A Gift: Another New Year

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 27, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Wow, 2014, already…  This is new ground for me.  It appears that I have now outlived the men in my family for seven or eight generations.  You may have stumbled into the same experience.  This probably calls for a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, or something; it seems to be a sort of double opportunity to make the most of another great year in Paradise.  So what are we to make of this much anticipated—or surprising—shiny New Year?

You likely recall that I gave up on New Year’s Resolutions quite a while ago, right after The Old Man went back to the other side.

In the summer of 1980, my father (he’d called himself The Old Man since I was a small boy) and I spent a week of long days at my Denver home reminiscing and talking about anything and everything either of us ever wanted to know about the other.  We both felt we had happily completed a huge number of unfinished conversations.

Late in the following January, I found myself taking a series of hops from Denver to Wenatchee to deliver his eulogy.  As the commuter swept over the Columbia and dropped onto that runway, it dawned on me that he’d left me with a greater gift than I might have ever imagined. I realized that I had already failed to keep most of my New Year 1981 resolutions, and the whole idea seemed rather pointless.

At the service, I started thinking about completion.  For some time after his death, I wrestled with a deep empty place inside.  Oddly, at the same time, I felt complete about our relationship.  It had to be because we had taken the time to complete our time the summer before.  I left his funeral feeling that “completions” were probably more valuable than “resolutions.”

After that, I mostly spent the latter part of each year working to free up the new one.  That mindset pretty quickly corresponded with some pretty cool events and occurrences.  Case in point: business dating back to 1961.

I was a 19 year‑old DJ for a new country and western radio station in Boise.  Field & Stream Magazine’s Ted Trueblood, arguably one of the two best and most popular outdoor writers in America, lived in Nampa, just down the road.  I wanted to do a daily feature on Idaho=s outdoors, so I found a sponsor, and lined up guests.  I knew there was no way Ted Trueblood would talk with some local kid on the radio, but on a hunch I called him.  He was delighted, of course, and was a weekly regular until I joined the Air Force.

Like a million others through the 60s and 70s, I wrote and submitted articles to outdoor rags and mags, trying to get one of those elusive “writer” or “author” stipends.  At one point, I could cover my desk with rejection slips in one or another color, size or type.

I often thought about writing to Ted, but figured he probably had enough to do.  By 1972, the pile of rejection slips was still growing, so I wrote him, asking for any coaching he might have.  What I got back was amazing.

He went through my story line by line, typing out his comments.  He gave me encouragement and advice.  He thought I had ability, and pointed out that he would discourage me if he thought I should forget writing.  I was struck by his kindness and generosity.  By then, I was heading to Colorado to profess at CU, and I let the writing sit.  I vowed to someday properly thank him.

In the mid-80s, Ted Trueblood died.  Soon after, I met his son, Jack, who worked for Idaho Fish & Game.  Then, I crossed paths with Clare Conley, Ted=s old editor at Field & Stream.  I wrote a long letter about my experience with Ted, dug out his letter, and mailed the package to Conley and Jack—on New Year’s Eve, 1986.

The following year, for the first time, I got paid for my writing.

These days, I have questions I start asking myself right after Christmas.  Questions like AWho did something this year which changed your life, or a way you did something in your life?@ or AWho got you out fishing or hunting or outdoors when you figured it wasn=t going to happen?@ or AWho made an impossible day workable with a kind word or a pat on the back just when you needed it? or AWho showed you a new fishing hole, or a new technique for fishing an old one?@  New questions come up every day.  Answering those questions, with the right mix of gratitude and action, helps me spend the end of an old year successfully freeing up the new one.

So here’s to 2014!  And to being free to receive all it will offer each of us.

The Art of Last Minute Gifting

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 20, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Not exactly last minute, since there are days and days left, but let us consider possibilities.

In my mind, any outdoor gift—last minute or not—ought to make or represent a connection between the giver and getter.  Gifting is about connecting with people.  A real gift acknowledges that connection and the people on both ends of the exchange.  Such a gift, given freely and joyfully, may last forever, and will very likely have no price tag.

I learned that lesson a long time ago.  You’ve probably heard this tale before, but the experience changed my life, and I like to hear it again from time to time.

On a warm summer afternoon in Denver, about four decades ago, eleven-year-old son Tim wanted ice cream.  I was mildly preoccupied with chores, but it seemed like a good day for the three mile hike.  We told his mom what we were doing and set out.  Along the way, we studied clouds and plants and bugs and a dead cat and a soil horizon exposed in a road cut.  We laughed and questioned and felt wonder.  On the way home, in this space of wonder we had created together, we ate our ice cream and studied it all again.

Months later, during a tough work week, I had a five-evening stretch of hauling Tim all over Denver to pick up scouting uniforms and paraphernalia.  Wherever we went, it seemed, they had just sold out what we needed, and sent us elsewhere.  That weekend, I was short-tempered and in a paper grading marathon, when he complained that we hadn=t spent any time together.  With the young man temper The Old Man left me, I snarled at him about wasting our evenings all week chasing scouting stuff–together.  He wrinkled his brow and looked at me, clearly confused.  “Nahh..  We haven’t spent any time together since we did that ice cream and bugs hike, dad.”

After that stunning revelation, as part of each kid=s Christmas or birthday gift, I gave a block of time to be happily spent doing something the kid wanted to do.  To this day, my Hucklings rarely remember toys, or stuff, but nearly always recount times we spent joyfully doing their thing.  It works for adults, too.

One of my favorite outdoor holiday family “activity” gifts has to be wildlife watching and photography.  Grab the kids and whatever photo taking devices they have—or pick up some of those little disposable cameras—and go look for wild critters.  Take binoculars and spotting scopes, and hot chocolate, coffee, cookies, sandwiches or whatever else your gang needs to make an outdoor adventure memorable.  The part that brings it all together is loading the images into a family photo file or scrapbook.  (If they shoot film, get it to one of the one-hour processing places around town, and then load the digital images or photos.)

Here in the valley, wildlife is all over.  Lower Cooke Canyon, Coleman Creek, Reecer Creek or Manastash Road will get you into wintering range for seeing deer.  Bald eagles are beginning to show themselves in the valley and in the Canyon.  Elk are most likely up Joe Watt Canyon and scattered over to the Heart K Ranch at the mouth of the Taneum.  Down the Yakima Canyon are deer and several bunches of California bighorn sheep (watch traffic and both sides of the road).

Drive to the elk feeding at Oak Creek Wildlife Area and bighorns feeding at the Cleman Mountain Site.  Both sites are near the point west of Naches where Highway 410 and Highway 12 split.  At the intersection, turn north onto the frontage road and follow it to the bighorn sheep feeding site.  You cannot miss the fencing and the signs.  For the elk feeding, turn south onto Highway 12, and look for the signs (and elk) on the right.  Critters should be now showing up.  It is worth the drive, and kids get very excited about being the first to spot some critter or other.

All the local outdoor gear shops are still open.  (By the way, if you opt for gifting a Tannerite exploding target, please attach a caveat about cleaning up the resulting mess in our outdoors.  One of my favorite homeys properly chewed my backside about ignoring that reminder..)

You have time, too, to consider the merits of homemade gifts.  I have hand-knitted scarves and sweaters, an ammo box made by a close friend and an old leather “possibles” pouch for small things that want to be together.  All are treasure lasting far longer than it took to make them.

In 1955, I asked Grampa Minshall about a scarf he wore outdoors.  He said Grandma made it the first hunting season they were together.  He wore it on wintry 1899 mornings in Fort Collins, Colorado, when he and his chums made a few bucks market hunting ducks and geese.  The scarf looked that old, too, and he patted it every time it went around his neck.

Autographed copies of the updated third printing of my “WILD WINDS” book are still available at Jerrol’s and the University Store, along with a lot of other great outdoor reading.

Last-minute Christmas or other gifting is simple, I think.  Whatever you give, imbue it with joy.

Merry Christmas…

Winter and Death

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 13, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

It was one of those off-Reecer Creek meetings of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association.  The subject on the floor was the bitter cold, the winter looming and how the wild critters of Paradise will manage this year.  Although NOAA and the National Weather Service models are calling for a close to average winter for us, homeys are quite aware that anything can happen short term.  Thus, the questions posed about our wildlife—and maybe a concern or two about how we humans deal with winter.

As is usual in these conversations, the first subject up was survival of the youngest—the deer fawns and elk calves.  In a given hard winter, the youngest are the first to go, and the sight of a struggling youngster always pulls at the heart strings.  Of course, this is pretty much as nature designed it.  Watch wildlife in a feeding area during one of those winters and you will see does and cows actually driving calves and fawns off food.  Think about it: if the females die, how will the herd recover?  The very old are the next to go.  And how many males do you need?

Winter is the limiting season for wildlife: the time when habitat is most limited and wild critters are most at risk.  Once a deer or elk has lost 30% of its total body weight, it is generally doomed, even if it receives food, or spring comes.  In any given winter across the colder regions of the planet, it’s not uncommon for ten or twenty percent of big game herds to starve, and die.  It can be hard to watch, and makes for dramatic headlines.

A couple of us flashed back to the hard winter of ’96 and ’97, and that headline: “Sad plight of the orphaned elk calf.”  Of course, elk calves are expected to be on their own by winter, so the fact that the calf wasn’t with other elk (which it would have normally been) did not make it “orphaned.”  It did make an interesting headline, and fodder for a community wide conversation.

Mostly bones and a distended stomach (a clear indication of starvation or inability to digest food), it took up residence on the patio deck of a home off Hanson Road, and the homeowner called 911.  As we recalled the story, dispatchers had recorded the call as “an attack by a bull elk in the Manastash area west of Ellensburg.”

Responding officers threw snowballs and fired shots into the air to scare off the calf, to no avail.  Yelling and threats of arrest were equally ineffective.  Eventually, Fish and Wildlife responded.  The calf already had two hooves in the Spirit World, and was put down with a clean shot.  Sad, but likely in keeping with the natural order of winter.

As the calf drama unfolded, Morris Uebelacker and I were introducing some of our students to a film study of Cree Indian winter life in the boreal forests of northern Quebec.

The video detailed the lives of three Cree families who shared one family’s hunting territory (territories are “rested” for a year or two so that game stocks are not depleted) over a long winter.  The sixteen members of the three hunter‑gatherer families shared one cabin for the entire time.  They ate a lot of beavers and snowshoes (hares, not the footwear) along with a couple bears, some fish and birds.  Viewers saw ceremonies of respect, skinning and cooking, as well as the organization enabling the three families to thrive in close quarters.

Near the end of the story, as spring finally approached, the men killed four moose cows.  Unborn fetuses were laid out in ceremony and given a last meal from their mothers, who would now sustain the Crees. The story was told in a straightforward way, without the “romance of the hunter‑gatherer way of life” stuff the students expected.  We figured the students might have adverse reactions to seeing creature after creature being reduced to food and cash‑crop hides or furs, but their responses were as straightforward as the story itself.

One vegetarian in the group did express some revulsion over the killing and eating of so many creatures, but an understanding of why.  Other responses fell roughly into three categories.  Several were surprised at the “modern” tools used by the Crees, given the very primitive on‑foot food gathering necessary to survival for the three families.  Probably second was an amazement that three families could live so happily and peacefully for seven or eight months in a one‑room cabin.  Last was surprise that these people, living in such harsh conditions, so close to the edge of food supplies the forest had to provide, were so well‑adjusted in this day and age.  While only one student wanted to go live with the Crees, most felt that there were things we, as humans, could learn and understand about living more in balance with earth and each other.

For our class, the whole experience—the close-up elk calf drama and far away Cree survival—was surprisingly unromantic, but real.

Down through time, winter has been the season of death for all living beings.  For wildlife, for the Cree people and other hunter‑gatherers, winter is the hard season.  Of course, we advanced, modern‑living humans have insulated ourselves from all that.

Or have we?

Local Hot Christmas Gifts

Written by Jim Huckabay on December 6, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

I know you’ve been holding off a bit, waiting for my list of locally available hot gifts for the outdoor nuts surrounding you.  In response to that need, and in keeping with my role as chair of the Gifting in Support of Homey Businesses Subcommittee (in accordance with Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association bylaws), please find herewith the hot gifts for the 2013 outdoor nut on your list.

Let’s start with the immediate.  The Valley Rifle and Pistol Club just started the 2013-2014 Light Rifle Class League, and you may still be able to join the 16 week program of safe family recreational shooting.  One small fee for your entire household, and you bring your little rifle and ammo.  The Club will supply regulation 10-bull NRA targets, a modern heated range facility, the direction of a qualified rangemaster and coaching.  What better gift for your children and family than learning the responsibility and discipline of safe shooting and firearm handling while enjoying week after week of the simple pleasure of putting holes in paper exactly where you want them.  Mel Goudge at 925-4285 or Hal Mason at 962-3002 will get your household in the game.

Nika Mihailov and his Kittitas County Trading Company crew on Main Street are seeing continuing strong interest in new and used handguns.  Concealed carry handguns and accessories and shotguns of all brands (mostly pumps) are headed for Santa’s bag.  The AK 47 and AR 15 type rifles and accessories are hot gifts again this year, along with a wide variety of ammo for handguns, rifles and shotguns, and exploding Tannerite targets.  Bows and arrows and archery accessories are headed for local recipients, along with a variety of high quality new and used knives.  Nika is still paying big cash for gold and silver (check your old or broken jewelry)—a good way to start your shopping with a pocket full of unexpected cash.  If you are looking for something in particular, or have a question, call the crew at 925-1109.

On the east side of the valley, Sure Shot Guns & Pawn, in Kittitas, has a wide variety of firearms, and accessories for them.  Todd and Melody are now handling I Love Guns & Coffee outdoor apparel, mugs and stickers.  They have become the regional dealers for Sitka Gear—outdoor clothing and accessories for your lifetime.  Stocking stuffers include calls for anything you want to attract, pocket knives and those Tannerite targets.  For this season, Todd has a great selection of hard to find ammo.  Call 968-4867 with your questions, or go to www.sureshotguns.com.

It may be in little Cle Elum, but John’s Three Forks Ammo & Reloading would be a superstore anywhere.  Everything your gun nut and shooter needs or wants for the holidays, from spotting scopes to gun safes, and the game cams we also use for home security.  No one carries more or better reloading equipment than Three Forks, including the top of the line Forester and Dillon brand equipment and tools.  John has a big selection of exploding targets in all sizes, including the under-20-bucks Star rimfire exploders.  These guys stock more bullets and live ammo in more calibers and variety than ever, with case lots of several calibers.  If you need it and they don’t have it, they can find it.  Check it out at www.threeforksreloading.com/ or 674-2295.

Down the Canyon, Red’s Fly Shop crew has most everything your fly fisher needs.  Find hot gift ideas and on-line specials at www.redsflyfishing.com.

In the middle of it all is Bi-Mart.  My spies tell me the Ruger 10-22 (and extended magazines for it) and the Remington 870 shotguns remain popular gifts.  The Daisy Red Ryder BB gun is a perennial favorite, as well as BB rifles like Crossman’s Pumpmaster, and the airsoft guns.  Shotgun shells (including steel shot), waterfowl decoys, insulated camo clothing and the decorative wooden ammo boxes are in demand.  Gifters are grabbing knife gift sets and smokers, along with whitefishing gear, and stocking stuffers like flashlights, pocket knives and keychain lights.  925-6971 will get you to one of the Bi-Mart sporting goods pros.

Brothers n Arms, at www.eburgguns.com and 933-4867, carries a full line of firearms, including some rather hard to find items.  They also have a comprehensive regular schedule of firearms handling, safety and shooting classes—including the free‎ McGruff Kids Safety Class.

If one or another of the women in your family is receiving a handgun, complete the gift with a safe shooting and handling class just for her.  Contact Marilyn Mason at 962-3002.

I always recommend a copy of the updated third printing of Jim Huckabay’s heartwarming “WILD WINDS and Other Tales of Growing Up in the Outdoor West.” For gift or personal copies, drop by the big author party at Jerrol’s—12:00 to 3:00 next Saturday, a week from tomorrow. Buy in Paradise.  You’ll find virtually everything your outdoor nut needs close at hand. Happy gifting…

The Wilderness Inside Us All

Written by Jim Huckabay on November 29, 2013. Posted in Uncategorized

Dick Ambrose (above the fold in the newspaper, of course) and I have carried on a conversation or two about wild places, about wilderness, and the experiences we have had with them.  We talked about coming to winter—a time to contemplate wildness.  The bottom line of all that, I suppose, is this page in the Daily Record which now belongs to us.

From the last conversation Dick and I had, my mind has been filled with a potpourri—a collage, if you will—of wilderness lessons and experiences.

I am aware, from my earliest childhood, of actively seeking the wild place I felt deep within my being.  Indeed, I believe there is a wilderness within each of us—an uncivilized place where everything works according to the most basic laws of Nature.  It is that place we seek to feel when we wander into one of the wild places on this planet.  There, survival depends not on gasoline or a grocery store or a switch or a cop.  There, survival rides on our ability to navigate in a wild place where meeting our own needs—and the amazing joy which accompanies it—depends wholly on our own mindset, skill and awareness.

I was 13 when I learned that successfully navigating the straightforward—if not unforgiving—nature of wild places also requires a high level of that awareness part.  I was apprenticing that summer with RK Canvas and Shade in Wenatchee.  Manny Felty, one of the pros in the shop and a friend of The Old Man, offered to take me fishing in what is now the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

In early July, we headed up the Icicle from Leavenworth and hiked in to camp at Eight Mile Lake.  I had thoroughly oiled my boots, but by the end of a second day of ice, wet snow and cold slips into the lake, they were soaked.  I put them by the fire to dry overnight.  By morning, most of the front half of my left boot was gone.  I can still hear Manny saying, “Your folks spent good money on those boots.  I bet they won’t be very happy to see that.”  Mostly, I remember creatively winding and tying rope around that boot and my foot—and a long, uncomfortable pack out to Manny’s truck.  The Old Man may have said something about brains and wild places.

Almost three decades ago, August, I packed a base camp up into the Eagles Nest Wilderness, in Colorado’s northern Rockies.  Over the next couple weeks, I spent eight or ten days on my own hunting mountain goats in the cirques and crags above Piney Lake.  I remember the last two miles to timberline as a giant staircase, and I remember prodding myself with thoughts of a great supper by small fire, with not another human in many miles.  I scratched up the west side of Kneeknocker Pass to catch the sun’s first rays.  I scaled cliffs and scrambled down avalanche chutes.  I got overheated and chilled, refreshed and exhausted, terrified and exhilarated.  Goats were everywhere.

In my final trip, I scrambled into a cirque perched on the west wall of a straight-up-and-down mountain.  I was looking for a way up a cliff, when a large goat slowly worked its way down a chute to an outcropping a few hundred yards away.  After a good stalk, a prayer and one shot, I found myself perched on the outcropping, a hundred feet above nothing, looking down on the Piney Lake trailhead, nine or ten miles down the trail.

I got the goat to base camp at timberline and strategized getting two 70-pound loads the six miles back to my truck.  After a series of relays, I finally got one load in the rig.  I have two clear memories of the rest.  First, just after shouldering the second load and standing, I met a woman on the trail.  She proudly spoke of “her” wilderness and how important it was to a quality life.  As some point, she noticed the goat pelt and rifle on my pack, and stopped mid-sentence.  “Oh,” she said, with icicles hanging from her words, “you are one of those…”  Secondly, I remember thinking that I could not make the last three miles.  I bribed myself with a hot bean and cheese burrito.

For some years at the University of Colorado, I led students on ten-mile hikes across the Mount Evans Wilderness.  Many of them came away with new senses of themselves and their lives.

A ranger at Grand Teton National Park shared a story that still moves me.  She was on a trail from Jenny Lake up into one of the hanging valleys in early September.  She would check on back country campsites, and maybe drop over into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.  At first light, as she moved through the aspens along the marshy meadows, she heard elk moving.  She reached a meadow just as the sun swept across it.  In that sudden beam of light was a magnificent old bull elk.  As he bugled his guttural challenge, his breath sparkled in the sun and steam rose from his back.  She was transfixed and stunned, she said.  As he slowly tilted back, and turned, his giant antlers, she felt the world move beneath her feet.

Wildness…  Wilderness…  Somehow it has to be about finding that place in ourselves.