Monday, September 19, 2016

A Regretful Death

Published in Cirque, Vol. 7, No. 2; 2016


Jerry Dale McDonnell

Above the routine of the rasping, cutting sound of the crosscut saw the noise and demeanor of the late-September afternoon woods changed. We didn't immediately quantify the change. We just knew it changed. The odor of standing pine and fir, of sawdust and fresh cut wood, the light dampness of the air, the gurgling water in the creek dancing around rocks all remained, but something had changed. Even the camp robbing Gray jays in the trees were on alert. 
Living in the woods, paying attention is just the way of things. Sounds, smells, clouds, the wind, changes in plants and trees, migration and habits of animals are like news on the radio. In the timber-pole corral our lead and riding horses were agitated, which is a blip on the radar. Joker, the smallest, but oldest and wisest horse of the herd snorted, laid its ears back briefly then spun and jumped to the other side of the corral. The seven other stock we were holding followed Joker’s lead and did the mill dance, bunching up in one corner, spinning and bunching up in another. From the way the stock was acting, we knew it wasn't a lion. Our horses and mules go berserk when a mountain lion comes around. This was just the mill dance.
Gary released his end of the two-man crosscut saw. Erv stopped stacking wood and watched the horses. I walked warily toward the 10 x 12 canvas wall-cook-tent, scanning the thick forest of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area of Idaho. It was a fair blue-sky day. The flaps of the tent were open, the smell of fresh baked bread oozing out. I looked inside at Annie, my wife, our hunting camp cook. The small dog, Mitty, another part of our radar system, about half the size of a skinny marmot, was hunkered down in the corner shivering. A small but wise camp dog, it hadn't barked. Annie looked at me and then at the dog. I pointed to Annie's .44 Magnum pistol hanging in its shoulder holster from the axe-manufactured pole-rack that we kept in the cook tent; she brought it to me.
Erv Malnarich, the outfitter, a man who was born and raised in Idaho, a living legend in this part of the country, saw it first. I stepped away from the tent, looking to the horses for their ear pointing radar signals. They and Erv were all staring across the creek slightly up the slope at the same spot. I triangulated and zeroed in just as a young black bear, maybe weighing in at about 200 pounds, emerged from a willow thicket.  
I looked for Erv’s lead. We didn't need any dead animals hanging under the shoeing fly just now. Fire danger had kept us out of the woods for a couple of weeks. We were behind schedule setting up or fall hunting camp. In two days our first hunters of the season would be arriving in Missoula, Montana where Eve would pick them up.
The bear, his nose in the air, continued coming down the hill toward camp. Gary and I were the guides working for Erv. Trophy elk—six points or better—was our main business, mountain goat and bear if you had a tag. Erv glanced over at Gary, who now had his .44 in hand, and motioned him not to shoot. Just then, Rex, Erv’s 45 pound, long-haired, trail dog woke up from his radar-break nap and came out from behind the tack tent 30 yards behind us moving alertly, his ears perked up and his nose taking in the situation. Erv pointed to his side, and Rex obeyed without barking. Erv had a way with his dogs. He never petted them . . . never, never put a hand on them, but they would die for him.
The bear kept coming down the hill toward camp. At the bottom of the slope the bear came out into the clearing across Battle Creek, a creek so small that one quick step and a hop and you wouldn't even get a chance to test the waterproofing on your boots. It was a beautiful black bear, with a light cinnamon color that shined in the sun.  
Like bears usually do, they don’t look right at you, but they know exactly where you are. The horses were the only ones that moved, still huddled in the back of the corral. A pause in time—about the time it takes for a heavy leaf to fall to the ground from a short tree—and the bear sat down.
"Let's get back to work boys," Erv said. We went back to work, keeping an eye on the bear 40 yards across the creek. Seeming to be interested in our labors the bear then lay down but never came closer. A half hour later, Erv, looking at the bear, didn't like what he saw. The bear was getting too comfortable, which can be a problem with any bear, but black bears are the worst at being pesky. A grizzly bear has more smarts and uses more caution. Odds are a grizzly bear would have watched us from a place where we wouldn’t know it was even there.
"Get your pistols boys," Erv said . . . and then added,  "But heed, we don't need any dead bears in camp, especially since we don't have a bear tag." 
There is a fine point in the law that you can kill a bear without a tag if your life or property is in danger, but in this case it was hard to tell if it was a friendly visit or more like the armies of yore camped across the creek from one another waiting for orders. Besides the property was the bears, not ours. We were just seasonal tenets. Regardless, we didn’t want the bear to force the event into an undesirable situation. We were probably the first humans it had ever seen and if fortune was in this young bear’s favor a long life was a viable option. 
The bear stood up when we all lined up directly across the creek from it. First we shouted, threw some rocks, Annie banged on some pans, Rex barked until Erv scowled at him. Rex obeyed, went quiet. Barking dogs and bears aren't always predictable. One way of thinking is that around bears quiet dogs are best. In that same line of thought some say no dogs are best. Opinions vary. There aren't many certified wilderness dogs (not to be confused with pets that take hikes with their caretakers), but Rex had years of experience as a wilderness dog that had been in and out of scrapes with an assortment of animals and to date had come out in fair shape.
 The bear was confused by our sudden attack but held its ground. When the second rock came bouncing up near its paws the bear took the hint, jumped back a little, swung around and the last we saw of the bear was a brief glimpse through the brush as it sauntered up the slope, once, it seemed, looking back at us with regret that it wasn’t wanted. Mitty wasn't shaking in the cook tent anymore and the stock in the corral looked at us like it was time to eat. The radar screen being empty, we felt good that we had scared it off without a scratch on human, dog or bear and hopefully left the message that we weren't setting another place at the supper table and that we were the kind of animals that weren’t too nice.

The next afternoon the bear came back at about the same time. All the tents were up, stoves in, but all the woodcutting and stacking needed attention. We had finished using Arkie, our pulling mule, to skid more logs down into camp and had turned him and some of the the other mules and our six extra riding horses out into the woods with our bell mare. Tomorrow Erv and Gary, pulling four of our fifteen pack mules, were going to ride out and go into Missoula to pick up our first clients of the year—a one way 6 to 7 hour horse back ride to the end of the road on the Idaho, Montana state line. Then it was into the truck for 30 miles of dirt road driving down off the mountain, followed by 60 miles of highway, including a brief stop at the ranch in Hamilton, Montana. It wasn't like that old Ponderosa television show where you ride into town for the dance and barbecue and ride home after. They would be back in two days if all went well on the trail.
The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area that laps over the Idaho Montana border is the largest in the lower forty-eight of the United States. Abutting two other uninhabited areas it covers over 2.5 million acres. It is a designated area where all motorized equipment: airplanes, four wheelers, motorboats, even chain saws are illegal. Deep canyons and densely treed and brush covered ridges, that possibly no one has ever been into except on rare occasions, us, offer a land that doesn’t lay well but stands steep and tall and thick. It is an unfounded speculation that before we settler folks came not even the Indians came into the deepest, thickest canyons of this territory, as the game was plentiful in lower elevations offering a more forgiving geography. Stalking close to animals is often done on hands and knees . . . if you find them. You hitch your horse to a tree on a ridge and search on foot. The first sight of an elk is usually at 75 yards or less, even if you’ve heard them or have been tracking them all day. If we have a hunter who is in top physical condition and wants to find an imperial bull elk, seven points or better, a Moby Elk size, there are areas willing to test one’s muscle and resolution. Best go in on foot in these areas as on horseback progress is stilted. In this geography the shot is taken with a camera, not a rifle. If one is foolish enough to kill that mystical 1,000 pound bull elk in one of those areas, packing it out is not a desirable option. The right thing to do would be to sit down and eat it.
On many a north slope the downfall is so deeply stacked it is like a giant emptied out his box of pickup-sticks. I have foolishly, alone, walked on top of logs crazily cross-stacked ten feet high because it was impossible to crawl though the maze. If a man fell and broke a leg in such timber it would be a long crawl or an unattended funeral. The trails offer quagmires and cross fast moving streams without bridges. Creek drainages feeding into the main rivers have a tendency to go straight up or down. Switchbacks are common. Part of Erv's history at high water recounts his building a raft to haul the loads of his fifteen head of pack mules across a river and then swim the stock over. One of our routine crossings still required our smaller pack animals to swim a few yards in fast water anytime of the year. 
Although I’ve done it, the country is not kind to backpackers. Our seasonal camp is on a trail below a lake; no one ever camps here. That is the kind of country this young bear first saw when it first emerged from his den with its mother. We held opinion that this was the bear's first summer on its own after leaving its mother, making this possibly his third summer leading us to our speculation that we were this bear’s first acquaintance with homo sapiens. Most bears hightail it when they see you or smell you. I’ve always thought that more bears have seen us than we have seen them.. It was the bear’s second day of visitation to our camp and this beautiful cinnamon colored black bear sat down in neighborly fashion to satisfy its curiosity . . . just come to visit.
At Erv’s signal, we got out our pistols at the ready. But first we shouted and threw rocks. The bear didn’t move requiring the use of the pistols. It immediately jumped back when projectile dirt kicked up close to it and a few .44 Magnum activated splinters off a downfall flew in its face. With all three of us shooting near it, not at it, it sounded like a "B" Western movie shootout; that bear had probably never guessed there was that much noise in the whole world. The bear didn't saunter away this time; he took off at full gallop up the hill, bullets kicking up at his heels and disappeared. Satisfied, we went to supper. 

The next two days, while Erv and Gary rode in to pick up the hunters, Annie and I fine tuned our fall housing development, including the shower tent, and split and stacked all the wood. Our friend the bear hadn’t showed for over 48 hours.
Late the second day, a trail weary crew of two hunters from the east coast and a local man from town led by Erv and Gary rode into camp.  After a belly stuffing supper of Annie's great stew with oven fresh bread followed by fresh baked pie we headed for our respective tents. Annie remained in the cook tent cleaning up. Tomorrow was to be the first day of the hunt. Breakfast was to be served at 5 A.M. The camp cook quits last and rises first.

Darkness set in and I thought I was asleep when I heard my name sung, "Jerrrrrry." It was a bit off key, and the voice wasn't sustaining, but it was definitely Annie, all five-foot-two of her. Annie's first alert was when Mitty started shaking in a corner of the lantern lit cook tent warning Annie that something was out there. Flashlight in one hand and the pistol in the other, she peered into the darkness through the open flap of the tent. Scanning the light in a perimeter around the tent, the light found the bear not more than 10 feet away walking slowly toward her. That is when she sung out my name.
Barefoot, shorts on and pistol in hand, I reached her side the same time that Rex the wilderness dog showed up an instant after the gunshots were fired. The bear took off into the night, making a horrific scream that sounded like someone being tortured. I can't mimic the sound, but it rendered a deep fearful pain inside of me. It sounded so human, like a child in agony.
"He wouldn't go away, kept coming closer."  Annie said,  "He stood there and looked right at me.  I thought he was going to come into the cook tent," She said shaking. 
"Did you hit him?" I asked. 
"I didn't shoot," Annie said.
It was the local man from town. He had a bear tag. His hunt was over. We found the young bear across the creek, barely breathing, mortally wounded. The man fired a last fatal shot from 2 feet away. We hung the bear under the rainfly and skinned him by lantern light. I felt like I was undressing a friend, preparing him for burial. Gary had to say it because someone always does: "Did you notice how human-like he looks without his hide?" I didn’t respond and Gary looked ashamed. The man who shot the bear took the clue and honored our silence.

Dusk, about a week later, my hunter and I were riding back to camp after a long day of tracking on foot, when a black bear and two cubs crossed trail not more than 20 yards in front of us. The last little cub was round and pudgy, about one fourth the size of momma. As he ran across the trail his whole body rolled back and forth like jello on a rocking horse. It had to make you smile. They did what bears usually do: hightailed it.  I was glad they saw us and ran. I yelled at them and urged my reluctant horse in close pursuit chasing the bear family into the thick pine and fir forest to let them know how mean we are.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Glory Royal

Published in Over The Transom #27: February, 2016
Jerry Dale McDonnell

It’s our bar. A day’s end hard work bar with a too recent nod toward tourist hippie/yuppie types. It’s long been my comfort zone where I’ve spent much of my dead-end life and where she found me and took a hold of me and twisted me around. Bras of various cup sizes—donated after the shots and beer back have done their work—hang down from the ceiling like plucked chickens. Twas usually around midnight when the occasional gal pulled her bra out from under her blouse, or if the booze had brought her to stupid, tits were bared. Hooting and hollering of tit bragging and admiration is standard. Two visiting strangers started the collection years ago but now most of the hundred or more hanging bras are from young just turned legal drinking age city girls sometimes escorted by long hairs with unearned holes in their jeans on a weekend toot to our small village in the mountains just shy of Canada. We, a bare knuckled calloused hands work hard play hard crowd, live in this mountain-logging village that has unfortunately been found by the outside. We must be kind of a zoo for outsiders.
She was the only lady—and she was a lady—that ever took her bra off dead sober. She was a stranger but wasn’t a yuppie or hippie type. The raggedy holes in her jeans were earned. She parked a yellow and rust flavored 72 Ford short bed pickup with Arizona plates outside, walked in, looked at the ceiling of hundreds of bras hanging like carcasses, and like she was going to wash up at a sink, took off her sleeveless top, stripped off her bra and before she put her top back on she said, “A shot of that Jamison Irish and a Bud back.” Didn’t bother to put her top back on until the shot and beer chaser was attended to.
She was a big girl, but short. Claimed later that she wore a size 42 plus something cup. Not being up on bra classifications, sizes and all, we thought they might be somewhere down the alphabet, but all we saw that day was a gal whose height was judged by how the bar was a nice shelf fit for the two biggest boobs we’d ever seen covering that bar top like a pair of hens sitting on hatching eggs. They did sag a bit, but not all that bad considering their size. They still had a bit of perk to ‘em. But like I said she was a big girl, carried some weight, not much taller than 5 feet even with shoes. But she was strong. In the coming weeks, she beat more than a few guys at arm wrestling. She was a mystery she was.
One mystery was her phone calls. Every couple of days or so she made a phone call. She didn’t have a cell phone, but neither did I. She preferred phone booths. Cell phones were iffy in the village anyway. Sometimes they worked at night out back of the bar in a certain spot. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The winner to date in this tit display some, but not me, came to call her Mama Gee. When she bared those big boobs, Luke stood with his mouth froze, but a sound uttered from him that was a long drawn out Geeeeez, accompanied by Sanchez crossing himself and saying “Mama!” So, before any of us knew her given name, she was hung with the moniker of Mama Gee . . . a name I never called her. Come to find out her real name was Glory Royal. I didn’t say a word. Her breasts weren’t what attracted me to her. It was the way she handled herself. Independent . . . and something else, her eyes had a what-cha-call-it, aura, to ‘em like they belonged to a spirit of the woods. I have a few premonitions or perceptions you might call ‘em. Some days when the saws are quiet, the machines shut down, the trucks gone, and the drag line is laying down slope on the torn up forest floor like a huge snake resting, a quiet with an attitude sends a sign. Sometimes it’s a puff like a breath blowing, sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s warm, but it wraps you up like a mummy. Then that deep quiet sets in like the world is looking at you. It seems a long time until the first squirrel barks or a bird sounds a note. I don’t know if I’m the only one that has these feelings, but I wasn’t about to tell Luke or Sanchez or the other boys about ‘em. If the others had ‘em they didn’t say so either. Some things are best not said. I got that feeling the first time Glory looked at me. It was a warm feeling that encased me and it happened right here in the bar.
That Saturday afternoon that Glory came into the bar we’d just come off the mountain from fallin’ timber. It was payday, still early. We’d got off the mountain a tad after 3 that afternoon with fresh checks redeeming ready. By tradition we migrated to the bar. We just called the bar “Open,” like the blue neon sign that still shines through the window. Skinny, who used to log with us, started the bar after a tree fell on him 10 years ago and lamed him up. The village is on a dead end road, on the edge of what the yuppies call wilderness. Skinny also acts like kind of a bank, cashing checks and holding money for us in a safe he’d bought. And Skinny can cook you up a hamburger or a breakfast if you want. We order our groceries through Skinny who drives down the mountain about once a month to a store. And that’s about it for the village. It was a better place until it got discovered. One day a tuckered hiker came in from the mountains. Said he’d been lost for a few days. Asked where he was. With a wink, Skinny told him he was 150 miles halfway from nothing. Now Skinny’s real name is Dick. Sanchez picked up the cue and shouted, “Then that makes this Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn.” Oh, that brought some hooting, but unfortunately the lost hiker story made a paragraph in the newspaper down off the mountain and put us on the map, which by consequence brought excursions of summer tourists into our midst. Excursions it may have been to the long hairs and others, but to us it was more like an alien species invasion. The mountains and the forest stop the road here. We are the end of the road. The beginning of a world worth living. It takes some to get here. If we are dead enders, it fits and we fit.
And Glory fit. She didn’t need a man to take care of her. In fact it was the other way around. It was immediately apparent to me that there wasn’t any man that could best her. Which of course laid down a scent everyman in the place wanted to get on sign and track. I admit I was one of them. But I’m shy and uglier than a bribed politician. Probably too old for her too, me pushing forty. She looked in her late twenties. A possible hard twenties it would seem, but her aura belied any hardness. Her face didn’t really fit her body. Glory’s face was rather slim with just the slightest bit of full cheeks, her skin as smooth as satin, nary a wrinkle around those compelling gray eyes, shoulder length, soft, light-red hair that framed her face like curtains on a fancy window. Her nose was a small button from the front, but from the side had a gentle slope. Her figure was large, no Barbie doll here, yet she had curves enough; they were just big curves. She was beautiful. I was pixilated with her, and I hadn’t even finished my first beer. Why she picked me I’ll never know.
After that first swig of beer chaser, she wiped her mouth delicate like with a bar napkin. Before her top was back on, a weekend stranger, designer jeans, honed hair, made a move toward her saying something like how he’d like a mouthful of one of those tits. Now, not only am I ugly to look at, I’m nasty mean. Hardly a week or two goes by I don’t get in a fight somehow and afterwards never know why. I’ve been in jail more than a few times in more than a few big towns. That’s why I live here in this tucked in the mountains village. Going down mountain is a risky business for me. People take me for who I am here in the village and as long as I don’t hurt anyone real bad they tolerate me. I’m just known as a person to step around lightly. When strangers show up at Skinny’s it’s not a good time for me to be present. Without a thought, one handed, I turned this loud mouth designer pants guy I’d never seen before, never talked to, had nothing against and set to bare knuckle lay him out when I heard: “Buster,” Come here, she said. This she said to me causally as she was putting her top back on. I lowered my arm, drifted toward her . . . no, drift is not the word. I was pulled toward her by . . . by, I don’t know how to describe it. My feet were moving while my mind was on hold. I don’t remember walking toward her, but there I was, elbows on the bar, head tilted to her like a dog a begging, laying money on the bar to pay for her drink. I don’t remember her asking me to buy the drink . . . I think she did. I think she said something like aren’t you buying me a drink, Buster? And not only did I buy her drink I let her call me Buster, although that’s not my name, and since I didn’t correct her, Buster became my name between us like Mama Gee became her name to most while she lived among us, but I always called her Glory. I’m not a religious man but it is as if it was written. We got drunk that night and that was the last drink I had to buy. The boys, including the guy I almost punched out, and a passel of other strangers kept buying us drinks all night. Momma Gee and I staggered out of the bar and walked to my cabin on the edge of the village since she couldn’t find the keys to her truck and I couldn’t remember where I left mine. We found my truck at my cabin where I’d left it last Monday. The rest of the weekend, Glory and me spent together at my cabin. Of course from that day on everyone thought we were lovers. Although she did move in with me, we didn’t sleep together. It was just a comfortable relationship. We had a few things in common. I was an orphan and Glory said only that her mother was dead and that we’d heard enough swearing so we didn’t need to do it. And I hadn’t started a fight since we met.

Monday was a mid July clear day. The sky was a blank and the weather was heat oppressive. Bugs were bad in the shade. The air was still. It was so hot you could feel the heat of your breath. It was a miserable day to be falling timber and setting choke. One of the college boys had quit on the weekend and Glory signed on as a choke setter. Neal, the boss, thinking it was a joke, and having no one else standing in line, signed her on thinking she’d be done in before noon, but Glory kept up with Sanchez and impressed the hell out of him. Now Sanchez is one of the best choke setters I’ve ever worked with. He is a ball of energy. He can wrap cable around a log as quick as a calf roper. Then he’d run up that hill, across the hill, down the hill, always on the move. Setting choke is like playing full court basketball, but you always have the ball and it weighs 40 pounds and it don’t bounce and there are no time outs or substitutes and the game lasts all day. Glory didn’t quit and by day’s end Neal gave her the thumbs up. Of course anyone half way in shape can last the first day. It’s the next day and the day after and the week’s end that test the metal and the muscle and the mind. Many a sturdy young man didn’t last a week setting choke. Two weeks later Glory was a hardened member of the crew, and I was in love. But we maintained separate beds, and I didn’t push it in fear of losing her. And she didn’t go with anyone else either. We became a couple. What kind of couple I don’t know, but I’ve never been so happy.

The fourth weekend Glory and I drove into town, went to a movie, did some shopping where she bought a couple of those disposable cameras, and had a few drinks at one of the watering holes before heading back to the mountains. At 6 P.M. Glory had to make her phone call. As I said before, a couple times a week she made a mysterious phone call using a calling card. If she called from my home phone I had to go in the other room or outside, but she preferred phone booths, the kind that had a door that closed up like a glass closet. Her calls always lasted 10 minutes, no longer, no shorter. Ten minutes. While she was talking she was always messing with the door, opening and closing it. Sometimes it would get stuck and she’d fight it. And then the phone cord would bother her and she’d get that wrapped up around her arm somehow. Getting out of the booth always took a bit of unwinding. I never knew about the why or the who of the phone call. I started to ask her about it once and she just gave me a look and I never asked again. I just figured any secret that big was best kept by the holder.

One Sunday day off we went fishing. We hiked to this lake that sits in a high cirque pocket near the summit of a mountain. No trails lead to it. One side of the lake is a sheer rock cliff and the other three quarters of the lakeshore is mostly boxed in with heavy brush. Now I’ve fished this lake many a time and keep coming back because these fish are a challenge. They’re big trout, rainbows, you can see them, but besides being difficult to cast to these dang fish won’t bite. And it’s not just me. I’ve been fishing here for 20 years and never caught a fish and no one else has either. We have even packed a raft in here more than once and tried every fly, ever kind of bait, every kind of lure, and for 20 years we’ve been skunked, which holds true for all. This lake has defeated all the locals, even one renowned fisherman who happened to find the village years ago. No one comes here anymore except me and Luke and Sanchez who just don’t have good sense or just won’t quit. The lake, years ago, me, or somebody, had named Lake Nothing Doing.
But that isn’t the only reason I keep coming back to Nothing Doing. Something else draws me back to this lake year after year. At least a half a dozen times a year, even in winter when the snow is deep, I dream about this lake and have to trudge my way into it like I’m being called. When I’m there I’m always just a bit antsy. Like something is watching me. Watching . . . but doesn’t mean me any harm. At least I always hope it doesn’t.
Well, this day with Glory wasn’t a pleasant weather day. The sky was as gray and scabby as an old ceiling with torn wallpaper hanging down, intermittent drizzle, and a cool changeable breeze. Last night’s dream had impelled me to take Glory to Nothing Doing on this fall day and here we were. You couldn’t have asked for a worse day to go fishing in this lake. On dark days the fish in this lake usually hung near the bottom and nary a rise could be seen. I’d brought two fishing poles, a casting rod with lures and worms and salmon eggs and shrimp for bait and my 6-weight fly rod. Judging it to be a bottom fishing day I was stringing up the casting rod when Glory said she wanted to use the fly rod. I tried to explain my dark day bottom feeding theory to her and how no fish were rising to the dry and how it’ll be hard to get a wet fly deep enough from the bank, but she just said she’d druther use the fly rod. In no time flat she had that 6-weight rig ready and like a magician out of a hat produced a number 12 barb-less hook that had a couple of scanty sparkling strings hanging from it like a fly that has been beat to death by a couple of hundred fish. I swear it wasn’t more than a couple of bare threads on a normal hook. We, I mean she, hooked into a fish with every cast with my 6-weight fly rod. The smallest was 14 inches. The biggest was 29 inches. She landed every fish and would’ve released all of ‘em if I hadn’t mentioned I’d like a couple for dinner.
Another mysterious thing happened that day. Normally on a wet day most of the animals lay low, but on this day we were visited by a marmot, a wolf, three moose, a black bear, and I had never before heard so many birds singing at Nothing Doing. None of them bothered us. It was like they just came to visit for a while and then left. The bear darn near gave me a heart attack. I was so occupied with Glory landing fish after fish, and me busy releasing them, that I didn’t notice the bear come up not more than 20 yards behind us and sit down . . . watching us. I tapped Glory on the shoulder and pointed. She turned, and I swear, her hair glowed for a moment like the sun was shining, but there weren’t no sun. She nodded to the bear, pulled her camera out of her vest pocket, took a quick picture, shrugged and said, “He’s okay,” and made another cast. Now, I’ve never feared bears, but I do show ‘em respect and watch my manners around ‘em since I’m sure I would be bested by ‘em in a fight. Somehow Glory saying that the bear was “okay” made everything right and Mr. bear left after about 20 minutes. But I swear we had a zoo around us that day. Like I said, it was like they just came to visit. And another thing, that feeling I sometimes get in the woods that is kind of eerie, like when I first met her in the bar, I had that feeling all day, but it weren’t spooky. It was nice. If you didn’t know better you’d have thought it was a bright sunny day instead of a drizzling rain under a sloppy gray sky. I could have stayed there all night, but Glory wanted to make that phone call, so we were back at the cabin before dark.

At seasons end, the snow came. We put the equipment up, did some maintenance and I worked on my chainsaws to get ready for spring. Winter was a hunkering in time for me. Do a bit of hunting to stock up the winter cache, run a trap line some years for pocket money. But Glory said she didn’t take to trapping and I didn’t want to be away from her that long. I had a trapping cabin a ways back in the woods where I usually spent a great deal of the winter. It kept me peaceable. I like to read books in the winter too. I like mysteries and westerns. I even got an old copy of Zane Grey’s stories, and I like to read about the old mountain men and Indians. I’ve got a fair collection. That’s another thing Glory and I had in common, reading. But her books were different. She liked some of the real old authors, people I’d never heard of. One was this guy Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then she liked Charles Dickens. I’d heard of him. Some other folks named Austen and Bronte, and Alcott I hadn’t. She did have one book in a language with symbols I didn’t understand. She said it was one of a kind. She said it was about Indians though.
Then what I had dreaded came to pass. Glory said she had to leave, go south. I didn’t know what to say. We hadn’t made a mutual commitment of any kind, but I’d been kinda kidding myself that we were a couple, a real couple, life long and all that. I’d even thought of asking her to marry me. So I did. She said no and said she wouldn’t be coming back in the spring. I went to Skinny’s that night, got drunk, started a fight, something I hadn’t done since I met Glory. It was a bad fight. I was meaner than I’d ever been and the guy was a stranger, just visiting somebody. I just might have killed him. They would have sent me down off the mountain to jail that night if Sanchez and Luke hadn’t pinned me down and called Glory. She came, threw me in the bed of the pickup like the sack of garbage I was, and hauled me to the cabin, me puking over the side of the bed all the way.
The next morning, my mouth tasting like something died in it, my head beating harder than my heart, my vision still a bit blurry, and my will to live up for the asking, Glory said I could ride with her south but I couldn’t stay all winter. I took the bird in the hand like a drowning man grabbing the life ring. The drive south in Glory’s pickup gave us plenty of time to talk. She said she couldn’t say why she couldn’t stay with me, but that she cared for me. That’s just what a guy that’s being dumped wants to hear. At least she didn’t stab me with that old line that we can still be friends. But I did learn a few more things about Glory. Some odd things, I thought. Like she didn’t celebrate Christmas, but she did celebrate winter solstice on December 21st and that she only went to church one day a year and that was in June because that’s when Jesus was born. And she did celebrate Canada day although she wasn’t from Canada, but she also celebrated the 4th of July in hope that we would eventually live up to those promises which to date are not working out so well and that she didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving because we’d killed so many Indians that had helped the first settlers from the old country. There were some more things she said, but I can’t remember them all. Having sex was never mentioned. Each night we got a room with twin beds. Oddly, on only one night did she make one of her phone calls.
Figuring I’d nothing to lose at this point, I finally pressed the sex issue. She said her father had been a preacher and a child molester and she’d had rape attempts while she was working on an oil rig and also when she worked with a traveling carnival and that cured her of having anything to do with sex. She told me again that her mother was dead. I didn’t believe a word of it. Well maybe about the mother.
In Utah she gave me an envelope and told me not to open it until later. “When’s later,” I asked. “You’ll know,” she said.
A long day later we were in Arizona. It was hot and dry but to the south over some brown, arid, desolate looking mountains was the blackest, nastiest sky I’d ever seen. You could see the rain streaking down and hear thunder. It was early afternoon and Glory drove right to a glass closet phone booth she knew of. It sat in the desert off a dirt side road on the bank of a dry gulch. In my way of thinking, this phone booth was as remote as Lake Nothing Doing. It was in no place you’d ever think of looking. I stood a respectful distance away from the phone booth on the edge of the gully watching that rainstorm coming toward us while Glory made her call. I was familiar with ice breakup on northern rivers but I had only read of a dry gulches turning into a roaring torrent in a matter of minutes. I was so captivated by that water coming in like a giant gusher that like a fool I stood on the edge of that torrent until the bank began eroding from under my feet. Scrambling back to the pickup some yards away I looked to Glory. The phone booth was slowly tipping into the rushing torrent. Glory was frantically trying to get the door open, but it was jammed and the cord was wrapped around her arm. I ran to her . . . I was too late. The booth was swept into the roaring gulch. I jumped into the water, tried to get a grip on the phone booth, but that wall of brown water yanked it from me like I was a baby. I got swept into a scrubby bush hanging onto the bank and that’s probably what saved me from drowning. Helpless, I watched the only decent thing in my life wash away in a torrent of brown, mucky water.
It took a while for the flash flood to subside. I don’t know how long I searched or how far I walked, but night came. Under a full moon I found the phone booth down-gully lying on its side like the coffin it was. Inside, Glory lay lifeless, the cord wrapped around her arm. Those marvelous, beautiful breasts sparkling in the moonlight bare up like two icebergs with cherries on top. Glory’s bra was snagged on a stick. I took the bra.

I was sitting in the passenger seat of the truck when the sun came up looking at Glory’s bra hanging from rear view mirror. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had carried her body back to the truck and laid it out in the bed under some blankets on an old tarp we had back there. I had to bury her somehow. Tell someone, but who could I tell? She didn’t have anyone, so she said. I could ice her down and take her back to the mountains, but she wanted to come back to this Arizona country for a reason. Maybe I should bury her here. While this quandary was eating on me, a hand was laid on my shoulder. I turned. Looking at me through the open window was an elderly Indian with weather beaten tanned skin creased like the desert itself. He didn’t say anything, didn’t smile, he just nodded and then came around to the other side of the truck, got in the driver’s seat and drove us down a dusty, dirt road. I was too numb to know what to do, so I just went along with whatever came next.
By the time the sun had climbed up some short of noon, the Indian parked the truck in front of a house that was isolated as far as I could see across a dessert that to me was just a bunch of sand and long spaces. A couple of Indians came out of the house. The old man got out, talked to them, they looked at Glory’s body in the back of the truck, made some signs to each other without saying much and carried her off. I started to protest. The old man gently took me by the arm and quietly said, “We’ll take care of her.” I asked if he knew her. “We all know her, just like you know her,” he said.
It was a real nice funeral. Pretty normal. I don’t know what I was expecting from the Indians, maybe some sort of Indian ritual or something. I’d probably read too many western books. All the Indians I knew up north weren’t much different than me, with the exception of most of them being a whole lot nicer than me. At the funeral, some, not all, of these Indians, Hopi, it turned out they were, did dress in a native fashion of sorts. Some wore feathers and flowers on their outfits. A few days later they did have a traditional dance of some kind. It was very impressive. I won’t try to describe it, but I was moved. When it was over I felt like the world was a better place than I ever remember. And they treated me real nice. For the first time in my life I felt like I was part of a family. They allowed me stay with them and they fed me.
Everything was going along fine, but after a couple of weeks I worried about wearing out my welcome and figured I best get back home. It was most of a day’s ride into a town where I could catch a bus. We got there on Indian time and the next bus wouldn’t be due for a couple of days. I invited the two young Indians who had drove me to town to have a few drinks before I got a room to wait ‘er out. Sure enough that was a bad idea. These two boys, I won’t say their names to avoid slander, but they weren’t any better at drinking than I was. Well maybe not as bad me because as usual I started the fight. Of course me being the stranger when I started to get the best of my opponent his friends stepped in and my Indian friends felt obliged to step in and we all went to where I usually end up, in jail.
The old saying that ‘cheer up things could be worse’ came to pass. Since no one pressed charges, I figured I’d do my overnight thing and sat back cheerful for a free nights lodging. It turns out the fellas I was fighting with in the bar had as bad a reputation as me. They didn’t want any more trouble or court time then they usually earn either. Being birds of a feather. I understood. Then my past record came to front and then Glory’s truck, which we came to town in, got tagged due to expired license plate, and to protect my new innocent Indian friends I told the cops the whole story. They said I could have my phone call, but I didn’t have anyone to call, didn’t want to bother boys or anyone in the village. I’d already been enough trouble to everyone in my life. So after cheering up, sure enough, things got worse.
The mystery of Glory Royal deepened with the investigation of her death. The hang-up was that the authorities couldn’t find any registration for that truck. The license plate traced back to an ancient hermit in Texas who had died over five years ago and left no living relatives, which sent that trail to a dead end. As to Ms. Glory Royal she didn’t exist as far as records were concerned, never even had a driver’s license, and I think they, small town folks as they were, were a bit spooked of the whole affair. I wasn’t out of the desert yet.
Eventually, I was released. The Indians confirmed my story and Neal and the boys up north vouched for me and I was cleared of any wrongdoing but the local cops strongly suggested I should immediately go to where I would be more welcome.  

I got home the day before the Winter Solstice. I hadn’t had a drink for a spell. Sanchez and Luke took me down to the bar to celebrate the shortest day of the year. In honor of one of Glory’s recognized holidays, I obliged. It was winter, usually my safest time in our bar. The Yuppie types don’t come to our village in the winter, just us hard knuckle types. Nothing to do here once your bra is hung. It was a peaceable evening. I didn’t even feel like drinking much, but we did toast Glory. Sanchez raised a glass and said, “Here’s to Mama Gee, the finest lady we ever knew.” Then Skinny produced a package and said it came for me a couple of days ago. It was from Arizona. Inside were some effects that the Indians must have found in Glory’s pickup truck. Included were all her books except that Indian book with the symbols. There were a couple of pictures I’d forgotten about of her and me in the bar and one of me falling timber, and one of us fishing at Lake Nothing Doing on a sunny day of which I also don’t remember, although we did go there more than a few times. A couple of souvenirs of our trip south, a post card from Salt Lake City, a shot glass from some other place in Utah. And next to that beat up #12 barb-less fish-catching fly was that old telephone calling card that she always used. Then I remembered the envelope she had given me. I had it inside my jacket pocket. I had looked at it over the past month or so, but I couldn’t bring myself to open it. She’d told me I’d know when. This must be when.
The note was written in a fine hand, a hand so perfect it would humble a printer. The stationary, pink it was, very lady like with little harps and musical notes in a top border. I hesitated to read the words. First I just admired the fine handwriting. I shed a tear even before I started reading.
       Call this number when you feel like the world is crashing in on you, when you feel like you have to lash out, when you feel the world is sad. I will always be with you, watching you. Use my calling card.
                                                I will love you always,
My tears dropped like lead, soaking the note like a paper raft in the ocean.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Chilkoot Spring



                      Jerry Dale McDonnell

After a whiff of spring
Snow slipped in.

Don't tell anyone the treasure
Is still there, lying bare.

Yesterday it smelled
Like woods’ walking.

The martin resting on a log, giving
Me a wink, bear awake, ridge riding.

Eagle not taking wing as I glide by.
The seals have returned to the bays.

From the tree top
Porcupine faking sad.

On this spring day of sundry sun my
Skis also seek a fool like me and bide me go.

The treasure remains. Someone left the
Vault door open for the pauper price of sweat.

I will glide and stroke,
Avoiding the overflow,

Up the Taiya River along the famous
Chilkoot Trail where thousands of

Fabulous fools brought their quixotic
Dreams in a poke leaving a few fingers

And toes and lives and hope
                        On a white staircase of bleeding gold.