Digging up dirt


rain on leaf



rain on grass


Ditch Diaries.

Year Seven.

Trip One.


water running over rocks



a part of the ditch


There is nothing like this to clear the air, erase the past, tire the body until the mind finally stops thinking.

Hard work. Good, hard, dirty work, in the purest, simple sense.

Digging ditch.

Packing into the Wilderness by horse.  Just the three of us, six horses, and one bold dog to keep us all in line.  Shoveling, picking, dragging, slipping, saddling up, hauling, heaving, heavy breathing and plenty of dirt, sweat and soaking from the rain.  Sleeping an inch off the ground, getting comfortable with creepy, crawling, flying things, and tossing cleanliness out the window, if we had one.

Lo and behold, there before us as we sit with our tin cups filled with cheap box wine and plates hot on our lap.  The Rio Grande Pyramid and Window before us.


rio grande pyramid and window



view from camp


We’ve been doing this so long we’ve seen hillsides die and new flowers bloom, drought years and decent water years which means a lot of hours working in the rain, good grass for the horses and slim pickings, early frost and late blooming, grass stalks setting seeds weeks apart from what they did the year before, and waiting for the moon to set just so in middle of that Window.

We look at the ditch in terms of what year we worked on each section. Time told around shovels, slopes, slips and blisters. By the number of ibuprofen popped, packages of hamburger helper consumed, gloves worn through, and horses trained on the job.  How about the number of slip handles repaired, leather horse hobbles lost in the grass, corny jokes told in tired delirium and photos taken of that same incredible mountain looming so large before me as she does right now?

We set the tent up in the same old place.  Home away from home.  The horses put their heads down and proceed to graze before we even unload.  They know the deal.  The dog digs up an old bone and finds a faded red ball left behind from last year or the year before.

And yet nothing is ever the same.


pyramid and window and beetle kill




Of course more trees have died. Now we count the devastation in terms of mountainsides ravaged, add it up by the miles of forest, not the actual trees.  You couldn’t count if you wanted to.  I don’t want to.

We sit by the fire in the evening with our wet socks off and tired feet drying and hear one fall in the distance.  Sounds like a gun shot.  Only for those of us working in the woods, far more frightening. We don’t say a word and look down at our toes.

This year the spring has gone dry.  The one by which we’ve camped for the past five years.  Each year a little less water.  This year, not enough to water a horse.  We have six here with us.  We walk further and let them drink at the river.  Norman, the gentle giant, pulls up his stake and walks there alone.  He’s usually back by the time we notice him missing. He never goes far.

Empty trails with the only tracks being that of the elk.  Eerie. This is peak season.  Not that it’s ever too crowded around here, and not that we are here to see people.  Really, not at all. But somehow, this time of year, they belong here.  Backpackers. Hiking the Divide.  A few days.  A week.  A month.  Maybe the whole trail in one long season, Mexico to Canada. Somewhere in the distance.  Bright colors and big backs. Part of the landscape.  Like afternoon monsoons, early morning dew, and deer slipping in between the timber as we lead our horses out to graze.

Where are the moose this year that have in the past been a regular part of our weekly viewing?  Neither home nor here.  I worry about these things, too. Has the low snow taken its toll on this species as it has on the Canadian Lynx trapped up there and brought down here, and did we really think they might remain?  Those that didn’t high tail it and try to head home, slowly starve.  Beautiful creatures with which we’ve played God.  Despite the trauma of trapping, transporting and being dumped in an area hit so hard by climate change, we still say we’re doing good.  I’ve yet to hear someone say this is good for the animal.  I only hope my beloved moose, slow and lumbering through the willows in the snow banks and one of the few brave enough to tough out the winters here with us, will choose to remain, and maybe even thrive.

For the first time we see repulsive brown sacks squirming in the willows, an infestation of fuzzy caterpillars, little white cocoons.  Miller moths.  We have not seen them here before. Not this high. The willows, already weakened from the ongoing drought, are suffering further still as their branches are stripped to feed the chrysalis.

They don’t belong.  Out of place, as grotesque as initials carved into the trees by passing tourists who somehow think this is ok.  It’s not graffiti because it’s on a living tree? *

And trash.  Tell me this, please.  Who would come this far only to leave their garbage here?  Some things are better left back home. Perhaps some people, too.  And tell me this, too: who the hell packs in Diet Coke to the Wilderness?




full moon setting


water flowing down river


I’m having trouble bouncing back, seeing the beauty, finding the good.  The fire burned a part of me too.  I bet if I went to town (which chances are I won’t for a while) I’d hear others say the same.

It was hard.  We all lost something.  A part of the forest.  A part of us.  Something we all deemed sacred.  Why we are here.  Our connection has been burned.  If we feel deeply enough, we feel the loss.  We are left somehow lost, lacking, incomplete.

It’s time to heal.  Rebuild.  We can’t go back but we can move on. Do you know how?  I can’t wait for time to heal it all.  I need to do something now.

Get me back to work.  Stop worrying about litter and trashy folks, forget for a while about finances, fires, future decisions, and blasts from the past still haunting me.  For now, just grab a shovel and get to work.  For now, nothing else matters except moving dirt.





rain on white flower



* Forgive me, as I know of one exception where such a memorial is sincerely a sad but welcome part of this land.

4 thoughts on “Digging up dirt

  1. You article and comments on trash reminds me of a story in my second memoir “Inside and Outside”
    Dick Sederquist

    Welcome to Oinkville

    There are no incorporated towns called “Oinkville”, but you’ll see them everywhere. I use the term, in its worst definition, to describe human habitats that look like pigs live there. You’ve seen the house, or what used to be a house, surrounded by junk collected over the life time of the owner. There is no yard, only hulks of old cars, parts and pieces of old cars, parts and pieces of every artifact known to man. The front porch usually displays all the thrown out furniture and appliances because there was no more room in the yard. The porch is where it all backs up. I can imagine the internal state of the house where the stuff that should be thrown out has accumulated, unable to get out the door. How do they get around inside of there? I confess, I’ve generalized the term to describe any backwater place where I expect, around the next bend, to find another collector’s gem. I see that imaginary sign, “Welcome to Oinkville”, and on the back side, “Thank you, Come Again”.

    The occupants of these trash museums, and unfortunately many of their friends, travel by car, and do the same thing to the open road that they do at home. Not only do they despoil their property, commonly know as defecating where you eat, they litter the American Road. They dump, with impunity, their garbage bags, bottles, six-packs (empty of course), flick their cigarettes, toss fast food bags and containers without a thought. They visit places too. Yesterday at the beach, my wife and I found one of their monuments. They had constructed a bonfire the night before and littered the beach with beer bottles and broken glass, little surprises for the next person who comes along with bare feet. How to get your blood to a boil!

    I wish I had magic powers. If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be for personal wealth. It would be that anyone who threw anything out of his car or littered in any way would find the whole mess in their bed the next morning. I’m sure the first time it happened, it would be as shocking as the severed horse’s head in the movie, “The Godfather”. The first time, they would probably be clueless as what it was and where it came from, since their littering is probably done unconsciously. After a few times, their hind brain would start to put two and two together, and get the message. Think of the guy who pours his used motor oil or fuel from his snow blower down the storm drain. I hope he doesn’t smoke in bed. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. And, where would his surviving kin dump the body?

  2. It was the trash that soured my life in the mountains. The day a local person dumped a sack of trash in the river right in front of a group of tourists a piece of me died too. Visitors were little better. The point came where one could follow the trails by the trash with no need for a map. The lowest point came when we found a used baby’s nappy thrown down on the trail miles from the nearest road. So right from infancy some people are being taught that it’s OK to throw their waste on the ground and leave it there.

    Then there are the people who obey the instruction to pick up dog dirt and bag it but, rather than take the bags to a bin, hang them from the trees like little memorials to human stupidity.

    I dream of a wilderness so wild and wonderful that people don’t visit.

  3. The leaves of the blue bell flower taste just like fresh cut green beans…that was my first thought when I saw the first photo… :). I can see Sky Line Trail cutting across the base of Pyramid in your other shots. The last time I was there, we were high tailing it off the peak, blazing our way back to the pass, with storms threatening to overtake us. I think we got down in record time that day, lightning being the great motivator that it is. I’ve come into a clearing, coming down from Granite Lake, and been startled by how close we were to a moose lumbering about in a stand of trees. Silliest faces, those moose! And always exciting to see them, though I prefer to admire them from a safe distance. They seem to have done well since they were reintroduced in the area all those years ago. My children were saddened that our trip to Wilderness was cancelled…our little something lost – time with sweet friends in a sanctuary of a place. Today my daughter said, ‘Mama, promise me when we go back next year that you won’t cry…I don’t want to see you cry.’ Can’t make that promise. A handful of summer staff who returned for clean-up made a little ‘welcome home’ music video of the ranch in Crooked Creek canyon. And green grass and aspen sprigs have already burst through the ash like they were gasping for breath. I let the children watch it so they could see that already there was new life showing itself. I suppose now, instead of discussing each year how many more trees on our ridge had died, we’ll be witnessing the renewal of the mountainside, growing year by year…in shades of green we haven’t seen in quite awhile. Still, the burn scar isn’t only on the land, is it? Keep your hands in that good earth.

  4. Gin;

    I’m sure this post will help you move on by letting your feelings out with words. I consider this visual journaling, only with photos as the art. By the way, quite lovely photos. Your words, though sad, are poignant and appreciated. Unfortunately, you do have to give your heat time to heal. The land will take longer, but plants will be back next Spring, or maybe much sooner. The trees a long time, you know all this.

    I feel for you and think it is wise of you to be doing this blog. So people can understand what it’s like to go through a terrible fire, and have to re-adjust your whole life. You three are very capable of doing this, but take your time. I know your tourists are delighted to be back in their cabins. So, things are returning.

    I send you my love, always. Would love to see you, whenever you are ready.

    Take care of those men of yours and of course Gunnar.

    I will pray for the land. It’s happening all over the world, it is to be expected.

    On Fri, Jul 26, 2013 at 10:42 AM, GinGetz.com

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