Only rarely do I invite people other than family members to accompany me into wild places. However, we have now organized not one, but two Pack Trips into Yellowstone's back country on horseback. Each trip lasted four nights and each produced wonderful memories, broad smiles, sore bodies, and a single sculpture.
Who from the original trip could forget riding through remote forests preserved for the use of grizzly bears. Although we saw every type of bear sign imaginable, what stuck in my mind were the numerous long, deep vertical scratches high above eye level. The size and power necessary to create those markings on the trees along our path certainly raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
On the third night I slept out under the stars and when I opened my eyes at sunrise, the first thing I saw was a moose wandering through camp. He was relatively young and svelte, with antlers still in velvet. He must have left quite an impression upon me: when others went fishing in the afternoon, I pulled out wire and wax and sculpted his likeness from memory.
The second trip started out with laughter too: apparently my good friend Karen Wilson’s mother warned her never to go off into the woods alone with me. Although it sounds laughably ominous, the warning apparently originated from my reputation for close encounters with wildlife. At any rate, when we rode into our first campsite there was a lot of work to be done. Karen and I volunteered to help, and were given the task of procuring water from a spring fed creek. This of course necessitated going off into the woods by ourselves. Thankfully, no bears attacked, but the ice was broken and we all enjoyed a wonderful trip. (And yes, Mom, she and all the other guests returned home safe and sound!)
The very next morning, wildlife adventure came straight to us in the form of an immense bull bison who wandered through camp. He really was a magnificent old fellow, so I followed at a discreet distance and tried to draw his likeness when he lay down to rest near the Lamar river. Realizing he might stay awhile, I doubled back and got my sculpting supplies, intent on creating a bust of our impromptu guest.
I began sculpting his sleeping form as I hunkered down amongst fallen logs. After a while, it became apparent that I needed to see this bison's face from the front, so I carefully got up and maneuvered into position. Noting this movement and my insistent stare, he gradually woke up completely. Getting to his feet, the old bull turned away to graze on green grass. I, of course, followed. I still needed to be in front of him, yet this presented a challenge because I could not cross the swollen river nearby. I slowly maneuvered around as best I could, yet he did not care for my rude behavior and approached with murderous intent. Fortunately, several downed trees formed a natural barrier which I used to my advantage. Now the stage was set and we began a slow motion dance: me sculpting and carefully maneuvering behind deadfall trees as necessary, the bison grazing peacefully yet angling towards me whenever I strayed too close. Somehow we managed to maintain this uneasy truce until I finished the wax portrait. By then we had circled back towards the campfire where everyone was gathered for dinner. Noting the immediate presence of more people, the imperious old bull decided to wander off in search of quieter pastures. My sculpture was done and it was time to eat dinner, but I was sad to see him go. I will never forget my long afternoon of sculpting and dancing with a magnificent bison.