Day 7. Friday, Oct.29th.
One week in and only a few days left. Greeted by another beautiful Oregon morning. 40 degrees and drizzling. The whole panorama seems to be shades of green and grey. The plastic tube on Grandpa's hearing aid has gone missing, which gives us one more thing to hunt. Maybe we'll have more luck with this than with the elk. It's not in the back of the truck where he slept, and none of us noticed him having trouble hearing us last night before he went to bed, so we figure it's got to be around here somewhere.
Grandpa assumed correctly, it was back where he'd been sitting yesterday watching for elk. At least we have one successful hunt behind us.
We decided to drive up the mountain and walk back down toward camp, Papa and me walking together, and Uncle Pat and Mark walking a little ways off. As we pull the truck up to the head of the trail, what should we see a small herd of, munching on grass up ahead of us but.... more stupid deer. We walked along quietly, stopping occasionally to look for any sort of movement in the forest. Walk. Stop. Walk. Stop. Walk. HOLY CRAP THAT GROUSE ALMOST FLEW RIGHT INTO MY HEAD. Those stupid birds sound like helicopters when they're flying.
Uncle Pat and Mark, who had been moving along on our left side, saw a buck that got spooked and darted off, so they crossed behind us and went off to the right. As we're about 50 yards away from a clearing we slow down even more, so that we can be sure not to scare anything off, if anything should happen to be out there... which, given our history, is not entirely likely to be anything but deer, squirrels, and birds. Peering beyond the trees, and across the field... it looks like giant mountains of dry grass are running up the hill. Rolling, as if the field was a blanket being shaken by one end. Finally something encouraging. It's a herd of elk, and they can't be more than 100 yards away. Damn these trees!
It's no wonder elk are so hard to find. They're like giant hairy forest ghosts. With a hide the color of dead pine needles and dry grass, legs the color of fallen trees, and antlers that look like branches, they could hide almost anywhere they wanted... and their ability to be standing right in front of you one second and completely out of sight the next kind of helps me understand how more primitive people could think that gods or spirits would sometimes show themselves as animals. We went out into the field and met up with Mark and Pat, who were looking at the ground, noticing how many beds there were, and how fresh all these tracks and droppings looked. They hadn't been fortunate enough to actually see the elk. My dad was just glad that I had seen them too, so he didn't have to question whether it was wishful thinking. It was like a herd of haystacks. Haystacks that disappeared, and could not be found.
For the second hunt of the day, Mark and I are walking up a creek bed, trying to force anything that might be down there up the hill toward where the older men are sitting. I am hoping that my 'coon skin cap doesn't look too much like elk. I have Uncle Pat's pistol, my knife, machete, and binoculars... if I happen upon anything, I think I'm prepared. I hope I at least find some antlers.
Not successful. It was a good plan though.... or at least it would have been, had there been anything in the creek bed. It was, however, kind of nice to make a trek without wearing my backpack. I'm starting to get used to my boots, still not used to the elevation. Seeing as we were trying to be loud and scare things up the hill, it was a faster and more strenuous hike than any prior. Hopefully the rest of the hikes we do will not be so bad.
After meeting up with Uncle Pat and Papa at the top of the hill, Mark and I decide to head back to camp and let them sit up there hoping to see more elk. Time to try and be useful (there's a first time for everything, right?). We drove all over the mountain looking for rocks, which we collected, and filled his truck bed with, then took back to camp to fill the ruts in the (now very muddy) road, so that trucks that are not quite as manly as Mark's truck (ahem, papa's 2 wheel drive Dakota) would have a better chance of making it out of camp. After carefully placing the rocks in the deepest, stickiest of the two ruts, in the tightest jigsaw pattern we could, we figured we could compact them into place a bit, so they wouldn't move around and pop someones tire later. Again... the best laid plans. Every single rock (even one that took two of us to roll and slide into place) simply squished out the side of the rut, along with some tree branches we had put in there earlier. Screw it, we'll just have to floor it on the way out and hope for the best.
The other guys found what they described as being something of an elk convention center, with no elk. Kind of like hunting for nerds at the San Diego convention center, the day after ComicCon. The place was absolutely trashed, signs that a ridiculous number of elk had been laying there, and using it as a bathroom, but none of these elk could be found. The plan is to start there tomorrow morning, and hope we get up before they do. After that, we'll walk Hinton creek in the afternoon. Still haven't found any antlers.
The stars are so beautiful that it almost makes me sad that I see them like this so rarely. And by "almost" I mean "really". And by "sad" I mean "angry".