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Getting Lost in our own Backyard

March 14, 2012

The sprawling ridges and draws around here seem straightforward. You climb up a ridge, see magnificent views, trod over signs of elk herds and coyote, and glimpse the animals themselves if you’re lucky. Tim and I walk between three and ten miles a day out there, although we discuss our hikes in terms of how many hours we want to put in, so we are quite familiar with the lay of the land outside our gate. Add in my on extensive horseback riding into these hills, running miles and miles along the myriad of dirt roads and one could say I feel darn comfortable with where I am at all times.

Night before last, we decided to drive a few miles down Bartlett Point Rd to the Grant Creek area to commence our hike from a new spot, just for fun. Our goal: A simple two-hour hike into a new draw that looked inviting. We didn’t think twice about starting our journey about 4:30 pm. The clocks have just changed, so we had scads of daylight. Our hike began as any other, up a rocky dirt road until a game or cow trail catches our fancy. We decided to head up what looked like the left fork of Grant Creek to check out the stand of trees nestled in the draw and then climb up the dry side of a baby peak to get a look. When we arrived at the trees, a much larger stand than it appears from far below, our coon hound Zephyr gave the big game signal. She howled all the way over two ridges and her voice disappeared into the wind. Although we missed a visual on the animals again, the fresh mud tracks were exciting. Given that our dog was gone for who knows how long, we decided to abandon our plans to continue up the mountain.

We turned to head back, and after stepping through muddy tracks and ankle-deep snow on the north side of a ridge, we veered toward the far south side that looked nice and dry. As we crossed over the head of the treed draw, Tim turned into the leafless stand and I picked my way down a gully and up toward the far side. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t see Tim until at least and hour later. We often take different tracks through the sage, wind and meet up in five or ten minutes, so I wasn’t worried, not until I veered back toward the tree stand, yelled my head off, started back up, waited some more and still saw no sign of him. It was getting later, the wind was howling and our vehicle was miles away. After wandering around and waiting for another 15 minutes or so, I started down the ridge, sure that he must be just on the other side of the creek bed. I stayed high. Surely he could see my golden jacket. It wasn’t until I was well along the creek that I realized that it must have split. I was following a completely different draw and at best I was two ridges over. I corrected my tack with landmarks and began the up and down journey toward the ridge we ascended. Fear wormed into my mind and heart. What if he fell and hit his head on the ice in the trees? I made a plan. I would get down to the road, run the four miles home (he had the keys), get some help and flashlights. I was hungry and my voice was hoarse from yelling. Zephyr had found me, but still there was no sign of Tim or Chief. As the days light faded, I heard a fragment of sound in the wind. It wasn’t anything recognizable, but Zephyr heard it too. We stopped and listened. Nothing. But then it came again. We walked in that direction, away from the direction home. Soon I saw a black spec in the distance. I waved my shiny golden arms, yelled and picked it up to a run. The black spec grew and I knew it was Tim. I had to drop below the ridge line in order to get closer, knowing he couldn’t see me, but as I huffed my tired way up the crest, there he was in the distance. We came together in a great hug. He had been looking the opposite direction from where I was.  As we drove home, I showed him the ridge I was on and we both shook our heads. It was a matter of 20 yards that made the difference between the vast variance in our paths. This land always surprises me by its hidden complexity. What looks like a few rolling hills and trees, is really an intricate system of springs, creeks, draws and ridges, all perfectly capable of hiding not only herds of elk, but one little old hiking woman like me.

View from the top of our little hike.

A simple hike up this draw!

Missed them again. Last year’s picture

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Full Moon Rising

March 8, 2012

Our front windows are like wide screens to uncompromised splendor. I’ve seen the moon rise over the 3 sisters in winter, watched in come up in full glory over Bartlett Point in the summer, but when I glanced outside last evening while chopping vegetables for our big crunchy salads, dinner was forgotten as I lunged for the camera. The moon peeked from a place unexpected to me, at first just a hint of light, teasing with an arc of bright light, and finally the rounded orb rising to its potential. The night air was cool, actually, icy and the few minutes spent getting a picture were enough to chill the fingers. I raced back inside, knowing I would miss nothing from the outdoor theater of our front room. This moon rising over the Big Lost Range deserves its own little post.

A Frigid, Slippery Trek for No Good Reason other Than Beauty

March 6, 2012

It’s been so warm, I’ve been watching for leaves to pop out on the trees. I was able to dig up 6 or so wheelbarrows of soil and add them to the new garden, and Tim hooked up the hose and watered the trees and the front grass. We decided to check out some chutes to see if there was enough snow for any snowboarding. We’ve been scouting them with binoculars and it looked promising, but not so much that we were going to haul our boards up there without a recon mission first. We drove the truck at least two miles closer than the last time we hiked it when it took us 7 hours to get our single line, and as we parked and grabbed our packs, we could see that the ridge on one side of the draw was melted off. We left our snow shoes in our pack and hiked across the calf high crusted snow in our boots until we got to the bare ground. Side-mountain hiking is not the most fun, but we wound our way into the draw and progressed toward the base of the chutes. As we neared, it was easy to see that the snow was as limited as we feared, but the beauty wasn’t. Tim wanted to investigate a snow slide. I said, “Go on ahead with that, I’m just going to climb this little mountain here.” The dogs stayed with me, backtracking every 5 minutes or so to check my slow progress. Each step was a double push as I navigated the steep slippery face using root clumps to anchor my footfalls. Our sun disappeared behind arriving clouds and as I ascended out of the draw and onto the exposed mountainside, the wind whipped my back. I couldn’t see Tim, he was around down in the lower draw of the chute. It got a little creepy out there. I made some distant trees my goal, thinking there might be a touch of flat ground to stand on. Silly me. The trees were growing right out of the vertical pitch. When I caught a glimpse of Tim, I yelled for him to come up. The temperature was dropping rapidly and the sun was a memory. We decided to stay high and head for the top of the ridge. Slipping down what I just climbed wasn’t too inviting. We found a game trail in the high forest that came and went between knee-deep snow patches and finally we found some decent footing near the top. We took a moment to feast on the view despite my frozen right index finger. We were higher than we realized and we could see all the way to the Copper Basin. A moment is all we could spare. The frigid wind infiltrated our layers, speared right through our wooly caps, and snow niggled into the tops of our boots and melted to pools of chilly water. We split up again. I wanted to drop over to the lee side of the ridge to escape the wind, but the snow was deeper and the crust was sharp. The act of securing my snow shoes warmed my fingers and I clomped along the high ground making good time until I dropped into a group of trees. It was an elk poop wonderland with exposed grassy areas (brown of course), lovely shelter from the wind and I slipped off my gear. As I left the protection of the trees, I saw Tim coming out from his own cloister. Our truck in the distance had grown from a speck to a recognizable vehicle. As we drove the 20 minutes home, our exhausted doggies crashed out in the back and we dreamed of dry feet and my left over homemade pizza with the brown rice crust.

This morning, our world is white again. New snow covers the pasture, the front yard, everything. I see the horses munching their breakfast from where I’m enjoying my coffee in bed, compliments of my darling husband. The wind is blowing loose snow off the house and the mountains are shrouded in clouds. I think I’ll read a few more pages of my book. I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and each page is an inspiration and challenge to be a better writer.

Almost Home!!

Almost Spring Training

February 25, 2012

Warm air has bathed our corner of paradise in the Idaho high country, so even though it’s still February, I’ve been inspired to start the mares anew in their training for the upcoming season. The first trip to the round pen in some weeks proved to be an exhilarating experience. Both Two Feathers and Sonata demonstrated their lack of full cooperation by kicking their heels back toward me, running around like maniacs, keeping their heads to the outside of the round pen, and performing any other acts of disrespect they could muster. My darling Two Feathers quickly responded and within minutes, cooperation was at hand. Sonata, my husband’s horse, had much more to say and I needed to keep my guard up against the possibility that she might careen too close to me during her temper tantrum.

Two Feathers before she got her winter fuzz

Now that we’ve had successive days with 20 minute jaunts to the round pen, our willing, inquisitive, intelligent mares are back. Sonata is so telepathic, I  find that I must be very careful with my thoughts to keep her from responding to cues that are in the formative stage. One must not think of the term reverse too soon, as she will respond to that thought as if it were shouted.

After months of hoof problems from her short trim in early December, Two Feathers is finally in full form. I rode her yesterday. She stood stock still for mounting, and responded to soft and subtle cues from my hands. I feel great about where we are and better still to have ample time to take it slow and build our relationship brick by brick.

Me on Sonata in our round pen

Cant wait to do this

A Winter’s Hike

February 22, 2012

Snake River Chieftain, aka Peterpotomous

We didn’t think that hiking would be our mode of outdoor enjoyment in the middle of winter in Idaho, but with the low snow pack here and a new puppy to exercise, Tim and I have been marching all over these mountains. Yesterday we left about 3 in the afternoon to see how far up we could get in the last few hours of daylight. Our mission – sighting wildlife. It wasn’t long until we were trekking along in well-established elk paths, their freeways so used, that our boots could touch the earth beneath the snow. It was warm when we left, 40 degree warm, yet the promise of weather was just over the mountain ranges. We followed the trails up through the sage and into the tree stands and naked willows, over iced up creeks. Rub trees, abandoned birds nests, blankets of elk scat, coyote tracks and moose pellets tell of ample wildlife that roams this country when we aren’t looking. The wind picked up and soon we were bracing ourselves against the howl, leaning into our few remaining miles to home. The tiny spec of our home, visible from many vantage points up on the ridges, grew larger as we hoofed it back. The sun played in roving spotlights between the billow of blackening clouds. Our horses greeted us with the delight of the soon to be fed, making it clear by their kicking heels that we were an hour passed their feeding time. We slipped into our toasty house, warmed by the fire and relished another day lived in rural paradise. Oh, by the way, we still have our blue tick coon hound, she’s just too busy with scents to hang out with us humans.

rub trees

Our house is down there somewhere!

The Novel is Done! and The Visit…

February 20, 2012

Cole Morley, Julie Morley, Kendra Puente, Jack Pain

I did it. Pacheco Falls is done, I’ve rewritten the entire manuscript umpteen times and have sent it off to an agent. Think good thoughts for me, people. Today I cleaned out the cubbies above my desk that housed many different stages of the novel. I took the time to read some of the earliest drafts, and all I can say is, hallelujah. Rewriting is my best friend. The  378 page book is what I want it to be, but it isn’t for wimps. Now that I have a chance to catch up on my blogging, where to start? There are too  many stories that have come and gone, so I will begin with my favorite part of the past couple of months.

Our two sons, Jack and Cole, and Cole’s girlfriend, Kendra, came to visit for a belated Christmas in mid January. As with any thing that has an aspect of disappointment (Genavieve, Eva and Cheyne couldn’t make it) the option for wonderment was ripe for the plucking. I got to know my sons as the adult men they are becoming with each passing week. Living in the middle of nowhere breeds a fertile ground for togetherness, especially when the temperatures are dipping below zero. We played lots of cards, horsed around with the mares, cooked wonderful food, and 4-wheeled it out into the hills over the snow-covered back roads. The kids helped Tim cut, split and stack about a cord and half of wood while I worked away on my novel. They played football everyday on  our very own frozen tundra. We spent a week of pure love and joy. It was the best present.

The Wood Cutters

An unlikely outcome occurred through this visit. Jack decided to move to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Life can be tricky. Four days before he was to fly here to move, he broke his middle finger while bicycling home from the Crow’s Nest after a late shift. Undeterred by his misfortune, Jack got help packing and still flew out on schedule. I picked him up in Boise a few weeks ago on a frigid night. He stayed with us for two glorious weeks, during which time he hiked with us each day, climbed Bartlett Point, snowshoed up in the backcountry and applied for jobs online. We watched a movie every night. More heaven on earth for this mother. Last Monday, Tim and I drove Jack to Wyoming where he now lives with his buddy Jack. Yes, that’s right. Jack moved to Jackson Hole and is living with his friend, Jack. We hopped in our truck with the two Jacks, drove through Jackson and up to Blacktail Butte to introduce them to the awesome life of backcountry snowboarding. We climbed the mountainette on snowshoes and boarded down both sides, getting a handful of perfect powder turns. Jack already has a job. Oh, the freedom of the young and unencumbered. Tim and I drove away after a few days, our eyes agog with the splendor of the type of snowpack we realize will never happen in our neck of Idaho. We spent a day in the Teton Valley, where we recently snowboarded at Grand Targee, and had to ask ourselves, what if?

Jack and Cole

Cole Morley, Hunter

Jack and Me at Phi Kappa

Jack Johnson and Jack Pain at the top, Grand Teton in background

A Different Christmas

December 22, 2011
Hawk fluffing up in the cold

Here we are, our first Christmas in Idaho. Life is as different as it can be. This is what we signed up for and so far, the magic prevails. We decided to use a couple more of our firewood tags for 2011 while the weather held, and headed up to the backcountry two days in a row. The temperature showed teens as we arrived, the crystalized snow sparkling off every naked willow and tree. Summit Creek still gurgles and game tracks riddle the land .  A pair of eagles soared off the high peak above us and kept us company with their voices during the day.  The sun warmed us to the point of shedding layers, but you couldn’t convince our new puppy of this fact. He bounded in the snow, grabbing sticks and trying to keep up with Zephyr until he tired and needed to curl up. He found our pile of coats on a stump and curled up for a nap.

On the second day, after we cut, we drove out a bit farther, turned the truck around in the middle of the road to put the tail gate into the sun, spread a horse blanket across the cold metal and had our hot coffee and lunch. We warmed up from the inside out and then took a little hike through the foot deep snow. We didn’t see another soul, not even on the drive in or out.

Our horses are wooly and their feet are doing much better. Yesterday, Sonata rolled in the new snow, jumped up and did a little bucking show. The temps have dropped. This morning we were at a lovely minus 5 when we fed the horses at 7:30. The fireplace keeps our house warm and toasty. I did some baking and we sampled our first sweets of the season. On Christmas morning, we will go back out there to find a Christmas Tree.  We look forward to our kids coming out in  few weeks for a delayed family Christmas, but as the actual day nears, we hunker down in our new life with each other, thankful to have true love between us, and the bounty of God’s earth around us.