Friday, June 29, 2007

the new balance horseman

The eastern Sierra is a strange place. Desert on the border with Nevada, Arizona. Death Valley lurks lowdown. Volcanoes above. The mountains explode from the brown desert floor seven thousand feet erect, straight up, gathering trees finally at the top. In twenty five minutes you can drive from the desert in Lone Pine to alpine forest and meadow at ten thousand feet. Twenty degrees difference. Shocking the system.

Luckily I started walking at ten thousand feet. Up over Trail Pass in the sunlight that shines poison UV through thin air to sear my face skin red hot and blistery. I actually felt feverish each night going to sleep I think because I was excessively exposed. Up over Trail Pass, descending into Mulkey Meadows. All the “stringers” were dry. Out there, small tributaries are called “stringers.” Only the main stem had water in it. And thousands of Golden Trout. I pulled out a dozen or so. They’re ridiculously easy to catch. Killed one by accident. Hooked him deep. Second fish I‘ve killed this year. Felt pretty bad about that. Hiked down Mulkey and into Bullfrog Meadow and camped there. My water froze that night.

Everything except the meadows, and even those in places, were sandy. It wasn’t really sand, but kind of. Dirt and small rocks. Each step produced a puff of dust. Each step slipped back two inches. Walking in sand is a pain in the ass. Carrying a 40 pound pack in sand is a serious pain in the ass. And all the trails were six inch deep ruts of sand, carved out over the years by cattle and horses. Cow pies everywhere. Crusty gray and light as dried meringue. But I didn’t see any cattle.

I did see horses. Horseshoe tracks and the errant horseshoe itself here and there. Bent tacks rusted tetanus needles on the trail. Keep the horses out and I imagine the trails would be a lot more walkable. But the Golden Trout Wilderness is horse country. Too big to see it all by foot in less than a month. Big wooden corrals in the middle of nowhere. “Horse camps” I suppose. Not much of a wilderness if you ask me.

Leaving Bullfrog Meadow I come upon twenty horses mulling about a small clearing in the woods. No saddles. Just horses hanging around. Their minder probably puts them out at night and collects them (i.e. rounds them up) the next day. I planned to hike up over a small pass and into Tunnel Meadow and down into the Golden Trout Creek watershed. Not a terribly taxing hike, but around four miles. Take close to two hours. And the trail is Sandy, sandy, sandy. This is horse country, eh? Maybe I’ll just borrow a horse.

Tried to approach a pretty palomino but he wasn’t having it. But big brown came right up to me. Bitin’ at my hand. Lookin’ for meal? Tell me Mr. Horse, what is your deal? I put my hand up behind his ears. Stroking his neck. A big, beautiful animal. Rubbed his head on my chest, knocked me back a step. He seemed gentle. I stepped to his middle and stroked his back. Put my arm around his back. Didn’t seem to mind it back. Put my weight on his back, hung there for minute.

He had his head down, nibbling at the sparse, dry grass.

I put both my hands on his back and pushed myself up as if I were climbing out of a pool. Balanced there for a minute. Big brown didn’t care so I hoisted myself up astraddle my new wheels. He didn’t like that too much. Took off at a trot and I fell hard on my pack. Ouch. But there he was. Just standing next to me, nudging me with his giant head. I pulled myself up and gave it another try. He gave me the trot again but I was ready with a handful of mane. He started off down the trail on his own at the trot. It was tough to hang on with the pack on my back but I managed.

We crested the pass and there before me were two men on horses about twenty yards down the hill. “Hey! What are you doin’?” No time for answers. Big brown didn’t seem to like this situation. He took off at a run to the right. I hung on tight, a two cowboy pursuit.

My horse tore down the sandy slope and into a dry stringer bed at tha-da-thump, tha-da-thump, tha-da-thump top speed. I flail around coming completely disconnected for seconds at a time. The cowboys are gaining. John Kinney’s riding up your ass, the balls are flying, the blood goes right to your head. You hear trumpets sound and angels sing a fargin’ hymn. It’s quite a sensation. I was terrified.

I ain’t no Billy the Kid.

We continue through a canyon, a watered stringer now, three horses in a row throw Vs of creek in the air. The closest cowboy’s lynching lariat held up and out in his right hand. He’s going to try and rope me! Like so much calf at the rodeo. He draws out a loop five feet wide and swings it rapidly over his head in rhythm with the gait of the horse, holding himself just off the saddle, all muscles tensed in synchrony with his animal, one big pulsing hunter. He’s within fifteen feet now, lining it up, lining it up, he shoots the loop, it falls below my shoulders, around my pack, he jerks it closed and me off the horse, tying the rope around his saddle horn.

I hit the ground hard, collapsed in two inches of water trying to get my wind back in. He jumps off the horse with a short length of rope and hogties my arms to my right leg with a particular alacrity. I’m not in a good way to say the least. The other cowboy comes up next to me, an older man, short gray hair under his white wide-brim hat. He has on a leather jacket, a denim shirt, and denim pants, otherwise known as jeans. Cowboy boots? No. White New Balance.

So I says to him, I says, “Is it typical for cowboys to where sneakers? What about the boots man? The cowboy boots?”

“Cowboy boots are for Brokeback fags.”

I look over at the lariater and he’s wearing tall black cowboy boots with tall, skinny black hard heels. The older cowboy looks back at me nervously.

Click for bigger little doggy.

1 comment:

erika said...

I come here for pictures of fish, not for Borges-style magical realism. Jeez.