Spotting the Almost Extinct White-Legged Byrd in the Wilderness

Hiding out from the rain and eating a cold cheese and sausage burrito

Son Johnny, who is the guy who mostly manages the workings of Cinco Puntos, invited me on a camping trip to the San Pedro Park Wilderness which is northwest of Albuquerque about an hour and a half, just north of Cuba. We've been up there several times together, sometimes with my close friend and Johnny's godfather Steve Sprague. It's the first time I've been backpacking since Steve's a few years ago. It's taken me a while to recuperate from the journey--the altitude, the 40lbs of backpack (we always carry too much), the old joints and muscles. But it was an incredible journey. My friend Joe Somoza wrote and asked how it went. This is what I wrote him.

It was a good trip, but not a simple and easy trip. It was so good to be with Johnny. He sort of took care of me the whole trip--helped me put on my pack, took care of cooking, this and that, a true pleasure. Drove up Tuesday morning and of course stopped at REI where we spent too much money, slipped through Cuba (speeding ticket for $71 on the way to the wilderness, 55mph in a 45mph zone, curling up into the mts, a nice cop though) and got to our car camp at the trailhead about 530. A beautiful night with lots of stars. A steak, a beer, the simple business of being a camper is so nice. Tent. Pots and pans. Sleeping bags. How to get up and piss at night. This needs to be done, that needs to be done. Sleeping is hard to get used to without a comfy mattress. The next morning (39 degrees) oatmeal and coffee and packed our packs and headed up-trail. It was harder that I remember. The higher altitude. 40lbs on my back. And yes, maybe I am older, maybe those goddamned leaves have turned against me, but I pushed on. Would walk maybe 40 minutes and we'd take a break. So beautiful. A little butterfly followed me along, orange-red and black wings, and by god that butterfly was laughing at me. Old man old enough to die. Close to 1pm the skies started to hail. Well, we all know that hail blows away real quick. But not this hail. It kept on. Then it turned into rain. Shit. We climbed under a rock overhang in the midst of a dark forest, the rain dripping here and there on us. It kept up for an hour. We ate a burrito (cold tortilla) with summer sausage and cheddar cheese with Louisiana hot sauce. It was delicious. The rain slackened. We decided to walk some without our packs to find out where we were. After a while the trail opened into a big meadow. A good place to camp. The rain came and went, but we had on our raincoats and stood under trees when it got too heavy. Ran into a fancy grouse hunter with his gun strapped across his back. He said it might rain all night, said maybe it would stop. Thanks a lot, huh? We decided to go get our packs and come back and find a camping place. If it was raining when we got back, then we'd trudge back to our car and spend the night in Cuba. If it cleared, then we would stay. So that's what we did. We came back and the clouds were breaking and the sun was poking through. We had a wonderful campsite high above the creek, enough sun shining through "the ambiguous clouds" (Johnny's phrase). We got very lucky. No more rain. We were able to hang damp clothes and sleeping bags on rocks and got everything (except cotton stuff) mostly dry. We started boiling water to purify and to make coffee and we settled into a wonderful view and later a good dinner. The fire was hard to start--an hour long project where we ripped pages from poem books and novels and used toilet paper and all sorts of fancy teepee structures. Everything was simply wet or damp. Shit. Finally, John remembered a Tom Brown book where TB said to shave sticks for the dry wood inside. So we did that and to make sure we poured a thimbleful of white gas on top. The wood slowly started, and we nursed it and soon we had a good fire that would last us through the evening as long as we dried more sticks before burning. We slept sort of fitful. John was worried about more rain, I heard some sort of animal sniffing around outside, but the night passed and the morning was partly cloudy, the earth happy with a layer of thick dew, a bunch of elk over the next rise talking to each other about the day's activities, all of them looking forward to the mating season, oblivious to the fact that hunting season was upon them. Or were they? Oatmeal and coffee. Delicious. A nice dump in the woods (see photo below). We bushwhacked for several hours looking for those elk. We didn't find them but we had an incredible walk. No sign of human beasts. We had lunch around noon and packed up and started back down the trail. A wondrous rhythm walking downhill full of prayers and beautiful things to see. It started to hail and rain of course, but that was cool. We were ready with raincoats and besides we were going back to the car. On the way home we stopped at the Frontier and re-membered Albuquerque and I took John to the house on Rincon Avenue where he was born and we drove home listening to a mystery on the radio and lost in our own thoughts about the next day.
Love to you,

A wet fire is still a good fire

The almost extinct white-legged byrd
doing his business in the woods

Self-portrait falling down

Camp from Las Vacas Creek

Elk head. Note that the trophy antlers
have been sawed off along with the brain pan.
But at least the hunter took home the meat.

Breaking camp

Heading home

Self portrait 3/4 mile from the trailhead #51

Johnny Byrd in front of the house
on Rincon Avenue where he was born in 1973.
(Just west of 48th Street, west of the Rio Grande,
several blocks from Central Avenue & under the mesa).
Lee reminded me that we'd let Susie run around
in the field without her diapers on.
That's how we potty-trained her.
I guess it worked.
Sort of.

1 comment:

Glenn Buttkus said...

Your trip to the wilderness with Johnny reminds me of countless hiking and camping trips I went on as a younger person. I always flourish there in the mountains and meadows. The plethora of insects do "bug" me, but that is just God's sense of humor. Your letter to Joe was very rich, both in simile and humor. I shared it over on my site. I have been physically disabled for many years, and I am younger than you, so it does my heart good to see you push your old pumper up those hills, lie down on the earth, and taking those freedom dumps in the thickets. You are a unique story teller, and it is becoming an honor to follow your adventures and poetry and rants here on this site.