CHRISTMAS MONTANA 1995
From the Journals of the Lost Rider of Yopon Creek,
I'd been awake for a while before I realized it. The howling wind tore at the tent wickedly. Melting snow occassionally dripped down the stovepipe, sizzling when it hit the stove. Lying on my side I strained to see through the darkness, wanting to know if my companions were asleep. Getting a good sound rest seemed impossible in this type of weather. The tent continually shook and flopped. Branches snapped as the surrounding forest waved like a wheat field, and so far I'd heard two trees fall. A hurricane of blowing snow was trying to rip our camp apart and bury the remains. The violence of the storm agitated me, as I pondered the task at hand. One by one I accounted for my buddies' breathing and light snores. The jug we'd killed that night was helping them sleep. Quietly I slid out of my bedroll. Everything needed had been laid out and I dressed in total darkness.
Stepping out, the wind almost blew me down. Resting a hand on the wood pile I braced myself and headed off into the night. At the corrals I hesitated. Trying to ride in this mess would be senseless, but I had no intentions of being stuck afoot. The latch on the gate was froze up and a minor battle ensued getting it open. once inside I caught the mare I'd been riding. She gave me a mighty dismal look as I brushed the wet snow from her back, and jerked my cinch tight. My movements became faster as I began to get anxious and my desire to get going grew. I knew I would have to walk and lead the mare, but at least I would stay warm. Using my flashlight I turned into the dark gusting white out, and striding at a strong pace, headed for my destination atop Crystal Ridge.
Two tiring hours later I arrived at my firewood cache. Sometime back I'd found this semi-protected hollow. Presently, it didn't seem like much of a sanctuary, but it was all I had. Beneath a stunted Jack Pine was my modest supply of sticks and stumps. Nearby, lay a, much larger over turned stump. It was here that I struggled to get a fire going. I managed to keep my wood dry, but the ferocious wind and the numbing cold made progress exasperating ly low. The extreme conditions were starting to take their toll on me. My beard was full of ice and my frozen fingers refused to help ignite the uncooperative matches. A thick layer of snow began to coat my head and back. A great tiredness came over me, but I continued to fumble with the matches. Dumbly, I squatted there, fighting fatigue and cold. The lack of sleep, the hike in the inclement weather and the urgency I had felt, were about to do me in. Exhaustion looked like it was going to win. Then my little firestick struck. The tinder I had saved caught immediately, and pensively I added my kindling. Slowly, the blaze grew, progressively getting stronger and reviving my worn- out brain. Carefully I stoked on more wood, then stacked a couple of smaller stumps over the growing flames. As they caught, more stumps were added along with smaller sticks, giving me a true white man's fire. With this chore accomplished, I finally began to thaw out. Staying near the fire I crawled beneath the Jack Pine and with my cap pulled down and my back to the storm I laid down to rest. Wind whipped the branches over head and snow continued to accumulate, but in my position, my frontside was warmed by the fire and I cozily fell into a deep ...... deep ....sleep. .........Som Sometime later I was awakened by the bells. Sitting up, I looked about, searching for the source of the sound. The storm was over, a few stars tried to peek through the breaking clouds. Soft moonlight cast a wonderous glow across the glistening blanket of fresh snow. The wind had completely died, and as I from my nest, I could see him coming from the North. The bells were plain to hear now. In wonderment I watched him and his team come down to a perfect landing, causing a light spray of white powder as the sled runners touched the top of the ridge. Then sliding along, he drove the team to my poor littkecamp spot, jingling and tossing their heads as they-came.
No words could describe the swelling magnitude of feelings I had inside. The sight of my old friend was just almost too much to stand. Him sitting there in his bright red sleigh, his red fuzzy suit, his magnificent animals before him, and him .....just grinning that big happy grin of his all the while. The hardships of the past year melted away, and thankful tears welled up in my eyes. Cause once more, I know, there is some good stuff in this old world.
The leaders of the team pulled up to me. Immediately Dasher and Prancer began sniffling through my pockets, looking for chewing tobacco.
I patted their necks, and was greeted by my old pard with, "Como este Amigo.''
"Hell, I've been sitting up here freezing my butt off, waiting for you."
"Ja, das ist sehr kalt"
"Do what?, Oh yeah, talk English, my brains are still half froze
"O. K., O.K., get the fire going, I brought a coffee pot."
In moments we had a cheery little blaze going again. He had the fixings stashed beneath the seat of his snow-buggy. Making a for himself, he watched as I prepared the ingredients.
"Like strong coffee don't Cha?"
We visited, and far below I heard a mule bray. In answer my mare pawed the ground and whinnied. The reindeer just shook their massive antlers, ringing the bells on their harnesses.
"You've had a rather eventful year, haven't you cowboy?"
"Well, yes sir, I suppose. I reckon I got a few things accomplished. Guess I got a lot to do yet though.,,
The coffee boiled quicker than I expected, and as I bent to add cold water to it I heard aclatter of hooves coming up the ridge. Turning to see what was going on, I saw my mules churning up the ground coming towards us. I moved to steady the nervous reindeer as the mules first ran to the mare and then inquisitively came towards the sleigh. Everybody stood with ears pricked and nostrils distended. They stretched their necks to touch noses and investigate each other. After long moments the pack string finally trotted away. Several of them bucked, slinging their heads and kicking up their heels at the deer, then they all went to grazing close to the mare.
"Is that the herd you lost over on the Sun River last Summer?"
"Yeah, part of 'em. Damn critters, I mustta not got the gate shut good. They're pretty good at escaping."
"Well, I gotta sort of let you in on something, and fess up a little bit-,,
"You remember that little fella that I had along last year?"
Annoyed I answered, "Yeah, little rascak swapped horses on me, and darn near got me killed.',
"Yeah well, I had him keeping tabs on you last year." At this point
the old bird goes to shuffling his feet, and looking in his coffee cup. "Yeah, well see, he caught you notlooking and figgered it'd be great fun to lead your horses off."
"Do what?", I blew up, "Where is that runt, I'll stomp him into a grease spot. I'll hang him upside down and light a fire under him. I'll squeeze his neck till his head pops-off.."
"Now, settle down partner. He didn't r ealize you'd be riding two days to findt them ponies back, and he had no idea the problems it would cause for you, and everybody else."
Stomping back and forth on my side of the fire I pointed a finger at my old pal. "You keep them trouble-making midgets of yours away from me, or by God I'll deal 'em some misery of my own.,,
"O.K., O.K., it's a point well taken. I've already had a long
with my help, and that particular fellas' been working overtime making Betsy-Wetsy dolls. My elves really hate making them things."
Somehow this appeased me a little, but then I queried, "Hey, by the way, what exactly happened last year? I'm a little confused how our visit ended?"
"C'mon now, you gotta tell me more than that."
"It's not my magic partner. It's the magic that's actually in everybody. It's the magic of Christmas, I just know how to use it. Of course, I can only do that if people let me, and I can only do it for folks with their hearts in the right place."
"Alright, well Thanks, I guess, I sort of understand."
"You know, I've noticed you've got a lotta really good friends. Seems like you cut folks plenty of slack, and they pretty well do the same for you."
"Yeah well, folks gotta get along."
He sits there and for moments ust gave me a serious thoughtful look. Finally he starts to say his peace, "Herman, you made some headway this year. I'm fairly proud of the way you've been trying to live, but you know all the good things that come about ain't completely your doings."
Densely I just looked at him questioningly.
"You remember when you and Rusty used to walk through the woods, and sit on the bridge having them talks?"
"We talked about all kinds of stuff."
Shaking his head, "Yeah but ...O.K., remember that lecture Everts
gave you last year that one night in deer camp?"
slowly a realization soaked into my thinking. For moments we were still, quietly looking at each other across .,the fire. "Yes sir, I know what you're talking about. I've been trying to abide by that code all year. I know that people can't make everything happen. You do your best, but then you gotta have some help. I get hard-headed and try to make things happen, but nothing really works right till I ask the Good Lord to give me a hand."
Smiling, his gaze was greatful, "Partner, I think your finally growing some sense. I know that is hard for a take-a-hold kind of nut like you, but maybe you are starting to figure things out."
"I hope so myself, I had a lot of last minute help this year getting things straightened out, so me and Sam could see each other more. Hell, I know that wasn't much of my doings. I had some Higher Up Help."
Walking over to me he patted me on the shoulder, "You're gonna do alright. You've tamed down your drinking and I hear you've been trying to curb your cussing. Main thing though, you're starting to get your head screwed on better. You think you will ever make this Cowboy business pay?"
"I think so, I'm working on an idea. Well, who knows?"
"Well I just bet you've got a plan."
He patted me on the shoulder again, looked me in the eyes, and his grin warmed me better than the campfire had, filling me with confidence and hope.
We walked back to his sleigh and he began digging under the seat. Turning around he handed me a wrapped package, "Merry Christmas, Amigo."
Holding it in one hand I knew what was beneath the brightly colored wrapping paper. Then we shook hands and he crawled onto his drivers seat.
His eyes sparkled at me as I asked, "You reckon one of these years we could meet someplace where it ain't so stinking cold?"
"We'll see ...Hasta la vista Compadre."
"Hasta la vista", I muttered, "be careful."
He took up his lines, driving his team Northward up the ridge. Then they were airbound, circling once he waved and then they were gone.
Holding my Christmas present I looked after him, wishing he could have stayed longer. Then I walked back to the small camp and kicked the dying fire apart. It was time to head down off the ridge. Untying the mare I stopped, and looked at my package once again, then slowly unwrapped it. Turning it over, I surveyed the front cover. Flipping it open I read about half of the first page. Then carefully, I put the Bible in my saddlebag. Mounting up, I gathered the mules, and wrangled 'em back down to hunting camp.
Till Next Time Take Care
The Lost Rider of Yaupon Creek