15, Number 86, August/September 2012 WINNER OF THE TRUE STORIES: SUSANNA VOTH WIEBE PRIZE Day Dreaming by James A. Logan
One day my ten year old grandson, Gary, and I decided that we needed an adventure. It wouldn’t have to be anything too hairy, just a change from the daily routine. We got the old pack boxes out and stuffed them full of all the good things we liked to eat, like peanut butter and cheese and bacon and some good home made bread. We tied it all on a paint horse named Little Joe, along with our sleeping bags and a canvas tarp big enough to sleep under if we ran into a storm, then, with me on my favourite buckskin and Gary riding his mount “Topper,” we headed north. We were into what’s known as the Aspen Grove country on our second day out, the weather was sunny and warm without the over powering heat that would come in mid summer. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves on the aspens and sent a happy feeling through us like it was good to be alive. We hit an old dirt road far enough back from the highway that you couldn’t hear the howl of cars and trucks and along about sundown we made camp by a little spring the cows hadn’t yet found and soon had a nice smelling campfire blazing. I like the odour that dry aspen gives off in a fire. Gary’s a pretty good camp cook and he soon had a pan of beans warming up on the hot embers. With bread and cheese and a billy of tea we made do.
We didn’t bother tenting up our tarp, the stars lit up the night sky in their millions and we lay on our backs and played the old game of see the first satellite. I don’t remember how many we counted. The horses had been stuffing themselves on good grass since we stopped and were tied up for the night. We checked them one more time, got rid of the tea we’d drank and called it a day. Gary suggested we say a prayer before going to sleep so we thanked God for the beautiful day and for giving us so much happiness. Soon we were both off in dreamland.
We awoke to another nice day and, after staking the horses out and feeding them some oats, put together some breakfast. I stirred up hotcake batter and Gary fried some bacon. Soon the platter was clean and, after making sure our fire was out, we saddled up and were on our way.
We stuck with the old road, it was soft and damp rather than dusty and didn’t look like it had been travelled in a long time. A few white faced cows watched us ride by. A pileated woodpecker made about the only sound we heard all morning. We came across a beautiful stream in mid- afternoon and forded with the horses. It wasn’t deep, maybe ten inches. We dismounted and let the horses eat the lush grass, growing along the bank, while we poked along the creek. We soon found what we were looking for, fat trout in every pool. We reached a unanimous decision on the first vote; we would camp.
Away from the creek, to be free of most of the mosquitoes, I staked out the horses and made camp while Gary took on the tough job of catching fish for our supper. I cautioned him not to catch more than we could eat as we couldn’t take them with us in such warm weather. I was glad we had the foresight to bring a jar of water from the spring as this stream wound through cow country and was well tainted with the smell of cow. I had the tarp up and a fire going when back to camp came Gary with six nice trout for our supper. He had them all cleaned and ready for cooking so, with a couple of bacon strips they were soon in the pan and before you could turn around twice, we were eating supper.
After eating Gary volunteered to clean up the dishes at the creek so I wooded up the fire and got out my old harmonica. What a way to live.
The next day we road down into a valley. We came first to a cattle guard and a well constructed fence. I said to Gary, “Maybe the creeks and water holes will be fit to drink out of from now on.” We were still on the dirt road with big yellow pines growing on either side. We rode for a couple of hours and came to some farm buildings set back away from the road. There were old style log fences and a big gate with a log arch over the top. The whole set-up looked clean and well maintained. What got our attention was an old car with two elderly women leaning over the motor. One was holding a wrench and the other a dirty looking towel. The car was a model “A” Ford.
We stopped and made some polite conversation and they told us the car hadn’t run for many months. They said that they tinkered with it every once in a while but hadn’t found a loose wire or anything else that might prevent it from starting. It used to take them to town every couple of weeks but wouldn’t start the last time they needed to go in for supplies. I said, “Ladies, you just happen to be looking at the two best mechanics that ever picked up a wrench. If you could suggest a good place for us to camp with good water and feed for our horses, we would be glad to find and fix whatever is ailing your automobile.”
Well they were sure we were heaven sent and I’m sure our horses thought they had reached the promised land as they were turned into a lush pasture. It crossed my mind that at least one of these old gals would know how to cook and thoughts of fresh berry pie had me drooling. I suggested to Gary that he could take his choice of two jobs, set up camp or fix the car. It was plain he’d been bursting to get his hands on that motor so I was soon setting up our tarp as a shelter and building a fire. Of course I had to be sociable and have coffee with the ladies.
Gary came over to the fire after a bit and said, “Grampa, I found why it wouldn’t run and I fixed it. The breaker points weren’t opening, the rubbing block seems to have worn down. I’m getting a good spark now but the battery is too low to even get a grunt from the starter.” I told him to look for a crank, there should be one somewhere, those old cars all had one. Sure enough it was under the seat so I guessed it was up to me to see if I could still turn one. I put it in place through the slot under the radiator and tried a few half pulls to see if it was going to kick back; I didn’t fancy getting an arm broke. Finally I got brave and gave it a good spin around and, wonder of wonders, it fired right up. The old girls came on the run with smiles a mile wide and Gary was their hero.
We kept the motor running for a few hours to charge up the battery and Gary advised them to get a new set of breaker points in town. I bet that item would be a hard one to find and they would do a lot of ordering before finding points for that old Ford. They insisted we have supper with them and we didn’t take much persuading. It was a grand feast of roast chicken, potatoes and gravy and new carrots topped off with two kinds of pie. I told them we both had pie genes and our psychic minds had guided us to this place. Camp grub would look mighty plain after today. We bedded down in our camp that night happy and content and both gave thanks for a perfect day.
We packed up in the morning, said our farewells and, with the women’s best wishes, set off down the road. The sun came out and we were off to a good start. By noon we came to a series of little lakes and sloughs and there were lots of ducks and geese. There was a bit of sight and sound I wanted Gary to experience, I was sure it would stay with him the rest of his life. There are times in life when our thoughts become too much to bear and it’s good to have an escape memory to focus on. With this in mind we camped at the first good water we came to. It was a bit early in the day, but what the heck, we didn’t have a destination anyway.
We made a pail of tea and a bite to eat and Gary got to whittling out something from an odd shaped stick he found. I saddled up Little Joe and took a ride around the sloughs. I soon found what I was looking for, a nice little lake with a marshy west end and a dry sheltered spot nearby where a couple of guys could sit comfortably. This is where Gary and I would be at three-thirty the next morning, as quiet as we knew how to be. I rode back to our camp, fixing the lay of the land in my mind as I would be finding this in the dark a few hours from now. Gary had the tarp up and our foamies and sleeping bags spread out so we stretched out and watched our fire. It was time to explain my intention so I said, “Gary, listen up. I’m going to stir you out at three-thirty tomorrow morning and we’re going to take a warm sweater each and our coats and slip over on foot to a place I’ve picked out at the end of a lake. It’s actually a big marsh. Now all we’ll do is sit there and listen and look but, above all, we must be very quiet and never speak above a whisper.”
“Well,” Gary replied, “what do you expect to happen?”
“We’re going to hear the sounds of a marsh at the break of day, I expect. Also you’ll see the night turn into day, a magic time when trees, like ghosts, begin to appear out of the darkness, something most people live their entire lives without witnessing,” I explained. This meant a lot to me, I hoped it would to him. We had to walk there in the dark of night rather than sleep there, otherwise we would never stay awake. I like a thermos of coffee to sip on when I’m doing this but it was a luxury we didn’t have. Some bread and cheese would have to suffice to keep us awake. We walked the route before dark to place it in our memory and, though we had a flashlight, it would be tricky finding the place in the dark. I drank two cups of tea before turning in, knowing it would awaken me about three. We left our clothes on and just pulled our sleeping bags over us. We were up at fifteen minutes past three a.m. and, after draining our bladders, made our way through the darkness to the place I had chosen. We got comfortable with our backs to a big tree and our head nets on to keep the mosquitoes at bay and peered into the night.
The odd loud squack broke the stillness as some kind of duck got crowded off a roost log. Occasionally there was the sound of a splash from out in the dark, a fish maybe, more likely a muskrat. After awhile there was a faint suggestion of light in the eastern sky. Soon a sound above us, “fee, fee, fee, fee, fee” in rapid succession, the wing beats of a flight of ducks going over. Would they circle the lake and come back to this marshy end for a landing? It’s called the morning flight, these early ones coming in for breakfast. You could see mist now, and bushes started to take shape along the shore. A loud “quack, quack, quack, quack, quack” from somewhere out in front of us. Then the sound of disturbed air in the “whoosh” of duck wings as an incoming flock braked for a landing and splashed down, gabbling a good morning to those who had spent the night here. Daylight was on us now and you could see clear across the lake. A flock of geese flew over us, all of them talking at once but they had another place in mind and kept going. We went back to our camp and made breakfast. I guessed we’d be getting an early start this day.
About noon we came to an old homestead. The remains of a log barn, only the walls standing, A foundation of stone and concrete where the house had stood. A few small rhubarb plants still showed where the garden had been and a gooseberry bush that I guess would never give up. The timothy and clover that kept reseeding year after year made a good lunch break for our horses. There’s a loneliness about such places. What happened to the people who once lived here? Did they find a more rewarding life in the city? Did the kids grow up and move away and mom and dad got old and moved to a nursing home? Do their spirits come here at night and dance in the moonlight and remember the good times? I brushed a tear away with the second knuckle of my thumb. It was time to move on.
We rode on out of the valley onto a wide open prairie and wondered where we should go next. We stopped at a cabin where an old man with a bushy white beard was busy splicing a new halter shank onto a brass snap. I asked him, after the “hellos” and “how are yous,” if he had a map of the area. He said he never kept such things but knew the country pretty well and whatever we wanted to find he could probably help us. We told him where we had come from and that we’d like to circle back but didn’t know were the best route would be. He stopped splicing and a big smile lit up his face. “You know, gents,” he remarked, “that’s just the sort of thing I like to do. That’s what the Australian aborigines call ‘walk about,’ they do it every year.” It would seem, though he lived alone in the woods, he hadn’t just fallen off a huckleberry bush.
Stepping off the porch he pointed east and continued, “You fellows ride straight toward the morning sun for two days and you’ll come to Jigaboo Creek. There’s a good trail up the west side will take you to the top of Sugar Bowl mountain. Head straight south from there and you’ll be looking down on the Tulameen river valley.” He gave us another smile and added, “You just came through Red Bird valley, you didn’t by chance run into the Hainey sisters did you?” I told him of our encounter with two fine ladies and he agreed they were a great pair. We watered our horses and filled our gallon jar in case tonight would be a dry camp, waved goodbye, and rode on our way. We only went a few miles and made camp, both heavy eyed after our early morning start.
It was nice riding across the open country. The grass was green and there were lots of flowers and in due time we came to Jigaboo Creek. Gary knew a good looking fishing hole when he saw one and soon had his fishing rod out of the pack. I staked out the horses and built a fire. The weather was dry and there were no bugs but shade would be nice so I put up the tarp. Gary came into camp wearing a grin from ear to ear and carrying a nice string of trout. We dined well that night.
I would liked to have camped here a few days as it was a very attractive place but the grub was running out. We used the last egg in the hot cakes at breakfast and, though one can certainly stay alive on eggless pancakes and fish, I didn’t cotton to the idea. The trail was a good one, well cut out, and we poked along getting higher and higher above the plain. It ended at some old mining claims but by then we were clearly at the top of the mountain and drifting along south through open jack pine country. When we camped that night we were looking down into the Tulameen valley, the place we call home.
We took our time about getting up next morning. This would be our last day out so we didn’t hurry to break camp. The grass wasn’t very plentiful so we let the horses graze as long as we could. It was all down hill to the valley bottom and sometime in the afternoon we were on the road leading to home. We rode into the yard about three o’clock and the old dog “Tinker” was first to see us. Her barking brought Gary’s mom and dad and sister out to meet us and a happy family was back together again.