Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
January 29th, 2007

The Blizzards of 2006
By Dan Fink (DanBob)

The blizzards of December 2006 hit us hard up here on Dog Mountain in northern Colorado. Over six feet of snow in two weeks, and snowshoes or snowmobiles were the only means of travel. Everyone's pickup trucks were stuck tighter than a.....well, they were stuck pretty tight, and all the best and most historical local euphemisms for that situation are unprintable in a family publication. And that's why I was recently busting a snowshoe trail to Ralph's house during another white-out blizzard, with local sheriff's deputy Earl following behind.

Deputy Earl didn't look all that excited about where we were headed, he'd obviously been to Ralph's house before. Perhaps it was the mail fraud case last year when Ralph was selling $200 "do-it-yourself bamboo fly rod kits" on EBay that consisted of a potted "lucky bamboo" plant, a spool of cotton thread from the sewing store, a bottle of Elmer's school glue and a dozen paperclips for snake guides. Or maybe it was his "accidental" loss of three 50-pound boxes of roofing nails off the tailgate of his pickup on a popular tourist 4WD trail, and the nicely timed (but completely coincidental) opening of his new tire repair business. Or maybe it was the fact that Ralph hasn't had a drivers license or insurance or registration for the last 27 years, and still drives all over the mountain.

As we approached Ralph's old log cabin a series of shots rang out from inside the house, with splinters flying toward us outside from a series of six new holes in his wall, in a neat and precise line. Deputy Earl ducked behind the woodpile and drew his revolver. I rolled my eyes and shouted "Hello the cabin! It's DanBob! Don't shoot, Ralph! The sheriff's with me!"

Ralph poked a grizzled and shaggy head out the window to look. He smiled when he saw us, a somewhat terrifying rictus if you don't know him. He's been kicked out of the local bar before for not complying with the dress code--a three tooth minimum, please.

"Come on up for some coffee, boys," he shouted. "Holster your weapon, trooper, I ain't shooting at you, this time. Just huntin' mice."

Deputy Earl had suddenly developed a serious twitch under his left eye, but he holstered his piece and we slogged up the steep hill to Ralph's porch and removed our snowshoes. It's considered rude around here to tromp into someone's kitchen with snowshoes on, as the metal claws scuff the floor. It took us a bit to figure out what was going on. Ralph had a regular shooting gallery set up--a bright light focused on the kitchen counter, with a spoonful of peanut butter sitting out. He had a backstop behind, made of a big dictionary and a whole set of encyclopedias. All were full of bullet holes. I was pleased to see he had finally made some use of the encyclopedias that old Mrs. McGreavy from the church had given to him a decade ago! Sure enough, both his old lever action .22 rifle and his .22 semi auto pistol were propped up on some books as a benchrest (War and Peace, Matching the Hatch, and Brokeback Mountain), aimed right at the spoon and peanut butter. His hyperactive Jack Russell terrier Otis was merrily gnawing on a dead packrat, and a dozen mouse corpses littered the floor under the counter.

"Sorry I skeert ya, boys," Ralph said. "It was only .22 shorts. Durn packrats and mice moved in when it started snowing and stole all the new trout flies I've been tying. I'm huntin' em' down. I winged one of em' and he ran up the wall. Sorry about that." He blew some mouse turds and spider webs out of the coffee cups he pulled off the shelf for us, an act for which I was very grateful--Ralph's coffee was bad enough as it was. But it sure tasted good this cold, snowy morning as he poured us steaming cups from the gurgling old coffeepot on the woodstove.

"So, sheriff," Ralph drawled to Earl. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company today? I've been sittin' here snowed in for two weeks, so I'm sure it wasn't me, this time."

Fortunately all the sheriff wanted was to find out if a vanload of tourist skiers had passed through right before the storm--they'd been missing for two days now.

"Nope, sheriff, ain't seen 'em," Ralph said. "They'd have probably stopped by for tire repair anyway even if I'd missed 'em, heh heh." Fortunately roofing nails are too small and numerous to provide good fingerprints.

Deputy Earl thanked Ralph, geared up and headed back down the trail on his snowshoes. You know you live in the middle of nowhere when the deputies carry snowshoes in their trucks... the deputy appeared glad to be out of there, though the twitch under his left eye hadn't stopped since we'd arrived. And this was the big tall sheriff that last year faced down 47 high school keg partiers alone, made them all walk half a mile to the crick three dozen times with their beer cups to bring back enough water to put out their campfire, and THEN busted them! The relieved deputy's bulky figure disappeared down the road in the driving, blowing snow.

I could see Ralph was pretty upset, and that the mouse and rat hunt was serious. He was on a mission! He was even wearing his best camo hunting clothes. "Durn rodents moved in when the snow started and stole half my flies for HarleyBob's Fly Anglers Online stillwater go-to fly swap!" he grumbled. "We gotta mail them flies out by tomorrow."

Besides chumming the mice and packrats in and shooting them, Ralph explained how he had tried another plan too, just the other night. He tied six-foot pieces of monofilament leader to some particularly juicy flies--juicy because he'd dipped each one in a can of vienna sausages just like he does every time we fish Colorado's famous "gold medal, flies and lures only" trophy trout streams. He left the scented flies on his tying bench as usual, hoping the mice would drag them off and that by following the leaders he'd find where their secret fly stash was. No luck--the mice wouldn't touch the flies with the leaders tied on them. If he ever found their stash, he'd have enough black ghosts, crawdads, woolly buggers and yellow sallies to last all year, as the mice had been dipping from his bench during every online fly swap he'd ever entered. He had at least taken some time from mouse hunting that morning to re-tie the stolen swap flies and pack them securely in the mailer to send to HarleyBob.

I was on a mission too. The big pre-Christmas neighborhood fait-do-do party was planned for tomorrow, and we'd had a turducken FedExed up from Lafayette, Louisiana for the occasion. The bird was down in town, and we were snowed in up here. If you don't know what a turducken is---well, it's the most delectable Cajun treat you can roast! A duck stuck into a chicken stuck into a turkey, with cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing in between each layer. And by the way, a fait-do-do is a big old neighborhood eatin' and pickin' and dancin' party.

"Ralph, we gotta get to town to get the turducken," I told him. "The party's tomorrow, and Vern already thawed the thing. It's at his office in the fridge. We gotta get it! And I'm stuck, my truck won't move." I knew Ralph was our best chance for getting to town—his 1951 Dodge power wagon (named "Dode" because the "g" had fallen off decades ago) could get through almost anything with chains on all four tires.

Ralph resisted. "I hate town!" he hollered. "If'n I liked town, I'd already live there! There's CRAZY people down there! No way!"

I begged and pleaded. I offered two grizzly hackle capes. No chance. I mentioned that our flies for the swap would be late, and we might be blacklisted from future swaps—nope, no sir. Then I brought up the possibility that the vanload of lost tourists might actually be from the local Poverty Flats College for Wayward Girls, and that it was OK to invite them to the party if he rescued them from the wilderness. We then immediately started breaking trail out the back door, and Ralph already seemed significantly less grouchy as we pushed through deep powder snow out to the covered bridge where he parked Dode. No river or anything there to make a bridge over, it's just that you need a building permit to build a garage around here, but there's nothing in the county codes about covered bridges--so that's what Ralph built.

The Dode

The trip down the canyon was uneventful except for the white-out blizzard with visibility at less than 30 feet, and Ralph honking the horn around every corner. It got on my nerves after a while and I had to say something. "Ralph, QUIT honking the #&#^& horn," I hollered. "There hasn't been a car on this road for two days! You're driving me nuts!"

"No, I'm driving you to town, since you were a dumbass and got yerself stuck," he calmly replied. "It's my truck, I drive slow, and I don't got or need a license. Plus it's a narrow road, ya never know when some tourist will be coming up. Didn't the sheriff just tell ya a whole vanload of 'em went up just the other day?"

I couldn't think of anything to say in response, considering the circumstances. The legalities were probably covered since despite the lack of drivers license, registration and insurance, Ralph had installed an orange triangle on the back bumper of Dode, like they put on tractors and combines and swathers. Plus he'd altered the registration stickers on his 1972 plates very artfully with a permanent marker. I figured with some fast talking, the city cops would go on to bigger and better busts, whether Ralph was honking his horn while turning off of Main Street into Walmart or not.

We picked up the thawed turducken at Vern's place in town, mailed the flies for the swap off to HarleyBob, and quickly headed back up the hill and toward the canyon that winds up to Dog Mountain. Even Ralph didn't want to hit our local bar (the famous Wounded Walleye) or the liquor store on the way home this time—the snow was piling up. At least 22 inches by the time we got near our neighbor Dave's place at the caboose, six miles down the road from my place. Yep, Dave lives in an old "captive" caboose! He's a high school algebra teacher and therefore has an even worse twitch under his left eye than deputy Earl, plus he can't legally carry a gun to class or even a cattle prod.

The tires were spinning and the truck was wallowing now, but Ralph got it under control. "You got power steering in this thing, Ralph?" I asked. "You're doing pretty good."

His knuckles were white, and he was sweating. "Yep," he replied. "It's called Armstrong power steering. Now shut up and let me drive."

We slowed down just long enough to holler to Dave (who was drinking beer up in the caboose cupola, as usual) that the fait-do-do party and turducken were ON for tomorrow, come hell or high snow. He said he'd get on the ham radio right away and make sure the whole neighborhood knew it all wasn't canceled.

By the time we made it the last six miles to my place, the snow was getting close to four feet deep and was blasting over the hood, up the cracked windshield, and over Dode's cab. Ralph had nearly lost his voice from cursing. The chained-up tires made ten revolutions for every foot we spun and crawled up my steep driveway. Dode's temperature gauge was probably in the red, but Ralph had put a piece of duct tape over it years ago so it wouldn't cause him any extra consternation—he was normally consternated enough as it was. We made it, and pushed on foot through chest-deep snow to my front door.

"Ralph," I said, "you're off the hook for bringing any side dishes for potluck at the fait-do-do tomorrow. Hauling the turducken up from town was more than enough."

Ralph was famous at community potlucks. Usually you could expect a can of pork n' beans, set on the woodstove and punctured with his 14 inch bowie knife when the can started to bulge. If times were hard and food was scarce, he'd bring a couple packs of MREs that were surplus from the Iraq war—the FIRST Iraq war! And then there was the potluck dinner when he decided to get fancy and really cook something up for the ladies. It was General Tsao's vienna sausage and SPAM stir-fry..

"Naw," said Ralph. "I'll cook up something good this time to go with that turducken. How 'bout biscuits and gravy?"

"Sounds great, Ralph," I replied. "See you tomorrow," and I waved goodbye as he forced old Dode down the driveway with snow flying over the cab. Tomorrow was shaping up to be a great party! I figured his biscuits and gravy might be pretty good, and would at least have a lot of spicy elk sausage in it. Ralph still thinks "vegetarian" is an old Arapahoe indian word that means "incompetent hunter."

The turducken roasted for six hours in my oven the next day. I soon got the message via ham radio that guests were arriving on snowshoes and snowmobiles next door at the barn where the party was, 1/4 mile away. Ralph snowshoed over and helped me duct tape the roaster pan together, wrap it in blankets, and strap it to his ice fishing sled. I pulled the sled while Ralph followed behind and kept it from tipping over, all the while watching for any of our local, ubiquitous and very irritable moose.

When we burst through the barn door, it was warm and bright. The old Riteway woodstove was cranking up the heat, there were already guitars and banjos out, and the place smelled like a whole pile of side dishes. We grabbed our plates, sliced up that turducken...hoo boy, what a feast! Green bean casserole, potato salad, green salad, homemade bread, cakes, pies, and more. As we loaded up our plates while all the neighbors praised us for our amazing emergency turducken retrieval mission, I noticed Ralph's battered old frying pan full of biscuits and gravy. I made sure to put a big scoop on my plate while he watched from behind me in line. The turducken was the juiciest (three) birds I'd ever tasted. It was perfect! As we sat on the milk crates and started chowing down, I noticed that something didn't quite taste quite right in Ralph's biscuits and gravy. I couldn't quite place it.

Old Mrs. McGreavy from the church sat down on the other side of Ralph, hugged him, and proceeded to tell him that he was the hero of Dog Mountain, fearlessly hauling that turducken up through the frozen wastelands to feed the teeming multitudes. "I'm going to make you up a pan of my biggest and best cinnamon rolls tomorrow, Ralph, and bring them over to your house at noon for tea," Mrs. McGreavy gushed.

Ralph blushed, and mumbled "Aww, it weren't nothing, ma'am. I get to eat it too, ya know. Uh, I ain't got no tea for tomorrow. And you gotta wear snowshoes and hike up two miles to my place. You probably shouldn't chance it. I do like cinnamon rolls, though. And I got good coffee."

And then it finally sunk into my head why Ralph's biscuits and gravy tasted so funny. Cinnamon and sugar, it didn't meld the flavors too well with the spicy elk sausage. Then I remembered that grocery care package I had brought to Ralph when he was snowed in during the blizzard of 1991, fifteen years ago. Yep, it was that same sugary cinnamon breakfast biscuit mix, most likely from the very same care package! It tasted horrible with the elk sausage and white gravy. I nearly gagged, and was about to speak up. Mrs. McGreavy had just tried it, too. She grimaced frightfully, gave me a stern look that unmistakably said "Shut up, boy!" and then took on a stoic expression.

"Ralph, I'd be delighted to come visit tomorrow for cinnamon, uh, rolls," Mrs. McGreavy told him. "I'll bring the food and tea, even though you're a great cook and I'm enjoying your, um, biscuits and gravy immensely. I heard some gossip from the church ladies that you know how to make stir fry, too! Maybe you can make me lunch some other time, but this time it's on me."

"But it's such a long snowshoe hike through the deep snow, ma'am," Ralph protested. "It's dangerous. There's grizzled bears and pumas and wolverines! And your arthritis and all..."

She waved him off and said "Oh, poof! I don't need snowshoes—I bought a Polaris 1220 Exterminator snowmobile last year. Much easier on my arthritis. And my 30-30 lever action is on the gun rack. It's a date, see you tomorrow at noon for tea, Ralph!"

Now, let me explain. Ralph and I know each other real well—we're fishing buddies, have been neighbors for decades, went to the same high school, dated the same girl, were roommates in college—we are confidants, no secrets held. And because I knew Ralph so well, I could hear his innermost thoughts at that moment just as precisely as if he'd spoken them to me in earnest:

"I gotta clean my house--FAST!"

I reached for the bourbon bottle and pulled my banjo out of the case. Neighbors were unfurling fiddles, guitars, banjos and mandolins. We picked music until dawn! ~ DanBob

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