Richard drove us to the mountains. There was something about going to a sheep camp, but no one had really had time to talk about it. He and Alicia and the dog fussed at each other, everyone basically asking how much further… how much further. But John and I were in the passenger seats and in no hurry. We had given over the day to this annual picnic and didn’t care how long it took to get where ever we were going. We drove 11 miles off of the Kings Hill Highway, down Divide Road passing parks that Richard knew before we reached them: O’Brien Creek, Moose Park, Lone Tree Park, and finally Harley Park.
A vast expanse of prairie grass is surrounded by pines and firs, with a marshy nearly-dry stream winding through. Richard kept looking for a picnic site with water, but of course we didn’t need water. I think maybe the search was a hold out form his sheep days when he and his father and brother ran bands of sheep along Divide Road from park to park. He conceded to a spot near an old fire circle on the edge of the park. We spread out a blanket and with chips and beverages settled around the blackened stones that held only the memory of a fire. This had been the destination for the sheep and Richard began recounting his sheep years. He was cook for the sheep tender. They camped in different locations, the tender with his teepee out amongst the sheep and Richard with his tent and cooking outfit in amongst the trees at the edge of the park, maybe near where we were sitting. He described the sound of the sheep foraging close the trees in the evening, not in a nostalgic way so much as with love…. love for a time connected so closely to place and the sounds that make up a quiet that has nothing to do with lack of noise. Richard continued to talk. He described the ranching life that came after the sheep and working with his father. He admitted to his ranch's near collapse, and marveled at its rebuild. He misted for a moment, as Richard can do, when he remembered a time when he had no hope for the happiness he has now. At that point the stories where over, except that they are never over once you've told them.