Chapter Four: Goat Man
His Arkansas drawl was thick like rich molasses, flowing slow and easy. Ezekial Patterson seemed ageless; tall, a bit hunch-shouldered, and he shuffled along with a slight limp. "Patch," as folks called him, was as much a part of his three hundred acres of river-bottom fields as the willows and the cottonwood trees. His best pal Purdy dressed in black with a floppy black hat. Patch wore long-sleeved blue denim shirts and trousers that went unwashed after he put them on new from the General Store. His jacket and trousers were crusted with grime from living among his milking goats. He once answered a discourteous remark about his laundry habits with a stern denial: "Uh'course I washes 'em. Ain't a summer goes by that I don't fall in the river!"
His fedora hat was shabby and sweat-stained. Sparkling eyes peered from under that tattered brim, eyes set in a craggy face wrinkled by years of sun and work. Behind them one could see a sadness, a sorrowful secret. Graydon would learn that Patch had been in the "Great War" and had survived trench warfare and poison gas. He returned home never to speak of it, wanting only to forget. Patch abandoned his roots in the Ozarks to settle in the high Cascade Mountain country of the Methow Valley.
He survived on a small pension and creamery money. He milked several dozen goats out of a herd of more than a hundred, ran their milk through a cream separator, and once a week loaded the cream cans into a battered Model A truck to deliver it to the creamery in Winthrop. His pal Purdy usually rode with him to town. The spectacle of the two bachelors, one short and slight, dressed in black; one tall and gangling, in grimy blue, was an accepted eccentricity of Methow Valley life.
Patch leaned against the cracked fender of his Model A truck, offering to sell Dee Johns three good milking goats and their kids for $35. It would be a strain for Dee's purse, but it was more than a fair price for good milkers.
"Missus Johns, you cain't go far wrong with these nannies. They're right good milkers, 'specially ol' Spot here. She's been givin' me near two gallons a day since she come fresh in March. An' that little Nubian, she's about as good, but she's young yet. Give her another season and she'll be a top producer."
Dee considered how much milk and cream she'd get for her family, how much farm cheese and butter she could make, and how much cream she might sell in town. There would be meat when they butchered the wethers, the castrated male goats. Every male kid would be elastrated to prevent musky stench and aggression problems as they grew. Few animals are as unpleasant as a mature billy goat. Patch kept one for breeding, confined to a high, strong enclosure separate from the milking herd.
"Thank you, Patch," she said, reaching into her apron pocket for the folded bills taken from her cookie jar in the kitchen pantry, hidden away from her husband's thieving fingers.
Graydon became a goat-herder, charged with husbanding three milking nannies and their five kids. They'd tend the yearling nannies for milkers and in late fall they'd butcher the yearling males.
Spot, leader of the herd, wore a leather collar and a bell. Her bell would clang and her udder, heavy with two monstrous teats, would swing ludicrously between her back legs when she ran. The younger nannies pranced beside her, bleating excitedly. The goats were in heaven at Dee's homestead. The rampant brush, wild rose thickets, ditch willows, volunteer alfalfa, and Canadian thistle with huge purple seed heads, all was a feast for them. And, oh joy! Just inside the fence by the house stood a tall spray of yellow homestead roses. Spot's palate craved thistle heads and rose blossoms. The yellow roses were irresistible.
Spot nudged the yard gate open, wrapped her curling, grasping tongue around a glorious yellow rose, snapped it off and chomped it. She rolled it around in her baggy cheeks. Her eyes shined with pure joy. She snagged and ate three more roses. Spot's joy was not to last. Dee came charging off the back porch, swinging a broom and screaming:
"Get away, you filthy beast! Get away from my roses!" Spot fled through the gate, bleating indignantly, her udder flopping and swinging. She ran splay-legged in an ungainly, lurching gait. Dee ran hard at her heels, swinging the broom from side to side, swatting Spot's flanks.
Thus began the War of the Roses. Whenever the gate was left unsecured by a careless boy or a heedless visitor, Spot would sneak in to feast on the rose blossoms. It became a contest of sorts between two strong-willed females. It became a family legend.
Time rolled over into late summer and Graydon's days were filled with chores: tending a new chicken flock, milking three nanny-goats morning and evening, weeding the garden, mending fences, picking rocks out of garden and field, and digging out irrigation ditches. Otherwise, he was free to roam the fields, the ridges and Wolf Creek canyon with his .22 rifle. No one thought this unusual. It was a matter of personal responsibility and when Graydon proved himself responsible, he earned his freedom.
And there was fishing! Wolf Creek, spilling from pool to pool, was a trout fisherman's delight. Graydon learned to make long, accurate casts with his hand-me-down telescoping steel rod and a level-wind casting reel taped to its cork handle. Nylon braid line, a long leader, and a Colorado single-blade spinner ended with a snelled bait hook. He carried plump night crawlers dug from the ditch banks in a grass-lined pipe tobacco tin that fit his shirt pocket. He stripped line in hanging coils and cast upstream into the tongues of water feeding the deep pools. He let the spinner and worm swirl down through the currents. This was very effective for hooking native rainbows, brookies, and Dolly Varden, the voracious bull trout, a predator fish that usually had trout minnows in their stomachs.
The Methow River ran over gravel bars and under log jams. It was an easy half-mile hike from the homestead, and Graydon spent lazy days fishing there. He worked spinner baits down through the riffles across the gravel bars, or sometimes he would clamber across the driftwood jams piled up against the river bends by spring floodwaters. The river pooled up and eddied under the logs and Graydon would lay over an opening, working a single worm or sometimes a salmon egg on a tiny hook, easing his rod tip down close to the water surface. He fed loops of line and let the bait sink down through the slowly swirling water. More than once he fooled a big "grandfather" trout into taking the bait. If he could keep the fish from fouling his line around a snag, he'd take home a centerpiece for evening dinner. Breaded and baked to a golden crisp, it was as succulent as any gourmet's feast.
Carefree days of summer fishing
Silver Colorado spinners,
bait in pipe tobacco cans.
Youthful eyes explore the pools,
shadowed forms of fish seen resting.
Balanced on a mid-stream boulder,
reading eddy lines as measures,
he the symphony conductor,
his baton a fishing rod,
laying casts in measured cadence,
guides his lure in swirling currents.
Heart and fish together leaping,
scarlet-sided rainbow streaking,
fishtail-dancing, dark head shaking,
boy and reel together singing,
bent rod whipping, tense arms straining,
high above his head.
Youthful cries of exultation
go ringing around
Often when Graydon went to the river he would stop back at Patch Patterson's cabin. He delighted in Patch's easy manners, his knowledge of all things "country," his fondness for and dedication to his large goat herd, the playful kids romping around the old barn and the rocky fields, and his stories of fishing the river, hunting in the surrounding hills, and of his years lived in the valley.
A favorite topic was the great Flood of '48 that had surged down from the mountains, a spring torrent of sudden snow melt that destroyed most of the bridges from Mazama to the Columbia River forty-five miles south. The Winthrop bridge survived, high on its concrete pillars, but the valley was cut off from supplies and aid until emergency river crossings could be improvised. Homes perched high on the benches were safe but the river bottom fields and lower-lying roads were flooded. Irrigation headgates and diversion structures were torn out. It was a frantic scramble to get them repaired in time for the irrigation season. Without precious summer water, fields and orchards would die.