Sam Lightner: Just A Normal Sunday With Lightning, High Winds, Baby Elk, And A Wounded Dog

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By Sam Lightner Jr., Columnist Cowboy State Daily

LANDER — Wyoming is the greatest, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Take last Sunday . . .

I was going climbing in the burn-area of the Little Popo Agie Canyon. Most Muggles (non-climber folks) think of rock climbing around Lander to be at either Sinks Canyon or the Wild Iris on Limestone Mountain, but we have actually been climbing in places like the Little Popo Agie and Sweetwater Rocks areas for over 30 years (60 for the latter).

This day was to be spent actually cleaning slabs of guillotine-like rock from a wall that had been damaged during the fire of 2003. Fires cook the outer surface into giant flakes of dolomite and render it unclimbable, and my plan was to clear an area so it would be safe to climb again in the future.

I was accompanied by Dasher, a spunky, 19-pound, mix of everything small and canine, and Sadee, a cross of Chocolate Lab and Healer at a manageable 35 pounds. Both pooches were a bit nervous as the Wyoming-wind was blowing pretty hard, but we all made our way up the slope to the dolomite in about half an hour.

As I began to rappel down the face, the wind caught wind of me and picked up to something Laramie and Casper people might refer to as “breezy.” I’m not real good with the Beaufort Scale, and sailing-stuff like that doesn’t mean much to rock climbers, but with the way I was swinging about  on my 9 mm rope I’d guess it was a steady 35 mph with gusts that could have been twice that. It was hard enough that I couldn’t do what I’d planned with the false sense of security that makes climbing fun. I discussed it with dogs, and we agreed it was time to call the plan off.  We high-tailed it for the truck.

Crossing the deadfall, Sadee in front and Dasher in the rear, our little team almost stepped on an elk “freshie.” No, not poop, but a calf. The cute little ball of brown with white speckles, his fur still matted from birthing fluids, was curled up in some juniper less than proper social distance away.

Sadee lunged forward as the critter wobbled up onto spindly legs. I grabbed the dogs tail but she got away, then stood next to the elk realizing it was 3 times her height. I dove for her over a log and the elk tried to take a step away.

Sadee howled, Dasher yipped, and the elk yelled “Mommy” in Wapiti. Mom must have just stepped out to go shopping or something. Anyway, the elk ran (more like “spindled”) from the obvious danger, and Sadee followed, still not knowing what she was supposed to do with this smelly deer on stilts. I finally got control of her as the elk wobbled over some logs, all the while yelling for mom.

Problem two averted, except we looked up to see a thunderstorm over the Oregon Buttes, and it was headed our way at whatever the crazy speed the wind could carry it. We picked up the pace as the rumbling got closer.

Twenty minutes later we were greeted by two pronghorn who were using the truck as a wind break. Yeah, it was blowing so hard the antelope were looking for cover. I yelled at them to go find a dip in the sage, which notified Sadee they were in the area.

Now we all know it’s illegal and wrong for dogs to chase wildlife, but the Wyoming Game and Fish should have a “Pronghorn Clause” for that law. Dogs have no more chance of catching a pronghorn, or even bothering one, than Sheriff Buford T. Justice did of catching The Bandit. Antelope could make a greyhound look like a glacier.  These two speed-goats jogged south, laughing at what lousy predators canines are, and Sadee seemed to realize how silly she looked in their dusty wake.

The would be hunter-dog was back in the truck moments later, but Dasher was reluctant. Normally wanting to be the boss of the shell, he was demanding to be in the cab of the pickup. As thunder roared overhead, I chased him around and under the truck, trying to explain in my most calming scream that we could get zapped by Thor at any moment. I eventually caught him, got him in the shell with Sadee, and the days problems were solved. Right?

Wrong.

On the way out of Pass Creek I came onto three fellow climbers headed into the Little Po. Despite obvious 307 cultural differences, they being in a Dodge pickup and me in the GMC, we had a polite chat about the conditions. They had work to do the next day and were hell bent on climbing, thunder god or not. I continued towards Highway 28.

For some reason, Dasher was staring at me through the window of the cab. It was out of character, so I pulled over to see what was up. I lifted the back hatch and the Dash-man stood on his hind legs, exposing a 2-inch puncture and gash in his lower chest. Now I understood what he was trying to tell me. It wasn’t pouring blood, but it wasn’t good, either. I grabbed him, put him in my lap, and made for the Lander Valley Animal Hospital at a pace that WyDot would not have approved of.

For those keeping count, my dogs had now assisted me in breaking three unpopular Wyoming laws that morning; two on how poorly domesticated dogs are at harassing wildlife and one, on  what is considered to be a reasonable speed on a prairie highway, when you have a tailwind. But I digress.

We zipped through the yellow lights of Main and managed to beat Doctor Lisa to the vet hospital. I haven’t done the math, but coming from Wild Iris that fast might violate a few laws of physics as well as those of the Highway Patrol. Doc Lisa greeted us with an assuring smile and asked if I would assist in the light surgery that was coming. Dasher heard this and decided the back of the truck didn’t sound so bad, but a few cc’s of Versed with a Lydocaine chaser and he was happy to have his wound irrigated and stitched up. Doc Lisa gave us some meds and we were back home by 3:30.

That’s after 5 pm to those on the east coast, so we poured some distilled Kentucky relaxant and sat down to watch the unhappiness of 2020-America flow across the tv screen.

With fires and looting in Minneapolis, L.A., Chicago, and D.C., all interspersed with a thousand more dead from disease, I was reminded how good even a hard day can be in Wyoming.

(Note: The author retains the right to claim none of this really happened if he so-needs.)

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