LOST WALLETS FULL OF MONEY – A LIFE LESSON
I turned in my rental car at Avis October 3 last and rushed for the big shuttle bus to get to the airport. I was a half second late. It was around a corner and the driver did not see me as he closed the doors.
I was returning from what could be the last meeting of the Auld Lang Syne group, a collection of men that began in the 1930’s at Concord College, WV. Your great grandfather and his closest friend, Thomas C. Beavers, were the organizers. Those like-minded young men carried their fraternity of their youth into adulthood with periodic meetings that included made up rituals and ceremonies. They enlisted others along the way and for many years held meetings at our Virginia farm and at Beavers’ property nearby, where Tom had installed a large trailer as a club house. Women, as was a 1930 custom, were excluded.
We erected a stone monument and flag pole at the Farm honoring their departed. We held solemn ceremonies each year, recalling their names and good deeds. They were once 14 members. Now there are 7. During the years that Andrew was stationed in Hong Kong, the remnants of the Club developed a strong desire for the spirit of Auld Lang Syne to live beyond them. They wanted others to know the joys of association with the most honorable of men. So, they invited Colby and me to join…we were given the secrets of that association in a ceremony at the Farm. And names…
Quentin Barrett, First Laird o’ the Lost Acres
Robert Barrett, Second Laird o’ the Lost Acres
Colby Barrett, Courageous Cougar o’ the Colorado Canyons
William Helton, Feral Fox o’ the Firth
Thomas Beavers, Gallant Gator o’ the Gulf
Haynes Davis, Wild Stag o’ the Crags
Jack Kemp, Ferine Ferret o’ the Fens
Wayne Mallard, Ribald Ram o’ the Red Brush
Paul Stafford, Ferocious Falcon o’ the Fiords
The hallmark, the bond that kept them together for a lifetime was mutual respect for each other and a dedication to serve their fellow man. Most were educators, and with chests-full of ribbons for outstanding contributions to their students and to their profession. Most were conservative, but a few were liberals…and a few were not of the same intellect. Honor, respect, virtue and devotion to duty were the common threads.
So, as I rounded the corner and became the first and only person in line for the next bus, I looked on the wooden bench and there lay a great big fat wallet…so many hundreds that a few were half way out. I looked all around for an owner…surely that would have been missed! Ahhh, the owner would be on that bus I just missed. My thought…and this is important to me…was how best to get that obviously important and valuable item back to its owner.
I picked it up and walked back into the rental office. There were 5 red coats behind the counter servicing perhaps 15 total customers. The thought struck me that if I isolate one of the red coats, he or she could possibly be put into a compromising choice.
Why I thought that is that in 1970, I came upon an orphaned wallet, one that I knew was not from any one in my network. I took the 20-dollar bill from it and tossed it….I will never know why I did that and it haunts me to this day. I have come to realize that in our basest instincts we can justify this as survival…survival of the fittest.
Colby, Andrew and I were scuba diving in Honduras a long time ago and while we were under, the young cabin boy took money from Colby’s jeans. When we later discovered this, the captain just shrugged. In that society and at that level, the code was different…if you want to keep something, you must protect it. In the animal kingdom, there is a natural instinct to take what is not yours – overt theft of foods, nesting materials and more. I guess it has to do with Efficiency.
To serve others, to place their interests above yours, is a learned and practiced behavior. Easier for some than others, but all can advance along that upward path. Always try to act from your highest self.
I was immensely gratified with myself when my first impulse was concern for the owner’s loss and to devise an assured way for reuniting him and his wallet. So, when I walked back into the building, I knew better than to isolate one Red Coat and discretely hand off the wallet. While it would have been almost certain any Red Coat would have acted responsibly…almost. But then, I was jumping on the next bus and maybe that owner would have boarded a plane before he missed his pile of money and credit cards….after all, to my enduring shame, I had done an equivalent.
So, I walked in and held the wallet high and asked in a very loud voice if anyone there wanted a wallet full of one hundred-dollar bills! Everyone could see the thickness of the wallet…and everyone reacted with some sort of affirmative comments. One of the Red Coats immediately came forward and accepted it. Now I was assured that there would be group responsibility and that they would all enjoy the moment when they returned that small fortune to its owner.
Moral of the story: Just keep working at being your best self. The journey becomes easier when doing the right thing is our only choice….at this moment and in all your tomorrows. It is easier to act nobly when your mind and body are nourished with good food and drink.
This is my theme throughout. You cannot imagine how far society has departed from the concept of communion with our Creator in everything we do, say or see. When we celebrate together through sharing unholy pleasures of addictive stuff that looks and tastes like food, but that causes dullness, disease and dementia, we can’t ever achieve our best self. Understand that Food is a Sacrament, a holy celebration.
Our best self would not only refuse to ingest pepperoni, we would not permit the manufacture of it….It is a product of the CAFO system. It is a reason we are losing our battle to save our environment for your kids. Global Warming could be reversed. Work with me here and now and as you grow older. Think what is best for you and your future family. Consider what you compromise when you defile your body, your mind and your world to “just get along”, to be one of the crowd. For one thing….our new industrial food supply, full of corrupted, addictive options is creating a fertility crisis. The penalties for irresponsible food and drink choices, for falling into “cravability addiction”, reach into the very essence of your highest self and to your children…..and the children you couldn’t have because of what you ate and drank.
As I will say over and over, my message is across paradigms and thus I look like the one out of step. Just as a smoker cannot “feel” the certain penalties in his future, our kids today at a pizza party cannot see into their future….those 108 diseases and disorders attributed to inflammatory foods on our Kid’s Menus, the diminished performance, compromised health and then dampened Spirituality. Smokers and drinkers and dopers don’t know how good it can feel to not smoke, to not be on a hangover, to not crave heroin, until we are free of those addictions. Same with our addictions to tortured and fried animals, fast food, processed food….
It all ties back to returning someone else’s wallet. Just as I have been able to grow in personal Virtue and Honor, so can everyone. We must strive every day to live in ever higher states of being. Journey toward perfection, never accepting that the goal is beyond us. Love our planet and everything on it. Everything in it. That is how we show our love and gratitude and respect to our Creator.
Once upon a time I decided to harvest an elk with a black powder rifle. It was in 1972, the second year of a new season that allowed only black powder weapons. It was still in the era where heads of households took pride in personally harvesting wild game for the family. While largest of the species (trophies) were held in esteem, any legal kill was commendable.
I could not find anyone to go with me and I did not know much about western style hunting. So, I took a week off, created a huge backpack that included an alarm clock, and took off for the Never Summer Range. I picked a likely looking canyon and drove as far up the road as my Volvo could go (we have had dozens of cars, some quite interesting). Up the steep mountainside…it didn’t look that steep on the topo map! The ridge was 3000 feet higher up…timber line was just below that.
I labored….really labored!….for hours and finally reached near timberline and made a camp with a rainfly as the shelter. I struck out before daylight the next morning and went to the open areas above timberline. Saw some huge muley bucks, but no elk sign. So, I headed back down and suddenly realized that I had not marked my camp! I had no idea where it was….all that dark timber mountainside looked the same. It was just amazing luck that I spotted it as I walked back and forth in the region on the map where I thought I was. Problem being you can’t see out of that dark timber to get fixes on far away peaks. Really unsettling.
I did not realize how steep that area was by only looking at the topo map. I spotted an area 2 miles away on the same contour that showed some flat areas. My geomorphology training indicated these were giant landslide headscarps, thus may even have some sag ponds. So, I packed up at noon and headed that way.
Going was easy with my heavy Garmish climbing boots biting the sidehill. There were no trails. I found later that in good elk country, they have a highway system to follow. Then I came to the blowdown. A place where a tornado-like wind had blown every tree down and in every direction…called jackstrawing…and is practically impenetrable. But I had the huge pack on and did not want to take all that effort to go up or down to avoid it. So, I carefully climbed over logs in a straight line. The stobs tore my pants and cut my calves. That was way more difficult than I imagined, but by the time I figured that out, I was too deep into it to turn around.
Finally, I made it through (or I would not be here writing this down) and collapsed on the other side in the fringe of small firs that had started to grow into the vacant sky. There was a minor spring with elk tracks in the mud! So, I filled my cup and added some chorine pills. I rested for a moment and then spied something yellow just down the hill. Looked like a tent.
That was really frustrating. I had thought I was in a complete wilderness, yet someone had brought in a large tent…maybe a road there that was not on my map? I picked up my camera and walked down there. Maybe the occupants could tell me about the area. I got right up on it and realized it was an airplane fuselage! A Piper 172 had come in vertically and the tail section had broken over 90 degrees to where it was horizontal and looked like a tent. The motor was completely embedded in the ground. The door was open and all that remained of the seats was just wire. The instruments were all intact along with a brief case…and the seat belts were still fastened.
As I stepped back taking photos (had to be frugal, only had one roll of film), I felt something under my foot….it was a skull. Later I found it had been there 13 years.
So, I moved on in my easterly direction and found the flat area. It was covered with tracks. I set another camp and carefully monitored my path as I moved out to hunt. This time there was a good elk trail to follow. Just as I was going to turn back, I rounded a tree and a bull elk leaped to his feet…he was in a wallow…a mudhole where they urinate and then cover themselves in that attractive mud cake. Irresistible.
That was what I had dreamed of….except he was standing in some small pines and was a mud cake front to back….or back to front. I could not see his head exactly and thus could not tell which end was which! That is a problem, because his stomach is dead center….you have to know which end has his wheelhouse…his lungs and heart. I waited for long time…rifle up, finger on the trigger, moving the sight front to back and back to front, looking for any clue as to which end was which. I still remember the intensity of that moment…frustration.
Then the elk bolted like a jack rabbit and ran directly away from me. I was pretty good with a shotgun, so I intuitively held just above his tail and fired. Hit him right between his antlers…he was dead before he hit the ground.
So, my first black powder elk….and it was almost dark. I was hot, tired and excited. I was able to get the entrails out and propped open the cavity. By this time, I was down to a t-shirt. Then I walked back to camp and built a small fire…never been so exhausted in my life…couldn’t even eat. I hung my wet t-shirt on a limb above the fire…..and as I sat there watching the fire flicker on the bloody, white t-shirt, my thoughts went back to the skull….I had not thought much about it until then. There was a dead guy just around the hill!
Talk about panic….It was all I could do not to just run off that mountain in the pitch black. I have never liked camping alone since that traumatic night. Could hardly sleep due to exhaustion and disconcertment.
The next morning was better. I had a week and had planned on making a trip a day to carry out the parts. Problem was it was too warm, especially down at the car. I went back and quartered the elk and hung the parts on the sides of trees. Then I went to the car and headed to find a ranch where I could rent a pack horse and get it all done in day. It took a long time to get down…I was a long way from any road. I left pieces of toilet paper at strategic landmarks on my way down.
I drove around and the only place that had horses was the Never Summer Ranch. The little old guy (80+), Johnny something, was very cordial. He said he had deeded the whole ranch to the adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park and he was finishing out his term on earth.
I asked if he would rent me a pack horse for the day…sure and $75 dollars. I bought a new pickup the next year for $3800, so you can calculate how expensive that horse was. So, I asked if he could haul the horse over to the canyon for me. He asked what I was doing. I told him about my elk. He said one horse could not carry an elk. I said I could make two trips, but he insisted I take two horses. Then he said I could not lead two horses, I would have to have a saddle horse. Then he said I could not take three horses without one of his wranglers. Hummm….That was about $4OO dollars…..way out of my league! Cagey old guy.
So, I hung fire…..wondering what to do….looked like a real impasse…Then I thought about the airplane. I had marked it carefully on my map. He was walking away. I hailed him back and asked him what a person would do if they found an airplane. He literally jumped off the ground and exclaimed over and over….You found it!…You found it!
Turns out everyone thought that plane was somewhere in that canyon. The pilot was a United Airlines captain in a rented plane looking for another missing twin-engine plane piloted by his buddy. His friends came back every summer and rented Johnny’s horses looking for him and his plane.
That changed our conversation. I traded him the map and $75 dollars for 4 horses and a wrangler to assist. Turned out the “wrangler” was an 18-year-old boy from Chicago who was paying to work on a “ranch” for the summer. He was dumber than a sled track…almost as inept as I was with mountain saddle and pack horses. We tied the rack on backwards. It got hung on a branch and the pack horse turned around and over….very funny in retrospect, but not at the time.
When finally got to the car, there were at least 8 police cars and 2 ambulances(?) there with maybe 30 people. The sheriff asked if that was my map….yes…and they had been on the wrong side of the valley in their futile search. I explained they needed to go up the other side, the side we had just come down from. They wanted me to lead them to the wreck. I told them I had some meat to tend….that guy up there could wait.
I got my 15 minutes of fame in national newspapers and on Paul Harvey News.
Linda and I and then the kids spent all the time we could in the outdoors….hiking, fishing, floating, jeeping, skiing…whatever. We took baby Andrew on lots of hikes, but the overnights were problematic with teddy bears and the like. So, it came to me to get a burro so that we could carry all the extra gear.
We found a white one named Honky and he was special. He had been hand raised and loved people. He followed us like a big dog. And he would rest his heavy head on your shoulder every chance he got. That worked great and it also allowed me to go farther and faster on bow hunting trips into the wilderness. Then I needed a saddle mule. Then a larger trailer. We already had 10 acres on the Redlands, so at least that was never an issue.
So, my buddy and fellow employee, Bill Whittaker, and I formed an outfitting business. I was able to get both a guide and outfitters license for the Flattops Wilderness Area. I had set myself and my crews on a 4-day workweek, so I had from Thursday night to Sunday night for other activities. We advertised in bow hunting magazines that we would provide furnished drop camps and transport for their kills. Turned out we were fully booked each season we did this.
On one occasion we took some rifle hunters in an early season. On one of those, we had 5 coon-asses (that’s what they called themselves) from Louisiana and we took them to the Sheriffs Reservoir Trailhead and parked all the vehicles. We went over the divide into the Williams Fork and set up camp in a timber fringe overlooking an expansive park. We had a great evening with them….most entertaining people I have ever met. It had started snowing late in the afternoon and by next morning there was 8 inches of snow and falling heavily.
Bill’s mule was having foot trouble, so he struck out early riding my mule and leading the string. I would walk out with my backpack after breakfast. He was going to see if he could get our vehicles turned and ready for departure before the snow closed the roads. Those southern boys had no intention of going out to hunt and began partying all over again. About an hour after daylight, a herd of elk ran toward camp and I still remember the mad dashes for rifles. They had stuff scattered all over the place. Could not find even their guns, let alone ammo. I just buried my head in a blanket.
At the last possible moment, one of them found a rifle and one cartridge and nailed a bull. That brought on more celebration. I assisted with field dressing, put on my pack, told them we would return next Friday and headed up to the summit on my way to the trailhead. Still snowing and 5 miles of treacherous trail to go. Bill’s tracks were already gone.
As I broke over the summit, I saw three hunters way off on the mountainside to my left. The trail meandered across a steep park (parks are fields with few trees). The narrow trail was carved into the hillside and people and horses had to go single file. I was paying a lot of attention to the trail…barely visible in the snow. I had to trust my instincts to make my way.
I kept glancing up and could see those hunters between wind blasts….they acted drunk. I knew what that looked like…I had just left a camp full of them. When they saw me, they waved in a hailing fashion and made their way down to intercept with my trajectory. They were practically crawling when we finally met.
Turns out it was a father and two sons from the flatlands. One kid was 14 and the other 12. They had gone out the evening before scouting…with rifles in hand…and had gotten lost. They wandered around in the high country all night. Said they could not build a fire in the snow. There were roads in every valley no farther than 10 miles from any spot they had been….why not just walk downhill?…never figured that one out.
Anyway, the 14-year-old, Chucky, became unable to walk as we stood there. The trailhead was a distant 2 miles away, and he was on the verge of death.
So, I told the dad to take the younger kid and hurry down the trail and send help back. They were too exhausted to assist Chucky anyway.
My plan was to help Chuck walk down. I kept pushing and goading him to not go to sleep on me. He was only semiconscious. I put his arm over my shoulder and tried to carry him, but that danged trail was too narrow for two. The hill side was really steep, so when he was above me, he was too tall and too short when he was below me. The only place to walk was the narrow trail.
So, I put him in front and pushed him and shook him…we were getting nowhere fast and all he wanted to do was collapse and sleep. I had some water…that did not help much. We made it a hundred yards or so and I was getting exhausted. Chucky was no longer able to do anything. We were totally alone in the storm.
There was a big tree. The only one near that part of the trail. I drug Chucky over to the more level spot at the base and commenced breaking dry twigs from the lower branches to build a fire. I knew this would not be effective, given the limited time Chucky had left, but I had to do something. I was not able to carry him, nor keep him awake. But I kept trying. Funny how he seemed at peace. He stopped breathing for what seemed an eternity. He gasped and soon stopped again….I found later this was the first stages of death from hypothermia. I got a little fire going….but no real wood and no heat. I hung my head…it was over.
A guy tapped me on the shoulder. He and his companion had given up trying to hunt and were headed for their vehicle. They had full backpacks with tents and bags. One was an Air Force captain and the other a major. Both had extensive cold weather survival training. They immediately assessed the situation, grabbed their bags, zipped them together, cut off Chucky’s clothes and boots – they were all frozen stiff – and stuffed Chucky in the twin bags.
Then, to my great surprise, they both disrobed to their skivvies and jumped in the bag with Chucky, and forcing him to talk, to move, to respond. What a bunch of snuggle buddies! They saved Chucky’s life as I watched.
I was wondering if the other two had made it or had gotten lost and died. After a while I spotted several men on horseback headed up the trail. They were coming to rescue us. When they got there, the military guys said that they needed to be transported down in their bag, that Chucky was not generating enough heat to stay alive. That would require a travois.
It was a challenge to use a travois on that narrow hillside, but those old cowboys figured it out. They rode up the hill and cut some small aspens and built a sturdy frame. It was just awesome to watch people rise to those occasions. I gained even more respect for the dedication and skills of the military men and of the ingenuity and toughness of those gruff old cowboys.
We got to the bottom and there was a 5th wheel trailer all warmed up. The hosts were tremendously receptive. The cowboys had carried the soldiers’ packs and clothes, so they got out of the bag and got dressed…in the storm… and everyone helped put Chucky into the trailer and into a bed. He was alert by then. Soon he was drinking hot chocolate and laughing. Bill and I got on our way. His mule turned out fine.
Hunting elk with replica black powder rifles grew more popular each year. My first hunt was alone and found that airplane…the next year 3 other folks joined me, including Dave Grounds, Brandy Gilmore, two of my best friends. We picked the Flattops and just outside what was then a Primitive Area, and later full Wilderness.
I was blessed or cursed with a strong desire for success. So, when I hunted, I studied the terrain and would pick the areas that would lend to congregations of elk in the rut. I was in great physical condition. The only question: Where are the elk? Just as with the elk, I did not consider the level of difficulty for navigation. Be the Elk! That first morning I traveled cross country from our high camp into the headwaters of No Name Creek. It was only a couple of miles on the map, but it took a long time to get there. As I broke over the dividing ridge and started downward, I heard elk bugling….yes!
Problem was that entire basin was a beetle killed forest. And it was steeper than I had assumed. I did not know this. History about the beetles: they infested hundreds of square miles of Rocky Mountain forests in the 1940s and killed billions of trees. Some areas suffered 100% loss. The standing dead still dominated some areas and littered the forest floor in other areas. In the 1970’s, it was very common for these forests to have grass floors….the elk loved this…and a regrowth of pine trees from 3 to 12 feet in height. Great cover. Jackstrawed logs were not a hindrance… nothing much hinders an elk.
The headwater basin of No Name Creek, to my dismay, was a most difficult combination of logs and steep. Jackstrawed logs and “Christmas Trees” growing through them in dense groves…groves that would naturally thin themselves as the trees matured. As the first light allowed me to plan a course toward the elk, I gauged the wind….the singular most critical factor in a stalk…and picked a course that took me in a loop to the bottom of the basin and the elk.
I could identify at least 3 bulls and focused on the one with the most ominous bugle. After about an hour of stalking and struggling in the down timber, the bull headed straight toward me. Difficult to figure why as they almost always feed into the wind. But that was good for me.
A cow appeared out of nowhere on a trail about 40 yards below. There was a small window in the Christmas trees and I had an unobstructed view for about 2 seconds. She quickly walked out of sight and I sat, cocked the hammer and trained the barrel at that narrow window. Another elk….nose, ears……no antlers. Deep breath. Another one filed by…nose, ears, no antlers. I had 2 seconds or less to decide to shoot….and I knew I had to be ready and not “pull” the trigger…that would likely cause a miss. Happens often when you don’t have a lot of time and have to “snap” shoot.
Another cow walked through the window. I could hear a bull behind them. I had no idea how many there may be in that harem. Then a spike bull….legal but decided to wait. Then the herd bull. There was no doubt. The brow tines were even ahead of his nose!
I was ready….held just behind the shoulder for a center-lung shot, squeezed and the bull reacted ever so slightly. I knew I was right on target. The bull disappeared into the Christmas trees, of course. Lung shots with rifles or arrows allow air to enter the lung cavity, the lungs collapse and the animal dies of asphyxia. In less than a minute, depends a lot on how much adrenalin they have in their systems to power their bodies. But some can run a long way in a minute!
I took ribbon from my fanny pack, marked my spot, walked down to the major trail they were using and marked that spot. Then I proceeded to follow the major trail and hanging a few pieces of ribbon. The area was basically impassable. Well, for me, at least. The elk don’t seem to mind.
I searched for two hours. I would go back to my last ribbon and fan both ways, looking for heavy tracks. Lung shots seldom produce a blood trail. I finally gave up…super perplexed.
I did not hunt in the evening. The next morning, I woke up at 3 am, fully charged. I grabbed all my gear and headed back to No Name. I entered that headwater with a flashlight and followed a general direction. Not sure if I could find my ribbons, but I knew there was a dead elk there and that I had filled my tag…whether or not I found him.
I heard people talking far off in the basin. Indistinct voices. Hummm….I was hours from any road and in terrain where no one would consider camping. It was not even light. And it was foggy. The only possibility I could think of was a downed plane. I honed in on the direction and increased my pace….I was extremely anxious about what was in store. Injured people, dead people….people dying because I did not pay attention in the Colorado State Patrol first aid class. It is surprising and amazing what can go through my mind. Entertaining for sure.
A little glow of daylight…not enough to turn off my light, but just enough to help plan my path ahead. I began walking the logs rather than crawl over them. Those logs were wet and slick, but it was faster to do this. The voices had stopped…so I could not gauge how far away they were. I should be getting close and I thought about shouting toward them. But you know, I was fearful….I just did not know who or why there were people there…. scary.
You gotta picture this. As I watched my feet carefully on the slick logs, I saw an opening where I could get off. Turns out I was quiet as a mouse on those logs thanks to my bow hunting shoes (wrestling shoes). And I was being quiet, hoping to hear more sounds and also to keep my presence unknown. I sat and rotated and slid down…the back of the log was belt high.
Motion caused me to startle….three little bear cubs jumped up and onto the carcass of my bull elk. They stood like little comical statues. But there was nothing comical about it. Their mom had her behind toward me and was laying down on her belly biting into the elk’s gut cavity. I could have taken two small steps and kicked her right in the butt! I became ill…Oppressed.
It is that awful feeling when there is no way out.
Bears typically avoid humans. They will only show aggression under three main scenarios. First is if you startle them at close range, second is if they are extremely hungry and you threaten their food, and lastly, when a momma bear is protecting her cubs. It was three strikes and out for me for sure! If I shot her with that underpowered black powder rifle, she would not realize she was dead for quite a while. I could not see her head exactly, thus she was not aware of me…which is why I was allowed to remain standing there.
Oppression….let me expand on that feeling…A young geotechnical engineer was making an after-work inspection of his first caisson foundation drilling project. They had drilled a series of 30-inch diameter holes that day and with good success. They had used a soil auger to reach bedrock, which was 10 feet down, and tomorrow they would use a rock bit to complete sockets into the rock. He tripped on something and took some balancing steps backward. One of those new holes had not been properly covered, and he found himself falling feet first into an abyss. He grabbed onto the side was able to stop his fall, however, much to his dismay, he was too deep into the throat to pull himself back up and escape. He could get no purchase with his feet. His arm strength gave out, and as much as he resisted, he slowly descended to the bottom. Arms extended upward,
He eventually quit shouting. He wished he was not there. He was staying alone at his hotel. He sometimes did not call his wife in the evenings. No one would miss him. He knew that when the crew returned the next morning that they would be wearing hearing protection and fire up those powerful diesel motors…shouting would be of no avail. He was the junior guy…the new boy…not critical to job progression. They would not wait for him to begin the work.
He first imagined that he would be looking up at the powerful rock teeth as the drill bit advanced toward him…..then, about daylight, he realized it would be pitch black…the bit would cut off the light as he was turned into sausage. There was not a thing he could do. Everything he could think of would be only a futile gesture. He had conquered the intense waves of claustrophobia. But he was immersed in Oppression….the worst kind….the Futility of Action. My kind of Oppression at that moment.
(By the way, that story had a happy ending. The driller became curious if yesterday’s holes had remained open, the geotech was not there to verify, so he dropped a weighted string down that hole and to his surprise and amazement, he got a bite….said it was like handlining for catfish! Moral of the story: Always cover your hole.)
I could feel the big log against my belt, so I could not back upwards to get my butt on it to get away. I would have to turn my back to ascend onto the log….you just can’t turn your back on a big black bear.
So, I stressed and stressed….there was no way to assure momma that I meant her no harm, that I was there by accident and she had lovely children and she could have the elk…I would even shoot more for her.
Somehow, I moved a little and broke a stick under foot. Small noise, but she heard. She rotated her head…did not raise up at all….and looked my way. Her hair stood up all over her body…she was bigger than a grizzly and for sure meaner than one. It was time to react.
I had my rifle up, instinct I guess, and cocked it and aimed for her head. Boom. The smoke from that explosion filled the foggy air….total blackout. I could not look up…..I just got some powder and started the reloading process….it was either she was dead or I soon would be…can’t outrun a bear.
As the smoked cleared, I saw one little cub running in the far distance. No momma bear. The voices I had heard were the bears discussing finding the elk. They can sound quite human.
HOW TO MISS A BEAR TEN FEET AWAY
Later on, I gained more clarity on what happened. I was hunting deer near Grand Junction with some of my buddies from Denver. They were fellow CDOT employees and wanted some deer meat. The Western Slope was replete with deer at that time. Three per hunter limit. So, I took my black powder rifle and they had high powers. We camped Friday night and a major storm blew in overnight. The next morning was freezing rain and 20 mph winds.
My buddies opted to stay in the tent and scoffed at me from their bags as I was taking the smoke pole out in the rain. I told them the deer did not have houses or tents (not sure anything ever stopped me when I was on a mission). Deer had to be somewhere and I might find one. It was a bleak time…my eye glasses got wet and fogged and fogged and wet. Could not use field glasses. I wondered around aimlessly, trying to keep the wind and rain to my side and hunt in the denser brush. I rounded a thick spruce tree, and there was a large deer with its butt toward me grazing. It was 10 feet away, but no clear shot. I raised my rifle, cocked and then thought of a smart allek trick to show them what I could do with a musket. As the deer moved its head around to pick grass on my side, I held on its head and fired.
Same thing as with the bear…she ran off. So back to camp. The next day, Sunday, our last morning, was the same only worse… snow, not rain. I was the only one to hunt and I wanted to help them with getting at least one deer. So, I made the same loop…no tracks…very unusual. As I headed back, I could see the same dense spruce tree ahead and wondered all over again how I could have missed that deer.
Much to my surprise, the deer had returned…I could see its tail flick in some brush. I froze in my tracks as it walked out in the open…some snow and ice on its back. I aimed for a lung shot this time. This time it didn’t run far. As I approached, I was just shocked to see the 50-caliber hole at the base of its ear!
I tested this at 10 feet…it turns out that the way I use those iron sights results in a point of impact about 2 inches high! So that is what happened to momma bear…a free piercing! And at that range, she probably got some whiskers burnt off to boot. Her ears are still ringing.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
HONKY THE DONKEY
The arrival of our first son, Andrew Quentin, named in honor of his paternal grandfather, put a sprag in our outdoor adventuring wheels. We had to stay closer home and closer to our Volkswagen van. As he became old enough to walk a ways, we took him on hikes, but backpacking was more problematic…hard to carry all the teddy bears and toys and kid’s stuff.
So, I had the brilliant idea to get a pack burro so that we could carry more gear and also let Andrew ride when he became tired. We found Honky, a beautiful, all white burro. He had been hand raised and thought he was human…or a dog. He acted like a dog. When I went into his pasture, he would run to me and plop his head on my shoulder and just stand there.
I bought a small trailer and he quickly learned to get in. We found a burro-sized pack saddle and had a guy make smaller panniers. So, our first big adventure was into the Flattops Primitive Area….soon to be the Flattops Wilderness. Andrew was about 3 or 4. He was tough as a nail and was a good hiker. But after a few hours, he started acting like a kid so, as per plan, I put him on Honky’s back.
We had ascended to the top of the rim and the trail was pretty flat. Everything went as planned until we got to the creek…really just a 4-foot-wide wet spot. What I did not know was that Honky hated water. I walked through the water…2 inches deep….and when he got there, he leaped the entire span.
Andrew went tumbling over this back and landed on his head in the creek….and the only sandy spot among the rocks….that was a close call. I still shudder over how close that call really was. He decided to walk after that.
We made camp beside a small lake that night and caught trout for dinner. I had some feed for Honky and he joined us for dinner. I saw the did not need to be tied….he wanted to be with us. Soon I found he had to be tied….to keep him out of camp! He was worse than a dog, pestering and investigating.
The next day we decided to make a day circle to Turret Knob, a volcanic feature that looks like a gun turret. Honky wanted to go, so we put on his pack saddle and lunch, fishing gear and other odds and ends in the panniers. I left his halter on and tied the lead line to the cross bars. He followed along, seemingly quite happy. In fact, he could smile. You could see it when he put his head on your shoulder and got his ears scratched. When there were overlooks, he would jog over and scan the vista and jog back into line. He would do that even when we had other pack animals and saddle animals…he was his own burro. But I had to pack him carefully and tie really well….jogging is hard on the contents of pack saddles.
We came to a stream in a broad meadow that was large enough for small trout….not likely anyone had fished it…and caught some remarkably large trout, considering the size of the stream. It had some pools where the sinuosity had resulted in undercutting.
I discovered that we could keep fish for days by just removing gut and gill and let them air dry. They will spoil in creel. I hung small brookies on stobs on the sides of pine trees for two or three days. The elk the bears found that had laid on the ground overnight – I cut along his spine, hoping I could salvage at least the loins, but the meat smelled sour…called bone souring. A few years later, I guided an outdoor writer and bow hunter…most amazing archer I ever met…he shot ringnecks with arrows and seldom missed. His shooting around camp was awesome to watch. Anyway, he had just returned from Africa and was telling me how to keep meat in warm weather.
Same trick….get the meat boned out and hang it to dry. Spoiling begins in the esophageal area and follows the bones. He said I could have saved all that elk meat by boning and hanging the chunks. We did that on future hunts…wrapped the large muscles in cheesecloth, sprinkled black pepper on the outside to discourage flies, and kept the meat for 30 days on one occasion….that was when the 5 Virginia hunters had 4 bull permits and one cow permit and each shot a cow for their buddy opening morning. Bill and I had to either sneak the meat home…there were check stations along the road back to Virginia….or call the law on those guys. We took the elk home….lots of surplus….it was warm in Grand Junction, but those boned slabs were even more tender after a few weeks.
Back to this day…. it was time for Honky to cross the creek, which was the beginning of the White River, to continue our hike. So, I took down his lead line and we proceeded to the creek and he proceeded to lay down at the edge. That was his trick. Every time we disagreed on action or inaction, he would just lay down. Broke lots of eggs in his panniers over the years.
So, I changed directions and walked back away from the stream and he hopped up (literally) and seemed really happy to not have to deal with that stream. I stopped and took off his pack and then led him back to the creek. He promptly laid down again. When he did this, there was no reasoning with him. Once I took the lead line and spanked him on his butt….did not even blink….cursing went in one ear and out the other.
But this time, I had led him to a crossing that had a grassy bank on an incline…keep in mind this creek was 6 inches deep and 3 feet wide…and clear water, sandy bottom…no problem. He laid down with a smirk and as he was in motion, I pulled really hard on his line….he hit the grass and I drug him right into the water. I was pretty strong in those days. So, he hopped up, stood there for a minute and then just finished walking through the creek like nothing had happened. But he did pout while I put his pack saddle back on.
After we had climbed Turret Peak, we headed back toward camp. Honky was behind for a while, took a side tour to look over a vista and then started jogging away from me. I called for him to whoa…and he just kept jogging. He had my good fishing gear! So, I chased, regretting having not held the lead line. I chased and he stayed just ahead of me.
In retrospect, how dumb was it to chase an animal and tell him I was going to kill him when I caught him? I finally gave up and told Mom S and Andrew that we probably lost our burro for good. We got home …camp…in a couple of hours and there was Honky plundering around in our stuff. He was just playing games and burning off energy. He would run back to camp when he sensed that was where we were headed….even to the trail head if he thought we were going home. So, I had to plan ahead whether to tie and lead him or just let him goof off along the way. He was one of a kind. I quit guiding, we were traveling lot more…weeks at a time to China, Taiwan, Turkey, Japan…so I found him a good home and gave him away.
GOATS ON JAGGED MOUNTAIN
BowHunter Magazine published my story about this adventure. The next year, two guys (brothers) followed my narrative and one of them died. According to the conservation officer who told me about it, they were trying to cross the ledge on Jagged Mountain as did Dave and me and one fell. He was severely injured and semiconscious.
So, his brother put him in both sleeping bags and told him not to move, no matter what and proceeded down Chicago Basin to the Animas River and that trail head at the narrow-gauge track. That was a 6-hour trek and he did not encounter any other people…too late in the backpacking season. And it was dark. He contacted the sheriff and they organized a rescue party….that took more time. It is almost 24 hours before the group got back to the scene…can’t imagine how tired and distraught the bother must have been. The victim had gotten out of the bags and wandered a few yards and was already dead.
And that sets the stage for the hunt I would never repeat. Dave Grounds, great friend and CDOT engineer, was my bowhunting partner. For whatever reason, he decided we should hunt Rocky Mountain Goats, those white ghosts who live where no one can find them. I was not enthusiastic.
We took time off and included Labor Day. A total of 14 days. Dave was serious. At this time, I had Honky and a Spanish Jack, Pagosa. So, we left Silverton and headed for the Continental Divide and the Needle Mountain Range. Jagged Mountain is one of the more prominent.
We scouted and hunted for 8 days….we climbed up all the time…there is no down in those mountains…everything is up hill…and steep and treacherous. Its treacherous in that when you backpack, you look for easy, safe passages. When you hunt, you look for gravitational advantages where you can see vast areas, you work in a grid, always someplace new…. areas you had not covered….and those routes can be challenging.
You take more risks for efficiency, as with the ledge on Jagged Mountain. The ledge along the south side of the peak is maybe 3 feet wide and can be traversed if you are careful. It runs for about 100 yards. You can’t cross above…sheer cliff, and it was a 3-hour hike to go down to the base and back up. So, Dave said we could make it. But we got to a spot that was about 6 feet in length and sheer cliff…the ledge had a break…nothing. Dave spotted a couple of foot holds, handed me his bow and pack and pressed his body to the cliff and made the transfer over.
I was able to reach his stuff and my stuff to him and he encouraged me to hurry, not to think about it. I got half way and looked down and panicked. Began feeling vertigo. I was just sick. Dave shouted to move. So, I did and barely made it….I would never, ever take a chance like that again… I know this had to be where the one brother fell.
Anyway, we went around the hillside and onto an unusual flat, grassy area and there was a small group of goats. Wow. Dave picked the nearest one and hit it first shot. They all disappeared…goats have a way of doing that….and then a big one appeared on a ledge just above. I shot…over its back…but it stood there without reacting. Second shot was instantly fatal. We had taken the 4th and 5th goats with arrows in state history.
Getting them out was another story. We had camped far below and at the limits of where burros could go. We did not have heavy pack frames, so we cleaned them up and laid them over some rocks to cool and headed back to camp for our packs. It was late so we decided to wait till morning…we were exhausted.
The next morning, we awoke in a snow storm. Talk about treacherous walking! It took a full day to get there and back. Snow, ice, slick, high winds…a whole goat…I would never do that again.
We decided to go down the trail south to Vallecito Lake…a lot shorter from our camp and all downhill. Our jeep and trailer were near Silverton….that was a problem. But problems are not a problem. We arrived at the trail head and walked down the road to the first house and asked if we could use their phone. That was the time before cell phones…hard to imagine, eh?
I called a taxidermist and asked if he could mount our goats. He, of course, was all over that. So, I made a deal where he came up and got us and the goats and took us to the narrow-gauge terminal in Durango. The home owners had a fenced pasture and agreed to let me leave the burros there.
We rode the narrow gauge to Silverton, hitchhiked to the Rio Grande trail head, got our jeep and trailer, drove back to Vallecito, picked up the burros and headed back for Grand Junction. I would never do that again.
THE YELLOW GREEN JEEP
Long ago and far away, our friends, David and Cathy Grounds of Arkansas, bought a 1973 Jeepster Commando. Dave and I worked together for CDOT on the I-70 Vail Pass project. He bought the updated model with a V-8 and rounded nose. We wanted one. I searched and found a ‘72 that was green but the color code said yellow. It was green. The guy at the gas station agreed.
Ours had a unique aluminum block V-6 Buick engine, automatic transmission and a square nose.
Everyone recommended a stick shift on a four-wheel drive, but we were at the front of a trend…the auto with high and low range was much better. We could crawl over and around big rocks using the brake and accelerator. Those Commando square backs that looked like station wagons were not popular. Just as with our first-of-its-kind four-door pickup…looked out of step with society. Nowadays both are the common vehicles on the road. Hatchbacks and four-door trucks.
But I digress…that’s my style.
Only problem with the aluminum block was that it would air cool and the heater wouldn’t work. One time, Linda, Andrew and I drove to Denver to ride the People’s Express to Dulles to spend Christmas with family. GrandMan drove a 14-hour loop to pick us up…that was the only way we could afford the trip. Wonderful Christmas and then he drove us back to Dulles and we arrived in Denver in the evening. The heater stopped working on Vail Pass. It was 20 below in the Eagle Valley and we ran out of blankets. We stopped at a truck stop, warmed up and then headed west again…Linda reported a frostbit toe, but that may have been an exaggeration (frost bite does not hurt at first). The heater picked up again around Grand Valley (renamed to Parachute later) in the warmer air near Grand Junction.
We had just purchased Honky the Donkey so I bought a tandem axle trailer with high sides. It had steel hoops and I could throw a tarp over it for enclosure. Never did it, but it was an option. We used that trailer for many things…hauling Honky, obviously, and then the progression of burros and saddle mules…Pagoga, Snowflake, Reagan, Carter and that crazy hinny that nearly killed me…sold him right away. Mules are great, but stay away from a hinny.
Pagosa was a great addition to our capabilities. Honky was doing all the heavy work and now we could spread the load. Pagosa was a large Spanish Jack, at least till we made him not a jack so he would quit fussing with Honky, also a neutered male. I could ride him. Then we wanted a larger saddle mule, so I found a big white gentle one. Gentle was my first specification. He did not have a name, so we waited to see how he performed and named him appropriately. He was well meaning but dumb and lazy, so we named him Carter. I sold him and bought another unnamed mule. Excellent mule, so he was dubbed Reagan. The guy who bought him tied him up at a corral post and Carter hung himself as he tried various ways to get to some hay on the other side. I was not surprised.
I was known for marathons… Bill Whittaker, also of CDOT, joined me in a guide and outfitting venture where we took mostly bowhunters out on Friday and returned the next Friday to pick them up and supposedly haul out their critters. Bowhunters seldom kill anything, so we never had much work that way. We had tents, stoves and food. We set up what is called a drop camp. The hunters carry in their personal gear on pack frames and then headquarter from our drop site. Good deal for everyone. Some of those days would last 14 hours or so and Reagan would finally get a little tired…and limp a little, so I would lead him at the last mile or so.
I explained this to Roy Garner, who was my drill foreman and shoed horses on the weekends. He said a little butazoladine would help. He gave me some Alka-Seltzer sized pills. I gave one to Reagan, and he apparently knew what it was…nearly took my hand off when I showed him one. And it worked. About every two hours, he would develop a very distinct limp. We both knew the cure.
Snowflake looked like Honky…all white. But really dull-witted. Honky would follow, sometimes lead, without being tied. Snowflake just moped along. She tried to mope at her special speed, but that was too slow. Eldon Manry, a mule connoisseur and the guy who, along with Fred Eynon, built our first house, gave me a special halter. It had a bite to it and when Snowflake held back, the halter would bite into the top of her nose. She may have been dull, but she figured that one out and kept up after that.
One time, Mom S had a bull elk rifle license and we took Honky and Snowflake down into Grizzly Canyon. We both worked that Friday, and walked that trail way after dark. Deep, difficult canyon, but not many hunters and the elk get pushed there.
We secured camp and the burros late at night and headed along the west wall before daylight…following elk trails. No sign. So, we walked beyond the Upper Cataract and down into the even rougher parts. At exactly 11 am, I was reaching to tap Mom S on the shoulder to tell her ‘we were way to far down into Grizzly Canyon to ever get an elk out,’ and a bull ran up the trail right at us. She shot it in self-defense. Right between the eyes…horns rolled over both ways.
It was not possible to get a burro on the trails we followed. If you have to ask why we hunted there, then you don’t exactly understand the question. You go to the elk and then figure it out.
We dragged the elk all the way down to Grizzly Creek…that was the area between the two Cataracts (amazing pair of water falls). We had backpacked into there and fished….no one ever goes there. It is like fishing in a hatchery.
Then we cut him into pieces and hung him up. We marked our trail out with ribbons, picking a route we could get a burro to navigate…not too bad except for one small cliff section. I figured if they would go down it, they would find a way to get up it.
Worked well, got them there, loaded the elk and made it way up on the side wall to the little cliff. I unloaded the burros and carried the pack saddles, paniers and all the elk parts up and then returned for the burros. We had a little pep talk and I told them to visualize the bucket of feed waiting back at camp. Honky got the message and, nimble as deer, ascended the slick rock surface. Snowflake was not paying attention.
She reluctantly started up the slick rock and I could tell this was not going to end well. Not well at all. About two thirds up, she decided to lay down. And when she did, she started to skid down the canyon wall. Remember, this is Grizzly Canyon. Nobody goes there and for good reason.
As she skidded, she started to scramble to regain her footing. That didn’t work. It only increased her speed. All of a sudden, she started to roll, faster, and then she went into a head over butt cascade. Airborne most of the time. Literally 40 miles an hour. Out of sight through the trees. Most amazing thing we had ever seen.
That always kills horses…at lot less would kill a horse.
That brought on a problem. This was Sunday and we had to be back to GJ that night. We could not carry everything back to the yellow green jeep in one day. So, we hung up half the elk and made our way back to camp, and up the canyon wall and back to the trailhead and got back to GJ at midnight.
Next day at work I asked Dave if he would like some elk meat and he eagerly accepted. The next Friday night, we went to the Grizzly Canyon rim, parked and walked well into the canyon after dark. In the morning, as walked above the water fall, Dave kept asking ‘where was this elk?’ We got there in a couple of hours and got back to the jeep by dark. Dave was almost angry at how tough that was. He took revenge during his goat hunt…that story is here somewhere.
When we got back to the jeep at the trail head near dark, there was a little kid riding a white burro. I told Dave that was just like the one that killed itself last weekend. We loaded the jeep and walked over and looked at the burro…it was all beat up! It was Snowflake! And not at all happy to see me. The kid’s dad said they had been camping there all week and one day, she just showed up and hung around.
She did not have a halter…I had taken that off to let her go freely up the rock. We found a rope, made a halter and tied her up. The kid promised to watch her overnight. I took Dave and his elk parts home, went to GJ, got the trailer and retrieved Snowflake. We will never know how she could have possibly survived her end-over-end journey for hundreds of yards down that canyon wall.
We took a lot of backpacking trips with those two burros… GrandMan and Mother Anne spent several summers with us. One summer, GrandMan took a class at Western State at the same time Linda was finishing her degrees there. We went way up Soap Creek with Dr. Bruce Bartleson and Dr. Tom Prather, the two geology profs at Wasted State. First real camping trip for Mother Anne. Great site, lots of fish and good weather. But she did not go with us again.
Bill and I had booked five bowhunters from Minnesota for a week-long drop camp in the Flattops Primitive Area. We had taken them to another location the year before and we all got along well. I wrote to them (can you imagine a time without email?) and asked if they minded if I camped beside them and hunted myself. They were enthusiastic. So, I invited GrandMan to join me and camp…he did not bow hunt and that was the only season open. He would be chief cook and bottlewasher. He obliged and brought Keith McGraw, the brother of our next-door neighbor’s wife. Good guy.
We loaded the green yellow jeep and trailer and met up at the trailhead and proceeded with our caravan up to Sheppard Lake. Bill had two horses and a mule, and I had three pack animals…Honky, Pagosa and Snowflake. It was about a five-hour trek and 10,000 ft in elevation… well out of range for day hunters. Back in those days, there were only a few bowhunters and even fewer who would pack into the wilderness. We had the place pretty much to ourselves.
We stalked elk. Never was able to sit in a stand. One of the guys was new and I offered to take him along with me and explain how to stalk. First thing we had to do before we left camp was to strip off all that Cabela’s junk on his belt and back. You could hear him coming for a mile.
Reminded me of that time I was guiding Andrew and he wore jeans. You don’t realize how much noise they make till you try to be dead quiet. I finally had him take them off and hunt in his underwear…and he killed a big bull that day.
We went about a mile from camp in total darkness and over to the west rim of the Flattops. There was barely any light, and we heard at least three bulls in three directions. One was really close. I explained the trail network there and told him to just walk slowly and be fully alert. There were times when the bull would come behind his harem to keep them rounded up…and that would be his best opportunity. The wind was in our face, perfect.
I hurried toward the next nearest one. They were characteristically moving into the wind, I was just barely able to keep up with them. I followed for about two hours…then the bull stopped moving but continued to bugle often. I quickly cut the distance between us and zeroed in on his location …maybe a hundred yards away. I took off my shoes and socks and dropped my fanny pack. I was wearing chamois pants and shirt…very quiet.
The elk had stopped on a slight hillside that was covered in a dense grove of small pines. The area had been deforested in a beetle kill in 1948 and all those little Christmas trees was the regrowth. As I approached, I could see the problem – the wind was right, but there was a clearing between me and him (or them…probably a bunch getting ready to bed down). The bull suddenly bugled furiously.
The sun was just hitting the tops of his cover trees and the tips of his polished antlers were just sparkling as he swung his head wildly. Wow…and only 50 yards away…but with clear ground between…no place to hide or provide cover.
I got down on all fours and hung my head, pretending to be a sheep or cow grazing, and made my way toward the tree line…no plan, just get there and see what happens next.
I was within 30 yards. I could definitely smell the elk and hear a lot of rattling around. Then the most amazing thing happened. A huge elk rump emerged out of the tree line and was headed directly at me. I raised to my knees.
What on earth? It was like a psychedelic vision…elk never walk backwards, yet there was absolutely no doubt. This was a big rump and headed right smack at me. 20 yards and closing.
All of sudden, the elk locked his feet and turned sideways…well, he was pushed sideways. There was a larger bull pushing him down the hill and when he finally got his footing, he quit moving toward me and there was both of them in the open 15 yards away.
Locked horns and huge steam exhausts out their noses. They were really unhappy. I was petrified beyond thought. I reflexively knocked an arrow, drew and aimed at the larger of the two bulls. Couldn’t miss.
And I didn’t miss. Hit exactly where I aimed…within an inch. I use white feather fletching and a little of it was still sticking out of the elk’s side. He looked around at it. The lesser bull just stood there in shock…I was deathly afraid they would join forces and push me off the hill.
After a very, very long pause, maybe four seconds…try it, see how long that is with two angry stinking bulls staring at you. I decided to knock another arrow. That motion caused them to move away…not run, just saunter. I watched the one with the arrow proceed without any sign of injury or loss of blood…but with a bunch of feathers sticking out his side.
The reason the bull did not react to the arrow was that I hit him squarely in the stomach area. The reason I did that is the human reflex to center focus…the reason a peep sight works. When you are challenged to throw a rock or shoot a gun at a cardboard box, you will automatically calculate dead center and that is where your reflexive aim will fall.
We know this in hunting and we know to move from center to the shoulder area, the wheel house where a lot goes on with every breath. Gut shots are always fatal, but can take three days. One of the bowhunters with me on another trip was a super target archer. There was a deer over 100 yards away and he said he could kill it. I advised against it, but he shot anyway. The deer hunkered a little and then turned sideways and walked and grazed away. We watched it for 2 hours…it continued to walk and graze and then down into a canyon. We walked to the site and found the arrow…it had poop on it…lower gut material. No blood trail so pursuit would be futile. Never allowed shots with any uncertainty after that. It is morally offensive to disrespect a fellow being with any form of inhumanity. We may be programmed or permitted to kill for meat, but we have to understand this is a spiritual event.
So, I quickly figured out my grievous error. Time till death is very uncertain in these cases. The rule, however, is to wait a few hours before tracking. This happened at 9 am. I got back to camp at 11. We all had lunch. No one else had a shot…everyone had heard or seen elk.
I decided that the four of us would go look at about 3 pm…and our guests all decided they would join in. When we got to the site with the ribbon where I last saw the bull, we spread out just far enough to see the next person. In that terrain and small pine cover, that was not always easy.
After only a few hundred yards, GrandMan shouted that he spotted the elk. I was nearest to him and raced over, thinking it was dead. It was laying under a small tree, well concealed but alive and alert, looking like it would get up and run at any moment. The only reason he even saw the elk was that the white fletching was prominently exposed. GrandMan had his pistol and wanted to finish it off. I explained that is not legal in bow season. So, I drew an arrow and aimed for his neck…can’t actually find a spot on an animal laying down…even tough for a rifle. The arrow struck hard, but the elk got up and ran as if he were unharmed. Rats.
Then we heard a big crash. He had run to the rim and jumped or fell off a 50-foot-high cliff. Luckily, for me, there was a huge log at the base and he wedged under it. Otherwise he could have gone a very long way…those side walls of the Flattops can go for 1000 feet or more.
We did not know if I killed him or if he died in an accident. The second broadhead had missed both carotids and was deeply embedded in the vertebra, but not far enough to reach the spinal cord. Luckily, we had all that help. We had to cut him into pieces and carry those up to the rim…really tough footing. Great day in the woods! The other guys did not get an elk that week.
There was a time when railroad ties were in vogue for rustic landscaping. Looks odd today for sure. Those old ties were typically spruce and soaked under pressure with now-illegal creosote preservative. Some rot sooner than others, and the rail people had crews that checked the tracks on a regular basis. When they found a defective tie, they had techniques to slide the tie out and slide a new one it its place. They would frequently replace adjacent ties as well, as a proactive measure. They owned their right of way, so rather than clean up their mess, they just discarded them over the side. People would then come and sort through them and pick out the good to pretty good ones for fence posts and other farm uses.
That worked until the ties became more valuable in landscaping. The railroad always had a no trespass policy, but mostly for liability reasons. If a train ran over you, they could arrest you for trespassing. Made good sense.
But as the ties became of more value, people started to take vehicles along the tracks and would actually interfere with train passage. They would get high-centered on the rails and stuck in the ballast alongside. That put some limits on the supply of ties.
Mom S had taken a raft trip as a student at Western State with Tom Prather and really enjoyed it. Almost drowned…Dr. Prather saved her at the last moment…but other than that, she wanted to do it again. We really got into river rafting…and in those days we were the only ones. Had the local rivers to ourselves. I graduated up from cheap Sears rafts…like the one we took on our voyage down the Middle Fork of the Salmon…that is a whole book in itself…and now had a top of the line Avon. Very durable shell.
The Gunnison River from Delta to Grand Junction runs in a roadless canyon for about 30 miles. There are two roads down to the river, one crosses it where Colby and Leslie’s new orchard is located. I had put my crews and myself on a four-day week, so we had three days off. I started floating the canyon from Bridgeport to Whitewater (12 miles) and hunting ducks and trapping beavers. That was the first time the ducks had seen a raft, so the first year was great hunting. Later on, we would take field glasses, spot them way ahead, tie up, stalk and flush. Then take the raft and chase the ones that had fallen in the water. I had a lot of buddies who liked that kind of novel adventure…cold, hard, fun.
And the trapping. I found a retired game warden who had bear dogs and needed food for them. We made a deal. I would bring him the beavers and he skinned them and kept the meat. I sold the pelts to a local buyer. Caught a 62-pounder once. Also trapped bobcats, but that canyon was not very productive…caught a few on the islands.
I invented a way to get bobcats. A kid in town had a big barn where pigeons roosted. He sold pigeons to pheasant dog trainers. I built a little cage with chicken wire and lathe and put some pigeons in it. When they are alarmed, they make all kinds of fuss, day or night. So, I put the pigeons in their cage at some visible location in the wild and supplied them with food and water. When a bobcat approached, they would go nuts, causing the bobcat to go nuts and carelessly step in a trap. The fur buyer would buy unskinned bobcats for high prices at the time. We were always into some enterprise to make money to feed our recreational habits. This was at a time in society where I had higher status for my skills in trapping. I wouldn’t allow it today…see how times can change even in one lifetime?
We spotted hundreds of ties along the railroad the followed the roadless Gunnison River. I found that I could drag them down and lay them across the bow of the Avon…I was afraid the splinters would pierce the fabric, but that was not a problem. I was able to carry 12 100-pound ties each trip and sold them for eight dollars each…That was big money in 1975. Some of my buddies became a little tired of helping with this project. It was especially difficult getting them from the boat into the back of my 1964 pickup. I look back and am impressed with how strong I was in those days.
Later on, the railroad used a giant pincher and broke the ties on either side of the rail. They were now in three pieces, and the pinched ends were really deformed and splintery.
But the ends of each two-foot piece were still good, still square. We started lining driveways by digging a shallow trench and placing the broken ties vertically and covering the mangled end. We used the jeep and trailer to gather these…most folks had given up when the railroad started snipping them. We got one dollar for each end. We could get 50 to 100 in a trip out…Hard work but made possible by the green yellow jeep and trailer.
We had first rented a basement apartment from fellow employee Bob Lucas and then bought a house on Orchard Mesa. Bob kept complaining about bass scales above the kitchen sink. We had discovered that the City ponds in Kannah Creek had largemouth bass and bull frogs and had some windfall days there. The natives there were not bass fishers nor froggers.
I had to take out five loans and kite some checks to qualify for the house loan…we had zero funds and no equities…but we made it.
530 Foy Drive
We moved to our final house on Foy Drive on the Redlands. It had three acres and that’s when we bought Honky…and the green yellow Jeep and the trailer.
The yellow green Jeep was amazing. Dr. Tom Prather and his wife, Elaine, had a 24-ft McGregor sailboat and had spent a sabbatical on it in warm water. They loved it. We talked about taking a trip south at Christmas. We met them in Gunnison in mid-December in a snow storm and hooked onto their single axle trailer and 5000-pound sail boat and headed for Mexico. The little Jeep was woefully over-tasked and the load poorly balanced. Way underpowered. Had to go into low range to get over the pass out of Gunnison.
Stressful driving and Prather dang near wrecked on slick roads on the way back. It kept skidding and skidding…right to the edge of a cliff…and then grabbed traction.
Andrew was four and a high-energy kid…very excitable. He began dreaming of seeing his first beach and gathering sea shells…he really wanted to find shells. We stopped at the first beach we saw. It was covered with shells…he looked and just started crying…he could not decide what to do…too many shells! I have had days like that.
We launched and sailed to Tiburon Island…uninhabited and a desert. Linda, Andrew and I had a little tent…Tom and Elaine slept on the boat. We had a little Avon as a dinghy. Some local fishermen landed with turtles (illegal) and turned them on their backs on the beach until they died. That was the sacred way of killing them. We went over to this activity and the fishermen were very defensive, suspicious, but not aggressive. After a while, they found we didn’t seem to give a hoot about the turtles…never seen anything like that anyway. They were very friendly. Showed me a spot with rock oysters and gave me a big grouper, a side catch with the turtle nets.
The next day, a fleet of California motor boaters came by…they had drums of gasoline…it was a very long way between fuel sites in those days. They saw our sail boat at anchor and stopped for a visit. They spotted the endangered turtles who had yet to die…they threw them all back…a month’s work for those local fishermen who were hiding their activities on that deserted island. (It was deserted because the government had accused the Seri Natives of cannibalism or something and moved them to the mainland.) The fishermen` just watched. I was very concerned for our safety after the Californians left.
I had a speargun, but the water in the Sea of Cortez was freezing. I fashioned a wet suit with black plastic trash bags and a sweatshirt and that worked a little bit…well enough to get a trigger fish to go with our oysters.
2108 DESERT HILLS
Two years later, a friend told us of a wealthy guy…The Daily Sentinel owner…and his wife…state representative…who were in a bitter divorce proceeding. They had started a very high-end house out in the wilds not far from us…just a dirt track for access. We drove over and took a look.
They had built a huge four-car garage and had the basement poured and some side walls done, heading for a three-story, 5500 sq. ft house with a 36-ft octagon as the main living room. All the high-end windows and doors were in the garage. No one had worked for months. They had not arranged for water, but had power to the site.
We made an offer of $35,000 and they took it. One of those deals…what am I going to do now?! The 10 acres alone was worth the money, but our whole house and land was not worth that much. We still owed a lot on that.
Back to the financial juggling. Back then, we actually had personal bankers who had discretion. I met with Henry Faussone and explained the situations…screaming deal but most viewers saw it as a problem to finish. We had a plan to make it just a two-story, thus completion costs would go down dramatically. Henry could see this and said the only problem was that it was a flag lot with a 1000-ft long flag up to a county road, and the county road was unimproved…just a mud track.
I could see his point and met with my contractor buddy, Barry, who told me it would take $30,000 to bring that quarter mile E.5 road up to the 30-ft wide county standard. I was stymied. Barry said there was a new deal called a Road Improvement District where the county would pay the initial cost and spread it over 10 years in the annual tax bill.
That was still too much…but I went to the county and they explained it was a shared cost, based solely on frontage distance.
I could not pay for it this way even if I wanted to. I would have only 50 ft of that entire road to pay for…if I could get the others to join in. It came to me that Dr. Haven might want a good road to his place. He was a veterinarian and had a beautiful spread along that road on the south side. I visited with him and explained how this new option worked, that he could get the road at half price. Problem was that his entrance was only half way down the proposed road. Although his property bounded the entire road on his side, he had no use for the road beyond his entrance.
However, when he looked at the cost for getting that road, he said he would agree if the north side owners also joined…they would have to pay for all but my 50 feet. I found that the owners were a bunch of California speculators who had bought the 60-acre tract to build a subdivision. I tracked the spokesman down and he said, ‘yes they would need a road, but they wanted to delay till they had a plan…that road location may not be compatible.’
I went back to the county and we read the fine print. If more than 50% of the affected owners vote yes, the remaining owners would be compelled to participate. Hummm… I went back to Dr. Haven and showed him this clause. He could see that he would not get stuck with the entire cost, so he and I informed the District and it was approved by the Commissioners. The California group protested, but to no avail.
I took that resolution back to Henry…he was amazed…he knew I did not exactly qualify for a loan for that amount, but was now on the spot. He thought he had put a barrier too high for me to cross, as opposed to just telling me no. We got the loan! We built our dream home, our final house for sure.
We made 2108 all-electric…could not afford a gas line. Built a huge fireplace like we saw in ski area lodges in the center of the octagon living room and made the chimney frame with heavy steel supports to act as a center post. Al Ruckman provided all those details and for the long beams that we created on site. One evening, we had a babysitter for Andrew and Colby and she put so much wood on the fire that sparks flew out and set the wood shake roof on fire. Luckily the fire department got there quickly…but that was not a good thing to happen to a house under contract!
After two years in that house, we decided to build a solar house, so we made the deal on 8 acres next door that included an 18-month balloon payment that I could not have made without selling 2108. It sold six weeks before that drop-dead date and then we had a fire! The purchaser was agreeable to go forward with the deal. He lost his job a month after closing and had to leave town. A victim of Black Tuesday when the oil shale boom ended on one fatal day. But he worked for Exxon and they bought the house for more than he paid for it…and property values soon dropped as much as 50%. Wild times.
I knew the local geology and had a well drilled through the Mancos and into the Entrada…it was artesian with 30 psi pressure at the surface…25,000-year-old water. The driller was an old timer and assured me he knew how to deal with artesian systems. Water in the Mancos was saline and corrosive…it had to be sealed from the good stuff.
The driller screwed it up and after two years, we began to get black, salty water in our line. I removed the downhole pump and installed a two-inch plastic pipe inside the well all the way to the bottom, 420 feet. Then I called Halliburton and they came out and pressure grouted the well full-depth. Then I went down to the gas station and bought a bunch of dynamite and a cap. (Easy back in those days…I carried a gun to school on the school bus numerous times.)
I carefully lowered a 20-ft column of dynamite at the bottom, the good water section of the Entrada, and set it off. I still got bad water. So, I sealed it off. Never know for sure what is really in a drill hole.
We drilled a new well at our new property next door, using Haliburton to install oilfield quality grout under high pressure to seal the upper water, and had a good water source. We piped that back to our house at 2108, sold that house, and built the all-solar house at 2110. It recently burned, which in my opinion, must have had some help (the house was mostly concrete).
2108 had a huge barren yard. We used it as a work and storage area. Always stacks of whole and end pieces of railroad ties. I was needing a barge to support my CDOT drill equipment as we drilled for the foundations of I-70 bridges at various crossings of the Colorado River.
The best deal was the old WWII rubber pontoons called J Tubes. They were 21 feet long and 3 feet in diameter with four air chambers. The Army used them to support bridge decks…they could build a crossing in a day with those things.
The Pueblo Army Depot salvage yard had hundreds of them. Using my CDOT ID, I could get them for free. We found a lot of good stuff there…compressors, hoses…sorta like Goodwill, but better.
We picked up 12 tubes…we needed four for our barge, but decided to have spares. We built the first one and decided to take it on a test run. One Saturday morning, I gathered a lot of friends – Western State profs Bartleson and Prather, their wives, friends and a bunch of locals.
This thing was huge…we had 20 people and plenty of room. Powered with a 25 hp motor, no oars or poles. We assembled the raft alongside the road in Fruita…not thinking much about all the beer and the scantily clad females and the Orange Trucks… a lot of comments about that back to the District on Monday!
The largest issue was that we floated into Utah and we were not supposed to take CDOT vehicles out of state. Al went to the mat for us and got them to get our raft…he told the powers in charge that it was a matter of safety, we would not put our people or equipment on an unproven barge. It was indeed one-of-a-kind.
We went on to get national accolades for this innovation, and our managers took all the credit. Al and I had many close calls that fortunately turned out like this…we never did fit the mold…good enough was never left alone. Which is why we are where we are today. ‘No’ means ‘take it to the next higher level.’ We traveled all over the world and based on our leadership in our profession. Never has there been obscure district DOT field engineers invited to the places we have been – Chile, China, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Mexico, Jamaica…
On the next scavenger hunt to Pueblo, they announced they were going to get rid of all J tubes at public bid. They had 108. I bid and won, unexpectedly. Then the fun began. I had no idea how to get that many tubes to my home…or what exactly to do with them. I rented a very large van truck and went to the Depot. They were not supposed to load, but I was able to pay one of the operators and we stuffed them all into the van. Getting them out at the house was a real challenge! We had no idea of the quality of those old tubes.
Linda and I inflated each one and counted the number of intact chambers. Some would not hold air. Most had less than four bladders. But the ones with four bladders were worth a ton of money to Grand Canyon outfitters. Each was worth more than I paid for the entire lot. Go on YouTube and search for J-tubes. The new ones are double ended. The old ones had only one raised end. We had tubes there for three months and finally sold the dregs to some people who were making personal rafts and would risk not having the safety of multiple chambers or who needed just the valves. We made thousands on that deal.
LEAVING WELL ENOUGH ALONE
Of course, who would leave well enough alone….Well enough is not to be left alone.
That’s my motto. We found some aluminum barges also used for military bridges. They were not as stable as our J-Tube platform!
2110 DESERT HILLS
We decided to build a solar house…a lot of interest in this around 1975. Our very last house for sure. We looked at dome houses, underground houses, envelope houses…and settled on a hybrid we designed. During the process, I won a farm tractor with a front-end loader at a CDOT auction…it had a side mount mower.
I used it a few times to mow other properties for a fee, but it was not well suited for that. (My first real job in 1960 was mowing along the WV roads with a similar tractor.) I used the old Oliver to help with all the grading and foundation work for the new house and then had it shipped back to GrandMan and our Virginia farm.
We had a Spanish motif in mind and while we were in Mexico for Christmas, the peso was cut in more than half.
We took our preliminary plan, the yellow green Jeep and the big trailer to Juarez and started shopping. We found that we could get window grates and metal gates at ten cents on the dollar, so we stayed some extra days and had them made. We got special tiles, hand-painted sinks, ornamental fountains and a lot more…really loaded the trailer.
On our way in, the Mexican border people wanted bribes for entry. We had nothing to show them…I told them the trailer was empty…they said those carried the highest duty! So, I caved and gave them $10 and proceeded into town. On the way out, it was Easter weekend and everything was closed. We ran out of money. We went through the truck entrance, expecting a lot of grief from the U.S. officers. Turned out that was the most corrupt Mexican port of all. They insisted on a $100 exit fee…people who could buy that much stuff had to be rich. We scraped up all the bills and coins and had $40. Banks were all closed. We were then directed into a parking lot and escorted back to the offices. The three of us sat on the curb for three hours and finally the chief came out. He had the white slick uniform, the underlings looked like movie actors in sloppy brown outfits with large bellies. He eventually let us go.
When we finally got to the dreaded U.S. side with thousands of dollars of merchandise, the agent asked what we had in the trailer. I told him we were building a house and it was all materials. He said have a safe journey…Whew! So, we headed north.
That house had a rock chamber below and 20-ft tall passive collectors on the south side. Fans blew air in a loop down through the collectors, through the rock chamber composed of carefully screened cantaloupe- to watermelon-sized rocks, then back into the house and into the ducts at the top of the collectors. That loop ran all day and cut off at night. The chamber was lined with insulation, so most of the heat radiated up through the Spanish tile floor all night. We shut the system down in warm weather and the rocks kept the house cool.
Worked great. Until Andrew’s pet snake disappeared one day and Linda is afraid of snakes.
We had 36 large batteries and a large array of photovoltaic panels. Ed Unak created our hybrid system. That was before he crashed his plane on Grand Mesa and crawled for three days before a Basque sheepherder found him.
We used the 30psi artesian water with bladder tanks and no pump and had plenty of water…even a hot tub. It got to nearly 100 degrees most days.
We had a single 110-line that ran a backup charger. We cheated and ran the fridge off of that. We had a propane cookstove. We first had a greenhouse inside…20-ft ceiling on the south side and I was going to plant a palm tree. But the dang white flies took over and spraying DDT inside is not a good idea. So, I added tile over the earth areas and had a larger living room.
The walls were 16-inch wide Styrofoam blocks with concrete poured in the center holes. The house was uncannily quiet. Music quality was amazing. We plastered both the inside and out. No way a fire could get started in that house.
We discovered that the Soil Conservation group had a lot of money left over for creating wildlife habitat. They were lining the Grand Valley irrigation ditches as part of a salinity control effort and wanted to replace the attendant habitat loss. We applied for a grant to build a pond…big controversy because our house was so close. They contended it looked like just an amenity rather than a habitat. I finally prevailed and Barry the road builder and I built a one-acre lake (and we had lots of fish). Colby and I went to Utah and found a small pond with bass and transported 20 or 30 back…caught some catfish in the river…and some blue gills somewhere…Taco the dog spent a lot of time watching the fish.
One day, Colby and I saw a momma duck leading 5 little ducklings from her nest on the island and big bass nabbed three of them…quite a scene. We had a canoe and used it extensively. Somehow carp got into our pond and grew to huge sizes. I took Linda’s 30-06 onto the roof of the house and dispatched them when they rose to the surface to sun.
That was the year Colby shot eight robins with his pellet gun. They tasted like doves. The ground squirrels were a lot like grey squirrels. We had wild meat most of the time…elk, deer, pheasant, grouse, chukar, quail, trout, bass. The burros and mules prospered there. Nice stream and sorry vegetation.
END OF THE GREEN YELLOW JEEP ERA
Then we got out of the guiding business…too much hassle in constant marketing…and we were spending a lot more time at Lake Powell. We had a 21-ft boat, then a 26-ft cabin cruiser and then a 36-ft house boat…Holiday Mansion with a V hull and twin Chevys. We had a good slip and really liked the weekends there. I had a research project building our first GCS wall and had contracted with Dick Bell of Oregon State to assist. I had wanted to boat in the ocean north of Seattle, so I made up a meeting with him at his University. That way we could charge travel time and minimize vacation time. We trailered the 26-ft boat to Anacortes and headed north into areas (we had no idea what we were doing). Pulled it with an old Ford Bronco. The total weight was over 12,000 pounds. We went down the Columbia River Gorge at 35 mph…headwinds and no power…We motored through the San Juans and then the Canadian Gulf Islands. Paradise. We kept coming back over the years and going farther north…settled in Campbell River in 2008…love that place.
In terms of rafting, as with backpacking and wilderness hunting, we used our extra cash (from my consulting on the side, railroad ties, J-tubes, trapping and more) to gather the best equipment. We rafted many rivers in the west and had some amazing adventures. We had two trips down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and one down the main river…the River of No Return. I carried guns and shot grouse…those riverside dwellers were unaccustomed to hunters. We caught one big salmon…that was an adventure.
On the first trip, the river was vacant most all the time…clothing optional. Now the rivers are reservation-only and it’s really hard to get a permit.
The solar house was an adventure and then it started to have issues…not much but made us wish for the convenience of the mundane standard home. So, we bought a lot on the Tierra Rado Golf course and worked with Richard Davis to design and build a fairly unique house, the last one we would ever build. We used a concrete slab with hot water pipes in it for heat…way better than forced air. I remember a big party there. We brought 40 lobster tails from our week of diving in the Keys and invited friends and neighbors. Great time. We went to the Keys the last week of July for seven years in a row and limited out on lobsters each trip…48. Dave Grounds and his kids, Jon and Jude, joined us sometimes.
Another party there was when I was chairman of a joint venture research project for NCHRP to determine how to permanently close a geotechnical drill hole. About half way through the study, we visited the contract labs in Ottawa and Boston and in the process, drove from Boston to the Bay of Fundy to Cape Breton to Prince Edward Island, down to Montreal and back to Boston. A lot of lobsters and golf. The head of that project, Cam Mirza, took us to see Les Misérables. After we determined the best way to fill a hole, we held a demonstration…I hosted it in Grand Junction. Cam was an accomplished Indian chef and made an amazing chicken masala for the group. That included Mike Adams, one of the first of our career-long collaborations.
Then came the housing crisis…not sure which one…and folks were walking away from good houses. The lot next door had been used for the sewer plant until they connected to the City system. It was just overgrown. It fell into the hands of the government on some kind of bail-out foreclosure scheme. That lot was deemed unbuildable due to being in the flood plain of a minor drainage. Our lot was on the other side of the creek and we just added some fill to get above the flood line. I guess they did not think of that. I went the government folks and offered them $600 for it and they took it. It was worth probably $25,000, but not exactly at that time. We added some dirt, got an engineering firm to certify we were above flood, and built our very last house there.
We again contracted with Rich Davis and used basically the same plan, only a lot larger and with a hot tub on the roof. That got to be a point of conversation in the area. We wanted to sell the first house, but then decided to rent it. We scheduled the lease to coincide with our completion date, but had yet to learn this is a bad idea. Not only do we keep adding things…overruns…other factors come to play. This time, Rich did not show up for a week and we could not find him…his wife said he was hunting. Turned out that he took his 16-year old son and his son’s best friend on their first hunt. It snowed the night before and for the next two days. The buddy never made it back to camp. They searched for 10 days. He was not found until the next October, bones under a little tree…he had walked uphill for a ways…never will know why. That really put us behind…had to spend some time in a motel. Great house, but later on we grew tired of the hot tub on the roof. Colby kept having parties there…so Linda and Fred Eynon, Gail’s husband, removed the tub and stairway and doubled the size of the house with a huge room over the garage, turning it into a two-story house. Linda took a misstep and stood on the sheetrock in the garage ceiling and fell onto the garage floor…and stuff like that. But they did a great job. Had to redo the heating and cooling systems. That was our last big remodel except for the four projects on the Orca and Tyee houses, 564 and 571 Island Hwy in Campbell River, and the amazing reconstruction of the 1823 log house on our Virginia farm…and the two observation towers. And the total remaking of the Boca Grande Tarpon House at 371 Gulf Blvd and the overhaul of the Placida condo. And the latest project at 9871 NE Gasparilla Pass Blvd. Well, did a lot of contract work at the Tyee House last summer… But this is our last project for sure.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
9/11 has more significance for us than most Americans. I was thinking of this again when Linda, Colby, Lachlan and I visited the new memorials and buildings in 2019.
Andrew climbed the promotion ladder quickly at Solomon Smith Barney/Citi, beginning in NYC and then transferred to San Francisco in 1999 to take charge of the looming Y2K crisis for Citi. There was a worldwide concern that our computers would crash with the date change at midnight, 1999/2000. It didn’t happen, of course, and perhaps because of Andrew’s contributions. He was then promoted back to NYC during the summer of 2001.
He found the love of his life in San Francisco and the two of them moved to NYC and were housed in the temporary executive apartments immediately south of the World Trade Center twin towers. Dana was a favored employee of Kendall Jackson and they continued her employment to NYC. She would visit restaurants in the afternoons and teach proper wine selection and serving to their staff. She spent mornings at home setting her schedule.
Andrew’s new office was on the 29th floor of the building immediately north of the twin towers. He walked to work via the basements of the towers, picking up a coffee along the way.
Colby and I leveraged the Labor Day holiday and took our 24-foot cabin cruiser to the launch at the Vancouver airport and headed north to uncharted territory. I had trailered our boat from Lake Powell to my Montana bridge project and then drove it to McDonalds launch at the YVR airport where I met up with Colby. Lots of planning around maximizing our available time for what turned out to be lifetime memories and the reason we settled in Campbell River. We traveled along the Sunshine Coast for a day and then rounded the corner into Desolation Sound. That galvanized our bond with the Pacific Northwest. That was a deeply emotional experience. Colorado blue sky, perfectly calm water, snowcaps rising out of the deep blue ocean. Right in our faces! We shut off the engine and parked there is silence for a long time.
We explored on north and made a big loop back by Campbell River and then to Nanaimo harbor on September 7. We rented a slip, grabbed a float plane to YVR, met Andrew at the airport, got a shuttle to the ferry and then a taxi back to the boat at midnight. We explored around the Gulf Islands for a couple of days and then took Andrew back to the airport so he could get a redeye and go to work on Monday. Had a great time and plenty of crabs, oysters, prawns and fish.
Colby and I left the boat in storage and flew back to Grand Junction, arriving late on the 10th. We awoke on 9/11 and began unpacking and noted on TV that a plane had accidently hit one of the towers. Linda called from school to alert us to turn on the TV. She was head of the Science Department at our local high school. (Both Colby and Andrew graduated from that school.)
We knew Andrew was in a building north and were not concerned with his or Dana’s safety.
Andrew was standing at his 29th floor window watching the holocaust near the top of the adjacent WTC building. What was not and should not be memorialized at the 9/11 monuments was what really happened to hundreds of people.
Occupants of the floors directly impacted were immolated immediately. Thousands of gallons of jet fuel exploded throughout….most did not know what hit them. Folks above were the pitiful ones. The fires quickly begin burning upward and sending searing smoke even quicker. Some people made it to the roof, but there was no chance of rescue. Some were able to call out. The voice messages left on home recorders were heart breaking.
Burning to death is the most painful of all. People will do anything to avoid this. As the heat became more intense, folks began to jump from the stories above. One ground observer kept hearing the “thumps” and could not identify the sound until a person “thumped” right in front of him. One person on the ground was killed when struck by a falling person. Some say there were bodies in the air. No, these were alive, terrified people in the air. Only after impact, after the awful sounding thump, did they become bodies.
Andrew watched in horror. He called Dana and told her what he was watching. He saw people standing on ledgers and in windows above the fire. He saw some jump and fall. He saw a landing assembly fall and the air was filled with paper. A surreal scene that would seem like a Hollywood animation. He watched the second plane hit the South tower.
He called Dana again and told her NYC was under attack and to run immediately to Battery Park. Don’t take time to dress….and he would join her there soon. He ordered the floor evacuated. Andrew was the highest-ranking person on the floor and the protocol included his sweeping the offices to assure everyone had safely escaped. That made him late getting down the stairs and on the street.
Dana became restless and begin walking up the wide avenue to the twin towers. The first tower collapsed and sent a tsunami of wind and dust down that street, covering her completely with a white cement and knocking her to the ground and taking her breath away. Some people in a Greek Orthodox church ran out and carried her inside and cleaned her up….mostly.
Andrew was north and sent everyone north, but decided to try to join Dana. So, he headed south. He was near the base of the south tower when it collapsed, and the air/debris blast knocked him around and into an alley. Had the full impact hit him, it could have been a fatal outcome. He recovered, used his suit coat as a dust mask, and somehow got around and down south.
Andrew and Dana found each other via cell calls to friends in San Francisco. They spent the night in a dark bar where the owner welcomed everyone and handed out all the food and drinks for no charge.
We in Grand Junction, of course, had no clue that each of them would make those near fatal decisions. It was not until later that we understood what really happened. Phones were down and we could not contact them, but that did not alarm us. All this remains to this day an almost overwhelming memory. During our visit to the new memorials, it became quickly apparent that gut-wrenching event cannot be shown in the real time urgency and confusion that existed those few hours.
All flights were cancelled. Everywhere. We were living in Denver part time and I was managing my 191-foot-long bridge project in Montana as well. I made some friends there who were originally from Minnesota. They were big time ruffed grouse hunters and went back to hunt with them each fall. I was invited to join them and had plane tickets in hand. I was on the first plane out of DIA and had carried my shotgun in a case to the counter. That was the most thorough TSA inspection I have ever had.
The grouse hunting was different there. As a kid, we walked and tried to shoot them as they flushed. Missed most of the time. My friends road hunted. Exclusively. And on roads that seemed to have beer joints. We did not harvest any grouse.
We went back to visit Andrew and Dana seven days after the event. They were super lucky in that Bob and Cindy Jones, our relatives on my dad’s side, had an apartment on the Upper East Side and were not there at the time. Very nice place. Andrew had a pass to get into the area to retrieve items from their apartment. What a smelly mess all over. The disruptions to society seemed impossible to overcome. No schools, no taxis, no power…nothing.
But now NYC is more vibrant and alive than ever. The new Freedom Tower is magnificent, worth the whole trip to experience.
As per Andrew’s dream since 9th grade, Andrew and Dana made NYC their home and had the lovely Scarlett Ann and rescued the brave Hunter Robert from a Russian orphanage. They lived there for a few years and then were promoted to a high-level position with Citi in Hong Kong. They should write their own book about those storybook years.
My Message Ahead for my grandkids and their kids and grandkids is that it was not until after all this that me and the world became keenly aware of the relationship of foods and drinks to the mental and physical development of a fetus and infant and child. We just did not know. It was not until the 1970’s that we understood smoking caused compromises in kids…my parents smoked. I was compromised my whole life. I quit smoking when Andrew was born, and based on emerging science of how bad that habit really is. But we did not understand how bad calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient foods are for our kids. Not until Scarlett and Hunter were much older. Before that, we relied on magic medicines from medical doctors to make up for not feeding kids natural foods. For allowing them to become addicted to ramen, rice, pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, corn chips, sodas and all those pathetically poisonous inventions for profit for Big Ag and Big Food.
I grieve on the one hand, but am ever grateful that I can tell you a better way to feed kids….and don’t ask them what they want to eat. You already know. It is your responsibility as their parent to help them be all that they can be.
BUT WHAT WAS IMPORTANT…
Writing in a “stream of consciousness” is fun…exhilarating and addictive…never know when to stop. The stories are never ending. That is until you stop and start tagging importance to these in the big picture of life events.
I would write about the time Brandy Gilmore was dating a pediatrician who took up bow hunting and wanted to kill something. So, I bought a pig and turned it loose on our 10 acres at 2108. She stalked and killed it. We put the pig in the front-end loader, washed it thoroughly, skinned it (you can skin pigs), cut it up, packaged it and split it between us.
But that had no importance on our futures. They broke up soon after and Brandy went back to his wife. Or maybe it was important, a reason to go back to your wife.
What I remember most was waiting until Andrew had worn himself to a frazzle and then getting to snuggle with him…no chance during the day. I remember Colby loved to snuggle most of the time. He had a way of getting even closer without wrapping his arms. Working four days out of town and returning to special family reunions…kids showing me their week’s accomplishments. Seeing them get Student of the Month awards, knowing I didn’t have much to do with it…it was Mom S who raised two fine boys and got Teacher of the Year awards. Watching the boys play on Lake Powell boats and beaches, the first time we cruised into Desolation Sound, the way four-year-old Andrew grabbed on when a coyote howled at midnight right beside our tent in the wilderness.
Long-awaited visits to the east and family and friends. Rides on the Kawasaki mule with GrandMan, stopping at a hiding place and having a nip and then surveying the farm in the sunset. Anticipating Mother Anne’s squirrel gravy. Finding hummingbird ornaments for her. Over the years we brought in so much junk! And she faithfully displayed every trinket. We don’t see this kind of attention in today’s world of electronic diversions…addictions.
I remember too many of GrandMan’s tales. Stories about the Runyaneseque characters on Coal River. They were finite, so I heard some many times. One day I said, “Dang it, GrandMan, I have heard that story before!” He said, “Yes, and this time I am going to tell it better.” I miss that kind of love. Well, maybe not miss it…it is just a fact of life that these events are transitory. Main thing is to appreciate them at the moment and not wish later on that you had spent even more time in communion with family and Nature.
Even more important is for you to create those loving, caring, meaningful-for-the-rest-of-your-life moments. Put down your electronics.
The End…for now.