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Back to the time of the mountain man

Karen Madorin

That Thursday’s gusting winds did more than catch  arms and legs  in slamming doors, blow hair in directions it’s not intended to go, and make me tilt at a 60 degree angle in order to prevent joining a bazillion tumble weeds traveling hither and yon. It set my nerves on fire and prepared me to enjoy the perfect weekend to come.

It’s easy to get caught up in what occurred  yesterday or what’s happening tomorrow.  I often have to remind myself to enjoy the exact moment. Instead of thinking I’m driving to Hays—the goal-- I should reflect that I’m in the driver’s seat with sun heating my left arm as hands rest on the steering wheel in the classic 11:00 and 2:00 o’clock position. Those wind-enhanced nerve fibers made it easy to slide into this state of perfect awareness.

On Saturday, in shirtsleeves and sunglasses, we headed north of Russell to join our daughter and son-in-law at a black powder shoot. While my husband had participated before, this was my first experience stepping from a car into an early 1800 rendezvous site filled with conical tents, cast-iron kettles simmering over cook fires with actual flames licking the bottoms of the pots, as well as men, women, and children wandering about in buckskins and other period appropriate clothing. With the added sound of black powder rifles firing at targets across the Saline, Kit Carson or Jim Bridger would have felt at home there.

It didn’t take long to understand what draws folks to this activity. As I sat in a homemade chair near a smoking fire pit, I watched children and dogs chasing one another around the lodges. Toys were simple sticks and balls with imagination games ruling the play. Women and men used black smith fashioned hooks, tongs, and dinner ware to aid their cooking and eating.  Folks drank out of tankards or tin cups and ate from metal pans or wooden trenchers. 

We watched our grownup kids participate in the tomahawk and knife throwing competition. What looks simple in the Last of the Mohicans actually requires hours and hours of focused practice. Rendezvous participants celebrated accomplished thrower’s skills with oohs, aahs, and hearty claps on the back. They also encouraged beginners struggling efforts. It was rivalry at its best—outdoors and friendly.

The firing of a candy cannon for the children preceded a communal supper. Little ones eagerly lined up and waited as the cannoneer hollered, “Fire in the hole” and then lit the fuse. Following the thwump of the blast, kids loaded up shirt fronts or cotton and leather pouches with sweet loot. Visiting adults gathered near the plank serving table to savor scents  of campfire-cooked stews, soups, corn bread, and apple crisps. 

Every moment of Saturday was an hors d’oeuvre for Sunday’s perfection.  Once again, nature cooperated with balmy temperatures and breezes.  Instead of driving back roads along the Saline, we raised dusty rooster tails in rural Trego County  as we headed to a primitive cabin at Cedar Bluff where good friends hosted their 19th annual wild game feed.

Upon arrival, my senses went into over drive.  The scents of sizzling deer, turkey, duck, and rattle snake enflamed taste buds. On a table setting before  the cabin’s west window, sunshine backlit homemade salsas, jellies, breads, wild game entrees, and fresh made pies, cakes, cookies, and brownies that guests contributed. It looked, smelled, and tasted good. When you added the background noises of gabbling geese, overflying sandhill cranes, and long time friends’ conversation and laughter it was a feast not only for the belly, but also for the soul.

The gusty front driving through last Thursday certainly set me up to appreciate that weekend. I don’t I recall enjoying every minute of 48 hours quite so much.