Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ode to Grit

"Ode to Grit"

The cowboy from Downey who called himself “Buck” didn’t much cotton to braggin’

The biblical prohibition agin “showin’ yer alms before men” just seemed like plain damn horse sense that ought work for man AND beast alike.

But the day alus comes to a man who walks straight through life, when he EARNS them braggin rights fair’n square.  Course when that day comes, the good book has a different take.   “Let yer light shine” is a piece of plain damn mule sense that, like most higher laws, is a bit tougher to swaller.

Cowboy Buck found hisself in a much-accomplished position on that fine, sunny day.  Why, he had rode old man Gooch’s ass all the way up Silor Spring’s gulch.  Ear envy had gotten the better of him, but he wadn’t about to start showin’ it off!  “T’weren’t proper” he properly thought. 

With grit and steely resolve he waded through them paparazz like a red-hot knife through suet from a she-grizz.   Flash bulbs were a-poppin’ and the clamor of screamin’ fans hung thick in the air.  Women-folk fell faint at every turn as they beheld the man on his beast, and then lay there in crumpled heaps.

The Downey Idaho cowboy sat straight in his saddle, completely unperturbed.   Why, he was unflappable, ingenuous, and guileless all at the same time.  He just couldn’t trade that plain damn horse sense for that plain damn mule sense, higher law or no.  And so it ended, on that splendid, much-accomplished day…much as it had started, without the faintest hint of braggin’ from the man they call “Buck.”

(Mule Poetry in Motion)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Know your Mule Culture.

Breaking out of jail, working behind a contrary white mule, and singing some hollers, Mississippi delta, 1978.

Fragments of a muleskinner holler: Building levees in the Delta Region, 1978.
How they build levees with mules...

                                     The Mercy Man.                                 

More of this American cultural bonanza here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Kids train Mules train Kids

This 5 month old mulestang's first time out...Santa Clara's Swiss Days parade.  Hanging with the grownups through the flash-bang of one all-American small town parade for 2 hours is worth MONTHS of training.

The pictures will do most of the talking for this brief update, which is more of a reflection on the admonition to "train up a child in the way he should go" than anything else.   The other night as my youngest child and I sat on a ridge at sunset looking over St George, I was moved by the majesty of the job of "Father."  I think the secret is starting them young, and then just pulling them right into your world where ever you can.  Reality is a pretty good trainer.  Integrating a kid into real life desensitizes their fears and gives them all kinds of confidence that they get to keep forever.  

In contrast, I'm not so sure that the current societal trend of creating an alternate universe for kids with all of its childish themes and bubble-wrapped safety netting is all that helpful.  My kids get tired of me reminding them that life is not Disneyland.  That is not to say that activities and responsibility shouldn't be age appropriate.  But finding that balance for me is all about gut-feel, not something I acquired from academia or peer pressure.  

So, with a twinkle in my eye, you might hear me say, "I train my mules with my kids, and I train my kids with my mules."   Getting them ready to be grown up is for keeps.   And I can't think of a better vocation than kid trainer.
First time carrying a flag.  Preston was more nervous about it than his mule, Senator.  But as soon as there were people to impress, he rose to the occasion.
No fuss mule.

The sun sets on Pine Valley Mountain, and St George lights up below.

Here comes the city like a tidal wave.  But the barn must stay full of hay.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Electric Donkey--Johnny Horton

Sometimes, it just has to be collected.  My good facebook friends and Youtube have a way of finding these rare gems.  Enjoy a piece of Americana that our culture will never reproduce.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Legged Mule-Skinner of Samuels Lake

Terry Barker fishing from his mule Rosie

At 69 years old, he sat straight in the saddle.  Samuels Lake stopped abruptly at the edge of a bally peak and Terry was filling his pouch with fish about as fast as he could reel them into shore.  Rosie, his mule stood patiently on the last piece of meadow before it became part of the boulder strewn slope above.  It sort of catches the eye to see a man fishing from a sharply dressed, zebra-dun mule in such a beautiful place.  Even more impressive, the mule continues to ignore the sweet grass at her feet while her rider engages in one of mans' most ancient sports from her back.  Then it strikes you.  The man on the mule is missing his right leg.  And suddenly... you know all you need to know about the character of the One-legged Mule Skinner of Samuels Lake.

It was Uintas 2012.  After spending some annual wilderness weeks in the Windrivers, we decided we missed the Uintas--especially the basins between King's Peak and Fox Pass.  When you see the photos that finish this story, you'll know why.

Our last trip to the Uintas was interrupted by high traffic around our campsite near Fox Lake.  Several large groups of hikers came right after us--one of which, a Boy Scout troop from the city, so exhausted from their hike, couldn't bring themselves to go another step when they discovered that we were in their hoped-for campsite.  So they dropped their camp right next to us--in our only prime, night-time grazing area.  With all the riding we were doing, we needed that feed to keep our mules in good shape, and no amount of pleading with the leaders of that troop regarding the safety of the boys or our mules that they had chased out of that meadow so they could set tents would change their minds.  And pointing out the thousands of square miles of incredible country around them fell on deaf ears.  It made our last couple of days a little difficult.

I knew my wife wouldn't like the extra riding, but this time we were going to camp in one of the most remote, least known lakes in the basin.  Samuels Lake.  It is on the map, but there is no trail there, and you sort of have to know the way in to find it.  This year, we wouldn't have to compete for our privacy.

Trouble is... we weren't the only ones who made the same calculation.  Great minds think alike.

Sometime midway through the week, a train of 7 mules arrived at Samuels Lake late in the evening.  The light had dimmed and we could barely see them passing through the forest outside our camp.  They were coming for the meadow at the foot of the lake near where we were camped.  Saddle sore.  Ready to be done.  And now, frustrated at having their usual campspot occupied.  They wondered if they could stand pressing on to a lake in the Davis chain.  Instead, the mule train stopped and dropped camp in a meadow on the other side of the low, tree lined ridge that separated the meadow where we were tented from them.  Our naturally curious mules, hobbled for the evening feeding, immediately headed over to pay them a visit.  What could be better than fresh company for a mule?

Things were slightly tense for a moment as we sorted mules.  They were local and tired.  Though unsaid, and probably unthought by them, we knew that we were invading years of family tradition.

After a day or two of exchanging pleasantries and finding some reason for real friendship, we found ourselves fascinated by the one-legged patriarch of the Barker family who was fishing along the shore of the lake.  "Mind if I shoot a few photos of you Terry?" I asked as we rode up.

"Take all you want!  Say... where are you folks headed today?  I'm bored."  Came the reply.

The next hours were spent sharing a lifetime of memories and lore.  He was tickled to see our two youngest boys (Brother Mike and I) riding mules with skill.  And we were tickled to watch a man who would not be denied after living ten years without his right leg, ride a mule through some country that would make some two-legged men on better mules a bit nervous.  "See that patch of trees over there?" he pointed.  "I hid right over there with my mule tied and called that bull elk with a cow call."  Turning and looking over the saddle we had just traversed, he continued, "He came right through that saddle and stood next to this little lake where I dropped him with my aught-six."

After spending more time with Terry, his son Clark, and his grandson Preston, it became clear that the Earth had not lost her salt.  We enjoyed the felicitous neighborliness they exhibited.  And we learned from their lifetime of mule packing experience.

Thank you fine friends, for adding life's salt to our week in the Uintas! It was so much more savory than if we had stayed in that sacred place alone.  I sincerely hope I get to ride again with the One-legged Mule Skinner of Samuels Lake.

Pommel to housing behind the cantle--seat belted in for balance.

Fox Pass looking back to Queant

Cousins--joined at the hip

Riding partner--loves to explore

Don't often get the woman's touch in the wilderness :)

Frustration Peak...looking down on NoName, Dime and Fox lakes

Carving steak with a fine, treasured Phuuko knife

The view from the top is...well... I'd love to have a cabin down in that valley for the rest of time.  (Looking North into Wyoming.)

Spring Water from 12,000 feet

...and a splash of fuchsia at 12,000 feet

 Old plane wreck?  Maybe?

Brother Mike.  Making family time is worth more than gold.

Lake to Fork: Turf n Surf, Vitamin B, and Kodiak Berry Cake

There are a lot of ways to eat in the wilderness.  If you are skilled enough, you can hunt-gather your meals.  Most find it easiest to carry freeze dried food on their backs.  But when you travel the back country on mules, the sky is the limit, and this trip had a 23rd anniversary built into the middle of it, so we ate very little freeze dried vittles in the Uintas this year.  The morning of our anniversary looked like the lead photo.

The Kodiak Berrycake seen above is a simple favorite when we take the dutch oven anywhere:

  • 1 Box Kodiak Pancake mix (no other wimpy pancake mix measures up in the opinion of everyone who tastes this rich product.  This is an unsolicited, unpaid endorsement.)
  • Just enough water.  Don't mix it too thin or over beat the batter for best leavening.
  • Fresh berries laid right on top of the rising mix (blue berries, raspberries, black berries, etc)
  • Bake until finished.  
  • Slather it in real butter and stingily drizzle real maple syrup over it to bring out the hearty flavors of the berries and cake.

Vitamin B

Harvest the Surf

What you find at 11,000 feet in the icy lakes of the mighty Uintas

Lake to Fork in about 20 minutes.

Sweet Vidalia Onions with taters over a bed of hamburger

Wood fired rib steaks on day five.  They left 107 miserable St George degrees under a thin block of dry ice in a coleman cooler, and stayed frozen until we could wait no longer to eat them.

Kodiak Cakes made my 23 year bride blush ;)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Character of an Ass

There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. Observe the ass, for instance: his character is about perfect, he is the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals, yet see what ridicule has brought him to. Instead of feeling complimented when we are called an ass, we are left in doubt.
Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Donkey Wars on Facebook

Ass jokes.  It never ends.  Brother Mike lives on the acre adjacent to ours.  His jack Donkey Otey is an escape artist, and about once in every while, he gets out.  Studs being what they are, they will fight to the death if they could.  Usually they fight all night long, and we wake up to two exhausted jacks who still want to kill each other.  Rusty normally gets the worst of it.

Facebook got a whiff of the battle today.  Thought I'd share.  That'd be the missus trying to referee the Donkey wars on Facebook.  Keeping it family friendly one ass joke at a time.

Battle hardened warrior 
Blood, sweat, and flung-dung are a sure sign of a heated battle

Donkey Otey, separated from Rusty and still full of piss and vinegar!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

You're nothin' but a "it"

Happy Independence day!

This mule tune is gonna be stuck in my head all day.  Thanks a lot Festus... No wonder he named his John mule "Ruth."

"You get no love cause you're nothin' but a it"
"I plumb forgive her because he's nothin' but a it"

And this, ode to the mule, in melodic patriotism.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Man enough to lead a green pack mule.  Boy enough to tie a random stick behind his saddle.

She stopped and leaned back on the rope instead of hopping over the log behind Preston's young mule, Senator.  She is quite young herself.  At two years old, Midnight Storm is a bit mustangy.   Her mother is a Sulpher herd mustang with a little bit of a mean streak and an unforgiving buck.  Midnight inherited an uncanny wariness and an extra dose of fight or flight to compliment her mulish intelligence.  And she has never forgiven me for roaching her mane against her will when she was a baby .  

Preston had done a magnificent job leading Midnight from Mill Flat to North Valley, and she had complied with her pack job sans complaint until she stopped at that log on the edge of the meadow.  We were just a few hundred yards from camp.  This was her second pack trip, the first being a year ago--just a few light things to try and give her some experience.  When we left the trail head the day before, Preston led a two-up train consisting of Calamity Jane and Minnie Pearl, tied nose to tail.  But the first time leading two-up made him slightly nervous and he requested to lead the very green Midnight for the rest of the trip.  We didn't dare tie her to anybody or anything.

After a couple of futile tries to get Midnight over the log, she laid down to roll.  She carried a lot of supplies, canvas, sawbuck, and rope on her topside.  After a while, the urge to scratch the itch under the pack blanket must have been unbearable.  Getting all that gear on Midnight in the first place was its own rodeo.  Every item was suspect.   Like a sweaty piece of dynamite that could explode at the slightest provocation, she inspected each piece of gear with muscles taught.  So we loaded her with care, hoping to avoid an accidental discharge.  Once the load was set, the danger passed, and she was happy to follow along as part of the mule train.

She stood back up, still on the wrong side of the log, and at Preston's urging, Midnight finally made the jump.  Her well balanced load had shifted to the right after laying down, and slipped even more when she landed on the other side.  But sweaty dynamite is never safe.  With all the percussion and earth-shattering shock of a stick of TNT, Midnight blew up.  She didn't finish blowing up until the only thing left was the sawbuck hanging from her belly.  Epic train-wreck! 

After the dust settled I tied Midnight to a stout tree, and one of the nearby Boy Scouts that we were packing into Scout Camp helped me resaddle and repack the load.   Preston ran after my mule train that had decided to trot on ahead.  Gear was scattered all over the meadow.  The manty that held the load was shredded.   But we gathered it up and repacked the very skittish young mule--we didn't have far to go.  By the time it was over, we had experienced other train-wrecks on the trip, but this blowup was the biggest in terms of affect.  Preston finally returned with my three mules after catching up to them half a mile away.  It was then that I noticed that something was different with my 9 year old boy.  After all the trauma that usually goes with run-away mules and violent mule tantrums, Preston just smiled, retook Midnight's cotton rope and finished leading our train to camp.   "Dad?" he said.  "Should we give Midnight a new nickname?" He was referring to Leon's pet name for one of Brother Mike's horses, dubbed affectionately Superglue.  "Sure Bud.  How about 'Trainwreck'?"  

It is the stuff of nicknames, and boys, growing up.

Leading out with a two-up, nose-to-tail train.

Leon in man-pain after his packhorse rears back into Kevin's truck and caves the rear panel...kneeing him in the groin in the process.

Preston leans down to pick up her lead, just moments before the train wreck 

Headed back off the mountain with a different load--this time?  No wrecks.