Once Upon a (Life)time
Halo Over Gordon
Halo Over Gordon - Part 1

Mildred and Allen encounter bears and more blizzards through the years.

It was one of those days when God created special "Indian Summer" in the wilderness. And when the roar of a jet thundered off the peaks I looked out through the tent flaps to note that the pilot had made a playful sashay over western Montana leaving a jet stream in a perfect circle, and right over the round bald knob of a mountain called Gordon Mountain. I have seen old Gordon smothered in fog, and I ached with its beauty, snowcapped in the moonlight. I have watched it turn to gold with many a morning sun... but I have never seen it in a halo! I watched the circle left by the jet as it lengthened to an oval and drifted ever so slowly down the valley, the "halo" seeming to signify all the good things I had known here, and some that were not so good, for these take on a brighter aspect too, once they become memories. The outfitter's dream is of a good camp, good bookings, good help, and good hunting. A good camp means equipment to do the job well. Good bookings means a capacity of energetic hunters. Good help and good hunting means that every man-jack of them headed for the ridges as early as sin, and I can be anything I wish for the day... as long as I hold it to cook, flunky, wash-woman, garbage man, general chore boy and maybe, veterinarian.

At our camp a full house was a dozen men including the help, but we often caught an overflow of four to six, stashed them away in empty corners and squeezed them in at the table at odd moments. Such being the case my day began at the shivering insistence of the alarm clock upon which I hurried through the preparation of a dish-pan full of pocket lunches, fried up a yard of bacon and a pail of eggs, and lined up my general "tent work" while the sun was getting his eyes open. There was laundry to be done, by the old reliable rub and scrub routine while I kept the trail hot running to the stream for water. Then, bake, boil, and swelter through the preliminaries of the evening's meal, plus tomorrow's breakfast and lunches, for the sun may sleep in on those frosty fall mornings, but by mid-day he would really [be] pouring the atoms overflow of four to six, stashed to my canvas roof.

Somewhere along the way I recall the Boss's wishful goodbye... "You might go down and catch a few more fish for supper—if you've nothing else to do." So it was likely that I'd be standing on the bunks of Young's Creek by mid-afternoon. I'd likely forget to put my boots on—no wading that day! Suddenly my pole would bend; there's a splash, and the flash of a red belly would turn up to the sun. I'd have been meditating, but I'd come to with a jerk—and crumple like a wet sock. The big one always gets away. And WOW—is that water cold! Oh, well, they were old socks anyway, so I'd wade across and take off down the steam. No use trying for him again, by now he's a smarter kind of fish than I am!

I went squishing home on the double and eventually the rough table was laid for about "umpteen" men and I sat down to wait, and wonder, and nod, for three whole hours. Are they dressing out all the elk in the Young's Creek drainage? Or did they just take off (on horseback) for New York, Chicago, or San Francisco? Two things I know for darn sure...supper is drying to cinder and the cook tent will know the clatter of pots and pans tonight after the last tall tale is told and the bunk tents heave like a bellows with the snores of tired and bearded men.

I have known the anxiety of men lost: have written them reams of letters; and one gentleman from Texas grew to be quite a pen pal. The situation became such that I could guess within a day or two when his yearly inquiry would arrive. I would then sit down and compose the three or four page letter required to answer all his questions as to the season's outlook and what had transpired the year before. He was a man with a dream. His town suffered in one of the Gulf's worst hurricanes and I heard from him no more. if he was among the missing I am doubly glad that I employed patience, for his last letter came, as I knew it would—and in it I read, as I knew I would—"Well, I guess I won't be able to make it again this year." And he added... "But I sure do enjoy your letters!"

Contrary to common belief the interesting incidents do not all happen on the firing line. I have awakened to find porcupines in the cupboard, porcupines under the table, and once I flicked on the light to find something heavy weighting the tent down right over my bed. I scrambled out from under and gave it a poke with the business end of my rifle, sending it on up to the top. Hopping into slippers, I ran outside and turned the light on the roof. Padding along the ridgepole toward me came a comical iridescent ghost of a porky, with lowered head and eyes glowing green. The dog growled, and me, there in my nightie at the "hush" hour of 2 a.m., what could I do but laugh? I went in and poked him off with the gun barrel and he slid down the side, knocking the stove-pipe over as he went disappearing into the night.

Leaving my cookie making about sundown one evening I went to investigate the prolonged barking of Laddie, the current camp guard. There, ignoring the dog, stood a great big chocolate bear! Our hunters had hiked and ridden uncounted miles in search of just such a specimen and now that they were thirty six hours on their way home here he was in camp with me. I ran in, got loose from some of the cookie dough, reached for the rifle and cool as a cucumber, fired a shot over his head. He loped off into the woods...a little too nonchalantly, and I went back to my dough. He didn't seem to be worried. Not nearly as worried as I was when I looked out to see him just ambling out into the open again. Not so cool now, I shot for blood, and missed him, but barely. This time he departed with a cracking of brush and I collected a pile of bon-fire material, guns, sleeping bag, and a whole arsenal of ammunition, and I won't say I slept, but I spent the night in the yard. Two nights later when the new party arrived the Boss shot my chocolate bear only feet from the door as he was perversely following the dog right into the tent.

Another day—another year—there was no banging of pans nor rattling of oven doors this morning. I was leafing through my magazines, enjoying the quiet of a three-day vacation, but suddenly, I became aware of an uproar outdoors. Coyotes tormenting the dogs again, I supposed. It is nearly impossible to get a shot at the pests, mere grey shadows behind a timber screen; so I didn't bother to take the rifle. (I'll just jump out and surprise them, I thought.) But my surprise backfired. Came a snappin' and snarling and a miniature thunder of padded feet. I darted out from behind the sleeping tent with a screaming jumping-jack performance, beating my hands together in a frenzy. Out of the little dry wash and up under the hitching rack shot a melee of animals. At my unexpected appearance two grey shadows somersaulted and leaped for cover behind the nearest jack-pines, and two shivering dogs came to huddle against me, one on either side. My palms burned for an hour, but goose bumps washed over me in small waves and quadruplet icicles played tag up and down my spine. Coyotes? All biological data to the contrary those were two grey, wooly timber wolves that invaded the quiet of my camp that morning with vicious designs on my dogs.