Another trip out west, this time with my brother K and sister-in-law M accompanying Hubby D and me. Our 3,500 mile, round-trip journey took us from Southern Illinois to #1 son M. his wife A, and their three sons in Cody, Wyoming, and from there through Yellowstone National Park to the Henry’s Lake Flat at Island Park, Idaho, and the 1,300-acre ranch that has been in A’s family for five generations, beginning in the early 1900s. At an altitude of 7,400 feet, the ranch is only accessible from May to October, or thereabouts—depending on the amount of snowfall in any given year. Although it’s been eighteen years since D and I made our last trip to Island Park, some things hadn’t changed nor do I expect they will, barring any natural disaster.
The rim of the Henry’s Lake Caldera (large crater) surrounding this area consists of a series of mountain peaks. To the west of the ranch we had a constant view of the memorable Sawtell Peak that reminds some people of a sleeping warrior. Henry’s Lake and its outlet create one of the headwaters of Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, and that same outlet provides water to the ranch, an absolute necessity for the soon-to-be-delivered cattle, this year 600 or so head of cows and calves instead of the usual steer that have occupied this grass-rich land each summer for a number of years.
As soon as we arrived, A-1, middle offspring of M, grabbed his fishing pole and headed to the ranch stream where he battled mosquitoes while trying to land a decent number of trout for our supper—no such luck, but for A-1 and siblings C and A-2, there’d always be tomorrow or the days after. That is, when they aren’t mending fences or re-routing the water supply.
During our first ranch visit, the year M and A got married, we toured the acreage on horseback, an okay first for me but also a high-anxiety experience I didn’t car repeat. With horses no longer in the picture, this year we went modern as passengers in ATVs, a mode of transportation I really enjoyed and figured could outrun the bear whose footprints M had spotted a few weeks before.
We four guests were assigned to the lodge pole pine cabin built by A’s grandfather in the early 1930s, then a kitchen/living area and one bedroom with a ladder leading to the attic for additional sleeping. Later, a sleeping porch was added, plus a modern bathroom. The lodge pool bed D and I occupied was made by A’s grandfather. He must’ve been a tall man because I could’ve used a stool to climb into the bed. But when I finally got settled, I felt like a princess and slept like a baby. Perhaps it was the 7,400 feet altitude, those nights with no more light than the moon and stars could provide. The cabin’s second bedroom had two lodge pool pine beds, those constructed by a friend of A’s grandfather—the late Johnny Sacks, a well-known craftsman of quality furniture made from local wood. D and I had been to his historical Big Springs cabin before, a short stretch from the ranch, and wanted to see it again; unfortunately, it wasn’t open the day we were there.
As for the ranch’s main cabin, it was just as I remembered. Built when A was a toddler, this two-story structure is also made of lodge pole pine and consists of four bedrooms, one bath, a comfortable living room and a kitchen big enough to seat ten at its round oak table. Outside the kitchen door sits a large deck and in the nearby woods the promise of coyotes serenading throughout the day and night. Which brings to mind that last trip to the ranch when twelve Giacolettos from the Midwest spent a few days with M and A’s young family and most of A’s adult family. We’d gathered in the living room for a relaxing time-out when all of a sudden a god-awful scream erupted from the deck outside.
A frantic rush to the kitchen door revealed the offspring of one of our other offspring—S-1’s three-year-old son R. His foot was caught between a wooden slat in the deck and the threshold of the door. “The wolf’s got me!” R screamed hysterically, his fear brought on by M’s six-year-old C who had responded to the coyotes’ constant howling by crying, “Wolf!”
Ah-h, the salty sweetest of that New West memory, a family legend often repeated but seldom surpassed.
How about you and yours? Any wolf or wild life stories?