19 October 2012
We rode, Dad and I to the top of the world today. We were looking for elk, perhaps a wolf, and maybe a little peace of mind. We made our way through timbered draws, sagebrush slopes and rock ridges. It is familiar country for it is summer range for the cattle Dad watches over and gathers. We top out on a ridge and find trees to tie off and look for a place for a lunch with a view. Seventy-nine year young Bernie Schwarz rifles through his saddle pocket and pulls out two beers packed with insulated coverings. He flashes that unmistakable smile, “Wanna beer?”. “Oh this is sweet,” I thought, “a little cafe on top of a ridge with a killer view enjoying a beer with Pop.” He talks about the four straight days of riding on the fall gather, part of it in the rain. I wonder out loud, ” ‘You enjoy your job as much as you once did?” He says he enjoys it more now than ever. “Every day is a gift, I’m thankful that I can still do this.” Moving the four inch hand line, riding, fencing…he says he feels as strong as he did ten, twelve years ago. “But one of these days the hammer will fall and it will all be over.” he says matter-of-factly.
We visit a little about grace and such, but mostly we just sit and listen and watch. A raven crosses the draw with a single-minded determination punctuated with a throaty croak. The cool October breeze carries with it a moist feel. It is overcast and rain seems likely. The higher humidity was anticipating the rain and had begun to stir the intoxicating aromas of the fir trees and the sagebrush. I hear the occasional thump of the tied horses stirring behind us. It’s a little chilly to be sitting around too long. Dad stuffs his empty beer bottle in an opening in the rocks. The sensibilities of my generation kick in and I wish he wouldn’t leave it there. Then, just as quickly I have an entirely different thought. I stare at the empty bottle in my hand. I place the empty in a small crevasse in front of me. Suddenly this very spot had become an important place to me. The bottles would be like a signed register on a summit where I will want to return to someday. It will be a day after “the hammer falls”. I will want to saddle my horse and come back here. I will come and sit where I sat and remember that we rode up here searching for something. We spoke about the cattle, the horses and the hunting from years past…and we talked about grace, and we watched and listened. Then we put those beer bottles in the rocks right where we sat. There will be a broken heart and soft tears. “No, I’m going to leave my bottle there in the rocks.” I resolved.
We stepped across our horses and bailed off into the Henry Creek drainage where we had spent some good times in days gone by sitting in a wall tent with a warm fire in the stove as the nights descended. But today we pulled our hat brims down a little more in front as the rain began to fall. There were no elk and no wolves, just us and our horses and a few moments to savor forever.