Working on the Colorado-Wyoming border a few years ago I was approached by a local guy. The following is our conversation. He opens the dialogue.
Do you own this property?
What are you doing here?
Watching eagles; seeing if the construction bothers them.
They don’t give a goddamn about the construction. There are dope-smoking hippies down by the river all the time. The eagles don’t give a goddamn about them.
Well, pipeline construction is a little different than dope-smoking hippies, you have to admit.
Ah, they don’t give a goddamn about the construction. Where are you from?
What the hell are you doing here?
Too many people, that’s what bothers the eagles. You got any kids?
No. How many do you have?
So, you’re pissing off the eagles. All those goddamn kids.
No, I don’t have any kids. How old are you?
And no kids, what are you waiting for?
You said it, too many people already.
What do you think about the prairie dogs?
I think they’re kind of fun.
They’re not goddamn fun. I poison and shoot the goddamn things all the time.
Yup, well, the beauty of prairie dogs is, just like coyotes, the more you shoot them, the more they reproduce. (I didn’t know if this was true or not, but seeing he was working so hard to get my goat, I thought it seemed only fair to throw something back at him.)
I know it, goddamn it.
Then why bother to kill them?
What do you eat?
Elk. Bison. (He seemed deflated; he couldn’t defend killing prairie dogs to someone who didn’t eat beef.)
You been to Baggs.
Yup. Stopped there to use the bathroom.
At the Drifter’s Inn.
That goddamn place, they don’t know how to run that place. How was the bathroom?
Better than some.
It was not, that place is a dump. They don’t know how to run that goddamn place. You never been married?
I said I have no kids.
Well, what the hell are you waiting for?
Goddamn eagles, they don’t care about the construction. They care when the land gets all cut up into goddamn sub-developments. The goddamn hippies, they’re doing that, moving in from all over the place.
Guess I would rather have a pipeline than a sub-development.
Or the goddamn hippies.
No, I would take the goddamn dope-smoking hippies over a sub-development or a pipeline.
It’s the goddamn hippies building the sub-development.
They can’t afford to live there.
I know it, goddamn it.
So, I would still rather a few dope-smoking hippies down by the river than a sub-development.
You should come dancing with me in Baggs sometime.
Where do you go dancing in Baggs?
The Drifter’s Inn.
Why would you want to go there? They don’t know how to run that goddamn place.
You keep trying to get me flustered and to get my goat but it’s not working, is it?
No, goddamn it.
Yesterday morning I took the road to Lostine, Oregon; I drove to the end, the Two Pan trailhead at the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It was 38º in the shadow, but, above the trees and the ridge to the west, the sky was blue and the fall sun strong.
The trail was flecked with slivers of gold, tamarack needles in spirals and geometric patterns. I passed through a troop of kinglets squeaking in the treetops, then across the single-log bridge over the East Lostine River and up through the switchbacks.
I came out into the meadow at the base of Eagle Cap; ponds, the river, and sun-dried grasses stretched a couple miles south before dissolving into the dark trees at the foot of the mountain. The air was absolutely still and the entire meadow was silent.
Days like this always draw me away from whatever else life insists I do. They are the perfect days to play hooky from work and from memories and old thoughts that linger in my head. To me, the last days of autumn are a reminder that life is short and I need to soak in every drop of sun and life and possibility.
I hiked to the river crossing, sat on the footbridge, ate lunch. Then, with a wild chipmunk circling the perimeter of my lunch space, I leaned back and closed my eyes. The water sang under the bridge. Two ravens had a discussion far up the eastern ridge. The chipmunk scolded me for leaving no trace. I absorbed all that I could.
The sun leaves early this time of year. Rather than continue up, I turned back.
The pikas, silent on my way in, now chattered and scorned me for giving up so easily. Alas, I don’t have a fur coat and haven’t collected grass through the long summer days.
Although the trail back is mostly downhill, I moved more slowly. Yes, I’m getting older, but more than that, I am less willing to leave this place.
Everything is changing so rapidly. How much longer will the pikas survive here? They can only move up the mountain as the lower elevations warm. Late-October and there is only a dusting of snow on Eagle Cap. Maybe I can squeeze in one more trip before winter arrives.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.