22 December 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/29-Thursday 9/2, and the trip home

SNOW!! It actually began last night, around six, maybe? It started moving in earlier--Pilot Knob called across the radio to say he was going out of service for a walk in the snow. He now has a complete collection of snowy months at his L.O. In his 25 years up there, it has snowed in every month but August. 20-30 minutes later, Oregon Butte came on to say only "Snow." When it hit here I called and squawked "For the love of SNOW!" It didn't really accumulate last night, but now, this morning, there's a good coating holding strong, and it's been snowing since 5 AM without stopping. Yahoo! We're completely socked in. It's raining down below, so they're beginning to demobilize the fires.

With this snow, I feel like I've gotten the full-meal deal with this fire season. Snow pack to start, blazingly hot days, railing thunderstorms, some good exciting fires (finally!) and now season-ending snow, cold and rain.

Found out today that they're going to staff the lookout for a week after me, with Cody and Sage presiding, so I don't have to do the final clean up and shut down chores. Nor will I know exactly how it was done and where things were put away, how well the food was stored, etc. I won't get to really say goodbye to the lookout, either. Basically, the boys all get here Wednesday, and Thursday morning we'll load up the pack string, and then Tim and I will walk away. Exciting, and sad.

The worrisome part is that Elli is lame--since this morning, her front left leg has been giving her serious trouble. I've never seen her favor a leg so heavily, or cry when she rolls over or moves around. She's had some aspirin, which so far as I could tell didn't help much. I have no idea what happened, but I assume that she slipped this morning in the snow, and it didn't hurt badly enough for me to notice anything was wrong until an hour later. If she can't walk out Thursday, then she'll stay at the lookout with the boys, who can bring her out in a week to Tim's house, and then Tim can bring her over to Washington at the end of the month.

It was sunny and nice all afternoon, despite nearly continuous threatening clouds on the 4 horizons. It's looked liked Oregon Butte's been getting puked on all day. Around 4:30-5:00, it snowed again, but stayed sunny. Now the clouds have blocked the sun, but no precip.

Woke up to snow again, all nice and socked in. Around an inch or two, but melted off and the sky brightened up pretty quickly. Had a complete inversion in the valleys--the first time all summer that that has happened.

Elli was moving much better this morning, though she is still keeping most of her weight off the leg. Not 9 miles better, but hopefully she'll continue getting better at this pace, and will be with me. I would really hate to leave without her.

This is my last day alone at the lookout. Tomorrow the boys hike in. I fixed the screen door, so tomorrow I can just seal up my boxes, wash the windows and scrub the stove.

No more sunsets...unknowingly saw the last one a few days ago when it was clear out.

I've made decisions, some right, and some wrong
And I've let some love go I wish wasn't gone
These things and more I wish I had not done
But I've done them 

But I can't go back, and I don't want to 
Because all my mistakes
Have brought me to you

-the Avett Brothers

I think the lookout is trying to make me feel better about leaving. It's raining sideways, socked in, windy as hell, and I slept crappily again, as my mind was worried about Elli, and whether she was warm enough, and was cold myself. Also, seeing as how it's a west wind, and the window panes leak when the rain is blown against them, the leaks were (and are) above my bed and my boxes of packed stuff. There is also a rogue leak by the propane heater. Sometime before 4, I started getting up to deal with the leaks, lying back down for 5 minutes, and then getting up again. At 5 AM I gave up, turned on the overhead light, built a fire, and made some cocoa.

Apparently it will be dead shitty all day and most of the night, including possible heavy snow above 6500'. However, the forecast for tomorrow is for mostly sunny skies, and up to 70 degrees on the ridges. Here's hoping. I've done the dishes, and made pizza dough for dinner. I'm going to have hot coffee and sourdough donuts waiting for the boys when they get up here. What a terrible day for a hike. Elli hasn't gotten off the bed all morning, not even to take a poop in the weeds. Hopefully she just feels the same way about the rain that I do, and is recuperating for all she's worth, rather than being so injured still that she doesn't want to move.

The packer is already at the Dry Saddle trailhead, though he'll have to wait for the boys before he can set out. They just left Red River for the trailhead at 10:15, so they'll probably get here around 4 this afternoon.

I've been working my way through the National Geographics. It's interesting reading, of course, but I have to choose to focus, and there's nothing else to focus on, currently. There are a few other small chores I could do, but they involve going outside. This is the first time I've felt all cooped-up and shitty all summer. Gaack.

The crew is leaving the trailhead--12:20.

Almost all packing is done, and chores finished. When the boys call from the saddle above the lakes, I'll start frying donuts. Weather still shite-y. I'm going to sign off for now, and pack this journal. Here's to a wonderful summer...thank you, Sheep Hill.

a few of the kajillion donuts 

[There the summer journal ended, and here on is memory]

It rained more than an inch that day they hiked in, how much more is uncertain, as the rain gauge overflowed at some point, and I didn't know. To have the little house full of people and dogs (5 and 3, respectively), with tasty dinner and hilarious conversation, was lovely and distracting. I also learned just how fantastic cheap whiskey (Seagrams 7) and cheap cocoa (Swiss Miss with marshmallows) taste together.

The next day dawned bright and drippy. Got the mules and horses loaded up with my 20 tons of shit (for which I received plenty of teasing about from the packer), and headed out. Elli did well, carrying a nearly empty pack, with the hope that it would psychologically slow her down--partial success. On the way out, Tim showed me the spot at Spread Creek Point where there had been a tree-roost lookout platform, many moons ago.

last sight of the lookout, the tiny bump on the left hand ridge. 

Tim standing next to the lookout roost tree

When we got back out to Red River, I packed all the rest of my stuff into my car, before we went for delicious and huge bacon cheeseburgers at JJ's Cafe in Elk City.

 photo credit: mr biggs, who apparently didn't have bacon

As early as I could get going, I said goodbye to Red River, Tim and Brooklyn, and made my way over the Mother Lode Road into Elk City one last time. Evaluations and goodbyes out of the way, and I was on the road. Highlights of the drive home included 10# of peaches and 2# of cherries from a stand in Ellensburg,
and This:
If anyone I know can comment and tell me why this is significant, what is being portrayed here, I'll mail you....something.

When we got back to Blaine, it was just dark, and I let Elli out of the car to run the final couple hundred yards home to the house, like always. So good to be home, and so strange to be capable of time and space travel.

Thanks for reading along through my summer. It's been a deep and sometimes disorienting immersion to write through and revisit each week. Reliving experiences and emotions has made me joyous, delighted, nervous, sad, stoked and content all over again. Coming up to the surface, to real time, is like waking up from a deep nap with vivid dreams that take a bit to shake off. Thanks, in particular, to those friends whose company and written words and kindness and encouragement joined me there on the peak. Thanks, as well, to the Red River District--the firefighters who ran with me, laughed at/with me, encouraged me so much; to James, on Oregon Butte, whose calm advice got me through every fire I sized up; to the supervisors who helped me a ton (and hired me to begin with!); to the trail crews, rangers, packers, office folks, and all who were kind and helpful and great every way they knew how.  And thanks to all the other lookouts who were my radio-voiced companions and help.

I can't wait to go back.

Sourdough Donuts

note: this is the quantity I made for 3 hungry and wet firefighters and one hungry and wet packer.
a generous batch for myself was a 1/4 of the recipe. I used powdered egg, which made that easier. 

1 cup Sourdough Starter
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Oil or melted Butter
1 Egg
1 cup Buttermilk, or Milk 
4 cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
Cinnamon and Nutmeg-1/2 tsp each, more, or less.
1 tsp Salt
-Combine first 5 ingredients (wet, plus sugar)
-Combine dry ingredients
-Combine wet and dry mixtures. should be thick, but loose enough to drop from a spoon.
-Let hang out for 10-30 minutes.
-Heat oil to 360-ish degrees. If you are me, overcook and undercook a few donuts until the temperature is just right, since you don't have a thermometer.
 -Using two spoons, scoop a nice glop of dough in one spoon, and use the other spoon to scrape the dough glop carefully into the hot oil. Fry until floating and golden brown, assisting the turning process if necessary. 
-Drain well.
-While still warm, toss yer donuts in sugar. If desired, add more cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the sugar. I like to make the dough fragrant with the spices, and leave the sugar plain. 

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