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

Saturday, February 27, 2010


          Winter; that interminable time of year that brings with it cold winds, freezing temperatures, and forced isolation.  That period of mind-numbing boredom that falls between the end of hunting season, and the fishing opener.  It is that endless stretch of months, each with around fifty-eight days in them when cabin fever strikes and normally sane people begin to entertain curious thoughts that under normal conditions would be dismissed as crazy.
          Winter; when even the dog is brought inside as a humane gesture of compassion, but then the full magnitude of his gastric intestinal potency is realized when the both of you, confined in the same room, he sleeping peacefully, you staring aimlessly at your wife's issue of Home and Garden, he cuts loose with lethal a one.  
          Even the wife becomes an annoyance of epic proportions, and you entertain thoughts of fool-proof alibis you'll need for the authorities to explain her sudden disappearance.  Thoughts that suddenly snap you back to your senses because you realize the consequences of having to spend the remainder of your life in an eight by ten cell with a three-hundred pound serial killer named Leroy who fancies himself as some sort of weight-lifting Rudolf Valentino.  As winter wears endlessly on and seems to drag like the last day of school, these crazy thoughts begin to dart in and out of one's mind with greater and greater frequency.  Soon, nightmares of Oprah, Rachael Ray, and the Twilight Zone re-runs become routine as you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. 
          There are a few twisted individuals out there who steadfastly maintain winter is a wonderful time of year.  Yeah, I guess if your a Polar Bear.  They tout skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country snowshoeing, and building snow men as great winter activities, and one nutcase out there even advocates investigating, identifying, and following animal tracks.
          Statistics tell us that most suicides occur during this period of enforced confinement, and I believe I know why.  For many of us it's undoubtedly due to the onset of Leather Affliction Fatigue, or L.A.F..
          You see, for those of us with horses it is that dreaded time of year we decide to clean our tack.  This is most often brought about when we discover our inability to reach into the television set and choke the cast of The View.  More importantly, those of us with mules, who are already considered by most as being a couple of crayons short of a box to begin with, often have even more tack to clean than the person with but one animal.  And, as we all know, mules are like potato chips; you can't have just one.  Just why that is I haven't figured out yet, but I'll let you know when I have a break-thru.
          At any rate, in my case my lovely bride, Cathy, has lately been barking orders like drill instructor with Turrets.  Apparently my being idol and banging my head against the wood stove annoys her.  My hearing, suddenly not what it used to be, I have chosen cleaning our tack the lesser evil of the three-hundred-sixty-two other tasks she has lined out for me.  I now understand why pack station operators and the packers who work for them are often times nuttier than granny's fudge.
          Anyway, I calculate that by April I should have our half-dozen saddles, seven packsaddles, twelve hundred bridles, halters, cinches, hobbles, reins, bosals, pack manties, panniers, and other assorted items she'll find for me to clean nearly finished.  That is unless I have failed to clean them to her demanding specifications, at which point I'll be back to watching The View.  Then again, maybe following animal tracks cross country on snowshoes wearing only a freshly cleaned pair of chaps and a beenie might not be such a bad way to go!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

      It will no doubt be a subject of debate for centuries to come.  Scholars will hotly conjecture the yea's and nay's in lecture halls, classrooms, and textbooks all around the world, and so heated will the arguments be that one thing is for certain; there will be fisticuffs.
      The question most often asked of me is, "Hey Tom, you're not gonna write another book, are ya?"
      "As a matter of fact I am," I'll reply.  "Wanna hear about it?"
      "No, not really."
      Then there's the inevitable follow-up question, "Hey Firth, have ya ever considered professional counseling?  I mean, where in the world do you come up with this stuff anyway?"
      Well, I'm glad you asked because the answer to that burning question is multiple and complex.  You see, sometimes my ideas for stories come early in the morning when I'm out hunting, sitting on some frigid, craggy canyon wall, or perched atop some steep, wind-blown peak watching the sunrise while I'm coughing up a lung at ten-thousand feet and attempting to be quiet about it.  There, with my fingers and toes number than the combined speeches of Al Gore, my mind wanders to some past event.  Like, "Remember that time you and Lecil nearly froze to death on that deer hunt up in the Sierras' when the mules ran off and ya had to hike the twelve miles back to the trailhead in the snow," I'll ask myself?  "Ah, those were the good old days," I'll mumble incoherently because my moustache is frozen to my lips.
      Other times ideas float by effortlessly.  Like while I'm hiking the three miles back up river to my truck after having slipped on a rock and found myself shooting down Dead Man's Rapids with a death grip on my fly rod and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich hanging precariously out of my mouth while screaming.  "I really should appologize to those children if they're at that campsite up here a bit," I'll tell myself.  "I wonder if they'll have nightmares?"
      Sometimes ideas show up while I'm searching through my eight-thousand-and-twelve pockets for that pesky roll of toilet paper I'm certain I remembered to bring along, but don't discover until, in desperation, I've had to resort to leaves that were humbly too small for the task, snow covered pine boughs that rudely awakened one's senses, or rocks with sharper edges than most of my skinning knives.
      But most of my story ideas seem to arrive while I'm out cleaning the mule's pens and attempting to ignore Zane Grey's habitual complaining about the quality of the last load of bermuda or alfalfa I went into debt to have trucked in.  There, with a manure fork in my hands, topics race through my mind like stock-car racers weaving through a wreck at Daytona.
      And then occassionally I'll get an idea or two following a futile and one-sided argument with my bride, Cathy, and I've locked myself in the bathroom.  There, in the comfort and solitude of the comode I'm able to review my badly beaten ego and stand in front of the mirror while I rationally explain in pantomime and in precise detail all those things I wished I'd have had the presence of mind to say while I was getting my fanny chewed out, but couldn't think of at the time.  "What did you say in there?  I heard that!"
      So when someone asks me if a particular story is reeeeeally true or not, I simply tell them to keep in mind that most of the lies I tell are the truth; sort of.  You prepare yourself for a life of fiction when you hang out with the crew of individuals I find myself surrounded by.
      And God bless 'em, each and every one.