Those events we can’t forget
They come around, those events we can’t forget, and even though they’re not life-shattering, they’ll stick with us forever. For every season, it seems, something comes around that I haven’t thought about in years, but maybe due to the particular lean of the sun or the reflection of the moon across a ribbon of water, it creeps into my mind and holds me prisoner until I’ve used it up. And maybe it isn’t the event itself but more the atmosphere around the happening that grips my allegiance.
As I was growing up, the mountain behind our house was called many things, but certainly not Vagneur Mountain — that came later. My cousins down the road called it Gobbler’s Knob, an assessment I found rather intriguing, but my father or his father never really had a preferred name. Sometimes my granddad referred to it as Wild Horse Mountain, as in, “Let’s go round up the wild horses on the mountain,” and I would jump at the chance. There were two evergreens prominently displayed high on the otherwise mostly bare face, and I took to calling it Two Pines or, as we most commonly referred to it, either “the mountain behind the house” or “where we elk hunt.”
Snow had fallen a few days before, and many leaves were still golden, hanging on for — what? Our amusement or cover for the elk? A certain amount of planning had gone into the mission, as I found out just the day before we left, but it didn’t matter because I had been included in the plan. Unlike the previous year, when I’d broken my maiden as a first-time hunter by bringing down a nice five-point bull and when we’d left the house well before daylight to reach the top of the mountain by dawn, this year we were going to camp on the mountain the night before, an attempt to lessen the early-morning stress.
At 13 years old, it’s one of those remarkable things to put your trust in your dad and go with the flow, not worrying about every little detail and not asking a million questions. And so it was that we came upon a deserted cabin in the middle of a dark pine forest on that mountain behind our house, one of those surprises in your backyard that have been there for eons, completely unknown to you. My great-grandfather had used it, keeping a crew up there in the summer to cut timber for his sawmill down at the main ranch, a sideline continued by my granddad up until the 1920s.
It wasn’t much to look at as we pulled up, what with a caved-in roof. Only about six logs high remained, staggered around the perimeter, the rest having fallen by the wayside over the years, but toward the back, enough roof remained to keep most of any precipitation off.
Whatever it was, it was a part of us, part of our lineage, our history, and my dad, who had used the cabin innumerable times as a youth, had not forgotten it. Part of the magnificence of the memory, I reckon, is that he was sharing this with me, not that he even mentioned it, but it came out in conversations I overheard, little bits and pieces, and a kid who tried to keep his mouth shut could learn a lot.
There were six of us in the party, but we all took care of ourselves pretty much. My dad and I, we cut pine boughs for mattresses and laid our sleeping bags out next to each other under the shaky roof, warm and content. He had a new bag, not so much a sleeping bag as we think of it today but more a bedroll from the Old West, a comfort that a man with horses could afford. He gave that bag to me a few years later, and I enjoyed it a long time not only for camping in the mountains while working cows but also for Lake Powell expeditions, and it was a reliable friend on long road trips.
There was something about that hunting excursion, a closeness we had; he was treating me as an equal and not a son, and it probably was because I wasn’t screwing up and testing his patience. I held up my end of the bargain, taking care of the horses and making sure everything was picked up, just like one of the crew.
We hunted up there a few more years, never using the old cabin again but sometimes pitching tents or leaving the ranch well before daylight, and somehow it just seemed easier that way. We never talked about it, and I’d pretty much forgotten about that outing until just the other day. And like my memory, which is hauntingly clear, visible remnants of that old cabin still remain.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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