Chapter Twelve: Rock slide
The trail into upper Wolf Creek canyon was open; the last snows had melted out of the north-slope shaded areas and the spring floods had subsided. Graydon was restless. He gathered together his packsack gear, some staple foodstuffs, his fishing pole, and told his mother that he'd be going up the canyon perhaps as far as Gardner Meadows at the base of the mountain. He planned to be gone for three days of hiking and early season trout fishing, with two nights of sleeping out.
Actually, Graydon wanted very much to get away from his step-father and to spend time alone in the mountains where he could be absorbed in something larger than himself. He'd heard the old-timers like Patch and Purdy talk about their "pine tree religion," saying they felt much closer to a greater power in the mountains than in any church.
Graydon couldn't disagree with this. His step-father had no use for church, probably because he knew all the members disapproved of his ways. But Dee Johns seemed always to be searching for something. She had been dumped in a Catholic boarding school by her adoptive parents until she graduated from twelfth grade. Later she was influenced by a California aunt to study Rosecrucianism. Literature and pamphlets were left laying about whenever she felt a need to soak up some religion. She insisted that her two boys attend the local Methodist church and its Sunday School classes whenever she could get the old Blue Goose started to drive the four miles into town.
Graydon was confused by the theology. It seemed mostly guilt and fear being shoveled at him: guilt for being a sinner, for being born a sinner unworthy of the mysterious saving redemption for which he was supposed to pray; and his disquieting fear that no matter how hard he tried to be worthy, he was destined for hellfire and damnation. He also found it most ungenerous and arrogant when the preacher claimed that anyone not accepting the Christian path to salvation would most assuredly burn in hell for all eternity, no matter how good they had been in life, even if they had never heard the Christian message.
"That's why we must strive to carry the Gospel all those poor lost souls," the preacher proclaimed. "If we fail to save them, the responsibility for their torment in hell will weigh heavily upon us!" Graydon figured he had challenge enough, trying to account for his own supposed sins. And he could not square the idea of a loving God against this church's theology that abandoned the bulk of humanity to hell simply for being born in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or for following a different path to their Creator.
He'd have called it all a crock of half-baked distortions, cooked up by a caste of men looking to make an easy living for themselves in positions of priestly power. But if he said anything like that, it would certainly result in Hell for him right then and there. He had no doubt that such heresy would land him in big trouble. But he would never accept that a self-proclaimed priesthood of mortal men should impose themselves as gatekeepers between people and their Creator.
Despite his skepticism over church religion, he found himself in total awe of Creation as he saw it all around him. He had only to look upon his beloved ridges and into the deep Wolf Creek canyon. The majestic 9,000-foot peak of Mount Gardner was the only church spire he needed as a reminder of his Creator's power and beauty. He was far more inspired in the wilderness than he ever was in church.
Thus on a bright summer morning with his war surplus pack frame, an olive-drab packsack strapped to it, he set out for a quick greeting with Jim and Vi Brightman. Afterward he'd take off up the Wolf Creek trail. He'd decide later to make camp at the old cow corral camp at the trail divide between Wolf Creek and North Wolf Creek, or maybe he'd just stay to the main fork for the full ten miles up to Gardner Meadows to camp in the magnificent circle of peaks.
The day was warm. Deer and horse flies had hatched and were trying to feed on him, but his wide-brimmed felt hat and long-sleeved work shirt discouraged most bites. He did turn up his shirt collar and buttoned it tight to limit his skin exposure. Deer flies have a stinging, painful bite, but horse flies snatch out a whole chunk of hide and flesh. He hated them most bitterly and was careful to keep himself covered. Biting flies turned hiking with a heavy pack into hot, sweating misery.
The cool shade of the canyon and the cold snow-melt waters of Wolf Creek were comforting. He lingered for a couple of hours, fishing the lower pools, before taking to the trail again to climb above the creek in a long, upward track towards the trail forks.
He'd decided to camp at the forks and would hike up to Gardner Meadows the next day. Evening meal had been a delight: four native trout fried in his small skillet to a crisp, golden brown; slices of fried potato cut from baked potatoes he carried wrapped in foil in his pack; and a small pot of tea sweetened with honey; all combined to make a good meal. It was too early for huckleberries, so he made do with dried pineapple chunks and raisins for dessert. A small campfire cast a circle of light and warmth to chase the evening chill. He leaned back against a tree, his legs up to support the journal he'd started keeping since arriving in the Methow. He sometimes sketched images to go with his notes and though he was no artist, his sketches helped his memories.
A cold night was settling in. He banked the little fire until it was mostly embers and ashes. He wrapped himself in a wool blanket and slept.
His sleep was shattered with a feeling of blinding, searing pain, of confusion and helplessness. He felt trapped, pinned, and he could see nothing. Red flashes of pain stabbed through him.
He jerked upright. Shaking off his blanket, he felt nothing holding him down. Reaching to grasp his legs, running his hands quickly up and down and fumbling about himself he could feel nothing on or near him, yet he had been jolted awake with those certain feelings!
Foreboding: awful, clinging, penetrating, fearful foreboding... something was terribly wrong. Pain! Pinned! Trapped! The feelings flooded his mind and he knew it was not himself, but someone else...
The faint trace of pre-dawn was beginning to reflect off the high snow fields of the peaks at the head of the canyon. In a short while, the ghostly grey light would spill between the trees and he could see the trail well enough to follow it.
He hugged his knees, willing his panicky emotions under control so he could decide what he must do. First, he needed to lace on his boots and pack up his gear. By then he could see well enough to move.
His pack loaded up, he glanced down the trail and there, standing silently, was the ghostly figure of the old man in buckskins, fading in and out of his sight. Blood flowed down his forehead and face, streaming from a wound on his head. His arm hung crookedly to one side, and his leg seemed to be crumpled, twisted at an odd angle. The apparition reached out his hand, beckoning in a "come here" motion. His mouth moved, forming silent words. Graydon felt waves of pain, of helplessness and need.
The man disappeared and the pain washed away. Graydon felt emptiness. Where the man had been, a deer, a spike buck, stared directly, boldly, at Graydon, its shining eyes and white-tipped muzzle bright against the forest shadows. Its big mule deer ears swiveled forward and pointed straight at him. It lifted its small forefoot and stamped impatiently, then wheeled half around, twitching its black-fringed tail while looking over its shoulder in a "come now" motion at Graydon.
It wheeled back and stamped its forefeet again, flung its spike-antlered head about, then made two bounds down the trail towards the north fork direction before stopping to look again at Graydon.
"Okay, okay ... I get it!" Graydon muttered, slipping into his pack frame before starting down the trail to follow the deer. They moved onto the North Fork trail and began a steady climb upward, the little buck trotting ahead, then pausing, looking back, waiting for Graydon to catch up. It was a long slog. Graydon figured he'd been led about five miles up the trail when the deer vanished. One moment it was there; the next moment it bounded around an outcropping and was gone.
Extending ahead along the steep canyon side, the trail scrabbled across a talus slope of rocks and boulders spilled down from the granite ramparts. The cliffs had yielded to ages of water infiltrating their cracks and fissures, freezing, expanding, splitting off slabs of rock that tumbled down the rock-strewn slope, falling down through the broken forest to the creek bed below. Graydon could see in the brightening dawn that a huge new rock fall had just swept down the slope and torn through the timber below him. His sense of foreboding returned. If anyone had been down there, they were hurt or dead.
Peering down, he saw the wreckage of trees ripped out, uprooted by the avalanche of rocks that had surged down the steep slope. It lay as a tangled mass of limbs and shattered trunks. He could see no one, nor any sign of a camp. Something tugged at him; the feeling of pain and need was strong in his mind.
"Hoooooo...whooosh!" A nighthawk shot past his ear and dove down the slope in a flash, then lifted sharply upward, soared around in a tight circle and fluttered in Graydon's face. It spun away and with a series of short glides and swoops, descended downslope again. It disappeared behind a tangle of limbs and broken trees, flew back, hung before him on fluttering wings and cried a rapid string of "eeep eeep" calls.
"Right!" he thought to himself. "So there I go!" He eased himself to the edge of the rock fall to make his way down the slope, carefully, slowly, avoiding the worst tangles and digging his boot heels between the rocks, clinging to handholds wherever possible to keep his footing. The slope was steep and he must not fall. That could be a fatal misstep in this wilderness,.
The buckskin figure lay crumpled, pinned, nearly obscured by the debris that had been sweep down upon him. His left leg was under a tree trunk, pinned and crushed against a rock. The man's face was half covered in dried blood that had flowed down from a tear in his scalp. He lay on his back, his left arm bent at an odd angle, caught under a twisted limb. His right arm and leg were free. He had obviously lain there for some time, unable to work himself loose.
Graydon hurried to the man. Setting his pack aside, he pulled out his water bottle and a clean bandanna. He could see a glaze of intense pain in the man's eyes. They were a deep sapphire color.
"Do you hear me? I came to help. I have some water here. Will you take a drink?"
The man blinked once, slowly. Graydon held the bottle to his lips and tilted gently, careful not to tip more water than the man could swallow. After a moment the man finished and closed his mouth. Graydon wet his bandanna and softened the caked and matted blood from around the man's eyes and forehead, careful not to touch his torn scalp. He would tend that later.
"Can you speak? I need to get you free of this mess, but it appears that you're hurt bad and I don't want to hurt you worse. Your left arm seems broke. We'll need to splint it and rig a sling so we can keep it from flopping around. Can you move it at all?"
"A little, but I can't get it clear of the tangle," the man spoke, in a faint but steady voice.
"I'll help you. I've got a knife and a small limbing saw in my pack. I can cut that stuff clear without banging your arm around, and then we can tend it."
Graydon pulled a slender, wooden-handled saw from its holder between the pack frame and the sack. He'd found that a tree-pruning saw, less than a third the size of a carpenter's saw, was perfect for back-country use. He wore no belt knife. To him, they were clumsy and of limited use. Instead, he carried a three-bladed Schrade pocket knife. It was smaller, lighter, sharper, and more versatile than any so-called hunting knife. He'd bled, gutted, and skinned a dozen slaughter goats and deer. His stockman's knife was perfectly suited to that work.
"Lie still until we can move your arm. I'll be careful as I can while cutting this stuff away."
Graydon sawed away the tangled limbs, holding each so it wouldn't thrash against the man's broken arm. He cut away the brush that had been pulled into the mess when it all got rolled together in the slide.
He soon had it clear. Graydon dug around in his pack for another bandanna and a roll of parachute cord.
"Okay, here's the tricky part. We've gotta move your arm. You lift and move it as much as you can, and I'll try to support it with both hands to keep it from bending and grating that broken bone. I bet this is gonna hurt. But I don't know what else we can do for it."
The old man moved his free hand to point, and in his strained voice told Graydon, "My bag... somewhere near here, I think, you might find a small leather bag with a shoulder strap. It's got bright beadwork... you might be able to see it. It's got... something that will help."
Graydon began to search and not far away under the tangle he saw a white and red patch of color. Cutting down through the wreckage, he was able to free the bag. It was not much larger than a small lunch sack.
"That's it. Open it. Hold out some of the stuff inside so I can see it."
Soon he came to a soft deerskin pouch with golden-yellow tie strings.
"Yes, that's it. Open it carefully. Hold it out so I can take a pinch from it. Close it up, and put it back in my medicine bag."
The stranger took a big pinch of greenish herb from the little pouch, placed it in his mouth and rolled it into a wad inside his cheek.
"Give me a little more water, then sit back and rest. This will take a few minutes."
They waited. The stranger seemed to be holding the water and herb mix in his mouth, letting it swell, and his throat worked from time to time as if he were nursing from it, swallowing the liquid as it absorbed whatever was in the herb.
"Thank you. We can move my arm now, like you said. Try to support it for me as I bring it across to my chest."
Graydon moved into place, at the man's head, and reached across with both hands to grip the arm where it broke off at an odd angle above the elbow. They moved together in a smooth motion and laid his arm across the bandanna that waited, spread across his buckskin shirt. The man made no sound of pain. Looking into his eyes, Graydon thought they had cleared a bit, and the pain wrinkles had eased.
It must be some pain-killing stuff, that herb he took, Graydon thought.
"Can you stand it if I cut some small splints and secure that arm so the broken ends don't grate?"
The man nodded his head. Graydon cut short lengths of willow branches, and tore bandage-sized strips from his woolen blanket. He wrapped the splints in place with the blanket strips, then over-tied those with parachute cord to hold the bundle securely in place. The stranger gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, but lay silent and still while Graydon worked. He eased the folded corners of the bandanna sling behind the man's neck, and knotted them together.
"That will support your arm when we need to move you," he explained. "Now, we've got to get that tree off your leg. Can you feel much down there? Is there much pain?"
"No, it went numb. But I don't think that's a good thing. I haven't been able to see it. Can you tell if I've been bleeding down there?"
"Nothing obvious, but I can't see much. Between that tree and the rock, it's pretty much hidden. I'll have to cut the tree loose and lift the pieces clear before we can tell."
The man lay quietly while Graydon tried to remember the field guides he'd studied through the winter: wilderness first aid, mountain rescue lessons, and other survival booklets. Part of the reason his mother trusted him to be on his own in the mountains was his practical attitude toward learning all he could to avoid problems, and how to handle the few that came along.
I'll need to have more parachute cord, some clean dressings, a cut stick for a twister if I need a tourniquet, and my knife ready to cut away his buckskin trouser leg. It might start gushing blood when I take that log off, Graydon thought to himself, trying not to worry what he'd do if the bone was shattered and the leg couldn't be moved.
"Lay still, mister, and I'll start getting ready to get this log off your leg. It'll take me a while. I'll get a lifting pole ready, and then I'll cut a section of this log free so I can lift it away."
"Mike... my name is Mike... Mike Peterson."
"I'm Graydon... Graydon Williams. We live down on the old homestead, at the 'Y' across the Wolf Creek road from Purdy Kendrick's place. Now, you just lay easy and I'll get this log off your leg."
Graydon found a slender spruce about five inches thick. He cut the small tree with his limbing saw, and working down its trunk with saw and knife he limbed it clean, then cut it off to a twelve-foot length. This made a good lifting pole.
Studying the log that pinned Mike, he puzzled how he could make a first cut in a way that wouldn't release more weight onto Mike's leg. In a moment, he had the balance point figured and knew where he'd cut. If things went right, that cut would cause the section pinning Mike to ease up a bit, so he'd have to work fast in case that also let bleeding begin in a rush.
Mike lay still, making no sound, but his eyes followed Graydon as the boy studied the fallen tree. He closed his eyes when Graydon started to cut, not far from Mike's waist. In less than five minutes Graydon stopped sawing and placed his lifting pole about halfway down, braced under the section that pinned Mike's leg. He resumed sawing and in a few more strokes the tree parted. The end above Mike's head lifted up and stayed, settling into a new angle. The other section also lifted slightly, pivoting on the pole Graydon had set. Graydon lifted the pole higher and slid the tree section off, away and clear. Graydon set his lifting pole away where he might need it later, and turned to check the damage to Mike's leg.
The buckskin leg was soaked in blood. Despite the pain-dulling effect of the herb, Mike groaned with pain from the swelling rush of blood into his crushed leg.
Graydon cut away the bloody leather, slicing it from knee to cuff. He peeled it back to see the damage. Blood was swelling up but he could see no gushing arterial flow. That was good. He could see white bone splinters in the torn flesh. That was bad, horribly bad. Mike had a crushed compound fracture. He's not going to be leaving here without a whole lot more help than I can give him, Graydon knew.
"I've got a first aid dressing, and clean cloth that I can tear up from my spare shirts, and a roll of tape to hold it all in place," Graydon explained. "Your leg bone is crushed, it's partly exposed, and there's no way I can patch it or splint it so we can move you out of here. I'll dress it. The bleeding isn't too bad. It looks pretty clean — your buckskins kept the dirt out, and with a dressing it should clot up and you won't lose more blood. But we're gonna need help, soon as we can get it."
Pale and sweating, Mike was in obvious agony now from the restored feeling in his leg. Graydon moved over with his water bottle and held Mike's head up so he could drink more easily.
"You want some more of that herb stuff? I can see you're hurting pretty bad," Graydon asked.
Mike shook his head, no. "Too much, not good," he mumbled.
Graydon sat back on his heels, thinking, trying to anticipate the things that had to happen to get Mike down the canyon.
"Jim Brightman, do you know Jim Brightman?" Mike asked.
"Sure. Of course I do. I visited them just yesterday morning before I started up here."
"You need to get Jim. Tell him what happened, and what you've done here. He'll know what to do. And please, this is very important. If you see anybody else, don't say anything about me, or this. Don't say a word to anybody except Jim what's happened here or that you've seen me. Promise? Can you do that?"
A long silence followed. Graydon sat, staring into Mike's face. He looked up at the rockslide and at all the wreckage around them, then back at his pack gear laying open beside him, and back to Mike. His mind was racing. Now that the urgency of the moment had eased, odd facts became clear. Mike's hair — it was long, black and grey banded — and Mike's face, wiped clean of the blood, was the face in his dreams. It was also the pre-dawn face of the apparition that appealed to him for help. The unlikely spike deer, leading him; the nighthawk appearing from nowhere — a meadow bird, not a mountain bird, never seen in these canyons — none of this was rational.
He felt faint. His heart pounded in his chest. His mind reeled with a flood of foreboding and disbelief.
"Be calm... steady yourself... you've seen much but you understand little. You carry visions within you, visions given to you, earned by your deeds, but now is too soon. In time you will understand, but not now." Graydon heard the message, strong and clear in his mind. The words were firm, promising. The man had not spoken aloud.
"You must accept what you've seen and set it aside. The time now is for doing. I must wait here, and you must go down the trail to Jim Brightman. Bring him back that I may live. You can do this. But you must also keep our secret. We are alone in this canyon, and will remain alone for three more days. After that, I see that others will come. We must be gone from here. Say nothing to anyone but Jim Brightman."