A short story of what to expect when riding into a sheep camp.
My mom and I ride up the steep and rocky trail with raspberry bushes scattered on either side. Weaving through the dead and blackened downfall trees from a fire years before. We take turns stepping off our sweaty and heavy breathing horses to gather handfuls of the sweet little berries for one another. The trail tops out on a windswept ridge that allows us to see mountains upon mountains beyond us. The ridge is an open sea of waving yellow grass and patches of pine trees and dead trees on the hillsides beside us. We follow the ridge North, holding our faces down out of the wind, as it takes us to the camp.
The small border collie dogs begin to bark at one another in greeting, as Mequias steps out from his tarp covered shelter. We greet as well, hellos in Spanish. He tells us of the
homemade tortillas inside while he continues to stir his lunch on the wood burning stove outside the tent door. As we tie the horses to young pine trees surrounding the tent, I watch a small bunch of the yearlings graze across the adjacent hillside, the rest bedded in the trees out of view. I pour myself a cup of hot water that is boiling atop the small charcoal colored stove and mix in instant coffee and hot cocoa. I sit on a stump beside the tent allowing it to block me from the chilling wind, sipping my hot drink. We talk about the sheep, the weather, the visitor wolf they had, and my cousin’s wedding. These guys are good friends, like family, and enjoy hearing about what’s going on with everyone.
When the food is ready, I duck under the tied up flap of the door into their dirt floored home to help myself. I grab an old white with pink floral plate, once belonging to my grandma, from the wooden box kitchen set. It is placed on top of box panniers which serve as a pantry
for holding all their canned food. To the right of the door is another set of boxes stuffed with fresh veggies, fruit, bread, noodles, potatoes, pans, towels, and placed at the foot of a cot with two sleeping bags. The other man’s cot is along the back wall of the tent, also holding two sleeping bags and a full black backpack. A stump and 5-gallon-bucket serve as seats in the middle. I lift the lid to the big round aluminum pot and steam bursting with smells of garlic and onion fill my nose. Inside there are chunks of lamb meat, potatoes, diced tomatoes, onions, and carrots. In another smaller pot, specifically for cooking rice, is the best rice you’ll ever eat. I dish the rice first, then the stew like concoction on top. The mixture is delicious. The meat is tender and full of flavor. I briefly consider going back for more but know that this same meal will serve as their supper later tonight. Instead, I place a square of tin foil on the stove and my homemade tortilla on top to warm it up. Only a few of the men make tortillas, so it is always a treat to eat at the camps of the men who do. I enjoy the dense, dull flour flavored dessert topped with some strawberry jam. I listen to the canvas walls move with the wind, wondering how I’d be able to sleep in the cold ruckus as fall moves in.
The dogs bark again, alerting us of David’s arrival from cleaning trails. We switch spots in the tight quarters of the tent for him to grab a bite to eat before riding across the draw to gather the herd to count. When we’re done, we direct the horses for the same trail we came in on and head back for the pickup. It’s a two hour ride, and in this time I reminisce on the delicious meal I had earlier, on all the meals that are shared with me each time I visit a camp. These men are friendly and accommodating. They would welcome anyone into their homes for a meal or a hot drink. It’s like my own personal “McDonald’s on the mountain” although far tastier, comes with a hell of a view, and is shared with great company. For that I am forever grateful for this beautiful opportunity.
I hope you have all enjoyed the story of a typical summer day of riding into a camp. Until next time, Eat Lamb, Wear Wool!