But our country has always been one of change. Within the year and year to year. She never stays the same for too long. I’m brought to mind of West Dell and all I heard about it before I ever saw it. Paul Crittenden’s favorite place in all the world, where he wants half his ashes scattered, the other half supposin' to go to the Summer’s Eve factory and get dropped in the vat by his dear friend, Kevin Campbell, who is all too happy to carry out the task. We’ve often chuckled about what he must think he’s going to find when he goes there. (Kevin that is, we know why Paul wants his ashes there...) But that’s an inappropriate story I guess (it really went over well when Sam innocently and proudly told it in kindergarten hahahaha) and anyway, it's off the point.
The point is I heard about how beautiful West Dell Creek was up by the falls and what a great place it was to camp, with enough grass there to feed your stock for however long you could stand to stay and, besides that, a natural corral with the mountains on three sides and just the narrow ravine to come and go through. For years Sam promised and promised to take me there so I could see it for myself. He was excited too being as he hadn’t been there in quite some time, since he was a young teenager, and even more so because, unbeknownst to me, he knew the next time he went he’d be asking me to be his wife.
So, finally, the day came. It was my birthday weekend and I thought we were headed up for a fun time in the mountains and I was ecstatic that I was finally going to see the fabled West Dell Falls, most cherished of places by the legend himself, PC. We were riding up the trail, stopping now and then to cut trees out of our way and it seemed, by the number of them, that we were the first to head up the trail that season. It was a perfect day. We were riding and riding and cutting timber and cutting timber and finally got a clear stretch so we each grabbed a beer off one of the pack horses and continued on our way. So, here I was, riding up the trail, happy as a lark, beer in one hand, pack horse string in the other, Tuff with his reins around the horn just travellin' along when Sam whoas up in front of me all of a sudden and says, “GET YOUR CAMERA OUT RIGHT NOW.” in as much of a whisper as a man can do when he can’t believe what he’s seeing. I’m leaning around, trying to gather up Tuff without spillin' my beer, all the while wondering how in the hell I’m supposed to get my camera out with my hands full and tryin to see around Sam and his string to find out what the hell has got him so excited. I finally get a glimpse and think to myself, “Well, ain’t that the damndest thing. What in the world is a mountain goat doing up here?!? Mountain goats don’t live up here that I know of.” Because at first glance and a pretty good distance, what I’d seen looked like a mountain goat. White as the fall’s first snowfall, shining through the timber like a beacon. But then I see this little brown spot and realize what I was seeing was none other than a solid white cow moose with her little chocolate brown calf. The hair stands on end on my arms and the back of my neck to this day when I tell of that sighting. We never did get a picture except for this white blur that could’ve as easily been claimed as a photo of the abominable snowman running through the forest in late-July as it could’ve been a white moose. But we saw it just the same. Later I would reflect on this as a pretty good omen.
But I digress again, back to the point of how our country changes like a woman’s moods: quickly and unpredictably.
So, we continued on our way and as we came to the base of the Horseshoe and the cliffs above West Dell Falls I caught a glimpse of the lower falls and then we climbed the final ascent to the legendary camp spot.
Now things hadn’t been going according to plan for Sam’s big proposal. He had Rod Husky make a custom elk ivory ring and it wasn’t ready in time for the pack trip. All day he was thinking about the K-Mart special he had in his pocket and whether it would be better to ask with that or no ring at all. It was a big, gaudy, finger greener and he didn’t want me to think it was real and be disappointed to find out it wasn’t. But at least he was confident that the spot would wow me and he had that all figured out. So, imagine his dismay, when we pull through the narrow ravine and into the heavenly meadow that once was, to find it had since been turned into a beaver hell hole. Where there was once enough grass to feed your stock for weeks, there was now water, from one rock face to the other. Just one little high spot remained and it was mostly wildflowers. Good thing we had a natural fence because the horses were NOT going to be happy about spending the night here. And to beat all, the falls he had planned on hiking to for the one knee’d inquiry were just a short, swampy, swim away.
In a matter of a few years Mother Nature had managed a complete overhaul of a place that seemed it would stay the same for ever and ever until the end of days. He opted instead for the cliffs above the lower falls which was nothing short of spectacular. Of course I said yes. And I wore the finger greener (and yes, it did turn my finger green) but I was too happy to let anything ruin that day. Beaver’s be damned. We were getting HITCHED!
You think you can count on the country. I don’t know why you think that because she’s always changing. Just when you think you got her figured out, there she goes being all crazy again. (Oh my gosh. Sam just psychically took over my brain and typing fingers and began writing about ME, I’m pretty sure.) The metaphor of being steady, rooted, like a tree is often used. But I no longer think that’s too great of a metaphor. Trees fall down. They burn up. They get eaten down by a beaver and made into a damn dam to block the creek and turn your grassy meadow into a pond. Rivers move and change and dry up and run high. One year you got more grass than you know what to do with and the next year you get a late frost and then it rains all haying season and now what? Mountains even fall down and slide and avalanche and crumble. There ain’t nothing rooted about it. She’s all over the show.
But one thing remains the same and that’s that we love her. We’ll just call the old Cliff Creek Fire a facelift procedure gone wrong. (She asked for Angelina lips and got a Kardashian butt… on her face.)
But she’ll grow into it. The morels will come up. The wildflowers will be crazy for a few years. The burnt timber will take on a unique character of its own. And we’ll always have our memories of all those places. We’ll be forced to ride new places, make new trails, make new memories.
And we might just find out that all along we were missing the forest for the trees…