The blizzards of December 2006 hit us hard up here on
Dog Mountain in northern Colorado. Over six feet of snow
in two weeks, and snowshoes or snowmobiles were the only
means of travel. Everyone's pickup trucks were stuck
tighter than a.....well, they were stuck pretty tight,
and all the best and most historical local euphemisms for
that situation are unprintable in a family publication. And
that's why I was recently busting a snowshoe trail to Ralph's
house during another white-out blizzard, with local sheriff's
deputy Earl following behind.
Deputy Earl didn't look all that excited about where we were
headed, he'd obviously been to Ralph's house before. Perhaps
it was the mail fraud case last year when Ralph was selling
$200 "do-it-yourself bamboo fly rod kits" on EBay that consisted
of a potted "lucky bamboo" plant, a spool of cotton thread from
the sewing store, a bottle of Elmer's school glue and a dozen
paperclips for snake guides. Or maybe it was his "accidental"
loss of three 50-pound boxes of roofing nails off the tailgate
of his pickup on a popular tourist 4WD trail, and the nicely
timed (but completely coincidental) opening of his new tire
repair business. Or maybe it was the fact that Ralph hasn't
had a drivers license or insurance or registration for the
last 27 years, and still drives all over the mountain.
As we approached Ralph's old log cabin a series of shots rang
out from inside the house, with splinters flying toward us
outside from a series of six new holes in his wall, in a neat
and precise line. Deputy Earl ducked behind the woodpile and
drew his revolver. I rolled my eyes and shouted "Hello the
cabin! It's DanBob! Don't shoot, Ralph! The sheriff's with me!"
Ralph poked a grizzled and shaggy head out the window to look.
He smiled when he saw us, a somewhat terrifying rictus if you
don't know him. He's been kicked out of the local bar before
for not complying with the dress code--a three tooth minimum,
"Come on up for some coffee, boys," he shouted. "Holster your
weapon, trooper, I ain't shooting at you, this time. Just huntin'
Deputy Earl had suddenly developed a serious twitch under his
left eye, but he holstered his piece and we slogged up the
steep hill to Ralph's porch and removed our snowshoes. It's
considered rude around here to tromp into someone's kitchen
with snowshoes on, as the metal claws scuff the floor. It
took us a bit to figure out what was going on. Ralph had a
regular shooting gallery set up--a bright light focused on
the kitchen counter, with a spoonful of peanut butter sitting
out. He had a backstop behind, made of a big dictionary and
a whole set of encyclopedias. All were full of bullet holes.
I was pleased to see he had finally made some use of the
encyclopedias that old Mrs. McGreavy from the church had given
to him a decade ago! Sure enough, both his old lever action
.22 rifle and his .22 semi auto pistol were propped up on some
books as a benchrest (War and Peace, Matching the Hatch, and
Brokeback Mountain), aimed right at the spoon and peanut
butter. His hyperactive Jack Russell terrier Otis was merrily
gnawing on a dead packrat, and a dozen mouse corpses littered
the floor under the counter.
"Sorry I skeert ya, boys," Ralph said. "It was only .22 shorts.
Durn packrats and mice moved in when it started snowing and
stole all the new trout flies I've been tying. I'm huntin' em'
down. I winged one of em' and he ran up the wall. Sorry about
that." He blew some mouse turds and spider webs out of the
coffee cups he pulled off the shelf for us, an act for which
I was very grateful--Ralph's coffee was bad enough as it was.
But it sure tasted good this cold, snowy morning as he poured
us steaming cups from the gurgling old coffeepot on the woodstove.
"So, sheriff," Ralph drawled to Earl. "To what do I owe the
pleasure of your company today? I've been sittin' here snowed
in for two weeks, so I'm sure it wasn't me, this time."
Fortunately all the sheriff wanted was to find out if a vanload
of tourist skiers had passed through right before the
storm--they'd been missing for two days now.
"Nope, sheriff, ain't seen 'em," Ralph said. "They'd have
probably stopped by for tire repair anyway even if I'd missed
'em, heh heh." Fortunately roofing nails are too small and
numerous to provide good fingerprints.
Deputy Earl thanked Ralph, geared up and headed back down the
trail on his snowshoes. You know you live in the middle of
nowhere when the deputies carry snowshoes in their trucks...
the deputy appeared glad to be out of there, though the twitch
under his left eye hadn't stopped since we'd arrived. And this
was the big tall sheriff that last year faced down 47 high school
keg partiers alone, made them all walk half a mile to the crick
three dozen times with their beer cups to bring back enough water
to put out their campfire, and THEN busted them! The relieved
deputy's bulky figure disappeared down the road in the driving,
I could see Ralph was pretty upset, and that the mouse and rat
hunt was serious. He was on a mission! He was even wearing his
best camo hunting clothes. "Durn rodents moved in when the snow
started and stole half my flies for HarleyBob's Fly Anglers
Online stillwater go-to fly swap!" he grumbled. "We gotta mail
them flies out by tomorrow."
Besides chumming the mice and packrats in and shooting them,
Ralph explained how he had tried another plan too, just the
other night. He tied six-foot pieces of monofilament leader
to some particularly juicy flies--juicy because he'd dipped
each one in a can of vienna sausages just like he does every
time we fish Colorado's famous "gold medal, flies and lures
only" trophy trout streams. He left the scented flies on his
tying bench as usual, hoping the mice would drag them off and
that by following the leaders he'd find where their secret fly
stash was. No luck--the mice wouldn't touch the flies with the
leaders tied on them. If he ever found their stash, he'd have
enough black ghosts, crawdads, woolly buggers and yellow sallies
to last all year, as the mice had been dipping from his bench
during every online fly swap he'd ever entered. He had at least
taken some time from mouse hunting that morning to re-tie the
stolen swap flies and pack them securely in the mailer to send
I was on a mission too. The big pre-Christmas neighborhood
fait-do-do party was planned for tomorrow, and we'd had a
turducken FedExed up from Lafayette, Louisiana for the occasion.
The bird was down in town, and we were snowed in up here. If
you don't know what a turducken is---well, it's the most
delectable Cajun treat you can roast! A duck stuck into
a chicken stuck into a turkey, with cornbread and andouille
sausage stuffing in between each layer. And by the way, a
fait-do-do is a big old neighborhood eatin' and pickin' and
"Ralph, we gotta get to town to get the turducken," I told him.
"The party's tomorrow, and Vern already thawed the thing. It's
at his office in the fridge. We gotta get it! And I'm stuck,
my truck won't move." I knew Ralph was our best chance for
getting to town—his 1951 Dodge power wagon (named "Dode"
because the "g" had fallen off decades ago) could get through
almost anything with chains on all four tires.
Ralph resisted. "I hate town!" he hollered. "If'n I liked town,
I'd already live there! There's CRAZY people down there! No way!"
I begged and pleaded. I offered two grizzly hackle capes. No
chance. I mentioned that our flies for the swap would be late,
and we might be blacklisted from future swaps—nope, no sir.
Then I brought up the possibility that the vanload of lost
tourists might actually be from the local Poverty Flats College
for Wayward Girls, and that it was OK to invite them to the
party if he rescued them from the wilderness. We then immediately
started breaking trail out the back door, and Ralph already
seemed significantly less grouchy as we pushed through deep
powder snow out to the covered bridge where he parked Dode.
No river or anything there to make a bridge over, it's just
that you need a building permit to build a garage around here,
but there's nothing in the county codes about covered bridges--so
that's what Ralph built.
The trip down the canyon was uneventful except for the white-out
blizzard with visibility at less than 30 feet, and Ralph honking
the horn around every corner. It got on my nerves after a while
and I had to say something. "Ralph, QUIT honking the #^& horn,"
I hollered. "There hasn't been a car on this road for two days!
You're driving me nuts!"
"No, I'm driving you to town, since you were a dumbass and got
yerself stuck," he calmly replied. "It's my truck, I drive slow,
and I don't got or need a license. Plus it's a narrow road, ya
never know when some tourist will be coming up. Didn't the sheriff
just tell ya a whole vanload of 'em went up just the other day?"
I couldn't think of anything to say in response, considering
the circumstances. The legalities were probably covered since
despite the lack of drivers license, registration and insurance,
Ralph had installed an orange triangle on the back bumper of Dode,
like they put on tractors and combines and swathers. Plus he'd
altered the registration stickers on his 1972 plates very artfully
with a permanent marker. I figured with some fast talking, the
city cops would go on to bigger and better busts, whether Ralph
was honking his horn while turning off of Main Street into Walmart
We picked up the thawed turducken at Vern's place in town,
mailed the flies for the swap off to HarleyBob, and quickly
headed back up the hill and toward the canyon that winds up
to Dog Mountain. Even Ralph didn't want to hit our local bar
(the famous Wounded Walleye) or the liquor store on the way
home this time—the snow was piling up. At least 22 inches by
the time we got near our neighbor Dave's place at the caboose,
six miles down the road from my place. Yep, Dave lives in an
old "captive" caboose! He's a high school algebra teacher and
therefore has an even worse twitch under his left eye than
deputy Earl, plus he can't legally carry a gun to class or
even a cattle prod.
The tires were spinning and the truck was wallowing now, but
Ralph got it under control. "You got power steering in this
thing, Ralph?" I asked. "You're doing pretty good."
His knuckles were white, and he was sweating. "Yep," he replied.
"It's called Armstrong power steering. Now shut up and let me
We slowed down just long enough to holler to Dave (who was
drinking beer up in the caboose cupola, as usual) that the
fait-do-do party and turducken were ON for tomorrow, come
hell or high snow. He said he'd get on the ham radio right
away and make sure the whole neighborhood knew it all wasn't
By the time we made it the last six miles to my place, the
snow was getting close to four feet deep and was blasting
over the hood, up the cracked windshield, and over Dode's
cab. Ralph had nearly lost his voice from cursing. The
chained-up tires made ten revolutions for every foot we spun
and crawled up my steep driveway. Dode's temperature gauge was
probably in the red, but Ralph had put a piece of duct tape
over it years ago so it wouldn't cause him any extra
consternation—he was normally consternated enough as it was.
We made it, and pushed on foot through chest-deep snow to my
"Ralph," I said, "you're off the hook for bringing any side
dishes for potluck at the fait-do-do tomorrow. Hauling the
turducken up from town was more than enough."
Ralph was famous at community potlucks. Usually you could
expect a can of pork n' beans, set on the woodstove and
punctured with his 14 inch bowie knife when the can started
to bulge. If times were hard and food was scarce, he'd bring
a couple packs of MREs that were surplus from the Iraq war—the
FIRST Iraq war! And then there was the potluck dinner when
he decided to get fancy and really cook something up for the
ladies. It was General Tsao's vienna sausage and SPAM stir-fry..
"Naw," said Ralph. "I'll cook up something good this time
to go with that turducken. How 'bout biscuits and gravy?"
"Sounds great, Ralph," I replied. "See you tomorrow," and I
waved goodbye as he forced old Dode down the driveway with
snow flying over the cab. Tomorrow was shaping up to be a
great party! I figured his biscuits and gravy might be pretty
good, and would at least have a lot of spicy elk sausage in it.
Ralph still thinks "vegetarian" is an old Arapahoe indian word
that means "incompetent hunter."
The turducken roasted for six hours in my oven the next day.
I soon got the message via ham radio that guests were arriving
on snowshoes and snowmobiles next door at the barn where the
party was, 1/4 mile away. Ralph snowshoed over and helped me
duct tape the roaster pan together, wrap it in blankets, and
strap it to his ice fishing sled. I pulled the sled while
Ralph followed behind and kept it from tipping over, all
the while watching for any of our local, ubiquitous and
very irritable moose.
When we burst through the barn door, it was warm and bright.
The old Riteway woodstove was cranking up the heat, there were
already guitars and banjos out, and the place smelled like a
whole pile of side dishes. We grabbed our plates, sliced up
that turducken...hoo boy, what a feast! Green bean casserole,
potato salad, green salad, homemade bread, cakes, pies, and
more. As we loaded up our plates while all the neighbors
praised us for our amazing emergency turducken retrieval
mission, I noticed Ralph's battered old frying pan full
of biscuits and gravy. I made sure to put a big scoop on
my plate while he watched from behind me in line. The
turducken was the juiciest (three) birds I'd ever tasted.
It was perfect! As we sat on the milk crates and started
chowing down, I noticed that something didn't quite taste
quite right in Ralph's biscuits and gravy. I couldn't quite
Old Mrs. McGreavy from the church sat down on the other side
of Ralph, hugged him, and proceeded to tell him that he was
the hero of Dog Mountain, fearlessly hauling that turducken
up through the frozen wastelands to feed the teeming multitudes.
"I'm going to make you up a pan of my biggest and best cinnamon
rolls tomorrow, Ralph, and bring them over to your house at noon
for tea," Mrs. McGreavy gushed.
Ralph blushed, and mumbled "Aww, it weren't nothing, ma'am.
I get to eat it too, ya know. Uh, I ain't got no tea for
tomorrow. And you gotta wear snowshoes and hike up two miles
to my place. You probably shouldn't chance it. I do like
cinnamon rolls, though. And I got good coffee."
And then it finally sunk into my head why Ralph's biscuits
and gravy tasted so funny. Cinnamon and sugar, it didn't
meld the flavors too well with the spicy elk sausage. Then
I remembered that grocery care package I had brought to
Ralph when he was snowed in during the blizzard of 1991,
fifteen years ago. Yep, it was that same sugary cinnamon
breakfast biscuit mix, most likely from the very same care
package! It tasted horrible with the elk sausage and white
gravy. I nearly gagged, and was about to speak up. Mrs.
McGreavy had just tried it, too. She grimaced frightfully,
gave me a stern look that unmistakably said "Shut up, boy!"
and then took on a stoic expression.
"Ralph, I'd be delighted to come visit tomorrow for cinnamon,
uh, rolls," Mrs. McGreavy told him. "I'll bring the food and
tea, even though you're a great cook and I'm enjoying your,
um, biscuits and gravy immensely. I heard some gossip from
the church ladies that you know how to make stir fry, too!
Maybe you can make me lunch some other time, but this time
it's on me."
"But it's such a long snowshoe hike through the deep snow,
ma'am," Ralph protested. "It's dangerous. There's grizzled
bears and pumas and wolverines! And your arthritis and all..."
She waved him off and said "Oh, poof! I don't need snowshoes—I
bought a Polaris 1220 Exterminator snowmobile last year. Much
easier on my arthritis. And my 30-30 lever action is on the
gun rack. It's a date, see you tomorrow at noon for tea, Ralph!"
Now, let me explain. Ralph and I know each other real
well—we're fishing buddies, have been neighbors for decades,
went to the same high school, dated the same girl, were
roommates in college—we are confidants, no secrets held.
And because I knew Ralph so well, I could hear his
innermost thoughts at that moment just as precisely
as if he'd spoken them to me in earnest:
"I gotta clean my house--FAST!"
I reached for the bourbon bottle and pulled my banjo out
of the case. Neighbors were unfurling fiddles, guitars,
banjos and mandolins. We picked music until dawn! ~ DanBob
Lighter Side Archive