As we moved over rocks down the river, through pines and brush, we talked about wolf and buffalo reintroduction. He said ranchers agreed with him.
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I happen to be passionate about wolf reintroduction. But I listened to him, interested in his point of view. We are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but our conversation seems to only draw us closer to one another. Rich knew so much more than I do about living in nature, yet I also brought something holistic to the table that is missing in his practical perspective. I felt a mutual respect forming between us. Rich found a fishhook and some line left by a previous resident around our campsite. I go down to the river with him to fish for trout.
He was marvel to watch. He knew exactly where to drop the line, how not to cast a shadow, and where the fish are biting. We hunt to supplement our food. We need that elk to live. We cut up what we kill and then put it in the freezer. It lasts all winter. Last winter we went out—it was 10 below and the snow was deep. I have a client in California who hunts big game for sport. But Rich had to hunt in order to eat meat.
Besides, elk hunting is very controlled in Wyoming and necessary in order to cull the herd. I decided that I had to get Chuck to teach me how to use a fire drill to start a fire before we parted ways. Today was the day. He had told me that he taught weeklong workshops on it to elementary children during the winter.
I had always wanted to learn. Now I could learn from the expert. I asked if he would show me. But we went through all the motions from beginning to end. First Chuck took me down to the river amongst the reeds. We hunted around for some soft sapling willow. He cut one down. This would be the bow.
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Now he looked for a sturdier piece that would be the drill and brought it back to camp. Next he showed me how to whittle the strong piece just right with his large bow knife. I had to work on the drill till he considered it perfect, and sharpened at both ends. We found a fairly straight, flat piece of wood and notched it. Although sinew might have been used in the past, this time a bit of string found around camp sufficed. He showed me how to twist the drill around the string in a twirling motion, over and over again against the tinder.
It definitely was difficult and took me over 45 minutes to get a spark. But he made me persist and the tinder began to finally smolder!
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He brought me over to where his gear was stashed and began getting out different pieces of buckskin clothing. First he had me put on some fringed pants. Then a fringed jacket made of deerskin. Now I understood. He was dressing me up in his traditional Mountain Man clothing. These were clothes that he had personally tanned and sewn.
He used this mostly when he went on a special ride or ceremony.
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In a few days he was headed down to a Buffalo Ranch outside of Pinedale to give a talk. He would wear these clothes. He tied a beaded belt around my waist and hung his large hunting knife in its beaded sheath through it. A beaded tobacco pouch went around my neck and a leather bag swung over my shoulder. Wait, you need my hat. He went to get his one-shot musket. No airport set would have that in the photo! You could almost see them drooling. It was definitely not a turn-on for city men. Somehow, I felt appreciated. I want to show you something.
Suddenly my anxiety settled in. He began looking around for something. When he saw what he wanted, he carried it over to a clearing.
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He set the large tree stump down at the edge of the pines, then anchored it with some rocks and dirt. Fire drill, yes. Knife throwing, no.
But it seemed like I had no choice, as the lesson was about to begin. Then throw. One half turn around is what you want to achieve. I could do this.
I held the knife as he showed me and threw it. It hit the dirt. He made me try and try again for at least forty-five minutes. I was ready to give up long before. By the end of an hour I was hitting the wood more than not. Most of the time they are throwing axes at these fairs.
There are some incredible women ax throwers. There are lots of gatherings where women excel at ax throwing. My wife is an excellent ax thrower and likes to go to competitions. She wins a lot. The next morning I began packing up my gear. We all had talked about going up to Lozier Lake together, but Rich and Chuck changed their plans.
They had to get back to the Green River area for a ride on a Buffalo Ranch. I was going to continue my backpack trip alone up to the high country. Rich asked if I would take a digital picture of him and Chuck and send it to him. I had them pose and I took a few shots. I realized that I felt close to them both and was sad to leave them. Rich had endeared me to him through his complete allegiance to Chuck. I had gained so much respect for his abilities and instinctive know-how of the outdoors.
Chuck of course was special. I had never met anyone like him—completely made of the natural environment.
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