Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cummins Creek, a walk with Sadie and Nero Wolfe

When Sadie the Dalmatian followed her nose off the trail and into the tall wild rye grass, my peripheral vision caught the movement.
Boy, am I glad.
Really, really glad. I'd been scanning the high slopes across Cummins Creek for Rocky Mountain sheep, but when Sadie made a nervous jump back from a clump of tall grass I lowered the binoculars and watched. She pushed her nose ahead slowly, then a white tail snapped straight up, with a curl at the top. A wide, hair tail.
Oh, @%$&!
``Sadie! Here! Come!''
To my intense gratitude, she did. She heard the panic in my voice. No doubt.
But, she came slowly watching me wave frantically, then looking back nervousely over her shoulder.
But she came.
And the skunk, which had raised its tail into a defensive firing position, held onto the spew. Whew!
For about seven seconds I considered taking a picture of the skunk and actually took half a step toward it. When I did, Sadie did, too. And I smelled that distinct, pithy odor, but faintly. So, knowing when retreat is the best part of valor, I gave it up and hurried on down the trail, putting away the camera and the binouclars as I walked.
That was actually the most intense moment of the three day hikes I took last weekend. Well, if you count Friday and Monday as part of the weekend. Anyway, I've been thinking about my impulses to go take a hike.
Nero Wolfe, who weighs a seventh-of-a-ton, has given me a clue. Not that Wolfe does much walking. He does, however, often need time to think.
He put it this way, ``I need a little time to arrange the inside of my head, and my dinner will be ready shortly.''
That's pretty much my philosophy: I need a little time to wander, and my dinner will be ready shortly.
Wolfe, of course, is a world-renowned genius. When he takes a ``little time'' he closes his eyes, leans back in his custom-made chair, clasps his hands over his girth and works his lips in and out.
I, on the other hand, am not handicapped by genius. And who really wants to sit and just THINK.
No, I do my best intra-head arrangements while meandering along some remote trail with my bamboo walking stick in my hand.
And the remoter the better. So, last Friday, the day of the skunk, Sadie and I walked about 3 miles up Cummins Creek, off the Tucannon River Road.
It's an easy walk along an old road with high walls on each side. I've seen deer, elk and Rocky Mountain seep grazing on the slopes there in the past, along with hawks, turkeys, porcuines and a number of other birds. And skunks, of course.
Sadie flushed a turkey from a thicked of dead ferns on a hillside last week. It flew about 20 yards over my head.
That day, even before the skunk episode, I felt a bit like the Al Capp character, Joe Btfsplk. Remember, he walked around with a rain cloud always over his head, and Capp pronounced his name as if it were a Bronx cheer (made by sticking the tongue between the lips and blowing to make a sound.)
Anyway, sun shined on the canyon walls, but three times it rained on me. I'd put on my rain jacket, and the rain would stop. I'd take off the jacket, and it would rain. At least I had the rain jacket.
Then on Sunday my wife Darlene, Sadie and I spent hours driving around the farm fields south and west of Othello looking fruitlessly for sandhill cranes. Finally, we drove into the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge and eventually came upon the Crab Creek Trailhead and interpretive trail through a marsh along the stream.
We spent an hour or so drifting along the path above the stream. Bright golden currant blossoms bloomed, and red-winged blackbirds warbled. Once, a mink slipped along the bank on the other side of the creek.
It was a pleasant way to break the tension of a craneless trip, and the interpretive displays made interesting reading.
Then, on Monday, I again drove through Dayton, out Patit Creek Road, over Hartsock Grade and up the Tucannon River Road. I had the fishing gear, the fanny pack and the day pack.
Yet, I passed the lakes that have recently been stocked with fish and drove all the way up to Panjab Campground to take a hike. I checked out the stream crossing to Rattlesnake Trail (No. 3129), which climbs the ridge above the campground into the Tucannon Wilderness.
Crossing logs bridged the rushing water, but snow high on the hillside hinted that I walk somewhere else.
So, we drove five miles up Forest Road 4712 to the Tucannon River Trail at Sheep Creek. Pine needles covered the trail through a dark wood, and our footsteps hardly broke the silence. After an hour or so, we reached a patch of deep snow. Then another.
Once we saw large bird tracks in the snow. A crow, I thought, or maybe a turkey. Then two pileated woodpeckers flew from the trail and into a tree. I readied the camera, but the big red-headed birds went kak-kak-kak-kak and disappeared into the woods.
Eventually, we waded snow up to my kneecaps and Sadie's bellybutton. I checked the GPS unit, which indicated we'd walked 3.44 miles. That's a straight-line measurement, so I estimated we'd walked four miles, counting twists and turns.
We'd walked for nearly two hours, and snow soaked my gaiters. The inside of my head seemed well arranged. Sadie must've felt the same. When I asked, ``You want to go back?'' she churned up snow as she galloped back down the trail and around the first bend.
We reached the truck in 94 minutes. I put on water for hot chocolate, gave Sadie her dinner and opened the lunch Darlene had packed for me.
``My dinner will be ready shortly,'' I said. But Sadie didn't even look up.

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