Now a risk for "feelers" telling a story is that the depth of feeling can inflate the facts, making the story-teller appear a fibber or just stupid. One searches for the words that will tell how the event "felt" and "hill" can become "Everest". "Dog" can become "rabid wolf". I didn't want to come across that way except for comic effect, and I knew I had a lot of feelings about this story, so I checked in with the other person who was there. Sure enough, there was some slight disagreement about certain measurements, and had I gone with my first inclination I would surely have appeared to make a mountain out of a molehill . . . . my story:
For reasons I will someday write about, but not yet, I wasn't very strong or fit. I was small. But I'd not hiked and camped or pursued outdoor activities, so extreme exertion was difficult for me sometimes. It should also be noted that I am hard-headed. Granite skulled. Won't give up, won't ask for help (until I'm nearly desperate), a tough guy hard case. When presented with the opportunities to learn new outdoorsy pursuits he had described so enticingly, I was in - all the way. "Limes, want to hike 90 miles in 100 degree heat with high winds?" Yep! "Fly across the desert floor transported only by the strength of your own flapping arms?" Uh-huh!
He'd learned of a spot we could drive to on good jeep trails and hike to find a hidden spring. The terrain was hilly, almost mountainous, while still very much desert. The place was rocky and it was clear that any hike was going to be a lot of up and down, boulder scrambling, rockface climbing. These are challenges when a pair hikes with camera and tripod, camera bag, backpack, water, Clif bars, binoculars, gun, pocketknives and more. We found a soft sandy spot in a rock-strewn gorge and put the tent up there. The area was well-hidden as it was around and behind some hills. We saw no signs of any other human for days. We like it that way.
Early into the first hike, we learned just how much climbing and scrambling was going to be required to get to the hidden spring. I'm not sure why, maybe it's a rule, but each boulder to be traversed was 6 inches higher than my legs could stretch, so I required a bit of pulling by the arms and pushing by the rear. The hill was almost terraced as we climbed, and each time we attained a new level, it was one of us up first, hand up the camera and tripod, hand up the camera bag, hand up the backpack, watch your step! "Sandy spot here, Limes. Be careful." "I'm good, Badger. Thanks for pointing it out."
There was no benefit of trail for any part of this hike - we were bushwhacking. Ultimately we crested the hill to find that the top was a vast expanse of what I call desert meadow. No, not green with field flowers abounding, but a large open area filled with desert flora - our favorite red-thorned barrel cactus, the unpleasant and ubiquitous chollas, creosote, stands of desert willow and all the nameless little grasses and shrubs one sees in the Mojave when there has been rain in recent memory. "Up for a flat cross-country stroll, Limes?" "Ready!", as I fell in behind him. The advantage to following while bushwhacking is that the leader's legs have taken all the abuse and his feet have smashed down some of the obstacles to be overcome. I'm nobody's fool.
We chatted as we hiked, calling one another's attention to things that were beautiful or simply interesting. And then I heard his "Whoa!" A person does not have to be an educated naturalist to recognize a bighorn sheep skeleton lying on the hill. The Badger said he was an adult, for sure, and he was the size (though not the shape) of an adult human being. Amazingly, he was mainly intact, the bones unscattered and in the same basic form as when he walked on the meadow. The bones were bleached very white and were quite porous which told us Herman (for I named him that immediately) had not left the building just recently. On one side, his horn was intact. The other was missing. There was a small amount of sinew or connective tissue remaining on his snout.
The Badger was known to keep a collection of found animal bones and some skins, antlers and other interesting finds from his adventures. I may not yet have been Outdoor Annie, but I knew a bighorn sheep skull was a find. I asked him if he'd like to have it for his very own. We talked at length about whether there might be a legal, ethical, moral or conservational prohibition against taking it and decided there were no compelling arguments that would require us to leave the skull behind. "Well, yes, but . . . ," he brandished camera, tripod, camera bag, backpack and more. It only took me a moment. "If you can manage the backpack, I'll carry the skull." "What? You can't carry that all those miles, down the rockfaces and all the way to camp!" "Can you handle the backpack, Badger? I promise if it becomes too much I'll put it down. Maybe I can carry it half way there and we could hike back to it tomorrow." "OK, against my better judgement . . . "
It took me a moment to decide how I would carry this very large animal skull. I learned quickly that it was pretty heavy and tremendously awkward. It's hard to walk carrying a large, heavy object in both hands. Carrying a large, heavy object in one hand ruins the neck, shoulder and arm muscles pretty quickly. There was no way to piggyback him, as I was leaving some important crooks and angles of his body behind. I didn't want to carry him on my hip as I had toted Amber when she was a baby - I didn't particularly want any part of him traveling close to my face. We set out and I mostly juggled him back and forth from one hand to another as we crossed the desert meadow. "How you doing back there, Limes?" "Pretty good. How far have we hiked?" "Not a mile yet." Oh. I'd have thought . . .
I'm not sure why, maybe it's a rule, but each boulder to be traversed was still 6 inches higher than my legs could stretch, so I required a bit of being caught as I dropped down the rockfaces. The hill was still terraced as we descended, and each time we dropped to a new level, it was one of us down first, hand down the camera and tripod, hand down the camera bag, hand down the backpack, hand down Herman's head, watch your step! "Sandy spot here, Limes. Be careful." "I'm good, Badger. Thanks for pointing it out."
The topography after the last terrace was still steep, and downhill. "How far have we come, Badger?" "Maybe a mile and a half." Oh. I'd have thought . . . "Doing OK, Limes? Want to put it down and hike back out tomorrow?" No. Because I'm a tough guy hard case. And finally, after seemingly hours . . . "I can see the tent, Limes." "That's great, Badger. If camp was another 100 yards, I'd have to put him down and return for him in the morning." Folks, if camp was another 100 inches, I'd have had to put him down in the gorge and gone back for him the next morning. As the Badger strode strongly and I limped like a granny into camp, we posed Herman attractively in a desert still life and enjoyed his presence tremendously.
I dubbed this camping location Herman's Valley and we have called it that, or simply "Herman's" since. Despite many trips there, we only found the hidden spring on the next to last visit. We'd bypassed a nearly undetectable trail just footsteps from our campsite every single previous time. This is the place where I first saw a profusion of cactus in bloom. It is a place where I found a most wonderful fossil in our gorge. It took great strength of character to give it to Mother Badger. It is the place where I became terribly sunburned in unfortunate places despite repeated warnings to put something on. It felt so good to sit and read in the sun . . . . . . .
Behold Herman below in his final resting place in the Badger's back yard.
In my ears right now: Annie Lennox ~ Why. " . . .These are the tears,the tears we shed. This is the fear, this is the dread. These are the contents of my head. And these are the years that we have spent. And this is what they represent. And this is how I feel. Do you know how I feel? 'Cause I don't think you know how I feel . . "
Something that charmed me: I was planning this post and last night I asked the Badger to verify my memories of that day. I asked him if Herman's whole body had been about the size of an adult human being. He agreed that it was. Then I asked what he thought the skull weighed. "Oh, at least 10 pounds." Ten? I'd have thought 30! You see what I meant about the feelings inflating the facts? He asked if I'd like him to weigh Herman's head. I said I'd appreciate that, and his next comment was "Wow! It weighs 14 pounds." "So, Badger his body was about the size of my body at the time and I carried his head, weighing more than 10% of my body weight for miles. Do I have that right?" "He was at least that size, and his head was harder than even yours!"