squash) that flourish iu a ten-week growingrnseason. Yard work is a rewardingrnsport that nevertheless cannot be practicedrnwith two or three feet of snow on thernground; in Wyoming, it generally has tornbe postponed unHl Memorial Day, wellrnbefore the lilacs are in bloom. And forrnthe hardy and the young at heart, therernare mud sports, the season beginningrnaround the Ides of March, sometimesrnearlier. During my oilpatch days 20 yearsrnago. Jack Mootz and I were dedicatedrnmud bums, never missing an opportunityrnto discover some impacted backcountryrnor mountain trail slowly melting out fromrnbeneath five or six feet of snow and mirernour four-wheel-drive vehicle there, 50 orrn60 miles from the nearest town, 30 or 40rnfrom the closest blacktop. The best locationrnis on a sidehill, preferably becomingrna cliff a few yards downslope, with treesrngrowing close beside the trail to limitrnmaneuverability and prevent an easyrnturnaround. Although we usually tookrnJack’s truck, a mid-70’s GMC Jimmyrnhe’d bought for a crew car, at other timesrnwe took my ’78 Toyota Landcruiscr—arnnoble vehicle whose abilities Jack liked tornaccuse me of underexploiting. “G–rndamn it. Chipper—didn’t nobody neverrnshow you how to rock a truck? J knowrnhow to make that little Ti-yota talk—letrnme get after her!” In circumstances likernthese, unsticking a truck requires a considerablernoutlay of expensive, high-techrngear —tire chains front and back, ofrncourse; a sheepherder jack (famous forrnjumping out from under the vehicle andrnmaiming innocent bystanders); a winchrnand come-along (optional); shovels; tarrnpaper squares for traction beneath therntires; sagebrush and small logs (same purpose);rna magnum rifle for poaching strayrnelk; sandwiches; beer. For extrieahon,rnplan at least three to four hours, withrnnight beginning to fall and a spring blizzardrnon the horizon. On one of the fewrnoccasions when we made it out of thernmountains without getting stuck, Jack leftrnthe blacktop—unexpectedly, at 30 milesrnan hour—in pursuit of a fleeing jackrabbitrnhe’d tried to run down and sank thernJimmy to the frame in several feet of cornrnsnow and bentonite mud. We spent onlyrnan hour on that job before thumbing arnride with a sheriffs deputy back to Kemmererrnand returning after dark with thernLandcruiscr and a long tow chain.rnThroughout the Rocky Mountain region,rnthe winter of 1996-97 was dry untilrnthe end of February, when all hell brokernloose with a major winter storm that delayedrnmy return from Belen, New Mexico,rnwhere I’d spent a couple of monthsrnvisiting Jim Rauen. During March andrnApril, snowstorms followed one anotherrnlike rollers breaking on the Pacific Coast.rnMay was cold and wet, with more storms,rnand early in June I lost a yard tree torna wet, heavy snow that brought powerlinesrndown across southwest Wyoming.rnAround the middle of the month, havingrnfound a buyer for the house, I flew to F.lrnPaso in search of a temporary rental inrnLas Cruces. The temperature was 103rndegrees, the sun raging like an angry Godrnin a porcelain sky. Life at womb temperaturernnever has been my cup of tea, butrnsouthern New Mexico was going to bernsomething new, an adventure. I wrote arncheck to the real estate office, exploredrnthe Organ Mountains while the evaporatingrnsweat left a rime of salt on my skin,rnand bummed around over in Juarez,rnMexico, before boarding a flight back tornSalt Lake City. In Wyoming the weatherrnappeared to have uroderated: The snowdriftrnhad melted from the north side ofrnthe house, the horses were slicking off finally,rnthe last of their winter coats comingrnaway in tufts, and the backcountryrnroads were drying out. By the secondrnweekend in July, with the house packedrnup, the paperwork completed, the UHaulrnvan safely corralled (or so I thought,rnbut that’s another story), I had the time tornpay my respects to the country I was leavingrnafter 20 years and didn’t expect to bernseeing again any time soon.rnNothing in life is ever so beautiful asrnwhen it’s over. In late afternoon of a perfectrnmidsummer day the valley of thernHamsfork, its sagebrush floodplain narrowingrnto a willowy meander betweenrndark timbered ridges, was heartbreakinglyrnlovely. At the campground we took thernmiddle fork in the road climbing to therneast above Indian Creek and then northrnto Poker Hollow, where we stopped at anrnold sheep camp in the saddle of arncrossover ridge and picketed the horses torngraze on the new green grass growingrnlushly among arrowleaf balsam in yellowrnflower. Wliile Norma built a fire ring, Irnpitched the tent in a grove of pine trees.rnIt was early still when we had the camprnready, plenty of daylight left to burn. Wernbrought the horses in, saddled them, andrnrode down across Poker Hollow and uprnto the old Commissary Commandorncamp above Little Indian Creek. In arnhigh park overlooking the Hamsfork wernsat the horses, looking north throughrnslanting golden light to the crosswaysrnconfusion of ridges, Mt. Isabel, and GrahamrnPeak.rn”I don’t want to leave this,” I told Norma.rn”You can always come back to it if yourndon’t like New Mexico.”rn”Maybe I can, and maybe I can’t,” Irnsaid.rnIn camp we built up the fire, cookedrnour supper, and ate it. I brought the horsesrnin and snubbed them to the trailer.rnThe night was warm and clear. Wernspread our bags at the base of a tall pinernand lay on our backs to watch the starsrnpricking through the branches. Twornhours later, a light rain on my face wokernme to the .sound of di.stant thunder.rn”Good thing I went ahead and put therntent up,” I said.rn”This isn’t the way it’s supposed to happen.rnIt only rains if you don’t put up therntent.”rnThe rain sound on the nylon flyrnchanged to the rattle of hail as we crawledrndeeper into the sleeping bags. At dawnrnthe light through the tent wall wasrnstrangely pale. Norma put her handrnthrough the door and felt about on thernground.rn”It snowed six inches last night,” shernsaid, drawing the hand inside.rnThe snow persisted until noon, thenrnturned to rain again. We’d planned onrnriding as far as Red Park, 15 miles on arnnortherly heading, a farewell to my oldrnelk hunting country. Sh–happens.rnHanging about camp, we worked at keepingrndry and finding dr}’ wood to burn inrnthe fire. The horses, restless and miserable,rnwandered through camp, thrustingrntheir long noses over our shoulders as wernsat on a log to eat supper and watch therndirt road turn to a .slough of mud.rn”If this rain keeps up all night,” I said,rn”we’re going to be stuck in here for diernnext two days.”rnIt snowed again during the night. Thernmorning was much colder, but clear.rnWe saddled the horses and rode as far asrnCommissary Ridge above FontencUernBasin, with a view of Wyoming Peak 20rnmiles north. In the early morning sun, itsrntriangular form gleamed like an icebergrnagainst a pale frozen sky.rnI reined in the horse with stiffenedrnhands.rn”If diis is Wyoming’s goodbye to me,rnI’m glad to be saying goodbye to Wyoming,”rnI said.rnFor one reason and another, it didn’trnexactly turn out that way.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn