Copyright© 2018 by UtIdArWa
Well, It’s springtime. After another winter on the mountain, I was ready for some human companionship and other things.
Springtime means different things to different people. City folks see it as a welcome break from dreary, wet and cold weather. The temperature is warming up, roads and streets are clearing. Trees and flowers are blooming. All in all, for city folks, spring is a magical time of rebirth and renewal.
Farmers see it totally different. Spring means work. Hard work. Fields need to be plowed, planted and fertilized. winter damages need to be evaluated and repaired. stock needs to be gathered together, checked over and evaluated. Animal stock will receive medical attention, sometimes with better quality care than the farmers family. This is the time when the farmer looks at what he has and puts into motion the plans that were made during the winter.
Mountain folk see springtime in an even more different light. Spring is the hunger times. Most times city folk and flatlanders don’t understand this. They see new growth, baby animals, everything is turning green and they see that as a sign of abundance.
In the high country, for both man and beast, during the winter, all of the mountain residents live off of what they have saved up from the previous summer and fall. Some use sleep as their solution. Bears and squirrels hibernate and live off their stored fat. Rabbits and weasels burrow and feed off the roots above them. Deer and elk feed on what they can find. If there is nothing available, they will move downhill until they find food.
Man uses all of these solutions. And takes advantage of the solutions of the others around him. Taking a rabbit, deer or elk as a food source can assure his survival. And to ensure that survival the smart mountain man uses everything that his prey provides. Meat, hide and hoof. Everything has a use and may mean the edge needed for survival.
The smart mountain man will also use his time productively. Improving his shelter, his clothing, his equipment. winter days can be long and boring. learning how to sew and knit can provide a welcome diversion from boredom as well as another arrow in his survival quiver. warm mittens, scarfs and socks are always welcome gifts for the mountain man.
But each day of winter uses up supplies. Eventually those supplies will reach a critical level and need to be replaced. If your timing and luck is good, you’ll make it to spring with a comfortable reserve. Which is where I wasn’t at. It was spring, there was still snow on the ground. Not much and it was rapidly retreating. But I had miscalculated And I was out of coffee. Yes Coffee. Not tea, not chocolate, not booze, COFFEE.
My decision to head out for supplies was not solely based on my taste for caffeine. But it was very high on the list. After seeing to Margarite ‘s and Jughead’s tack, I loaded up what was needed and we set out for civilization. My plan was to head down to Elk city and board Margarite and Jughead at Mable’s restaurant. Then Shadow and myself would head to the low country and get supplies. And maybe see some old friends.
Margarite and Jughead were 2 parts of My team. Margarite was an Appaloosa mare that I had acquired off a Navaho horse trainer in Nevada. She had been trained up as a cutting horse and was a right nice barrel racer. The two talents going hand in hand. She could turn on a dime, at full speed and reverse direction in half a step. Which is a great thing when you’re roping brain dead yearling calves. That is if you could stay on board. There’s been a few times I’ve had to dust my britches after I’ve ridden her wind.
Jughead was My heavy lifter. A buck Mule, broad in the chest and with a heavy back. He could carry 3 times his weight all day without complaint. But don’t think that big and strong also means stupid. Jughead’s trail sense has saved me many a time. He could spot a landslide or avalanche a mile off. And god help you if you tried to keep going. I’ve got several bite scars where I forgot who was in charge.
The third part of my team was my best friend, companion and, truth be told, My savior. After I was medically discharged from the Army, I went through a physical therapy program in Tacoma Washington. While I was there, an ex-Army dog trainer was there working on a research project. He was matching dogs to soldiers that were having trouble with PTSD. The dogs were supposed to take some of the edge off.
I didn’t know it at the time, But I was part of that group. I was clueless when I met the trainer. I was having a cold one at the club when he sat down next to me and ordered a beer. We introduced each other and gradually started swapping war stories.
The next day he took me to his kennel. He told me what he was doing with the vets and pointed out some of his successes. But then He pointed out this little runt long haired black German Shepard. Sad story he told me. Runt of the litter, rejected by his mom, He wasn’t really expected to survive. That is, unless someone would step up. The SOB had me hooked, in the boat, gutted and on the table in nothing flat.
He put this little black and brown furball in my lap. Between the squirming, whining and licking, I was finished, we were bonded. From that point on we were never very far from each other.
It being springtime, and as I said, the hungry times, I was keeping a close eye out for anything unusual. In particular I was watching for Bear. The black and brown of the specie were around the area and just coming out of hibernation. They would be hungry and not in a very forgiving mood. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Bruin would see myself and my little party as a possible main course for dinner. Towards that I was carrying my shotgun outside of the scabbard. I still had my 1911 colt in my preferred shoulder holster. And the Henry in its scabbard. But if I ran up on an angry Black bear, I felt that the Greener was a better choice.
My Greener was a 10-gauge, lever action shotgun. also known at one time as a coach gun. It was the preferred weapon of the Wells Fargo shotgun riders. Mine wasn’t an antique but it looked impressive to people that didn’t understand guns. It had a 3 round magazine which I stacked with defense in mind. The first round was a load of salt and bacon rind. It wouldn’t kill anything big like a bear, or even a man, unless I hit him in the upper torso. However, If I flushed a pheasant or grouse, I might be able to bring it down. I didn’t know if the rock salt would preseason a bird. And to tell the truth, didn’t care. A field dinner of pheasant sounded like a good idea. And if my visitor was a large, hungry and angry carnivore, the sting and sound might, possibly drive him away.
The second round was a combination birdshot and buckshot load. Again, not heavy enough to take down a bear. But a deer and maybe even an elk that could fill up my cold storage. For the cost of a single shotgun round I could have 100 to 150 pounds of, what in New York or LA would be a gourmet dinner at a posh restaurant. pretty good investment, if you ask me.
The next round in the magazine was my failsafe, end of the world, zombie apocalypse, atomic bomb solution. This was a 10-qauge bear slug. at 3 1/2 inches long and 1 3/4 ounces they were guaranteed to bring down man or beast. I didn’t carry too many of those monsters and hoped that I would never need to use one. BUT if I walked up on a pissed off grizzly, well, rock salt and buck wouldn’t be enough. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in a single slug either. But I did count on it slowing him down long enough for the Henry or the Colt to come into action. I had no intention to do a Hugh Glass and fight a bear hand to hand. I knew my limitations, and planned around them.
For those that don’t know, Hugh Glass was another mountain man. After getting into, and winning, a hand to claw encounter with a griz, He was left to die by his companions. He survived and crawled back, on his hands and knees, to civilization. Using pure grit, anger and a desire for vengeance to keep him going.
Now as I was moving down the trail, none of this was going through my mind. Mainly I was going over my mental list of the things I needed or thought I needed. That is until I noticed Shadow starting to act a little hinky. His nose was up and sniffing and his ears were swiveling like a radar. I pulled up on Margarite and we all stopped.
“What’s up boy? Something out there?” There were times that I wished that animals could talk like in the old-time cartoons. As it was, I had to rely on Shadow’s nose and ears. Then Margarite got into the act. She started to softly nicker to me.
Now I KNEW there was a problem. Slipping the safety off the Greener, I went into battle mode. Every sense I had kicked into high gear. Sight, Smell and hearing took priority. And sure, enough I started to hear something, Human voices. It seemed that they were “Trying” to be quiet, but voices can carry quite a bit in the forest. I also started to hear gear rattling around and then I could smell cigarette smoke.
It was obvious that several people were coming towards me on the trail. My question was whether I should stop and talk. Or hide and let them pass. I decided, almost automatically, That I wanted to know who was on MY mountain and why. So, I angled Margarite across the trail as a roadblock, I held the Greener over my lap, pointed towards the noise and gave Shadow a guard command. He moved into a position ahead of me off the trail and to the right side. Smartest damn dog ever, In my humble opinion.
After a bit, the noises increased. It was obvious that whoever it was didn’t know or care about sound discipline. It was about then that the leader of the pack came around the bend.
I chuckled to myself and called out, “Paul, what are you doing up here. I never took you to be a tourist guide.” It was Paul Thompson, the sheriff of Elk City
I had first met Paul when I arrived in Elk City while I was going to check out my inheritance from an old army buddy. We had developed a friendship and had mutual respect for each other. He always reminded me of a modern day, real life Matt Dillon.
Paul was startled, but didn’t really seem too surprised to see me. “Matt, it’s good to see you. I was hoping to run into you.”
As he got closer, I moved Margarite off the trail and safed the Greener, resting it on my hip, pointed up. Paul caught that and his eyebrows raised. “Well you found me Brother. What’s with all the flatlanders?”
A semi disgusted look came over his face. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Matt. These guys are all federal agents, DOJ, US Marshal’s, FBI. There’s been a prison break. and Some real badassed federal prisoners have gotten loose. Rumor has them headed this way. It seems that the leader had been in this area as a kid in the boy scouts. It’s been reported that he said if he ever escaped, he would head this way to hide out.”
“Paul, you do realize that with all the noise those knuckleheads are making, you’ll be lucky to even get close to those yahoos. I mean I heard you 5 minutes ago. I bet if I had been 5 feet off the trail, I’d have been invisible. You might’ve noticed me, but these children are blind and deaf up here. You wouldn’t have to be Daniel Boone to spot this mob coming.”
Paul was slowly nodding his head, “I know Matt, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I need a tracker. Somebody who knows what they’re doing and knows the mountain. You fit the bill in every way.”
As Paul and I were talking, one of the group rode up. He obviously had little horse experience. When he got close, He yanked pretty heavily on the reins.
That pissed me off. “Whoa, Hold up there pard. That’s a horse, there’s no need to be abusive to the critter.”
As I looked him over, I wasn’t really impressed. There was something, not quite right, about his clothes, they were too new. His boots, too clean and shiny. Even his firearm didn’t seem quite right. He was carrying a clip-on holster with a snub-nosed revolver as a side arm. To me, this was a big red flag for someone in the field. As a backup, ankle gun, sure. But your side arm should be something heavy. That little 5 shot .38 would be great for intimidating pickpockets and snitches. But I seriously doubted that some inner-city gang banger would do much more than laugh.
They say that first impressions are the worst. This guy hadn’t impressed me one little bit. And as I looked over the rest of the motley crew following him, I lost even more confidence. I knew that Paul wanted me on this posse, and I probably would have agreed under different circumstances. as it was, there was little or no chance of me joining up.
The jerk stared at Me for a second, then turned to Paul. “Sheriff Thompson, why are we stopped? Why are we wasting valuable time here? Who is this person and why is he armed?”
“What is it, “ I thought to myself, “ about Federal Cops that they have this arrogant attitude? “ Without a clue, this pinhead guaranteed my original plans.
Paul responded slowly, his patience obviously strained. “Inspector Richards. This is Matt Reynolds. He lives on this mountain. He knows pretty much everything about it. I was asking him if he would be willing to assist us in your search. I feel he could be of invaluable help.”
“I doubt very much that this gentleman would be of any assistance to our search,” He sneered. “Tell me Mr. Reynolds, Do you have ANY law enforcement experience? Any correctional experience? Do you have any legal experience?”
I just sat there. I mean, what could I say? This walking, talking rectum was bound and determined to have the world run according to his rules. And it seemed like insulting me was required to demonstrate his superiority.
I took a deep breath, to calm my nerves more than anything else. But also, to give my mental gears a chance to engage. “Well Inspector Richards, “I started in a low voice. “I may not be Clarence Darrow or J. Edgar. But what I am is the resident expert on this mountain. This mountain belongs to me. I am the owner. I know each and every nook and cranny. I’m also a right fair hunter. I can track any animal that walks the earth. I can tell you where it’s been, where it’s going and how fast it is getting there. I can tell old sign from new sign and given half a chance I can tell you what it had for lunch. I can also tell you that within 30 minutes, YOU!” and I pointed right at his face, “Are going to lose 2 of your men.”
Richards scoffed, “Oh Please, I may be willing to accept your expertise on this wilderness. But how can you tell if I’m going to lose men? and inside of 30 minutes at that?”
I raised up in my saddle and pointed behind him to his right. “You see that guy watering the bushes behind you?” He turned and looked. One of his troopers had dismounted and, nonchalantly whistling, was answering the call of nature. “That guy is standing in a poison ivy patch. It’s already too late to do anything about it. It’s all over his clothes and given what he is handling, in his crotch. In 30 minutes, he is going to have one heck of a case of hives going on. And it doesn’t Matter how much calamine lotion you have. There’s no way he’s going to be able to sit a horse. The best thing to do is to send him and a partner back to town, right now. He’ll need a partner because the itch will be the center of his attention and sure as god made little green apples, without help, he’ll get lost.”
I turned to Paul, “Buddy, I see that you have your hands full and that Inspector Richards is fully in charge of the situation. My personal advice is to allow him to lead the way from now on. I’m sure that Inspector Richards is more than capable to take point at this time.”
Turning to Richards, “Inspector, If I could offer a piece of advice before I leave you to it?”
“I really don’t think that any advice you could offer me has any value, but go ahead.” Richard sneered.
“Be that as it may, Inspector, my advice to you is that you head back downhill. There is slim to no chance of you finding these guys. That is IF they have even headed up here. I would be willing to bet that these 3 city boys are headed to Salt Lake or Reno. But if you are determined to look up here, I would let the locals know what’s going on and let them be your ears and eyes. I would also have 3 or 4 of your best outdoorsmen start looking at the summer and vacation cabins up here. If your rabbits are up here, they’ll need supplies and shelter. Those cabins will fit the bill. But at each cabin, they’ll be leaving tracks that even you can follow.”
Richards sat there for a moment and thought. Finally, he said, “Mr. Reynolds, while You might have a point. You have no experience dealing with criminal thinking. In this group are some of the best criminal psychologists available. I am positive that our analytical expertise is more than enough to catch these felons.”
I started laughing, “Inspector Richards, I don’t share your confidence. If, when I get back, and I see any sign, I’ll let Sheriff Thompson know and then I’ll join your search. But I have pressing business elsewhere in the state that I need to be attended to. Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re wasting daylight here and I need to be in Elk City before Mabel’s closes.”
Smiling at Paul, I reached over and shook his hand. Then I pulled Margarite around and gave her a bit of knee. “SHADOW, “I called, “Trail.” And My merry band continued on our way. As I passed the dozen, inexperienced experts, they were smoking, joking and rough housing. I reflected that The SAFEST person on the mountain was Paul Thompson. The folks with him, Not so much.