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Nineteen-ninety-eight wasn't the best year I've ever had. In February my six-year contract expired with University of Nevada, Reno (new bosses wanted a new deal). This meant I lost my regular income along with medical benefits--which was real important to a broad who had already been invited into AARP.
In October I went to the Nevada Opera's version of "Il Trovatore" and when I came out, my Dodge truck had vanished. Stolen or towed? Whatever it was I had two aging ladies standing on the sidewalk at 35 degrees with memories of their expensive coats back in the truck.
The Reno cops said it hadn't been towed. I thought of the cameras inside, the film I had shot of a Korean wedding that afternoon, of the black leather, zippered appointment book which is my history, my present and my future. And, probably worse, it included photos of my Great Danes, Charlie Mingus and Lady Day Billie Holliday.
After two hours Captain Slime--the truck--was located by Reno Police at Ace Towing next to a bail bondsman near the county jail in a sleazy part of town. "The Pinkertons took it, not us," said the cops quite politely. For $92 cash I could have it back said a sadistic, chain smoking surly night watchman, "but not until Fred shows up." After three hours I got to drive home.
Another tough time was September, during a weekend in Northern Nevada with a bunch of creative women who'd left husbands and children behind for three days off. "We earned it!" they said.
We were at Linda and Buster Dufurrena's sheep camp in Lovely Valley, walking, fishing, cooking, painting, reading poetry, playing music--and just talking. We were surrounded by golden quaking aspens and within sight of a dozen mountain ranges. The air was clear, as always; blue sky during the day, black and starry nights, and about seven degrees after dark.
Most of the women slept in a small cabin. I chose the bed of Captain Slime. It was quiet outside. Bright. Inspirational. Intensely cold. But the nights were too beautiful to register much that was difficult or depressing. RANGE even seemed easier to think about. No telephones. No bad news. No rancher giving up. No farmers having their water rights stolen by slick tongued enviros, lawyers and feds. No spewing faxes or e-mail.
I was happy out there, drifting off to the scent of sage and the small sounds of critters in the creek. At least until 10 when I got an agonizing pain in my gut. I ignored it. I had taken my own food (being a Brit and quite incapable of eating Linda's highly-spiced Basque cooking).
But the pains came again and again. I grabbed a flashlight and struggled out of my warm cocoon to search for the outhouse. I crashed through the brush and made it before I lost what seemed like my last dozen meals. Relaxing, pain piercing my belly, I figured I'd have a hard night and go back to the truck, drink a bottle of Pepto Bismol and hope for sleep.
At least I tried.
It was at that moment that I realized I was locked in the outhouse. The heavy wood latch had dropped in the slot outside and I was a sickly and pathetic captive. I screamed. I hollered. I was wearing longjohns, hat and boots and tried to break down the walls. Unfortunately, it had been built by a 300-pound Basque sheepherder (Buster) who knew how to make things solid. He didn't use nails; he screwed that small building together--which is pretty much how I felt.
I aimed my small flashlight on the tops of the aspen and signaled what I thought might look like morse code. I whistled, really loud. After what seemed like hours and was probably less than a half, Linda heard my blood-curdling squeals and came out in the cold to unlatch the door and save me. "Good Lord," she said, "nobody's ever done that before!"
I staggered back to the truck, slept 14 hours, and when I finally awoke I could hear the women. They were sympathetic and amused. Not surprising actually. I couldn't drive, needed help to get back home, never knew what hit me but it was the worst poisoned gut I ever had. I was wimpy and without humor for three weeks. And, worst of all, I didn't lose any weight.
But 1998 offered me even more embarrassment. I was riding with Doug Groves and the T-Lazy-S buckaroo crew for a few days, pushing cattle up to the BLM permit ground late last spring. My beaut Eddie Brooks saddle is heavy while Hoot Gibson, my trusty quarterhorse, is tall. To saddle that equine mustered all of my strength so I got to the barn early, caught Gib, saddled him slowly, and walked him about. He was limping so when the cowboys came down I asked one for help. He said he was probably stiff by not being used enough (true) and that with a shot of bute he'd be fine.
I rode him for hours that day, got off occasionally to unstiffen and warm up, and had trouble remounting. He was unusually obnoxious. We got back to the ranch at three. I unsaddled, brushed Gib and got ready to trailer him home. Then one of the buckaroos noticed something strange.
"Why are you are loading Roy's horse?" he asked. "That bronc's tough to get on."
Oh well, my reputation in the Great Basin is already wrecked because of my time in Buster's outhouse. But this time I was not alone. The cowboy who helped me give bute to the horse was as crazy as I am. It was his horse.