My dirty little secret


purple flower



sun set


blue bells


Another week worn and older and more work done at the ditch.  We do good work.  Life as a work of art.  Work as our palette.  No matter if it’s digging ditch.

Frost already in the morning.  Rain so hard you wonder if you’ll ever dry and suddenly fire becomes a treasured gift though I don’t know if I’ll ever look at thunderheads the same way and not see plumes of smoke rising from the raging flames.  Our views are tainted.  Maybe it’s just me.

Get on with it.  Dig. Sweat. Soak through.  Cringe when you pause, rest against your shovel and watch another backpacker in the distance not figure out the way across the great Divide.  The spine of the sleeping beast.  I feel her roar, tilt back my head, and join in her wild howl.  Maybe the backpacker wonders what scary beast lurks in this high country besides the usual fear of bears. It’s just me.  Some crazy middle aged mountain mama out here digging ditch for a living.


visitor at camp



ditch digging getz family


yet another visitor to camp



Wild life, changing seasons, strawberries beneath every step on the hill up from the horse pasture.  In camp come does, bucks, bull moose, mama grouse, and Gunnar flushes out a few little ones that spook the horses as we lead them to the river for water.

Here’s life’s simple.  It’s no secret, really. It’s about hard work, silence, the disturbance of airplanes, simple living, simple food.  Everything tastes better when you’re tired.

Dirt work, dirty work.  This week Norman packs in two hundred pounds of lumber and we lay down our shovels, pick up our hammers and hand saws for two of our days here in the wilds during which time we reframe the diversion box that was sagging almost as bad as an old barn ready to fall over under the next load of snow.


packing in 1





packing in


I’m out there and I want to get further.  I fantasize about owning the valley. Maybe the whole mountain.  I don’t want to see the bright white or fluorescent colored pin point prick of a backpacker a mile away.  I want to be alone.  With my boys, my critters, my hard work, the wind, the wilds. A part of the elements. Even the dirt.  I’ll take it.

I never thought I needed money.  Maybe I finally do.  I want enough to buy a valley – both sides – so no one is in my view.  And no one is near enough to hear, to roll their eyes as I run around howling like the wild woman I can be.

I don’t think it’s that I’m anti-social.  I just like to be alone.


early autumn color



early autumn color 2


In praise of the chainsaw.

Sixty four.  That’s the number of trees across the trail on the lower half mile of the North Fork of the Pine River.  Most of those down are beetle killed.  Trees dead, dried and snapped in the wind.  A few are still green.  Their needles now enough to catch the wind in this thinning forest.

Of course if the chainsaw were always allowed, like any motor or wheel, we’d be out of work in the Wilderness. Instead we have horses, shovels, the two person, cross cut saw where it’s all about rhythm.  Part passion, exertion, sweat. And part Zen, losing your mind to the back and forth push and pull.

The trail is still open.  In theory.  No “closed” signs or reports tell you otherwise.  Though crossing horseback might bring tears to your eyes and a few rips and tears to your horses’ legs trying to find a way over, around, through.

A part of the Divide system, it’s still not a popular section of trail.  In peak season on a normal year, you might get three or four groups passing by on any given day, going up, going down.  We know because we see.  Our ditch crosses the base of the trail and every once in a while a curious backpacker or lost Forest Service Newbie takes the wrong turn and comes down the ditch instead of the trail.  Water only flows down the ditch when “in priority.”  Otherwise, the ditch is a dry channel.  I guess I can see the possibility of someone mistaking it for one heck of a well used trail.

It’s not a popular section of the Wilderness.  Our use numbers are low, elevation high.  It’s far away, even to get to the trail head, away from any city, without cell phone service and internet access.  This is the real back woods.  The high country.  Left for the hard core. Left.

Well, I haven’t even mentioned the chainsaw yet and this section was going to be about that.

Here’s the deal.  The trees are dead and falling, and trails are being blocked far faster than a dandy group of young and ambitious Forest Service yes-men-and-women can get out there and clear them.  The trails are becoming impassable.  The point of the Wilderness, for man to come, travel lightly, enjoy the pristine and untrampled, and leave, is being lost.  Man – or woman – and the few that do come this far – can barely get in there and get around.  The place is a mess.  It’s a disgrace in places, and getting worse fast.

So, here’s my proposal. Tell me what you think about this. As chainsaws are about 400% faster than my dear cross cut saw, what if, for say, one week at the beginning of the season, early season, you know, when no one is really out and about up here yet for the year, we let them (or better yet, they let us, if you really want this to be about efficiency, but I know it’s still about more, like rules, regulations, control and bureaucracy…) take in chainsaws for just a few days and clear the trails, open up the access, clean the place up, allow our minimal use to continue and the tradition and dedication that made these trails possible in the first place to carry on in a respectful manner, to land and man, wild and curious.




Now we’re back home.  Guests have left early so there is an empty cabin with running hot water.  Showers feel especially good when it’s been five days and you’ve been out there really working.  So does bed.

Home is still simple.  For us now, a one room cabin, still propped up on blocks of firewood until we build something else, a little bigger, down here some day.  For now, we have bunk beds.  Forrest on the top; Bob and I down below.  In the middle of the night a cat forgets we’re back and jumps from the top bunk and lands on my face.  I awake to a bloody nose and can’t find a flashlight to find my way to a little water in the jug on the counter to wipe myself clean.  Sometimes a little too cozy.

Though earlier I visited the outhouse in the dark of night with the door open to the sound of the river below and a spectacular show of distance lightning in the sky above.  Beat that.

Simple pleasures.  You think it sounds like fun, but do you really want to be here? For how long? Are you ready to give up your bed, toilet and kitchen sink, medical insurance, job security, regular payments towards your debt which has allowed you a bigger better life? Trade that for bugs and cold and wet and dirt and sore muscles and regular cuts and bruises and a bloody nose at best? Is it not enough to come here one week out of every year and dream about if for fifty others?

You may have more comforts and luxuries and fancy foods and nights on the town and you won’t get me to want to trade places.

I’ll take my dirty life.


sunny white flower



gunnars world





7 thoughts on “My dirty little secret

  1. Really enjoyed this one and while I have tons of thoughts I’ll share this:

    1. Yes, the chainsaw…bring it on…the forest deserves a good cleaning up and maybe it will bring more people in to experience it.

    2. “I don’t think it’s that I’m anti-social. I just like to be alone.”. and ..”I fantasize about owning the valley. Maybe the whole mountain.”… Just today I was telling my husband that I don’t really want much…just about 100 acres surrounded by National Forest with a cabin right smack dab in the middle!…

    3. And as always I love the photographs. I sure hope Norman got a big special meal after hauling all that lumber! What a man!

  2. Man, do I ever understand the need to be alone. Great photos, as usual, Gin – you sure know how to bring the soul and essence of nature to the finished product. But you do that in life as well…

  3. Love the pics Gin. Although I have learned to enjoy my alone time, I still need my comforts and occasional times with friends; or just getting out on my own, whether to talk a walk around a small town, along the river, a meal at a café, sitting at a table outside a café/restaurant with a cup of coffee and watching people going by, some with their dogs.

  4. Nice post, Gin. Chainsaws, yes; otherwise the Wilderness will be lost to the two legged and most of the four leggeds. Not so much anti-social as a-social, I suspect; me too.

  5. We all remember these guys…they were perfect for Ranquico. Thank goodness we had them with us..I hope they return. Sky thinks they are. Certainly such posts explain why they know so much…… Adelante chicos!! Besos

  6. It’s tough looking at the parts of the mountain that burned, especially where the fire burned hot and took everything; even the younger trees that had survived the beetle kill and that I was hoping was the future of that particular area. My hope is it will be like it’s been other times, though, where grasses and forbs and seedlings come in fairly quick and carpet the ground. I hope. And many areas where the beetle kill took the older trees still have younger trees that I hope will survive.

    Allowing chainsaws in to clear trails is a slippery slope that I’ve been on, one where people then begin discussing their possible use elsewhere in Wilderness in order to get more done more efficiently. Where’s the line drawn, though? Whose philosophy in that regard is the ideal and best one? And ultimately these discussions turn to talking about why we need Wilderness anyway. Not good. So I am OK with putting up with your same feelings when I’m out there pulling my end of the saw, tired as hell, arms and elbows aching, wishing instead we could have used a chainsaw and be done and be back in the saddle and just riding for the views and feelings, not having to stop every ten or hundred yards to cut out one or ten trees. Builds character, I’m told. And the down time back at home in the workshop filing the teeth on the saws is good time. The whole deal equates to job security, I guess.

    I’ve run into a number of the Forest Service yes women and men this Summer in the high country as they’ve been clearing trails between and after fires. My observation is that they are as dedicated as I am to the backcountry, they believe in it, and they appreciate their silver singing crosscut saws. I’ve watched them and I’ve seen their work under the Rio Grande Pyramid this Summer, and I’ve been proud of them because they are there when so many aren’t. And I’ve been amazed and proud of their production (miles of trails cleared of hundreds of trees) when some do not appreciate government work.

    A sharp saw is the key, isn’t it, and taking proper care of that saw?

    Hope the ditch work is done by now.

    We’re headed to Squaw Creek Trailhead on the 20th to figure out what materials and equipment we need to rebuild the hitch rails and stock loading ramp there, then a burger at Freemon’s afterwards, … life is good.

    • I so appreciate your pride in work and fellow workers. You are inside, I am out, seeing the world – and the organization, government – from a very different perspective. The stories I could share of inefficiency, work and ideals lost behind a pile of shuffled paperwork…. Don’t get me started. Let’s just stick with what we love and go about it our own ways, within the system, or outside. I’m always the outsider, my friend. Twenty years ago, my brother and I talked about our desire to change the world. He took the route of the military, tried to work within the system. I took to the path of the outsider, just trying to change myself, live in the best way I could upon the land, and hope I might be lucky enough to affect just one person along the way in a positive manner. In retrospect, I have no regrets. I do not know if he does.

Thank you for your interest in Gin's writing.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s