel the energy rise up vibtatin’ through the saddle all tense, and BOOM!! Hang on!—a black bear will do that to a horse, and since Baldy was predisposed with a high hair-whorl anyway, it was on…and I was off. Appaloosa is the only horse I’ve ever ridden that would hurt himself to hurt you, but I ain’t never seen the likes of this. Up in the air I went, and I think I landed on the back of my head, ’cause when I came to, this was the view—the day moon.

I couldn’t remember if I was coming or going, but after a while I put it all back together. Baldy was long gone so I started walking. Figured I had about 4 miles to get to LT’s place and seein’s these boots I was wearin’ were brand new, it was going to be a long walk down—blister number two.

I had about a half mile to go and LT showed up looking for me with a spare horse and some beer. He figured I’d want one if he found me, and he’d want one if he didn’t. So it worked out pretty good.

Always have enough beer for two. Either way, that’ll work out fine—Frank

About a quarter mile from his place we heard some god awful bawling across the pasture toward the river. LT asked if I was up to checking it out—maybe I got my bell rung a little too hard, ’cause I agreed.

Just off the edge of the pasture in the flats at the bend in the river was a cow with her cowboy hanging on her tail. Never seen that brand around here, and a brahma cow no less.

I got out my camera just I time to click this beauty. He had just kicked out the back legs and flew a cow. No kidding! That’s a backward bulldoggin if I could ever dream such a thing. We held ‘er down and tied a leg for a minute while he did a little vettin and when LT let go on the rope that critter cow kicked a quick tug—I never figured a foot of rope could burn through a callus that quick, but there’s my number three. And the funny part; this cowboy didn’t even need any help.

Remember to always help if it’s helping, and if there’s nothing to do, doin’ nothing is ok too—Frank 

Turns out the new guy and his brand of cattle just moved in over at Ebberly’s old place with the windmill. I didn’t think it was for sale anymore since the sign was as weathered as the house, but I let him know we’d stop in for a visit when I had my own ride.

LT had left his truck running in front of the shop for the past 5 hours. He was in a such hurry to find me that he’d managed to run it out of gas just as we rode up. He’s about 17 miles from a gas pump, and my place is a long walk back and forth, so I reckoned I’d just stay in the bunk tent tonight and regroup in the morning. LT boiled a pot of coffee, scrubbed a few spuds for the fire, while I grilled some steaks. I don’t let LT cook when we’re out on the range—he thinks a smoke detector is a timer for the oven.

Anything worth doing, is worth doing the hard way—Frank

It was a glorious day.