It's cold this morning. In fact it's bitter cold, and saddling my wrangle pony at 3:30 am is no pleasant chore. I've got to go up in the mountain, and bring in the riding stock for the day's hunt. Everything must be fed, and ready for our 'guests' by daylight. It's a daily activity of hunting camp that normally takes two to three hours, but can Lake longer. My disposition is usually pretty sour this time of the day, until I get into the saddle, and then everything seems to improve considerably.
It's a little better than a mile up the, trail from hunting camp to the mountainside that serves as our horse pasture. I actually enjoy this job, even though I grumble about it. I especially enjoy this duty on early mornings like this. It's clear weather, even though earlier we had four inches of fresh snow dumped on us. The stars are shining magnificently, and I can ride out of camp without the need of a flashlight. The woods are a beautiful, crystalline, white; practically magical world, and at this time of the morning, me and my ol' pony are making the first tracks in this wonderful place. By the time I'm half-way up the trail, I've forgotten the cold, and I'm completely entranced by my surroundings. The ride up to the pasture is invigorating, and once to the base of the mountain, another amazing view awaits me. The Northern Lights shoot and dance, brilliantly over the top of the mountain, and for many long moments I set my ol' pony with my mouth hanging open in awe.
Well, it's time to go to work, and bring in the horses. To help find them, we put bells on about a half a dozen of them. So, normally you'll hear' em, long before you see'em, and quite often you'd never find'em if not for the bells. This particular day I ride about half-way up the open mountain side, straining my ears, in the clear air, trying to pick up the clang of a horse bell, and par for the course, I hear the rascals, plumb at the top. This requires me to ride as far as I can, but then due to the steepness, I must dismount and climb on foot. It's a particular pain in the butt to have to bring'em down off the top; and the remuda seems to enjoy making a feller have to do it. Naturally, I do my standard cussing procedure, and begin my climb to the top.
Now, something is definitely wrong. I've gotten high enough that I can hear a long way, and I'm hearing more bells from the west of me. This creates a new problem, and I have to sit down a minute, catch my breath, and cipher this out. Due west of me is Crystal Ridge. It's a high rock ridge about two miles long, and a couple hundred yards wide Oil top. It's relatively flat, and smooth on top, and I have, on occasion, found our livestock grazing there. However, normally they don't split up this bad. It's at least a mile between where I hear the two groups of bells, something must have spooked the herd causing it to be so scattered. This fact works on my curiosity, and I head for Crystal Ridge, watching for some type of predators tracks on the way. It takes the best part of forty five minutes to pick my way down one high spot and up another.
Now, I've noticed something real peculiar about this second set of bells. They seem to chime for awhile, and then drift off. Then, there are moments I can't hear'em at all, and then, all of a sudden, I can hear'em just louder than hell, only to have them drift off again. it's a confusing, but curious situation, and being me, I got to investigate cause it just don't make sense. Finally, I ride up, and reach the top of the ridge. There, in the starlight I survey the expanse of the open top, and there's nothing there. At least, first observation is producing nothing. No bells, no horses, not a single sound or living creature. Just total stillness, and now I'm really fouled up. There's something going on here and eventually I spot an oddity in the snow up here. Riding forward along the escarpment ... Holy Jehosaphat! my ol' bronc swallows his head, and blows sideways like his life depends on it, I mange to weather that move, but something whooshes loudly over our heads, and the elusive bells are back. I'm strung out too far getting caught unexpected like that, and that ol' gentle-pony's next couple of moves just pile drives me head first into the ground. The back of my head, and my toes hit the ground at the same time, with my ol' wide backside pointed straight to the heavens, and boy is my bell rung.
Eventually, I get myself untangled, and get up brushing off snow. Mad, and bewildered, looking around, I try to find the source of my problems. Further down the ridge I spot an object, but can't discern it's identity. Then I hear something that just stops me dead in my tracks. Somebody is sitting down there chuckling. Then in a loud voice that I haven't heard in thirty some odd years, I'm questioned, "Herman Brune, you rascal, is that you?"
With a great frog in my throat I respond, "Yes Sir!".
"What in tarnation you doing up on this ridge, this time of the morning?" was his next question.
"Well", I started to answer, but then got indignant remembering this ol' bird just got me throwed off my horse. So I questioned him a while.
"What in hell are you doing, playing around up here, causing me trouble?".
Seeing my ire, the ol' boy smiled, and explained.
"This time of year I've got to oil my harnesses, and knock some of the dust off the sleigh. I got to get these reindeer limbered up too. They've been standing around getting fat all summer. You know, you can't expect'em to cover the ground they cover in one night without some exercise, and warming up. I've been practicing take-off and landings up on this ridge for years".
By this time I'd walked up to him, and was leaning against his rig. Dasher, and Dancer, and all them eyed me suspiciously, not used to having a civilian so close. With a smile, and a wink, he reached under his seat, and pulled out a bottle of Canadian Whiskey.
"Here you go son, looks like after that pile up I caused you, you could use a drink. Sorry about that little wreck, but temptation got the best of me. By the way, speaking of temptation, how many times you been married now? You sure ain't the sweet little Sunday School piano player you used to be. Fact is, I heard your last address was in a jail up around Dallas somewhere, you know, I don't deliver to no jail houses,"
At this remark, lie caught a laughing fit, and about rolled out of his sleigh.
Well, what could I say? He had me flat-footed, but once more I came back at him, "Listen here you ol' blustering coot, I've done a lot of mean things, and I enjoyed every damn one of ' 'em but you better not hold my sins against none of my little buddies. I've got a daughter that's sweeter than I ever could of been, and I've got a nephew that figures Uncle Herman is pretty neat. Most of my buddies got kids these days, and I've got a whole big pile of little pardners scattered between Mexico and Canada. For getting my head plowed into the ground you better be extra special nice to them children this year, or I'll come back on this ridge next year, and make Taxidermy work out of them reindeer."
The ol' boy just sat there and give me sort of a wise look. "Herman, you ain't near so tough as you'd like to sound. You might be a bad actor on occasion, but I believe I see why most kids like you. Don't worry about your little buddies, I'll take extra special good care of 'em this year. Now quit leaning on my buggy, I got to get out of here. I've got to be getting home, and give these ol' deer a good rub down".
I backed off, and he give me another wink, and a smile, "Take Care Cowboy!" he says, and in a rush his reindeer carried him off out of there. They pulled up off the ridge, and circled back by me headed North. Cupping my hands to my mouth, I hollered, "Hey, Santa, you gonna bring me anything for Christmas?"
With the robust, true hearted laugh that real Cowboys enjoy, he reached under his seat, and throwed me a half empty bottle of Canadian Whiskey, and then he disappeared into the stars.
I took another good shot on the bottle, rubbed the knot on my head, and headed back to find my horse.
Till Next Time, Take Care
The Lost Rider of Yaupon Creek - Herman Brune