Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rushcreek Mac: The Character

Thursday May 30 2013

He had zero personality when he first arrived here as an 8-year-old from Rushcreek Ranch in Nebraska. Steph had gone to Rushcreek Ranch several years ago to do a story, and came home with the horse. "A real pistol," they'd called him on the ranch. Steph rode him at the Ranch and called him "an awesome mover."

When he arrived in Owyhee, Rushcreek Mac didn't know anything about hugs or pets or treats (he wouldn't touch carrots or horse cookies); he was a working horse - period. He opened and closed gates with you on his back with perfection; he did not react when you changed clothes on his back or tossed things from the saddle. He did what you asked: he stood until you asked him to move, he moved until you asked him to stop. He did his job and that was that.

At first he didn't interact much with our home herd - you could tell he was used to being in a herd and he was used to looking after himself and staying out of trouble, but he didn't put up with much guff.

It wasn't too long though before Mac started to blossom in the character department.

Pretty soon he wasn't ignoring treats, he was nudging my arm so I'd put my hand in my pocket and pull out the treat that he knew was in there, and hand it over. Pretty soon he started demanding carrots with just a look in his eyes.

Pretty soon he started playing with Jose (the Owyhee Social Director - nobody can resist playing with Jose!); and pretty soon Mac became the most ardent, feistiest, roughhousingest companion of the herd.

Mac and Jose played often and they played hard, biting, ripping hide, rearing and clashing, and finding toys to play with together. Masks were always a fine toy, especially when one was ripped off the other horse's head first.

Cardboard boxes and sticks and brooms made fine toys also.

He'd grab a feed tub away from other horses, and he'd reach out and grab one out of my hands as I was walking by.

He's the biggest Pig-pen of a horse that ever existed. Of course dirt shows up on grays best, but Mac doesn't just get down and roll - he'll roll a dozen times in a row, making sure he gets every single spot covered in dirt.

While Steph got Mac mainly to be John's riding horse, as the de facto endurance horse conditioner here, I did a lot of the trail riding and conditioning on Mac.

As it does with me and all horses, it took me a while to really figure Mac out. He went through some changes over time… first he seemed bored with the long distance riding and no cows; then he got a bit balky and spooky; then he became afraid of cows; he became a follower, and not much of a go-out-solo horse.

There was the time I did take him out solo, and he was trotting along just fine when a damn chukkar flew up out of a sagebrush right up his nose. Now I know for sure Mac would save his own hide before he'd save mine if it came down to a choice, and anyway who could blame him for spooking at an exploding chukkar like that… but I do give Mac credit for standing stock still while I, half hanging off his side and struggling to hang on and pull myself back upward before having to admit defeat and call it a forced dismount, clawed my way back on the top of Mac's back. He could have totally deposited me in the sand there, but he waited for me to climb back on top and settle into the saddle properly before we went on our way.

He'll scrunch up his chin and clamp his lips together when he's worried about something, like thunder, or trail gremlins. And while he might spook from something like an imagined cougar in a scary tangle of sagebrush, he's no dummy: he'll cut corners on trails (particularly on 2-track logging roads) - conserving the ground over which he must travel. He'll also cut off another horse while he's trotting along, preventing that horse from passing, to intimidate him.

Eventually Mac became a decent leader of a group on the trail, when it was his idea. Force him to take the lead, especially at the beginning of a ride, and he'll still balk and spook and jump and plant it; but later in the ride, when Mac decides he wants to take the lead, he flies, fast, sure-footed, no spooking, no messing around.

It's been several years since I've ridden Mac in an endurance ride; I got to ride him all 3 days of the Owyhee Fandango end of May. He was phenomenal! It was his first ride of the year and he covered the 160 miles over the 3 days, smooth and steady, and with that ever-efficient, effortless, all-day trot. The vets noticed his competence: Mac won the unofficial Best Condition award of the five horses that completed all 3 days of the ride!

While he's a fun ride, I never let my guard down on him. In the Fandango he threw a fit and almost went to bucking once when his stablemate Sunny took a different turn towards home; he almost spooked off a narrow hillside trail above the Snake River when some campers across the river fired off some gunshots (Mac hates gunshots); he bolted with me when the thunder canon-cracked from one of the scary storm clouds dogging us on Day 3 (neither of us like thunder!).

Mac and I are both scared of the storm clouds!

At the vet checks Mac grazed right next to where I was sitting down in grass, close enough to touch me with his nose.

When I tried to sneak away to get my own food he'd follow me. If I pulled out some peanut butter crackers to snack on while riding he stopped in the middle of the trail and turned his head to eyeball me and wait for me to share with him.

He's an entertaining Character, a fun ride, this Rushcreek Mac. And you can see by this bottom photo how impressed he is with himself and his Best Condition award.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Snake River Petroglyphs

May 22 2013

Some 32,000 years ago, Lake Bonneville formed, covering most of northwestern Utah (the Great Salt Lake is a remnant). About 15,000 years ago, it broke out of its natural dam near present-day Pocatello Idaho, creating the Bonneville Flood - possibly the second largest ever on the planet. For 8 weeks it flooded out at maximum, carving canyons and falls, ripping out huge, car-sized boulders from canyon walls, and depositing them along the river.

Today, geologists call these big boulders "melon gravel" because of their resemblance to big watermelons. Rolled and smoothed and polished and tossed around by the great powerful floodwaters, some of these boulders became canvases for Native American art.

By 12,000 years ago, humans were living on the Snake River Plain. (The earliest evidence from a cave near Dietrich, Idaho, are tool flakes and a basalt knife 14,500 years old.) The petroglyphs carved on many of the tens of thousands of boulders along the Snake are evidence of their early habitation. Many petroglyphs are probably from the Early Archaic (5000 to 7800 years ago) and Middle Archaic periods (1000-5000 years ago), though most are from the Late Archaic period (340 to 1000 years ago). Many of the petroglyphs along the Snake resemble Shoshone Indian art found in California and Nevada.

The Snake River petroglyphs can be accessed by following a maze of dirt roads, or knowing where the locals access trails. We used a shortcut starting up on the flats, taking a steep cliff trail down to the river basin.

Petroglyphs are scattered on boulders for miles along the Snake River (you might be interested in the book Understanding Meaning and Purpose of Rock Art, by D Russel Micnhimer).

On the north side of the Snake a couple of miles upstream from where we rode is Celebration Park, Idaho's only archaeological park. On the south side, downstream on BLM land, a large collection of the rock art is grouped together, and is well-preserved, likely because of its non-advertised, not-so-easily accessible location.

We looped through the art gallery, both horses and humans contemplating the meaning of the art, and wondering about the people behind the imaginations that created it so long ago.

[slide show here]

or link:

Friday, May 17, 2013

We Are The Chosen Ones

Friday May 17 2013

"60% chance showers likely" doesn't hold much weight with me, when the forecast is for the Owyhee desert in the summer. The desert and I have been disappointed too many times. Most often any rain will hang over the Owyhee mountains and not quite make it down here, 6 miles away. I do, however, take heed any time there are thunderstorms in the forecast… there was a chance today, after noon.

Carol and I rode Zeb and Mac on a 20 mile ride this morning, with rain clouds over the Owyhees, but with not much fear of getting wet.

Just as we were riding down our last hill near home around noon at the end of our ride, the mountain rain was definitely coming our way; we were just starting to feel a few sprinkles. It looked like our desert might indeed get a little refreshing shower.

There were also two very dark and ominous blue clouds heading directly for us that I did not like the suspicious thunderstormy looks of.

Sure enough, as soon as I started untacking Mac at the house, it started raining. Mac finished his grain meal and I turned him loose just as the skies opened up with a Malaysia-like monsoon rain.

It DUMPED, hurling cascades of water and spitballs of hail. I huddled under a cottonwood tree, enjoying the saturated chaos around me, debating about running through the downpour to the tack room, when I was encouraged to take the run option by a cannon of thunder that cracked across the sky.

I half-sprinted, half-danced through the glorious bombardment of rain and hail to the shelter of the tack room, and stood at the door mesmerized, thrilled by the foreign deluge and torrents launched from heaven to earth.

The horse herd turned their butts to the pelting drops, heads to the ground, while the parched desert ground became lakes, rushing rivers, and floods.

As the dark storm cloud and thunder moved northward, new streams

joined old creeks

to swirl and twirl in a colorful rushing dance downstream.

The horses headed for their favorite dirt pile, to 'wash off' the rain with several celebratory rolls in the sand.

We all felt very special, horses and humans and desert, the Chosen Ones who experienced this delightful desert downpour.

Yes, this was my clean white riding horse

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Wednesday May 15 2013

It's been a dismal year for local Ravens and raptors in the reproduction department.

This hawk nest sitting atop a Snake River Birds of Prey 'badlands' hill is typical of our area this year. It's a fine nest (though one wonders how a hawk can defend such a nest against, say, a coyote) with a fine view - fine scenery and a fine sweeping view of prey: there ain't any.

Four great horned owl territories and 2 red-tailed hawk territories on our 2 creek are empty this year - the birds didn't even try. (The great horned owls choose their nests first, the red-tails have second choice, and the Ravens get to choose last from what's left.)

Fortunately the golden eagles down the creek successfully hatched at least one young, the top of whose fuzzy white head I saw a few days ago.

My theory is there are plenty of jackrabbits around - the main prey of golden eagles, but our cold winter with the week-long -8°F nights and months below freezing froze the little varmints - mice and voles - that nest in burrows just under the ground and that the hawks and owls normally eat. Then again, it's already been so dry, and nothing is growing, that maybe the varmints had nothing to eat themselves.

Two pairs of Ravens tried nesting this year. Both failed. Under the nest up one creek I found the remains of a Raven shell.

The nest up the other creek - on which a Raven was hunkered down quietly just last week - is empty now. There should be enough Raven food around - Ravens eat just about anything - so why they failed in nesting also, other than egg predation, is a mystery.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Too Big to Hug

Saturday May 10 2013

The redwood trees are sacred living beings.

So believe the Yurok Native Americans, whose ancestors inhabited the redwood forests for thousands of years before the white man chased them out and started cutting the trees.

I believe it too, now that I have stood beneath and between and inside the giant redwoods.

Yurok traditional family homes and sweathouses and canoes were made from fallen keehl (redwoods). The Yurok lived among, used, and respected the trees, which stood as guardians over their sacred places. 

How utterly devastating it must have been for the Yurok to be chased from their land, to die, and to watch their sacred trees and sites gutted by logging.

It's unfathomable that these monster trees were once seeds that I could have held in my palm, over a thousand years ago. They can grow over 350 feet tall and can live to over 2000 years. The tallest tree, named 'Hyperion', lying somewhere within Redwood National Park in California, measures 379.3 feet though its exact location is somewhat secret to protect it. Some redwoods are such monsters that side branches a hundred feet up are the size of a subway car, and 'trees' such as would make an Owyhee forest blush grow straight upward out of those branches another hundred feet.

It's also incomprehensible that by the 1960's, nearly 90% of all the original 2 million acres of old growth redwood forests had been logged. As early as 1918, astute conservationists (white men of course - never mind the banished Native Americans who already knew this) saw the necessity of saving redwoods for future generations. They formed the Save the Redwoods League (still active) which was instrumental in the start of saving tens of thousands of acres of the old growth redwood forests from destruction.

In 1968 Redwood National Park was established, protecting some of the remaining old growth stands. Combining with 4 California state parks (Humboldt Redwoods SP, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, and Prairie Creek Redwoods SP), the 133,000 acres of protected redwood forests is now a World Heritage Site. 

Of the old growth forests and the giant trees that remain as a living part of the earth, the Spirit Beings are still there. The sacrosanct power of these giants of the forest can bring you to your knees in wonder and worship.

I know it, now that I have I have fallen to my knees at their roots.

Can the trees feel me, a minuscule spec at their base, my arms spread wide, hugging just a tiny piece of them, grasping for a connection with their thousand-year-old inner souls?

I know they know I am there. I know they feel my veneration and awe, and I am grateful.

Long ago they started to cut this redwood. Something stopped them. It still stands, now a thousand years old.

Artistic knots and burls near the base of this redwood

Artistic bark on this fallen redwood

Embraced by a cathedral of redwoods

A composite still doesn't capture the entirety of the redwoods

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Claim Jumper

Monday May 6 2013

There's a whiff of ore in the air up this Owyhee canyon: gold, silver. There's a hint of wildness: rugged mountains, wild animals - cougars and bighorn sheep, hunters and prey. There's the taint of scandal: death, sex, foul play.

In the early 1900's, a man named Walken discovered a mine up this gulch. He recruited a partner, Finken. When the mine was half excavated, a dispute erupted over distribution of the loot. Finken died in an explosion inside the mine. Foul play was suspected. Walken later married Finken's wife. Walken later drowned at a time when Finken's father was in the area. Foul play was again suspected.

Back then, the mine may have produced today's equivalent of nearly $3 million in gold and possibly over $1 million in silver. The amounts are disputed, of course, as are the details of the legend.

Our way into the canyon is guarded by a cow carcass, perhaps a warning for those who trespass lightly.

A well-constructed old dug-out remains up the canyon, remnants of early homesteaders, or perhaps rich miners.

The castle-like walls of this canyon keep the secrets beneath.

We come upon the re-claimed mining claim. The mine may still hold secrets: traces of gold, silver, a body. Way out here in the Owyhees, far from watchful eyes, we could jump the claim; but claim jumpin' called for hangin' in the old days, or an old-fashioned shootin'.

We decide to let the ghosts of dead men lie in their mine and river tombs, and leave behind the gold and silver for those more bold than we are.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tree Hugger II

Saturday May 4 2013

I do love this Owyhee desert, but man I miss the mountains and forests.

I miss grabbing onto a monster old growth Jeffrey pine in a forest, putting my nose to the cracks in the bark, smelling the scent of vanilla, feeling the tree's sentience, its roughness, the oldness, feeling the decades (or centuries, if the tree is a lucky one) of seed and sun and snows and storms, feeling the secret forest life its branches have held.

yes, it's a spotted owl

I try to find the time to hug trees, real forest trees, at least once a year. Soon, it will have to be more than once a year, but for now, this mountain and this giant forest pine will suffice for a while.