Make a Wish

    The swollen creek wound through moose and elk altered willow, making a landscaper proud with their
pruning.  The offspring of giant Douglas fir spiked above the budding greenery here and there, as the creek
frantically gouged into its banks in an effort to straighten its course and hasten its journey.  As the streams
path narrowed, mature trees stooped and bowed while their roots tried to anchor them against leaning into
its renegade path.  The one’s who had surrendered gathered in log jams in an attempt to slow the waters
rage with little success.  Soon to be summer trickling tributaries were bloated now to feed the frothing
frenzy.  This was the flushing of winter’s white and frozen dead to allow the promise of spring’s rebirth.
    I had to cross on a snowmobile bridge that lay over a foot below the discolored churning.  Twenty feet of
slick timbers lie between me and being safe and dry.  Weighing my options, as the mixed breed dog beside
me nervously weighed hers; I gathered my nerve, swallowed hard, and convinced myself that I knew what I
was doing.  I reminded myself that I couldn’t swim but after looking down stream at the roaring deluge
interrupted with car size boulders trying to fend off the water logged timber crushed against them, I didn’t
think it would matter.  Stepping into the icy coldness that reached mid calf, I sucked up my courage.  Half
way across, as my feet fought for traction, I began to rethink my options.  Numbness had replaced the cold
on my legs.   My faithful companion had made her decision and dog paddled with the current angling to the
other side.  She scrambled for footing before a tangle of uprooted logs blocked her exit.  Panic powered my
last few steps as I leaped to the grassy bank.  Laying there for a moment to get some feeling back in my
legs, the dog showered me with the leftovers from her crossing.  It was no comfort thinking that on my return
trip, in the evening, the water would only be higher.  
    With my nerve replenished, I turned from the thoughts of the creek to those of following game trails into
the dark shadowed timbered forest to the south.  Here I followed the elks retreat in hopes of finding their
shed antlers.  The dog leads the way with her nose telling her of things I couldn’t see.
    I hadn’t been in the area for a couple of years but I knew it well.  It was in the general area where I first
started looking for antlers in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  I had packed a thousand elk antlers out of this
drainage over the years.  I felt at home here, almost as if I belonged.
    The head lights of the vehicle had given the only light to the roads end so I could get back to this area in
full sun.  A hand full of trail mix was breakfast and would also be lunch.  My plan was to spend the first half of
the day across from First and Second creeks, where a maze of logable timber reached for dominance and
secluded openings were foraged to putting green height.  Old bachelor bulls had taught me that they liked to
tough out the winter in this hide away.  Then I would cut west through a steep sided Lodge Pole forest that
continued to carpet the ground with its wind blown dead.  Once I reached Cow Flats, I would work my way
back to the creek crossing through islands of naked Quaking Aspen in a pool of blue silver sage brush,
which were entrusted to protest the first coloring of wild flowers.  Below average snow fall, causing a mild
winter and early spring, had left only crystallized evidence in sun starved shadows.  
    Barely hitting my full stride, I came up on a brush head five point elk shed.  It straddled the game trail
leading up a steep bank into the timber.  I grabbed it as if it might escape, held it as if it were trying to,
admired it a moment, and moved on. In another hundred years, a monster shed set of seven points tried to
hide them selves with tines down between two fallen logs tucked under a canopy of pine boughs, which were
not enough to conceal them from well trained eyes.  As I lifted one, I guessed its weight at fifteen pounds.  
They were everything a shed collector could wish for with textured dark oak colored beams giving way to egg
shell white tips.  I didn’t try to hide a smirk as I relished in my discovery that only years of hunting sheds
would produce.
    Twenty more steps and to my left was a six point shed with tines sticking out of the rotting forest floor.  My
bragging was silenced in less than a couple of minutes because this shed had been pointing to the heavens
for a number of years.  I worked the game trails that headed up the mountain and had nineteen elk sheds
and a moose paddle before entertaining thoughts about making my cut west.
    The dog stayed only a short ways in front of me and never let me get out of her sight.  I heard her give a
sharp bark of warning and in an instance she was at my feet.  I was working the bottom edge of a finger
ridge that leveled out into a small creek.  Coming up on some tuffs of elk hair, I started looking for a
carcass.  I found myself standing in an area the size of a small room.  Looking at my feet for the first time I
noticed how the ground seemed to be raked with the care of an attentive gardener.  Elk hair was mixed with
a scattering of pine cones, rust colored needles, and the rich black of disturbed earth.  I reached down to
pet the dog as I surveyed the area.  She was shaking as a whimper escaped her panting.  I jerked myself to
a standing position when I suddenly realized what I had come upon.  A chill crept up my spine as a cold
sweat produced a tingling of goose bumps.  Part of a rib cage jutted from the raking, as a half buried cow elk
head looked like it was trying to swallow the evidence.  I know I was in a grizzly bear burial ground.  The
grizzly had covered up the carcass to protect it for another feeding.  
    I exited the scene as fast as I could and hustled my way up the ridge to where the timber was more open,
with more sunshine to lighten the shadows, and climbable tree boughs extended to the ground.  I was sure
the grizzly would prefer a warm meal of an intruder to that of a cold lunch.  
    I made my cut to the west sooner than I wanted.   Here the terrain was steep, the game trails few, and
fence post size lodge pole crisscrossed the forest floor like the Rainman's spilled tooth picks.  There were no
sheds here, only the climbing over, ducking under or skirting around the forests fallen.  Riding the adrenalin
rush from my grizzly bear scare, the antlers on my back seemed to weigh very little.  The dog never left my
side for the next hour and I never felt at ease the rest of the day.  I heard things that weren’t making noise
and felt eyes watching me that weren’t there.  With two miles between me and the bear’s last meal, I turned
    Sweat was draining my water resources but I wasn’t thirsty as I started working the flat back toward the
main creek.  It was good to be out in the open where I might be able to see danger charging.  This was
different country than what I had been traveling.  I would hike a ways and then set my load down.  Circling to
the right or left.  I would look for sheds in the sun reflective sage.  The elk sheds I was finding ranging from
the freshness of brown, to the spider webbed cracking of white, to the lichen encrusted gray of chalk.  The
porcupines had feasted on some to where hanging them in a tree was the only alternative.
    By the time I reached the creek crossing, exhaustion was causing my legs to wobble.  My arms were
cradled around several antlers that I hadn’t taken the time to strap to my over loaded pack frame.  The sun
was dropping through a scattering of clouds and the temperature had to be in the 70s.  I melted in the tall
grassy shade of a young fir.  While freeing myself from the restraints of my antler burden, my caves started
cramping so I know I had to get some water in me.  Lowering my sweat streaked face into a cool discolored
pool of snow melt; I ignored the concerns of Giardia.  After drinking my fill, the cramps in my calves were
replaced by the cramps in my belly from drinking too much too fast.  I know better than to drink too fast.  
Every time I did it over the years, I knew better, every time.  
    Setting there and staring into the setting sun I made a silent wish, as a fairy tale princess might kissing a
frog or a child on a row of birthday candles.  I closed my eyes to picture it coming true, that some day I would
walk this drainage without having to haul out a load of antlers.  Listening to the roar of the creek sound as if
it were a thunderstorm riding a freight train, I wished that my steps would be light and my pack would contain
little more that my lunch.  While the dog paced back and forth along the edge of the muddied water, with
sprays from its efforts to escape raining down, I wondered if she was making a wish also.
    Knowing I would have to break down my load and make two crossings, I began the task.  The water was
at least eight inches higher and I could swear that it had gained momentum.  I waded in with fifteen elk
antlers on the pack frame and one in each hand for balance.  The weight helped me from being swept down
stream.  The hardest part, to my surprise, was getting back for the second load.  After accomplishing a
lunge to the opposite bank, I started tying on the second load of seventeen elk sheds and lone moose
paddle.   The dog still hadn’t made up her mind.  The second crossing went as smooth as the first and the
cold water had given me new strength.  Watching me head on down the trail, the dog make her plunge.  I
never looked back to see how harrowing her crossing was, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Bout a mile
farther, I unfastened my load and went back for the first load I had brought across.  The dog was no where
in sight. With my back bent and my nose navigating the trail like a single bottom plow I brought the second
load all the way to the truck.  The dog showed up, limping noticeable and there was little wag left in her tail.
    Darkness was with in minutes of ending my day when a half moon slipped above the tree line, giving me
enough light and maybe a little boost to go back the mile and half for the rest of the antlers.  The dog
wanted no part of the second trip and cowered under the truck.  Not all the antlers had rode as smoothly the
seller of the pack frame had promised and the bruises and gouges from the days collecting made the last
trip memorable.
    On the drive home, with the dog’s head resting in my lap and with a passing car lights reflecting off the
tines sticking up in the truck bed, I thought of my wish and if it would come true.        
    That happened twenty years ago and I’m here to say that wishes do come true.  Within a year or two the
price of elk antlers had a lot of people wandering around the mountains in hopes of making a few dollars.  
Many were one or two outing wonders and soon went back to arm chairing sports events, but some used the
opportunity to supplement a living.  Their Cabala’s catalog foot ware left tracks in every nook and cranny of
the winter ranges.  They learned fast, learned well, and come often.
    I returned to the area a few times and my biggest finds were two or three elk sheds.  On my last twelve
hour trip a few years ago left me packing out an old deer shed.  Shod horse hooves trampled every game
trail.  Antler scrap littered camp sites, that had nothing to do with fall hunting, were to frequent and
porcupine chewed sheds were missing from tree crotches.  All that remained was the melting of the winter,
the roar of the stream and the quiet stocking of the grizzly.  
    Always be careful what you wish for because it may come true.  I never realized that the granting of mine
would leave me feeling empty and sad.