The Agony of the Leaves

The season I worked as a horse wrangler in the Yukon wilderness, there was a little ritual that I looked forward to each day, called “tea time”. One of the guides I worked with carried a little tea pot in his saddle bags and would build a small fire around ten or so in the morning and boil some tea. This meant a break for me. Usually I was up before five in the morning, running after the horses on foot and then it was a quick breakfast before heading back out on the trail with the guides and hunters, to either walk or ride for hours in search of game. If nothing presented itself, we would take a break and some days that break is the only thing that kept me going.

My mantra was “If I can make it to tea time . . . I will be ok.”

Guide Donn, building a small quick fire for tea time.

Guide Donn, building a small quick fire for tea time.

So we would collect up some sticks and build a small fire, sometimes a little larger one, depending on the weather and the tea pot would be filled either with water from a nearby stream or from water carried in our saddle bags. Soon it would be boiling and steaming and tea bags would be dropped in and stirred and the hot fragrant liquid would be sitting in our cups warming my hands and my belly. It always rejuvenated my spirits enough to make it to the next break time and the next cuppa tea.

Tea Time in the Yukon.  Taking a break in the morning for a cuppa tea and a snack always rejuvenated my spirits.  And yes, that is me making a funny face. What can I say?  It had been months since I had seen a mirror!

Tea Time in the Yukon. Taking a break in the morning for a cuppa tea and a snack always rejuvenated my spirits. And yes, that is me making a funny face. What can I say? It had been months since I had seen a mirror!

I do not drink coffee and usually I was surrounded by coffee drinkers out in the bush, except for a few times, when this guide and a few others I worked with over the years, saw the wisdom of using tea instead of coffee in camp––so much cleaner, so much quicker to make than that other favored drink. I always carried a tin of special teas with me. The tin was a cheery little thing that I would use to brighten up my cabins and the teas had wonderful flavors that I would pull out for a bit of a treat when everyone was gone from camp, or to offer to guests that came visiting.

Lately I’ve become more sophisticated in my tea drinking and upgraded from tea bags to loose leaf teas. I’ve learned that certain teas need specific temperatures and steeping times to maximize the fullest flavor of the tea. Green teas and white teas are more delicate than the black teas and can become bitter if saturated in too hot of water or allowed to steep too long.

Peaches and Cream White Tea waiting for the hot water

Peaches and Cream White Tea waiting for the hot water

There is a process that happens with loose leaf teas that one doesn’t notice with bagged teas. This process is expressed as “the agony of the leaves”, which captures perfectly the writhing dance of the dried tea leaves when hot water is poured over them. The shriveled leaves bend and struggle and begin to unfurl in the water, and as they expand they “give up” the full aroma, colours and the rich flavor they were withholding within.

The expression itself captivated my attention. “The Agony of the Leaves”.

Hot Water poured over the tea leaves brings on the "agony of the leaves" as they give up the colours, aromas and flavors held within.

Hot Water poured over the tea leaves brings on the “agony of the leaves” as they give up the colours, aromas and flavors held within.

Agony, seems to me, something I wish to avoid–at all costs if possible! I think of agony as something that is distressing and painful if not downright tortuous. And so to think that the hot water is torturing the leaves to release the essence of what they hold within, seems very cruel and I would stop drinking tea for that reason alone. However I didn’t realize that agony is a far richer term than what I just described. Yes is can mean a violent struggle or contest, or the suffering that precedes death, but it also encompasses an intense excitement or sudden outburst of powerful emotion such as joy or delight, as in “the agony of joy”.

So with that in mind, instead of torture and suffering causing the writhing dance of the unfurling leaves, I now see an outburst of emotion, of joy, of submission, of allowance, of a laying down and a giving up to fulfill a richer purpose.

I think it’s a wonderful picture of the hand of God on our lives. So many times I feel hard pressed, shaken up, and squeezed near to death. During those times the word writhing has come to mind, though my picture of it has been more of a worm stuck through with a pin and writhing around trying to get away from the pain. And I am the worm and God the one who pushed the pin in. And I plead with Him, “Just take away the pin! Just let up on me! I’m tired of this agony! I don’t want to be stuck here, with no chance to get away from the pain, all shriveled up and drying up and dying.” It’s a belly-deep groaning that rises up within.

Yet now, with this lovely picture of the writhing, dancing tea before me, I think, maybe I had the wrong idea about agony and writhing. Maybe now I’ll envision myself like a tea leaf instead of a worm. I was a dried up husk of what I was designed to be and God instead of sticking it to me, is pouring the hot water on and oh yes, the agony, that causes me to writhe, but not like a worm stuck with a pin, but a dance, an unfurling, an embracing of the tension and the struggle to let go and become greater. He’s pouring into me so that I may expand and fulfill larger purposes than I could ever have before in my dried up state.

As the apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18 NIV) and then goes on to relate how creation is groaning like a woman in childbirth, awaiting deliverance and transformation. And how God is working within us and in creation to liberate us from bondage and decay and bring us into freedom and glory.

So apparently this pain, this struggle, this agony endured is to bring out in me a richer beauty than what I could ever imagine. At least that is my hope––my faith if it may be said, that God is there to bring out the fuller flavors in me; the pleasing aromas, the richer colors. And not just in me, but this whole creation. He’s taking the shriveled up condition of this world and recreating. And it’s agony. Pure and simple. But it’s agony meant to bring about expansion, like the tea leaves that were whole and fresh, then dried and dead and then brought back to life in a new and greater way, and with an even stronger essence than before.Steeping White Tea Leaves

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Posted in Daily Life in the Bush, From the Here and Now, Horse Wrangling in the Yukon, Tips and Tricks from the Bush | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The War on Mice In Camp

mouse pencil drawingMice! Terrible little creatures. Bane of my existence in the bush. There were many many parts of living and working in a camp that I love and can remember fondly. But those little critters drove me batty sometimes. And it’s not like I’m scared of them. No. It’s just that they are insidious and industrious and they can make cooking and sleeping in the bush a nightmare.

You think I’m being melodramatic?

Well you aren’t the one who woke up in the middle of the night to hear little gnawing teeth all around the bed of the holiday trailer I was sleeping in. Of course the outfitter I was working for thought the trailer was rodent proof and I had just arrived and been shown my sleeping quarters with no time to assess what was in the room and didn’t realized a lot was left in the open for a mouse attack. Needless to say a pack of industrial-sized rolls of toilet paper was in a mountain of fluff all around me when I ventured from my sleeping back early the next morning. And if that wasn’t bad enough, when I stuck my legs into my jeans . . . Oh the horror! They had nibbled the outside seam wide open the length of my leg!

After that incident of apparel “up-cycling” I have had a hard time sleeping when I hear the rustle and the crackle of the little rodents in my space.

Of course being cook in a trail riding camp or a hunting camp, often meant I was sharing the cooking quarters with my bed. Never thought about it till now, but I guess I was sleeping in the most dangerous place in camp, with all the smells of food and often with all the food itself. Hmmm, now I’m kind of suspicious of the reasons why . . .

Never bothered me at the time, except for when those mice came a visiting. And not just mice. Sometimes they brought their bigger friends: packrats, squirrels, pine martins and weasels and the occasional camp robber jay (who only robbed in the day light). Thankfully in all my times as a cook, I never had an issue with a bear visiting me. Never even really worried about it, though I would have had nothing better than a flashlight and a cast iron skillet to greet him with. Possibly an ax or my pocketknife, if I could find them quick enough.

Nope it was mice, not bears that kept me awake some nights. Possible after the jean gnawing incident, and maybe the story of the mouse in Pa Ingalls hair, chewing it off to make a nest, or the crumbs and crumpled foil leftover from the wonderful German chocolate I had stored in a crate under my dormitory bed while I was going to bible school in Sweden–the chocolate I had bought in Germany and was saving to take back to Canada as a gift for my family.   Whichever it was, I’ve continued to have horrid imaginations in that semi-awake state when I’ve heard rustling around my bed. And I’ve waged bitter war against them. A war to the death!

I’m sorry to say, for those who advocate live trapping and relocation methods, it just doesn’t work with mice.

There are lots of ways to deal with mice and the larger rodents. Some of those ways are through prevention and some of them involve ingenious methods of entrapment.

Remember: You must be smarter than the mouse.

Here are a number of ways to hamper the mice from driving you crazy in camp:

  1. Be clean and leave little smell of food around. That means try very hard to keep your camp clean. Garbage must be covered, contained or burned. Food should not be left lying around or in the open. Bowls and dishes and cutlery should be upside down, contained or covered. Empty drink cans and bottles should be contained as well. (Mice like leftover tea with honey).
  2. Put all food in mouse proof containers. Not cardboard. Not plastic bags. Not paper. My favorite is Rubbermaid tubs. Not only are they mouse proof but water proof as well!  Items that mice really really like are expensive German chocolate, smooth peanut butter, ritz crackers, bread, cake, and Nutella. They like to leave their droppings in empty but used cups. They like to leave footprints in spreadable things such as butter. They like fruit and will nibble on apples. In fact they will eat just about anything that could possible be deemed edible.   Make doubly sure these items are stored properly!
  3. Empty pockets of jeans and shirts before bed. Don’t leave candy or gum or anything inside which might invite little teeth to chew through the clothing to find them. This also includes saddle bags. Even zippo firestarter, they like to chew into little bits!  Ziploc baggies are not fail safe at keeping these little chewers out, though it can help in most cases to keep toilet paper in a ziploc baggie in your saddle bags or backpack, but sometimes there is an extreme mouse chewer champion that will not stop at plastic.  Trust me, I’ve been the victim.
  4. Keep toilet paper and paper towel in mouse proof containers as well. Especially overnight. Coffee Tins are great for storing TP in the outhouse. When leaving camp make sure all paper products, cloths, leather and foam mattresses are stored in mouse proof containers. (Or in the case of foam mattresses, store high off the ground, but I’ve seen even that method not work, especially if a squirrel or a martin gets in).
  5. When throwing out the dishwater, try to throw it at least ten feet away from the tent or cabin you are staying in. The food scraps left in the water can be a real attraction for the rodents and the wildlife. Though I must commend the little guys for cleaning up the scraps quickly so that larger wildlife aren’t attracted. Some places I worked dug a hole with a grate over top for such purposes as tossing the dishwater. If you are in a permanent place, this is a good approach. However, if you are just passing through, do not wash dishes in streams or lakes unless you are going soap free, be careful of the type of dish soap you are using. You want to take care of the country you are in!
  6. Plug holes. Won’t work in a tent, but in some cabins this is a good method: Steel wool shoved in holes, works well to keep mice from chewing back through the hole.  Cardboard doesn’t work.  Sometimes even wood doesn’t do the trick.

If after all precautions you still have a mouse problem, here are some of the methods I’ve used or seen implemented over the years to terminate them:

  1. Mouse traps: Easy enough. Effective. I don’t personally like the little wire and wooden traps as I have to look at the mouse when I’m disposing of it and it’s usually crushed with a tongue sticking out. I like the ones where you can’t see the mouse and it’s just a squeeze to release the mouse when you want to dump it, such as the Victor Better Mousetrap. Sometimes the downfall for traps is that if it doesn’t outright kill the mouse, then you have to listen to it all night, dragging itself around and possible gnawing it’s leg off or something. It’s enough to keep me awake at night! This happened most recently, while I was cooking for a fishing lodge south of Atlin, BC as you can read about here.
  2. Poison: I’ve used it, but I don’t like to as it often ends up getting eaten by a camp dog or something. It’s not my preferred method. But I did use it in my house when I first moved onto our acreage and I was trapping 4-5 mice a day and I was tired of it, so I set out the poison. It’s advantage is that they supposedly return to the outside to die. The disadvantage is that often they are consumed by birds or dogs and in effect you are poisoning them in smaller amounts, which I’m told won’t kill them, but still I don’t like it.
  3. Cats: It’s not often you see a cat at a camp, but if it’s a location that you are at for a while, they sure can be useful in reducing mice populations. Worked for me at my house, once I got my dogs to stop killing them. I’ve had maybe 3 mice in my house since the cats showed up and stayed. And in five years, they got rid of the mole and vole problem in my yard. The dogs helped in that regard as well.
  4. Drowning: Now this method can include various ways of entrapping the mice that concludes with them drowning usually in a 5 gallon pail half filled with water. This way works well if you don’t have traps on hand, or you need to catch numerous mice fast. One way is to fill a deep bucket a third full of water and sprinkle oats on top to just cover the surface of the water, so it looks solid. But when the mouse jumps down to eat the oats, surprise! It falls through the layer of oats and it drowns. The other way is to half fill the bucket with water. Get a long fairly substantial stick that can be braced to lean over the bucket. Tie some fishing line or butchers twine to the top and tie that to a smaller stick that you will coat in peanut butter and dangle over the middle of the bucket. The mouse will scamper up the stick, creep down the twine and dandle from the peanut butter bait and then tire out and drop into the pail to drown. This is how we dealt with the problem at the fishing lodge this summer. The grain way is how I dealt with it at a couple of my horse camps where oats were readily available. Both methods worked wonderfully and reduced the camp pillaging nearly 100% in a couple nights!

    Method 2: How to Trap Multiple Mouse by Drowning

    Method 2: How to Trap Multiple Mouse by Drowning

Well that’s my say in the matter, but I would definitely love to hear if anyone else has a mouse horror story or an effective way to eliminate mice from camp or their houses. I must stay on top of my game. Sometimes those little rodents can be game changers!

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To Fetch an Elk off a Mountain

Nearly every time I feel a deep ache in my lower spine or a weakness in my right hip, I remember the cause of it nearly fourteen years ago on a late September afternoon. I had taken a job as a cook for an outfitter in Southern Alberta. This was the first time working for this outfitter and the first time I tried my hand at cooking for the hunting camps.

Jake on one of the quads

Jake on one of the quads

This particular day started out innocently enough, with a simple enough job to do. Should’ve been routine. Instead it turned rather nasty in the end, and I look back and realize how bad it could’ve really been. Somehow youth and enthusiasm glosses over danger at the time and it’s only until you are older and responsible for someone else’s life that you become more aware that tragedy is just a breath away from us all.

On the last day of the last hunt before we pulled out of the mountains, Outfitter Glenn asked Guide Terence to go pull an elk off a mountain that a hunter had shot late the evening before––too late to pack off themselves. Glenn was driving the hunter to the airport that morning, before coming back to help pack up the camp. He told Terence that the elk was in a difficult place and he should take me to help him. Glenn knew it would be tricky to get to where the elk was and stressed that horses would be the quickest and best way to get there.

The horses we should've taken

The horses we should’ve taken

Terence, after discussing with Glenn for some time, figured that he could get a quad up there instead. After Glenn left, Terence was adamant that he could get a quad up there and we didn’t need to mess around with horses. I decided he knew what he was talking about and discarded what I had heard Glenn telling him to do. (Of course neither of us thought to defer to the wisdom of a man who’d spent a couple of decades in this very country!)

We took Terence’s quad and tried to get close to where the elk was, however we were thwarted by an old rough clear cut that wouldn’t let the quad pass through. So we returned to camp and I packed a few more items in my backpack because Terence knew of another way. This other way would take longer, as we had to go a long ways down the forestry Road and up another trail that took a more circuitous route to the place where the elk lay.

It was a twenty-six mile quad ride to where we could finally parked the quad on top of a deep gully only a hundred or so yards as the crow flies from where the elk lay. The elk was supposed to be on the other side of the gully, which was like a V slashed into the mountain. It was a hundred foot slide to the bottom, then a brief scramble over some boulders and a narrow creek, before fighting our way through a thicket of aspens and willows up the other side. We had to use our hands to climb in some spots, as it was very steep. We were well above the quad across from us, when we stumbled upon the elk.

It was an extremely awkward spot to cape and butcher the large animal. We both kept slipping and sliding and it was a good thing the elk was braced on a large stump or we all would’ve plummeted to the bottom. Eventually though, we filled both Terence’s and my backpacks with meat. It started to rain, making things even more slippery, when Terence told me to head for the quad.

Terence butchering the elk on the steep mountainside.

Terence butchering the elk on the steep mountainside.

I couldn’t even stand up with my backpack on, and I was on a steep enough slope that it was almost like I was standing to begin with––I just needed a few more vertical degrees to be able to walk. Terence rearranged the meat, and it took some adjustment before my pack was light enough for me to stand. Every grueling step I took down that mountainside was agony. It felt like my hips were going to collapse from the weight––twisting and grinding with every step. Terence was behind me with a smaller pack, but also carrying the gun, the cape and the horns as well.

I made it to the bottom and the plan was I would rest and do the upward climb in two or three trips. However, I knew once I reached the bottom if I stopped I would never get started again. By now it was also raining much harder and I was soaked from the sopping underbrush. I sloshed through the creek and around the boulders and reached the bottom of the sandy slide that headed up the to the quad.

It was sheer torture to survey, as I knew I needed to get to the top of that steep slope somehow. I gritted my teeth and hauled myself upwards bit-by-bit, handful-by-handful––certain that Terence would be yelling at me from behind that I was slowing him up. It seemed like an age and a half before I finally managed to heave myself over the rim of the gully. I lay gasping for breath and realized that at some point the rain had turned into snow and it was getting dark. I crawled over to the quad, dragging the pack behind me; I was too hurt and exhausted to stand up.

Terrence had just made it to the bottom of the slide, so I slid back down on rubber legs to help haul the cape up. The cape was very wet and heavy, and swung awkwardly, throwing me off balance. It took a lot of energy to climb with, but we eventually made it too the top and started strapping our packs to the quad.

The butchering job had taken us so long, and hauling it back to the quad even longer, that we were running out of daylight. Terence’s quad was smaller and lighter than the ones usually used by the outfitter and with all the meat, horns, gun, cape and two (thankfully smaller) people, it was highly overloaded.

By now it was snowing heavily and the wind had picked up. I had no idea how we were going to get up the long grassy slope that had no trail without having a rollover. (It was at the top of this slope, where it met the track leading down the mountain, that I had heard a friend of mine had a rollover down the side of the mountain earlier that summer.) I have to hand it to Terence, though I couldn’t see a thing in the whiteout conditions, he managed to find his way back to the track. From there, it was a slow cautious ride down that treacherous trail, trying to go fast enough not to freeze, but slow enough that we didn’t roll the quad.

Terence had commandeered my mitts as I was riding behind him and he hadn’t thought to bring his. At some point I was so cold, that I had to get off and run in front of the quad so I could feel my feet that felt like blocks of wood. (I was worried that they were frostbitten). I was wearing jeans and leather work boots that were definitely not waterproof, and thankfully a fairly warm jacket. I was just starting to feel pins and needles in my feet when Terence yelled at me to get back on. He was worried I was slowing us up too much and he could go faster with both of us riding and therefore get us back to camp faster. He kept saying he wouldn’t get off the quad himself, no matter how cold it got.

Well, just before we hit the main road, we both had to stop and get off and stamp our feet and shake our bodies up because we were frozen nearly stiff. It scared me a bunch to realize that we were soaked and covered in ice and snow and still had a long ways to go before camp. Both of us were shaking so hard and our teeth chattering it was impossible to talk anymore.

Fortunately, the main road didn’t require a lot of skill to keep the quad upright and so we did make it back to camp, only to find that Glenn had shown up and taken everything but the trailer and Terence’s truck. Even the generator was gone that heated the trailer. I was moderately hypothermic by this point. We struggled to get into dry clothes––which is extremely tricky when they are literally frozen stiff as a board and your fingers are stiff and clumsy! We piled into Terence’s truck with our sleeping bags and the heat going full blast. It took over four hours before both of us stopped shivering and shaking, not just from the cold, but also the adrenaline and the faint realization that we could’ve died if anything had gone even slightly wrong on the way back down the mountain.

There was a lot of explaining to do when Glenn found out about our experience. Outfitters always have that knack of uncovering trouble. “Why didn’t you just take the horses like I told you too?” He kept shaking his head. Of course I blamed a lot of things, including Terence, but eventually I had to own up to my own thoughtlessness and naivety.

The loaded quad the morning after.

The loaded quad the morning after.

Now there are a lot of lessons I learned from this. Namely: Don’t be young and stupid and think you know everything, but maybe listen to someone wiser than you and do what they say, as they probably were young and stupid once and learned their lesson and now are just looking out in your best interests.

Or that always ALWAYS dress for bad weather when you go on a trip in the mountains.

Or that blaming someone else for events that you participated in, doesn’t really solve the problem that you were part of it. You didn’t stop them, or stop yourself.

Today, though, this story reminded me of another lesson on a more spiritual note––about Adam and Eve strangely enough. In a way, this story of Terence and me trying to fetch an elk off the mountain, and the story about the couple in the garden have elements of similarity, though obviously not completely.

I was thinking about Eve today, and why the heck she caved to the temptation of the serpent. I mean, Eve I don’t think was the weak women that so many like to think she is––or flawed or easily duped. She was created in the likeness of God and no sin marred her existence yet. She was created to be a power and a strength that corresponded with Adam. Basically she could “pull her own weight” but in perfect symmetry with her husband and God. Something I think a lot of women today wish was the case in their lives.

The Creator had given instructions to Adam about the garden and it isn’t clear when Eve learns about the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam may have related it to her afterwards, she may have overheard God talking to Adam, or God may have repeated his instructions to them both. However, when the serpent suggest that she try something new, she, though intrigued, repeats the command with an addition that they should not even TOUCH the tree let alone eat from it.

Many have gone to the trouble to try and explain why Eve added this qualifier when conversing with the serpent, but I would like to suggest she was proud (and greedy). That she knew full well what God had instructed, but she wanted to add her own spin––maybe to show herself as a separate entity from God, as her own person, with her own brain.

Eve was alone, when the serpent came along. Why was she off by herself? Why did the serpent seek her out and tempt her instead of Adam? I don’t think it was because she was the weaker of the individuals or the most susceptible as some say women are, but maybe because she had the more creative mindset. Maybe she was gaining confidence in herself, outside of her relationship with Adam. Maybe Adam had to teach her the ropes when she was first created and now she was becoming comfortable with herself and her world. Maybe she was proud of what she’d accomplished and knew already, but she was seeking to do greater things and greedy to have more wisdom and knowledge than she already had. Maybe she wanted to do things apart from Adam or even God. No one telling her what to do. She being the brave one. She be the one with vision.

We don’t know the motives of her heart exactly, but we do know what happens, she eats the fruit and passes it to Adam, (who showed up at some point) and he eats it too. And everything falls apart.

I can guess why. I think it had to do a lot with pride. And ignorance. And a naïve self-confidence. But mainly pride.

We are still there, thinking we know more or better than others and even God.

Pride closes our ears and eyes, and shutters our hearts and minds.

Pride, I think, truly is the root of all evil. And I think that is why there is so many proverbs warning how much God hates pride and arrogance. Even when we think our ways are innocent, God knows the inner workings and motivations of our hearts. The root cause of much of our actions is pride.

I think, at the root it was pride that made Eve eat the fruit and I think at the root it was pride that made Terence and me chuck out the window what Glenn had told us to do.

It’s a story that continues to act out on a daily basis. Over and over. Generation after generation.

And pride is often there to disrupt and tempt and twist and trip me up. It is very subtle. It is very pervasive. It’s there even when I think I’m being humble and modest, buried deep in the motivations of my heart. And when I think I’m conquering the issue of pride in my heart, I find myself proud of myself.

And this realization drives me to my knees in desperation praying that God will stop this underlying rebellion in my heart––this rebellion that passed down from Eve to all her daughters. This idea that I could “know” better than God. That I could know best. That I could stand on my own. That I don’t need guidance or help. That I could be like God. That I could be god for myself.

They say “Pride goes before the Fall”. So thank goodness for falls. For they put us back in our place. If they didn’t I don’t think we’d ever learn.

For it is the falls that humble and remind us of the One who truly knows best. The One who works everything for His good purposes. For as we are warned, “God opposes the proud”, yet, always keep in mind, He is also quick to compassion and to offer grace to those with humble hearts.

Above the clouds. View from near where the elk was shot the day before we went to fetch it off the mountain.

Above the clouds. View from near where the elk was shot the day before we went to fetch it off the mountain.

Posted in Cooking and Wrangling along the Great Divide in the Alberta Rockies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Cadillac of a Horse

One sunny July morning, I was headed up a trail alongside a crystal blue lake east of Atlin looking for my herd of horses. Technically I was the cook for this outfitter, but I often was sent to jingle in the herd. We were at the main base camp for most of July that was situated on a long narrow lake called Rainbow after the fish that filled the lake. On it’s west end was a beaver dam and a slough and further beyond was a beautiful set of meadows amongst the willow brush. The horses usually ended up in those meadows a good mile and a bit from camp.

Usually I kept a jingle horse in camp and rode him out to find the herd, but for some reason this morning I was on foot. Possibly because we had been away and had sent the whole herd out while we were gone, but I can’t remember the exact reason. I do remember walking along the virtual hi-way of a path alongside the lake, not even really listen for bells, as I figured they’d be down by the meadows and to far away to hear. Surprisingly though, I heard them just as I reached the end of the lake. I guess I shouldn’t say surprisingly, because it really wasn’t surprising to me that they were in a different spot. By now I had wrangled enough to realize that horses are rarely ever where you figure them to be.

However this was the first time I found them right at the end of the lake. In the swamp, of course. I didn’t even know how to get to them, even though I had been jingling for a few weeks already from this camp. I ended up having to walk a fair ways past the end of the lake and the happily grazing horses to find a way across the stream that entered the pond of the beaver dam.   They never hobbled the horses in this camp, so I approached them carefully so as not to spook them. It took a long time of fighting and some finesse to make my way through the tangle of willows and swamp grass hassocks to where the herd was. I couldn’t even see all the horses in the herd, but I trusted they were there, as this herd rarely split up too much.  The whole time I was keeping a sharp eye out for bears or moose, as I had often seen them in this particular area and I wasn’t keen to run into either one of them on foot.

A cow moose I often saw at the end of Rainbow Lake, standing in the swamp where I found the herd grazing.

A cow moose I often saw at the end of Rainbow Lake, standing in the swamp where I found the herd grazing.

First I had to pick out as horse to ride back. I came up to a big dark chestnut named Amigo. Amigo had a reputation of being lazy and slow, and he liked to eat grass while being ridden–– a lot! He also was a bit sneaky and conniving and I think he deliberately liked to knock knees into trees, and kick young pack horses if they got impatient with his slow walk. He was a “dude” horse as in we put the least experienced riders on him, trusting him to deliver them safely to the other end of the ride.

I had never ridden him before, but I figured he’d be fine to bareback, and I knew he was a herd leader. So I slipped a halter on and swung up on his back. Immediately his head came up and he set off for camp. I let him go as I knew horses have an uncanny knack for finding a path where I have been unable to on foot. Sure enough he found a path through the grass hassocks and willows and the herd fell in around us all headed for camp.

Amigo is the second horse from the right.  A solid, strong, dependable horse he was often used to carry the inexperienced riders.

Amigo is the second horse from the right. A solid, strong, dependable horse he was often used to carry the inexperienced riders.

We were headed towards the end of the lake and I wasn’t sure what I thought–– maybe that there was a shallow place to splash through along the lake edge or something. However the horses veered along the path away from the lake and towards the beaver dam and suddenly I saw the horses in front entering the pond. Before I could stop Amigo he was splashing into the pond and suddenly he dropped and the water slapped at his chest as I hurriedly drew my knees up high on his withers, perching like a jockey.

Amigo was a wide backed, rather stocky horse and I balanced precariously on his back as he started swimming the pond. It was deeper than I had thought, but in a few moments my mount was gaining the bank on the other side and I was dropping my legs to wrap around his barrel as he shot up the trail on the other side after the racing herd of horses in front of us.

We blasted smoothly through the trees and hit the hi-way of a path towards camp. It was a jolly good ride into camp. Amigo was a Cadillac of a horse to ride. Smooth and powerful! He galloped along like a luxury sedan and became one of my favorite horses to ride on long rides. The guides used to laugh at me, when I chose to ride him, but the joke was on them!

Amigo is next to the yawning paint horse, back in camp all saddled for another ride.  Chevy, my dog, watching over the horses.

Amigo is next to the yawning paint horse, back in camp all saddled for another ride. Chevy, my dog, watching over the horses.

Lessons learned:

  1. If you give a horse his head, more often than not they’ll take you places you don’t expect, but usually you’ll end up back at home.
  2. Horses will ALWAYS find a path were you figure there is none.
  3. Dude horses sometimes are the real gems to ride of the outfit.
  4. Some of the best friendships come from unexpected places.

Who’s the “Amigo” in you’re life? You know, the one with that reputation that keeps you from befriending them or talking to? The one that flies under the radar.

Sometimes I think if you can’t find a way through the tough tricky spots of life, you need to change you’re approach.  Sometimes, this means reaching out to someone you wouldn’t normally. Maybe that involves listening to someone you normally wouldn’t. Of course that may mean being taken a way you wouldn’t have expected. And you may be pleasantly surprised in the end.

Some of my neatest friendships have come out of unexpected places and with people I naturally wouldn’t connect with, and I’m so thankful for the effort and the courage it took for them, or me to connect!Rainbow Lake

Posted in Cooking and Wrangling the Wilds of Northern British Columbia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When is Enough, Enough?

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what your mind has been mulling over. Lately it’s been that way for me. I guess I just need to start somewhere. Over the holidays I was sick with a touch of the stomach flu, which in actuality was pretty awesome. It meant that I had a viable excuse to stay in bed and not lift a finger–– well, beyond making meals for the family and feeding the animals for the day. So I did a lot of sleeping and reading.

One book in particular was about twins separated at birth and one growing up with her birth mother and being horribly abused by her step father and neglected by her mother, and the other growing up with loving, supportive adoptive parents. They found each other later in life after their birth mother died. It was a story that demanded deep thoughts on how circumstances can affect a person. For much of the story I kept wondering why the one sister stayed with the people abusing her, especially when she was older and capable of leaving. Why did she allow her mother to stay a part of the family all the years and drive a wedge between her husband and her children? She herself, wondered and grieved over her choices after she found out what her mother had done to her and her sister.

Why do people stay in hard, impossible circumstances?

Why do people stay when they are being hurt?

Why do people continue to let it happen?

I’ve never been in an abusive situation. Not like this lady. Not like others I’ve heard about. But I have been in hard, difficult and trying situations. Not overly long, but long enough. And as my mind twists over these questions, I remember the time I worked as a horse wrangler for an outfitter in the Yukon.

It was one of the physically and mentally hardest periods of my life. Three months of straining and stretching and surviving. Three months of beating my body into submission. I remember thinking so many times, “If I can make it to breakfast, I’ll be okay.” And then, “If I can make it to tea time, I’ll be okay.” And then, “If I can make it to supper, I’ll live.” My days were broken into increments and I could only focus on the task immediately before me or I would start to panic.Storm Coming

My basic job was to find and bring in the herd of horses before breakfast, help saddle up or pack up for the day and then go out with the hunter and guide and hunt all day. If we got an animal, I helped skin and pack out the meat and horns. I was to make sure there was enough kindling and water for camp. I made lunches for the following day and did the dishes after the evening meal. Seems like a basic job. And it was. Nothing extra-ordinary than any horse wrangler does for any outfitter.

For me, part of it was that I had never done many of these tasks before. Or at least in a very limited sense. I was a girl and not a very big one. Some of the tasks set before me required a lot of strength–– which I gained in time. (Best shape of my life!) I had never tracked horses before. That was a huge learning curve and a frustrating one. I had to fetch the horses on foot, and wore rubber boots the entire time I was out there, as the ground was too mucky for anything else. The tracking caused no end of trouble for me. See post:

I started having panic attacks every morning before I had to go find them. The first time I couldn’t catch my breath, freaked me right out. But I managed to push through the hyperventilation and get out and find the horses.

Later in the season, my ankles started to freeze in my rubber boots after a morning of running in the horses. The aching pain got so bad I could hardly walk. If I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stay warm. I was constantly cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm clothes, as I only expected to be there until the end of August. But even then, the coldest weather seemed to be in August!

I had a few problems with one guide in particular that made things mentally hard and emotionally troubling. I cried every day for the first six weeks. After that I was mentally numb, I think, and possibly just acclimated and more comfortable with the tasks I needed to do. Mostly I was just surviving. Living in three hour stints. One foot in front of the other. Learning to enjoy whatever good came my way.

Afterwards, when I finally got out of the bush, and had the first REAL shower in months. A long, hot, long shower that went on forever and was the most heavenly thing ever! I was debriefing in a way to the outfitters wife. After telling her about a few of the troubles I had endured or suffered through, she stopped me and asked a simple question, “Why didn’t you call and ask to come out?”

I was startled. Why hadn’t I? And I realized it had never occurred to me that it was an option. That thought wasn’t even on my horizon when I was out there. Never even entered my mind that I could have asked to leave. I just had a job to do and somehow I managed to do it. Though I must admit, I thought many times of just lying down and dying. I have learned since that is my broken way of reacting to a situation I feel I have no control in. I just want to die. I think it would solve all problems.

And it makes me wonder how many people in a hard or abusive situation where they are surviving or enduring, just don’t think there’s any other option?  So they continue to survive.

Now though, whenever I face a tough period or a time that requires sticking power, I struggle with wanting to quit. And I struggle to reconcile in my mind whether this is something to stick out, or if this is something I should just walk away from.

How do you know?

How do you know if this time, this hardship that you are enduring is going to take you under, or make you stronger?

I still to this day have lasting effects of the mental strain that time in the Yukon. Panic attacks and teeth grinding, that fade when I’m not stressed, but come back with a vengeance when I am–– bringing haunting memories of helplessness and the fear I faced those early mornings. A back and a hip joint that has chronic problems from lifting too heavy of things and a jaw that’s never been right from being kneed by a horse.

However, I gained a lot from that time as well. I gained the knowledge that I could do incredibly hard things if I kept my mind to it. I gained knowledge of myself and what I was capable of. I experienced some pretty incredible wilderness and beauty that will forever be on my mind. The job taught me many lessons that have helped me in all areas of my life since. And I know that I would never trade that time for something else. Though I’m not sure I would take the job if I had a chance to do-over. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what I was getting into.Rainbow

I remember all those times I thought, “This is it. I can’t go on.” And then something came along and boosted my spirits. Such as a new guide to replace the one giving me headaches, new insulated boots to keep my feet warm, a fleece jacket borrowed and other pieces of gear to help when I needed it. A rainbow to give hope. Laughter. A whisper on my heart. The glorious scenery.

And I wonder if hardship, if abuse, if suffering can give as much as it can take away?

Would we be the people we are, if not for that trouble?

What are you’re thoughts? When do you know if enough is enough? How often have you stayed with something because you didn’t think there was another option?

What makes the difference for one person to suffer through incredible abuse and survive and another to give up and quit?

These thoughts keep tumbling around in my brain. I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to them and the idea of suffering and hardship being more than something to just alleviate.

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Wildflowers Part 4 (Columbine, Fishing, Yarrow and Strong Medicine)

This past summer, I cooked for a remote fishing lodge south of Atlin, BC. On occasion everyone left camp and I was left on my own or with my five year-old son to while away the day. Usually I was busy preparing for dinner, but I still found time to get away from camp. After my son was taught how to fish by the camp owner, he would bug me non-stop to take him fishing down at what we called the Home Pool.

The kid fishing the Home Pool on the Nakina River

The kid fishing the Home Pool on the Nakina River

Fishing is not something I know much about, but I have done a little over the years I spent in the bush. I’ve tried my hand at fly-fishing and spin casting, but I still don’t know much. Fishing’s never really appealed to me I think because it involves a lot of standing around in icy waters or such like. Though fishing is a lot more fun when you go out with experienced fisherman guides. They treat you real well! I like it when they take care of baiting your hook and untangling your snags and removing the fish you’ve caught and filleting it all up so neatly without you having to get your hands dirty. It’s a real luxury, and I am starting to understand why some people pay big money for guided fishing tours!

The kid fishing for trout at the Home Pool

The kid fishing for trout at the Home Pool

However when it was just me and my kid – I WAS THE GUIDE, so to speak – and not a very good one. The first time we trekked down to the fishing hole, I carried the rods and we picked our way across the rocks to set up on the edge of some rapids. The kid starts casting and very quickly snags his line. I got him untangled. He casts again and hooks a bull trout. Great fun! I video him reeling the fish in and just before I lands it, the fish pops the hook and off he swims. Bugger! The kid hooks another trout soon after and this time he lands it.

The kid with a rainbow.  Not the fish he caught the day I was with him alone, as I don't have a pic of that time, I was too busy trying to get a hook out of its mouth!

The kid with a rainbow. Not the fish he caught the day I was with him alone, as I don’t have a pic of that time, I was too busy trying to get a hook out of its mouth!

That’s when I realized I didn’t have anything to get the hook out of it’s mouth. So with a kid who all of a sudden got real sensitive to the fate of his fish, I bashed it on it’s head a few times because I couldn’t get the hook out of it’s mouth with my fingers or a stick or anything. Those teeth are sharp! The kids wailing about the poor fish so I send him running back up the hill to camp to fetch my pliers (it wouldn’t do to leave him all alone beside the roaring river as I could just imagine that a grizzly would decide to pop out and eat him or he would do something stupid like jump in the rapids or something). It took him a while, because 5 year-olds like to get distracted and dawdle over every rock or stick that grabs their attention. However, eventually he returned to hand me my Swiss tool and I was able to work the hook out of the trout’s mouth.

The rapids above the Home Pool.

The rapids above the Home Pool.

Then I set about filleting the fish and realized that I hadn’t done a good job of keeping an edge on my knife.   After a rather bad hack job that any chef would be embarrassed to admit too, I had some meat for the fish fry happening that evening. On the way back up the bluff, I stopped to take pictures of a few wildflowers that snagged my attention. Apparently thirty-some-odd-year-olds can dawdle and get distracted too!

Red Columbine

Red Columbine

The first to catch my eye was a scarlet bloom that I instantly recognized as a Columbine, because I have a plant with a different colored bloom in my own garden at home. According to the Haida people of BC, you shouldn’t pick red columbine or it will bring rain, hence it’s nickname the Red Rain-Flower. It is thought to be a good luck charm by some and used medicinally by others for rheumatism or aching joints.

The flowers are a sweet source of nectar for hummingbirds or long-tongued bees or curious children. I didn’t realized there were short-tongued and long-tongued bees. I guess there is and you can tell what kind of bee it is by the type of flower they get into. Of course I’m no expert on differentiating bees. I’m just glad I recognized the scarlet red of the columbine on my path across the rocks.

White Yarrow, Achillea millefollium.  The latin name reflects a myth that this herb was given to Achilles to use on the battlefield.

White Yarrow, Achillea millefollium. The latin name reflects a myth that this herb was given to Achilles to use on the battlefield.

After we crossed the nearly dry creek bed and started up the steep path that climbed the bank towards the lodge, I stopped to snap a picture of some white yarrow – another plant I readily recognize. It grows in my pasture and it was one I learned quickly because it is widely known that yarrow stops or slows down bleeding and is a pain reliever. Despite it’s myriad of tiny delicate flowers this plant packs a healing punch. It is considered one of the oldest known medicines used by humans and whole books have been written on this plant alone. Along with staunching bleeding, being antimicrobial and a pain reliever, it is good to stimulate circulation, help with digestion, encourages sweating, and is considered an herb for women and any and all issues with reproduction and such.

At the time though, all I could recall about yarrow, as I bent down to snap a couple close-up shots of the white blooms, was an article written by an herbalist who likes to wildcraft her herbs. She was talking about yarrow and how many like to grow it in their gardens because of it’s medicinal benefits, however she said that when one looks for strong medicine in plants, one needs to go find it in the harshest of environments. It is strongly considered that the more severe the habitat, the stronger the medicine of the plant. Therefore, one should not use the cultivated yarrow for healing teas or tinctures but instead go find it out in the wilderness or especially in the badlands. (Badlands yarrow is apparently where it’s at, for all you wildcrafter herbalists reading this!)

I was thinking about that, as I fingered the elegant yarrow blooms, how that rings true of humankind. Wasn’t it Paul the Apostle, in Romans 5 who talks about how suffering ends up producing the tempered steel of virtue in us? Again it’s that line of thought, that the harshest environments can produce the strongest and yet most compassionate of people.

I wonder why so many of us shy from suffering? Well I know why; it hurts! But rather than avoid the pain that is bound to happen on this earth, what if we leaned into it, or at least walk through it, not shying from it, but a setting of our teeth – a determination? I don’t know if I’m that person, but I admire those who are. Those I see meeting pain head on. I’m more like a worm stuck through with a pin, squirming any which way to get away from the source of pain. I wonder though, if I could just learn to be still and lean, instead of squirm and thrash.

We are so quick to judge what is a bad time or what is a good time. What if we quit trying to be judges of what is good and evil? What if we just let God be God and let Him grow in us something good, something healing, something beautiful, despite the brutal and savageness that surrounds. What if what we think is bad is actually working towards something better in us than could have possibly happened in a time of ease? What if the harshness we face gives us healing qualities that will help others–––A wild, fierce, stronger medicine, than your typical garden-variety type? What if?

The kid beat me up the path, and was calling. So I left the blooms of yarrow behind to ponder about another day.

And that day was today.

My question to you is: Have you faced a hard time, a painful time, that produced something better and greater in you, than if you had never gone through that time?

The dry creekbed we had to cross to head up the path to the lodge which is just below the mountain.

The dry creekbed we had to cross to head up the path to the lodge which is just below the mountain.

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Today

There are some days that you always take notice of every year it comes around. For some this is their birthday, for others it is a holiday, or others still, it is an anniversary. For some these days mean happiness and celebration, for a number there are mixed emotions and yet others who dread these days.

November 4th is a day that I notice. I know that last year there was 2 feet of snow on the ground and this year it was sunny and then rainy with no snow on the ground. Two years ago it was blustery and stormy and rainy with no snow on the ground. Three years ago it was snowy and windy and icy, and the first day of snow for that year.

Why do I notice the weather on such a non-descript day? Why is it important to me? November 4th was a day that was filled with hope and excitement at the start, and ended in a heart-crushing shock and disappointment for my family and me. A birth that brought about no life. My son, who would be three today, never opened his eyes to greet his mom or dad or older brother.

Caleb.

Strong warrior.

Brother.

Son.

Today, this November 4th, I opened my eyes to a heavy, pre-dawn gloom. Clouds shrouded the sky, wrapping my little piece of the world in inky darkness.

Later the sun broke over the disappearing clouds, slanting beautiful, ethereal light over the fallow fields as I drove by.

Later yet, the sun beamed in a clear blue sky. No wind stirred the dry grasses or rattled the empty branches. Birds chirped and twittered. The sun warmed my back as I walked along. The water in the slough was glassy calm and the fluffy cattails didn’t stir and inch.

Then on the far western horizon the dark clouds loomed and soon the wind whistled through the pine and sent any leaf not nailed down tumbling. Rain beat against the windshield as I drove, and blurred the world outside, scouring the dry earth clean again.

And darkness fell again like a long, deep sigh.

Today, there was heaviness and sorrow, there was laughter and blessing, there was crying and letting go again and sighing – sighing in longing, sighing in acceptance and sighing in peace.

It was a good day this November 4th. A good day for a birthday. A good day for a little bit of everything.

Weeping Birch Tree, November 4, 2014

Weeping Birch Tree, November 4, 2014

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