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My Friend

I have been pondering some seriously deep mysteries; like why the heck I need to spend 1/2 hour getting dressed to go hiking in 7 degree weather, when Koda can just dash outside stark ‘naked’, from 70 degrees inside.  Maybe we humans just weren’t made for cold.  I’m learning though:  about how the cold can freeze up the deep drifts so I can walk on top of them instead of struggling with each sinking footstep; or how the elk and deer make rutted trails making it easy to hike through the woods; or when the deep cold settles on the landscape, an icy silence settles my soul; or if I feel a bit lonely, I can walk outside and see the evidence of the nights activities as footprints in the snow.

Following an elk trail

Its been cold though for a California girl.  Yesterday the mercury didn’t get above 10 during the day.  In the late afternoon, my 84, going on 85, year old neighbor came to ‘check on me’.  He walked in from down the road, told me he had planned to work on his fence that day but the wind was blowing too hard.  So instead, he got the hay set out for his horses.  He’s pretty hard of hearing, but he likes to talk and his stories are fun, so I just listen mostly.  He was born in this valley.  His family came here around 1915 to homestead.  Considering Wyoming didn’t become a state till 1890,  and that the first homesteaders in my valley came about 1903, and that the road from Cody to this area wasn’t paved until 1993, that’s a long time ago.

Last year he said to me “I’ve got an elk tag and I’m going hunting. You wanna come?”  I sure did and figured that not only does he know this country like I knew my old neighborhood back in California, but his hunting speed was probably about ‘my speed’.

Going hunting

We saddled up the horses and left about 10:30 am.  I always ride his wild horse, Wiley.  Wiley is such a great big guy, really sweet and follows you around like a dog.  My dog, Koda, and him nuzzle each other.  It was October and there’d been a snow a few days before, so we were looking for tracks.  We went up to the next valley and up to the ridgeline.  All the way J___ was pointing out tracks–of black bears, turkeys, moose.  After an hour and a half, we finally got to the ridgeline.  “Let’s rest and have lunch.”  Yep, my kind of hunting for sure.

We sat for an hour and talked.   J___  told me a story about an old timer, who, when J___was six years old, he asked him when he first came to this country.  The old- timer replied “When I got here the mountains were flat!”  We both cracked up.

After lunch J___found some bull elk tracks.  Although all the hunters had gone west along the ridgeline, following the well worn trail,  J___ whispered “There’s a little meadow no one knows about on the east beyond those trees.  I bet they went there.”  The snow was thin, and there was bare ground in most places so it wasn’t easy to track those elk.  We slowly made our way through the timber, and sure enough, there were the elk tracks again, heading down a steep wooded ravine.  J___ said we could get rimrocked that way.

“If I didn’t have the horses, I’d go down there on foot.  But it might be too hard on the horses or get them rimrocked.”  I thought of him hiking downhill.  Yikes!  Glad we had those horses or that old codger might have gone down there.  J___ told me his rifle, which to me just looks like a 22, (As you might have guessed, I know nothing about guns) was a WWI rifle for sniper fire.  He uses sights only.  The thing is heavy.  I kept wondering how close he’d have to be to get a good shot.

We circled around for a few hours, on foot and on horse.  Finally he said “I want to watch this country for a while.”  For a moment I took him to mean “I want to live a bit longer to enjoy this place.” but he meant what he said and we hobbled the horses in an open area and walked back up to a view spot where he could see meadows to the east and west through the timber and just ‘watch this country’.  The view was breathtaking, but after a while I laid down and fell asleep, still tired from the night before, dreaming of all sorts of junk in that maddeningly beautiful country.  It was like the space of all that openness on top of the world was squeezing all the detritus out of me to allow room inside for its’ space.

"I want to look at this country for a while"

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