And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

(Hebrews 12:5-11, NKJV)

Tim, Kevin, and I stood around the pool table with pool cues in hand, not actually playing a game, just talking and taking an occasional shot here and there. It didn’t matter what ball we aimed for, or whether a striped or solid dropped, we were just kind of working on our technique and practicing angles. Mostly, though, we were just hanging out.

After accidentally sinking the cue ball, Kevin scowled then turned to me saying, “So, what do you want to do with that long weekend we’ve got coming at us in a couple weeks?”

It was mid-May and Memorial Day was right around the corner.  I couldn’t think of anything in particular that was on the schedule and figured dad would just have us riding fence that weekend out at the Tyrone place, or maybe checking on a few calves that we had worked a week or two earlier.

“Scratch!” I called out harshly, just to make Kevin scowl some more. “Why, what cha got in mind there, Kevie?”

“Not a whole lot,” he said, giving me the stink eye. Then relaxing, he continued, “I was just thinkin it might be a good time to head down into the Sapillo, if you’re up to it,” he said.

“I’m up to it,” Tim immediately chimed in.

Kevin and I instantly glanced across the pool table at one another, spontaneously calculating the implications of Tim’s somewhat overreactive response.

“Well, I’m not saying we should go THAT weekend,” Kevin continued, “I just threw it out there for something to think about, maybe.”

It was clear to me that Kevin’s question had not actually been directed at both me and Tim. He had just kind of thrown it out there for me to think about, not really considering who else was in the room.

Following Kevin’s cue, I replied cautiously, “Yeah, I don’t know. I better check with the old man first and see what he’s got on tab.”

It wasn’t that we didn’t like Tim, he was a cool kid and we liked him well enough. The problem was, we just didn’t know him all that well, yet. Kevin and I had known one another for several years—our parents had known one another since before we were even born. We had ventured together down into the mouth of the Sapillo—where Sapillo Creek empties into the Gila River—several times already. We each knew the other’s ability when it came to handling horses and equipment, including firearms, and had developed a certain level of trust between us. So, the thought of taking someone new with us, especially someone that neither one of us could really vouch for, was a matter of some consideration.

Now, both Kevin and I had our stories of various hunting expeditions that had gone wrong. So, I took the opportunity to share one of those stories as the three of us continued taking pot shots at pool balls.

“Did I ever tell you guys about that time that Robbie Harrison and I went quail hunting together down south of Silver?” I was pretty sure that Kevin had heard the story, but I knew that Tim hadn’t.

“Well,” I continued, “Robbie was carrying a 20 gage repeat action with a three second delay.  I was carrying my dad’s old 12 gage long barrel with full choke.”

“I know THAT gun,” Kevin interrupted. “You remember when we were out dove hunting and you let me take a shot with that old son-of-a-gun.  I knocked a dove out of the air at nearly 50 yards and practically blew my shoulder off at the same time.”

“Well, I told you to hold it up to your shoulder really tight,” I replied.

“Man, I couldn’t lift anything with that arm for nearly a week,” he said.

“Yeah, that old shotgun definitely ‘slips off the load’ a little bit,” I responded. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the memory of Kevin limping back toward me, barely able to carry the shotgun in his left arm while his right arm was practically dragging the ground, a look of shocked bewilderment and sheer pain etched across his face. He had never asked to shoot it again.

“Anyway, as I was saying, Robbie and I were out hunting, but before we got started, we decided to take a few practice shots at some old cans that someone had left laying at the bottom of a fencepost. We set one of the cans up on the post and I shot first with that old 12 gage. That can all but disappeared before our very eyes.

“It was Robbie’s turn, so I walked down and set up another can for him to shoot at. When I got back to the line, he took his shot and the can went tumbling.

“I look over at him and said, ‘Another,’” and he nodded as I stepped out to go downrange and set up another can for him. But Robbie had not taken his finger off the trigger.  He was still squeezing it.

“I took one step, which placed me right close to the front of the gun barrel and ‘BAM’… that gun went off again!

“If I had immediately moved forward to go set up that can, instead of taking that one second to confirm that he wanted to take another shot, I would have been directly in the line of fire at point blank range.”

“Dang, Phil,” Kevin inserted, “Every time you tell that story, it kinda freaks me out!”

“But wait,” I responded, “it gets worse…

“I know I should have taken my cue to exit and called it a day right then and there, but we were already out there so I decided to continue with the hunt anyway.

“Well, Robbie and I decided that we would split up and work two sides of a ridge, from the south up toward the north. So, I’m walking up one side of the ridge, maybe 25 yards down from the ridgeline, and Robbie is walking up the other side.

“All of the sudden, I see a covey of quail already in flight coming right at me from the other side of the ridge and I hear Robbie letting loose with his gun—bam, bam… bam!

“Instantly, I’m feeling birdshot hitting me here and there. I ducked and covered to minimize the impact, but some of the shot still punctured the skin on my arms.  I had to use my pocketknife to get one of them out from under my skin.

“‘What the hell?’ I called out over the ridge… ‘you shot me!’ But he didn’t hear; that kid was in a world of his own. I didn’t want to get shot again, so I waited until I knew he was quite a ways on up the ridge before I topped out over the ridgeline and waved at him, ‘Hey, I’m going home!’ He waved his acknowledgement without even asking me why. So, I took off and left him out there by himself; and headed on back to the house to look for Band-Aids.”

Kevin was glaring at me with his crooked little half smile, then cut his eyes over at Tim, who was standing there wide-eyed, no doubt wondering if I had just made up the whole story. I don’t know if he got the point that I was trying to make or not; that point being: be careful who you choose to hunt with; or, for that matter, do anything relatively dangerous with!

But at that point, Kevin, figuring that we had covered that base well enough, and being the good-natured kid that he was, said to Tim, “Well, if we can round up enough horses, we’d sure like to have you come along.”

Tim responded excitedly, “I can bring the beer!” And that settled it for Kevin.  As far as he was concerned, Tim was in.

What could I do but back my friend’s call? So, I raised my eyebrows, took a deep breath, and acquiesced to the whole situation saying, “Umm yeah, Tim, we’d like to have you join us on this one.”

I was still a bit skeptical. Tim seemed the type who was a whole lot better with automobiles than with livestock. He did have one hot little Mustang that I admired. And unlike me and Kevin, he was also fairly popular with the young ladies. But I really couldn’t see how either of those two admirable qualities would be of very much help to us if we got ourselves in a bind up in the wilderness. What I didn’t want to see happen, and what I hoped to avoid, was being stuck with someone that we would end up having to nursemaid and pamper along the way just to get them back to civilization in one piece.

But at the same time, I could also see that Tim was no Robbie. And regardless of how well we knew, or didn’t know, one another at the time, or how much actual experience he had with horses and wilderness travel, still, Tim came across to me as being reliable enough.

So, it was agreed there around the pool table that, as long as our dads didn’t have other plans for us, we would be spending our Memorial Day Weekend up on the Gila.

We also determined that we would travel light on this trip. Kevin and I would furnish horses, saddles, and tack. We would take two trucks, each pulling a two-horse trailer. We each would take our own sleeping bags and fishing gear. Phil would provide the horse feed and bait shrimp. Kevin would provide the Swisher Sweets. And Tim, because he volunteered, would provide the beer if he could manage to get it. But because we were taking only one pack animal, we would take no other unnecessary equipment or supplies, such as food—who needs food when we’re just going to eat all the fish that we can catch.

_______________

So, what do cowboy kids do for fun? Well, they might just hitch up a horse trailer, load up a couple of their favorite trail ponies, throw in saddles, tack, and camping gear, including a couple of firearms, and head for the mountains.

Three sixteen-year old’s, two trucks—each pulling a two-horse trailer over dangerous mountain roads—four horses, guns, and beer—what could possibly go wrong?

It was Memorial Day Weekend and Friday was a short day at good ole Silver High School.  With horses, camping gear, and supplies all loaded, I pulled my trailer right into the high school parking lot to attend a few classes before heading on up into the mountains for our weekend fishing trip.  It was a cool and cloudy morning, so I didn’t worry about the horses getting too hot in the trailer. Nobody messed with the truck, the horses, or the gear. The truck was likely left unlocked, but nobody tried to take the guns—they were just guns, no big deal!

What WAS a big deal, and what was forefront on my mind that day, was making sure that we carefully navigated those old mountain roads so as to not shake, rattle, and roll our horses around too much. Because, if I got back home and daddy saw that some of the hair had been rubbed off of ole Chip and Rowdy’s tails due to being bumped up against the trailer gate a few too many times, I would surely find myself in big, and I do mean BIG, trouble!

After a couple of abbreviated class periods—we ditched the third one—Kevin and I each pulled our rigs out of the high school parking lot and pointed them toward the hills.  I led the way and Tim rode along with Kevin. We took Highway 15 north up through Pinos Altos all the way out to Sheep Corral Canyon Road.  We turned west onto that forest dirt road and wound around on it for several miles until we got all the way back to our trailhead out on Tadpole Ridge.

We unloaded the horses and began saddling up. I intended to ride ole Chip, my all-around best horse, and put a pack saddle on Rowdy with a soft canvass pannier on each side.  After all, while we were surely traveling light, we still needed some way to haul the feed and, of course, the beer.

It was at just about that moment, when Tim uncovered the two cases of Budweiser he had placed in the back of Kevin’s rig and proudly announced, “I brought the beer; two cases of Bud in the bottle!”

In an instant, both Kevin and I stopped what we were doing, turned toward Tim, and simultaneously cried out, “IN THE BOTTLE???”

I broke out laughing, Kevin just scowled.  Obviously, this kid was no wilderness packer.  “In the bottle?” I inquired again.

Tim just stood there looking helplessly befuddled. “Um, well yeah, what’s wrong?” he asked.

I was practically in tears by now and all I could manage to reply through my laughter was, “In the bot, bot, bottle?”

Turning toward Kevin, I managed to eke out, “Hey, Kevin, get this, Tim managed to get us some Bud – in the BOTTLE!”

Kevin smiled his weird little half smile, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, sighed, and repeated, “In the bottle?”

Wishing to spare Tim any more embarrassment, we kind of dropped the subject for the moment.  But every now and then, throughout that trip, one or the other of us would cry out, “In the BOTTLE?”

After packing the supplies that we were taking with us—mainly just a lightweight tent, a fifty-pound sack of horse feed, and a few other items for taking care of the horses—then loading our bottled Bud into one of the panniers and tying on our sleeping bags behind the cantle of our saddles, we were ready to hit the trail. Kevin carried a Smith & Wesson 357 Magnum as a sidearm. I carried my old Winchester Model 94 .30-30 lever action deer rifle in a leather scabbard affixed to the front of my saddle. Tim carried our fishing poles in a couple of similar leather scabbards tied on to his saddle.

Prior to our departure, Kevin properly and formally distributed the Swishers, as promised.  We were each allotted four small packs, each pack containing five cigars, to get us through the weekend. Kevin also flashed a small lighter that he intended we share among us—much safer than matches; we sure didn’t want to start any forest fires along the way.

Kevin led the way, I followed riding Chip and leading Rowdy, and Tim brought up the rear. I’m convinced it took Tim at least an hour of riding along the trail behind ole Rowdy, and listening to those bottles clanking together in the panniers, for him to realize what Kevin and I were so adamantly concerned about with regard to our bottled beer.

“Guess I should’ve brought cans,” he finally called out to me. “Hope they don’t break!” I just laughed and kept riding.

“Hey, Kevie, are you ready for some catfish?” I called to Kevin riding up ahead of me.

It was kind of hard to hear each other above the noise of the mountain breeze sweeping through the trees, our horses in travel, and the sound of clanking bottles in the panniers. But my question sparked an ongoing conversation among the three of us concerning that incredibly tasty, but not widely heralded, delicacy known as the Gila River Mountain Catfish.

As far as we knew, Tim had not yet tasted one.  But whether he had or not, he was our excuse for elaborating on all the particulars of the said paragon of the culinary demesne.

I began my commentary, “You see, Tim, the catfish up here high on the Gila enjoy the benefit of cool, clean, ever flowing mountain waters; right off the pristine Mogollon snowpack.  Unlike those terrible tasting mudcats down in the flatlands that live all their lives in stagnant, muddy waters and, therefore, taste like dirt, these catfish have beautiful, sweet, white meat that practically melts in your mouth.”

“Ain’t that right, Kevie?” I called.

“I’m heading straight for Joe’s hole,” Kevin summarily announced.

I continued, “Now, Joe’s hole, Tim, is where Kevie and I caught our first big Gila River Mountain Catfish.  We pulled him out of a large pool in the bend of the river about a mile and a half below the mouth of the Sapillo.  We didn’t have any way of weighing him at the time, but we measured him to be about three feet long and close to eight inches in girth. We named him Joe.

“Well, Kevin was so proud of old Joe that he determined to keep that fish alive for the remainder of the trip. And that he did. We kept him in the water for a couple of days until we were ready to head home. Then we skedaddled outta there in a hurry.

“Kevin kept that fish moist all the way back into town and ole Joe was still breathing when we pulled into Kevin’s folks place. It wasn’t until then that Kevin and I cleaned that fish and stuck him in the freezer in the top of his mom’s frig.

“We were in no hurry to eat ole Joe; we had way too much bragging to do.  I don’t know how many times Kevin pulled that frozen fish out of the freezer to show him off to one person or another. People could hardly believe that a fish that size could come out of the Gila River.

“But we began to suspect that Kevin’s mom was beginning to grow weary of the whole ordeal. Plus, she was needing some room in her freezer.  So, one night his folks invited my folks over to dinner and guess who was on the menu!”

“Ummm, probably Joe? Tim asserted.

“Yup, ole Joe!  You know, that one catfish fed all of Kevin’s family and all of my family in one sitting.  We’re pretty sure he must have weighed eight to ten pounds when we caught him.

“Both of our dads were so impressed with that fish that my next trip into the Sapillo was with my dad. He was determined that he was gonna catch a fish like that, too.”

“Did he?” Tim asked.

“No, never did,” I said, “and as far as we know, no one else ever has.  Old Joe may have been a rarity, a genuine, one of kind treasure for all we know. But we’ve caught plenty of other catfish up here.  A lot of them up to two feet in length and weighing three or four pounds and, believe me, you’re gonna find out tonight just how tasty they can be.”

“I’m hungry already,” Tim said.

“Me too, my man, me too!” I replied.

We followed the trial from Sheep Corral Road north down Tadpole ridge. One hour turned to two and the trail became steeper and windier as we began to near Sapillo Creek. We were, all three, starting to get pretty thirsty. We had brought no water.  Who needs water when we had two cases of beer? But we decided to tough it out and not drink any of the beer until we could get down to the Gila and chill it in the cool river water for a little bit. After all, who likes hot beer?

As we wound our way northward down the trail, nearing the Sapillo, our eyes couldn’t help but constantly scan the westward horizon, constantly looking for that first glimpse of the Gila River.  Finally, I heard Kevin shout, “There she is! We’ve found the river!”

Then he suddenly jerked his horse to a stop right in the middle of the trail. Ole Chip nearly careened into the back of Kevin’s horse and Rowdy very nearly collided with the rear end of Chip.  Bottles rattled violently. I was almost certain a few of them had broken. We all, horses and riders alike, stood motionless in the trial, gazing with uncertainty down the canyon and out over the Gila, trying to make sense of the spectacle there before our eyes. Something just didn’t look right.

Finally, after a long, silent pause, Kevin looked back over his shoulder and said, “She’s muddy, Phil.”

I could see he was right.  Instead of the shimmering, clear blue ribbon of light that we had become accustomed to seeing gently flowing down between the canyon walls, there was an ugly, brown, debris filled deluge.

Kevin sighed, “Well, what do you want to do?” he asked.

Before I could answer, Tim chimed in, “We should go on down!”

Kevin replied, “Yeah, I think so, too.”

“Okay,” I said, “But you guys have to agree that if things start looking like they’re going south on us, we’re getting out of here!”

“Agreed!” Kevin said. Tim, still looking all too eager, remained silent.

We made our way on down the trail into Sapillo Creek, which looked like its regular old self; a small stream running clear. We took a few minutes to let our horses drink, then turned west and made our approach to the Gila. I was relieved to see that the river wasn’t nearly as swollen as it appeared from up high on the ridge. But it was certainly muddy.

“We’ve gotta be really careful if we’re gonna take the horses across,” I said to Kevin.

He answered, “I only wanna try to get down to Joe’s hole, not any further.”

“Yeah, well, if we can even recognize Joe’s hole,” I replied.

Kevin and I commenced a little pow-wow to determine the best place to attempt a river crossing; with Tim listening in.

“Well, the channel narrows to the south,” I said, “and that’s gonna make the water deeper.”

“Yeah, and there’s also that big bend in the river right over there,” Kevin replied pointing southward, “And we’re likely not gonna be able to get around it because the river’s gonna be right up against that east bluff.”

“Yup, and she narrows up to our north, too,” I said, pointing northward, “and there’s that bend right up there on the opposite side which is gonna throw the water right up against that west bluff. So, even if we found a spot to cross up there somewhere, we wouldn’t be able to get back down the other side in this direction.”

Kevin gazed at the river crossing right in front of us for a minute. We both knew that trying to get across would be slightly more dangerous than usual because we couldn’t see the bottom. The last thing we wanted was for a horse to get a hoof caught between a couple of big boulders lurking down under there somewhere and end up breaking a leg. But the river didn’t look to be much more than a foot deep and maybe thirty feet wide at this location.

So, with no other viable options, Kevin let out yet another long sigh and said, “I’ll go first,” as he eased his horse down to the edge of the water and then gingerly splashed across to the other side.

Seeing that he had encountered no significant obstacles, I took Chip and Rowdy across next, sticking as close as possible to the line that Kevin had traversed. Tim followed close behind.

“Well, that crossing worked out okay,” I told Keven, “But let’s hope the river doesn’t rise any further, or we’ll never get back out. And I’m not taking these ponies through anything any deeper than that.”

Kevin nodded, as he reined his horse around and continued down the river trail.

I looked back at Tim and shook my head.  For the first time, I could see that he looked a little uncertain as to just what he may have gotten himself into.

Slowly and carefully, we moved on down the north bank of the Gila. We knew we weren’t going to be able to get too far without having to cross the river again. But the canyon widened out significantly in the area of the second bend where the river turned a little toward the west; and I could see a flat, level clearing that lay about 25 yards or so off the river up ahead of us.  The clearing was surrounded by spindly pines and looked to have a little bit of elevation, maybe five to ten feet above the river. So, I called for Kevin to hold up.

“Now, I know we’re only a few minutes south of the Sapillo,” I said, “but we either make camp here, or we’re gonna have to cross the river again.”

“You worried about one of us getting hurt?” he replied.

“No,” I said, “I’m not so worried for us. But you and I both know there’ll be hell to pay if we let one of these old caballos get hurt up here.

“So, I’m suggesting we make camp in that clearing right up here ahead of us. There looks to be safe enough places to hitch the horses. Then we can walk on down to Joe’s hole from there, or maybe scout out other places where we might snag a fish.”

I was a little surprised at how quickly Kevin agreed with me. He must have already been thinking along the same lines. Every cowboy kid knows that you take care of your animals before anything else. It’s bred into us. And, if you’ll take good care of those animals, they’ll take care of you.

So, we moved away from the river, up a little side trail, and found a small flat area to make camp. After unsaddling the horses, Kevin pulled out a pair of hobbles.

“I don’t know if I would do that, Kevin,” I said, “Given the conditions and all. What if your pony falls off that little sandy embankment over there. With those hobbles, he’ll break his fool neck.”

“What do you want to do?” Kevin asked.

“I’m thinking we’ll probably be better off just tyin em to that fallen tree trunk over there.”

“That could be dangerous too, Phil,” he replied, “Remember old man Coppage? He was up in this very area, tied his horse to a tree and that horse got all wrapped up around it, fell, and broke his neck.”

I could see that Tim was listening intently to our conversation and that the inherent dangers of the wilderness were being rapidly inculcated upon his mind. Kevin looked over at him and smiled as he observed the uncertainty written all over Tim’s face.

“Well, you do what you think best,” I said, “but I’m just haltering and tying mine. Coppage, from what I understand, left way too much slack in his lead rope.

“Besides, I don’t think any of these ponies can work themselves around this old fallen tree and there’s no brush to tangle em. And I’d rather take my chances doing it this way than to have one of them tumble down that embankment with hobbles.”

Kevin, being a fairly sensible kid and all, quickly succumbed to my line of reasoning and decided that he would just tie his horses, as well. “But how they gonna graze tonight?” he asked.

“Graze on what?” I asked. “There’s hardly a speck of grass around here, just a few little tufts here and there. Besides, we brought enough feed pellets to suffice for a couple of nights. But we can take turns grazing them on the patchy areas, too, if you want.”

Kevin didn’t particularly like that answer, but there wasn’t a whole lot more he could say about it. I got the impression that he could see the joy of this wonderful wilderness weekend rapidly evaporating by the minute. While Kevin was a good hand, he wasn’t always good at dealing with all the minutia that responsibility tended to impose upon him.

“Oh, and Kevie, I’m thinking we ought not tie these horses hard and fast,” I reminded him. “We’ve gotta be able to get em loose if we need to.”

“Yup, got it,” he replied, then mumbled something else under his breath. But whatever he was mumbling, I didn’t care, so long as I could see that he was using slip knots.

Wanting to brightened Kevin’s spirits a bit, I turned to him and Tim and said, “Hey, how about I stay up here and make camp while you two head on down to the river and find a place to cool off some beer. Then you can scout on downstream and see if you can find Joe’s hole.”

That suggestion seemed to please them both. So, they each took a bottled six pack in each hand, grabbed their fishing gear and a box of bait shrimp, then headed off down to the river to catch us some supper.

As they walked off, I hollered after them, “In the BOTTLE???”

They laughed and moved on outta sight; while I quietly marveled at the fact that not a single bottle of Bud had broken in the panniers coming down the trail that day.

I set up our small tent, spread out our sleeping bags, organized our few camping supplies, gathered some firewood, and gave each of the horses their evening ration of pellets. Then I walked down along the river enjoying the solitude for a few minutes. My mind moved to whether or not I should attempt leading the horses back up to the Sapillo for another watering when they finished feeding. Mainly, I was just killing time, and getting hungrier and thirstier by the minute, waiting for the boys to get back from their little fishing expedition.

I marked that another hour had gone by, and the sun was already sinking below the rim of the canyon wall to the west, but there was still no sign of Kevin or Tim.  I figured I’d give them another hour before getting concerned. Meanwhile, I decided to ride Chip bareback, and lead ole Rowdy, back up the trail to the spot where we had crossed the river earlier to see if they wanted another drink.

I knew this was a slightly risky venture and felt a little vulnerable as I took them back across the river, being all by myself and all. I knew that, if there was a mishap, no one would be there to lend a hand; or to even tell the story of what had happened to me. But Chip was steady, as I knew he would be, and I kept a firm grip on the lead rope just in case Rowdy decided to take advantage of the situation. We crossed without incident, I let them get a little drink from the clear creek water of the Sapillo, then headed back across the river and back down to camp.

Twilight was starting to settle in. I haltered Chip and tied both horses back to the fallen tree trunk. I decided I had better go ahead and build a fire before it got dark, so I found the lighter Kevin had left behind, used it to light a bit of kindling, and soon had a good fire going. I sat by the fire for a little bit, then decided this was a good time to enjoy my first Swisher. I reached for the package still riding in my shirt pocket, pulled one out, and lit it with a small stick from the fire.

The valley was growing darker, and the first stars were beginning to peek out. I sat by the fire puffing on my little cigar and wondering if those boys had fallen in the river. “Perhaps they’ve done been swept off to Arizona by now,” I thought to myself. Suddenly, I heard a commotion coming from down by the river. The boys were back and were not happy.

“What’s going on,” I called out.

“Nothing!” Kevin hollered. Then I heard him follow up a bit quieter with, “Absolutely, nothing!”

“What do you mean, nothing?” I shouted.

“I mean we caught NOTHING,” he shouted back, sounding more than a little frustrated.

He sounded so angry and comical that I couldn’t help chuckling to myself, at first. But then the reality of his report began to sink in. If they hadn’t caught a single fish, then we literally had nothing to eat.

Tim and Kevin came stumbling into camp; wet, cold, hungry, and with nothing to eat. They both practically collapsed beside the fire.

“What do you mean, nothing?” I asked again.  I knew it was a bit rhetorical, and I knew I was making it sound like it was their fault, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.  Kevin didn’t say a word; he just looked at me and scowled.

“Well, this is the first time this has ever happened,” I said.

“The river’s muddy,” Kevin replied, “so they’re just not biting.”

“We’ve got beer,” Tim interjected.

“Yeah, hot beer,” added Kevin.

They handed me a bottle of the Bud from a six pack they had just retrieved from the river on their way up. I carefully pried off the bottle cap with my pocketknife and wiped the top with my shirttail, so as to not ingest any glass splinters. “In a BOTTLE?” I asked, shaking my head and looking at Tim. I took a sip.  Sure enough, even after having soaked in the river water for a few hours, the beer tasted overly warm.

“Uggghhh… that’s terrible!” I stated flatly.

“Tastes like horse piss,” Kevin added.

“So, what are we gonna eat?” asked Tim.

“Uhhh, I don’t know, what are we gonna eat?” Kevin mocked, giving Tim his coldest, steely-eyed stare.

Things grew pretty quiet for several minutes until I just couldn’t help but blurt out, “Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?” getting two steely-eyed stares in return.

“I fed the horses,” I said to Kevin. “But I only watered mine.” He sat there unmoving, a blank stare on his face. “I rode Chip, led Rowdy, crossed the river, didn’t die.”

“We almost did,” said Tim.

“Still might,” Kevin added.

“What happened, fall in?” I asked.

“Naw,” said Tim, “just slipping and sliding over the rocks trying to get to the other side.”

“Well, Kevie, it’s getting too dark now.  I’m thinking you’ll have to water your horses in the morning,” I stated matter of factly.

“They’ll be alright!” he responded.

We sat by the fire for several minutes, each of us puffing on one of our little Swisher Sweets and trying to choke down a bottle of warm Budweiser.

“When was the last time you ate?” asked Tim.

“Me? Oh, I guess it’s been more than 24 hours by now,” I said.

Kevin added, “at least that for me!”

“Me too,” Tim said quietly.

“This reminds me of the time we were camping several miles down below here,” I said, “And a whole troop of boy scouts moved right down on top of us. Do you remember that, Kevin?”

“Yup,” he said, “Must’a been a hunnerd of em!

“Well, probably not a hundred, but at least fifty or so, I’d say!” I replied.

“What happened?” Tim asked.

“Well, nothing really happened,” I said.

“One of their leaders, I guy named David, was a friend of ours from school.  He recognized me from across the river and hollered out, so I hollered back and invited him to come on across for a visit.

“So, David came across by himself. We offered him a Swisher and we all sat by the fire telling stories for a while.  He said they had come down the Spring Canyon Trail that day and then entered the Gila at the mouth of the Sapillo right where we did. Said they were heading all the way down the Gila River Trail through Turkey Creek. Then vehicles were supposed to be waiting for them somewhere beyond there, down on Box Canyon Road, I think.

“I asked if they were fishin along the way; but he said, ‘No, just walkin!’”

“That’s A LOT of walkin!” Kevin interjected sourly.

“Well, at least they had food!” Tim stated.

“Well, so did we, at the time,” I responded, “and the river was clean and pretty, so we had plenty of fish.”

“Anyway, ole David sat right there and smoked two or three Swishers with us, then said he needed to get back and check on those little rascals.  We offered him a fresh pack of Swishers to help get him on down the trail, but he declined saying he didn’t want to set a bad example in front of the younger ones. And, of course, we completely agreed with him!” Kevin and Tim both nodded their heads.

Our fireside chat dwindled. I went to check on the horses then stoked up the fire a little more. Keven and Tim stayed awake until they were warm enough and dry enough, then crawled off to their sleeping bags. I stayed up a bit longer sipping on what had become, by then, the most terrible beverage I could possibly imagine; and listening to my tummy grumble.

_______________

We each woke the next day much earlier than any of us had planned. The sun remained well below the east rim of the canyon. A stiff, cold mountain air blew down the river channel from the north. It made me want to just turn around and crawl right back into my sleeping bag. But instead, I stoked the campfire in the early morning chill and then stumbled over to give the horses their feed pellets. Having no need of preparing a morning meal, I simply sat down by the fire to have another Swisher for breakfast. Tim rolled out of the sack next, appearing hopeful. I was really beginning to appreciate his genuine enthusiasm. Kevin rolled out his regular, old, cranky, morning self.

“Sorry I can’t offer you some biscuits and gravy,” I said.  He scowled. And thus began our big debate on whether or not we should just pack up and leave that morning or stay for the day and give it another go. “Yet dawn is ever the hope of men” as J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) one time put it; so, feeling our oats, or lack thereof, we were all three up for giving it at least one more go-round that morning.

Kevin and Tim each took a few, still seemingly lukewarm, Buds with them in a couple of deep saddle bags thrown over their shoulders and, making sure they each had plenty of Swishers, and the lighter, they grabbed their fishing poles and bait shrimp and headed down river.

I preferred to remain near camp again, telling them I would fish in the nearby hole at the bend of the river just downstream, but that I would stay close enough to camp to keep an eye on our horses. Fish or no fish, I knew we had better get back home with all horses safely in tow.

I fished by myself throughout the day, moving up and down the muddy river looking for anything that looked like a hole, or at least deep enough water that a catfish might be lurking nearby. But though I lost nearly a whole box of shrimp, I couldn’t say that I had anything even remotely akin to a bite.

I walked into camp and checked the horses several times between my little jaunts up and down the river. Finally, sometime well beyond mid-day, as I noticed the sun beginning to descend toward the west, I gave up fishing altogether.  Around four in the afternoon, I climbed back on sturdy ole Chip and took him and Rowdy back up to the Sapillo for some clear water.  When I got back to camp and found no sign of the fellers, I saddled up Kevin’s horse, not trusting him enough to ride bareback, and rode him, while leading Tim’s horse, upriver for water.

About the time I got back to camp again, I heard a shout from the river and saw Tim waving at me. “We caught something!” he yelled excitedly. My only thought was, “Thank goodness,” as I instinctively patted my stomach in relief.

I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe another five-pounder, like Joe; or maybe a three-pounder, or even a two. But what I saw them carrying up the sandy embankment, still flapping on the string, had to have been the most anemic looking little yellowbellied excuse for a fish that any looney tune animator could have ever imagined delineating.

“Ummm… excuse me, but I thought I heard you say you caught SOMEthing?” I said as sarcastically as I could muster.

“We did! Look, we eat tonight!” exclaimed Tim joyously. “Kevin caught him around noon. We were gonna go ahead and eat him ourselves,” he said with a sheepish grin, “But then we thought of you.”

“Oh, how thoughtful!” I replied.

I could see that my attitude was seriously beginning to take the wind out of Tim’s sails. So, I tried to drum up as much enthusiasm as I my rumbling tummy would allow and said, “Well boys, between the Bud in a BOTTLE, a few Swishers, and that lifesaving specimen that Kevie has somehow managed to fish out of the drink, looks like we might survive for one more night. How shall we divide him?”

Both Kevin and Tim appeared instantly perplexed, their smiles turning to looks of confusion. Just how does one fairly divide a sickly looking little sixteen-ounce catfish among three ravenous, growing boys so that each of them feels satisfied that he got his fair share? Considering it hardly worth my time, I walked off to finish tending to the horses and let the two of them wrestle with the complexity of that conundrum.

“Well, first we gotta roast him,” I heard Kevin say, “then we’ll divide him up.”

Kevin walked back down to the river to clean the fish while Tim went in search of a suitable roasting stick. I watched with amusement from the shadows as the two of them commenced to preparing, properly mounting, and then slowly roasting what remained of the carcass after cleaning.

When the fish was about done, I was called back up to the fire to retrieve my fair share. I fell to my knees in front of the fire and watched as Kevin took out his hunting knife and carefully traced a pattern on the tiny cadaver. From what I could see, Kevin got half of the top two-thirds and Tim got the other half of the top two-thirds. I got both halves of the bottom third, which amounted mostly to tail.

I couldn’t help but think of the sad, ghoulish, little creature, Gollum, from Tolkien’s novel, as the three of us sat around the campfire gazing at one another and drooling over that impoverished little alibi for a meal.

It is likely that we each got about two and a half mouthfuls of actual meat; if you could call any part of that creature, “meat.” I think Tim must have felt sorry for me as I sat there sucking on my boney, little fish tail because, after promptly taking a couple of bites himself, he offered his remaining half bite to me.  And I’m ashamed to say, I greedily took it.  I didn’t want to; it was just an automatic response.

In just a matter of seconds, the fish was gone. We each sat staring at the campfire in bewilderment. Our faces told the story, “This is it?” we were each one thinking, “after two days of not eating a thing, THIS is all we get?”

I was just sitting there quietly in the dark, pondering the benefits of hauling sweet horse feed into the wilderness rather than cubed pellets so that, at least, in an emergency such as this, we would have something to suck on… when, in that moment, far to the north a flash of blue could be seen lighting up the horizon and reflecting off the bottom of the distant clouds.

“Uh oh, did you see that?” I asked Kevin directly.

“Uhhhh, yup, sure did… not good!” He responded.

“Did you see it, Tim?”

Tim couldn’t take his eyes off the northern horizon, “Yeah… lightning?” he asked.

“Yup!” Keven and I stated simultaneously.

We all three stared intently into the dark night, hardly taking note of the brilliant stars right above us.

“There!” I asserted, as once again the sky lit up far to the north; this time a bit more orangish than blue.

“Are we in trouble?” asked Tim.

Kevin replied cautiously, “Maybe!”

“Just the remnants of scattered mountain showers,” I said, probably sounding a little too hopeful.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of rain to swell the river,” Kevin said.

The lightning flashed again, this time closer, bluer, and lighting up a larger portion of the night sky.

Tim quietly asked, “We could ride out of here tonight if we needed to, right?”

“We could,” Kevin agreed, “but it would be dangerous taking the horses up that trail in the middle of the night; especially with that lightning chasing us from the north.”

“If it’s even coming down on us at all,” I said. “Could be it’s moving off to the northeast, or even dissipating in this cool night air.”

At that very moment, the sky lit up again even brighter than the time before; and we could clearly make out the bottom of turbulent clouds in the brilliant glow, swirling about still far to our north. It was followed by the very faint, distant rumble of thunder echoing down the canyon walls.

“I’ve made a few night rides with Woody,” I told my two compadres. “But not under these conditions. I think we better stay put for the night and hope it doesn’t rain enough to swell the river.”

“You think we’re far enough back if she rises?” asked Kevin.

“It would take an awful lot of rain to swell her up this high,” I confidently stated. “But, if she rises very much at all we won’t be able to get the horses back across in the morning and we could be stuck here for another day… or two.”

“Or three,” Kevin just couldn’t resist adding.

Another distant flash of blue streaked between the clouds to our north. We listened intently but heard no thunder this time.  I threw some more wood on the fire; its rising flame and the sound of crackling wood offering comfort as we continued to sit in silence watching the northern skyline and considering the dire possibilities now confronting us.

Hoping to lighten the moment, I said, “Tim, did we ever tell you the story of the pastor that Woody brought up here fishing one day?”

“Don’t think I’ve heard that one,” Tim responded.

“Well,” I continued, “You know, Kevin and I go to the same church.”

“Didn’t know you guys went to church!” Tim stated incredulously.

“Well, we do!” I said flatly.

“When our moms make us,” Kevin injected.

“Anyway, there was this pastor that both Kevin and I know, and he found out about the good fishing up here on the Gila; well, the normally good fishing, anyway. How he found out, I don’t know—probably from Kevie’s bragging.”

I could see Kevin’s eyes flickering in the firelight as he glared at me from across the campfire.

“So, anyway, the pastor talked to my mom, who talked to my dad, who talked to Woody about taking him fishing one weekend. Well, Woody agreed to take him.  But they didn’t come down this way. Instead, they went higher up on the Middle Fork, up above the Gila Hot Springs and the Heart Bar Area. I think I remember Woody saying the pastor wanted to go after trout, not cats.

“Well, that ole pastor managed to catch himself a real beauty. And since they were already heading outta there on their way back home, and because it was a cool, cloudy day, the pastor just put that big ole fish on a stringer and tied it around his saddle horn, thinking he’d clean it in the river as soon as they got back down to the truck.

“Well, as fate would have it, as Woody and the pastor were coming back down the trail, near where the Middle and West Fork come together, they came upon a little campsite that hadn’t been there earlier in the day. They slowed up a bit not wanting to run over anybody on the trail when, all of the sudden, a woman, naked as all get out, came running out from behind the shrubbery and ran right straight up to the pastor’s horse.

“Woody told me she was young and beautiful, too, with long flowing black hair, and that she was plenty well endowed—if you know what I mean. The only thing she was wearing was a necklace of beads around her neck.

“Well, the pastor took one glance down at that girl and, this is according to Woody now, he turned white as a sheet. He immediately sat up straight in the saddle as stiff as a board, head cocked to the sky, refusing to look up, down, left, right, or any direction except straight in front of him.

“The girl kept pace with his horse for a little bit and kept calling out to him, ‘Mister, mister, how do you cook a fish like that?’

“The ole pastor, without even looking down at her, but keeping his eyes dead ahead shouted out, ‘IN A SKILLET’ and spurred his pony into a trot straight on down the trail.

“Well, Woody said he sure felt bad for that young lady, being treated so un-Christian like and all, so he felt it his chivalrous duty to stop his mule right there in the trail and, like any gentleman would do, take a little time to chat with that young gal and apologize to her for the pastor’s rudeness.”

Tim and Kevin, smiling at one another, had seemed to have forgotten all about the lightning for a moment. But another vibrant flicker of brilliant blue, followed by the swelling boom of distant thunder echoing down the canyon walls, shook all three of us out of our fantasies of beautifully laden female flowerchildren and sobered us up fairly quickly.

I left the campfire and walked alone out into the dark shadows of the trees to check on the horses. I had deliberately kept them several feet apart from one another so that they wouldn’t be aggravating each other. But I untied Kevin’s horses and led them a little further out and away from mine, then hitched them both to another good limb about head high. I felt better knowing that if lighting hit one of them, at least it might not get all of them.

As I moved back toward the firelight, sprinkles began to fall. We put more wood on the fire but decided we had better go ahead and hit the sack for the night. Lacking anything else to drink, we each downed another hot Bud, gagging and nearly choking on the stuff.

We lay in our sleeping bags watching the lightning light up the sky through the roof of our flimsy tent. We didn’t bring a heavy tarp tent, or even a rain cover, like we usually took with us whenever heading way back into the interior of the wilderness.  We were traveling light, we had told ourselves, and only brought the little tent to escape the mosquitos and the occasional mountain rattler.

One by one the days weariness, our lack of sustenance, and the consumption of what may have been a few too many brewskies, overcame us and we drifted off to sleep at the sound of distant thunder.

I hadn’t been asleep for more than an hour when, “BAM!” a far too close bolt of lightning hit somewhere nearby shaking all three of us awake. Rain was coming down hard now; and drizzling right through the top of our tent like there was nothing there at all. The tent floor was already beginning to stand water and our sleeping bags, along with the rest of our gear, was getting soaked. I was concerned for our horses and stuck my head out the door of the tent, but I couldn’t see well enough through the downpour to see if they were okay.

We sat tight in our useless tent for the better part of an hour before the rain began to slacken. Then it was gone, almost magically, as quickly as it seemed to have come; and we were left wet to the core in our now drenched sleeping bags.

Our fire was completely snuffed out and the wood was too wet to try to light another, even with a lighter. So, there was nothing much we could do except lay back in our soggy bags and try to sleep.

But sleep wouldn’t come; at least not for me. I can hardly remember a more miserable night—wet to the core, shivering cold, hungry, thirsty for anything other than another stupid Bud and, most of all, worried about what the next day would bring. Would we be stuck down here on the wrong side of the river for yet another day, maybe more? If we didn’t show up back home by tomorrow night, would anybody come looking for us? And even if they did, would they even be able to get to us; or would the river be too high?  Maybe they could drop us a box of girl scout cookies—Thin Mints, perhaps?—from a helicopter or something, along with a cool, clean bottle of water.  It was the kind of night that nightmares are made of; but sadly, I wasn’t dreaming.

_______________

I shuffled out of a half-sleep and into semiconsciousness well before the sun made its appearance over the eastern canyon rim. I scooted out of my soggy sleeping bag and stuck my head out the door of our still dripping tent. Tim was just coming awake as well, but Kevin was nowhere to be seen. Then, as I climbed to my feet and stretched my legs, I look down toward the river and spotted him wandering about and gazing at the water level.

I took a few steps in his direction when Kevin looked up and, spotting me, began jogging back my way.

“What does she look like?” I hurriedly inquired.

“Muddier, but other than that, I can’t tell much difference,” he said.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Thankful that the imaginary terrors of a night full of worry had not come to pass. “Well, I’m pretty much ready to get outta here,” I stated.

Kevin nodded, “Meeeee, too!” as he shuffled off toward the horses.

When I looked back behind me, Tim had already removed our sleeping bags from the tent and was taking it down. I laughed to myself at his newfound lack of wanderlust and readiness to return to civilization.

I moved in his direction, intending to help with that little chore, when I heard Kevin call out, “We’ve got wet blankets!”

“Well, of course we do,” I called back, kicking at a rock in frustration. “Guess we’ll need to let em dry out for a bit.”

We hung the sleeping bags, tent, and saddle blankets over a nearby fallen log knowing that there was no way the sun would dry them until much later in the day, if even then. We placed the thinner bottom blankets where they could receive the most sunlight and dry the fastest. Then we each sat down by our now drowned firepit and lit us up a Swisher.

We tried drinking one more bottle of Bud for breakfast but, after more than two and half days of eating virtually nothing, none of us could stomach it.

“I need water, or anything besides this piss,” I angrily asserted. “I never liked it to begin with, and I’m not gonna drink it ever again.” I poured the rest of the content of that bottled, well over half, on the ground at my feet and took another puff on my Swisher. “And, frankly, I don’t care if I ever smoke another one of these in my life either!” and crushed the burning end of the little cigar into the sand.

“Have you ever thought about how many times a waitress brought you a glass of cool, clear ice-water,” Tim pondered out loud, “and you just ignored it?”

Rolling my eyes, I thought to myself, “Leave it to Tim to come up with something like that right now.” But then answered, “Almost every time.”

“Well, not anymore,” he said. “From now on I’m always gonna drink my water.”

“Me, too!” I promised. “What about you, Kevie, you wish you had some of that cool, clear ice-water that Tim’s dreaming of right now?” Kevin just scowled.

Being, perhaps, the most dramatic one of the bunch, and wanting to aggravate Kevin a little, I couldn’t resist singing a verse or two from an old song that I first heard sung years ago by Hank Williams:

The shadows sway and seem to say

Tonight, we pray for water

Cool, clear water

And way up there He’ll hear our prayer

And show us where there’s water

Cool, clear water

_______

Keep a-movin, Dan,

Don’t cha listen to him, Dan

He’s the devil, not a man

He spreads the burning sand with water

Hey Dan, can’t ya see that big, green tree?

Where the water’s runnin’ free

It’s waitin’ there for you and me?

And water – cool, clear water

(Nolan, 1936)

I’m not altogether certain that my compadres fully appreciated my musical abilities. But at one point, I thought I could detect Kevin’s lips slightly moving to the words… “cool, clear water.”

Then, feeling brash, I proudly asserted, “Okay, so here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re making a pact between us right here and now that, from this moment on, we’re each gonna always drink our water anytime and every time it’s served to us for the entire rest of our lives.” I nodded at Tim; he nodded back. I nodded at Kevin; he scowled, but nodded back.

Since making that little assertion that day, there on the banks of the muddy Gila, I’ve often contemplated how that it’s interesting, isn’t it, the promises that we make, or at least agree to, whenever we’re feeling desperate.

We could only hang out there on the bank of the river for so long; and that was likely not long enough. But after the sun had warmed the saddle blankets sufficiently, or at least to our subpar expectations, we saddled up our ponies, rolled and packed our still damp gear, along with both empty and still full bottles of Bud, and headed back toward the mouth of the Sapillo.

The river had not risen to any visible degree that we could see, so we crossed at the same place we had crossed before.  After letting our horses drink in the still relatively clear waters of the Sapillo, we headed on up the trail toward home.

Then Tim, in his brilliance, said, “You know, I guess we could have boiled some of that clear water from the Sapillo to drink.”

“With what?” Kevin inquired. “We didn’t bring any pans with us, not even a coffee pot.”

“I don’t know,” Tim replied, “Maybe we could have used beer bottles?”

“Maybe,” I chimed in, “but likely the fire would have just busted the glass.”

“Well, we could’ve tried,” Tim said.

“And why, Tim, are you just now telling us this?” I inquired.

“Because I just now thought of it,” he said brightly.

“Lotta good that does us now,” Kevin gruffly replied.

I just shook my head and kept riding.

It was a cold, windy, wet ride up the trail that day. While the sun felt good on our skin when it occasionally peeked out between the clouds, our light jackets and damp clothes offered little protection from the elements. To comfort us along the way, we spoke of our moms’ cooking and baking skills, elaborating on everything from red enchiladas to pot roast.

“Well, my mom told me she might be baking a chocolate cake this weekend,” I offered for their consideration. And for the rest of the ride all we could talk about was chocolate cake and other assorted desserts.

I’m not too sure our culinary talk helped our situation very much; most likely only aggravating it. My stomach started cramping and I was getting sharp hunger pangs in my chest. At one point I had to stop, get down off my horse, and vomit up what was left of the stale beer still in my belly.

“Uggg… I’m not touching that crap ever again,” I boldly asserted as I climbed back in the saddle. I felt dizzy and about ready to fall off my horse for the entire remainder of the ride.

One of the most beautiful sights I think I’ve ever seen, or ever will see in my entire life, was the sight of my dad’s old blue and white Chevy pickup and that old, ragged, fading green, two-horse trailer hitched to it. We had made pretty good time coming up out of the Sapillo, but we knew we still had at least another couple of hours ahead of us before we would make it back into town.

“You gonna be okay to drive?” Kevin asked, as we stowed away our saddles and gear and loaded the horses in the trailers.

“Well, if I need to stop along the way, I will,” I replied. “But we’re still gonna need to take it pretty easy on these mountain curves. It won’t do these ponies any good if we get in a hurry.”

Fear of a dad’s wrath can go a long way toward keeping a kid out of trouble. The thought of injuring a horse, or of even returning with a horse that was missing a bit of tail hair, kept our impatience at bay.

I ran the heater all the way back into town trying to ward off the shivers, while fighting off the dizziness continually threatening to assail me. The thought of having to pull over, especially with visions of mama’s chocolate cake running through my head, was just more than I felt like I could take. The pangs in my side and lower chest were becoming much harsher now. I wondered if I was having a heart attack or something. But I was only sixteen; how could a kid my age be having a heart attack? I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was experiencing what true hunger really felt like.

So many twists and turns—I could have sworn that old highway had somehow managed to grow longer over the weekend. When we eventually got near Silver, Kevin just honked his horn, waved, and kept his rig rolling straight on down Pinos Altos Road toward town. I slowed up, waved back, and made the turn in the opposite direction.

I pulled into our place, through the yard and on down toward the barns, fatigued, dizzy, weak, sick, hungry, thirsty, wet, and cold. Except for just a couple of bites of that nasty little yellowbelly, which had probably just made matters worse all around, I hadn’t eaten a bite in over than three and a half days.

With the help of a begrudging little sister, I somehow managed to stumble through my evening chores. Judy helped me tend to the horses, giving much kinder and gentler attention to them, I noticed, than she did to me. But, while making it obvious that she had absolutely no pity for me, even in the dilapidated and near-death condition in which I perceived myself to be, still, she did offer her shoulder as a crutch as I stumbled from the barn back up to the house. Sisters always seem to have a way of coming through for you just when you need them most, though never without due compensation for their trouble. I learned early on in life that it will always cost you plenty in return when it comes to dealing with sisters. But on that gloomy evening, I didn’t care. Whatever it was she ended up demanding of me in return for her help, I’m sure I gladly acquiesced to it.

Mom didn’t have a chocolate cake made for me, which was probably for the better. But I think that green enchilada casserole she had cooked up for supper is still the best thing that I’ve ever tasted in my entire life—right down to this very day.

_______________

They say, “Never say never!” However, as a result of that weekend’s intrepid adventure down into the mouth of the Sapillo, there are a couple of things that I have sworn off forevermore:  I have never taken, and will never ever again take, so much as a single sip of a Bud, “in the BOTTLE” or otherwise—my body still revolts at the very thought of it. Also, that final day of our illustrious fishing expedition marked the very last time I ever lifted a Swisher to my lips. I have simply lost all appetite for those nasty little things.

After giving due consideration to the aforementioned escapade, I’ve come to the conclusion that, while some of the Lord’s discipline in our lives takes a while to unfold before it eventually begins to dawn on us that, perhaps, we actually are being disciplined and need to make some reforms, there are also those moments in life when the chastening comes immediately; usually as the direct result of some careless or willful decision that we have made. Like every good and loving father, the Lord will often allow us to suffer the immediate consequences of our actions in order to wise us up and steer us in the more profitable directions He wants us to go—those, “paths of righteousness for His own name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).

I’ve also decided that, while there is definitely something to be said for “traveling light” through life, there may also be a danger in traveling “too light.” The wilderness, like life in general, deserves and requires a certain measure of humility and respect. To simply trapse headlong into it without due consideration and proper preparation could very well result in catastrophe. We were actually pretty lucky, or shall I say, “providentially blessed,” to have returned from our little frolic through the forest none the worse for wear.

As far as I can recall, sadly, that was my last journey into the wilderness with either Kevin or Tim. I’ve made several other treks down to the mouth of the Sapillo, as well as other parts of the Gila, with other close friends, and even a few casual acquaintances—each one a wonderful and unique experience in itself. But that trip, in particular, helped me gain a deeper appreciation for dependable friends who, regardless of variant temperament, tend to remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of unpredictable circumstances. While miserable, and maybe even a bit moody, nobody panicked or became despondent along the way. We all took care of business and of one another, each one doing our part to make sure everybody made it home safely, especially the horses.

Times they are a changing, and that I understand. But, still, I lament the fact that our contemporary society seems to have allowed the virtual to supplant the actual. While kids traveling alone in the wilderness with trucks, horses, guns, and beer may seem a bit absurd, if not downright dangerous, to many in our world today, it may well be that the greater danger lies in the superficiality of a seemingly “safe” world of online social media, virtual reality, and computer gaming.

The compilation of memories from which this true-life testimony is drawn, while somewhat subject to incertitude, may be counted as the veritable facts of the matters articulated herein and without supererogatory embellishment of any kind… in so far as the author can recollect.

Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud

All rights reserved

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s