Jeff Hammer: Calendars

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    I wrote my last column for County 10 in May of this year with the explanation to Amanda Fehring, my go-to person for this organization, that my wife was retiring, this time for good I’d hoped, and we were going to be traveling mucho in the coming months. I further explained that I didn’t want the pressure of producing a column every two weeks, and that my plan was to begin plunking away again on this laptop in the fall, when I felt time would allow me that possibility.

    But then hunting season(s) happened and then more traveling arrived on the calendar, and my good intentions of pretending to be a writer somehow didn’t materialize. However, I recently contacted Will Hill of that same organization asking about the possibility of returning to write a column every now and then, and before the virtual ink had dried on my moderately lengthy email to him, I received a reply simply stating, “Sounds good to me, Jeff! Enjoy your travels.”


    Well, that was easy enough. Now the real test is whether my fingers still remember how to navigate a keyboard with enough precision and consistency to produce something that resembles cognitive thought.

    Well, here goes…something.

    As this year draws to a close, for whatever reason, I find myself mulling over the past twelve months more thoroughly than I have in the past. I can’t explain why and won’t even attempt to. I have mentally played over and again the kaleidoscope of recent events covering the calendar pages that have been 2023, those episodes of my life that I have experienced together with my wife, and sometimes with our daughters or friends. In addition, I assembled those images together with my days of solo hunting, and there is only one conclusion to be reached.

    I am living a charmed and incredibly lucky life.


    Most of that good fortune graces my existence because of the woman who agreed to be my wife 39 years ago. From encouraging me so many years ago to reschool and retool with a degree in education after my dissatisfaction with the training for my previous diploma, to sharing in the raising of our two daughters, to organizing all of our travels, and so much more, she has been the driving force for our collective successes. 

    As she was the more forward thinking half, early on in our marriage, she was the one who encouraged us to invest what little money we could afford. Later on, as our salaries improved, we continued to invest more heavily, while at the same time, we somehow, because of her magic with finances, were able to save enough to travel with our two girls while they still lived at home or were in college.

    Those experiences are something for which I am extremely proud. They led to my daughters now being able to confidently navigate the world. Collectively, they have traveled to five different continents with friends and partners. In a couple of weeks, my younger daughter will travel with her husband to New Zealand to seal the deal on wedding plans of the elopement variety via a gallop on a helicopter to their wedding location. Add one more continent to the previous sum.


    All those overseas miles can initially be credited to our insistence, but more specially to my wife’s vision that our children’s adventures should be limited only by their imaginations.

    For our part, the past twelve months has seemed like one airplane ride after another, both domestically and to three different continents. Places like Madison, Phoenix, Anchorage, Munich, Istanbul, Rome, Prague and Reykjavik. Cruise ports like Juneau, Ketchikan, Tromso, Akureyri, Syracusa, Naples, Alexandria and many more that I struggle to pronounce. That’s all in addition to twenty some days and nights of pulling our travel trailer around Wyoming and Colorado.

    A couple of years ago, as a Christmas gift, Gayla and our daughters pooled their resources and purchased a day on a river for me through Dunoir Fishing Adventures. After rescheduling twice, the day finally arrived in June. Owned by Jeramie Prine, one of our former teaching colleagues at the Lander Middle School, lifelong friend Scott Carlson and I spent a memorable day on the BigHorn River near Thermopolis catching some really nice rainbows, a day during which the big one really did get away. 


    And then there were the memorable few days during which my brother Bob, after a more than weeklong fishing tour of Wyoming, spent visiting my wife and me sometime around Labor Day. We fished, not too seriously on my part, a couple of times. I was more than happy just visiting and reminiscing about some of the many episodes of our childhood. Being more of a serious flycaster than me, he caught a stellar brown trout of more than 20 inches from a public fishing area close by.

    “I’ll have the image of that fish’s open mouth sucking in that hopper for a long time,” he related to me later. Well, you may have that memory, Bob, but I’ll have the memories of visiting and breaking bread with you.

    Upland game bird hunting for me this year was a mixed bag. Dual meanings there. Mixed as in three different species of grouse in three separate months, and mixed as in not a ton of birds considering the amount of miles walked, but it is called hunting, after all; which is truly all that that I deserve. Blue grouse, or any grouse for that matter, on the grill is just the added bonus of spending the time and effort to visit some of my favorite places on Earth. Like the Anderson Homestead near the Sweetwater River on South Pass, where I collected a limit of sage grouse late in September. I was blessed with being the only visitor to that area on that day, except for a local rancher out checking on his cows. A blue-sky, cloudless day with just the right amount of breeze. A diamond day to be sure.

    A day much like the day nearly fifty years ago, when my younger brother, Tim, and his friend Dino Conley and I spent the day in the same area, chasing those big, gray birds, transportation provided by my parents’ 1967 Ford Bronco. I think I was sixteen, which would make Tim thirteen.

    Seeking permission from our padres to use the vehicle was easy, with this admonition from my mother: “You be careful with your brother out there. I don’t want to have to send the search and rescue out after you.”

    Well, I didn’t want that either. My friends would tease me unmercifully, and I’d probably end up with a new derogatory nickname that would stick with me for the rest of my life. Sometimes motivation for sane behavior comes from the most unlikeliest of sources.

    From my father’s wheelchair, he said nothing, but his eyes gave me the same message as always when I took my brother and the Bronco anywhere: “Don’t do anything stupid.”

    I thought, but would never say, “Define ‘stupid’, Dad.” When there are no parameters, the possibilities are vast.

    As the driver and oldest participant, the responsibility for fuel and navigation was up to me. In both areas, I came up short. The possibility of not having enough gas never even occurred to me when we pulled out of town midmorning. Later, at about the same time I turned the vehicle into some sharp rocks, I happened to glance at the fuel gauge and became alarmed for the first time that day. Flipping the switch to the auxiliary tank didn’t help. The sum of the amounts of fuel in both small tanks allowed us to access the area, but there was no way the Ford warhorse would make it back to town on the remaining fuel.

    Not to worry. The Rock Shop, located now and then, where Highway 28 crosses Willow Creek, was open just a few miles and 20 minutes away. At the time, gas could be purchased there, and I just happened to have a few bucks in my pocket. But as I drove back toward the highway on the true Lander Cut-off of the Oregon Trail toward that establishment, the right front portion of the vehicle seemed to settle more and more toward off kilter. Having experienced this phenomenon before, I knew the tire on that corner was going flat.

    Not to worry. We had a spare and being an experienced tire changer, courtesy of my employment at Don Cox’s Lander Standard, in less than half an hour, we were back on the highway, burning what little gas we had left on a direct course for Willow Creek. 

    Not only did we purchase enough fuel to continue our hunt and to safely return back to Lander, but one of the crafty owners of the Rock Shop was able to seal the hole in the flat tire in case my driving proficiency didn’t improve during the few hours of daylight remaining.

    I’m pretty sure none of us killed a limit of grouse that day, but we walked a few miles, laughed often, and burned a lot of shotgun powder punching holes in the sky. Just one of those unforgettable days that brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it.

    My streak of drawing unsuccessfully for an “ANY” antelope license continued this year. Nor did my luck include any antelope licenses at all. Blanked again… however a late season antlerless elk license for Area 28 arrived in my mailbox midsummer, along with a deer license for Area 171, strictly a private land hunt. With the devastating winter kill, most landowners I contacted indicated that there were few deer on their properties and weren’t allowing hunting. 

    So my big game hunting would have to be for elk or nothing. These days, I don’t hunt as far from my truck as I used to and I try to stay out of really nasty areas. On the seventh morning of my hunt, I had nearly completed a lengthy counter clockwise uphill and then downhill loop, a route that took me through at least one nasty area. Walking back to my parked truck about 9:30 on the Loop Road, I was feeling tired and a little disappointed in not seeing anything or any smoking fresh sign. 

    Approximately 150 yards from my truck, I heard some cow elk chirping above me in the trees. I hurriedly walked off the road and up into the trees in that direction, where I soon saw elk moving broadside to me about 70 yards away. I sat down, wrapped up in my rifle sling and waited for a cow to present a decent shot, not obstructed by lodgepole. In a few seconds, the lead cow turned downhill, directly toward me. The third elk in line, a young cow, stopped just a little too long, and my elk hunt was over, which once again proves the old adage that “even a blind squirrel bumps into a nut once in a while.”

    Courtesy of Pheasant Forever, an organization dedicated to maintaining and improving habitat for upland game birds, my calendar for 2024 is already filling up, a development for which I am extremely grateful. Not quite as many overseas trips are listed there, but I’m not complaining. I’m just grateful for my family and the life I have lived and the days I have to look forward to, knowing that I have fewer sunrises ahead of me than I have enjoyed so far. Each one is a gift. Personal experience has proven to me that no one is guaranteed tomorrow.


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