Thursday, October 13, 2011

Project Backpack....

            Only crazy people do what I do, right?  I mean, who in their right mind would perch a 25lb bag on their back (the pelvis and spinal column, technically) and traipse around in a location where motors are forbidden to enter?  Well . . . . come to think of it, quite a few people sign up for that sort of thing.  But I took my parents.  Yep.  I’m crazy.
            Daddy wasn’t such a big stretch.  He did this sort of thing in college.  So his college years ended in the early 70’s – that’s not the point.  Mom, on the other hand, was another ball of wax entirely.  My amazing mother grew up in what is now a neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea.  Not exactly the outdoorsy type, she firmly believes that camping is something you do in a box perched on wheels, with a fully functioning kitchen and climate control a mere generator switch away.  Talking Mom into going backpacking took over a year to accomplish!  How did I – er, we – pull it off?  That was pretty fun, actually.  
            It all started when I dragged Dad into the Wallowas the summer before.  Taking the wrong fork in the trail may have sent us an extra 7 miles out of the way, and we did nearly expire on the Stevens-Johnsons pass (whoops!), and the WalMart tent was 6 inches too short, but a world of possibilities was opened!  Limping back into our normal routines, we sang the praises of roughing it to the Empress Brueske.  She dug in her heels of course.  So we switched bait. 
            “We’ll take the horse, Mom, you won’t have to carry anything!”
            “Backpacking isn’t the same as the 70’s – they make proper equipment these days!”
            “Daddy and I will do all the work, you can stroll around the alpine meadows.”
            And so it went.
            When she took interest in a down sweater/jacket I’d bought at REI, I knew there was a chance.  I showed her the pink version in the catalogue.  God worked a miracle – she ordered one!  Daddy kept mentioning how nice it would be to have her come along on the trip we were already planning.  I bought the best-of-gear volume of Backpackers magazine, and read quite a few of the reviews aloud.  The breakthrough came about the time of the REI spring sale.  I was visiting my parents in Arizona.  Dad and I were pouring over websites and magazines, looking for the perfect tent, when Mom piped up with “you should get a 3-person tent, so we can all fit in.”  Our jaws had to be picked up off the floor, but a 3-person tent it was!  After the sales pitch of my life convinced her that she really did want a modern sleeping bag, we were set.  Now all we needed was a break in the weather.
            2011 was the wettest, coldest spring and summer I can remember in my lifetime.  The last frost was in late May.  It killed most of my tomatoes.  The snow pack, even in the Blue Mountains, was still heavy.  Parts of the Wallowas were still off-limits due to avalanches.  Thankfully, my parents hadn’t been in Oregon for months.  They were blissfully unaware that snow camping was still a very real threat even as we neared late July.  I, of course, never mentioned it.  It’s a good thing too – our chosen destination was only reached by climbing up and over huge snowdrifts for the last two miles of the trek!  It was worth it though. 
            It was all worth it.  Well, most of it.  Mom disregarded our careful advice on how to pack, and hauled up an extra five pounds of books, canned food, and other luxuries.  It meant that Dad and I hauled her pack for her about half the time.  But watching my parents gaping at the scenery and grimacing as they crossed a swollen, icy stream was definitely worth it.  So too, was the human-free wilderness!  I guess we were the only ones who didn’t get the memo about the fact that Spring hadn’t quite set in yet.  But the weather was clear and sunny, the stars were gorgeous, and the lower meadows as lush as I’d ever seen them.  The best part about that whole thing?  My mother was having fun!  Since Daddy and I did all the cooking, cleaning, and hauling, she got to relax and enjoy herself.  Watching her enthusiasm for the wilderness I’d already fallen in love with was reward enough for all the hard work that had gone into that trip.  In fact, I already have the next destination in mind.  More on that later.
            Wanna come?  ;)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things that go "yip" in the night....

           I am not a light sleeper.  Back when I worked as a summer camp wrangler, I was not the one who was wakened by horses stepping over me on the overnight camp trips.  Few wilderness noises manage to rouse me from slumber.  Fewer still merit the kind of notice that take you from dreamless sleep to instant wakefulness.  But there I was, leaping out of bed with mere seconds between unconsciousness and the ability to sprint up a flight of stairs! 
            The beginning of this tale is a little further back in time.  The chickens had been disappearing.  This happens occasionally.  Mom had finally managed to build the flock up to five hens and a rooster from a lone female who had been spared the enormous blood lust of a dog the hired hand left behind after a day of work.  Now the little flock was being whittled down again.  Two hens were still hanging around, but the rest had vanished in the last several weeks.  Puzzlingly, there was no evidence of a struggle to be found anywhere.  No squawking had been heard, no feathers scattered on the ground, no trails, nothing.  Until tonight.
            “Yip, yip, yip . . . .”  My eyes shot open!  Was that really?  “Yip, yi, yiii, yip . . .”  That thing was close.  Close enough to be near the . . . . run, Mara!
            I covered the hall in three strides and took the stairs two at a time, letting out a warning cry as I burst through Mom and Dad’s room on my way to the office.  Poor Mom must have thought the sky was falling – she didn’t understand a word of what I yelled!  Leaping onto the cluttered desk, I pulled a rifle from the rack hanging above it, a box of ammunition from a drawer, and rushed back out the way I’d come. 
            “Mara,” I heard, “what are you doing?” 
            “Coyote!” I shouted again, “out by the chicken coop!”  And this one wasn’t howling at the moon.
            Telling my city-dwelling friends this story is enormously entertaining!  Their eyes get big at the thought of a “dangerous” predator lurking just outside, looking for an opportunity to snatch away the innocent.  The idea of running out to meet such a vicious animal without a flashlight, barefoot, and carrying a single-shot .22 rifle is a little beyond their realm of normal.  To be honest, it doesn’t happen regularly out here either.  But when your animals need protecting, you don’t really think about what is or is not normal.
            Turned out the coyote was across the road instead of at the chicken coop.  By the sound of his yipping, he was challenging my dogs – who, it must be pointed out, were nowhere to be found on the guarding circuit.  Not wanting ANY wild animal feeling free to challenge my property, I shot off a few rounds just to let Mr. Coyote know who was boss.  Convinced that he was gone, I went back to bed.  Haven’t heard from the scoundrel again.  Guess my “bark” was more intimidating than his J

            More later . . . . . .