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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sojourn in Autumn

A few weeks ago my good friend Thom Cantrall informed me that he was heading into the woods for a relaxing weekend of squatching.  He offered to send me a recap of his adventures, and I gladly accepted.

Thom has a gift for creative writing and I knew that his report would be an entertaining read.  Enjoy.

Sojurn in Autumn
Thom Cantrall

            The sun had not yet reached the bottom of the sharp-sided canyon, but the road had deteriorated past the point I really felt I should be driving my Le Sabre any further.  It was later than I had hoped to be arriving but my plans for an early departure had to be altered when I realized that the vineyard where I planned to procure my boxes of grapes would not be easily negotiated before it was light enough to see my way around easily.
            Another slight hitch in my carefully laid plans occurred when, on arriving at the vineyard, I found that they had not picked the crop yet as I had assumed they would.  Since the picking crew was working in the apple orchard adjacent to the several thousand acres of grapes I contacted one of the foremen to let them know that I’d planned to get some grapes from the end of the rows where they cannot be accessed by the machines used to mechanically pick the fruit.  Armed with permission… well, I assume it was permission, my Spanish not being all that good… I filled my two boxes brought along for this purpose with ripe concord grapes and went on my way.
            I know that I have probably should not have been so highly exorcised over the state of the two ruts that passed for a road the last two miles or so I traversed to reach the place I had chosen as my base camp for this outing, but I have developed a fixation for certain parts on my car.  I have, over the years found that I really care for things like mufflers, tail pipes, transmissions and oil pans.  This decided, when I found a very nice little cut area in a biome of mature fir and pine trees with a border of various brushes adjacent to a lively little stream.  It had all the necessary features for my basis of operations for the next couple of days.  In days past, I would have hiked in a mile or two before setting up, but the infirmities of old age have confined me to those areas approachable without a determined hike.
I had chosen this time, 25 Sept, because the archery deer and elk seasons were over and I thought I’d probably be pretty much by myself for whatever time I decided to stay here.  I did not account for the fact that the fall turkey season was still underway and this area is quite alive with the Rio Grande species of wild turkey.  During my stay I probably saw thirty five or more of these birds but heard of no one actually taking one.  My quest required my isolation but, alas, this was not to be.  During my time there, I saw four or five pickups, each with two or three persons inside.  In addition, there was one cavalcade of four horses exiting the region on the morning I arrived. 
            Since I could not expect to have any great success, I went about the task of creating a worthwhile camp.  I wanted an area where I was not going to be an interloper, but a part of the background.  I have been learning at the knee, as it were, of my Indian Mentor.  Following my teachings here, I searched out an area to establish my Indian Altar and issue my prayer given me for this purpose.  My Altar was simple.  I utilized a stump that was crowned by crest of Malus… wild apple… from which I suspended the eagle feathers consecrated for and dedicated to the purpose at hand.  I hung the Golden Eagle feather from Oklahoma above the Bald Eagle feather from Alaska where the winds from the four directions could turn them and twist them just so.  Below these symbols of the ancient past, I placed my token of the twenty first century.  I had a scent lure stick that burned like an incense stick and was placed under a small box-like affair that prevented any stray wind from accelerating the burning rate of the stick or, worse, causing that stick to fall and ignite a fire in the dry grass of the area. 
            I planned to use the scent lure simply as an announcement to the area that food was available here.  I had chosen a berry scented scent stick and I had some boxes of grapes to offer should anyone come to my lure.  Each stick burned for approximately six hours and in the canyon bottom like I was, the wind was never steady in any one direction, but tended to swirl constantly, carrying the aroma of ripe berries to all areas of my environment.  This part of my chores done, I sat down to wait and enjoy my labors, such as they were.  It was not long until the first of my visitors arrived… on a four wheeler… and he insisted on stopping to talk for a bit.  He was curious as to what I was doing camped as I was and I don’t even think he saw my Altar.  I’m not sure he accepted my reply that I was there to meet a particular Sasquatch, but being Yakama Indian, he was familiar with them in the area and suggested that I was in a great spot to have a chance of seeing one.  I tried to explain that is was not just “one” hoped to see, but a particular “one”… one with a distinctive red stripe on his right side.  He left me with best wishes for fortune in my endeavor… if he did appear a bit skeptical of my thesis… When the next hour brought me another pickup with two people within I decided to chronicle the conditions in the area of my chosen camp.   I knew I was not going to be awarded the conversation I was seeking with Red Stripe, but I could set the groundwork for some basic research.  To begin, I thought it might be nice to know, now, I was getting the distinct feeling that bringing a couple of boxes of grapes to them at this time was somewhat akin to worrying about having spilled a cup of water on oneself just before falling out of the boat.   

There was food everywhere.                                                                                            

I walked over to the small river that I had chosen as the base of my operations and was greeted with the sight of salmon everywhere.  Both Coho and Chinook were in the river spawning.  There were redds everywhere there was ample gravel and ample room.  Actually, most were in the process of being built.  It is amazing to watch Chinook salmon that weighed over forty pounds in this small stream clearing away enough gravel so they could lay a couple hundred thousand eggs to perpetuate their species.  It is amazing to watch the transformation that takes place as beautiful, shiny silver bullets lose their streamlining to assume the appearance of creatures more appropriate to fighting off rivals and claim jumpers and who can now lift and move large stones that happen to stand in the way of a successful bed for their eggs.  This river system was home to two major species of salmon… the Chinook or King and the Coho or Silver… Sockeye Salmon also run the main river system, but do not get into this particular tributary as they require a lake to allow them to choose a mate.  Therefore, those species travel further up the Snake River, even all the way into Idaho in search of the places where they themselves were born.
            As I made my way back up from the water to near my camp, I found many more sources of food available.  In addition to the Malus or apples trees, one of which was serving me as an Altar Tree, there were such foods as Rose Hips… for there were Nootka Roses growing in profusion.  Rose hips are extremely high in several necessary vitamins and nutrients but most high in Vitamin C.  This is an excellent source of this essential element even for we mere men.  I would venture to say I could have picked four bushels of these delicacies within one hundred yards of my camp.
            Another major food source was rotted logs and stumps.  These are the nurseries for grubs, worms, termites and some ant colonies.  It is difficult to find an old stump or rotting log in this area that has not received the attentions of a large hairy mammal.  In many cases that hairy mammal is merely a Black Bear, but in some cases, it is out large friends that had brought me out here to commune.
            There was a variety of other berries growing in the area such as black berry and huckleberries.  Both are an important food source for all the animals that dwell in this inter-mountain biome.  There are a couple of species I found that I do not think are edible to them.  One is the Snowberry which is so named for the large white berries that grow in profusion on the low bushes.  The fact that I have never seen even birds working on these berries, even in the worst winters tells me that they are, at least, not desirable, if not toxic.  Another that fits this pattern is the Black Hawthorne… and please notice the wicked spines on that bush.  These berries were just at eye level and the tree was another four feet tall.
            In addition to all I had chronicled, there was a profusion of seed bearing plants in the immediate area.  From the myriad grasses to the tall stalked Common Mullein, no one would lack for seeds if this was their desire.  It was somewhat premature to have ripe seedheads on the Mullein, but another month would see them well on their way and see my hosts well feed for most of the early winter at least.
            In addition to these mentioned assets, the area is alive with deer.  My camp was on a piece of ground that had been bulldozed clean this late summer and there were the tracks of at least twenty two mule deer in the bare dirt there that had been made the night prior to my arrival.  As I watched the hillside opposite my watchpost, I witnessed a bull elk emerge from the timber and bed down on an open slope where he could see for a long distance as he awaited the coming darkness.
            To say there was a plethora of food would have to rate as something of an understatement.  Well, more likely an understatement of epic proportions… from the fish of the water, the products of the trees and shrubs to the streamside I found that I could live there very well.  Add to that the flesh of the larger animals that are certainly available to him, and I think I’d have to say he is well kept there.
            Having reached this conclusion and knowing I was not going to have the opportunity that I wished with as many people as were moving in the area, I decided to come in early on my Sunday.  I packed up my Altar and doused my scent lure.  I put away my food and left his food for him near the stream’s edge in a protected place.  I loaded my car and made all my preparations for egress when I heard a whistle.  It was a whistle I knew and I turned instantly to see … Just in time to see his head as he ducked out of sight.  I asked if he could come back long enough to introduce himself and the very clear answer I received was, “No, not today, it is too dangerous.”  And he was right.  No sooner had this happened that another vehicle could be heard grinding its way up the two ruts that passed for a road in this marvelously enchanted river bottom known as the South Fork…

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