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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mid Sierra Musings: The Book


Dale Matson




 (from the preface to the book)

It is good when people find their niche. This is true of vocations and it is true of locations. I have been blessed to find both. Sometimes our niche changes over time. I found my niche when I moved to Fresno California in 1992. I moved here with a fresh research doctorate and became a program director in the Fresno Pacific University Graduate School. During my tenure there, I had the opportunity to run, hike, ski and backpack the trails of the Central Sierras. The foothills, mountains, lakes and the wilderness have had a profound effect on my perceptions and priorities. It is as if, like a salmon, I have returned to my spawning grounds. I under- stand why John Muir and others who formed the Sierra Club were evangelists for the wilderness. Get people back to the basics of life. The wilderness is a prescription for the ills of modern life. It is a means quicken a dormant part in all of us civilized and citified folks. He was the priest of the wilderness and I am simply a priest in the wilderness. After retirement from FPU, I was led to study for ordination in the Anglican Priesthood and was ordained in 2007.

Earlier I also began serving as a civilian volunteer member of the Fresno County Sherriff ’s Search And Rescue Team (SART). It was an opportunity to serve and a reason to stay fit. My familiarity with and comfort in the Sierras made me useful to the team as a member of the mountaineering unit.

I recently published an article in the “Valley Voices” section of the Fresno Bee and have been thinking that many; perhaps most folks in Fresno County are not aware of the opportunities for recreation and exposure to some of the most beautiful sights on this earth.

I began a blog called Mid Sierra Musings”. It is mostly about my experiences in the central Sierras. There currently seems to be a vicarious thirst and large viewership for things related to self- sufficiency, wilderness living. There are ‘reality series’ programs like “Alaska The Last Frontier” and “Mountain Men”.

I have the best of both worlds since I have all the conveniences of city living with quick access to the Sierra National Forest and both Sequoia/Kings Canyon (SeKi) and Yosemite an hour away. I can mow my lawn in the morning and be above 7,000’ skiing an hour and a half later.
There has been considerable interest in the photo essays I have posted on the blog and I decided to combine them in paperback book and Kindle formats. The advantage of the Kindle format is that it allows for lots of color photographs while color photographs are not practical economically for a paperback. While I am not the stature of a John Muir, my intentions are similar. I want to introduce you to what is there for you to think about, to see, smell, hear and share with others. Even if it is not possible for you to get into the wilderness, it is an opportunity to see it through the eyes of an eyewitness. May you be both edified and entertained.

Fr. Dale Matson 11/2013
All Saints Day

Here is the link to the Kindle Book. The paperback will be out later this week.


http://www.amazon.com/Mid-Sierra-Musings-Dale-Matson-ebook/dp/B00GANH7R0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383175985&sr=8-1&keywords=mid+sierra+musings

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Aerobic Meditation


Dale Matson

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NASB).

As someone who completed two 100 mile runs people often ask me what I thought about during the time that I was running. My response is that I thought about everything and I thought about nothing. There is something about prolonged aerobic activity that not only produces endorphins, a naturally produced narcotic; it also produces a connection with nature and God. It provides a peaceful and righteous fatigue.

As an ultrarunner, I would sometimes run, singing in the Spirit while moving along the trails. Trail running is part of the religious experience of the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico. I don’t want to single out running however, as the only aerobic meditation. Open water swimming, climbing a steady grade on a bicycle and cross country skiing are other ways that I have experienced this. There is a fundamental goodness about prolonged rhythmic movement.

You too may have been immersed in one of these activities in the context of a group as a form of social interplay where personal defenses were dropped and people discussed parts of their lives not shared with others at any other time. There is a healthy and playful vulnerability. It is similar to what is termed “Free Association” in therapy. There is a similar transference and bonding. It reminds me of the experience of community at the communion rail during the Eucharist.

For me running has always been my drug of choice on a gently rolling trail through the woods along a lake. I hear the sound of my footfalls and breathing automatically timed by my steps. Running downhill on a single track trail elicits a rhythmic dance step to avoid rocks and roots. There are things about each of the other activities that appeal to me also. It is difficult to describe the joy of a good road bike with highly inflated tires on new asphalt and a tail wind. It brings an almost effortless ride where bike and rider become one. Cross country skiing is fast on a freshly groomed trail over new powder on a sunny day with no wind. It is wonderful to hear the squeak of poles striking cold snow. The ski strides are confident and one’s balance sure. A fresh glide wax wards off sticky transitional snow as the day warms. Swimming is an adventure in open water, raising the head occasionally to navigate to a point on another shore. Occasionally there are glimpses of water birds or airplanes or even the moon in a sunny sky as the head turns to breath. Swimming is Tai Chi in the water. It is always a matter of working on the form. It is a complex coordination of discreet micro movements united in a common goal of moving forward.

These moments and movements are so very basic in a body God has provided for us. It is times like this when I am reminded of St. Paul’s comments about our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I think about these holy acts of aerobic meditation, dedicated to God, being equal to the manual acts of priest at the altar. For as we move, we move in Him, in whom we live and have our being. (Acts 17:28)         


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Skiing In The Sierras


Dale Matson

We are now well into the fall season and soon our rain in Fresno will be snow in the Sierras. Once the skiing season starts, I usually get up to ski once a week depending on the weather. I want to say immediately that downhill skiing has never appealed to me though I have given it an honest try. Just arriving in the parking lot with car radios blasting heavy metal music and beer coolers being unloaded for the trek to the lodge put me in the wrong frame of mind. I am more the Enya and  granola person.

My first ten years in California, I skied machine groomed surfaces with waxless trak skis and skate skis. My choices close to Fresno are Montecito Sequoia resort in Sequoia Park and Glacier Point Road (groomed as a trail in winter) in Yosemite. I have also skied at Tamarack by Mammoth Mountain and loved the scenery and groomed trails.

Sequoia Park near Big Meadow

Lake Mary From Ski Trail Near Mammoth Mountain

Who could forget the squeaking sound of ski pole tips on cold snow?  On a cold day with freshly groomed snow, the experience is wonderful. These places have clear views of the Sierras that warrant taking a camera. Groomed surfaces allow for fast travel and the ski from Badger Pass to Glacier Point (21 miles round trip) can be done as a day ski. My only caveat is that an old groomed surface that has thawed and refrozen can be outright dangers to ski. The grooves on the trail sides are what I would call suicide ruts at that point.

Half Dome From Glacier Point

My first backcountry ski experience was a day trip to the Ostrander Lake in Yosemite on new back country skis. It is also about 20 miles round trip but takes twice as long as the trip to Glacier Point. Most folks ski to Ostrander as an overnight at the ski hut.

L to R Track, Skate And Back Country Skis

Back country skis are shorter and wider than skis for groomed surfaces. This is for maneuvering and flotation in deep powder snow conditions. I have experienced fresh powder so deep that it is too deep to ski in. Snowmobiles get stuck in snow like that. Generally however, I like fresh powder snow since a fall is cushioned by the snow. Getting up in deep powder can be a problem if you do fall.

Back country skiing has become my preferred ski experience. We have two snow parks that we use within an hour of our home. Coyote and Tamarack both have Nordic skiing with views of Shaver Lake, Balsam Forbay and Huntington Lake. The views are a great place for lunch.

Shaver Lake Overlook

Your trail is the trail you create. Having a few folks along, helps, when breaking trail in fresh snow. Each person takes a turn at the lead. Back country skiing requires more gear than groomed trails. You need a day pack with a hooded windbreaker, food, water, map, compass or GPS and duct tape for emergency repairs. I also carry a balaclava, satellite phone and spare waterproof gloves. Drinking water is important since it is easy to become dehydrated in the dry mountain air.



Back country skiing is quiet. It bestows a solitude and reverent frame of mind. There are various animal tracks in the snow. How in the world do coyotes get around so well in deep powder as they look for an occasional rodent? Our Airedales have been a part of our ski experience and they so enjoy frolicking in the snow. Duke, our big male tends to post hole because of his weight. Susie our female got herself in trouble one spring jumping into Tamarack Creek to chase ducks. The bank was too high with snow for her to climb back out. I had nylon webbing and was able to lasso her and help her back out. Tree wells can also a dangerous trap if you fall into them. After a fresh snow, the evergreens are adorned with a breathtaking mantle of white.

Squirrel Trail Tamarack Snow Park

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough what a great workout back country skiing can be. It is an overall body conditioner and calorie burner par excellence. Because the weather is less conducive to swimming and cycling in our winters, skiing makes up the difference. It is always sad for me when our snow pack begins to drop but the water from it creates our rivers which fill our reservoirs. Mountain snow is the source of much of our drinking, hydroelectric, recreational and irrigation water. For that we are truly blessed.

March Sierra Snow Pack

Here is my you tube video of the Glacier Point ski from Badger Pass. 

      

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Search And Rescue Part II


Dale Matson

It has been almost a year since my last SAR call out. Semi-retired civilian folks like me are usually available during the week when the regulars are at their day jobs. I was called out Tuesday around noon to look for parts of a twin engine Cessna that crashed near Dinkey Creek road not far from the Village of Shaver Lake. A father and son perished in the crash on Saturday evening on their way from California to Nebraska. My drive up took about an hour and fifteen minutes. http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?id=8880704



I was on the search team that was looking for the wings and tail to help the FAA piece together the plane in an effort to understand the cause of the crash. As I pulled up to the Command Post (C.P.) area along Dinkey Creek Road, I could see that much of the plane wreckage had been loaded onto a flatbed trailer parked on the road shoulder. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I imagined the last seconds of the occupants headed toward earth in a plane with no wings or tail. The plane wreckage was covered with a blue tarp and reminded me of human remains covered with a blanket after a car crash.



We were briefed by Sergeant Montalvo of the Fresno County Sheriff’s SAR unit and Eliott Simpson from the FAA. We were led to the main crash site which was only about fifty yards off Dinkey Creek Road. The crash melted the snow layer on the ground at just under 6,000’ of elevation. The ground underneath was still frozen. The FAA had a trajectory of the plane until it disappeared from the radar. Beginning at the crash site, we formed a line and worked our way back along the bearing given us. Keeping each other in sight, we walked the flight path of the plane.

Off trail searches are slow and difficult. We were told that we might even see plane parts hanging from above in the trees. We didn't know initially that the wings of the plane were white and landing on snow made them almost invisible. There had already been a search with a much larger group on Sunday with no results.

We had a turnaround time of 4:40 pm to get back to the road before dark. Robin and Bill were on my left outbound and found the first wing about a mile out. It was on the ground and nearly invisible in the snow. It was also partially covered with evergreen debris. Bill marked the location on the wing with a “Sharpie” pen and we marked the location on our GPS units also.



I was glad Robin and Bill found the first wing since I knew for certain what I was looking for and what color it was. About a quarter mile further out, I spotted the other wing to my right. It had landed on a rock outcropping and slid down until stopped by several small trees. We marked that wing and its location and continued outbound looking for the tail.



4:30pm came and we decided it best to look for the tail on the way back. We shifted our bearing further right (inbound) but didn’t find the tail. When we got back to the C.P., we downloaded our respective units to the Terrain Navigator software map used by Fresno County. I had photographs and later sent them to Mr. Simpson. The tail was found the following day by another search group. I had run the Two Cities Marathon about a week before and my legs were not ready for another off trail search the following day. RIP Patrick and Scott.   

Search Area    



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Search And Rescue Part I

Me On Search For A Missing Hunter Near Dinkey Creek

Dale Matson

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ “(Luke 15:4-6, NASB).

I have been an outdoorsman all of my life and run, skied and backpacked much of the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. About nine years ago I was skiing in the back country below Huntington Lake California and came across another skier by the name of Dave Calvert who said he was looking for a lost snowmobiler who had been missing overnight. Dave was a civilian working with the Mountaineering Unit of The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Search and Rescue Team. We talked for a bit and he invited me to investigate joining the team. As I returned to the parking area, the sheriff’s department snowmobile pulled in to transfer a man on a sled to an awaiting ambulance. They had found the man who had set his snowmobile on fire to keep warm overnight. I wrote down and later phoned the name Dave gave me.

Dave Calvert At The Iron Lakes Search

Art Sallee was my contact. I met with this kind of crusty John Wayne type who had been involved in search and rescue for years and was the unofficial team leader at the time. There was no official process for getting on the team at the time but Art made the rough ways smooth by helping me to initiate a background check and introduced me to the other Mountaineering Team members at their monthly meeting.
Art Sallee In The Commo Trailer At Florence Lake 

I also needed an Office of Emergency Services (OES) number and began training classes that involved skills like man tracking, staying overnight with only a fanny pack and Map and Compass navigational classes. I have never trained in high angle or swift water rescue. While I have hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney, I would not hang from a 50’ cliff on a half inch rope. While I completed the Pacific Ocean 2.4 mile swim in Ironman, the near panic I experienced in a class four rapids on the upper Kings River taught me to stay out of swift water. There is also ongoing training and fitness testing once you are considered “mission ready”.  I also had to be deputized and that happened just before I was about to be sent out on my first search.

It was a mutual aid search in Kings Canyon National Park near Hume Lake. A young man and his grandfather had been on a day hike near Cherry Gap and were missing overnight.  As I was awaiting my assignment to a search team, another volunteer team member Robin Calderwood looked up and asked two men who wandered into the parking lot if they were the missing folks. They said they were and she led them to the Command Post (CP). That was the end of our search. What a great first search it was! That is what is called beginner’s luck.  We were all treated to a free breakfast in the Hume Lake Camp mess hall and I drove home with a false impression of what Search and Rescue was all about.

I wrote and self published a book about my first seven years in SAR.






Monday, October 14, 2013

Swimming At Millerton Lake


Dale Matson

Swim Area At Millerton Lake

Millerton Lake is a reservoir near Fresno California with a capacity of one half million acre feet of water. The water is used primarily for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. The main water source for Millerton lake is the San Joaquin River flowing from its 3 sources (North, Middle and South Forks). It is the second longest river in California. The Dam at Friant CA (finished in 1942) was also constructed for seasonal flood control.

The San Joaquin used to be the southernmost California River for Salmon runs but since the construction of the Dam, Salmon are no longer found in the San Joaquin. There has been a cooperative effort by conservationists and farmers to restore Salmon to the river in the future.

Millerton Lake is a wonderful resource within 15 minutes of Fresno. It is used for swimming, boating, fishing, camping and has hiking and mountain bike trails also. Millerton Lake is situated between Madera and Fresno Counties.

Sharon And Me

The irrigation water downstream from the dam is much colder than near the lake surface because the water is drawn off the bottom of the lake which is about 320 feet deep when full. This means that on high solar gain hot summer days, the water temperature can be over 82 degrees which is great for swimming. In spring and fall the temperature is closer to 65 degrees and we need to wear wet suits to keep warm. We usually begin in early May and end in November.

Millerton Lake With Sierras Above

Egret

Like every big lake there are stories of monster sightings. http://www.weirdfresno.com/2010/03/strange-creature-sighted-at-millerton.html. We have not seen anything much larger than empty beer cans while swimming but I have heard from fishermen that there are ‘lunkers’ lurking in the deep.

Mike, Marie, my wife and I began swimming there once a week ten years ago. I was training for the Hawaii Ironman and needed experience with open water swimming. Open water swimming is quite different than a pool. There are no lane lines for guidance and one “lap” is a trip across the lake. Some folks never accustom themselves to the fact that they are in water over their head and will not swim in open water. A large lake is an approximation of ocean swimming but the giant swells in the ocean combined with fish that can eat you make things more worrisome.
   
Navigation is by sighting on a tall tree or something on shore and swimming toward it. In fall, your goggles fog up and the bright sun can make vision difficult when it is low in the sky. The positives are many including the hot chocolate in Friant after the swim. It is really neat to see geese flying over just over your head as you turn to breathe while you are swimming. We have seen lots of game along the shore over the years including Eagles, Ospreys, and an occasional Bobcat. Mountain lions have also been sighted on the trails but as someone who ran those trails for years;  I never saw one. We swim early in the morning before the speed boats arrive and the turkey vultures are perched nearby with their wings open to catch the morning sun.

I had been thinking about writing this story for a while. I brought my camera along to take pictures of the swim area. As I composed the story in my head while swimming, the thought came, “…and an occasional Bobcat.” We were done swimming and headed out toward the gate and low and behold, Sharon spotted a Bobcat. What a great way to start our week!


Bobcat Eating A Meal






Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chainsaw Work



Dale Matson



Stihl 440 Magnum

Many of the guys I know, including me, own guns, knives and flashlights. It seems like you can’t have too many of them. Another important ‘man tool’ is the chainsaw. I cut my teeth on a Homelight XL 12 back in the 1960s. I was a student working part time for the grounds department at my university. The “XL” meant extra light and it was. In those days there were Homelights (blue) and Mccullochs (yellow). The other saws were a distant second.

In the 1980s I lived on a five acre wooded parcel and heated my earth sheltered home with wood off the property. The first saw I owned was a Homelight 901. It was hard starting like many Homelights and I eventually traded it in for a Mcculloch Super Pro 60. The Mcculloch was and remains a great chainsaw. It had compression relief and was shock mounted. I cut three full cords of wood every year for 12 years with it. I believe flushing stumps even in Wisconsin winters was some of the hottest and hardest work I have ever done.  My younger son has it in his garage. Actually, he has everything in his garage…somewhere.

Today, I have three Stihl chainsaws that I use on our property. I have the 440 magnum for bucking up big logs. It is the best saw I have ever owned. That bad boy cuts through logs quicker than you can say, “Jack Robinson” and has more horsepower than my lawn mower.  The 260 is for limbing but takes medium logs in stride. The 150 is for the little lady for pruning fruit trees and such.  It seems like every year there are trees that just up and die on the seven acres of woodland. When they fall, they usually fall on the driveway.



Today the main saws are Stihl (orange and white) and Husqvarna (orange). I remember the earlier model Huskies being redder in color.

Safety in the 60’s was a pair of sunglasses and cigarette filters in the ears. Current saws have an anti-kickback (chain break) feature. Today, I wear gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a hard hat and when bucking up logs, I wear chaps. Yes, I have cut myself and have scars on my fingers to prove it….but I still have all ten fingers. I hated cutting brush that had been pushed up by a bulldozer. Some of the limbs were really spring loaded and flew back at you.



Here is some free advice for those of you that believe that one saw is enough. I recommend buying an extra bar and chain. That way, when the log closes in on your cut and traps your bar, you can disconnect the saw, put the other bar and chain on it and cut in another spot to free up the other bar and chain.     


While it is a bit of a comedown from chainsaw work, I still mow my lawn. When I am vacuuming the house, a requirement from on high, I pretend the vacuum cleaner is a man tool but we know it really isn't. It’s not loud or dangerous enough! Be careful.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It’s Mostly About The View


Dale Matson

My folks had a summer cabin on a lake back in Michigan. We could see much of the lake from the glassed in porch stretched across the front of the cabin. The view of Sunrises reflecting on the water was beautiful and marine birds skimming across the water smooth as glass made for a great start to the day.

In 1980 I designed a passive solar earth sheltered home facing south built into a moraine running east and west. The entire front of the home was windows and glass slider doors. The view was five acres of hardwoods. I did the site work including the excavation, septic system and finish grading. It was a simple design with a great view. We had lots of white tail deer and wild turkeys that would pass through. The spring snow melt created a temporary creek that flowed through an 18” corrugated metal pipe I installed beneath the driveway.

It seems like it always comes back to the view for me. After living in Fresno for twelve years I had spent plenty of time in the foothills and mountains of the central Sierras. It was now time again to begin thinking about the view. The drive up the four lane (Highway 168) has a great view of a portion of the Central Sierras.

Central Sierra View At Top Of Four Lane
  
I investigated much of the area east of us around Shaver and Huntington Lakes but most of the land and cabins were leased from the U.S. Forest Service. It is never a certainty that the leases will be renewed. I enjoyed using my mountain bike to investigate many of the nooks and crannies around the lakes. I talked to a local realtor and he had some property for me to look at. There were new improved half-acre wooded lots but they were pricey with no views.

We made an offer on a seven acre hillside wooded parcel. The access road was an easement and there were no improvements. What the property had was a promising possibility of a view, hardwoods, and evergreens and a year round creek. At around 4,000’ we were also in poison oak. There is not much poison oak above 5,500’.  We could see through a gap to the southeast and knew there was a view along the foothills. After drilling a productive water well, we established that we had a buildable lot. We hired a local logger who took out the trees blocking part of our view.


Brush Needing Chipping

He took the logs to the mill and we used the limb wood for heating the cabin. We rented a chipper for the brush. We had a view. We could even see Florence Peak (about 12,400’) in Mineral King National Park about 70 miles south southeast on a clear winter day.


I Graded A Small Footprint To Accommodate
 The Cabin And Septic Field


The View


Three years later we built a small cabin on the property but it is more about the view. I probably have one thousand photographs of the view and each is different. The view is soothing and healing and worth the struggles bringing in utilities, providing on site waste disposal, making an all season access drive, meeting county site requirements and CDF fire setbacks. It is a humble cabin with a priceless view.     

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Game Cameras


Dale Matson

We have a cabin in the foothills and have been fortunate to see lots of game from inside the cabin. One day grandma, Jamo and Max were seated at the dinner table. Max looked out the window and said, “What’s that?” What’s that indeed! It was a Bobcat walking by just past the window on the west side of the cabin. Maybe we should keep a camera inside the cabin too.

It was then I decided to get a couple of game cameras (also called camera traps) and put them out to see what went on when we were not there. Some of the best film of Siberian Tigers was shot with game cameras.  Game cameras use motion sensors to trigger the camera and can take infrared pictures at night also. They stand guard 24/7. The cameras can be set for video and photographs. They even give the time and date the photograph was taken. My “Truth Cam” also gives the temperature and the phase of the moon. I have lots of photographs of a canvas cover for a table on our porch. When it blows in the wind, it triggers the camera. The sensitivity of the motion sensor can also be increased or decreased. The snow falling off the roof also triggers the camera. I take my laptop computer up with me to view and save the images on the memory cards.

A Game Camera

The Truth Cam uses “D” cell batteries which need replacing about every six months. I also have a smaller Bushnell game camera that uses double “A” batteries. It seems to last longer between changes. Deer seem to be active day and night. We have had a doe and two fawns hanging around for quite some time. She had a single new fawn this year.



What surprised me the most was the amount of nocturnal activity that goes on out of sight. We got a picture of a Ringtail Cat (a relative of the Raccoon family). I didn’t even know they existed. We also have a photograph of a Screech Owl and a Grey Fox.

Ringtail Cat

Screech Owl

Grey Fox

Of course, there are coyotes, bears and mountain lions in the area also. I have seen lion tracks in the snow above our cabin. We are about 4,000’ in elevation and I think a hard winter with heavy snow would drive the game and the animals that prey on them down to our elevation. We haven’t had that kind of a winter since I installed the cameras.I would love to get a photograph of a mountain lion and of course a photograph of a Sasquatch would be worth a ton of money.


We also get photographs people who happen to walk onto our property. Some even come there after dark. So, the cameras are also security cameras that let us know who is around when we are not.    

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mountain Men


Dale Matson

I remember reading about the adventures of Kit Carson when I was in grade school. One of my favorite movies is about another mountain man Jeremiah Johnson (1972) starring Robert Redford. Here in California (and the Rockies) another mountain man named Jedediah Smith gained fame. I ran the Jedediah Smith 50K trail run a few times in the 1990s.

Season two of “Mountain Men” has just concluded on the History Channel and I am already missing it. Season one was built around the adventures and misadventures of three men. I think they remain the most interesting men in season two with an expanded cast.  There is Tom Orr in Montana, Eustace Conway in North Carolina and Marty Meierotto of Alaska. I like and respect all three men for different reasons. Each is unique and has different skillsets adapted to his life situation. Each seems to be able to extricate himself from difficult situations some of which they brought upon themselves.

Eustace is a resourceful person trying to live off the grid. I admire his use of primitive tools, horses, plant knowledge and hunting skills with black powder rifles. He does not seem well suited to passing his skills along as a mentor. Part of the drama is meeting his financial obligations. His friend Preston is of like mind and ability and helps Eustace out of lots of difficulties. To quote Eustace, “What do I do for a living? I live for a living.” I like the way he took the time to find and boil a particular root to help his upset stomach.

Tom Orr lives off the land with his wife Nancy. He has been in the Yaak River Valley for over 30 years and age and injuries are catching up. Their children want them to move to Florida. I most closely identify with Tom because we are both about 70 years of age. They seem to be at the mercy of government regulations limiting their response to Grizzly Bears and Timber Wolves that threaten their homestead. Tom makes a living from trapping, tanning, knife and bow making. Tom heats with wood cut on the property. Their neighbors like the Orrs and stop by for a chats or to accompany Tom in the woods. He is part of a helpful but sparse community.  His wife Nancy and I both worry for his safety. As Tom would say, “It is what it is.”

Marty Meierotto lives near Fairbanks most of the year. He is a trapper during the winter and flies a small plane over 100 miles to his trap line for the winter. He is a sturdy lad who is comfortable living by himself for four long months of winter with its short days. He is self-reliant and mechanically inclined. It seems that he would be a hermit if it weren't for his wife and daughter. Marty is easy to admire and for me, he is the penultimate mountain man. http://youtu.be/F3LcTxhse8o

He knows that a minor mistake could mean dying because there is no one around to rescue him. Unfortunately he does make mistakes from time to time like leaving his rifle home, taking an undependable snow mobile too far from his cabin and having to walk back ten miles at night. He also got his snow machine stuck in a semi frozen river and knew better than to do this yet he was prepared to spend the night.  His flying by sight is a roll of the dice every time he goes up. I appreciate that he left his trapping to attend his daughter’s recital but the weather windows sometimes appear to be rather narrow. He almost didn't get his furs in to the dealer in time last season. Marty would say, “If a bear wants to get in the cabin, he’s going to get in.”

I am a mountain man of sorts and appreciate the lives of these men. I realize some of the “emergencies” are staged.  I understand them and see common qualities. They are genuine and independent. While mastering their environment, they remain students; always learning. I don’t see any malice in these men. They are straightforward dealing with others and sometimes humanely impatient with mentees. Each knows his limitations and there is a sense that “keeping on” is what they intend to do. God speed mountain men!