I asked the Wind if it would be my friend. It said yes.
The smell of the evergreen forest was a welcome fragrance, something that was
long overdue to my yearning nostrils. As I walked I saw all the trees with a new
look, one of friendliness, not the accustomed unfamiliar look they so often
received before. My destination was uncertain, as I did not bring a compass as I
had so many times in the past. Night was coming quickly and I had not found a
water source. It was a clear sky, so I threw down my bedroll and prepared for a
spectacular natural light show. It was a good start to the week I had planned to
practice many of the skills Tom had taught me in the Standard, #31, a "good
I don't know the time I woke up because I decided to "fast" from
time. I had prepared a temporary breechcloth from an old towel and thought the
present was as good a time as any to put it on. I would see how long I could
stay comfortable in early September weather in the mountains.
I froze all movement when I caught a form out of the corner of my eye. An elk
was walking slowly, eating a path toward a clump of trees 150 yards distant.
Here I am in my birthday suit, holding my clothes, and one of nature's most
majestic creatures is making her way within accessible reach. I dismissed the
elk after she disappeared, for if my luck was like this the rest of my week,
there would be many more opportunities to track fresh spoor. My spirit soared as
I donned the temporary breechcloth, belt, a massive Bowie, and a bandanna
Scouting the woods surrounding the elk meadow proved to be fruitful because I
found a spring-fed reservoir behind the clump of trees which swallowed the elk.
There was a protected hollow at the south end of the lake which lay in the
northern reaches of the High Uintah Mountain Range. I had brought some food to
insure eating, as I had not fasted before in my life. I did not want to rely
totally on foraging because I really wanted to practice as many things as I
could in what little time I had. The gully I had chosen would protect me from
the gusty, high country winds. My debris shelter utilized spruce and fir boughs,
grasses, and a parallel-veined, broad-leafed plant that was turning yellow. It
was quite large and lay in a nearby marshy area. Harvesting them near their base
yielded a very repellent source of debris that helped plug the holes left by the
evergreen boughs. Never could identify that helpful plant!
Because of the warm days, I decided an extensive fireplace would be
unnecessary for only a week. Live evergreen wood burned surprisingly well
through the night, since there were no hardwoods nearby, and left a good solid
bed of coals covered with white ashes. The camp became quite functional. A
squirrel's curiosity of a suspended cone held him in place as a lucky throwing
stick obtained a meal. As cloud cover gathered, I added more of the mystery
plant and evergreen boughs to my hut until I thought it was sufficient. The wind
carried an interesting exhilaration without the sun, but I did not feel cold --
yet. Rain never came, but I bathed in the solitude and truly enjoyed it.
A closer examination of the lake produced a poor attempt at raft building.
Two logs, about 12 feet long and 8-10 inches in diameter, were spiked together
by three smaller pieces of wood nailed equidistantly. It had been left high by
the winter melt and I had to drag the makeshift contraption to the water. I
rigged up an oar from a 2-inch log that had been ripped from a tree. Its base
was flat and wider than its diameter, sort of a natural paddle in design.
Returning to the water's edge, I noticed the wind doing its dance across the
water's surface, lifting the peaks of the waves high as a floor would follow a
ballerina's steps if it could. The raft had consequently moved while I was busy,
and I had to retrieve it. It was water-logged and rode low in the water. I
doffed my breechcloth and sat on the raft. It did not submerge enough to get
wet, so I pushed off from shore. The paddle felt stout but natural as those I'd
used for canoeing. The first stroke went well. Maybe this two-log raft wasn't as
unstable as I had suspected after all. When the second stroke was executed, it
started rocking the raft and I rolled over as if in a kayak. I got my all-over
bath a few days earlier than I had planned. Hang that idea!
Nature observation occupied the remainder of the third day. Birds, chipmunks,
insects, and a deer trail kept me quite busy until I retired that evening. It
was very easy to sleep after a full day of mountain air, wind, sun and activity.
I was lazy the next morning, one of the wages of the simple life. I toyed
with a model raft idea. It was obvious my real raft idea was all wet, to put it
accurately. The sticks were held together by string I had brought in my
possibles bag, and a broad fir branch made an adequate sail. I had to add
ballast for the sail and then a makeshift rudder so the craft could pirouette.
The diversion had allowed me to think clearly of things one normally cannot
in our rat race society. Thoughts meandered across my mind fluidly. Vivid
recollections of the times passed were recounted and mulled over for speculation
and contemplating the future. One thing was certain, and that was, I'd return to
the mountains some day. Once I was shed of my debts and responsibilities, I
would be able to return, forever, if I chose to. A decision was made. A life to
live. But we must "live for the moment", came the voice of my medicine
tracker/coyote teacher in my mind.
Another walk around the lake provided new adventures. A porcupine was gnawing
or eating when I approached it. Its sloth-like movements were captivating. The
portly fellow turned toward me and caught my scent, then it waddled away and
balled itself up in a fire-opened stump for protection. I guessed it didn't want
to leave its food source too far behind. I'm certain I could have remained to
watch his subsequent actions, but I was anxious to encounter more and learn more
in the little time I had. Besides, the porky wasn't exactly the first wild
animal I wanted to try to touch.
Returning to camp, I crossed an unusual deer track that stepped up the shore
at an angle. It was difficult to discern the gender of the muley, as I had no
other tracks to identify with the rear track placement method and I had not
enough dirt time for the pressure-release method of identification. The
experience gained was certainly worth the effort spent. I loved the wages of
this lifestyle. They were reward enough for forsaking twentieth century social
standards and habits.
The following day allowed extensive rabbit-stick practice at a jack
rabbit-size log. This skill needed honing because I knew the squirrel was a
fluke. Since then I had felt a strange sense of sadness and kept to my own food.
But this skill could still come in handy some day, so I practiced for a long
time at it. Stalking also became an opportunity when I spied upon a small group
of chipmunks feeding on grass seed heads some 50 feet beyond a stand of trees. I
concentrated intently on the silence of my movements, and the little animals'
alternating sentries. Within 5 feet, they shifted positions and one left. The
breeze was in my favor as my final steps successfully brought me into the
18-inch circle which contained two of the ground squirrels. One scurried
erratically, sensing danger. It looked at me but could not figure me out. Then
it ran around the downwind side of me only scant inches from my sandaled left
foot. When it caught my scent, all hell broke loose -- the amount of noise from
such a tiny creature totally disguised its size. Nevertheless, it succeeded in
breaking up the peaceable feeding chipmunks, as well as what I thought was a
successful stalk. They all scolded me comically at a safe distance. I laughed at
the cuteness of their reactions, how they jumped stiff-leggedly with each
barking out-burst of prattle.
The majority of the hours of the day were I consumed by the rabbit stick and
the long, laborious stalk. My leg muscles ached after the stalking exercise.
But, although I did not get to touch a chipmunk, I had been satisfied with the
learning process that accompanied just that pursuit. The concentration on the
eyes and movement of the animals, the burning pain when caught in mid-step, and
the endurance and patience required in the long stalk were all, surprisingly,
mentally fatiguing. I had experienced all these things because of my intent to
focus not on the ultimate goal, but on the requirements demanded by the stalk.
No wonder Tom tells us not to center on our prey! If we are doing everything we
should be, we don't have the time to concentrate on the final goal.
Rain never came till the dawn hours of the sixth day, but it didn't last
long. Hot coals had survived the precipitation, and a fire soon boiled water in
a Sierra cup for oatmeal. I picked up the rabbit sticks and threw repeatedly
like a man possessed with a fever for perfection. After achieving a near-perfect
success rate, I turned my attention toward my Bowie. It is a
nine-and-a-half-inch bladed monster of extremely good steel, and a fine-crafted
wood handle. A stout brass hilt had had angles at each end, but I had removed
them and shortened the hilt so the knife would fit in a buckskin sheath I made
to resemble those of the mountainmen of the beaver trapping era. When I had
attained an excellent success rate with it at seven yards, I tried it just once
more to see if I'd gotten the hang of it. Bullseye.
It was about time to prepare to leave, something I wished I didn't have to
do. Preparation included filling my canteen, writing short thoughts of the
experiences I'd had, and taking a bath. Morning would see the finishing touches
of extinguishing the fire and insuring nothing of my stay remained.
There are days that are good medicine the moment you wake up, and there are
days that are not. Mixed feelings invaded my mind. Camp broke quickly and easily
as the sun peeked over the trees and I turned my back on the place I called home
for a week. Not too far from camp I entered an open area, a meadow, covered with
frost. I stopped in wonder because I still was wearing my breechcloth. The sun
was warm. I felt good. I was not cold. Good medicine. "Thank you,
The walk was beautiful. I enjoyed the mountain vistas and the music of the
birds. I was happy until I crested a rise. What I thought was a high country
meadow turned out to be a trashed-out logging area probably left by outlaw
loggers. Open garbage dumps, destroyed trees that were obviously useful, twisted
skeletons of young trees, and dozer tracks everywhere were in view from any
vantage point. I was moved by the destruction that interrupted the natural
beauty. I angrily swore out loud but kept walking, following a horse trail I had
picked up before the logging carnage came into view. Dozer roads plowed through
aimlessly to dead-ends but the horse tracks gave me direction. I still walked as
though I revered where I stepped even though it seemed no more harm could come
to the area. I must have been blinded by the devastation, for I didn't see the
sharp stick protruding from the trail. My foot needed stitches, but I would
survive. It made me realize another thing I had become attuned to pain. The foot
would take a long time to heal because I had to wear boots daily in my work. Bad
I put a half mile behind me when I entered a breath-taking meadow. A stream
gurgled off to my left side, and as I hiked I took in the fragrances and the
scenery simultaneously. My eyes gathered the movement of the local fauna and I
heard what I could to remember this spot. The birds betrayed a motion beyond the
trees. My attuned senses told me it was something large. I approached the trees
only to hear the identifiable bleating of a herd of sheep. Dung was more obvious
now, as was the distinctive odor of the sheep. The horse trail led me through
the tree screen into the midst of the wooly creatures that stretched beyond
sight. There must have been hundreds. I was not in the primitive area of the
mountains, so I could not complain legally. Private lands were contracted to the
shepherds and it was my risk I ran into them.
The sheep parted before me like the Red Sea as I followed the horse trail,
Soon I saw the shepherd heading for his temporary corral. "Good
morning!" I yelled, hoping for an amiable reply, but there was none. Surely
he had heard me. My college Spanish history reminded me immediately how Basque
sheepherders lived in the Rockies, so, I reasoned, why not the Uintahs?
"Buenos dias!" I tried again.
"Hola!" came the cheerful reply. "Come esta?"
Well, I had opened up the course of conversation but I did not know how I was
going to continue with rusty college Spanish. I successfully made him understand
I spoke the language quite poorly. He offered a cup of coffee which I graciously
declined, since I can't even stomach the drink, and he did not seem offended. I
established my position in relationship to my rendezvous point since three
trails led out of the shepherd's camp. He asked if I'd seen any puma or bear,
and I had set his mind to rest. He visibly showed signs of relief which pulled a
chuckle from both of us. I learned he was from Spain and he had two horses,
three dogs, a 30-30, and a trout line. He had over 200 sheep to care for. He
said "Adios," but I corrected him by saying, "No, hasta Luego!".
He smiled warmly and agreed. We waved as I left to climb the mountain, for I
needed to reach a higher plain for my rendezvous.
At the end of my climb I saw the peaks of the highest mountains in Utah and
turned around to see the high plains of Wyoming. What a natural high to
expcrience sights as these! Suddenly I detected a subtle movement, and I looked
up to see a golden eagle negotiating the wind nearly motionless as if held by a
thread in the sky.
I was in a total state of elation as I walked to the sight I felt made a good
rendezvous site. I cached my pack under a Mugo pine and checked out my
surroundings for deer, sign. Tracks dominated an old logging road about a
hundred yards from my cache. Barefoot now, I went into the stalk in case I
caught deer feeding or resting. I searched and stalked for some time. I
estimated a mile to a mile and a half of tracks before I decided to quit the
stalk. Sign never got fresher.
Then my eyes saw a gem glowing in a deep ravine. A high country pool drew me,
beckoned me to drink of its clear water, and as I came closer to the pure cairn,
I saw the seepage of the spring feeding it. Now I lusted for a drink of the
water. I knelt at its edge and lowered myself so my lips could touch the water's
surface. But, before I could, my brain literally pounded a message to my
consciousness to not take a drink of this water. My lust and goal-oriented
attitude had blinded me. I sat back on my haunches and wondered why my body was
telling me to refrain from drinking obviously good water. I noticed a white fuzz
on the water and then flies buzzing erratically. Something was terribly wrong
here. My eyes searched the shoreline until they fell on a large lump lying
halfway in the water. It was a badly decayed sheep carcass. I was thankful my
relationship with the earth-mother was good enough, close enough, to keep me
aware of my body, to listen to what it had to say to me. The lack of movement of
the danger involved was a good lesson in camouflage and stillness. So why was I
so depressed ,when I had listened to my body? I really wanted a drink because I
knew, without the carcass, the water would,have been safe. I turned away
dejected and nearly stepped on a very large brown feather. A reward! And what a
magnificent reward! I picked up the feather, assuming it was good medicine, and
stuck it in my blue headband. Good medicine. Lila washtay.
But the story does not end here ...
After I had gone home, I called the Tracker Farm. I asked for Tom
specifically because what I wanted to ask really needed his expertise. I talked
to Judy and she said no one else was around. She told me to relate my story,
which I did, and she didn't know if I had the legitimate right to wear the
feather. All I could do was call back at some later date, so I left it at that,
because I didn't know when I could call to catch Tom. I had to take my chances.
One morning before I left for work, I called the Farm again. Because of the
time difference, it would be approximately ten in the morning there. A male
voice answered, "Hello?"
"Tom?", I inquired.
"Rick?", asked the voice. Now it may not sound unusual yet, but Tom
has had nearly 7000 students, and countless friends, and his family as well. So,
how did he know it was me?
"Yes," I answered after a short pause.
"Wear it!", Tom said.
I inquired why, because I had never heard of this method of earning a
feather. Tom explained that it was a reward for listening to my body. But one
question remained: How do I know it really is an eagle feather?, Tom replied
that the circumstances were such that there was no way it could be anything
else. I thanked Tom for his help, and he wished me all good medicine, as always.
I asked the Wind to be my friend. Now I feel I owe it a favor.