Grasshopper Soup: Some things defy explanation
December 27, 2011
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; Down on his luck, an old cowboy stumbled into the dream of a lifetime and moved into the stable house in Squaw Valley, where Bud Jones died in a fire in 1962, on the edge of the glacier-carved meadow, below the high mountain peaks. It was too good to be true.
He didnand#8217;t feel he deserved the honor because he didnand#8217;t think of himself as a real cowboy, unless being a real cowboy meant getting lost on a horse on your first cattle round-up in the unfamiliar, rugged border country of California and Oregon at night, hours from the ranch house. And, he had never roped a cow or been thrown in jail.
He had lost his way nearly 20 years ago when the cowpokes he was riding with disappeared up a dry, rocky ravine, chasing the cattle, losing the cowboy and his horse, Jim, in their dust. Suddenly there was dead silence, and soon it would be cold and dark.
New to the terrain, with barely a clue, the cowboy led Jim back to the cattle truck an hour later, but it was gone. They had been left behind. Had there been an emergency, perhaps an injured cowboy, or was this just a damn good practical joke?
Why had they all left without him? Cattle might kick if confined to close quarters, he thought, unless the truck were moving and the cows had to use four legs to balance. Maybe cows in a parked truck, waiting for a lost maverick, could wreak havoc.
With no other choice but to stay the night, the cowboy decided to test the old tale that says, if you let go of the reins, your horse will know the way home. So, he dropped the reins, put his hands in his pockets, and, with a little kick, put all his faith in Jim.
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In twilight, they watched a bald eagle fly across the full moon. A six point buck jumped the trail and spooked Jim into a high kick, but the cowboy kept his butt in the saddle.
Long after dark, the glow of the truck headlights finally appeared in the distance, helping the moon light the dirt road. True to cowboy lore, Jim had known the way.
But that had been long ago.
Up north, Jim still worked the ranch on the remote outskirts of Montague. The cowboy had been offered lodging on Squaw Valley meadow, one of the most beautiful places on earth, in spite of the cursed dust. Kicked up all summer, and longer, by wind and horses, the dust survived the winter. It crushed the lawn, split fence posts, clogged throats, blackened the soap dish, ate house plants, buried loose pocket change and crept into all the kitchen drawers and cabinets. Nothing escaped the dust. It accumulated like snow in an avalanche and was impossible to keep away, unless you spent every day digging out.
But there was one thing the dust never touched.
When he moved in to the stable house, the cowboy, who was not the church going type, placed a wooden rosary a friend had recently given him on his bedroom dresser, where it stayed, untouched, for a long time, until the day came for the old hand to move on again.
A week before leaving, he noticed there was no dust on the rosary. None. Convinced he was losing his mind, he examined the anomaly over and over again for days, unable to believe his eyes. He didnand#8217;t dare touch it. Besieged with doubt, he compared it to the dust on ropes and halters, fancy saddle work, and other bead-like things in the house, but only the rosary had been spared. Every bead was not only clean, but appeared newly polished.
There had to be an explanation. Was the spirit of Bud Jones trying to tell him something?
Warily, he dangled the object up to his eyes, staring, back and forth, between it and the shape it left of itself in the dust. He stared long and hard, not knowing what was real.
Doubting, with no reason to doubt, he pocketed the rosary and slowly walked away.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 28 years.