"Fly fishing is my passion, hunting is my weakness, and mules are a perplexing addiction."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Trip From Hell

To say it was the trip from hell would be a gross understatement.  The Donner Party’s ill-fated attempt to trek over the Sierras seems slapdash by comparison.  It was the vacation that Chevy Chase movies are made of, and a seven-month, covered wagon journey across the plains with Rosie O’Donnell would have been a welcomed respite.  If it could go wrong, it did, and usually in spectacular fashion.  On the upside; the fishing was good, and I invented several new curse words to add to an upcoming book I’m thinking of writing, “A Mule-Skinners Guide of Colorful Adjectives One Doesn’t Use at a Church Gathering.”

Where have I been, you ask?  Well, I went to a wedding in Oregon.  Yes, I know it’s the beginning of bow season; don’t press your luck, I could still go off like a Roman candle.

The truth is, if it had been anybody else, I’d have been smiling while out bow hunting in the Kaibab; after all, who has a wedding during deer season?   But a son, or in this case my step-son, only gets married for the first time once, and I felt I should be there; besides, my wife Cathy put her foot down and nixed any ideas of me going hunting and her telling me about the wedding when I get back. Despite my Oscar worthy performance attempting to convince my bride of the pandemic deer population threatening the citizens of northern Arizona, we loaded the RV up.

We, (Cathy) decided we would take a leisurely drive up 395, stop an spent the night on the Walker River to fish, then cruise on up and over to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California to check one off Cathy’s National Park bucket list.  After that we would toodle on up to Crater Lake National Park, spend a couple of days there and check another off the list before we headed on up  to Sun River, near Bend, Oregon.  Once there, I could then shuttle back and forth between fishing, and attending wedding festivities as required.

As the last pallet of my wife’s make-up, shoes, earrings, leisure wear, and the three-hundred plus dresses she still hadn’t decided on were placed in the toy hauler with a fork lift, it left precious little room for my float tube, waders and fly rod, but where there’s a will, there’s a way and I managed to stuff my float tube atop Cathy’s stack of dresses she had carefully laid out atop the back futon bed.  Now ready to hit the road, I decided to put a few gallons of water in the fresh water tank since we knew we would be dry-camping without hook-ups at least one night on our trip north.

At first glance I thought I’d left the flush valve open under the RV.  That would easily have explained the small lake that had accumulated beneath the rig when I returned about 10 minutes later having placed the hose in the fill way while I ran into the house to grab another ball cap and make a phone call.  As I bent over and astutely observed both drain handles closed, imagine my glee to discover my fresh water tank had more holes in it than the Benghazi cover-up.  Undeterred, we postponed our trip half-a-day while I ran down the hill and grabbed a few fiberglass repair kits, drove back up the hill and began to spackle and paint epoxy over the most severe of the cracks and holes.  I managed to slow the leaks to that of a fire hydrant having just been hit by a drunk driver.

On the road at last, we managed to make it nearly fifty-miles, when somewhere near Lake Elsinore, a little car with two deaf people pulled alongside of us and struck up a conversation using sign language.  As I replied to the couple using sign, Cathy slapped me on the arm and said, “What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m being polite and talking to them,” I told her.

“You don’t know sign language,” she said.

“They don’t know that,” I told her.  “For all they know I could be German, or French, and don’t speak American Sign Language.”

“Well stop it,” Cathy insisted, “you could be cursing at them; you don’t know?  Honey, I think they’re pointing to the trailer; is something wrong?”

I waved goodbye to the couple and pulled the rig over to the shoulder.  Sure enough, I had a flat tire on the RV.  I changed the tire out in short order and drove up the road to a well-known tire sales and repair establishment to replace the spare tire.  Glaciers have melted in less time than it took this outfit to eventually place a new tire on my rig, but finally, three-and-a-half hours later we were on the road.

At this point I was tired and frazzled, silently cussing people who get married during deer season.  The truth is, I was in no position to make sound decisions, which might explain why I chose to press my luck and run the risky gauntlet called, L.A. Rush Hour!  It was not a wise decision and, in fact, Hitler’s choosing to invade Russia made more sense.  If L.A. traffic wasn’t frustrating enough, trying to figure out some of the stupid, personal license plates on people’s cars was enough to nearly send me over the top.  What the hell is SSABMUD anyway?

It was well after dark by the time we rolled into Frasier Park.  Deciding I’d had enough fun for one day, we found a little spot off the road and settled in for the night in the hopes that tomorrow was another day and a new beginning.

We hit the road running shortly before sunrise and headed up I-5.  There are few things less enjoyable that the I-5 stretch from the Grapevine north, through the San Joaquin Valley; a circumcision by chainsaw comes to mind, but I had to think hard to come up with that one.  Finally, however, we rolled into Red Bluff, California.  As tired as a politicians promise and needing a rest, we pulled into a quaint little RV park along the river called Tweekerville.  I now know where the casting agents get their extras for the Walking Dead television series.

As the residents of Tweekerville began shuffling around and around the circle island area where we were parked, I began setting up the RV for the night and then took the dog for a stroll around the area so he might do his business.  Upon my return to the trailer, imagine my amusement to discover the toilet had exploded and water was everywhere.  As it turns out, the gushing leak was coming from a valve on the back of the commode.

Knowing I would be cutting it close, I hopped in the truck and headed to the other side of town to find a RV place where I might find the part required to replace the faulty toilet valve.  The fact the store had been closed for 15 minutes and the doors were locked was of little consequence to a guy needing a working crapper.  I managed to finally wear the owner down with my banging and wailing, and for a tidy sum and the promise of my next born child into indentured servitude, I had the part I needed and headed back to Tweekerville to fix the toilet while Cathy stood Zombie watch outside with my trusted K-9, Mutt.

The next morning we hooked up the rig and headed up the highway to Lassen Volcanic National Park to check another NP off Cathy’s bucket list.  Fully believing the worst was behind us, we enjoyed touring around on the narrow, mountain roads within the park on our way to Manzanita Lake at the far end of the park where our RV campground was located.

I should explain that this park area was designed with Model A’s and tent camping as the norm and aside for some pavement it is much the same today.  I managed to squeeze my truck and 36’ rig into a spot only to discover we had no hook-ups.  Still my ever-cheerful self, I simply cut off the end of a hose and pushed it onto a water spigot, filled the RV tank enough that we could shower before it all ran out on the ground.  Our last day at the park, having not yet fished, I spent the morning getting my float tube ready, and re-doing fly reels with new leader and tippet.  I no sooner put my waders and boots on when the wind picked up to near 20 mph and the tree tops were rocking and rolling. Within an hour the rain began.  It would rain on us for the next three days.

Now I know California is in the grip of a record setting drought; I accept that and welcomed the rain, but somehow, having spent the summer in sweltering heat, Cathy and I both neglected to pack any warm clothing, so we left Lassen and drove up the Volcano to Volcano Highway and pulled into Crater National Park, where we looked forward to having an electric and water hook-up.

“Honey, can you change the propane over to the other tank; we’re out of gas,” hollered Cathy upon my return from walking the dog.  I was beginning to wonder if walking the dog was some sort of curse?

It wasn’t the gas leaking from the gas hose attached to the propane tank that curbed my enthusiasm about this vacation, nor was it the pine tree I managed to de-limb in my successful attempt to squeeze into my assigned spot designed for a tear-drop trailer.  Nor was it the water heater that decided to quit working after I changed to a different propane tank.  It wasn’t even the fact we couldn’t see four-feet past the hood of my truck for two days, forever dashing any hopes of seeing Crater Lake that made tears of mirth and joy run down my cheeks as I suddenly realized the importance of those straps on a strait jacket.  But when my SIRIUS radio went on a tantrum and quit, denying me my Outlaw County and Willie’s Roadhouse, well, it was almost more than a mortal human can tolerate.

I must say that once in Sun River, we had a great time.  Jason Hower and Lindsay Crowley joined hands in holy mackrelmony, and I must say it was the most spectacular wedding I have ever attended.  The Crowley’s, Jim and Connie welcomed us into their family most graciously, however, I’m still of the opinion that once they discover what they’ve done they will seek a restraining order.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that the return trip home had all the charm and enchantment of a Chinese dogfight.  After spending a week-plus being colder than a tin toilet seat, I knew I was back home when we pulled into a rest stop in Shasta, California only to discover my truck’s air conditioning chose to go on strike. Apparently the 97 degree heat outside was too hot to work in and we hadn’t even dropped down into Redding yet.  The sixteen hour haul in temps ranging from 97 to 105 degree heat made me appreciate the miracle of air conditioning and if I hadn’t been the one driving, I’d have hunted the shade of a barbed wire fence for relief.

In closing, since now all the kids are married off, I’d just like to put the grandkids on notice that should any of you decide to tie the knot during deer season, please have the decency to send your old grandpa a copy of the wedding pictures.  I’ll be in deer camp!

Thursday, December 4, 2014



The other day while out workin’

I was muckin’ out horse stalls and pens

When my wife hollered out, "Time for supper,

Get washed up, it’s time to come in."

I scrubbed up at the sink in the kitchen,

Then reached for a towel on the rack

When my dearly beloved informed me

"Honey, you need a new hat."

Confused, I said, "Huh?" and was certain

I’d misunderstood her decree.

But it soon became clear when she said "Listen here,

Mister, don’t you play stupid with me."

Now there are times when a cowboy should listen

And choose wisely the words he will use

But I spoke up instead for the crown on my head,

Defending it from such abuse.

"Why, what’s wrong with this one?"

I asked to fend off her attack.

"It’s finally broke in like I like it, my Dear,

Now why would I want to do that?"

Suddenly I realized my error,

How I should have kept quiet instead,

With her eyebrows pitched and her hands on her hips

She glared down her nose and she said.

"`Cause it looks like it’s been through the pig pen,

In a stampede and hit by a train

Not to mention the waft when you take your hat off,

Honey it’s time to retire that thing."

"The brim’s full of cracks, tears and creases,

It’s seen better days that’s for sure,

It’s cause for concern from its stem to its stern,

Sweetie, face it, it’s lost its allure."

Now I suppose if I’d just kept my mouth shut

A slim chance might have remained

But I antagonized her ire when I tossed fuel on the fire,

"And your point?" I proudly proclaimed.

The argument then escalated

From debate to just short of war,

My sweetheart’s demeanor went from nasty to meaner

When she added, "And further more!"

"You’re gettin' a new hat tomorrow,

So for the funeral we’ll burn that old thing

‘Cause a burial would spoil and contaminate the soil

Not to mention the underground spring."

"So the subject is closed, done and settled,

It’s finished, completed, thee end,

You’re getting a new hat and that’s final, that’s that,

So don’t act like you’ve lost your best friend."

I resigned myself to my penitence,

Which for me, a fate far worse than death,

Tomorrow I’d retire my old friend to the fire

And fall prey to my sweetheart’s bequest.

The next day we jumped in the pick-up,

We took off and headed for town

To the Buckaroo Emporium and Old Hat Crematorium,

Final resting place of old hats broken-down.

The Emporium was a cathedral,

The walls lined with hats overhead,

Confused and bewitched ‘cause ain’t none of ‘em which

A cowboy’d be caught wearin’ dead.

A salesman waltzed over to greet us

And it didn’t take me long to deduce

This feller’d never straddled, let alone seen a saddle,

When he said, "Howdy there, my name is Bruce."

I whispered a word to my sweetheart,

I said, "Let’s get one thing real clear,

What winds up on top will be my choice, or not,

So tell 'ol Bruce there, I don’t wear cashmere."

So my wife and the salesman began walking,

While me, I trailed slowly behind,

Then `ol Bruce began pointing, detailing and anointing

Each hat as if created divine.

"Our hats come in a variety of flavors," he said,

"All different colors and shades,

There’s chocolate and gold and chartreuse I’m told,

Even fuchsia if you’re leaning that way."

"And they come in all shapes and sizes

From derbies to ten-gallon hats,

There’s oval and round, short and tall crowns,

And each has a brim sized to match."

"And we have hatbands galore that will dazzle,

From snakeskin, or maybe peacock instead,

Folks will spot you from a mile, you’ll at last be in style."

"That’s what I’m afraid of," I said.

As my bride wandered aimlessly onward

She’d Oooh and she’d Ahhh and she’d gawk,

I grabbed Bruce by the hide and I pulled him aside

And said, "Sport, we need to have us a talk."

"Look pard," I said with my hackles up,

"These hats you’re a showin’ ain’t me,

They’re fine I suppose if you wear pantyhose

But they’re just a little more glitter than I need."

"So do you have something a little less garish?

Without all the pomp and circumstance?

That doesn’t belong atop 'ol Elton John,

Come from Hollywood, or God forbid, France?"

"You got anything back there without sparkles,

And won’t set off an airport alarm?

That’s not made by Versache, or worn by Liberace?

You have anything that doesn’t glow in the dark?"

"I need a hat for my head that’s quiet,

A plain ribbon band would be great,

It shouldn’t look absurd like I’d wrecked with a bird,

No buckles or conches or snakes."

Bruce gasped and tossed his arm to his forehead,

For a moment I thought he might faint,

"Oh, you’re one of those, well I guess, I suppose,

I can find something a little more quaint."

As Bruce turned to leave I stopped him,

I said, "Hey Pard, just one little thing,

I wear a seven and an eighth round, and prefer to shape my own crown."

He said, "Certainly, what color shall I bring?"


"We’ll that’s the easiest part," I told him

"That decision is pretty matter-of-fact,

You see, a cowboy can wear any color he dare,

As long as it’s gray or it’s black!"

 thomas firth

Wednesday, August 20, 2014



There is a distinct difference between a love and a passion when it comes to doing something you enjoy.  If you love doing something, you do it as often as permitted, planning around your work schedule, family obligations etc., etc.  With regards to passions, well passions are something different.  Passions are a calling, something you must do, you are compelled to do; something you find a way to do, regardless.  I truly believe, unless it is destructive, that if you have a passion, you are blessed.  

Now, I am blessed with several passions, all of which, revolve around the back country.  I love to hunt, I love to fish, I love to hike, backpack, explore and do trail work, and I love to spend all the time I can in the back country.  I believe I am blessed because, among other things, I have a wife that not only shares many of these passions with me, she allows me to pursue them when she isn’t able to come along.  I am also blessed in that I am still able to pursue my passions.  I am fortunate to still have my health, and as I look around at my many friends, some of who are my age, I can’t help but be grateful for what I have.  Too many of them are gone, and more each year it seems, and the rest are simply unable or uninterested in the dreams I chase year in, and year out.

Once again, it is that time of year, that I live for.  There is a sudden crispness in the morning air.  Leaves are beginning to slowly fall from the cottonwoods even though they are still very green, and there is a different sort of breeze in the air that signals a coming change of the season.  It is nearly fall, and it’s my favorite time of the year.

When I was young, and still serving time in that penal institution many called school, I hated the fall.  Fall meant school, new clothes, and new shoes.  Fall meant studying; something I never seemed to have the attention span for, and fall meant doing anything other than what I would have rather been doing, and for me that meant doing anything other than being in school.  I detested school like a camel detests the Yukon.

Lately, I’ve been zipping around here like a moth on the Vegas Strip.  Events are about to get rapid and things are about to get busy.  It’s the time of year I live for and I’m so excited I’m afraid I’ll get the drizzles trying to get gear and supplies together for a series of back to back trips that will take me into late October.

Having just come off a four-day backpacking trip into the eastern Sierras with my niece; a trip we’d been planning for eight months or better.  We got to see some spectacular country with skies bluer than window cleaner.  It was new country for me, country dotted with more lakes than pimples on a prom date, and we got to fly fish until our arms fell off.  Even my dog, Mutt, came along and packed his own groceries on this one, and starting out at over 9,000 feet and ending up at 11,000 feet, it helped me to get in a little better shape for the upcoming bow season in Arizona.

I’ve had little over 48 hours and just enough time to load my quad and gear into a friends rig, and tonight we head off for 10 days to the Kaibab Plateau on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the opener of the Archery Deer Season.  At 9500’ and almost daily thunderstorms as of late, and more in the forecast, it should be a fun trip, and hopefully a productive one.
Immediately after returning to Anza from bow hunting, I’ll have a couple of days to gather stock and gear together for a road trip up to Shasta for a week participating in a N.O.L.S. (National Outdoor Leadership School) Masters pack trip into the Trinity.  That one will be more of a working trip for me as the N.O.L.S. people will be testing us to see if we know our stuff for future Leave No Trace teachings.  We, (the Back Country Horsemen of California) will be taking over teaching of the Master’s Course for stock users next year, where people from all over the country come to learn LNT skills for stock use in the back country.

Not to be left out, my bride, feeling lonely as a leper, is screaming, “What about me?”  Well, we’ll be heading back into the Sierras somewhere for a late season pack trip with the mules, and some high country fishing.  The mules should be in fine shape by then, and upon returning home, the deer opener takes place here at home on the first weekend in October.

I should have my plate full this season as I have three grandsons to hunt with this year, and I’m really looking forward to spending time with them by repeatedly making them turn their phones off and paying attention to hunting.  I have a feeling they’ll keep me busier than a Queensland in a cow pen.  We’ll be traveling in on horseback to one of my deer camps where I already have the tent set up for friends and family for the September bow season.  Hopefully we can all fill our local tags because the last week of October brings up the grand finale; my annual pack trip into the Golden Trout Wilderness where, along with my stepson and a longtime friend, we will once again pack up all the mules and horses, and for eight days, venture far from the beaten path, cell phones, and other hunters, as we head up the Kern River to a spot we’ve been going to for some years now.

At any rate, I’m as excited as a puppy on new carpet, and can’t wait to get on the road tonight, and in parting, I hope you too have a passion and are blessed with the ability to pursue it!  
Mossy antlers and Godspeed!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Swimsuit That Wasn't.


Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can never go home again.”  No pun intended, but he was right, as that very thought hit home for me this past weekend.

It’s certainly no locked-in-a-vault secret that as a kid, growing up, I hated school.  As far as I was concerned, it was a waste of my valuable time; time, I felt would no doubt have been better spent anywhere other than the confines of what my warden's called a class room.  Most of my teacher’s no doubt agreed, steadfastly maintaining I was shifty, lazy, disruptive, inattentive, lacked initiative, and failed to apply myself.  But I had other fine qualities as well.  Among them, I served thirteen years of a twelve year sentence in the public school system to become an astronaut.  According to my teachers, I just took up space.

I said thirteen years because during my frequent absentees while playing hooky, I apparently missed a few things that required my repeating the sixth grade.  My teachers were against my repeating it, unanimously voting to advance me right off to high school, but my parents insisted, somehow convincing them I could indeed, be saved.

Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of school I enjoyed.  PE and recess were fun, not to mention earthquake and fire drills, especially the ones I instigated.  Then there was detention, where I mastered the art of writing with three pencils at once, on three lines of paper, “I will not place reptiles in the teacher’s desk again!”

There are forces at work in the universe that defy explanation.  Forces of nature that defy all logic and cause things and events to happen for no apparent reason.  One such instance occurred just last week when, for reasons unknown, I made a conscious decision to attend my high school’s annual, All-class, Alumni Picnic in Huntington Beach, California.  For some unknown reason I took leave of my senses and decided I would attend a function where I would waltz around a crowded, park setting, and attempt to identify former classmates I hadn't seen for a hundred pounds and nearly half-a-century.  Figuring I could kill a few birds with one stone, I’d also swing by the cemetery to visit family and old friends I had neglected for far too many years.  And finally, I wanted to walk out on the pier again, one, more time.  Something I hadn't done for forty-six years.

The morning of the reunion I did my chores early and headed down the hill where I jumped on the freeway.  Two-and-a-half hours later I arrived in Huntington Beach; the only problem was that it looked nothing like the sleepy, mostly rural, little beach town I had left so many years ago.

Still early in the morning, I visited the cemetery as I’d promised, then headed downtown to take that walk out onto the pier and have some breakfast before the dreaded reunion.  It took me nearly an hour of critical driving skills, complex, evasive maneuvers, and assorted hand gestures attempting to find a place to park.  Apparently, parking meters are a big thing in the city now, and hard as it might be to believe, I've never used one.  Now, I’m fairly certain that given enough time, I could figure out how to operate one of the little coin bandits, but there is this stubborn streak deep within that kept telling me, “Don’t do it; you can save a buck-and-a-half and put it toward a beer.”  It soon became apparent that if I were going to park remotely within marathon walking distance of the pier, I would have to pay the city’s ransom and part with my sack of quarters.

On this weekend, the big surfing contest was in full swing and there were more people than flies in a calf pen milling about.  As I strolled out onto the crowded pier, memories of my childhood came flooding back; lazy days surfing, afternoons hunting rabbits on the outskirts of town with my .22, and those creative hours spent layering thermals, gym shorts, and baseball gloves under my school clothes in preparation for my weekly visit to Principle Oger’s office to receive a swat for some minor indiscretion the week before.

During my walk down Main Street and out onto the pier, I discovered that silicone is a hugely popular commodity at the beach these days.  There seemed to be an abundance of ladies who were apparently fearful of drowning and had taken precautions to prevent such a tragedy.  I couldn't help but notice ear rings located on anatomical parts of the body that I hadn't realized jewelry could even be placed.  And I also discovered that there are, indeed, a great number of people on this planet that really should hire a professional to help them dress; someone who would smother their attempt should they ever get the desire to wear a swimsuit
.  Logic dictates that if you put on a swimsuit that makes you look like a popped can of biscuits, maybe you shouldn't – just sayin’.

At any rate, I eventually made my way out to the little restaurant at the end of the pier and had a nice breakfast as I looked out over the coastline and silently reminisced.

Upon leaving the cafe, I hadn't walked very far.  Staring off in the distance at the shoreline, I was daydreaming, (a skill I mastered in grade school) about summer days spent in swim trunks atop a surfboard, when I was passed by a pair of rather handsome, young ladies who obviously had bumps in all the correct places.  Now I may be considered old by the current generation, but I’m not blind, and I couldn't help but notice that these young ladies, both sporting tee shirts that barely reached below their waists, had other outstanding assets as well; no pun intended.  Among these assets were a pair of posteriors that can only be described as something out of Greek mythology.

Because I slept through most of world history in school, I suddenly felt the urge to brush up on my appreciation of the Grecian arts, at which point I picked up my pace slightly to keep up with the pair of art aficionados in front of me.  I should also probably point out that the young lady on the right, appeared to have neglected to don the bottom half of her swim suit, which would explain their quickened pace.

Now I realize swimsuit fashions have changed from the days of my youth when girls wore cast iron, two piece swimwear that would have fit loosely on John Candy, but for the life of me I could see no sign of anything resembling fabric on this young lady, and because now it had become a matter of principle to find out the answer, I devised a plan.

The plan was brilliant in its simplicity.  All I needed to do was to walk slightly faster than the young ladies, reach a comfortable distance ahead of them, stop, turn in their direction, and nonchalantly appear to gaze out in the distance beyond them, allowing me to confirm my suspicion of whether or not she was actually wearing a bottom to her swimsuit.  I should also point out that this is a perfect situation where good, quality eye wear in the form of sunglasses comes in extremely handy.

I knew I had to act fast.  The girl’s brisk pace was quicker than a bookie’s runner and such that I was having difficulty keeping up with them, and while I didn't want to appear to be a stalker, or one of those creepy, old guys, I knew I had to speed it up if my plan of action was going to work.

I began walking faster, keeping a substantial distance of about three to four feet.  Any closer and, well, that would have been creepy.  This seemed to work well for nearly fifty yards until I noticed I wasn't gaining any ground, and in fact, the pair were slowly pulling away from me.  I also noticed I was becoming a bit winded.

Undeterred, I quickened my step to the point I now looked like one of those idiot speed-walkers you see in the city swinging a Nalgene bottle in each hand, spastically waddling down the street.

“Good idea,” I thought, as I snatched up a pair of empty water bottles nestled atop an overly-filled trash can, and I broke into an inconspicuous, spastic, speed-walker’s waddle.  But the girls were still gaining on me.  My legs were burning like a porch plank at a hillbilly bar-b-que, but I was determined to learn the fate of the missing swimsuit bottom.

Now I have two cardinal rules that I religiously live by.  The first; Tom don’t fly - period, end of story.  My second, cardinal rule; Tom doesn't jog; partly because I don’t enjoy stepping on my tongue, but mostly because I tend to spill my drink when I attempt such silliness.  Never-the-less, desperate measures were called for, and fearing I’d lose the beauties in the crowd and never discover the answer to the burning question inquiring minds desperately wanted to know, I broke into a jog.

Somewhere between my sounding like an asthmatic bulldog, and coughing up a lung, the two young ladies disappeared into a sea of tourists ahead of me.  I should point out that the plain-clothed officer who was concealed inconspicuously in the crowd that was gathered on the pier to watch the surfing contest, was firm, but polite when he grabbed my arm, spun me around and glared at me.

Following a thirty-minute background check that included running my name through the FBI, IRS, Homeland Security, the No-Fly List, and a thorough search of the Perverts Are Us data base, not to mention my convincing explanation that I was not a stalker, hadn't even noticed the young girls, and that I was actually hurrying for my high school reunion, and was dangerously close to committing a parking meter violation, the officer escorted me up the street to my truck where he bid me ado, and advised me to see a doctor about my creepy breathing.

At this point you are no doubt wondering if I made it to the reunion picnic.  Well, I’m going to tell you anyway; I did indeed.  Recognizing folks after all these years was a snap.  Name tags are the salvation of antiquated and rusty brains, and in my estimation, highly underrated.  Everyone I had the pleasure of spending time with seemed genuinely happy, and for that, I was grateful.

At one point I was greeted by an old school chum I readily recognized.

“Hey, Tom, good to see you; you remember that time we almost ended up in jail,” he said, laughing as if it were yesterday.

“No, Ray, I can’t say that I do,” I replied, as I put my arm around his shoulder and began slowly walking with him.  “That was a long time ago, but let me tell you about what happened to me this morning; have you ever seen a swimsuit that wasn't?  What I mean is…”


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

OF MULES AND MEN (and cussing.)

GRIP HOIST:  A device designed to rudely awaken all muscles in one’s body that have been comfortably cradled in fat for the last 15 years.  Also used occasionally for pulling things off of a hiking trail at the speed of a melting glacier.  Usually operated by a colony of Silverback Apes; humans with less intelligence than a grapefruit have been known to utilize this medieval torture device.

Yesterday, in the company of Michael Lewis, Danny Sullivan, and Phiefer, (whose last name I can’t recall due to the lack of oxygen at the 8500-plus foot elevation that caused me to attempt acts I normally would have watched others perform from a comfortable distance, well away from the sound of my chortling and laughing.)

At any rate, yesterday we went back up on San Jacinto Mountain to a location on the Strawberry Cienega Trail where a rather large, and robust tree rested comfortably across the trail in an attempt to remove it.  A tree with a rather discernible, if not smug, grin on its face.

Because we brought mules, we decided to unloaded the four-thousand-sixty-four pounds of steel cable, hoists, saws, McClouds, axes, slings, shackles, engine parts from a ’64 Galaxy, and two, small, plastic bottles of Wal Mart water in the off chance we might get thirsty, and carried them three-hundred yards by hand to the tree we needed to cut because…well, because!

While Mike and Phiefer began getting all the rigging laid out and set up to pull the tree off the trail, Danny and I resumed sawing with the cross-cut saw on the downed tree where we had left off the previous week. Three hours later we finished.  Mike pointed out we might have made better progress had we turned the saw the other way with the little, sharp, jagged, pointy things downward.  We will take that into consideration the next time.

Mike demonstrated the operation of the grip hoist for the rest of us by pulling the handle, first one way, then pushing it back the other.  Exhibiting exemplary supervision skills, he then turned the operation over to the rest of his able-bodied crew, pulled out his camera, and strategically positioned himself in a safe, shaded area, and began shouting words of encouragement as we began pulling and pushing on the hoist handle.

 “Heave - Ho, heave - ho; pick up the pace, girls, or we’ll be here all day,” he shouted enthusiastically, as the camera recorded the burly tree’s laughing at us.

Failure was not an option this day; mostly because none of us wanted to make the trek back up the mountain again, and because, quite frankly, the stubborn tree was beginning to annoy us in large degree in its refusal to cooperate.  Then it occurred to me what we were doing wrong; we weren't cussing enough.

Soon we were happily swearing like a ship full of sailors on leave.
“Heave - ho... heave - ho,” Michael encouraged.

“Gol-d%^#ed, sum-a-biscuit-eatin b&#^$,” we grunted, as we struggled with the stubborn hoist handle.  The tree didn’t budge.  Then, one of those strokes of genius I’m so famous for appeared out of thin air.

“What if we direct our profanities at the tree,” I asked Danny?

“Worth a try,” he said, as we commenced cussing at the still grinning tree.

Suddenly there was a loud, “CRACK”, and then another!  It was apparent mine and Danny’s backs weren't happy with our futile cranking on the hoist handle.  Then, several minutes later, the tree began making the same sound; “CRACK!”

“It was moving,” we all voiced in unison.  “It’s moving!”

In closing, as we admired our efforts in getting the stubborn giant well off the trail, and having repaired the tread work, there is something to be said about a difficult day’s efforts and a job well done; but we were all out of profanities so we just silently marveled in what we had managed to accomplish.

In all seriousness it was a terrific day.  Michael did a fine job planning the task, the tree cooperated, nobody died, and we had a blast tackling a tree that was certainly a challenge.  Our bodies, however, might disagree!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014


There is something about the wind that puts me in a funk, especially when it blows out of the north.  I can’t put my finger on it and I really don’t know why, but it’s a combination of depression, laziness, lack of energy, and the feeling of looking at my give-a-shit-o-meter and seeing it pegged at O.

This morning I shuffled out to feed the critters in my Uggs and jammies.  Silently cursing the wind, I stacked oat hay in the wheelbarrow and lethargically made my way out to the pasture, tossed the flakes in separate piles, and turned all the stock out to eat.  Knowing it had to get done, I reluctantly grabbed the manure rake and started cleaning pens when suddenly I noticed I had two visitors; Abby and Emma, two of my mules.

Normally when feed is available, my stock considers me invisible and pretty much nonexistent, but not this morning.  Emma gently placed her 200 pound anvil head on my shoulder and gave a sigh, while Abby stood next to me on the opposite side and just silently stared.  They were in a funk as well, and as they bid me ado and began walking aimlessly around out in the pasture searching for something unseen they were then joined by Zane, my third mule; all three wandering about, muzzles to the ground, searching.  They too, were in a funk, and suddenly it hit me; I knew why.

This past week I had the pleasure of joining with a group of fellow Backcountry Horsemen members and dedicated forest service workers (yes, there are still some out there) on a work party in the Sierras clearing trails in the Golden Trout Wilderness of an estimated 180 to 200 deadfall trees with crosscut saws.  Nearly all of these fallen trees were the result of the devastating McNally Fire in 2002.  Twelve years after that fire the charred remains of millions of trees are now falling with predictable regularity.  We heard at very least, a dozen or more crash while in camp at Jordon Hot Springs, and many others throughout each day as we worked.  One trail, the Red Rock Trail from Jordon up to Red Rock is virtually gone; over grown now with buck brush, manzanita, and the maze of fallen trees much like toothpicks tossed from above.

The good part is that we able to clear trail the nine miles from Blackrock Trailhead down through Jordon Hot Springs and down to Painter’s Cabin on the Kern River.  The more disappointing aspect was that we were only able to clear about 1.5 miles of the 41/2 miles of trail up to Indian Head and Red Rock.
All in all it was a great few days working with terrific people who are dedicated to keeping these trails open and passable.  The food was great and the camaraderie even better.  While it was in the low twenties at night, the days were cool enough to make it pleasant to push saw all day.  All twenty-plus head of stock, (mostly mules) were in absolute heaven grazing in the lush, green meadows at Jordon.

For some of us there is something about the high country that silently calls to us.  It’s like a beautiful, sultry siren with outstretched palms, curling its fingers, beckoning us to come to her; and we do, as often as we can.  And while we can’t wait to get to the mountains and be in the midst of some of God’s greatest creations, believe it or not, the mules do too.

So therein lies the mystery of the funk I find myself in; the same funk my mules are suffering from.  We miss the mountains and can’t wait to get back!

Thursday, October 10, 2013



Saddles.... check.  Rifle, license, ammo.... check.  Bedroll.… check.  Cold weather gear.… check.   Groceries.… check.  Toilet paper.... check and double check!

As I ready preparations for this year’s deer hunting pack trip into the Golden Trout Wilderness in the Sierras, nearly everything is ready.  I say nearly everything because one, minor detail is missing.  That, of course, would be Jason’s gear.  Of the six panniers we’ll be taking on our eight-day hunt, the bear panniers are packed. The hard boxes containing camp gear and odds and ends is packed, the saddles, pads, bridals, manties and all the horse and mule tack is packed.  Even one of the leather ends with my clothes, fly rod, boots and such is packed.  All are weighed, packed and loaded into the stock trailer except for one.  

As usual, waiting until the mules are in the trailer and I’m ready to pull out of the gate, I can’t help but wonder what Jase will bring me at the last minute?  What surprise awaits me as he tosses his pile of schtuff in the tack room, crawls in the truck, reclines his seat with a pillow behind his head and says, “Okay; I’m ready.”  

Will his load be too heavy, too light, or will it be just right?  Will I have to rearrange all the panniers to make room for his alligator Gucci hunting boots, Fabio, designer hair-grooming products, or his half-gallon bottle of “Unforgivable” eau de toilette, by Jean John?  Will he remember his tooth brush this year?  Of course this is absurd; absolutely will his load be anything but exact!

Most folks think that what I get to do is fun, relaxing, and easy.  Actually, it’s about as easy as bucking moldy hay and about as relaxing as trying to tie up a bobcat with a six-inch piece of string. The truth be told, it’s a wonder I still have any hair?  If you think I’m exaggerating, consider this.
Organization is key to any pack trip.  Assign this task to an individual, (let’s call him Tom,) who historically is about as organized as a coffee can full of treble hooks and has the attention span of a monkey chewing on a fly swatter.  Then add to this a taskmaster spouse with a question list longer than Schindler’s that she’ll insist upon my answering five minutes before liftoff. 

Following my bride’s Spanish Inquisition that will include an endless list of questions such as, “Did you pack your underwear this time?  Did you check the spare tire?” And my favorite, “First aid and vet medical; you packed it, right?”  After I race back to the house to grab the first-aid kit and vet medical bag I’ll climb back into the truck and race the engine a few dozen times in an attempt to get her to quit with the questions, and following two more treks back to the house, I’ll finally pull out of the driveway at midnight and head down the road, as Jason drools on my pillow in the passenger seat sound asleep.

Then there is Ladd.  Ladd Stokes is a long-time friend of mine who makes this trip with us every year.  A horseshoer of questionable ancestry, Ladd is built like depot stove and nearly as intelligent.  He has the stare of a stalker, is as mild as sweet milk, and wears more do-dads on his hat than a Mexican general and I am often times quite amazed that he has opposable thumbs when I watch him set up a tent.  Then, imagine trying to get any sleep in a confined tent with a guy that all night long makes sounds similar to starting a chainsaw in a water trough.  And then there is his snoring!

At any rate, it will all have been worth it, though, when we finally arrive at our destination and at last get our camp set up.  I can see it now; our bedrolls are laid out, the food is put away for the night in the bear boxes and the campfire blazes away, and it’s then I rifle through the panniers in a panic for the seventeenth time, swearing like a combat marine, “I know damn good and well I packed it!  Has anyone seen the g*%-#^/$d toilet paper?”