Carolyn White: Living the Good Life 3-4-13
Driving through the darkness from Cedaredge towards Grand Junction, trying to be on time for a 5:30 interview with radio DJ Mackenzie Dodge, I cautiously watched for deer in-between yawning and taking sips of extra-strong coffee. It had been a really long time since I’d gotten up at 4:00 in the morning and it brought back a whole lot of memories … most of them centered on the times spent cooking in isolated, wilderness hunting lodges, where “early bird” took on a whole, different meaning.
Since hunters like to get going before dawn, putting their breakfast together — especially at a place that has no electricity — meant first getting jolted awake by a wind-up alarm clock at 3:00. In order not to disturb anyone, I’d ease into the main building from my tiny cabin; tip toe up the creaky staircase to the sleeping nooks; ease the main door closed; and then crumple newspapers as quietly as possible while firing up the wood cook stove. Of course, being quiet never did a bit of good when you consider that A. it’s understandably hard to sleep in a strange, new place; B. most of the men would be so excited about shooting something that they couldn’t sleep, anyhow; and C. with the two to three-hour time difference from their homes on the East coast, they’d have started to move about already. Always, I would groan to myself when the first one came down to the kitchen, fully dressed and ready for caffeine, even though the old Majestic had just barely started snapping and popping.
“Coffee done?” he would ask.
“Um … no … it takes a while for things to perk. Maybe half an hour?”
“WHAT? Why so long?”
“It’s a wood stove. They don’t do anything fast.” Then, under the hiss of a single kerosene lantern, I’d be forced to make small talk while rolling out biscuits, putting on bacon, setting out plates and breaking the eggs. As the others wandered in, it would be the same thing over and over as each automatically reached for the pot.
The wranglers, meantime, had to traipse around endless acres of meadow before sunrise in order to round up the stock. So disliked was this particular job that the boys would have heated poker games each evening in order to get out of the task. “Man, have you ever tried to find a bunch of black mules in the pitch-darkness?” Mark once griped as he threw down a losing hand.
“Hey, I almost got kicked last week when I walked smack into Sarge’s rear,” Pat reminded him. “It’s a good thing he only farted and took off, but it cost me another half hour because all the others followed!”
“I was right in the process of herding ’em towards the barn once when they suddenly started bucking and running in the opposite direction,” observed another. But it was a red-haired kid named Travis who won the prize late one Fall for getting the truly raw end of a deal. He not only missed breakfast but wasn’t there as the lunches were being made, the maps were being studied, and the wool caps and jackets pulled on. When he finally did come stomping in off the back porch, he was crimson-faced with his cowboy hat pushed back and his Australian outback coat unbuttoned. “I just walked EVERY INCH of nearly 200 acres,” he spewed, “and you know where those stinking horses were? RIGHT BY THE CORRAL!” It was hard not to feel sorry for him, but at least he joined in on the teasing and laughter that followed.
If assigned to a tent camp, rising in the wee hours meant first discerning if the plinking sounds on the canvas were being caused by rain, snow or pine needles. (This was important to know before stumbling towards the outhouse.) It meant reluctantly unzipping a sleeping bag; gasping at the frosty air; stepping down from the makeshift dining table (the highest and safest place to sleep if one didn’t like mice); slipping into cold, stiff jeans and a flannel shirt; fumbling for matches, paper and kindling; blowing to get the fire going strong; and then putting on yet another pot of coffee … all while being so weary you could barely focus. It meant feeding, grooming and saddling horses with a flashlight in your mouth or peering nervously from side to side while walking to the creek to fetch water. And it also meant muttering, “Why on earth do I do this?” — which is exactly the reason that these days, I don’t.
Out of habit, however, after walking into the radio station, the first thing I asked about was coffee. Mackenzie responded that she didn’t drink it. In time, I thought to myself, smiling, when these early mornings catch up to you, that’ll change. ❖