Nora the Schnauzer and I arrived at Bully Creek Park/Reservoir, near Vale, Ore., in the mid-afternoon on a 52-degree, cloudy and windy Monday.
Half-a-dozen Townsend’s ground squirrels greeted us at camp site No. 3. They skittered every which way and ducked into nearby holes beneath a fire pit.
Nora saw them, of course. Shaking with anxiety, she sailed from the car and stuck her head into the nearest hole. She flung dirt clouds out behind her with her front feet.
She ignored me when I tied the small rope to her collar.
Many signs demanded that dogs be on a leash. I complied, although I saw no other campers in the park.
While Nora dug, I pitched the tent, tossed in two Therm-A-Rest pads and spread the zero-degree down sleeping bag (Nora and I would share).
With Nora on the leash, we walked around the park. We found three rest rooms with showers.
Then I zipped the tent door, leaving an opening for squirrels to visit without chewing a hole, and set out to call on friends Bill and Jewell DeLong.
Bill, a retired educator (science teacher and administrator), has settled in Vale where he spent his youth, honed his interests in nature, area history, the outback and attended high school.
Bill and I go way back. He took me skiing for the first time at Bluewood in the early 1980s.
After my one faltering trip down the bunny slope, he declared me ready. We rode the lift to the top. He helped me up when I fell getting off.
We started down Country Road.
“You’ll make it OK,” Bill said and zipped on down the slope.
Forty-five minutes later, soaked from wallowing in the snow, with one remaining mitten and a broken ski pole, I reached the bottom. Ah, fond memories.
At the DeLong’s I shook hands with Bill and Jewell, and Jewell hugged Nora.
We sipped coffee before glass patio doors and plotted the next two day’s activities.
On Tuesday, after Jewell cooked breakfast, Bill, Nora and I would take the four-wheel Honda ORVs almost 30 miles across the south face of the mountains on the north side of the valley.
I would use Jewell’s ORV.
It would be an arduous all-day trip on roads with “horrendous (steep, rocky) stretches” Bill said, so Jewell suggested that Nora stay home with her and their cow dog Toby.
I hesitated, but more-or-less agreed.
On Wednesday, Bill would take Nora and me into the outback by pickup to see historic sites dating back to the pioneer days, interesting geological formations, wildlife (deer, antelope, elk, coyotes elk, hawks), wild flowers and so on.
On Thursday, Nora and I would head back to Walla Walla.
Plans, of course, often go awry.
Anyway, Bill, Nora and I spent the late afternoon visiting Keeney Pass, the 1852 grave of pioneer John Henderson (who died of thirst near the Malheur River).
We stopped at sites showing evidence of ancient oceans covering the area and the impact of ancient volcanic action.
Bill clearly knows the territory, including the history of many families in the area. Nora and I enjoyed the drive.
Nora especially enjoyed the pause at Henderson’s grave site because rock chucks (yellow-bellied marmots) whistled at her from among the boulders.
Finally, although Bill and Jewell invited us to stay with them, Nora and I returned to Bully Creek.
We made a thorough tour of the park, often leaning into 30 mph winds.
Nora kept her leash taught as screeching Killdeer fooled her with faux broken wings.
I stumbled upon a killdeer egg in the gravel near a picnic table and took a photo with a discarded bottle cap for size comparison.
I counted eight different bird calls, including a loon, robins, killdeer and Canada geese.
As daylight faded, I looked across the lake. One light spot on the water appeared to be a face looking at me from the shallows.
It had a wave of hair and an intent, heavy-browed expression. A chill tingled my spine.
The face looked familiar. It looked like Ludwig Van Beethoven.
Well, I snapped Ludwig’s photo, and we headed back to the tent and turned in.
I awoke when a roaring wind ripped through the trees and blasted the tent with rain.
I used the LED headlamp to check the time (1:37 a.m.). Nora peeked once then covered her eyes with a foot.
“This could change our plans for today,” I said. “You think?”
No comment. I turned off the light and went back to sleep.