Friday, June 2, 2017

Hiking with Landon

Landon mailed this to me when I was living in Florida.

Landon was the first friend I made when my family moved to Duchesne.  It was around thirty-seven years ago when we moved into the Twin River Apartments.  He has been my friend longer than anyone outside of my family and was the first person with whom I had any memorable adventures including almost getting bit by a rattlesnake and nearly finding the Basin Bigfoot.  Starting that year in kindergarten, we spent hours exploring everything outdoors in our neighborhood.

Eventually we both ended up in the subdivision near Porter Merrill’s farm next door to one another.  He didn’t live there for long because his dad built the coolest house ever on the Bench, an underground house.  For several years, we spent time going back and forth between our homes.  Little time was spent inside. 

At our house, we would spend entire days in the mountains.  We walked miles and miles.  We went back and forth between the two Devil’s Soup Bowls, built a zip line across a draw (it didn’t work very well), and crafted an amazing shelter in an old juniper up on what we called “The Ridge.”  We created a rock vault, trying to be like Moroni, and buried a few items there.  When I moved back to Duchesne my junior year of high school we went back up to that juniper and tried to find the vault.  We couldn’t find it, but on the way, there I did manage to have a small rattlesnake strike my boot when I stepped off a rock.

In all of our exploring, Landon loved to look at and explore the wildlife.  If we came across a deer or two, we had to watch them or try to follow them.  Once we had five or six deer run within a few yards of us while we sat in our shelter on “The Ridge”.  Another time we found several ground owls that ran around staring at us.  We were always on the lookout for Sasquatch.  We swore we found sign of him one time.  Heading up Indian Canyon we came across a particularly tall juniper with no branches on one side.  Something with brown fur had rubbed all over tree up all the way up above our heads, leaving pieces of fur everywhere on the tree.  It looked like deer hair, but it was too high in the tree for a deer to reach.  While the fur was interesting, the most interesting thing was a deer antler that was stuck into a hole in the tree up high.

On a different trip up Indian Canyon we were shot at.  At one point, we crossed from one side of the canyon to the other side of the highway.  We came out right at the spot everyone used as a shooting range.  Being unwise, we decided to climb up right above the shooting range.  As we were about halfway up a truck pulled up and two people got out.  They proceeded to shoot at targets directly below us.  I’m not sure if they ever did see us, but we got out of there as quickly as we could.

Many lizards in those hills and on the bench lost their tails as we did everything we could to catch as many of them as possible.  Landon had a quick hand and was unafraid to go into the sage brush to get them.  Occasionally we would take them home, put them in a bucket and try to feed them.  I don’t think we ever kept any for long, mostly just tried to see if we could catch them.  One time, however, we caught several and had plans to keep them.  Finding a place to hold them during the hike home was always difficult.  This day we were lucky.  I had on a windbreaker with the pockets torn out.  We put the lizards in my pockets and they would run all over in the lining.  That day we must have caught over a dozen.  The plan was to take them out and do something with them once we got back to my house.  Unfortunately for the lizards, as soon as I got home I had to hurry off for some other activity.  My mom put my jacket into the washer and then into the dryer without any idea of what was inside.  She found them everywhere in the laundry after that.

I loved going to stay the night at Landon’s house on the Bench.  We stayed out as late we could in the evenings and would spend the entire next day roaming anywhere and everywhere.  From the ledges along the edge of the Bench by the Old River Road all the way back to the irrigation ditches and canals by the Spencers and Poulsons, we walked and explored.  More than once we followed an irrigation ditch off the bench into some ponds by property owned by one of the Grants.  Every time we would go right into the pond, (we called it a swamp).  Once we even managed to get into a water snake fight—which hurt both the snakes and us. 

One day we went down into a thick grove of trees on the bank of the Duchesne River just off of the bench.  I’ll never forget being in those trees.  They were so thick that hardly any sunlight could make it through.  Everything was so silent that I almost felt uncomfortable.  I started to say something to Landon, but he put a finger to his lips, signaling me to stay quiet.  Slowly he pointed up into one of the trees.  A large owl sat there looking around.  I assumed we must have woke it when we walked it.  Suddenly, without making any noise, it swooped from the tree to the ground.  It grasped a large mouse in its talons and flew off to another tree. 

Before I could say anything, Landon asked if I could hear something.  Unsure what he meant, I said I didn’t hear anything.  Quickly he walked forward to where the mouse had been and picked up a baby mouse that he said he had heard squeaking. 

Unfortunately I took it upon myself to label and date this picture.

I swear, Landon and I walked all over all the hills and down every street in town.  Sometimes he was talkative, but mostly he liked to keep silent.  I made him angry one day.  We were walking from town back to his house.  For some reason, we already were on each other’s nerves.  Yet, as we walked we would walk into each other, bumping shoulders and leaning into one another, separate for a few steps and then do it again.  I kept trying to get him to talk, but he wouldn’t.  Finally, I stopped right before we ran into each other and I put my foot out.  Landon was so focused on looking ahead that he didn’t see what I had done—he tripped right over my foot and fell into the full irrigation ditch along the road.  He started talking then and not much of it was pleasant, but I was too busy laughing to care.

Besides exploring, Landon loved to create art.  His handwriting was a form of art.  I once changed the way I signed my name for a couple of years, trying to do it the way I had seen him sign my name.  In fact, his handwriting was so good, that more than once he forged parents’ signatures on unfavorable progress reports for some of his classmates.  (I’m not admitting to anything.)  You just had to bring in a copy of a returned check that they had signed and he worked his, umm, magic.  Sitting in a classroom for hours wasn’t his favorite thing, so he signed a few of his own progress reports on behalf of his mother.

His wildlife drawings were amazing from early on.  I loved to watch him draw.  More than once I pushed him to draw something so I could watch.  I managed to talk him into giving me a handful of his drawings.  I’ve had them for over three decades.  Every few years I’ll pull them out to look at and share with my wife and children.  To this day I cannot look at a piece of art that depicts wildlife without thinking of Landon.  A few short weeks ago I stood in a bookshop in Cusco, Peru looking at drawings and paintings of birds.  I thought of Landon, his talent, and his art.

I will miss my friend.  We had limited contact the past few years, but we were in touch about work and family.  Each time I go on a hike or look at artwork, I will think of him and the adventures we had and the amazing person he is.  He loved his family and he loved his friends.  As so many others, I’m a better person for being his friend.


Marilyn Sandperl said...

So beautiful, Jarad. Thank you for writing this. What a nice tribute. I couldn't help but see the both of you once again as ten-year old boys. So sweet.

John Foster said...

What a wonderful tribute. You really have a way with words!