09 December, 2010

Update: Politics, Rascals and Railroads

A Season Apart

Seems that Death has returned to make his rounds before the glory, the recollection of Christ's birth is celebrated. My dearest friend in Austin is growing road weary, dealing with a sic Mum, grieving over the loss of a friend.

It makes me wonder.

Advent....'Tis a season that was set apart by the early Church to prepare for the birth of Christ. It has been hijacked and twisted into a season of gluttony and avarice. Today, while Hugo Chavez dances with the Iranian devil and builds bases for SCUD missiles, capable of striking the mainland United States, Washington argues about the debt they have brought down upon themselves, and therefore their constituency. That would be us, our children and grandchildren.

I find it ironic that Christ was born to a couple who were called by the reigning empirical government to return to the husband's genealogical home town.....Bethlehem, King David's home. They were called to come, as a family, to register and pay taxes to Rome.

So it is today.

We have allowed our selves and our blessed land to be overrun by the same style of governance our forefathers fought and died to destroy.

We have a pretender sitting in the White House, his polished shoes casually flopped on the desk built from the timbers of a ship that saved his ancestor's asses from barbarism and slavery. He knows it not. We have Senators and Congressmen, on both sides of the coin, who could care less about anyone or anything except their own re-election and retirement, while the world steps away and chooses to isolate us, degrade our currency and laugh at us behind veiled masks.

Yes, it is Advent. And I pray daily that God will rise up and confound the spurious courts and marble halls of the mighty. We prepare for the gentle crisis of birth...where a child enters the world with all uncertainty awaiting. His name is "Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!" His name is Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth, born of the House and lineage of David, the King.

Its a good time to remember that while the ponderous world of political machinations prattles on, there have been and continue to be individuals who serve quietly and gently. One was a dance hall gal who wandered the mining towns around Alma, Breckenridge, Como and Buckskin Joe. She was known only as "Silverheels" because of her penchant for nickle-silver adornments on the heels of her dance shoes. When smallpox hit the mines, she was one of the only gals to remain to help care for the sick and dying miners, merchants and their families. She did so at her own peril. Supposedly she died from the pox.

The community leaders and townsmen raised money to take care of her, only to find that she disappeared. It is said that her ghost still haunts the cemetery at Buckskin Joe, and that flowers mysteriously appear at certain graves.

Advent..........Would that we all could find that tipping point twixt serving self and serving God...then choose to follow Him, not our own path.

07 December, 2010

December Plains

High Lonesome

Its not an environment that many folks would call inviting or beautiful. In fact, eastern elites and the tanned, toothy hordes on the west coast simply call it "flyover country", deriding and dismissive. The long slow rolling miles, broken by section roads and dry arroyos are just boring to some, downright frightening to others. Folks with Agoraphobic tendencies do not find it a comfortable environ. There is so much sky! It confounds the eye at times, just how far distant the edge of the world seems to be...lonesome, empty, silent.

When the wind blows out of the east-northeast down the unbroken prairie from Canada, nature's raw ferocity rages. In winter, blinding snows roll down from Alberta and Sasketchewan. They move with a speed that will kill the unwary and unprepared. The State Patrol and Colorado Department of Transportation have found frozen corpses less than a hundred yards from their stranded, snow bound autos. Panic and disorientation set in when the whole world turns white on white.

At the entrances and exits of the interstates and small communities, red and white striped postern barriers stand at the ready. They come down or swing shut when these Canadian Clipper storms hit. Driving into them is folly, it is suicide. Schools turn into shelters for the stranded. Those who live out on the open prairie hunker down, check emergency generators and pray that their cattle will move into windbreaks or tree lined river bottoms.

More than once, Mark and I have driven home from hunting with one of these white furies on our tail. The leading edge turning interstate travel into a fine line between driving and slip sliding to oblivion. OTR truckers convoy with each other to reach the next town, and we have followed suit...white knuckles on the steering wheel and intent focus on the raging storm's blinding the road ahead, leaving small visual clues , a mile post or fence line, a bridge abutment or snow fence.

It is a unforgiving land to those who choose to travel it unconscious and unprepared.

To the casual traveler on the two lane blacktop or the long concrete interstates, it is simply empty country. Mile upon mile, upon endless mile of wheat, milo, corn and sunflowers mesmerize the eye. Tiny dark dots on the open range might be cattle... or tumbleweeds. Words like monotonous, tedious, dull and boring come to the minds of many who travel on the way to somewhere else.

To my mind and eye and spirit, it is a wondrous land, full of life. Harsh, yes...and beautiful in that harshness. Watching hawks and prairie falcons ride thermals in search of food; seeing a herd of Pronghorns dancing across the horizon at full gallop; awakening to a sullen, red-orange sunrise, these feed my soul. Walking mile after mile along the edge of an arroyo, I stretch my long legs into that slow rhythm that becomes meditation in movement, watching for the elusive plains deer to rise from beds in the tall grass.

Now and again, near a fence post or weed patch, a cock pheasant will explode in raucous flight. Coyotes, fox and badgers appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. I find my gut relaxing, my breathing deepens. Drawing in the sweet, dry air, perhaps a bit acrid from the akaline soil, it quiets that chattering mind inside.

I understand on some level, why the Plains Indians loved this country, why they fought so to keep it open and wild. I understand too, why it takes a special kind of person to work this land, to keep cattle, plant and tend crops that might or might not grow to harvest.

I only spend small amounts of time out on the high lonesome plains. Yet each time I do, I am reminded of my own insignificance in a very large and wild world. And, I find joy in knowing that this creation, a harsh and unforgiving as it can be, shows me a side of God, his immense and profound mind that I will never fully understand....but boy howdy, its sure is fun to explore and revel in it!

06 December, 2010

That is Why it is Called HUNTING!

Cheyenne Wells,
4 December 2010

We woke at "O" dark thirty, brewed coffee, stuffed aging bodies into well worn hunting clothes, pulled out rifles and headed out into the cold. The sun was just beginning to color the eastern horizon. Mark pulled off the road and parked under the familiar bridge. We were set to walk a living snow and wind break. Russian Olive, Scrub Cedar, Sand Plum and Ponderosa planted half a century ago create a wind break wall to the north of the ranch buildings and corrals.

It is also a favorite hide out for deer and pheasant.

Walking east on the sandy floor of the arroyo, we turned south, up through dry grasses and sage, up onto the gentle rise that led to the eastern end of the trees. Mark would walk the north side, I would walk the south, watching and listening for a telltale rustle in the trees ahead. Just as we rose out of the arroyo, the sun broke the eastern sky, blazing through the thin clouds and vapor trails.

Walking the tree line east to west, we neither heard nor saw tracks or spoor. Not one pheasant cackled, only the small finches, thrushes and juncos that inhabit the plains. No sign of deer, no beds of crushed grass, we found nothing.

Back in the truck, we headed east on dusty section roads. Cut corn next to a field of cut sunflowers rolled to the north, and there out in the center, we saw our first deer. A group of five does, mule ears alert began to "pronk" (the muley's peculiar manner of bouncing up and down) as the spied us, some 400+ yards out.

Then it began. They ran, nonstop until they were mere specks on the horizon. THAT is not the usual behavior of mule deer. Unless they are chased or shot at, mule deer normally will mill about, then run a short distance, stop and reassess the situation, mill about more and perhaps run another short distance before beginning to feed.

We drove section roads all morning, seeing somewhere between 24 to 27 deer in small groups of 3 to5 animals. AND...each group behaved the same. The minute they saw our truck, they ran as though the hounds of hell were on their heels. We had no chance to take a shot under four or five hundred yards.

Mark pulled up next to a familiar old ruin with a working wind mill. Its a great place to scope the surrounding prairie. We ate lunch and Mark clambered up the structure with his binoculars, seeking the elusive deer. He did see some dark shadows off to the west, across the state highway.

We headed west, no luck. We walked the sides of arroyos, glassing the deep pockets and long sandy draws for any deer. Nothing moved. It was as though all the game had just, simply, inexplicably disappeared! It was eerie, very strange.

Heading east, back towards Kansas, Mark turned a corner towards Highway 385. The truck died. No warning, it just stopped running. He tried to start it. Plenty of cranking power, obviously it wasn't the alternator or charging system. We popped the hood, scrambled underneath seeking some indication of problem. It all looked normal. Outside of Cheyenne Wells on a December, Saturday afternoon...NOT the best place to be marooned with a dead truck. We made phone calls. All the shops were closed. One convenience/gas store was open, nothing else.

Mark tried to start it again. The truck coughed and turned over, running as though nothing had happened. We gingerly drove back to the motel. Again, it was eerie, very strange.

Clearly, we were not going to chance heading out into the prairie with a vehicle that was not reliable. We packed up our belongings, had a couple of drinks, ate dinner and went to sleep. Tomorrow we would begin the nearly 200 mile run back to Denver, hoping and praying that the truck would make it home.

05 December, 2010

Plains Deer Hunt, December, 2010


We arrived at the M****leman family ranch, south of Cheyenne Wells about noon, parked beneath a two lane overpass and ate lunch. It was too warm, the upper 60's (F). A soft breeze whispered here and there. Unusual weather for the high plains at any time of year. Ragged, daily winds are the norm.

Mark and I saw no Pronghorn herds on the drive from Denver. That too was unusual. We spied only one small Mule dear doe, close enough to shoot. And we passed up on the shot, hoping for other big Muley does to cross our path.

After a quick sandwich, we hiked west along the edges of the arroyo, waiting for a bedded down deer to pop up, giving us a chance at a shot. We hiked the full section; one mile in and one mile back thru the dense prairie grass and dead sunflower. Up and down the arroyo walls we searched...Nothing. Few footprints, no fresh spoor found in our quest. Only silence, blessed silence.

On the return, we found that the right rear tire was going flat. We scowled and packed up the truck in haste, then slowly nursed the old Chevy the three miles into town. Something had punctured the tire. The folks at C&P Gas and Repair fixed the flat while high above, a squadron of F-15 Eagles (probably from Peterson AFB) flew maneuvers in the crystalline blue sky overhead.

THAT, beloved, was enough to make the whole trip worthwhile. Tomorrow held the promise of deer for the winter freezer.