How to get your hands on the BEST gaiters for hiking

The best gaiters in the world cannot be purchased from a store. They are handmade.
Seriously. And you can make them yourself.

Cowboy boot gaiters in tall (and stabby) grass

I have worn many different gaiters over the years. Lightweight gaiters for my trip to the most gorgeous dunes in America,  lighter-weight DirtyGirl gaiters for my trail running days, and others that were supposedly for hunters. All this done in my quest to prevent pebbles and stabby grass bit from working into my shoes and socks and poking holes in my skin (and maybe avoid migrating foreign body which is a very real and potentially deadly issue for dogs and why not people?). I also like to wear comfy pants instead of heavy canvas-like things and those grass seeds just love to snag into the weave of said comfy pants.

Gaiters are supposed to prevent sand, rocks, and grass from getting into your socks and maybe also prevent the bottoms of your pants from wetting out while you walk on the dewy hillsides. Typically they tie around your calf and under your shoe. They offer, at best, moderate protection from all that nature that wants to glom onto you and little to no protection from thorns, snakes, and other ankle-biters.

I was ruminating on this issue with my judicious daughter as I picked grass seeds out of my socks and shoes. Anyone who has walked across a hillside in late summer or early autumn knows the potential extent of this job. “Judi” related an experience with a sage at camp who made gaiters out of cowboy boots. Sky has had a rather storied life and brings much practical wisdom to the people at this camp in the western desert of Texas. I was determined to try this new gaiter out for myself.

For anyone who has worn them, cowboy boots are amazing. Except on dewy hillsides or multi-mile hikes, or craggy rock faces. But really, the problem is the soles which are great for saddles but not for hiking. Sky had solved this problem by combining the best part of cowboy boots with the best part of hiking shoes. I knew I had to try this for myself. Just as soon as I got all the danged seeds out of my shoes.

Get yourself a pair of boots that will fit over your calf easily. The sole size doesn’t matter.

I searched for a couple of months at every thrift store I saw for a pair of boots with an inexpensive price tag for me to cut up. I finally found these lovely boots for seven bucks and commenced to cutting.

I found that my favorite pocket knife, a Kershaw, was the best tool for relinquishing the sole from the upper.

I chose to leave most of the foot covering attached because I frequently wear breathable shoes that grass seeds love to infiltrate.

After removing the sole, slip the boot/gaiter onto your calf before putting your hiking shoe on to try on the gaiter and decide where to trim. I found that trimming was better done with scissors.

Then slide the boot down over the shoe and head out to your favorite grassy area. Does it look silly? I don`t think so, any more than any other gaiter and actually quite a bit more stylish.

That night at camp around the lovely fire you can look silly as you kick back with a beverage while everyone else is picking grass seeds out of their stinking socks.

Chillin’ and warming up after the hike

As an Amazon Affiliate, links in this post will take you to Amazon where you can review my suggested items. If you make a purchase it will not cost you anything extra and I make a small commission.

Rose Hips- How to forage and use rose hips in your everyday life

or

I like big hips and I cannot lie…

Finally, I appreciate big hips!

Apparently Google does not appreciate wit and innuendo. As such, I try to clarify the post content in the title and use the subtitle for my own fun. I do this for you, darling, just because I want to make it easier for you to find this information that you so desperately need. I am always thinking of how to make it easier for you, dearest reader. I suspect that in this relationship, I like you better than you like me. I’m okay with that.

Let us glorify big hips!!! Yes, rose hips. Those glorious late fall to winter last bits of free food you can forage. They are found almost everywhere except Antarctica (sorry, you poor scientists and adventurers) and you can even grow your own. Best part, they show up just for doing nothing! If you have a rose bush and do not cut the roses then once the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, the rose hips arrive. They supposedly are best after a frost. I cannot validate that at this time because we had a freak snow in September up here in my new home of the Northwest which interrupted my experiment of trying rose hips before and after frost. Oh well, there is always next year.

The fruit and seeds of the rose, the rose hip is bright red when ripe. Usually.

In my former southern home I always cut my flowers. In part to bring in for enjoyment and in part to prune the rose bush and encourage more growth. This cutting prevented the formation of the hips to grow but, down on the southern coast hip foraging would have occurred around February rather than the October to December up here. Whatever the timeframe in your area, try going au naturel with your flowers this season. By that I mean do not spray them with any pesticides or fungicides and let the flowers bloom, then die on the plant. After those lovely petals are finished (and you should harvest them for potpourri and tea, by the way), the hips will form.

Why should you care about rose hips? Lordy! So many reasons! The first being that they taste good! Next, they have oodles more vitamin C than an orange and then they add in all those bioflavonoids that are super-uber good for you! Finally, they might be able to enhance skin tone and lessen stretch marks. (initially there was an exclamation point but it seemed a little too manic and I do not want to be the Richard Simmons of rose hips) Interestingly, rose hips don’t taste like roses. To me they have more of a melon taste that is quite refreshing for so late in the year. It is like a little vacation to Mexico in the winter. And when you concentrate the flavor in a rose hip syrup it just might make your eyeballs roll up in your head a little bit.

Now, I know what you are thinking. “Hello, I am not some hippie foraging queen or Martha Stewart who grows my own wheat just to make pizza.” And I am here to tell you that actually it is Karen Bertelson who grows her own wheat for pizza. Also, you do not have to be that “into the wild” in order to enjoy the fullness of rose hips. Plenty of people make tons of stuff from them that you can buy if you just don’t have it in you to make your own rose hip face oil or rose hip tea. So no excuses. Treat yo-self!

 

Written here, though, is how to forage and also how to use rose hips. Find them, grow them, buy them. It no mattah how you get them (but don’t steal them, for God’s sake) just begin to incorporate these powerhouse fruits into your daily life.

Firstly, if you are going to grow or forage for hips, wear gloves. Remember the thorns. If only one or two rose hips were sufficient, I’d forgo the gloves in a heartbeat. The truth is that you will need quite a few of these little guys and if you do not wear protective gloves you will get so scratched up you will be able to count your heartbeats as it pumps blood out of your hands and wrists. The rose hip oil can heal many wounds but why test it this way?

Next, wait until a really cold spell hits the hips for a night. Preferably something below freezing according to all the old people who tell tales on such things. Maybe I will do some research to see if anything has been published on vitamin content of rose hips pre and post freezing but let us not tarry on such at this time. Once you have had a cold spell, don those gloves and grab a container of some sort. I have used my jacket and also my hat as containers when out for a walk in the woods and stumbling on a bush with very large hips on it. Just can’t pass that by! But it is better to have something like a little bucket or bag that is impervious to rosebush thorns. Just pick the rose hips and put them in the bag.

Avoid any that are rotten-looking or are a pale pink. Ripe rose hips should be red, for the most part anyway. Sometimes a bush will make orange-ish hips and you can tell if they are ripe by picking and giving a squeeze. They shouldn’t be absolutely rock-hard. Maybe they will have a tiny bit of give or maybe they will be totally ripe and squish out a smidgen of sweet goodness like this. Do not over-squish or the hairs and seeds will come out. You don’t want those hairs, they are the key ingredient in itching powder.

Once they are home, you have to decide how many will become tea, how many will become an amazing skin oil, and how many will become a delicious syrup. I can’t help you in this department because I love all of them. All I can say is try a bit of each and see what calls to you.

For a quick and easy shopping if you already cut all your roses and can’t wait til next year, here are links to the items I recommend for tea, syrup, and oil so you can buy them. If you follow these links and make a purchase on Amazon, I will get a small commission yet it will not cost you anything extra. This way you can enjoy all the benefits of rose hips without waiting . Also, you should plan next year’s garden to allow for rose hip collection.

For tea you must dry the rose hips completely and then remove the fine hairs inside of them. Those hairs, by the way, are the main ingredient in that stupid practical joke itching powder. I recommend avoiding these hairs. I have dealt with them in two ways. First I sliced each hip in half and used a tiny spoon to scrape out all the hairs and seeds. Then I dried the remaining hips and crushed to make tea and syrup. Getting impatient with this process, I tried a new method which sped things up dramatically by using my Vitamix to crush the dried hips. Then I went outside and sifted the hips through a fine sieve to remove the ichy hairs. This technique was my favorite and made a lovely tea as well. Below is the picto-recipe

For the delicious rose hip syrup you need to cook the rose hips in water and then add sugar or honey at the end. Again, I did this in two ways, first by removing all the seeds and hairs and then second by filtering the hips through a paper towel or coffee filter. This syrup is outrageous, concentrating all the superb yumminess of the hips into a thick and delicious melon syrup full of healthy vitamins. I use this syrup to sweeten tea, as a flavoring agent in sparkling water, and cocktails. This is not rose water like used in some Indian foods, this is rose hip syrup. Both are delish but only one tastes like roses.

And if you want to get really fancy, you can make your own rose hip oil. This oil is purported to have amazing rejuvenating properties for skin. What I notice is that my skin is brighter when I use it. The Vitamin C in rose hip oil is reported to encourage cellular turnover in a manner more gentle but similar to those retinoic acid creams and without the redness and peeling. You can buy rose hip oil online here but making your own is pretty easy. It is recommended to keep the oil in a dark glass container. I couldn’t find one so I used clear glass. Since my oil is kept in a dark cabinet in a dark room, I am not too concerned with light degrading the Vitamin C. You make your own call on this. As a person working towards minimalism I must learn to make do with what I have on hand and educate myself about what I really and truly need versus what I want. (By the way, I want everything, especially if it is purple.)

Making the syrup and the oil use similar steps. The only difference is that you will put the rose hips into water when making syrup and into oil when making oil. You can use any oil you like but my favorite is avocado oil. Yep, the kind you use for cooking. It is great for hair, skin, and sauteed veggies. Okay, one other difference in making rose hip oil versus rose hip syrup is that for the oil you will soak the hips in the oil overnight at a very low temperature to preserve the Vitamin C. For making rose hip syrup you can overight soak or heat the hips in water at a simmer for about 10 minutes, then strain, return to heat and add sugar or honey and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. I’ve done 1/2 to 1 part sugar to 2 parts rose hip water.

I sure hope you will give rose hips a try in one or all of their many forms! There are even more things you can do, like make jelly or wine. If you have done that, let me know! And let’s continue to see the world through rose-hip-colored glasses.

Chanterelles!

or

How To Identify and Cook Chanterelle Mushrooms And Be Confident You Won’t Poison Yourself

Chanterelles have false gills
Golden chanterelles and golden sunlight on the forest

Ah, life in the Pacific Northwest. I love it out here. The summer weather is so mild with only a few days that get into the outliers of high temperatures. Unlike my former home on the Gulf Coast, there are definite seasons and finally I can not only enjoy but come to love summer. Gentle breezes let you wear a light T-shirt and shorts and open-toed shoes. You can decide to go for a walk and just heading out the door without having to pile on layers of coats and socks and shoes with laces. A PNW Summer gets me and forgives my tendency to wear inappropriate shoes and forget my hat.

I headed to our little peninsula paradise in mid-September. As I made my way around the tree-lined lake and saw the leaves starting to turn yellow and red, my heart sank a little. I am not yet ready for fall and I dread the onslaught of winter. My blood isn’t thick enough yet or whatever it is that lets some people survive icy mornings without batting an eye. As I pulled into our forested driveway my heart was heavy knowing the sun would soon not be seen over the tree line and the birds would not be singing and I would be once again ensconced in many, many layers of binding clothes.

But wait, what golden light on yonder forest floors breaks?

Oh. My.

Chanterelle mushroom grows on forest floor under hardwood trees.
Chanterelle growing on forest floor

It is the beautiful harbinger of fall around here. The chanterelle. And they are just beginning to poke their lovely heads up.

Now where I come from there are not many mushrooms. Of course, in a metropolis you are not going to find much in the way of foraging at all. All that lawn mowing and green grass chemicals are not good for wild food. When the don introduced me to morel hunting in early spring, I was amazed! All this earthy umami deliciousness was available right outside the door of our little house in the woods? All one had to do was take a lovely stroll in the woods and look around. Morels are a bit harder to see for the inexperienced eye but getting that experience is fun and if you do not find any morels, you have still had a lovely walk.

But chanterelles, now they are a different story altogether. Chantys do not try to hide or blend in to the forest floor as do morels. They pop out from the forest floor like glow sticks at a rave, making it so easy to spot them you just know they want you to take them home. I suspect if they could they would prance around your feet like a puppy and nip at your pant legs. And they make it so easy to identify them that even a beginner like me can differentiate them from the fakes.

In case you are ever taking a walk in the woods and see some orange-ish mushrooms, here is how to tell if it is a chanterelle or if it will make your butt bleed. (To be fair, it will be the chafing from toilet paper abrasion due to frequent toilet visits that will cause bleeding, not the fake chanterelles, but that doesn’t sound as dramatic)

First off, chantys are a medium to dark golden color. But so are the two look-alikes that you should not eat so do not go on just color. Chanterelle mushrooms have what is known as false gills. Gills are those things on the underside of the cap easily seen on mushrooms you get from the store, they look like the fins on your air conditioner compressor. But chantys do not have regular gills, they have this wavy stuff that goes partway down the stem. This is the best way to tell a chanty from the non-chanty.

False gills on chanterelle mushroom
Chanterelles come in different sizes but all have false gills.

Additionally, chantys grow singly, not a big mess of ‘shrooms like some fungus beehive. They also grow on the forest floor, not on trees or rotting logs, because they have a relationship with the trees. This relationship is called mycorhizal and it means the fungus and the tree roots hook up.

Now, I know what you are thinking. How to tell the real chanterelles from those butt bleeders? Good question! Those butt bleeders are commonly called Jack-O-Lanterns or Omphalotus olivascens, I call them omphas for short. First off, they won’t kill you, just give you terrible diarrhea for a couple of days. That is much better than some amanitas making you get a liver transplant, if you live at all. So how to tell the ompha from the chanty? Simple! Ompha has gills. Check it out.

Chanterelle on left, Ompha on right. Wavy false gills go partly down stem versus true gills that stop at stem.

Here is a chanty and an ompha together. These two were found only a couple of feet apart under a giant spruce. Around here the chantys prefer Douglas Fir but there is always the exception. Except the gills part, chantys never have true gills.

Also, ompha is a scrub, in the parlance of our times, meaning it just sits there sucking the life out of trees, dead or alive, and does not have a plan to become a contributing member of society. They just hang out on the passenger side of life. So the ompha will be found growing on dead trees or fallen logs. Omphas may also grow in clumps, where more than one mushroom is growing from the same base. Chantys do not do that. They stand on their own two feet, so to speak.

What do you do if you do not have access to chanterelles in your neck of the woods? You can purchase dried mushrooms here. You must be sure to use boiling water to rehydrate or risk a rubbery mess. Since most of the chanterelles charm is the color and texture it adds to a dish and not the flavor, make sure to follow directions in rehydrating. If you have access to fresh mushrooms and want to hoard them for later, they do freeze well if you saute them before freezing. I wonder if you could find fresh chanterelles in a fancy food store like Whole Foods? Let me know if you see them in your grocery store!

So, what to do with these mushrooms if you are not going to hoard them for the zombie apocalypse? So many things! You can try the classic saute in butter and garlic and serve with crackers and cheese. Then you will realize I am right and that chantys do not have such suberb flavor. (Exception alert, I am told that black chanterelles are flavorful but I cannot verify at this time) I think the thing to do is to add them to creamy dishes, a baked mac-n-cheese, a risotto, a stir-fry, in a cream sauce over tofu (or a meat, I guess, if you are into that), added to an omelette or French-style creamed eggs, chopped and sauteed then stirred into a goat cheese for a kick-ass toast spread or dip. I went and made up a special chanty dish and I am sharing the recipe with you just below.

Shoot, now I am hungry, even though I am not hungry. Writing about food always does that to me.

So, take a walk in the woods this fall and see what you find. Or take a vacation to some northern woods if you are on the Gulf Coast, you deserve a break from the heat and the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes. Go find some little gold buttons of love on the forest floor to remind you that while the sun is going away for now, it will be back in due time.

Here is that simple recipe for the foraged harvest, Chanterelle and Tomato Sauce. The sauce is fast to cook so start the pasta water first, then get going on this quick and easy sauce. It is great on pasta and also on toast! Our tomato harvest has been extraordinary this year so finding ways to showcase both foraged and farmed foods has been a wonderful task! I prefer cooking tomato dishes in cast iron to get a little boost of iron in my diet. Don’t believe the myth about acidic foods and cast iron, a seasoned cast iron skillet can handle anything, even an omelette. If you only have one skillet in your kitchen, make it this one. You will love it. And if you do not have a wooden spatula as shown below, check this one out. I use it for everything and it is good on any type of pan finish.

Chanterelle and Tomato on Pasta
Served over pasta with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt,this sauce is bright and fresh, just like early autumn!

Chanterelle with Tomato Sauce

  • 1 Cup sliced chanterelle mushrooms
  • 2-4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Beefsteak tomato chopped with juice (about 1 cup chopped tomato)
  • 3 cloves garlic (if you are not a garlic lover, you can use less but I recommend trying it this way at least once)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • flaked finishing salt
  • grated Parmesan or Romano (optional)

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet, saute the chanterelles in 3 Tablespoons of butter. If they seem to stick before cooking down add more butter as needed. About 4 or 5 minutes into the saute, press on a couple of mushrooms with a wooden spatula, if it squishes down a bit and releases some watery juice it is cooked. You don’t have to worry about over-cooking mushrooms but do not burn your butter! Once the mushrooms are nice and soft, add the chopped tomato, juice and all. Let the tomato and mushroom cook down, about 3-4 minutes. Now add the garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant, only a minute or two, and there is still tomato juice and butter sauce standing in the pan. Stir the lemon juice into the mixture and remove from heat and add a sprinkle of flaked salt. Serve over pasta and top with some grated Parm or Romano, although this is optional and I like the sauce with and without the cheese. Leftover sauce is fabulous on toast or in a sandwich with a slice of gruyere.

Fresh chanterelles sauteeing
Fresh chanterelles starting to saute in butter. I am cooking a few extra to pop in the freezer.
Chanterelles finished sauteeing
Boy those chanterelles cook down a lot! Don’t worry, you cannot overcook mushrooms but you can burn butter so as soon as you reach this stage, add tomato
Adding tomato to mushroom saute
Adding the chopped tomato with juice to the mushrooms
Add garlic at end of cooking
When the tomato has cooked a bit and starts to soften like this, add the garlic. Notice there is still some butter glazing the pan, you can add another tablespoon if your butter has been soaked up by the mushrooms. Stir in lemon juice and you are done!

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it worked out for you! If you do not have a cast iron skillet then use whatever 10-12 inch skillet you have and then get on Amazon and order a cast iron skillet! You will be amazed at how easy cooking can be.

Here are the items I recommended in the recipe above, consolidated just for you. If you do buy one of these items on Amazon through my provided link, it will not cost you anything extra and Amazon will pay me a small commission on the sale so I can bring you more recipes that are simple and delicious.

Hells Canyon 2.0

Snake River, appropriately named

Ahh, once again I sallied forth to the hells of the nearby appropriately named canyon to spend a couple of weeks gorging on asparagus and test my new system of poison ivy avoidance.

The start of the trip was less than auspicious due to heavy rain causing a road to partially slide off the mountain thus, and rightly so, necessitating the closure of the only road to the trailhead from which we start our journey. Being a person who firmly believes if there is one way to do something, there are a thousand ways to do it, I began to consider options to the “wait and see” attitude of the people in charge of fixing the road. Wait and see as in, wait and see if the road slides further (it did, about 6 inches when I went to see for myself), wait and see if the rain will start up again or if conditions will dry enough to let heavy equipment up there. Regardless of what might come, the authorities were saying it could be a week or more before the road was actually open. After some discussion, the don mentioned an alternate route to get to the Snake River, one much less popular because, instead of starting at river level like the preferred trailhead does, this starts at mountaintop level, thus necessitating a 4,000 foot drop to the river which is done practically in one straight line following a creek. Have you ever taken 2,000 steps straight down? Boy, there were some shin muscles tweaking out at the end of that, I’ll tell you!

Ready for Antler hunting. Finn sports her GPS collar with the antenna

Leah also got to do what she was built to do, haul mules up a winding one-lane mountain road. Doesn’t she look grand?

Leah doing her job as a real ranch truck.

Here is an example of how harsh the terrain is here in Hells Canyon. This knife edged ridge looks crazy-sharp! And the weather was slightly ominous.

Heading out from Cow Creek. That is Oregon across the Snake River with all the snow on that seemingly flat horizon.

Okay, let’s see if Monty can remember that mules are not his friends and one cannot walk between the pack line.

Monty and the pack line

Here is one of maybe two switchbacks during the entire descent to the Snake River. It was a bit on the steep side, as per usual around here.

Never thought I’d wish for more switchbacks

And all that rain made the difference between creek and trail somewhat undetectable.

Trail IS creek

Finally we made it to Kirkwood Ranch on the Snake River. Lots of green grass for the mules to enjoy while we took a 3 minute break to stretch those shins. Only 11 more miles to go so better not dilly-dally. I’ll write a later post on the old homesteads I found in this area.

Lovely Kirkwood Ranch on the Snake River

We took turns walking and riding Stella, the don and I did. With Monty’s “issues” around me being on top of a mule, I rode only on the wide and flat spots where Monty could have space to make different choices if he found himself drawn to the mule’s legs. With a bit of babysitting, Monty only once cut in front of a mule during the whole trip and thankfully the mules were paused. Monty is definitely getting better but since he is who he is I don’t think I can ever relax when he is around mules. He just doesn’t believe they can hurt him. It’s so funny to watch how different the other two dogs are from him around the mules and also just being on the trail. The other two are hunting dogs, they roam hundreds of yards away up and down the hillsides and stay far away from mule feet. Monty does not get far from “his” pack, always running between people if we are not all together to check up on everyone. He also checks up on the mules though they don’t seem to appreciate his concern for their welfare.

Stella and the don

Here is my view from atop Stella with Monty safely following the don. No, the picture isn’t crooked, it just there are few flat spots around here.

My view from Stella

Hell’s Canyon is also the only place I’ve ever been where one has to be wary of poison ivy and rattlesnakes in the same place. I don’t mean along the same trail, I mean in the exact same place. Here’s a rattler. He’s little and not inclined to move fast but still I chose not to goof around with camera angles to try and get him and the poison ivy in the same shot this day. But see here, this photo is from a couple weeks later nearby and you can totally see the ivy. I swear, if it isn’t one thing it’s another… and I’m thinking I need to look into that rattlesnake vaccine they have for dogs.

Though the day started out cool with storms threatening, it cleared and became quiet warm as we headed up from the river to our base camp. By the time camp was reached, the mules had walked maybe 18 miles and the dogs had probably done twice that. Everyone was ready for a rest.

Sweaty ass

Boy, it’s amazing how quickly those dogs recharge! Especially Finn, who is not even 2 years old yet. You might remember her from last year, the puppy who runs through poison ivy all day and then wants to climb into your sleeping bag at night. Sorry, Finn, no snuggles from me this year. Finn had a GPS tracking collar to wear this year as she can sometimes roam a bit too far afield. She was actually tracked running 32 miles per hour on this trip! Now you see me, now you don’t.

One warm day the mules and I stayed in camp. Just watching these guys napping in the shade can make you feel sleepy. That is, until they start yawning. How can you not laugh at those faces!

This is me in every meeting ever held. “Try to keep the eyes open, c’mon… okay, close them but have a thoughtful look on your face so you appear to be really focused on what the speaker is droning on about… don’t yawn, don’t yawn, don’t yawnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Rats.”

Being so far removed from light pollution, we can see zillions of stars in our little slice of sky. One very early morning I decided to capture the gorgeousness of the darkness. With the full moon lighting the canyon walls, I held my breath and tried to channel complete stillness to take this photo of what I think is Sagittarius over the ridgeline. The nights are so mesmerizing one hardly notices the chill.

Stars over the canyon

And finally, the whole reason for this trip, imo…

Gatherer!

Asparagus! Freshly gathered. It would appear the animals here do not eat asparagus. See in this photo below how the green stalk is surrounded by dead dry stalks that, if not flopped over would be 4-5 feet tall. Those are last year’s asparagus. No one ate them. It was pretty early so the majority of asparagus hasn’t yet popped up enough to pick but I still got plenty to keep us in green veggies for the trip.

Growing wild

While basking in the glory of fresh tasty vegetables for dinner, I looked up and noticed a plane drawing lines across the sky.

Have you ever noticed that the contrails break up and begin to look like condensed chromosomes during metaphase? No? What, that’s just me that sees this? Must be all that biochem. Well, now you’ll start seeing it too, next time you see a contrail.

Metaphase

The advantage of traveling with the mules is that we can have good food, not just that dried stuff. I am terribly spoiled by the don, I will admit. He makes a great cup of coffee and then follows that up with a breakfast that would rival any fancy brunch restaurant.

In addition to asparagus,  the “purpose” of this trip is to find antlers. I’m not very good at that yet. In part because I’m still so overwhelmed by the newness of everything around me and I’m distracted by so much awesomeness. It’s also because I still have to look where I am walking so I take 10 steps looking at the ground, then stop and look around for antlers but then I see a waterfall, a burned log, a beautiful flower, my dog being cute or bored. But, strangely enough, I did find an antler all by myself! Sadly, it had sat out in the sun for many years or perhaps it had been engulfed in the fire that went through here a few years ago but either way it was beginning to “rot” and become chalky. I enjoyed the thrill of discovery and left it where it lay.

However, the don had spied an antler near camp and we took a morning walk to get it. I went down the hill to retrieve it, Monty got excited and wanted to help. (As an aside, in Houston these would be called mountains so I can honestly say I walked down a mountain to get this antler.)

Sadly the trip came to an end and it was time to pack up and head back to civilization and daily showering. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper HC trip without a photo of the don shirtless. To be fair, by the end of April it does get very hot in the canyon and no sense getting one’s shirt all sweaty when you can’t easily wash it. I don’t mind at all.

A cowgirl’s dream

And on to Idaho, but first…

Back in that Idaho paradise
Just as spring began to show up on the Olympic peninsula, I left for the second winter of Idaho, aka April. The drive east across Washington was at a meandering speed, taking time to see all the historical roadside stops and scenic overviews. Why do we make false deadlines? I know I’m not the only person to rush past all the wonder trying to get to some place I’ve decided was going to be great. I slowed down at one spot and did some post holing to enjoy truly gorgeous views and saw several other vehicles pause, take a peek and then go one. Much of the coolness in the world can’t be experienced from the car, I’m here to tell you.Look at this waterfall with all the ice alongside!

And Mt Rainier- who do you think wears the regal white coat better?

.

Who wore it better?

I looked into lodging but ended up choosing a campsite in the forest. I had a truckbed full of stuff and I know one can’t leave all that out in a city and the weather was SO lovely and millions of stars. Monty loves a campfire story, as long as it isn’t a scary one

Here are a few photos from the drive to Idaho. I’m heading back into Hell’s Canyon now to find that wild asparagus from last year!

Apparently closed for the season
My best fella

Spring makes a booty call

For a few glorious days I got to see what warmth and natural Vitamin D was like. It was as if the Olympic Peninsula weather had a nasty breakup from Winter and went out on a rebound date with Spring. There were a few days of well-above-freezing nights and afternoons that hit 70 degrees; truly such a lovely dalliance. Alas the OP realized that maybe it wasn’t done with Winter just yet and rainy-day 50 degrees returned to try and make things work.

Dazzled by the sunshine and digging out T-shirts, shorts, and, oh yes, a razor (I had sort of let No-Shave-November drag on a bit), I was again smitten by this northwest paradise. While walking in the sunshine I was remembering a hike I took late last summer. I’ll let this be a bit of photojournalism.

Moon and Monty

How does an Idahoan get anything done? There’s so many delightful distractions from the To Do list during the summer. I am a firm believer that one should strive to have accomplishments each day AND that one should absolutely not miss out on the amazingness of the world while in the pursuit of checking off that To Do list. Maybe you should have two lists, a To Do list where you get to feel productive and a Tah Dah! list where you allow time for the miracle of the world to unfold before you.

Figs in the Northern Rockies?

I had some lucky inside info from the don on a location of a fig tree. Figs in Idaho? This place never ceases to surprise me. I was able to find the tree and so much more! I surmise this spot must have been a former homestead along the river and a tiny orchard was planted. First I saw the fig tree, its leaves are unmistakable, even if you have never seen a fig tree before in your life, even if the only exposure to a fig leaf might be the pictures of Adam and Eve with a leafy bathing suit, you will instinctively know a fig leaf when you see it.

Wasps also like figs.

As you might remember if you read the Ponderosa Pinecone picking blog story, the wasps here have well earned their reputation for being aggressive. I was disbelieving of this reputation at first because the wasps in my yard in Houston were so mellow that we never had a negative encounter, even if I accidentally bumped them or soaked them with the water hose. The wasps out here in the harsh and wild West are just plain mean and will sting you just for breathing. Luckily these wasps on the figs are virtually drunk with the sugar and can hardly stay on the fig they are eating. Yes, those boogers eat figs. They poke holes in the figs and nibble until in a sugar coma. Look here.

Wasp-made holes in this fig

So this is probably a good time to mention that whole “figs aren’t vegetarian because they have dead wasps in them” thing. I am not an expert on fig varieties but as far as I can tell, this is just a common fig that doesn’t need another tree or wasps to pollinate (lucky for it because I don’t know how many miles to the next fig tree it might be!) And these wasps are not the fig wasp I saw pictures of on Google. You can tell by the head shape, these are just normal mean wasps that will sting you as soon as look at you- except for one thing… they are apparently happy drunks

Since they are so satiated with sugar, the wasps hardly even notice me or Monty and so we were able to safely pick all the figs we desired.

The grasshoppers also were hanging around the fig tree. The grasshoppers eat with more gusto than the wasps. I identify more closely with them in the eating style department.

Grasshoppers are big and gusty eaters

Near the fig tree was a tree with a fruit hanging on it that I hadn’t noticed before. I grabbed a fruit off the tree and opened it up because for some reason I had an inkling it might be interesting and low and behold…

What is it?

A walnut!

Although doesn’t the walnut fruit look kind of like a small apple? But it pulls away cleanly and leaves the giant nut we love to eat.

By now my collection bag was getting heavy. I do make a point to only take no more than 10 per cent of the food on a wild tree so the animals who can’t go grocery shopping have plenty to eat. Even so, my bag was getting full with the figs and walnuts when I spied a tree with little orange baubles dangling from it.

Drawn to it, I stepped under the tree and plucked one of the salmon-colored beauties. Admiring it for a moment, I ripped it open like a hawk on a starling and checked the seed. I wasn’t sure at first if it was a plum or perhaps an apricot. Once I saw the seed, I tasted the flesh. It was bright and tart and I still couldn’t be 100% sure if it was plum or apricot. Or could this be a rogue plum-apricot hybrid? It was textured like a plum but tiny and orange and tart like an apricot. But the seed lended itself more towards plum. I might have taken a bit more than the 20% on this tree. Plums are famous for having the whole tree ripen at the same time and you have about 36 hours to harvest them or they fall off and rot. Okay, maybe a bit more than 36 hours but it’s not far off the mark. Ask any plum grower. And these guys WANTED to come with me. They were literally falling off the tree and hitting me on the head and shoulders trying to leap into my bag. And they were so soft and squishy and at the peak of ripeness this very moment. It was heavenly and the wasps hadn’t discovered them or maybe they just didn’t have the sugar the figs did so I was all alone picking, or perhaps the better word would be ducking, the plums.

Now Monty, who was not as impressed as I with the extraordinary bounty of the river valley, was getting rather thirsty. However, being the protective fella he is when we are out walking alone, he wouldn’t leave me to go down the 50 feet to the river and get a drink so we walked down together. It was so lovely on the river with the cool fall wind blowing gently balancing the sunshine. I could have stayed there all day.

The wonders never cease! Right near where I parked my car was a group of pear trees and, as luck would have it, there was plenty of fruit on them that was within my reach.

Coming up from the river I came across a blackberry bush. Around here the berries are ripe about July to August and this is in late September so these were well past ripeness and were actually dried on the bush. I picked a few and they were delicious! Kind of like Nature’s fruit leather and I didn’t mind all the seeds in the least, it was sort of like chia seeds. I was entranced by the yumminess, enough to brave all the tiny thorns that are so stabby so I grabbed about a half cup of the dried berries. I probably ate as much or more while collecting.

And if all that wasn’t enough, then, in a cool spot on the walk back I spied a blackberry bush that had berries just beginning to ripen! Honestly, this is the most amazing spot, just when you think you have a handle on it, another surprise rounds the corner.

Here are a couple of photos of the bounty from this Eden.

Pears, figs, walnuts, and berries!

This one includes some items from the don’s garden. It’s a great time to be a vegetarian!

and plums/pluots, kale, tomato, cucumbers…

Gosh, all that remembering has made me hungry!

My days now will be divided between Idaho and Washington. Both of them are coastlines, if you look far enough back in the geologic record. I am quite lucky to have such extraordinary beauty surrounding me and these current cold and gray days are just a time to remember the bounty of summer.

And perhaps begin to plan this year’s garden!

I’m A Witch

Well, some may have suspected this all along; I am a witch. A real live witch.


To be clear, I cannot cast spells or work any magic, excepting the magic of haircolor, but I *can* find water underground. I think.
At theWashington property that is being developed, named Winter’s Hope if you were wondering, there is no city water. This is raw land, y’all, and apparently in the middle of nowhere if one was to believe the attitude of the work force in the nearest city an hour’s drive away. Getting anyone to provide a bid for work to be done is difficult once they find out the address. I suspect I will become a DIY queen before long.

First time with a Sawzall in 2017. Maybe I can be a DIY queen after all


So, as I was saying, a well must be drilled if water is to be had. And potable water is one of the requirements for obtaining a building permit so there you have it, either live in an RV forever or start drilling.
Since the property is alongside a river it seems it should be pretty easy. Then add in the fact that the property is also situated in a rain forest and finding water should practically a no-brainer, right?
Ahhh, you are too smart and paid attention in geology class.
Just because there is a lot of water in the sky and in the riverbed next to you does not mean there are tons of pockets of water below you. Apparently the magic of this area is how sieve-like the dirt is, letting water just flow through it rather than becoming a gooey swamp.
Enter the water witcher.

The water witcher teaching his craft


Yes, in this day and age there are still people who use dowsing rods, special shaped branches cut from new growth on certain types of trees, and walk around waiting for the tree branch to point out where the water is located.
Phooey, right? I know, I thought the same thing. SCIENCE tells you where to drill.


And yet, as I began the process of finding someone to drill out here, I learned that there have been a few dead wells drilled nearby and some bad feelings between people due to this fact. I would feel bad, too. Well drilling is expensive! At present it is about $8,000 for the first 60 feet of well drilled. This is just for the hole in the ground, not a pump or anything. If they don’t find water, you have to move everything somewhere else and try again, and pay again. And moving a huge drilling rig isn’t that easy on timbered land, you have to have a solid road for it and all. Thus, knowing where the best spots for drilling are that are alongside a road with ample space to work unhindered by 100 foot trees is going to save you a bit of cash.
It took a couple of weeks, maybe longer, to find a living water witcher. You can’t find them on Google, let me tell you.

C’mon, we all secretly admired Endora’s take no B.S. attitude


Now I’ll be honest, I am a bit cynical when it comes to hocus-pocus stuff. But might as well have someone with a bit of experience say “drill here” than me just use my designer’s eye of saying, “I think a little pump house would look super-cute right over here.”

So one day, a sunny one none-the-less, a fella shows up with a few branches tucked into his back pocket and proceeds to walk up and down the road. I don’t know if you can be both open and cynical but I was trying. I was watching his hands pretty closely to see if I could detect any change in how the branch was being held. Then he offered to let the don try. “This oughta be interesting,” I thought. Well, here, I’ll just show you what happened.

the don is also a witch

Finally, I took the branch into my own hands. What the heck, it works! I slowly walked the roadside tightly grasping the branch and it began to turn down toward the ground all by itself!!! I would not have believed it if I had not actually experienced it as a cynic. We found a few spots on the property that the dowsing rod says have water. Now to just get a drilling company out.

To be completely honest, I also went to the adorable library in Forks and got pretty much every single geology book they have, and it is a surprising number, I’ll tell you! I had hoped to shore up the witching with some science but alas, while I am captivated by the forces that created this paradise, it has not been of use to find a well. Maybe that is why there are still witches in this day and age.

And now I can count myself among them!

It’s About Time!

It’s About Time!

Yowza, December 2018 was a blur! After beating a fast retreat from the wintery Norther Rockies with my Southern sandals-in-December tail between my legs, I made it to the one and only big city with the best food and winter and proceeded to try and squeeze an entire year of living into just a few weeks. Needless to say, by Christmas I was whuupped from the over-indulgence in visiting, eating, drinking, and all the other carryings-on.

Monty at the Montrose Paint Wall (formerly known as the Biscuit Wall)

Visiting the moody winter beaches of Galveston

Every party ends up in the kitchen

Snuggle Buddies!

A favorite place is the area around the Menil museum

The Water Wall with my favorite fellas.

Can anything be prettier than River Oaks at Christmas?

the don enjoying the outrageous display of lighting in River Oaks

Skyspace, the James Turrell thingy at Rice University with the almost-full moon above.

Dancing through the winter’s eve keeps the soul warm and snuggly

Happy that I got to see this kid for much of my time in town! Alex has always been my best date!

Enjoying the intersection of woods and urban at Memorial Park with the don

Maybe THIS is why some of the visit seemed a blur! Great hosts offering an out-of-this-world rum flight for enjoyment and testing liver function

Central Market- best grocery store ever. Even the don agrees!

Such a phenomenal view

Art. Life.

Now I want a bison on my truck!

My favorite, the Beer Can House

My other favorite!

I like big girls and I cannot lie

Moose and Monty creating mayhem. Okay, not really. These guys would probably run from the ducks

Monty had friends to visit, too

For real

the don came down to see the town I had been bragging on so much and that, too, was virtually non-stop action of sights, friends, family, and food. Fortunately we did not encounter mosquitos but any Gulf Coaster knows the perils of the December mosquito, so much so that Medicaid rightly provides spray.

It’s all about prevention, y’all.

Since Monty is not allowed to fly commercially, I drove down to Houston in my beloved Pearl, a 2007 Toyota Sequoia. It was the last year of this model and I still believe it to be the prettiest of all SUVs. Pearl was equally at home in the city or on country roads camping and acting as an RV. Her only challenge was the 2 wheel drive thing which wasn’t a challenge for most of her city-dwelling, summer-camping life. And even the one time she went to the snow it was in a relatively populated area with treated roads (and filled with people and stuff so she weighed quite a bit, too). Yes, until this rural living thing happened, Pearl was my jam. But then I did make a change and decide to try northwest country living and 2WD was not working out for me (as mentioned in a previous post). The hunt for a 4 wheel drive was on, and while I’m at it, maybe a truck, too. Most everyone out here drives a truck. They are good for hauling wood that you just cut in the forest to heat your home which is the only heat-source, btw, a not-uncommon thing out here. Trucks are also good for pulling trailers, whether it is a cargo trailer, horse trailer, or boat trailer. Oh, and did I mention I was also shopping for a cargo trailer? So yes, a truck it is. My oldest child was quite vocal about the idea of me driving a truck, “I just never saw you as a truck person.” Turns out I am not really a truck person. It was hard to get excited about truck shopping. My decision coming down to what would have the best resale value in a couple of years if/when I got tired of truck life and wanted a different vehicle.

Leah, about 15 minutes after she became mine but before I realized she wasn’t what I thought I was buying.

And so I present to you Leah.

Her name comes from the Judeo-Christian Bible story in which Jacob makes a deal to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel, only to find after the wedding that he has been fooled into marrying Leah. In the purchase of my truck, Toyota’s brochures made it appear that the Ensuite system would have a navigation by map. When I test-drove the truck and mentioned the navigation, my salesman said that it would connect to my phone and I would download a specific app and then navigation would show on the screen. Fine. I LOVED the nav system in Pearl and it was quite my habit to glance at the map frequently.

I took possession of the truck and traded in my Pearl on Christmas Eve. On the morning of the 26th I was back at the dealer because I could not get a map to show on my screen. A couple of hours later I was sick to my stomach and asking to have Pearl back because it turns out that particular feature is not even available on this truck. And they wouldn’t give me Pearl back. I could probably have tried a law suit but in the end it just wasn’t worth it to me. Pearl had over 200,000 miles and a recurring emissions issue which cost over $900 to fix the first time.

Pearl turing 200,000 miles somewhere in the snowy mountains of Nevada. Notice all the warning lights are on

And so this truck’s name is Leah.

I am reminded that Dante wrote of Leah and Rachel in his poem about Pergatory. In his dream just before he reaches the paradise on Earth he sees Leah and Rachel, who in this poem are symbols of the active and thoughtful aspects of living, respectively. One translation has it as, “in my dream, I seemed to see a woman both young and fair; along a plain she gathered flowers, and even as she sang, she said: Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah and I apply my lovely hands to fashion a garland of the flowers I have gathered. To find delight within this mirror I adorn myself; whereas my sister Rachel never deserts her mirror; there she sits all day; she longs to see her fair eyes gazing, as I, to see my hands adorning, long: She is content with seeing, I with labor.” (Purgatorio, Canto XXVII, lines 97-108, Mandelbaum translation)

So in Dante’s poem, Leah represents the worker, the active part of the full life and was envisioned just before he entered the Garden of Eden or Paradise on Earth. That’s not a bad namesake.

Leah did a darn good job of getting me to my own little paradise. With the help/guidance/bad-ass-ness of my sister, Leah pulled the new cargo trailer filled with heavy outdoor furniture and other outdoor living items. And some clothes, and some kitchen items, and a bicycle… On the way I learned to tow a trailer at 70+ miles an hour on freeways. We were blessed with good weather for the first day but then rain and then freezing rain and then icy snow on curving mountain roads in the dark. Yeah. I didn’t drive that last part. I managed light snow on curving mountain roads up to about twilight and my sis was talking me through it, what to do if I hit a patch of ice (scream? No, fight your instinct and turn into the slide. Ummm, it takes training to fight your instincts and I have definitely NOT been trained unless there is some Jason Bourne shit going on here. Nope, upon reflection definitely no memory loss that could be tied to some secret mountain-ice-towing-assassin stuff. My only memory loss was that weekend in Mexico and some homemade mescal, back when you could safely get drunk in Mexico and not fear for your well-being.) Thankfully I only hit one or two tiny patches of ice and it felt a lot like hitting that gumbo clay back home after a gully-washer, just a little wiggle and the wheels were back to being best friends with the pavement. Of course, I was driving about 35-40 miles per hour on a 70 mph road so cars would occasionally pass me. Fine, let ‘em. But come dark, I was not going to drive. I am a person with extraordinary good luck but even I know when to fold. So the BadAssSis took over for the night. Or at least the hell-storm part of it and I drove again somewhere in the middle of the night with only rain. We did 2400+ miles in a weekend with only a 6 hour layover to sleep. Like I said, she’s rock hard bad ass. I’m more on the squishy side but can tag along sometimes.

Here’s a couple of photos. This is Leah and the trailer safely parked in Texas before the big road test.

Play it safe, y’all

Here is Monty all buckled up for safety. Dogs can be seriously hurt in car accidents if they aren’t secured. Also, you do not want 60 pounds of muscle hurtling around your head.

Again, this is for real

I wanted to find out if there should be a comma in this but decided that sometimes not knowing is funner.

Yes, there really is a Weed Police. It was here that the weather intimidated me. To my credit, just before reaching Weed, California I saw not one, not two, but THREE cars that had slid off the road, one a roll-over. And these cars were visible because they slid into the center median. The poor bastards who weren’t so lucky to slide towards the center of the highway slid right off the mountain. I was not in the right frame of mind to enjoy Weed. Maybe next time.

The sign might have read, “Sharp Curves Ahead, I hope you have your will updated.”

And here is a photo oh, maybe an hour later.  Yep, had it been me driving in this bit of road hell, Leah the Toyota would have been FORD (found on the road dead). That sign reads, “Sharp Curves Ahead.”

And finally, here is Leah enjoying the brand new driveway, if a 900+ foot stretch still counts as driveway, of the parcel of land that the don and I are developing on the western edge of Washington.

And one last photo, here is Brighty. If you will remember, her job is to be a winter home while the development occurs. She sat for a couple of months alone and, unfortunately had to bear some pretty harsh storms by herself and did not get out unscathed. But that is a story for another time.

Brighty and Leah

Wish you were here!

Oh, and here are some photos of the drive down from Idaho to Texas in early December 2018. For your viewing pleasure.

I purchased some turkey from Subway for the little Monty-ster. Turns out he actually enjoys eating meat

Hoover Dam

Hmmph, Monty was not so impressed by the Pony Express

BRRRRRRR

Winter- it doesn’t happen just at ski resorts.

I am putting together a post on Brighty’s update but was rudely interrupted by… winter.

so much for the garden

So, when did snow become a threat? As a Gulf Coast person snow was a delightful novelty, hoped for each year but only because the below freezing temperatures that made you have to cover up all the citrus trees and hibiscus in the yard came rarely and didn’t stay long. I remember the year we had 3 nights in a row that dipped below freezing and my lemon tree really took a hit. I actually had to buy some lemons after that because so few made it through the freeze.

So imagine my delighted surprise the first time a few snow flurries drifted around the mountain house. Everything so fresh and clean and the world seemed like a little snowglobe. Ahh, winter. I LOVE having four seasons!

Dashing through the snow…

Ummm, wait. It has been cold for like a week already. I totally do NOT have the right clothes for this! Ohmigosh, the little creek by the house has ICE. Ice y’all. On the creek, where there is running water. And the dirt isn’t soft anymore and the wood bridges are very slippery in the morning. Holy moley, the pond up the hill is completely frozen over. And it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet!

Back when the sun used to shine these solar lights would glow all night long

Ummm, maybe I should think about leaving for Texas a little earlier than originally planned. Well, except the don invited me to his family Thanksgiving and I really want to meet this group of people. Well, it was said that last year this time had days in the 70’s so it should be fine. And that will give me more time to figure out my route back to Texas.

Well, rats. The jokes on me. Ice, snow, and I actually got stuck the day after Thanksgiving in the snow on a hill no steeper than an ADA ramp. Yep, couldn’t get anywhere. I’m probably going to die out here in the snow. I’ll probably hit a patch of black ice and go shooting off the highway down a mountain and get trapped in my car to die from exposure and in a puddle of urine.

Well, so that didn’t happen. YET. I didn’t exactly panic, though I’m sure I had every right to, when the car wouldn’t move forward and the back wheels just chittered around. Lucky for me, the don came to my rescue and moved my car to a safe place where I could safely drive it in the daylight.

Which is how Pearl got all CBGBs. For a sophisticated car, she sure looks tough with these bad boys on. After that near-death experience I went straight to the tire store and bought these chains. No more getting stuck on icy roads for me! I’m not going out without a fight, doggone it.

Well, truth be told, I’m a lover not a fighter and I heard it said you can’t beat a Russian winter and I figure an Idaho winter might put up a fight, too. So now I am on my way south to get to a climate which isn’t trying to kill me and for which I have the proper clothing. Flip-flops in December? Yes, Please! Update on Brighty will follow once my fingers thaw.

The Other Great Vegetarian Hunter

I am going to have to give the UPS man a Christmas present because I have ordered so much of the items needed to rehab Brighty via online shopping that he is at my  house at least every other day. And some of it has been rather heavy. Thank you, UPS! I do make every attempt to shop local, even asking if items can be special ordered which does take longer and costs more but I believe it is important to support local business. It’s just that many times the stores say they can’t get the particular item, and for the special needs of this rehab, RV stores with an online presence are the only option. So, thanks again to my friendly guy in the brown truck!

Finally, the propane lines are in and I can start installing the insulation and paneling and then install the kitchen cabinets! Woohoo!

Well, the lower cabinets anyway. I still have some AC wiring to install and check so the permanent install of the upper cabinet will have to wait. But it is still progress. and the sink I ordered has arrived as has the water heater and the water pump. I did a test fit for the upper cabinets because I wanted them to be flush with the ceiling and I could find no definitive info on how to achieve this. Surprise of surprises, it worked the first time! I also realized that absolutely nothing on Brighty is square or straight. She has curves even in her straight lines, like how is that possible?


Test fit of upper cabinets with the lower cabinets removed so I could get in close. That is the water heater you see below. It also required some fancy cutting of the lower cabinet.
IKEA cabinets are installed!

We also received the new fridge (that was delivered by freight which I am sure the UPS guy was very appreciative). It can run on AC power or propane. We had a bit of discussion, the don and I, on what size to get. I won’t say who wanted what but one person wanted the largest fridge possible and the other thought maybe a smaller fridge and a cooler would be the way to go. It was agreed to get the largest possible and with assurances that it would definitely fit through the door. Crap, the fridge is just 3/4 of an inch too wide to fit through the door. Maybe removing the door frame will help. Whose idea was it to get such a big fridge anyway?

I took a long weekend off to go bow hunting with the don. This is a real departure for me because I do not hunt and do not eat critters. Not on purpose, that is. Anyone who has gone for a jog on warm summer morning along a lovely wooded trail a few times has probably had the experience of jogging up a hill and fallen into the open-mouthed breathing bug-swallowing morass of ickiness. If you can except the accidental bug, I fall into the category defined by a non-hunting friend who said, “I could have taken the shot but I realized I just was not hungry enough to where killing the bird would make a difference for me but it would certainly make a difference for the bird.” And he stopped hunting. I make my own choices about eating animals but if I ever got hungry enough, I would eat one. So far I just have not gotten that hungry. Lucky me! Plus, I have tried a bite of an animal if it was offered and novel and, to be honest, no critter has ever tasted all that good to me. If eating a critter, whether cow or elk or snail or frog or turkey or duck…, if it had the same explosion of joy on my tongue like an amazing guacamole or piece of chocolate or superb cup of coffee, well, maybe I would not be vegetarian but no bite has ever done that. So why bother killing it if it is not fabulous? Elmer Fudd is the only vegetarian hunter that I know and we all know of his lack of prowess with a gun. I personally would not hunt with a gun, it would feel too much like being an assassin, but seeing how much Monty likes the elk meat and how well his allergy-ridden body does on this type of protein, maybe I will take up bow hunting. To feed my family.

My first day as a bow hunter and I totally look the part

I am a tremendously curious soul and, while very opinionated, I tend to not judge that which I do not have any experience. I have known a few bow hunters. Stories of spending days following a particular animal and strategizing to get close enough to shoot, well, they sounded perhaps more sporting than the hanging out and assassinating that rifle shooting seems to be. Again, I fully recognize that I have zero experience and am in good company with having an opinion on that which I know jack shit. When the chance to go bow hunting came along, I decided to “give it a shot” and get a little experience.

Here I am, all camo-ed up. My first day as a bow-hunter and I totally look the part.

This kind of hunting requires a bit of hiking around and watching to see where the elk are moving about. This apparently changes from year to year and getting into a position where a shot can be made during the early morning or twilight-ish times the big guys get going takes some intel and planning. Have you ever heard an elk  They make a weird sound for such big animals, kind of like a squeak.

Elk on one of the many ridges around
I really enjoyed the hiking around looking to see where the elk were congregating.

So a few days is spent walking and observing quietly and making sure not to scare any of these critters. Funny enough, there were quiet a few elk on other hillsides. Here is a herd with a pretty big bull and his cows and even a baby elk. They do not look that far away but it would be a good full-day hike to get over there so moving camp would be required.

Pretty good sized herd on the next ridge

And these guys must have had some intel of their own because that hillside they would traverse for the next few days was not near any access trail to be able to get the mules near to a kill and pack it out. Being able to get the “harvested” animal out is an important part of hunting and having to backpack a several hundred pounds of raw meat sounds nigh on impossible. No wonder this bull was so big, he is pretty smart!

Learning how to spot elk
Oh, hey there are tons of elk across the river!
Trying to keep a low profile so the elk on the next ridge don’t spook
Almost two minutes of what it is like to bow hunt.
Quill has hunting experience and is very excited when she sees elk.
Monty and Finn haven’t any hunting experience and were getting bored and sleepy
Elk spotting

Hanging out waiting for an elk to cruise by was one of my favorite parts. the don would get his different elk call whistles out and see if there were any elk nearby. It was really cool when one would answer and a bit of call and response would go on. I found the waiting a great opportunity to meditate and to practice being in the present moment.

In place and checking the bow and draw and probably some other sport-specific terms that I don’t recall
Waiting for the elk to come by. I got in some really good meditation. the don prefers to read
Dude, don’t turn the page yet, I’m not finished reading
Still waiting for the elk
I can nap sitting up
Special hunting makeup for those days you just feel extra pretty

See, hunting is kinda fun!

Bow hunting requires getting very close to the animal. If we had been using a rifle, there were quite a few opportunities to kill but with the bow you have to be more patient and get in very close. This trip resulted in no kills so that worked out fine by me. All the fun, none of the blood and guts. the don was not concerned since he had plenty of meat left over from last years kill, so much so that he passed on a couple of shots because the bull was so big the don wanted him to go on and make more baby elk. I am thinking that could be a nice set of antlers to find next spring!

Monty was interested in a critter down the ridge a ways. the don thought it might be a bear

A storm began to roll in after lunch. The winds picked up like the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. Monty and I were hiking around just enjoying the scenery and not worrying about being stealthy when this line of clouds came in so we began to head back to camp.

A windy afternoon
Would you quit with the pictures of that storm and let’s get back to camp?!?!
Watching the lightening across the way
Storm clouds make for a pretty sunset
Stella enjoying the grass and view after her walkabout.

No photos of the food on this trip. It was good but not as amazing as other trips because the don felt that campfires were not conducive to keeping elk nearby so cooking was done backpacking style in a single pot on a stove. It was still nice to have the mules to carry all of the gear and if you got tired of walking Stella would carry you for a stretch. She is becoming one of my favorite mules of the seven due to her relatively calm disposition. We also share a distaste for the antics of the two rambunctious boy mules I call Thing 1 and Thing 2. One afternoon I came back to camp and saw only one mule instead of three. Expletive. Stella and Thing 2 pulled their pickets and took off. It was just me and Monty and the choices were clear:

  1. Leave and pretend I didn’t see anything. Come back well after dark and after the don would have returned to camp.
  2. Go find the don and interrupt his hunt so he can help track down his got-derned mules
  3. Find those fu*#ers myself.

I was concerned the mules could get tangled in their pickets and get hurt. This explains why I, a person with no mule experience and who is rightfully afraid of these powerful and sometimes unpredictable creatures, chose number 3. A smarter person would have been more concerned that she would get hurt trying to deal with two runaway mules but my heart bleeds for all creatures, great and small. A bit of panic started to rise in my gut as I looked up and down three possible trails and searched the hillside for signs of mule tracks. I could see no obvious path they took.  With the last bit of sensibility in my head I asked Monty to find the mules. Monty is the best dog in the world because even though those mules are not friendly to him no matter how much he tries to be nice, he nosed around and then took off down one of the trails. I don’t even know how Monty knew what I was asking but he led me straight to those recalcitrant critters. Now I had to lead them back all by myself. Thing 2 is not usually very cooperative with me but he may have sensed that I meant it when I told him one misstep on his part and I’d tie him to the nearest tree for wolf food. We all got back to camp without further incident. Shortly after our return little Finn, the puppy, came running up. Her new trail name might be Ranger because she goes off on her own so much. About 45 minutes later the don showed up. Other than me drinking hard liquor at 4:00 in the afternoon, nothing seemed amiss.

Enjoying a well-deserved nap
and a beverage
Moonrise on the walk back to camp
The dogs lead the way on the narrow trail as we hike out

It’s good to have a sure-footed friend on these knife edges

The day came for us to head out of the wilderness. No elk were harmed on this hunting trip and the sun played peekaboo as we walked out. the don and I took turns riding Stella although he would lead her when I rode since I’m not skilled in mule management. I can ride horses but these mules aren’t trained like a horse. No bridle, no formal riding training, and they question authority with every step. Wrangling one of these guys on a steep hillside is not on my bucket list. I am learning to be around them but I’m still pretty scared of them in unfamiliar situations so the don led while I rode. On the really sharp drop-offs though, no one rode. The mules are very sure-footed and do well picking the way along the trail but I wouldn’t be on top of one!

And so ends the saga of the other great vegetarian hunter. I am happy to shoot elk with a camera and to walk around the lovely hills. If only tacos grew wild I would surely take up hunting with a habanero-tipped arrow.