Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day

The early evening was glorious, the air crisp and clean. The perfectly angled sunlight streaming into the still heavily laden red and yellow leaves of oak brush and wild maple visually set the fall foliage on fire. My wife Laurie and I, along with our three young children and Grandpa and Grandma Washburn, tromped through the few dead and down leaves in search of wild turkey feathers. We were exploring on my in-laws' property, which is located on the east flank of the Blue Mountains, just above Monticello. It was one of those autumn afternoons poets, the likes of Robert Frost and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, could only do justice through well crafted verse. We could hear Merriam turkeys chuckle across the way, but could not see them for the thick brush and stands of aspen and pine between us. We knew those wily rascals roosted nearby, because they left behind tufts of fluff and feathery fringe.

Navajo Turkey Carving

Laurie had a fistful of the flat-topped, white-tipped tail feathers and several striped brown, black and white wing plumes. The brown tones in the feathers were coppery and iridescent when viewed through the refracted light. Every time Spenser, Alyssa or McKale found one they would sprint to their mother, pass off the treasure and fan out in search of more. Because of his sharp eyes and intimate knowledge of terrain, Grandpa had a small handful of pompons himself. Grandma had even fewer finds because she and Laurie were more interested in the flora of the mountain lands. Earlier they had gathered a small sack of seeds from the dry pods of columbine in the nearby meadow. More often than not, mother and daughter were bent over some plant or bush, plotting a future of replanting their yards. I had the fewest finds of all, because I was more interested in antagonizing the kids than plundering plumage. Much to my wife's chagrin, I am the instigator of mayhem in our home. In an effort to teach them to predict the unpredictable, I do my darnedest to keep our children on their toes.

As we probed deeper into the stand of oak, we came upon a grouping of trees 8-10 inches thick, hefty for oak brush. The trees rose 6-8 feet, arched overhead and created an woven mesh of branches. With the mass of colorful leaves lit-up as they were, the place impressed me as a natural cathedral enhanced by a leafy version of stained glass. We stood there silently in the midst of this sacred place, embraced by its splendor. Just then the breeze picked-up and the dried seed-pods resting upon the columbine stalks began a woodsy harmony as they bumped and scraped against each other. Further back in the trees the wild turkey joined the concert with their deep throated verse. It must have been Alyssa or McKale who first discovered the mother load of turkey plumage, because I heard a loud squeal of excitement. Grandpa exclaimed, "We found their roost!" The happiness in the children's voices as they laughed, scrambled about and let out exclamations of pleasure added harmony to the coral arrangement. To my ears there was no more beautiful sound in the world.

As I stood there watching, wondering, enjoying my family and listening to the chorus, a group of does and fawns filed out of the trees and began feeding in the meadow just below us. They seemed completely unperturbed by our boisterous presence. The deer were within 50 yards of us, and I could see their brown eyes blink occasionally, as if they wondered at the awkward, loud nature of human beings. In spite of everything, they seemed to accept us. As I stood taking in the scene, I heard rustling in the bushes to my right. Slowly moving in that direction, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare and unusual tassel-eared Abert's squirrel. I slowly rounded a group of three closely grouped pine trees and spied a couple chipmunks frolicking in the leaves. I bent over, plucked a stalk of crested wheat grass, leaned against a tree and chewed the stem as I watched Chip and Dale play. Behind me I heard more rustling. Leaning forward slightly and looking through the trees, I spied my son Spenser intently scanning the ground for feathers. He passed my position without noticing me and turned his back as he began to move away. "Time to disrupt!", I thought to myself. I moved as quietly as a cougar preparing to pounce; sure of my prey. When I was in position I let out a roar like a grizzly bear and charged the boy, expecting to have him in my grasp in no time. Somehow Spenser anticipated my attack and took off on an all out sprint, quickly outracing me. "The little Bounder!" As I pulled-up winded and spent, laughs and cheers erupted all around me, Spenser had outwitted his maniacal old man. I guess I was, deservedly, the turkey of the day.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Friday, November 19, 2010


It was the summer of 1971, and the Simpson family was living in a mobil home behind the Plateau filling station south of Blanding. Woody, our paternal grandfather, was working in Cisco, Colorado, clearing brush for the Nielson brothers.

Craig, Barry and I ran the service station, pumping gas, checking oil, repairing punctured tires, washing windows and drinking Pepsi. At eleven, twelve and thirteen years of age, we were fully in charge. When one of us had a baseball game or other important event, the others would sub in. If for some reason we were all gone at once, Rose and Duke took over.

Woody, whose name was actually Woodrow Wilson Simpson, was a handyman's handyman. When it came to welding, driving a Caterpillar tractor or repairing a pick up truck, there was none better. At times it seemed he could design, build or repair anything. As for catskinning, it was said that Woody could level land so well water would run in either direction. Many testified they had personally witnessed this landscaping miracle.

After a week’s work in Cisco, Woody would often stop by the station to say hello and have a soda. On one particular occasion, he came home a few days early. Upon pulling his Ford into one of the fueling bays, he reached into the back of his truck and pulled out a gunny sack full of squirming, chattering critters. “What’s that?” we shouted. “Coons,” he proudly proclaimed.

Apparently Woody had found a nest of kits. Their mother had either abandoned them or been run over during the clearing campaign, so Woody, being a lover of all animals great and small, decided to adopt the whole bunch. As it turned out, they were more than he could handle at his camp trailer, so he was intent on farming them out to his family and friends. We were an intended recipient. After considerable discussion, Rose and Duke consented and we became the proud owners of of a baby raccoon. Never known for our creativity, we named him “Bandit.”

Since our home had only two bedrooms, every night Craig, Barry and I rolled out sleeping bags and slept on the living room floor. While he was small Bandit would crawl inside the bags and sleep at our feet. As Bandit progressed into full grown maturity, we realized our sleeping arrangements would have to change. While building a run to confine him, we put a dog house out in the yard and staked Bandit to a chain, which was in line with the custom of the time. Every morning Bandit would exit his new abode and pace back and forth on his chain, eventually wearing a semicircular path in front of his new dwelling.

During his tenure in the house, Bandit had developed a fondness for the yellow tabby cat we called Tigger. That’s right, T-I-double Ga-Er. Tigger, on the other hand, realizing there was no future in the relationship, had no love for Bandit and consequently avoided him at all cost.

Noting that Bandit’s mobility had been circumscribed, Tigger began sitting just outside the perimeter of Bandit’s walking path, licking her paws and tempting him with her considerable charm. That drove Bandit crazy, and he tried every conceivable trick to reach the feline. It was, however, no use, the cat always stayed just beyond Bandit’s reach.

One morning we looked out the kitchen window to see how Bandit was getting on and noticed he no longer paced at the end of his chain. Instead, he had withdrawn a few feet and was pacing a short path back and forth. It was clear the cat, was about to make a grave miscalculation.

Assuming Bandit was, as always, at the end of his rope, Tigger strolled out and sat down; just inside the worn semicircle. Bandit continued to pace until the cat began preening. Sensing she was not paying attention to her surroundings, Bandit streaked out, scooped up the cat and held it like one lover holds another. Tigger, too startled to howl, spit or scratch, wilted in Bandit’s arms.

Unfortunately Bandit was also shocked by his success, and after momentarily holding the cat firmly to his breast decided he did not know what to do with his captive. All those months of anticipation had given way to an uneasy climax. With no other alternative, and knowing he would never hold her again, Bandit gently released his captive. Surely his heart was heavy as the cat scampered to safety.

When the trading post is slow or work difficult, and I start wishing for something different, I often think of Bandit and wonder what I would do if I actually got what I wished for.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming out and Going Home

As Laurie, the kids and I walked into the Washburn household Grandpa Clem said, "Come outside, I want to show you something." It was a mid-summer evening, and the glorious and radiant orb of the sun had just settled itself behind the towering Blue Mountains to the west of the house. The shadowed side of the mountain was a deep purple-blue in color. Deeper, darker shades moved in the canyons and clefts. High overhead, above the mountaintops, were cloud patterns looking as if a master artist had taken his brush in hand and swiped it randomly across the sky, then added brief but magnificent undertones of rose-red and tangerine-orange. The backdrop was magnificent enough to take your breath away. When I walked into the back yard I saw that my father-in-law had set-up several lawn chairs in a semi-circle facing a stand of vine-like plants along the red brick wall at the back of the house. I looked at him and the arrangement of chairs and asked: "What's going on Grandpa?" "The wild primrose are about to bloom," he replied. I plopped down in one of the chairs, expecting the buds to start popping any moment. When we weren't looking, the kids dispersed to watch TV and Laurie went inside to help Grandma finish a project. "It looks like it is just you and me Grandpa," I said. "That's okay," he replied with a hint of excitement in his voice.

Grandpa Clem

This sort of thing was typical with "Grandpa Clem"; he is as passionate about the natural world as he is about his family. He loves flowers, rocks and discarded artifacts and will search them out while tending his cattle, bringing home specimens at every opportunity. Looking about his back yard I recognized several varieties of plants, piles of rocks and meteorites, busted wagon wheels, old bottles and such. These were items I knew he had transplanted from his properties on the nearby mountain, flatlands east of town and lowlands to the north; just off Peter's Hill. "This particular plant," he explained, "came from Dry Valley." That is where he winters his cows. Grandpa found this patch of Pachylophus Marginatus (Oenothera), aka white evening primrose, while riding his horse, Ginger, on a cow trail; halfway between a rim and a plateau, in a shaded spot beside a large boulder. I knew that if necessary Grandpa could find that same spot again in the dark of night, without a luminescent moon to guide him. He is that familiar with his range. Clem dug the small bush up with his work-hardened, calloused hands, and carefully brought it back to the cow-spattered pick-up truck, because he had, "Just the spot for it at the house."

As we sat there in the glow of a mid-summer night's dream, watching and waiting for the "blooming", Grandpa pointed out how the white evening primrose, when in bloom, has a few large flowers, three inches or more across, with pure-white diaphanous petals, fading to pink, and pink calyx-lobes. The buds are erect, hairy and pink, and the flowers spring from a cluster of long, downy root-leaves, narrowing to slender leaf-stalks, with hairs on the veins and on the toothed and jagged margins and almost no flower-stalk. The hairy calyx-tube is so long, sometimes as much as seven inches, that it looks like a stalk. The root is thick and woody, and the capsule is egg-shaped and ribbed, with no stem. "Alrighty then," I said, my narrow mind shutting down from information overload. "When is this thingy going to join the party?" I asked. "Soon," said Grandpa Clem expectantly.

To tell the truth, I don't have the patience of Job as does my father-in-law. I am more like the vulture depicted in that famous cartoon; the one that characterizes two gaunt and hunger-challenged vultures sitting in a twisted, lifeless cedar tree alongside a deserted strip of desert byway. The buzzards are resting there with the relentless sun beating down on their bald crowns and beaks, looking more than pitiful, when one of the hapless vultures turns to his more laid back acquaintance and says; "Patience my apple, I am going to kill something!" That is the point of space and time I was arriving at when Laurie and her mother brought out some of Grandma Washburn's famous homemade cherry pie with the incredibly flaky crust. On top was a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which was accompanied by an ice cold aluminum tumbler full of fresh milk. "That's what I'm talkin' about!" Laurie and Grandma joined the audience and, if I remember correctly, our three kids were enticed out as well. As we sat there feasting on the finer things in life, one of those blossoms slowly unfurled and graced us with its precious presence. Before we finished the pie ala mode, two more blossoms slowly unfurled and exposed themselves to our wondering eyes. Between the colorful glow of the setting sun, the warm embrace of the mountain and the genuinely enjoyable company, the pie and the evening primrose, this particular evening was one of the most precious memories gifted me by this thoughtful, considerate and compassionate man. A little sugar and spice and a whole lotta nice makes for great memories. The simple pleasures of life are, by far, the dearest and most cherished.

This week Grandpa Clem's mortal body failed him and an extraordinary spirit took flight into the realm of the heavens. I am sure my dear father-in-law is up there wandering around, gathering and surrounding himself with the simple and most wondrous pleasures of the sky world. Grandpa Clem would be the first to point out that he was not a perfect human being. In my experience, however, he was a man well loved and respected by his family, friends and surrounding communities. Clem was a man of substance, a man of honor and mostly a man of deep and abiding love that reached far beyond his immediate aura. I will greatly miss watching the evening primrose bloom with Grandpa Clem.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.