Hunting in Colorado: Day 3

10/19/15

Once again we chose to ignore my hunting tip #8 and arrived at our pull-off below Weston Pass even earlier than on Day 2. As it was pitch black and I was uncertain of my footing, Mike carried my rifle in his pack for the steepest section of our approach until dawn broke and it was time to chamber a round. He’s the awesomest husband I know.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

Dawn breaks over the snow-tipped clearing above tree line on Weston Pass.

KIND bars have been our snack of choice for a few years now, and although Mike has never been an early morning breakfast eater (I must eat in the morning or I become an ogre), he snarfed a couple down before our ascent. The resultant gastric consequences provided hilarity soon thereafter.

“Did you hear something?” he whispered to me with a big smile halfway up the hill. “It sounded like bugling!”

I rolled my eyes as I did numerous times over the next hour while the nutritious bars wreaked havoc with his digestion. So much bugling. But I don’t blame him for scaring away our potential dinner.

I blamed the monkey crow. I wish I’d thought to tap “record” on my iPhone when we heard him. Snow flurries were soft in the tree line, and because my ankle was feeling pretty good, I decided to stay with Mike as he traversed the higher grounds rather than loll about in the meadow where our elk really should have been.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

We know the elk are hiding behind the trees, chuckling at our persistence, sneaking away when I pull out my camera-phone.

The crow’s laughter was an even closer imitation of monkey chatter than Mike can make, and we stopped to enjoy the merriment for a moment before continuing our stealthy trudge through and over thick and downed pines. Soft little Christmas trees with snow-sprinkled new growth sprouted where the old had fallen long ago, and well into our ascent, Mike stopped for a break. He’s always thinking of me, but I could tell he was also beginning to get discouraged.

Within moments of hitting the trail again, I paused for a familiar routine. I knew he’d spotted a sign. Sure enough, there it was. Fudge-brownie-fresh poop.

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

Fudge-brownie-fresh elk poop! A sure sign that elk are no longer in the area ;)

We had already traversed too far for my comfort. My ankle was beginning to ache (I’ve been telling myself that hunting is good physical therapy after surgery, but at that point I was questioning myself) and I started praying to Diana, Artemis, Orion, all of the hunting deities, to hide the poopers.

Because “they” listened to me, we hiked and hiked, and hiked and hiked, until we came to another huge clearing far beyond and above the meadow I suddenly wished I had stayed in.

“Look. Classic elk terrain,” Mike whispered. “This is where it says they should be.” We’ve repeated this same message to one another in several locations already. It’s become a joke.

“I know, but elk don’t read,” I whispered back.

“Racist,” he replied. Muffled giggling ensued.

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk "should have been"!

Rambo Mike, in a place where our elk “should have been”!

We crept around the enormous open space and I realized that not only were there no signs of elk anymore, but my ankle was seriously unhappy. And we were seriously far and high above where we’d parked. And we’d been out for hours and hours and I was ready to become a pescatarian. I like to fish. I like to eat fish. Fishing is easy. I can sit down while I fish. Fishing rods aren’t that heavy. I can drive really close to where I want to fish.

“You stay here and rest. I’m going back into the trees over there and if I don’t see anything, we’ll head back.”

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

Last smile during elk hunting day 3 before our wicked descent from Weston Pass.

I was all about the heading back, but also truly concerned about the terrain. From where I stood, I couldn’t see over the edge of the field. I had no idea how steep our descent would be. So after having him take the last photo in which I could smile that day, I leaned against a downed tree with my feet uphill and did my best to remain optimistic. And that’s when I had a most unexpected visitor.

An elk? Not a chance. But at the spot where I landed in the acres and acres of terrain we’d covered that day was one little ladybug. For the next half hour as Mike searched for our elusive prey, she and I visited. I marveled at her resolve to stay with me, figuring it was because my body was far warmer than anything in that wind-whipped field. She made me smile, and by the time I had to set her free, I had steeled my mind for the final trudge.

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Ladybug ladybug, fly away home . . . and take me with you!

Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that my husband once again was my hero. He took my weapon from me and found a hiking stick to assist with the worst downhill journey of my life so far. I had to do several sections on my butt, so instead of crying (which I almost did several times), I gave thanks for the up-and-downstairs-butt-technique I had mastered in our house while on crutches just weeks before. (see crutches)

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

Mike found a stick to assist with my mile-long 60ish-degree downward slope back to the 4-Runner.

The descent was grueling, but the day was filled with beauty. And I had spent it with my man. We had no elk for all our efforts, but we were still together, still able to smile at the beauty of our surroundings, and still confident that . . . Day 4 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 2

10/18/15

We heard that Weston Pass was the place to go to find our wily elk for sure. So instead of heeding my tip #8 for Day 1 prep (See tip 8), we drove up to a spot on the road below Weston Pass way before the sun rose.

The hike up to where we knew the elk would be was arduous (for someone like me with a gimpy ankle), but we made good time and got to enjoy the sight of dawn breaking over the cold Rocky Mountains. After a while, we hunkered down in some pine trees. We’d wait a while and watch the herds pass by. We’d have our pick of tasty future meals.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

Dawn in the Rocky Mountains, hunting day 2 up Weston Pass.

After about ½ hour, Mike decided to move farther up the hill. I stayed below. We’d have different vantage points of the same open area through which the elk would meander…at any minute. I drilled myself on the gutless method of removing the tenderloins. Dinner.

Suddenly I saw wild gesticulations from above, and when I followed Mike’s pointed finger, THERE THEY WERE! Although difficult to see from my position, a cow, two calves and a spike were walking through a small clearing between thick pines on the far, far side of the meadow. Mike gestured for me to come up to where he was already in a firing position, but I think we both knew that the tiny window of opportunity and the distance were too challenging to overcome in the split second between seeing them and watching them disappear.

“I should’ve taken the shot,” he said, “but by the time I had the elevation adjusted, it was too late.”

“You did the right thing. You want a clean shot.” I told him what he already knew.

“You stay here. I’m going over to see if I can pick up the trail.”

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

Meadow grass up Weston Pass, hunting day 2.

For the next 90 minutes, Mike hiked and I lay prone in the meadow grass by a large, dead tree trunk. Maybe he’d scare them out and I’d get my shot. Instead, I waited and lounged and peered through the grass, remembering my 5th grade teacher at Archie T. Morrison Elementary School in Braintree who had us do something quite similar during our poetry unit, but without rifles. I think she might have been the one who sparked my interest in writing.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

Hunting glamour shot. Weston Pass. Waiting and waiting for Mike.

While Mike hiked, I shot photos, something my friends tell me I should be doing rather than shooting “poor innocent animals.” I took my hunting glamour shot and visited for a while with a nosy lark bunting. I really do like shooting photos, but I’d like to know I could feed myself during the zombie apocalypse too.

By the time Mike returned, he was beat and I was ready to head home.

“There are tons of signs over there. It’s like an elk highway. We’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”

I would have agreed to anything at that point. We were silent as we drove home, tired and hungry, and our reward for our efforts on Day 2 was a glorious rainbow embracing our little Leadville.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Rainbow over Leadville. End of hunting day 2.

Clearly, Day 3 would be “the day.”

Hunting in Colorado: Day 1

Here are some tips on what to do before charging out on Day 1 of your hunting season:

  1. Read last year’s hunting blog and laugh about how inexperienced you were.
  2. Tell yourself, “This will be the year!”
  3. Review videos on the gutless method of harvesting your kill, preferably while you’re eating something. This is my favorite one: Gutless method
  4. Tell yourself, “I can do that in 10 minutes, 15 minutes max.”
  5. Don’t worry about losing sleep the night before Day 1. You won’t have any trouble sleeping after 8 hours of moving, sweating, waiting, and shivering.
  6. Assure your non-hunting friends you do realize you’re stopping a beating heart when you shoot an animal.
  7. Practice whispering with your hunting partner. Start with little messages like, “They’re waiting for us.”
  8. Ask everyone where they bagged their elk. When they tell you, go somewhere else.

Mike and I started our Day 1 hunt before sunrise on Mt. Zion because we heard that’s

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

Hunting day 1, morning break. Still feeling pumped!

where our next meal would be hanging out. Despite my initial dread of spending a day beating the brush after re-reading my post from last year’s hunting adventures (Hunting with my Hubby), I geared up and we got to our parking spot before sunrise. Mike knew my mobility was limited since I just ditched the crutches a week ago from ankle surgery six weeks prior and convinced me we’d move at my speed.

It didn’t take long before we found our hunting rhythm, which truly illustrated “a snail’s pace.” Although we saw some signs (signs=poop) of elk having been there, we were not convinced they were still hanging

Pee break. "Stack... arms!" (that's an Army command)

Pee break. “Stack… arms!” (that’s an Army command)

around. I don’t know what it is about constantly scanning the ground and surroundings for signs and movement, and perhaps it’s just our own constant movement at high altitudes, but the need to pee is far more frequent while hunting. I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing quite like peeing in the wild. Anyway, after many hours and much hiking (and peeing) and discovering beautiful places where they “should have been,” we returned home at midday. We knew when we went back out that evening, we’d find them.

Driving back to a different starting spot on the mountain, still full of adrenaline and eager to fill our tags on Day 1, we discussed what would happen if we came across a “twofer.” Mike has a cow tag and I have a bull tag, same season, so the idea of walking into a pasture and catching a little bull-on-cow action was just too funny not to consider.

"They SHOULD be here!"

“They SHOULD be here!”

Alas, our anticipation adrenaline wore off as the sun set, and we returned home again home again, jiggity-jig, to a dinner of mac&cheese and early to bed. Clearly, Day 2 would be “the day.”

Here’s a link to my hunting epilogue from 2014 and there are several other daily posts before it. Just search “hunting” for more:

2014 hunting epilogue

My Hair Piece

I got this silly idea a few months ago that every girl should grow her hair down to her butt at least once in her lifetime, and since I never had, it became a goal. I’ve tried this several times in past years, never with success. The longest my hair has ever been was during sophomore year at Smith College. I was really cool then. I wore my wavy locks in braids and sashayed around campus with my patchwork skirts and my art portfolio.

"Senior dinner" at Smith College. French theme. Freshmen had to serve the dinner.

“Senior dinner” at Smith College. French theme. Freshmen had to serve the dinner.

I had lusted after Sheila’s hair in high school. A gymnast with thick red hair well past her butt, she represented everything I believed to be sexy. She was even smart and not too stuck up, so I had no reason to hate her. But I knew I’d never get the attention she got wherever she happened to be with her gorgeous locks swaying as she walked, lifting in a breeze, glowing in the sunshine. I also knew I was not built for backflips on a balance beam. For those petty pretty things, I envied her.

School photos...my hair never got much longer than this.

School photos…my hair never got much longer than this.

The “pixie” cut was Mum’s choice for me throughout my childhood years, and although I can’t remember ever complaining about the choice, I also coveted my baby sister’s long, golden strands. For school picture day, the best I could do was try to keep a ribbon-clip in my hair. Girls with long hair could do ever so much more. Even as a youngster I sensed the glamor symbolized by long hair, so after growing my own to shoulder-length in high school, I determined never to cut it again in college.

And then I joined the Army.

Cadets at West Point in 1979 had no access to hair stylists or salons, and my first butchering by the high-and-tight-hungry barber in the basement of a cold, stone building left me horrified—and convinced I could do a far better job myself. Fortunately, aside from ensuring my shoes shined like mirrors and my shirts were tucked just right into my starched pants, I had little time to think about my appearance, and the uniform hat hid much of my face beneath it, and my hair.

Me and my tent roomie Kelly.

Me and my tent roomie Kelly. No time–at all–to worry about hair.

I think I could probably take a few trips around the world with the money I’ve saved over the years by cutting and coloring my own hair and cutting my husband’s and sons’ hair. My horror at the cash register each of the few times I treated myself to a professional cut and color rivaled the horror I felt leaving that barber’s chair decades earlier. Two hundred dollars? Are you kidding me? And that’s without a tip? Do you have any idea how many bags of clothes I could fill at Goodwill with two hundred dollars?

For a few years we lived in a place where $200 was pocket change and hair extensions were as commonplace as Tupperware, so I convinced myself I deserved the occasional splurge. But I always felt guilty after handing over the credit card and hopping into my car, and when I checked myself out in the rear view mirror, I never felt 200+ dollars prettier. For $8.95 and about one hour in the privacy of my bathroom I could emerge with a color and cut that was “me.”

I laugh at myself now for my most recent attempt at long locks because this attempt marked the fourth time I’ve repeated this sequence:

  1. Decide to push past the awkward not-short-not-long phase.
  2. Camouflage the transition as best as I can.
  3. Start to feel good about my progress as my hair reaches my shoulders.
  4. Chastise myself for compulsive hair twirling.
  5. Enjoy the hair twirling because that means it’s growing longer.
  6. Buy all manner of hair adornments and accessories.
  7. Realize I’m spending lots of time keeping my hair out of my face.
  8. Wake up one morning with a mouthful of hair.
  9. Spit it out, walk to the bathroom, find the scissors, and cut it all off.
  10. Tell myself I’ll never grow my hair again.

Last week’s hair-in-the-mouth will be my last. The liberation I felt from all things “hair” inspired me to lighten up in other areas, too, and I filled bags with clothes and shoes from my stuffed drawers and closet. How did I get so many pairs of socks?

Waking with a mouthful of hair = time for a haircut!

Waking with a mouthful of hair = time for a haircut!

As I pondered the decision to embrace my inner pixie, the whole idea of hair consumed my thoughts for several days. I asked a long-haired friend why she would never cut her hair and she confessed to having an emotional attachment to it. She plays with it and it is a comfort to her, although she told me she woke up nearly strangled by it one morning. When she returned to her studies, I watched surreptitiously as she absentmindedly twirled and occasionally chewed on the ends of her lovely locks.

Every time I see someone who’s lost their hair to cancer treatment, the foolishness of my own vanity becomes clearer. It is vanity, after all, and it affects some more than others. Hair is something we adorn, hide behind, deceive others with (“Only her hairdresser knows for sure”), perm, tease, spray, braid, extend (so much deception!), feather, spike, dreadlock (Eek!) . . . the hair care industry will never die.

But I don’t want to be a slave to my hair anymore. I want to believe I’m at a stage in my life in which I’ll spend far more time on my inner development than my outer appearance. It’s not like I’m mature enough to shave it all off, though, and I’m still going to buy my $8.95 Clairol every six weeks, so I’m not walking away from all expressions of vanity.

“I like it. It’s cute,” my husband told me when he returned from work.

I’ll never be a Lady Godiva, and I’m finally okay with that.

I’ll settle for cute.

~~~~~~~~

A friend recently suggested I read this article about hair. The author’s research extends beyond her personal experience, and she too was a pixie at one point! Siri Hustvedt’s article in New Republic.

Kayaking With(out) Crutches

10/01/15

Something about being in a kayak on a crystal clear Colorado lake or on a river through a canyon in Utah just makes me smile the smile of a goofball. I love it. I love the splashy-gurgly sound of a paddle through water, the aroma of clean, cool air, and the reflection of land and sky on ripples.

Mike is now a pro at getting me in and out of kayaks safely as I’ve been banned from weight-bearing on my right foot for most of the summer. I’m expecting to be told I can resume life as a bipod in eleven days. It will be a glorious day, but until then, I’m being a good girl and doing what I’m told. Fortunately, the way I kayak, foot pressure isn’t necessary.

We decided to paddle upstream yesterday on the Colorado River from a launch site not far from our campground in Moab. The idea was that we’d paddle as long and hard as we wanted, and then enjoy a more leisurely trip with the river doing most of the work on the way back. The not-yet-sweltering morning temperatures and the cool water, moving downstream steadily, made for perfect conditions.

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

As soon as Mike pushed me away from shore, the reality of paddling against the flow hit me, but I was going to be a good sport. Forty-five minutes into our adventure my arm muscles burned and my palms, already callused from over a month of crutching, showed me where there were still some soft spots. I headed for some branches by the shore.

“What are you doing?” Mike paddled over to where I clung to a clump of dead twigs and spun his kayak around easily, paddling backwards for a while to hold his ground (because holding his water just sounds wrong) while we chatted.

“Oh, you know, just checking out the local flora.” The water threatened to pull me from the thicket, but I hung tight. Mike knew the truth, though.

“I think I’ll recon up a little further and check out the conditions, okay?” He was very gracious.

“Okay. I’ll join you in a bit,” I tried to convince him. And myself.

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket...if I let go, I'll be whisked back to shore in no time!

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket…if I let go, I’ll be whisked back to the dock in no time!

After Mike disappeared up river, it was time to get back out there myself. With renewed energy I continued my struggle against the current, making fairly good progress until Mike returned.

“It gets a little trickier up near that narrow place, but it’s doable.” His words did little to encourage me, but I had already told Mike how much I loved being on the water and we had barely been out an hour. So I followed him.

I followed him until I reached a place where my paddling turnover could not compensate for the volume of water working against me. I felt like I was in one of those Endless pools, working and working and getting nowhere.

“I think I’m done!” I called to my endless-energy husband, and despite the fact that he could have paddled all the way back to Colorado, backwards, he agreed it was time to head back for lunch. We had the kayaks for the whole day. We could bring them out again in the afternoon. Oh joy! I thought.

And back out we went after lunch for another up-river assault.

This time, although I did not get as far as I had in the morning, I knew where I could sneak out of the big flow areas and “study flora” in several places I had missed earlier.

“You go on ahead and I’ll hang here,” I told Mike when I knew I was spent, and while he completed another awesome workout, I watched with amusement some mating rituals along shallow shoreline. And no, I’m not talking about the trailer people.

A pairs of dragonflies did it right on the edge of my kayak before taking flight, stuck together in what seemed an endless dance. For well over 10 minutes they clung and danced and I never saw them part. And juxtaposed to their ceaseless airborne ritual, dozens of water striders darted over the flowing surface in a seemingly random pattern. They occasional bumped into one another before dashing away, all the while maintaining their position relative to shore atop the moving water. It looked like some Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom video game. I could not imagine the brusque bump was procreative, but I also had no idea what the purpose of this bizarre, confused dance could be. I also wondered how long it would be before their legs, like my arms, would say “Enough!”

Mike WAY up river from me!

Mike WAY up river from me!

I paddled upstream a bit more after marveling at how much I do not know about the world, and saw that Mike was on his way back. He pulled his boat alongside mine and the two of us floated together with the current back to our launch site where our truck, and my crutches, awaited.