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 bread—one 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.