Hunting: Day 8 Morning

Running out of time
One more hunting day remains
Elk laugh knowingly

Ranger looked up at me this morning with an expression that said, “Who are you and what have you done with my mom?” He has not been pleased with these days of pre-sunup excitement, and this morning’s 04:50 alarm was just too much. He skulked back to bed.

day 8 morning4

Mike and I were on site and I was ready to shoot even before the moment it would be 8 morning The moon was still high over the mountains, and it was bitter cold even though I was day 8 morning2dressed like an Eskimo. We thought we might stake out a place we had identified last night, but after standing motionless for almost 15 minutes, our toes started to freeze and even I agreed I’d rather be hiking.

We moved at a noiseless pace, and I finally felt like a “real” hunter. Having to control each foot placement helped to generate body heat. Moment by moment our surroundings unfolded with the nearly imperceptible brightening of the sky right before sunrise.

Two glorious mule deer sprang across an opening to our front, about 50 meters away, and my heart raced. I wondered if mule deer hung out with elk, but I hadn’t come across that in any of my pre-hunting-season research. Still, I took it as a good sign.

For two hours we scoured the forest and poked at poop-piles, “me and my shadow,” until we had completed a sizeable circuit ending back at the vehicle.

day 8 morning3

“I’d say we go home, get some breakfast, and maybe come back later,” said my shadow. It was unlike Mike to call it quits so quickly, but then he moved past the vehicle. “Maybe one more traverse down that way,” he said, and I felt like he had read my mind.

“Sounds good,” I said, still in a whisper.

“We don’t have to move as stealthily this time,” he whispered back.

Roger that, I thought. “Okay,” came out of my mouth.

We spent another half-hour hiking and hoping the herds of sleepy elk would somehow find their way to us and sacrifice one of their own to our cause, but I guess that’s just not how it happens.

Stay tuned for tonight’s episode of “Looking for Luck in All the Wrong Places”!


Hunting: Day 7

Lost my funny bone
“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs”
But that’s about all

Yup. If finally happened. I lost my sense of humor this morning.

Mike and I were back where we had hunted last weekend, where I had silently cursed the endless inclines, where a friend—just the day after we were there—harvested an elk. “Harvest: to catch, take, or remove for use.” Sounds far more acceptable than “shot,” eh?

Anyway, we both felt like this would be our lucky day. It was time, I reasoned. Sure, I knew statistics were against us and only about 25% of hunters successfully filled their tags each season, but we had been doing more than due diligence!

The day was clear and not too cold. I was surprised by the comfort of the pack on my back and the rifle in my hands. Day after day of putting in the hours was paying off.

After almost two hours of sleuthing, nature made an insistent call.

“I reeeally need to go!” I whispered to Mike after peeling off my top jacket. With the sun up, the day was growing warm.

“Did you bring paper?” he whispered back.

“No, I’ll just use a stick,” I said.

“Gross,” he responded.

“Baby,” I called him.

When I finished—one of those magical experiences that didn’t even require a stick!—I felt light on my feet despite the weight in my pack, which felt just a bit weightier than when I had donned it earlier. Nevertheless, we were back to sleuthing and still felt confident.

But hours passed. Yes, the day was lovely. Yes, I was spending time with my husband. And yes, regardless of the day’s outcome, I was in a place with no laundry to fold, no dishes to wash, no bills to pay. So why did I start to lose my sense of humor?

I did my best to accept Mike’s suggestions for which trail to follow next even though they inevitably led back up increasingly steep hills. I hate steep hills. I hate steep hills with a passion. I’ve lived at 10,200’ for eight years now and I still get winded climbing the stairs at home.

So I really tried not to resent his suggestions and his ability to climb steep hills like a mountain goat. But it was becoming more difficult. My head was telling me, “He wants to find an elk as badly as you do, so pull up your big-girl panties and drive on,” but my body was screaming, “Hello! I’m sending you signs! This is hurting me as much as it’s hurting you!”

Something ran across the crest of a hill when I was about to throw down my weapon and pout. That was all it took to get me moving again, even though Mike and I both agreed it was probably a deer.

Into the fifth hour of beating around the bush, however, in addition to the stabbing plantar fasciitis in my left heal, I started feeling like I was developing trigger-elbow in my right arm and stock-wrist in my left from holding my weapon at-the-ready for so long.

Five hours of being “at-the-ready,” of anticipating the moment I would crest the final hill and see a whole herd of elk just chillin’ on the other side, of studying each step before I took it, suddenly took its toll.

I used to think I might actually have a moment of hesitation before pulling the trigger if I were ever to get an elk in my crosshairs, but no more. I was ready to scream, “Make my day, wily beast! Make my frickin day!”

“My fun meter is pegged,” I whispered to Mike, and he agreed that it might be time to head back home for something to eat and maybe even a nap. We’d try again in the evening.

It seemed to take forever to get back to the car. Screw these stealthy steps, I thought, and practically stomped down one of the many hills we had earlier climbed. When we were almost out of the woods, we came across the elk bones we had seen frosted with snow the first weekend of hunting.

“I want the spine,” I told Mike.skull mask

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yup,” I said.

“What are you going to do with it?” he asked.

“Probably hang it on a wall,” I said. And with that, he wrapped it in a plastic bag and carried it out for me. I packed away my petulance.

After a monster-sized brunch and a snooze, we followed a friend to a place he knew had roaming herds, and although we came home empty-handed again, the location was hill-less and I was happy. We’ll go back out tomorrow because…

There were lots of signs!


Hunting: Day 6

Day 6

Another peaceful
Morning alone in the woods
Wish elk would visit

Before the sun rose this morning, the full moon rolled over the edge of Mt. Massive with startling speed. After the confidence boost I got from my solo evening hunt, I decided to try my luck one more time before Mike returned. Not normally a morning person, I was proudHunting sun selfie of myself for getting up and out before the town awoke, especially since I had barely slept last night. I spent most of the night ruminating about what I would do if I actually saw a potential target, and if I was successful, how I would position myself for my “first kill selfie.”

I need not have ruminated. For three and a half hours I meandered through an area suggested by a friend, and although I spent most of the time in wooded areas, I never strayed too far from points I could identify. After all, I didn’t have my hunting buddy with me, and hadn’t yet learned how to use my GPS in the wild.

I enjoyed taking my time exploring things that caught my eye: the base of an old television, feathersa mysterious hanging bucket, a tin can cemetery, beautiful feathers left from someone’s meal, and although I came home without seeing anything larger than a squirrel, the experience left me feeling happier than if I had stayed at home and slept a few more hours, something I will do right about now.


Hunting: Day 3

Day 3

Don’t try this at home
Shouldn’t go hunting alone
I went anyway

Since Mike had to travel for the next few days and my writing buddy was horrified by the idea of going hunting with me (my invitation startled her speechless), I was forced to make a decision. Either give up on a perfectly good evening of hunting (my morning was booked), or go by myself. I realized—as I was making it—that it was a foolish decision. My internal mother-voice was screaming, “Don’t be a moron! What do you think you’re doing?”

But I had to do it. I had to see if I had the guts to go it alone, just me, my pack, and the elk-slayer. I’ve recently found myself wondering about age-related things, like, when was it that I stopped working on my handstands? I used to be pretty good at doing them. Sure, I may be 55, but Jack LaLanne was doing his insane workouts until the week before he died at age 96! Yes, I had to go hunting by myself. I would only be out for a couple of hours, and I would head home before the sun set. Maybe I would even try a handstand when I got home.

Halfway up the rocky, snowy road I started to get nervous and ate the third of six “fun size” Snickers bars I would consume just getting to the trailhead. Although I probably should have lost several pounds with all the hunting and hiking I’ve done these last couple of weeks, I’ve used the increase in energy expenditure to justify my over-indulgence in the chocolaty treats.

In any case, my “what ifs” were going into overdrive. What if I get stuck? How would I turn my 4-Runner around on the steep, narrow, icy trail? What if my brakes won’t work on the way back down? I had myself worked into a tizzy and almost turned around at a wide area on the ascent, but I couldn’t give up that easily. With a half-mile to go before I could hunt, my tires spun in a rut. “Shit,” I whispered, as if I would scare away a potential target if I had said it any louder.

I was able to back up—Phew!—and decided I probably shouldn’t drive any farther. I parked off-trail and geared up. “Shit,” I whispered again when I realized I had left my gloves at home. Alas, all I could find in my normally-well-stocked vehicle was a pair of blue rubber-coated garden gloves. “Perhaps this is telling you something,” my mother-voice whispered. I ignored it and stuck the silly gloves into my pocket.

The surge of adrenaline I experienced when I loaded the .308 surprised me, and for a brief moment I thought I might have to rush to the woods to unload, um, the Snickers bars. The feeling passed, however, and I started down the slippery trail with the stealthiest steps I could manage. I saw many tracks crossing the road. Bunnies. Squirrels. Birds. I couldn’t remember what mountain lion tracks looked like, but I was pretty sure I didn’t see any of those.

scope 3I stopped frequently as I maneuvered down the trail and practiced a sighting drill my friend John taught me. Look at the target, keep both eyes open and on target, bring the weapon up so the scope is in line with your sighting eye, and voilà! Ready to fire! I got better and faster each time I practiced. That sitting squirrel had no idea how cute he looked in my crosshairs.

When I finally reached the area where we had hunted on Dayblue glove 1, I settled down in a spot with good visibility in several directions. The blue rubber gloves proved to be most unsatisfactory, but I had grabbed a couple of expired hand-warmer packets from my vehicle and they provided a bit of heat.

For the next half-hour I sat in silence as the sun settled into the trees. I knew there would be no reckless herds of elk wandering across my path with “Shoot me!” signs on their sides, and if there had been, I probably would have shot pictures. What was I thinking, hunting alone?

snow selfieI brushed the snow off my butt and started back up to my vehicle, practicing my aiming skills every few minutes along the way. I could have continued to hunt for another hour, but I wanted to make the drive back while there was still some ambient light. I couldn’t resist taking a snow-selfie. Roger Miller’s song “King of the road” played in my head when I saw my impressive shadow on the snowy surface. It was better than my pesky mother-voice.

When I spotted my vehicle, I felt like I had accomplished something. I had overcome my fear of doing something “risky” at my middle-age, and alone.

The rising moon and setting sun were the spoils of my hunt.

moon over mosquito

sunset over Elbert









I took my time driving down the mountain. When I got home, I tried a handstand. Next time I won’t use the door. Oh, and don’t tell my mother.



Hunting Haikus (and more!): Days 1 and 2

Day 1

He trusts me to walk
Behind him with loaded gun.
Crazy husband, mine.

Since I began my “Hunting with Hubby” story with a haiku, I figured I should do the same for my week of hunting. Although I was able to take lots of notes with my iPhone (on airplane mode, of course!) while following Mike for days and days last week, I do not have Sako .308the same luxury this week as I am the one carrying the Sako .308 elk-slayer. Therefore, instead of waiting until the end of the week to gather my notes into one story, I’ll do my best to capture the highlights of “My Turn to Bag the Wily Elk” each day. I have until 5:29 p.m. on November 9th to accomplish this.

We started before sunrise yesterday in an area we were told had lots of activity. We covered tons of terrain and I found myself dressed too warmly again. Since I was in the lead this time, however, I got to chose when and where to stop, and I took lots of cool-down and pee breaks. The most exciting activity we experienced ended up being two frisky squirrels bolting out of a nearby tree chasing one another, and one nearly running up my well-camouflaged leg! It took everything in my power not to jump and scream like a little girl, even though there were no elk within earshot.

The day was gorgeous and Mike did his best to locate the source of tidbits left on trails, but to no avail. Mike with scope

Here’s my haiku from yesterday’s attempt:

No beginner’s luck
Humming “Kumbayah, my elk”
Only squirrels come

Day 2:

We started the hunt this morning feeling hopeful. With the extra hour of sleep (why are we still observing Daylight Savings Time?) and anticipation that the light snowfall would make it easy to find our tasty temptress (I, too, have a cow tag), we set out to a new location.

Hours later with much terrain covered following teasing signs on trails, we returned to the vehicle, elkless again. The spider webs that yesterday glinted with sunshine today were like strands of snow pearls hanging from the trees. Not too far from the road, we found evidence of elk in the area.

snowy elk skull

This morning’s haiku:

Snow frosted elk skull
Successful kill for someone
Sorry it’s not mine

Along with the skull were the pelvic bones and spine, all white as the snow that soon would bury them.

Knowing that we would find easy trails in the snow, we returned to the same spot this afternoon. With me in the lead and feeling like this could be “it,” I did my best to ignore the loud scrunching of our boots as we forged forward into the forest. At first it was humorous,photo 3 but with each step, my boots became heavier and heavier until I could kick off the mounting platform. I felt a bit like Frankenstein.

Frankenstein trudges
Hiking boots laden with snow
Scaring elk away

After a couple of hours of seeing nothing but rabbit and squirrel tracks, I started to get a little irritated. I was tired. I was hungry. I was making far too much noise in the winter wonderland of woods and caved-in mine shafts to sneak up on any prey. It was snowing, the sun was setting, and all I really wanted to do was go home and enjoy a glass of wine. Screw the wily elk.

Mike could tell I was starting to feel petulant and took the lead, trusting me to follow him, on slippery surfaces, with a loaded rifle. When he suggested that we crest one more hill to “see what was on the other side,” I almost cried. Instead, I turned around.

photo 2

photo 1



“See?” he whispered. “We’re doing real hunting. There aren’t too many people seeing this view tonight.” And he was right. We decided then to go just a bit further before heading back (how I loved to hear that phrase!).

Not 20 feet away, we found a fresh track, an elk track, in the snow, heading downhill. With adrenaline pumping, we followed the trail down and down and down…and down…and around…until it stopped, right by a large pine tree. I looked up. Not there. It was truly time to head home.

photo 1 (2)

By the time we reached our vehicle, it was quite dark. The rising moon shone through the foggy haze of rolling clouds and melting snow.

Perhaps tomorrow will be “it,” the day I will bring down my first elk. If not, I’ll just have to suffer through my spectacular surroundings a little longer.

Wish me luck!


The Little Bamboo that Couldn’t

photoThey said it couldn’t be done. Evidently, one winter in an unheated Leadville bathroom will make you stronger…or kill you.

Perhaps it’s the shock to my system when I sit on the icy seat each morning–after ensuring that the water in the bowl is not frozen–that invigorates me. Or maybe it’s the frequency of goosebumps, regardless of the hot water in the shower, that keeps me feeling perky.

Sorry, little bamboo. We can’t all be warriors.


Do I really hate it?

Do I really hate having to shovel day after day, sometimes for several hours, only to have my work undone by a city plow? Do I really hate having to bundle up on a -10 degree morning, ensuring almost no skin is exposed, to take my dog on his “time to go” walk, only to end up having to remove my hat and unzip because even though it’s freezing, the brilliant sun combined with the pumping of my blood is making me sweat? Do I really hate jumping into our Tempur-Pedic bed when the room temperature is hovering below 50, only to have my husband laugh at my “Ooof!” when I land on the brick-like surface before weaseling my way over to where his warmth has already created a snuggly cocoon?

And do I hate spending 20 extra minutes at Safeway because I know—and must chat with—someone in every aisle, or cleaning out the ashes of our wood-burning stove before starting a fire around which family and friends will gather, or having to walk to the post office instead of drive because it would be faster than shoveling out my car?


No. No, I don’t.

It’s funny, but I’ve been struggling with life in Leadville since well before we moved here nearly seven years ago. I often want to hate it, and sometimes I convince myself that I do.

But I really don’t, though I’ll never be fond of that city plow.



Although the ice crystals hadn’t yet bonded over the toilet water, my always-be-prepared hubby nevertheless activated our forced gas heat this morning, 52 degrees in the house feeling too frosty even for him. By the time he returned from taking Ranger out for his morning constitution, I had the fire started and the coffee ready.


It’s -15 in Leadville this morning, the sun is sparkling off powder-dry snow crystals, and I’m trying to decide what to wear for my book launch event at our local Book Mine this afternoon.

But first I will be donating blood, and I suppose I’m more worried about my life force’s ability to flow in what will most likely be a cold room at the Mining Museum. So I will drink hot tea until I trudge over there at 1:00.

They say you’ll live longer if you stay slim and cold, but who would want to under those conditions?!

Day-dreaming of turquoise waves splashing over hot bodies on faraway beaches…



Lifestyles of the rich and, er, …

Perhaps being married to our county’s Emergency Manager has skewed my perception of things, but I honestly feel like I’m living one of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

It’s not that his salary is fabulous—far from it. If it weren’t for Mike’s military pension, we’d both have to find better jobs. But the fact that I do not actually have to work right now has allowed me to explore my own selfish interests, and what more could a girl want?

“But what do you mean by ‘skewed’ perception?” you ask.

Well, it struck me as comical the other day that I was excited to be cooking my oatmeal on our wood-burning stove in the living room while hanging wet clothes, also in the living room, on the most excellent new drying rack I recently purchased. And that’s where being married to the Emergency Manager comes into play.

You see, even before we married 30 years ago, I knew my husband was a special kind of guy. I joined the Judo team at West Point our senior year so I could get to know him better and it was there I learned that my mate-to-be never did anything half-assed. I fell for him, hard, over and over again, and before the end of our last semester I had a yellow belt, a kajillion multi-colored bruises, and a sparkling engagement ring.

The first seven years of our marriage were wild and childless. We were both in the Army and loved our jobs. Mike’s constant never-quit attitude brushed off on me big-time, and I grew stronger and more confident in myself through each challenging experience we shared. His self-reliance was inspiring, and I learned to push myself to do things that didn’t come naturally. With my predisposition toward life as a couch potato, I thrilled myself each time I finished an “adventure race” or triathlon.

With the arrival of two strapping sons, I was the luckiest girl in the world. Even though our salary would be halved with my resignation from the Army, Mike encouraged me to transition from “Ma’am” to “Mom” (possibly my next book title), and 23 years of new challenges have passed like whispers in a whirlwind. Our sons learned that life is often not easy, and now they laugh at me (good-heartedly, I think!) when I talk about their dad’s preparations for our upcoming “black-out” weekend, which will have nothing to do with alcohol. They have yet to ask to come home that weekend.

After teaching in the public school system for several years, another challenge I honestly hated and loved, Mike once again encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming an author—which brings me back to feeling like I’m living one of those lives. Although I’m neither rich nor famous yet, I still am able to indulge my inner couch potato while writing, and I still am able to thrill myself each time I’ve climbed a mountain or lived through a frigid Leadville night with the thermostat turned down a few more degrees.

Living with a man who practices what he preaches has kept me from the eventual ennui that creeps, perhaps, into many relationships. Sure, I make fun of his parapet of books with titles like “Fear” and “Not a Good Day to Die” and his latest, “X-Events: The Collapse of Everything,” but I sleep well at night knowing that even if I’m not completely ready for the collapse of everything yet, he is.

And so I truly am a “kept woman.” I will continue to embrace each new opportunity to shirk the easy way of doing things because easy bores me, and because I can. We recently adopted a 3-year-old German Shepard from a rescue shelter because it would have been easier not to. Being married to a man who works so that I can air-dry laundry and take a dog on three long walks each day puts me in a category deserving of my own reality T.V. show.

I’m ready, world!




Boom Days Dodger

I’m awake at 05:45 without my alarm after having gone to bed a mere four hours earlier—having enjoyed a long evening of side-splitting laughter with the family and friends who are sharing beds and couches while visiting us this Boom Days weekend. The laughter helped me escape my somber mood from earlier yesterday when my sister called to tell me that our Dad was in the hospital.

I make my signature cheesy eggs and sausage for friends who will board a plane to Germany tomorrow for the next two years. We never made it to Abu Dhabi to visit them these last two years—for which I feel a twinge of guilt—and I promise that we will visit them in Ülm. I intend to keep this promise. They leave with hugs and full bellies, and I am just a little jealous of their new adventure.

At 9 o’clock there are people and floats and noisy, pooping animals traveling down our road to line up for the 10 o’clock parade to kick off Leadville’s Boom Days celebration. I haven’t missed a parade in nine years, and often I’ve even walked in the parade. Today, however, I can’t seem to muster a bit of enthusiasm for the spectacle.

My head is fuzzy—I haven’t slept well these past several nights—and as the rest of the house awakens, I can think of nothing but sleep. Two lovely girls descend the stairs in Victorian dresses, one son and another friend threaten to attend the parade in pajamas and Snuggies, my husband and other son leave for a mountain bike ride in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100 race next Saturday, and I’m already thinking about another houseful of early morning racers in 7 more days.

At 9:50 I know I will not attend the parade and holler at them all to get out of the house—and to not come back for two hours. I’ve got to take a nap, but I’ve got to use the bathroom first, and all three bathrooms are in use. I suppress a wave of resentment by remembering that I love the crazy days of summer, and even more, I love that we have friends and family who want to be with us. I want to live in the moment and be a part of the wacky Wild West festivities.

But my dad is in the hospital, his lungs filling with pneumonia, his skin cancer—after nearly a year of torturous radiation and chemo—raising its ugly head once more, and I want to get on a plane and be there right now. I want to run away from the fun and laughter here and bring some to my mom who has slept far less than I this past year, and to two of my sisters who have been carrying the load along with her.

Everyone leaves, and at 10 o’clock I’m in bed laughing at the foolishness of thinking I can sleep with the steam calliope warming up outside my bedroom window and the olde thyme prop planes buzzing the growing crowds along the parade path. Nevertheless, after seeing 10:25 on the clock beside my bed I fall into a bottomless sleep and I’m pretty sure it’s wonderful.

I awake for the second time today, but startled this time, hearing the clip-clip of hooves and the braying of mules—not unusual for Leadville—and wondering why I am in bed looking at 11:30 on my alarm clock. I check my pillow for drool.

Time to get up; we’re hosting a barbecue for 30 people in four hours. Perhaps I’ll attend some of the fun down town tomorrow.