Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I just saw my face re-broadcast on the Billings news as they announced the death of the kid we carried out of the Beartooths last week. He was 20 years old. F**k.

A Busy Week

I had been looking forward to Quilt Guild last night, but it wasn't to be. Our pagers went off at 9pm Sunday night. The dispatcher called it out as an injured outfitter at the end of the Southfork. That got our attention for a couple reasons: 1) outfitters don't call in help unless it is serious and 2) the end of the Southfork is true American wilderness. That country is as wild as it gets.
We got to the hall in Cody a little after 9:30 and were given what information was available. A local outfitter's guide had called in on a satellite phone from camp. From what little they heard they thought the 40 year old cook had an axe embedded in his leg. The caller was able to tell them that and give their location about 12 miles into the wilderness before the phone went dead. Our options were rather limited. Since we did not know exactly where the injury was or its severity, we had to assume this was a life and death situation. If the wound was to the femoral artery, the guy was already dead and we were looking at a body recovery. If there was a chance of getting him out alive we needed to act fast. If we waited until first light it would be mid-day Monday before we could get him help. So we decided we needed to go in right away. The outfitter offered us three horses to ride, two for equipment and two wranglers to take us in. Only seven people had shown up to the hall but since only three of us could go in it was more than enough. Because of the probable need for medical care, it was decided that Ken and I would go along with David, a 20 year old from Powell who has been on the squad for about a year. I was happy with the decision because I can't imagine a stronger three person team than the three of us. The bad news was that we were looking at a 4 - 5 hour horse ride in. With Ken's severe allergies, I knew that meant he would be suffering for at least the next week with breathing issues. We had an hour's drive to the trailhead at the end of the road where we met the wranglers and the horses. By the time we had everything loaded up and ready to go it was a little past midnight. We have done this ride before. Last year we had a lost kid in the same general area and we rode in from a ranch just down the road from where we starting now. This is not a ride for the faint of heart. If you have any fear of heights whatsoever, they recommend you do not use this trail, even on foot. David is an accomplished horseman but, for obvious reasons with Ken's asthma, he and I are total greenhorns. Now here we were, riding over one of the most dangerous trails in these mountains, in pitch black darkness, on horses we didn't know. Having done the trail last year I could picture our progress even though I couldn't see. The first major obstacle was the Southfork of the Shoshone River. A major crossing at the best of times it is a raging torrent right now with spring run-off. In the darkness we were not sure we were at the right spot to cross so we all said a prayer and headed the horses into the rushing water. I could feel my horse's hoofs stumbling over the unseen rocks and then my feet were submerged in the icy water as my horse was being swept sideways downstream. He managed to keep his footing even though the water was up to mid calf on me so more than halfway up his flanks. We reached the other side quite a ways down stream from where we entered and he pulled up onto the bank with a lurch that almost sent me flying out of the saddle. The next three hours were a study in terror as we climbed a thousand feet and then travelled over the foot wide trail on the edge of the cliff dropping down into the river we had crossed. More than once I had the thought that I am getting too old for this! At a little after 3 am we headed down to the level of the river again and got ready to turn more inland. Just then we heard the sounds of other horses whinnying at our animals and entered a camp set up by the trail. It turned out the outfitter's guides had decided they needed to try and get their cook as far out as possible so they had ridden as far as they could to meet us. We grabbed our gear off the pack horses and went to work. It turned out there was no axe embedded in his leg but that didn't make the wound any less serious. In fact the axes only involvement in the incident was an indirect one. It was a case of a day that had gone from bad to worse. The trail they were on climbed back up the cliff shortly after the place we met them and went along the top much like what we had just traveled. One of the horses had mis-stepped and gone off the edge and was caught in a pile of branches about 100 feet below. Its a good thing we didn't know that part of it before we left because knowing a horse went over the edge in broad daylight would not have made me feel very good about riding one over that tightrope in the dark! All the accomplished hands had gone down the cliff in an attempt to see if the horse could be saved or if needed to be shot on the spot. That left the two guests and the cook back on the trail. There was a huge log blocking the trail at the spot they would need to bring the injured horse back up so in an effort to help out the cook and the guests decided to cut the log in half and move it off the trail. Without going into complicated detail, they were on a fairly steep slope and they didn't take into account the fact that the log was being held in place by being wedged against another tree at the bottom. When they cut the log in half and moved the bottom half out of the way the top half started sliding down the slope very quickly and pinned the cook between it and the tree. The two guests managed to pull the log off the screaming cook although all said afterwards they don't know how they moved the huge piece of wood. The wound was spouting blood so they tied a tourniquet on and then waited for the rest of the party to return. At that point they released the tourniquet, wrapped the wound and headed down the trail. When we found the group they were all bunked out on the ground by the trail. We decided we needed to look at the wound so we took off the wrapping they had applied. It was hard to even fathom what we were seeing. The log had taken a huge piece out of the man's leg. It wasn't just torn or cut open, it was gone. It was as if a huge bear had decided to take a big bite out of the guy's calf. The shiny white bones of the lower leg were clearly visible for about 8". The wound was beyond filthy with pieces of sticks and pine needles sticking out everywhere. We cleaned out the debris as best we could and irrigated the wound with bottled water we had brought in. I kept trying to talk to the patient throughout to get his mind off what Ken and David were doing but it was pretty futile. We did what we could and re-wrapped the wound then concentrated on monitoring his condition until we could get a helicopter in daylight. It was pretty obvious we were going to have a tough time with the chopper because the clearing was small and there was nothing else around for miles. The thought of carrying the 260 lb cook out in a litter over 10 miles with his injuries was unthinkable. Lucky for us they called in Air Idaho because those guys can fly! The satellite phone kept fading in and out on us and our radios were useless to talk to Cody but we were able to stay in contact long enough to call in our GPS coordinates. About 9am we heard the first transmission from the helicopter over our radios. It was obvious they were very concerned about the situation and I figured there was a 50/50 chance they would tell us we were on our own but after circling for a while they came in for a landing. We loaded our patient onto the helicopter and they took off for Cody. At that point the wranglers told us they were going to pack up their whole camp and head in. That meant they had to go back to the location from the night before and pack up what they had left behind plus try and figure out how to get all theses horses and equipment back to the trailhead. They figured it would be about 6pm before they were headed back. That sounded like torture to the three of us plus Ken was starting to show real signs of medical issues of his own from being around the horses so long. The problem was there was no way we could cross the Shoshone without the help of the large equines. So we took the only other option. We loaded our packs on our backs and walked back the way we had come and then on another three miles or so to a trailhead that had a bridge crossing. Our supervisor met us there with water and a ride back to our vehicle so we could head to Cody and then the hour home from there. 36 hours without sleep, a 3 1/2 hour horse ride in the dark, the emotional ups and downs of treating a severely injured patient and then a ten mile hike back to the trailhead with full packs. To say we were tired would be the understatement of the century. We did hear that the doctor in Cody commended our first aid work although he also said he wouldn't touch the wound. They are sending the patient on to a surgeon in Billings for treatment. Reading back over this account I am amazed to see what all I have left out but I don't want to bore the reader to death so I will leave it here. Now I have to drive back into Cody to make my official report and to do all those things I didn't get to do yesterday!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Illustration Friday - Camouflage

Having totally misunderstood the concept, Joey tried to blend into his surroundings in an attempt to capture his prey.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

15 seconds of Fame

Those of us on Park County Search and Rescue are not there for the fame. If we were, we would have all left long ago. Years ago when I first joined the team, I questioned the fact that I never saw anything about Search and Rescue in the Cody paper. This despite the fact that, like most small town newspapers, they covered the fire and police departments' every move. I was told at that time there was some long forgotten feud between the newspaper editor and the supervisor of SAR that meant we were ignored when at all possible. Then two years ago I got upset when one of our rescues was covered, but they gave all the credit to medical services (who met us at the trailhead with the ambulance) and never once mentioned our crew that had spent hours getting to the horse wreck and getting the guy out many miles over extremely tough terrain. I went to the newspaper office and was basically told they had no space for SAR activities.

All of this explains why I was so shocked when I turned on the Billings, Montana TV news last night and saw my face front and center! It seems someone in the Red Lodge squad had taken still photos throughout the rescue on Tuesday and then sent them to the news station. Because I was at the front of the litter I was prominently displayed in both photos they showed. Now the truth is I doubt my own mother would recognize me. I had my helmet on and was wearing sunglasses and carrying about 30 pounds of gear plus holding onto the litter, but still I was amazed. There is something decidedly weird about seeing yourself on display when you had no idea you were being photographed. They had very little update on the kid, just saying he was still in critical condition with obvious brain swelling. I keep him in my prayers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer is Here

Now I know summer has arrived; and not because of the date. We had back-to-back Search and Rescue calls yesterday and both were the real thing. The first call came in at 3:15 and involved a snow skier at the East Summit of Beartooth Pass. The Beartooths keep a certain amount of snow all year long and there is one particular area that used to be used for practice by the nation's elite skiers in the summer months. I don't think the camp operates anymore but local die-hard skiers and snowboarders will often try to get a few turns in when everyone else is already thinking pools and fishing. It is located in a spot that is difficult to get to from anywhere and it takes about two hours to drive there from Cody. Ken is out of town and it truly felt like deja vu when the pager went off. A little over a year ago we had a call to the same spot for a boarder that had crashed and that resulted in one of the more memorable days of my life. The big difference this time around was that the Beartooth Highway is open and, knowing the time it would take for our group to mobilize, they called in Red Lodge SAR to assist. That group was closer and could get there from the other side of the mountains at least a half hour before we could. The reason they weren't the first ones paged is because the East Summit is in the State of Wyoming and Red Lodge is in Montana. As before, I was told to proceed directly to the call and I arrived just a few minutes after the Red Lodge team and about twenty minutes before the rest of our team. There was an EMT in their group and our supervisor had already called the med-evac helicopter to be en route. It was pretty obvious we needed all the medical help we could get this guy. He had fallen high up on the slope and, according to his friend, had hit the rocks with his head at about 30mph. He showed all the classic signs of head injury and we were very concerned about possible spinal injury as well. The helicopter could not land closer than about a quarter mile away and we had to carry him through the ugly rocks and deep snow to get him to where he could be loaded. If you have never tried carrying someone on a stretcher for any distance, you would not believe how tiring it is under the best of conditions. The whole thing took us several hours before we could get him on the chopper and on his way to the hospital in Billings and then another hour or so to gather our gear and make the long climb back to our vehicles. The Red Lodge group invited us to go home via their community and to stop for pizza along the way. I was tempted to pass but the encouragement of my team members and my just-realized hunger got the better of me and I joined the rest of the group for something to eat. I left before the rest and just topped the hill out of Red Lodge on my way home when I heard the second call come in. By now it was after 9pm and I still had an hour's drive to Cody to get to the location where a woman had fallen down a 400 foot cliff to the Shoshone River. Because so many of us were out on the first call they called in the Fire Department and by the time I arrived on the scene the rescue was well under way. I jumped in on the management of the pull ropes and got my upper body workout to round out the lower body exercise from earlier in the day. We got the lady up the hill and into the ambulance by a little after midnight and I finally made it home about 1:30am. I think I will be taking a nap today!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

Yes, I know I am three days late with this one! I have had the image in the back of my mind for a few days but just finally caught Wyld Card and Tardy in the right pose yesterday. I haven't decided if I am going to paint it or leave it as an ink sketch. It is done on the back of another painting so I may just leave it alone. We had three baby llamas this spring; two boys and a girl. They stay with their mothers until they are at least six months old, then they will be weaned and the boys will be moved over to the corral with the rest of the males. In the meantime the grown males are intensely curious about these miniatures and will stick their heads through the fence trying to get a good smell of them. I don't know if they recognize their own off-spring; it sometimes seems so.

This is certainly the time for babies around here. Monday we looked out to see a cow elk rushing through the pasture with a tiny calf running behind. The mother was obviously nervous about being so exposed and kept dashing ahead, only to have to stop and wait for her poor baby to catch up. This morning I looked out to see a healthy mule deer doe with the smallest little bundle of spots I have ever seen at her side. All the magpie nests seem to have fledged at the same time and the noise is unbelievable as we have about 20 baby birds all screaming for attention all the time! The baby magpies are easily recognized as they have much shorter tails than their elders. We are still awaiting Phoebe young but it should be any day now!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Fat Moon in the Afternoon

A few months ago I talked about a challenge we were doing in my art quilt group. We were to take a book to the meeting and, based on numbers drawn out of a hat, go to page 110, line 9 and make a quilt from whatever sentence we found there. The book I chose was a National Geographic travel guide from 1973 titled "Wilderness USA" and my line read "Fat moon in the afternoon". The authors were discussing the look of the waxing gibbous moon over the desert late in the afternoon. I decided to make a jacket and the photos here show the (almost) finished project. I am still going to add some closures. The 3/4 gibbous moon is on the back of the jacket. All the fabrics in the jacket except the lining are my own hand-dyes. The moon and geese are painted. The dyed fabric for the sunset was much more intense than I wanted originally so rather than start over I covered the upper part of the jacket with organza. I like the effect - sort of misty - and it has a little glimmer to it when you see it in the sunlight. Like always, I have no idea where I will ever wear this piece - most likely it will be entered in shows and, if I am lucky, it will travel around. To see what the rest of the group did with their challenge visit the WAV blog by clicking on the link.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Illustration Friday - "Rejection"

Bob simply couldn't understand why he and his "Better Mousetrap" were rejected by the judges from going to the next round.

After a week in which rattlesnakes figured prominently and in which I watched the amateur inventor reality show on TV for the first time, this cartoon seemed almost too obvious! I received several emails inquiring about Ken and realize I should have told the rest of the story. He is doing just fine. The rattler obviously injected very little toxin into his hand as it was swollen and sore for a couple days but then returned to normal. I have ordered a 42" snake pole from a place that specializes in live traps and I hope once it arrives he will be able to re-locate the snakes a little more safely. Of course if he keeps getting bit maybe he will eventually be immune!

The more of these cartoon drawings I do the more dissatisfied I seem to be with the results. It is not all bad - I like the guy sprinting for the door, but the rest leaves a lot to be desired. I think I may need to upgrade from my dime store watercolors on sketchbook paper. I should probably try to spend more than an hour on each drawing as well. Perhaps more importantly, I need to stop using these weekly exercises as an excuse to keep from practicing my drawing the rest of the week!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Part 1
Last weekend was a very busy one as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition Annual Meeting was held in Cody. Normally the event takes place in West Yellowstone and it is something Ken and I look forward to attending each year. This year was entirely different as we were asked to participate. On Friday Ken was part of a four person panel that gave a two hour presentation on Oil and Gas Development in Park County. I am sure we spent at least 200 hours preparing. On Saturday I led a field trip that consisted of a four hour hike with llamas in some of the area that has been leased for exploration in the Clark area. The sign up sheet was limited to 20 people but almost 30 attended. The hike was listed as "difficult" in the brochure and I was relieved to see that most people seemed fit enough to handle it. I drove into Cody Saturday morning and led a convoy of cars to the trailhead. I was happy to see a familiar face as Julie, an instructor we know from the Yellowstone Association Institute, had signed up to come along. I asked her to ride with me so she could keep an eye on the cars behind and make sure we didn't lose anyone. Ken had already headed to the trailhead with the trailer hauling six llamas and we would meet him there. On the car ride out I told Julie a little bit about the hike we would be taking and mentioned that one concern of the area was rattlesnakes. Julie told me she was absolutely terrified of snakes. I was surprised because she is an incredibly strong person who lives in the outdoors but it was obvious she was really worried about the idea of meeting up with one of the reptiles. Once we got to the trailhead I rounded everyone up and gave them the safety talk, repeating to all the possibility of seeing a rattler or a bull snake on our trek. We had a great hike although it took longer than expected and we were rushing to get back in time for the evening banquet. All the participants were around middle age except for two boys, 16 and 17 who were traveling with their parents. On the way back to the vehicles I let most people go ahead and I brought up the rear, leading Curry and walking just behind a gentleman leading Tesoro. The two boys were hanging back as well. About a half mile from the trailhead we had to go down into a deep ditch and back up the other side. The ground was broken up and I was choosing my steps carefully so the llamas didn't end up tripping in one of the many holes in the loose dirt. All of a sudden I heard a high pitched scream in which I made out the word "rattlesnake" and I turned around to see the 16 year old jumping back and forth from one foot to the other letting out a series of "eee...eee...eee" that allowed me insight into just what his voice must have sounded like before it changed a few years earlier. I think I have been in the west too long as my first thought was "that is the craziest city slicker dance I have ever seen!" My second thought was "Crap! Maybe he actually managed to get himself bit!" I grabbed on to his shoulder and asked him if the snake got him and he managed to get out "ee...eee...no, but...eee...eee...I saw him...eee...eee and he rattled at me...eee...eee...eee!" With every "eee" he jumped from the toe of one foot to the other. I think if Michael Flatley had been around he might have hired him on the spot! I handed him off to his older brother who rolled his eyes and told him to "stop acting like a girl." I bit my tongue to keep from telling the elder boy that the "girls" were doing just fine, thank you. Good job too because I then looked back and discovered it wasn't exactly true. There on the other side of the ditch were the last two people of the group. A young lady from Utah and my friend Julie. She-who-is-terrified-of-snakes. Julie was white as a sheet and visibly trembling. It was clear she wasn't coming any further without some help so I handed off Curry to the guy with Tesoro and told him to wait right there for me. I walked back to Julie, trying to look totally confident while all the time feeling like I was walking across a mine field. I reached her and told her to stay right behind me and walk back in my footsteps to the other side of the ditch. She did as I said and we arrived at the llamas without further incident. We were able to continue to the trailhead, all the way watching the young boy in front of us dance back and forth from one foot to the other, convinced that every branch and rock was a rattlesnake waiting to strike! I suspect for him and for Julie it will be a memorable hike for several reasons.
Part 2
I decided to drive to Billings today to shop for food for us and for the animals. When I got home Ken had dinner cooked and then after I did the dishes we went out to spend a little time with the llamas. We captured the three babies and took turns letting them smell the halter and the lead ropes. Frank came out as well but ducked into the feed shed when the baby llamas started jumping around in their excitement. Once we let the babies go I opened the feed shed door and found Frank sitting on a bale of hay just inside the door. I lifted him up and sat down on the bale, placing him back on my lap where he seemed quite content. As my eyes adjusted to the darker interior of the shed I suddenly made out the coiled shape of the rattlesnake sitting just to the left of the door, about three feet from Frank and me. I said a four letter word which brought an inquiry from Ken to whom I explained the situation. He proceeded to enter the shed as well and grabbed the broom with which he pinned the rattlers head to the floor. As a general rule we don't kill snakes around here because they do such a good job of controlling the rodent population. Ken asked for his leather glove and I knew he meant to pick the snake up to re-locate it further away. Now we have had this argument many times. Years ago I was bit by a python and I know their teeth are unbelievably sharp. I know they will go right through a leather glove but Ken always seems to think that little bit of fabric will protect him. He grabbed the snake behind the head with his gloved hand and then I heard him say, very calmly, "he got me". Sure enough, the snake had managed to swing his head around and sink one fang into Ken's hand. Ken dropped the animal into a bucket and then took the bucket down the road where he released the snake. It has been about an hour and a half and his hand has swollen a little bit and his finger is pretty painful but he refuses to go to Cody at this point. We will keep a close eye on it as the night unfolds and see what happens.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Illustration Friday - "Suit"

Just one missed session in her ESL course resulted in an embarrassing situation when Heidi invited the rest of the class to help celebrate her birthday!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Golden Eagle

On Monday we hiked to see the golden eagles. On Wednesday they came to see us. When I got up yesterday morning Ken was already downstairs at the computer and he had let Frank outside. I started the day my usual way by looking out the window at the llamas to make sure everything was as it should be. What I saw was the whole herd lined up with their full attention pointing just behind the house. I looked for Frankie and there he was at the front door, looking the same direction with his tail puffed up as big as his body. I rushed to let him in and then concentrated on identifying what it was that had everyone so upset. I could see there was something very strange going on at the juniper bush just up the hill, but my mind simply couldn't make any sense of what I was seeing. I called for Ken and grabbed the binoculars and together we were able to see that the strange creature we were looking at was a golden eagle embedded in the bush. He looked just like someone had cut his head off and set it on top of the juniper. We surmised he had gone after a bunny and was unwilling to divert from his target when the cottontail ran for cover. Sure enough, as we watched we saw one huge wing come out of the bush followed by the second and then up he flew with his prey clasped in those deadly talons. We went up to look at the bush and see if he had left behind any feathers in his efforts but the only remaining signs of the life and death struggle were the many tufts of soft white bunny fur.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Living in the wild

I haven't written much lately about the wildlife around here but it isn't because they aren't around. The coyotes go through regularly and spend a lot of time looking for bunnies in the culverts and sagebrush. We have three pronghorn that have made this home for now and the mule deer are back for the summer. The magpie babies have hatched and we have a nest of Say's Phoebes under the deck and bluebirds in the boxes.
Yesterday we decided to hike over the hill to see if the golden eagles were in their nest. There is a spot we can sit on a cliff directly across from them that offers an amazing view without disturbing them unnecessarily. We are close enough to get good photos but still separated by a chasm that drops down several hundred feet to the canyon floor. There was a dark cloud in the sky but we know from experience that doesn't usually mean much around here. We stuck our rain gear in the backpack and headed out. Although it is fairly close it still takes about a half hour to get to the spot over hill and dale. The last half mile is all up so that slows us down as well. We no sooner got to our spot and verified the nest was empty than the skies opened up and the rain came down. We put on our rain gear but after sitting in the downpour for about 15 minutes we decided to give up and head home. Normally we would continue up and make a big loop to get home but because of the weather we decided to go the more direct route. That was our first mistake. The second mistake was stopping to identify a bunch of wildflowers. I think if we had kept moving we would never have known we weren't alone but our hesitation caused too much stress. We suddenly heard a loud crash and the sound of rocks falling. I just had time to wonder if the rain had triggered a slide when a female elk came bounding out from behind a large rock and ran right by us. Her eyes were wild and her sides were pounding and it was obvious we had terrified her. Much more disturbing was the fact that as she sprinted away from us we could see she was in the process of giving birth. Hence her selection of such a strange location. We couldn't really tell what stage she was in. Ken thought he saw a head sticking out - to me it looked more like the afterbirth but either way it was not a good situation. For about a second we thought about going behind the rock to see if there was a newborn elk there but we quickly realized the best thing we could do for all concerned was just get out of there as fast as possible and leave the cow elk to finish what she had started. Because of the chopped up landscape we could not tell where the elk went or if she returned to the rock but we will hope for the best. We have decided to just stay away from that area completely for the next few weeks until calving season is done!

Once home we let Frank out of the house. Within minutes we heard a commotion at the front door and opened it to see he had cornered a small bull snake behind the drainpipe. Ken picked it up and relocated it to the juniper bushes a little further away. The only worry about bull snakes is that Frank and the llamas will realize they are harmless and get the idea that all snakes are that way.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Return of the Quilt

My quilt is home! After three years at the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, Eritrea, my "One Single Color (Does Not a Rainbow Make)" has returned to Wyoming. It became a guest of the Art in the Embassy program shortly after I finished it so I hardly had a chance to bond with it before it was gone! While in the program it was twice published: once as the cover of the exhibit catalog and later as one of 52 pieces of art chosen from all the American Embassies around the world for inclusion in a weekly calendar printed as gifts for foreign dignitaries. It is better traveled and has received more honors than I have! The care with which it was returned was remarkable. It arrived yesterday in a truck full of works of art driven from NYC. Even the drivers seemed amazed that they had traveled so far into the "middle of nowhere" to deliver it home. Now I have to decide what I am going to do with it!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Illustration Friday - "Your Paradise"

The gap in communication became obvious soon after Andy asked Marlene if she wanted to see his "pair a' dice".