Sunday, April 19, 2009

Life is Swell in San Rafael

A large Anticline buckled up in the Eastern part of central Utah, forming one of the Colorado Plateau's most fascinating geological formations. Utah's San Rafael Swell is a breathtaking break in the high desert that forms a difficult barrier with few crossings East to West. It is a land rich in mineral, oil and natural gas that is home to some of Utah's heartiest residents. Economic boom and bust are routine and the arid landscape on the Western slope of the Swell is dotted with small towns far from the accoutrement's of city life.

Besides fascinating geology, the Swell tells a story rich in pre-historical indian life and modern outlaw haunts. Its remoteness and complexity made it attractive to the infamous Butch Cassidy. Many pioneer era horse-thieves and bank robbers used the Swell to hide from the law. Even today, an occasional bandit takes advantage of the great cover there.

Brother Mike, Larry Dunn, and I traveled into the Swell to do some riding this past weekend. We were really there for a Back Country Horsemen of Utah state meeting, but we hauled our mules along and rode as much as our chapter duties to the meeting, and the fantastic Friday night BBQ would allow. The Back Country Horsemen of America is a tremendous service organization that works to preserve equine access to backcountry trails.

Scott Oliver, Jim Jennings and Jim's 11 year-old son Justin were our guides in the Swell's back country. After watching young Justin ride, I concluded that he was in the middle of a classic identity crisis--he was riding his surefooted little horse like it was some kind of mule. This kid wants to scramble over ledge and boulder worse than I do! Sensing the need to help him find a little surer footing in life, and trying to make the wilderness a safer place to ride one lost kid at a time, I began to allow subtle suggestions that maybe he ought to switch to mules. For example, I offered, "Justin, anyone ever teach you how to measure equine intelligence?" No. he replied. "Well, you just hold a ruler to its ears. The greater the ear length, the more brains inside the equine's cranium." I explained gently.

At first, he bristled at my pitch. But soon, curiosity got the better of him and he climbed aboard both of my mules, one after the other. Very non-chalant like, I muttered as if to myself, but loud enough for him to hear, "Incredible how much better lookin' a person is on a mule...!" Flash bulbs were popping all around as everyone attempted to capture the moment and remember his improved looks. For just a moment, I hesitated, worried that he isn't even 12 yet, and I'm sure his parents don't want all the girls in town hanging around the house. But I realized he'll probably need quite a bit more wilderness-mule therapy before he will ever recover from his horse fixation.

Justin? Get your dad to hitch the waggons up, and make a trip to St George. We'll ride the Haslem trail together. Minnie Pearl is just your size...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Optometry Intern

Over the past four or five years, a couple of Optometric interns from the Optometry school in Southern California have rotated through my office. It isn't something we get to do on a regular basis...I guess our clinic is sort of a last chance rehab for the toughest cases (just messing with you Damon).

So Damon Mortenson comes along about 2 months ago. It is his final rotation. The school doesn't warn their interns that I'm a salty young cowboy who doesn't know a thing about golf. You know, in my chosen profession, golf is high art, and mule skinners are critically endangered. I doubt there is another skinner that writes, O.D. after his name. Damon soon learned that it wasn't a test in high society that he needed to pass for my final signature, but a ride up the Haslem trail with me. The Haslem trail puts hair on one's chest (unless you are one of my daughters), and stimulates a dizzying array of emotions based on height--but rewards the effort with the grandest spectacle on earth.

Congratulations to you, young graduate. I have enjoyed your stay with us immensely. I rode your ass for a while, and then you got to ride mine up the Haslem trail. You'll find your ride through the red ledges and cliffs not too different from starting a practice and serving your patients. No one is better prepared for that than you... be bold and break your own trail.
(I'm really gonna miss that kid!)