Last night right before sunset the coyotes start to howl.
I step outside to hear where their howls are coming from and see the clouds are turning pink against the blue sky. I run to grab the camera and manage to snap a few photos before darkness comes. As I turn to go inside I glimpse the big, white rump of an elk or deer among the junipers that line the creek bed down below our camp.
This morning the crew and I set out for the creek bed.
It’s a sunny day and the air is uncommonly fresh. We cross the creek bed and find hoof tracks on the other side. Up on the ridge we discover bones of a large animal, bleached white. I look back at the tiny speck that’s home. Rusty’s camouflaged home is nearby.
Bridget likes to be the leader.
On the way back to camp I tie her leash to Spike’s harness and I keep holding Spike’s leash. This makes a procession of three with Bridget choosing the path through clumps of grass, rocks, and small prickly pear plants. Spike and I trail behind. It’s an easy walk, a good start of the day.
Later Rusty comes by.
“Hello, Sue!” he calls from the road. I see out the window that he has something in his hand.
“Just a minute! I’ll be right out!”
He hands me an “Oregon Road and Recreation Atlas” (Benchmark Maps). One glance and I can see it’s a quality road atlas.
“Oh no, Rusty. I can’t take this. It’s too nice. You might need this.”
“I’m not going to need this,” he counters. “I’ve walked all over Oregon on all its roads. I know where everything is. You keep it.” I continue to protest but he insists.
He spreads out the atlas on the hood of the PTV.
He shows me the best way to go to the town of Sisters, Oregon, one of his favorite places, from a starting point of northern Arizona. He explains what the roads are like and what I can expect in the towns and cities along the way. I jot notes in the margin of the atlas. How did he know I was wondering what’s the best way to drive to Oregon?
“This is a really nice atlas, Rusty,” I say as I turn the pages. “Thank you so much. I know I’ll use it a lot and I’ll think of you when I do.”
Then I tell him I looked him up on the internet.
“I read the story about you in the newspaper.” He’s interested and soon we’re inside the BLT and he’s peering into the laptop. He studies the photo of himself closely. Rusty reads, but slowly.
“Would you read it out loud to me?”
“Sure, Rusty. It’s a really good article.” I read the article and he chuckles remembering the interview. As he stands up to leave, I see the unopened jar of peanut butter and box of saltines I had brought in from the PTV earlier, sitting on the counter.
“Can you eat peanut butter and saltines?” I ask.
“Sure!” I hand him the jar and box of crackers. He’s delighted. “And it’s creamy. That’s good. The crunchy is hard on my teeth. Thank you, Sue.”
The crew and I go into Ash Fork to do laundry.
In the late afternoon, I hear Rusty calling.
“Is it all right if I come over?”
I pull out two camp chairs, and we sit on the sunset side of the BLT with Timber, Spike and Bridget. We talk until the cool air of dusk drives us back to the warmth of our homes.
“Good night, Rusty! Talk to you tomorrow!”
Rusty walks away with Timber at his side. Then he stops and turns.
“Sue? Thank you for being my friend and a sister in Christ. May God bless you through the night.”
P.S. The newspaper article about Rusty when he lived as a mountain man named Three Feathers may be seen at this link: http://www.bigbeargrizzly.net/archive/article_975a1acc-5e94-52db-856d-0147a0817e79.html