Sunday, April 30, 2017

Piute Log...Curious Finch 2003

21 Aug (Thu)     Wide awake at 3 a.m. to a sudden rain drumming on the roof. Oh, no! Packing in the rain. So I barely got to sleep again, for just minutes (glad to have ‘em) before getting out of bed at five. It stopped raining right about then and I went out to feed the horses (locked in the corral) by flashlight. At 6:30 I was catching all the rest of the horses, panniers loaded. Real efficient this morning…no unforced errors on my part, no knaveries on theirs. ◦◦◦◦◦ Before we left the cabin I noticed this audacious young Cassins finch on the ground out at the hitch rail. An immature. While I was saddling and loading this silly bird was there on the ground virtually under the horses’ feet, presumably scouting for scattered oats (though I hadn’t given the stock any grain this morn). After we rolled and went through the gate and then headed down the hill, a young finch appeared and followed us for quite a long ways. I’m virtually certain it was the same bird though I never imagined a songbird would stray so far from its territory. Solitaires are conspicuously curious birds. I’ve seen them flit from tree to tree staying just ahead of me and near the trail, sometimes for a hundred yards and more—a behavior I’ve observed a number of times. But this adolescent bird—an impetuous teenager—followed much farther, for perhaps a third of a mile. It would land in trailside saplings to watch us pass, then dart ahead and land right by the trail on the ground to intently watch us go by again, oblivious of the pounding hooves. Over and over it leapfrogged ahead only to stop and observe our passing yet again. I couldn’t believe how long this went on—never seen nuthin’ like it. For some reason it caused me to feel utter delight and joy: tiny young bird following us solely from curiosity. I was talking to it, asking pointed questions, and felt a vague kinship with another soul who was following whims out of sheer inquisitiveness. Big grins for the ranger.

   ©2017 Tim Forsell                  23 Apr 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Piute Log...He Knew I Was Crazy 1990

A couple of excerpts from a four day patrol at the start of hunting season—a yearly ritual in the early days of my career. It so happened that the designated hunting zone in the Bridgeport region—known as X–12—was extremely popular, notorious amongst deer hunters for its high success rate. They’d come from all over for “opening weekend.” One of the most popular staging areas was Obsidian Campground, some miles up a dirt road off of Highway 395, in the vicinity of the Sonora Pass junction. This camp was at the confluence of two canyons—Burt and Molybdenite (a mineral that had once been mined there)—and was excellent hunting terrain, in part because there were no lakes in either canyon and thus few hikers and fishermen to contend with. For a number of years, I’d patrol this area each opening weekend of rifle season (bow season started earlier to give those hunters “first shot,” so to speak. As a Forest Service employee, I was entitled to “validate” bucks by signing the tag showing that the deer was a legal kill. (It had to have horns with at least one branching, or “fork.”) Hunters were always delighted to have me sign their tags as this saved them having to stop by a Fish & Game Office, so I had the opportunity to talk with many hunters. Of course, being a professional, I kept my personal views to myself. And while not morally opposed to the idea of taking game, the notion of enjoying killing for “sport” has always baffled me. Many of the hunters I met (virtually all men) were perfectly respectable and conscientious but, not surprisingly, a fair number of them were…I’ll just say, not people I’d care to spend time with. ◦◦◦◦◦ As the years passed, the high kill-rate took its toll on the local population, as did a viral infection that wiped out many deer in the entire region. The State Department of Fish & Game cut the number of permits in half and, just a couple of years later, halved that figure. This put an end to the bonanza days of X–12; a lottery system was instated and, suddenly, even local hunters were unable to get tags. People who had, literally, been coming for decades simply stopped showing up. The local pack stations took a real hit, the hunter clientele being one of their top earners. The permit reduction was long overdue but I actually missed these patrols. There was a special excitement to them, with the hope (always) of nailing someone with an illegal deer. ◦◦◦◦◦ These entries start with my return to Piute after a few days off. Note that, in these days I was still writing hints and directions to future rangers that would be reading these journals. It wasn’t long after this that I realized I wasn’t leaving my records behind and began to use them as a vehicle to record my experiences in a more personal way, and with an eye to a future book of some kind.

8 Sep (Sat)    Opening day of deer season! No shots heard (yet). ◦◦◦◦◦ A lesson learned yesterday on my way in. I’d packed two sacks of grain on Redtop, in slings, and tarped. But the tarp didn’t totally cover one of the sacks; a little corner was hanging out. Still at Cranney’s, Redtop was swiveling around and nibbling at that corner. I didn’t think about it again until I’d pulled off the trail for a quick break just before the Long Canyon junction. But when I got off Pal, there’s Redtop (a.k.a. Baby Huey) eagerly crunching away at a growing pile of oats leaking from the corner of that sack. And there’s a thin line of grain running down the side of the trail ended at that pile. Incredibly, I had no string! Took a draw-cord off one of my little ditty bags and clove-hitched the hole shut and pulled the tarp completely over and under the grain. Today’s lesson is: Don’t let a good horse go bad! Cover your grain! Carry some string with you, always! ◦◦◦◦◦ Today I packed stuff for a three-nighter and rode up Ypparaquirre Canyon. (When I passed that spot where I’d stopped yesterday, found that the trail of grain was only a hundred yards long and very spotty for the first half. It’d just started to flow in earnest when I caught it; probably lost only 3–4 pounds but if I hadn’t spotted it when I did that sack would’ve bled out in five minutes or so and the load would’ve gone around his belly. Lucky again!) ◦◦◦◦◦ A lovely warm, clear day. Turned off at the Ypparaquirre cutoff [local Basque sheepherder surname; pronounced “para-gary”] and rode up the steep but so-fine old trail, gorgeous views down on Hidden Lake, and as per usual got lost at the hunter’s camp. (Don’t go up the draw, contour!) ◦◦◦◦◦ Went to my favorite camp up top. Seems like I was here at about this time last year and expected the feed to be even better but the little ponds were dry and the sedges and grasses browning. Set up my meager scene while keeping an ear on the horses’ bells. Took a quick hike up onto the moraine—the old map shows a “lake” up there but it’s only a depression that holds water early (dry now). Poked around ‘til sunset looking for obsidian shards. Had a can of beef stew in the last light. The boys started drifting just as I was falling asleep; the moon had just risen so I caught and tied ‘em up. Had hoped to leave them out all night.

9 Sep (Sun)     Up at dawn to turn the horses loose (with hobbles, of course). Saw Venus rise just as it was getting too light to see it easily. ◦◦◦◦◦ I love this place—it is so peaceful and spacious and good for holding the stock as well. ◦◦◦◦◦ Big day ahead. Heard three distant shots before I left on a big loop around Walker Mountain. Started up what I call “Yparraquirre Pass,” which exits the eastern lobe of the head of the canyon into the “hanging valley” above—an amazing little vale way up on the crest of the mountain ridge, a little snow-fed brook meandering slowly through a meadow at over 10000’. ◦◦◦◦◦ Dropped down the old Piute Pass trail. Got lost a time or two but found blazes on trees at opportune times. Hardly anybody uses this trail any more but it was certainly a route the Piute used. ◦◦◦◦◦ Pal real eager today and when we hit the Burt Canyon trail and turned downcanyon he really moved out. Neat to be here again—first time since ’86 when Lorenzo and Jim Mabe and I took out all those avalanched trees. (We cleared all of ‘em out with the crosscut—a huge job). The sawn ends were all grey and weathered-looking already. ◦◦◦◦◦ Started seeing a few hunters and when we got to Obsidian Campground, one flagged me down. We talked a bit and I validated his buck. Sadly, it had one of those arrows (with the tip made out of what are essentially razor blades) lodged between the tibia and fibula of one front leg. It’d probably been hit at least a couple of weeks ago and had somehow managed to break off most of the aluminum shaft. Glad this guy had gotten him; the wound had festered and surely would’ve killed the thing in time, after much suffering. The hunter (early 30s) didn’t seem particularly fazed by the buck’s plight but was happy to have put it out of its misery. He was a real talker and, eventually, sensing he’d talked about himself long enough, tried to shift the conversation my way by asking me when I was going to get a chance to go after my own buck. “Well…actually, I don’t hunt.” He was visibly shocked and after a moment, sounding a little disappointed, smiled and said, “Well, at least you get to do a lotta fishin’!” When I told him that I didn’t fish, either, his face fell. This news stunned him to silence. It was obvious that the idea really floored him: the notion of a ranger, living in a backwoods paradise, not taking advantage of harvesting the bounty of the land. He rallied to ask, in a sort of mystified tone, “Well then, whaddya do back here when you aren’t workin’?” I knew better than to tell him I was into birds and flowers so instead said, lamely, that I just enjoyed walking around looking at things. Clearly disturbed now, he gave me this kind of sidelong glance, wouldn’t look me in the eye, and mumbled something about what he’d be doing if he had my job. At that point, it was easy to disengage. He obviously thought I was some kind of crazy. ◦◦◦◦◦ Headed into Molybdinite and started running into bunches of hunters heading back to camp after the morning’s outing, two parties with carts. Two had a buck they’d hauled down from Mud Springs Canyon. What an epic that must’ve been! A horrible tangle of aspens and deadfall! They looked none too happy, in fact. ◦◦◦◦◦ Farther upcanyon, started running into a big spread-out stock group of eleven. These guys had been coming up for years and every year Lorenzo would stop by their camp way in the back of the campground. They asked about him and said how much they always enjoyed seeing him. They’d each scored—11 bucks in the two days of opening weekend. Quite the slaughter…. ◦◦◦◦◦ For the first time ever, I rode over the top of Moly Canyon. Absolutely gorgeous up there. You have to go around to the left of that big rock wall (when on horseback) but you can easily ride behind it. First, though, I rode to the ridgetop above—Flatiron Ridge—for stupendous views down into Buckeye Canyon, right across from Eagle Peak and its 4000’ drop into the big long canyon—likely one of the largest scarps in the Sierra. A fine place—sort of a high plateau, flat with clumps of whitebarks. Also looked into a tiny pocket meadow in the drainage from Hanna into Buckeye, a neat little grassy hole surrounded by tall rock cliffs. A very isolated and holy place never visited by man. Seriously, it’d be really hard to get down to it and probably only a few humans—white or red—ever have. Love to go there… Spotted mountain quail feathers blowing around and  found a scattering of them where an eagle had dined after toting its meal up from the valley floor (of one of the two canyons). Found a gauzy, pale brown leg plume that told me it was an eagle kill.

©2017 by Tim Forsell         5 Jan 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Piute Log...Close Strike, Tree Visit 1994

18 Jul (Mon)    Wet & humid; another hot day in the making. The two of us walked out to the outhouse and up the hill to the south fork of Dinky Creek, through what I call “the Gates of Delirium” (where the monkshood grows thick) and over to the north fork, which we followed over the hill (1800’ vertical gain) and down to Harriet Lake. Storm a-brewin’ again. We continued up to Cora and picked a bunch of trash out of the main camp’s firepit. ◦◦◦◦◦ On to Helen. It started raining so hard that we had to don raincoats despite the warmth. Strolled around in lush gardens interspersed with bedrock and out onto the peninsula where we found a big, ugly pit in a clump of whitebarks only ten feet from the shore. Set about tearing it down, throwing rocks in the lake. (Don’t like doing this but nowhere to hide ‘em otherwise.) It started to pour, then hail, and lightning was cracking around us just overhead so we decided it was time to stash the shovel and sit this one out. Hailing real hard so we hunkered down under a clump of the ratty pines in our coats & shorts and got pretty wet just sitting there. A real deluge so there was nothing for it but to hold tight and wait it out. Diane was soon chilled (there’s not an ounce of fat on the girl) but we just sat there. ◦◦◦◦◦ Both of us were looking right at it when it hit: a ground-strike not 70 yards away and we clearly saw an electric ribbon split the world open with an authentic, genuine roar and (a poof of smoke). Our bodies involuntarily clenched up tight in body-terror. I’ve had several strikes closer to me than that one but didn’t see any of them. This was different. Seventy yards sounds like plenty of leeway but I can tell you, when it hit the thing “felt” like half that distance. For the next ten minutes we were pretty jumpy, waiting resignedly for the final and fatal flash of blinding light (which, post-close-strike, your mind assures you is immanent…). Diane was getting real chilled, shivering, and when the hail finally slacked and the lightning was back up in the clouds again we walked over to find “the spot.” We’d literally been right there only 20 minutes before the strike. It hit in a clump of whitebarks but, surprisingly, didn’t blast the trees. Instead, it came down to the ground and we found scattered hunks soil & duff plus an 80-or-so pound rock that had been tossed five feet from its resting-place of at least several millennia. The thing was frosted white on one side with a 10,000 volt glaze, a thing to see. And ponder soberly. ◦◦◦◦◦ Walked back and finished our job. In lighter rain we marched over to Ruth Lake double-time just to warm up and tore out another big pit built up against a rock. The sun finally came out. We took off out coats to let them dry before heading up to Dorothy Lake Pass and walking back down. Stopped at Harriet and visited a group camped there. Bart had brought these folks in so we dropped off my bag of trash with them to be hauled out when the packer came for them. ◦◦◦◦◦ Marched home. Rain still threatening but none fell on us. Took that old trail from the Cascade Creek crossing and dove over the top and down, taking “Tim’s cutoff,” a cross-country route that crosses Dinky Creek and ends back at the Piute outhouse. Both of us real tired, legs wet and boots sodden from the dripping brush. An immense pleasure, getting back in the cabin. Once into dry clothes I sprawled on my bed soaking in the comfort. Whipped up a big ol’ frittata for supper.

19 Jul (Tue)     Woke up to a cloudy morning, warm and humid. Time growing short for Diane in Piute Country and still we’d not visited the Grandfather Juniper, just across the way. So, early, we took the little tour: walked up to “Big Jeff,” (the tree I string my hammock in) and checked out the ledge where the rope ladder is anchored. Then on to the classic viewpoint of the meadow and across to the Grandfather. As I usually do with visitors to this holy tree, I lead them by hand the last bit with their eyes closed and place them before it. When eyes open, all supplicants are stopped cold by the massive eleven-foot-wide trunk placidly standing before them. There are larger junipers and older ones (though I conservatively estimate this tree to be well into the B.C. range). This particular tree, though, is so magnificent and so plainly a witness to fleeting centuries that all are powerfully moved by it. The Grandfather juniper has a palpable charisma—everybody feels it. ◦◦◦◦◦ Later, a group of Scouts from Sacramento stopped by and I spent two full hours with them out on the porch. They (leaders in particular) were very receptive so I gave 'em everything—ranger version of “da woiks.” Bear stories? Hell, yeah!

Quotes copied inside the cover of this volume of “Piute Log”:

What I never wish for, not even in my worst hours, is an average state of mind, halfway between good and bad, a lukewarm, tolerable mean. No, rather an exaggerated swing of the pendulum—rather worse torment, and to make up for it let my happy moments be a little more radiant!
                                                               Hermann Hesse, from Wandering

The ideal way to direct events is not to create resistance or elicit counterreactions. The technique to achieve a perfect flow of events is the art of wu-wei—of not working against the grain of things. Instead of pushing to make things happen, in the Taoist way you wait for the right moment, when actions seem to fall into place almost of their own accord. When that moment occurs, you are swept effortlessly along with time.
                                                                        Diana hunt and Pam Hait

©2017 by Tim Forsell         4 Jan 2017 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Piute Log...Hanging Valley Revisit 1994

24 Jun (Fri)     OFF. …. Left Wheeler at 3 o’clock. Destination: Burt Canyon trailhead. I intentionally got a very late start to climb Walker Mountain and hoped to get back to the truck with just enough light to navigate by, all so’s I could enjoy the fine light cast on the delightful “hanging valley” just below the summit. Hadn’t been up there but once, nine years ago. ◦◦◦◦◦ Just as I pulled through the Wheeler gate and across the bridge, I was treated to the following little drama. ◦◦◦◦◦ It’s the big annual H.O.G. weekend [Harley Owners Group rally] in Bridgeport. Every year around solstice, hundreds of Harley Davidson motorcycles show up in town for a big jam-bo-ree. An impressive array of fancy bikes line Main Street and fill the center lane. It’s a big deal for the town, with lots of booths set up selling trinkets, leather goods, greasy snacks, fresh tattoos, you name it. ◦◦◦◦◦ Anyway, they’re pouring into town today and as I started up the last bit of our driveway, where it climbs up out of the creek, a half dozen Harleys pulled to the side of the road directly above me. One guy got off his rig and staggered purposefully down the steep embankment. He was obviously three, oh maybe three-and-a-half sheets to the wind. Dude was wasted. But he was able to neatly arrest himself the couple of times when he began to keel over. He was being followed by a likewise beer-bellied fella who (I assumed) was going to try to coax him off his bike—they were having a heated argument and all the other riders’ eyes and mine were on them. (I made visual contact through my windshield with a couple of the onlookers, who flashed me sheepish, apologetic grins.) As I pressed on, a van pulled over as well with a flatbed trailer carrying a couple of spare Harleys. Road crew to the rescue! Drunk guy was just starting to unbuckle his belt to relieve himself of a load o’ processed beer while all the traffic streamed by in full view, the other man gesticulating. ◦◦◦◦◦ Headed for the Little Walker and, basically, followed the route I took way back in ‘85, which led a couple miles up Burt Canyon and up a ridge to the top. Below it is a true hanging valley (this little vale right on top of the ridge being an unglaciated relic surface of an ancient upland). ◦◦◦◦◦ Got to the summit (11563’) right at six after a tedious trudge up loose-rock slopes to the summit, which was nothing more than a vaguely highest point on the big ol’ hump of a ridgeline. Spectacular views, nonetheless, of all the local peaks plus the bonus of a sliver of Mono Lake. The forboding cliff of Flatiron Butte just across the way. There was a new register, placed only a month after my previous visit, but the rumpled slip of paper with my name on it was still in the can. Neat to see: “26 June 1985—Tim Forsell—USFS Ranger on the prowl.” And there was ol’ Rod Davis, the goat man, signed in from 1991. (Not a lot of climbers bother with this obscure heap of a peak.) ◦◦◦◦◦ The register had been placed by Ned Boyles and party. I remember him well. He was 71 when he put that canister on top. We’d met later that same summer  and then again the following year. Both times, he was camped during deer season at the head of Piute Canyon, just below the pass. (Only a few miles from this summit, actually.) The times I met Ned he was up here hunting with sons and their friends, men several decades his junior. They invited me, both years, to their “formal dinner.” These guys actually packed up formal evening wear, black suits and ties; what they had for supper I don’t know but without doubt there was French champagne or the equivalent, probably served in delicate glassware. I had to decline both times on account of being far from the trailhead and unsuitably attired. What a cool, crazy tradition! Ned was a silver-haired, vital, and genteel man…a retired Air Force Captain who’d flown fighter planes in WWII, taking off from aircraft carriers during major historical offensives in the Pacific. Ned told me he’d escaped that war unscathed and again during the Korean affair—had, in fact, never been seriously injured in his entire life (wish I could say the same…) until, years after retirement, when he was out golfing. It was a fine day until someone yelled “FORE!!”and he looked up just in time for an errant golf ball to take out all his front teeth. His smile was radiant, in spite of (or maybe because of?) the dentures. I guess things always catch up to you, some way or another. ◦◦◦◦◦ I wrote a little blurb about Ned in the register, recounting what I wrote here but in fewer words. He’d be 80 now, bless him, and I hope he’s still golfing. Definitely one of those people who remain active into their 90s. ◦◦◦◦◦ Dropped down off the shattered ridge and meandered around the marvelous hanging valley in delicious evening light—a meadow in the sky with surreal hoodoo-type outcrops of white granite popping out around its margins. Residual snowfields feeding a tiny grassy-banked brook that flows through the frost-heaved, hummocky meadow with buttercups and shooting stars providing color. The tiny creek dives off a cliff and flows down another hidden valley lined by aspen thickets. All in all, a special place with a feel that’s difficult to describe. Hardly ever visited and that, of course, lends such places some of their magical ambiance. On my first visit I recall that the only human sign I found was a real old-style Seven-Up can well-perforated by bullet holes. This day I found another one, also shot full of holes, undoubtedly left by the same hunting party. ◦◦◦◦◦ Time to start down so I climbed up to another point and followed the crest of Hanging Valley Ridge northwards, dropping down finally onto the morainal benches rimming Burt Canyon. Wonderful gardens in the brush—all colors of the rainbow. Especially noteworthy were dry, open breaks in the sagebrush/bitterbrush/mahogany thickets that were carpeted with the lavender onion Allium campanulatum and purple Phacelia humilis with some paintbrush thrown in—a brilliant and pleasing combination of gay party colors. Cruised down the steep side of the moraine with a fist-ful of flowers, a bouquet just for me. ◦◦◦◦◦ It was after sunset by the time I hit the trail and a fittingly garish sunset was in full progress—wind-driven lenticular clouds turning just the colors of the party-hued gardens, casting a pink glow on the mountainsides. I felt very pleased in a general sense. ◦◦◦◦◦ Just before I got to the truck, walking down the road (it was properly dark except for lingering color in the west) I turned one last time to look back at where I’d been. And just as I looked at Walker Mountain a shooting star blazed right over that giant whale-back ridge—an exceedingly improbable occurrence and lovely omen. What do these chance happenings mean? Harbingers of what? Why me? I dunno…all I can say is “Thanks kindly for the gifts!” I’m blessed by shooting stars of two varieties and encounters with myriads of gaily colored flowers that sprout from dry, stoney soils. And not to mention the airy views. Must say, I paid my dues this long afternoon and eve—cranked hard and sweated loads to get where I was going and back home safe again.

     ©2017 by Tim Forsell                            8  Mar 2017