Ranch Country photography
by Robert McCune
Canyon de Chelly, April 2003. Part Four.
Dinner. The can of tuna. Chunk light in vegetable oil. Drained off most of the oil into a small hole dug in the ground. Scoured the empty can with sand and placed it in a zip-lock bag. Put it near the moth balls* to kill odor. Don’t want that bear hurrying down here to get at my stash of rations. (*Years before, I learned the hard way that when back packing in bear country, carry an amount of moth balls for this purpose).
Stretched partaking of this meager dinner out to all of 20 minutes. 6 oz of food? A tasty dinner. Sign me up for another three years! Thanks, Maggie. Darn near starve if it weren’t for you.
The goats have moved down from near the area of Sliding House Ruins. Grazing off new grass from recent rains. A small army, slowly moving towards my encampment. 100 hards. 50 yards. Three are now standing on the picnic table; the moment I turned my back to them. I’m being invaded. They own this piece of land. Be lucky if they don’t eat my already damaged straw hat. Wonder if they eat moth balls. Well, I’ve seen goats eat just about anything.
Late afternoon. Sitting here in the guest outhouse. Brand-new. Freshly painted exterior. It’s obvious that I’m the first to use it. Door faces away from the almost constant wind. Left it open so I can admire colors of canyon walls. For several moments, was lost in thoughts of the two-seater at the Sinanju airstrip just south of the Chongchon River in North Korea, when I and my squad were on temporarily attached to South Africa’s No. 2 Cheetah Squadron. Late November 1950. (When you reach my age a lot of things remind you of the past).
That night. The last time Maggie and I slept under different roofs when in-the-field was 1998, on the 180,000 acre Quien Sabe Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Me in SHADOW CATCHER at a line-camp on one side of the Canadian River canyon. Maggie on the other, at ranch headquarters, in a cabin George Bush Sr. and Barbara stay when visiting the Quien Sabe.
Rats! Forgot the hip pad. Laid out my waffle underwear and a towel. Tested it. Not bad. Not good either. Temperature will probably drop below 40 before the sun rises. This is soldiering!
Via a small battery-powered cassette player, some music before darkness settles in. Hank Wiliam’s “YOU WIN AGAIN.” A question in one of Ry Cooter’s songs, “How can you keep on movin’ unless you migrate too?” It’s dark now, here in the Canyon. The moon hasn’t risen yet. Time for Nakai’s flute - Canyon Trilogy.
8:10 p.m. Navajo Time. A luminous half-moon is straight overhead. When the sun set, the temperature plummeted 10 degrees in 15 minutes. Blast this wind.
The tent has two side-windows and a rear window. The screened rear window has a zip-up flap. The screened side winows don’t have flaps. Wind is buffeting the tent and blowing dust and tiny particles of debris through the screen openings.
In the darkness of midnight, I wake up. Temperature has dropped considerably in four hours. On with the thermal underwear. Pull on my one pair of clean boot socks. Shirt and pants too. Another flash back to November 1950 in North Korea.
The wind carries pollen into the tent. The past two weeks, I’ve been sneezing. Runny nose. Teary eyes. Never had this problem before. Also forgot to pack antihistamine. Blast again! With this hay fever on top of having caught a cold, I’m worried about painting those two houss in the Lukachukai area. But those jobs will get done.