I peer under the hood of the PTV, looking around for any signs of packrats.
Before long Rusty comes over holding a jar of black coffee in his hand. “Are ya’ havin’ trouble?” he asks.
“No, I’m just looking.” We’re both happy to be outside in the sunshine under an intensely blue sky.
Bridget and Spike are wandering around us, investigating clumps of grass, an activity they’ve missed while holed up inside the BLT during the snowstorm. Already I can see the top layer of soil has dried out and it’s only about ten-thirty in the morning.
Rusty’s a tall drink of water, about six-foot-three.
He tells me he weighs 153 pounds, and I believe him. I ask Rusty some questions about his life and he’s happy to tell me stories of his mountain man years. Back then, his name was Three Feathers and he walked around the western states, about 2,500-2,800 miles a year. “I’d still be doin’ it if the doctor didn’t tell me it was gonna’ kill me.”
Rusty’s years as Three Feathers are vivid in his mind.
“I use to travel with Canary Kate,” he tells me. “At that time I was teaching people how to survive in the woods, Indian stuff and all. I said to Kate, ‘I can’t be teachin’ Boy Scouts and you and me not married.’ So we got married.”
As Three Feathers he painted signs for rodeos, carved jewelry and made art out of wood and ivory, and gave seminars on how to be a mountain man.
“I had long hair and wore buckskin and moccasins. Kate did, too. I had a long gun I carried over my shoulder and wore a pistol and a tomahawk hanging from my belt. Do you know why I had long hair?” I had no answer for him. “So I could light fires.”
Rusty kneels on the ground and shows me the process of making fire with a flint, dry grass, sticks, and a few strands of hair, just like the Indians did. On and on he talks, covering several subjects, including how to pretend to be a deer so you can lure it toward you for a good shot. He describes how he used to go to mountain men gatherings where he would pitch the tent he made with a hundred or so like-minded people.
“It sounds like you had a good life with Canary Kate,” I observe.
“Oh, we had a pretty good life until too much whiskey and differences of opinion got us bickering.” He pauses. “I don’t drink anymore and I believe in God.”
“Well, that’s a good thing, Rusty.”
“I still miss her.”
“What were the names of your donkeys?”
“Baby Belle and Trooper,” he says, smiling again. “Come on over and I’ll show you their pictures.”
We walk over to his camp. Timber runs out the full length of his tether.
Rusty tells me that Timber is a mix of malamute, german shepherd, and shih tzu. Spike and Bridget hurry up to meet him. Bridget snarls when Timber tries to sniff her, and Spike hops around, yipping with excitement.
I ask Rusty if I can take some pictures.
Rusty shows me photos of himself as Three Feathers, along with his two donkeys.
He continues to talk, telling me how he lives now. I’m astounded by the little bit he eats each day on a diet of mostly canned fruit, ramen noodles, and beans.
He spends his time reading the Bible and listening to Christian radio. He leads a very spartan life, to say the least.
It’s well past noon before the crew and I head back to our camp.
I’m glad for the chance to shake out the rugs, sweep out the dirt, and clean the mud off the floor. I fix myself a chicken wrap sandwich. I can’t help but think about Rusty and his limited diet, as I sit looking out the back window at the fields, eating my lunch. The only snow is on the mountains.
I wonder if I should pick him up some groceries. He doesn’t have refrigeration. I’ll have to come up with a way to give it to him without hurting his feelings. What a remarkable person he is!
P.S. If you’d like to read more about Three Feathers, click on this link: http://www.bigbeargrizzly.net/archive/article_975a1acc-5e94-52db-856d-0147a0817e79.html