Spring 1985, Volume 2
Gordon T. Allred
And The Floods Came
Editor's Note: The following chapter is excerpted from the novel Love And The Mountain By Gordon R. Allred to be published during the summer or fall of 1985 by Bookcraft. The novel originated as a short story titled "Ram's Horn," appearing several years ago in Mountainwest Magazine. It was recently expanded to book-length proportions following extensive research by the author on range and watershed management and detailed interviews with a dozen members of the U.S. Forest Service.
Love And The Mountain is the story of a young Forest Ranger named Hank Bannon and the challenges he faces upon finding himself a "Gentile" and "Fed" in a small Mormon community near Flaming Gorge. Hank encounters both cooperation and violent opposition in attempting to eliminate grazing along the badly eroded Ram's Horn Mountain that has long nurtured the little town of Jericho. To complicate matters, he manages to fall irremediably in love with the alluring but highly religious Kathryn "Kate" Young, daughter of the local LDS Bishop and town's most prominent citizen.
As the following pages disclose, Hank's valiant efforts to prevent a disastrous mountain flood come a bit too late, but he does his best to help compensate.
He stood there muddy and dripping in the Kunkle kitchen, phone to his ear, waiting from one interminable ring to the next. Then, on the verge of hanging up, he was rewarded. "Yahl" The voice was gruff, if not belligerent.
"This is Bannon . . . got us a flood underway. Better bust loose the jeep patrol, posse, the whole shootin' match, and roust out the town of Jericho."
I said a flood's on, Wilf, and it's for real! It's headed straight down the Ram's Horn. We've just been up there along the front checking it out. Got to herd everybody into the school house - everybody. The ground's high enough there they'll be safe."
There was a pause, as if his message were simply not computing. Then it took hold. "Okay-gotchal" Sheriff Hamblin hung up abruptly, ready to do his job and, more than likely, do it well.
By now the Kunkle clan had fled, and Hank was on the line with Elmo Hickenlooper advising him to evacuate his own family then assist the Sheriff in every way possible. Minutes later, heading out the door, Hank caught himself and returned to place one more call. "Hi,Bishop Young? Yes sir, this is Hank . . . that's right - it's for real. I've already talked to Hamblin. This thing could be a real bearcat, and we'd better not take any chances. Right, that's correct-the schoolhouse. I thought maybe you could help spread the word through your church system or something."
The reply was warm, reassuring. "Certainly can. In fact, I just finished phoning my counselors. We'll be working through the Relief Society on calls-try to phone everybody in town. We'll get the Priesthood quorums going on rescue backup. 'Course some of them are already in the patrol or the posse."
"Great, perfect! I'll take off now. Kunk and I are hitting the homes along Mountain Road."
"All right, Brother - wise planning, but don't forget to watch out for Hank Bannon in the process."
Then Hank was back in the pickup, gunning it to life and fishtailing almost out of control as he hung a hard right on the wet asphalt. Calm down, Brother, he thought, cool it. Don't be a fool and bomb things now. Lights were blipping on here and there throughout the town but not nearly enough of them. There was no question about false alarm now. Although the rain had diminished it was still coming with authority, and the Ram's Horn was full of commotion, offering an ever-growing roar as if someone were slowly, steadily turning up the volume on a tape recording.
Veering around a curve on the road above, he nearly flattened a flock of white ducks. They were waddling fast through the darkness, quacking, flapping in every direction as he decelerated. Shortly after ward he lurched to a halt at the first home, honked violently, then leaped out. Mounting the porch in a single bound, he pummeled the front door with the side of his fist nearly jarring it from the hinges.
Curtains swayed as pale faces appeared, open-mouthed at the window, and his shout came of its own accord: "Flood's on! Headed down the mountain. Leave everything and run for it-over to the school out of the path!" A dog yapped frenetically, worrying his pant leg and was sent squealing end over end from a boot to the rear. The Ranger was in no mood for any guff from man or beast. His adrenalin was running very high.
Then he was off again, startling others to life, bellowing his warning. Half a mile along the way he struck a series of widening puddles and was forced to halt where the road entered a swale. A large culvert pipe had long since filled to overflowing. The path ahead was streaming a foot deep or more with murky water as far as the headlights could penetrate. Hank slowed, squinting, vaguely mindful of pain in his neck and a throbbing in his temples. The anxiety of it all, the old muscle tension, was geting to him.
Heaving a long "whew," he gunned the truck forward, tossing sheets of white spray, momentarily innundating the entire windshield. The pickup plunged onward blindly with great quashing beneath, water ripping at the floorboards so hard he could feel it against the soles of his feet. Halfway through, the pickup began to buck and sputter, then stopped cold, water gushing against the hubcats, sparkplugs drowned. Once, twice . . . three times, he tried to start the ignition without the slightest success, waited, tried again with the same dismal result. Muttering, he rammed the door open, leaped out into the flood, slipped, grabbing the hood with one arm for support, then forged ahead, battling tide in the glow of his flashlight.
A minute or so later he reached comparatively dry road surface, utterly disgusted with himself and the world at large. If only he had used enough common sense to go more slowly the sparkplugs might still be dry. He'd have been on his way in seconds. For a moment he felt a great sense of vexation-toward himself, toward the pickup, the entire town. In their stubborness and apathy, their selfishness, the residents of Jericho had brought this whole mess upon themselves-almost been asking for it.
Lights were twinkling on below in profusion now, and despite the roaring above, Hank could hear the faint shrill of a siren. He thought of all the terrified women and children, of the people who had support him, and felt chastened. He also felt more hopeful. Hamblin was doing his job, and undoubtedly Bishop Young was doing his.
Maybe, too, the stalled pickup would serve as as warning to others who might be taking that route, encourage them to go back the other direction. It would make a longer trip to the schoolhouse that way, one that would take them through the lower part of town but probably be far safer.
He headed off at a lope, boots squishing, hoping to encounter Kunkle coming the other direction before long. For the first time since he had met her, he was glad to be separated from Kate Young, comforted by the thought that she was snugged safely away in another town. Simultaneously, he felt a keen need for her presence, for the encircling warmth of her spirit.
Fortunately, the dwellings in that area were rather widely separated, and he did not encounter another one for a quarter of a mile or so. Approaching the front porch, he recognized the residence-home of Alger H. Peel, one of his supporters. The front door was half open, a dim light burning in the kitchen. "Anybody home?" he called. "Hey, Aigy!" There was no reply, only the odor of chili sauce. His eye was caught briefly by a brightly embroidered sampler framed on the wall. In the center, resting safely on the crest of a hill, was a tiny red dwelling. "The way to a friend's home is never long," the words beneath it read.
He blundered down the hallway, calling again, felt the sense of absence, and found the bedrooms empty. The place had been evacuated - good!
Entering the yard, he found himself ankle deep in water. A minute or two earlier there had merely been a soggy lawn, and now the flood was here, aproning outward from the valley above, spreading downward through the alfalfa fields. The odor of wet hay, the season's final crop, was pungent, all pervasive. Three or four cows huddled in the empty garage lowing, and before him in the drive was a horse. It shied slightly as he approached, captured in the glow of his flashlight, a chestnut mare looking almost black from the rain. Surprisingly enough, the animal was already bridled. No saddle, but bridled, bit in its mouth, reins dragging.
"Whoa, girl!" He appraoched cautiously. "Whoa there!" he soothed and caught the reins. "Anybody around?" he called. "Anybody missing a horse?" The drizzling rain and steadfast roaring above were his only answer. The would-be rider had apparently elected some other means of travel at the last minute. "Steady girl . . . easy!" It was a bit awkward, mounting in his raincoat, and he struggled momentarily for mastery. Then the mare settled down, crunching the bit comfortably for a proper adjustment, and moved off at a swift canter.
As he reached the next home the rain had actually slowed to a drizzle, but it sounded as if the mountain were vomiting. Cattle milled about the yard, bulge-eyed and bawling, and three or four horses had broken free of their corral. The house was smothered in darkness, but a teen-age girl answered his summons, gawked at the sight of him, and literally cringed. "Where's your folks?" Hank demanded.
"Pa's gone," the girl managed. "Ma's downstairs getting the kids, but water's coming in, and we don't have any lights."
"No lights?" He glanced toward the town below, frowning. It was unquestionably darker again - only the beams from moving vehicles. He shook his head. No lights in the town itself had to mean a general outage . . . and that meant, very probably, that the flood had already struck with enough force somewhere to damage a major installation, maybe the powerhouse itself. "Well, I'd better head for the basement with his flash," Hank said, "and lend a hand." Crunching down the steps, two at a time, he spotted a bobbing mop bucket in water eighteen inches deep, a white volleyball, and beyond that the rays of his light revealed a woman. She was drenched to the skin in her pink nightgown, struggling to lug a chunky boy child to safety. The youngster squinted but remained calm, hair tousled, cheek against her neck. "Anybody else in there?" Hank called and realized she might not recognize him. "I'm Hank Bannon, the District Ranger here."
"Yes, I know," she gasped. "Billy's still in bed. I can't get him UP."
Sloshing into the adjoining room, Hank spotted the boy, a child of eight or nine, still sleeping soundly. Water was gushing in through a broken window a few yards away.---Okay,pal, let's go," he said.---Upwe come.---The boy whimpered, beginning to flail and struggle, clinging doggedly to his pillow, but Hank hefted him sack-like to one shoulder and made for the stairs. lie deposited his load at the top. ---Gota car around here?" he called.
"No," the woman lamented. She was rushing for the bedroom to dress. "Ed took off in it yesterday. We don't even know where he is, and the truck needs a new clutch."
Horses then-have to ride for it, fast!" Outside, however, he discovered that all the horses except his own had fled along with the cattle. Great! The woman appeared moments later, children in tow and wearing a coat large enough for someone twice her size.---Itlooks like your horses are gone, too," he said, "and we don't have time to saddle this one. Can you ride bare back?"
"Yes, 1 guess," she replied. tier face was pale as an egg in the gloom. Her teeth chattered. "You don't have a car, either?"
"Afraid not," he said. "It conked out a little way back. But you take this horse and your little guy. Grab the next road down and head across town to the school. I'll bring the other two." The woman trembled violently as he hoisted her aboard, but offered no protest, only anxious warnings to her children about doing everything they were told. Clasping the walling three-year-old to her midsection with one arm, she headed off down the road. If you see anybody from the jeep patrol or posse-any kind of vehicle at all -" he called, "send them after us. Horses, anything!"
Then, directing the girl to hold his flashlight, Hank seized her wrist in one hand, the boy's in the other, and moved out taking strides so long and fast they had to trot, almost run, or be dragged. Water was descending from the slopes now in countless rivulets, joining and fanning across the road as far as they could see. Periodically new streams burst from embankments, startling and splashing them, drawing forth gasps and whimpers from the two youngsters.
Relentlessly he hauled them onward, comforting at times, warning at others, until at last they stopped from exhaustion. The rain had nearly ceased, replaced by pale and shifting mists. Once they separated, forming an irregular funnel along the road before them. Ahead lay the first signs of daybreak marked by distant admonitions of thunder and flickers of lightning. Ahead also was another gully break, worse by far than the one that had stalled Hank's pickup. Shaking his head, he began to swear, then caught himself, aware that the two children were staring at him in consternation. "Now look, kids," he said. "That water up ahead is about a foot deep, even deeper where the road dips. It's coming pretty fast, but we'll make it all right if we burn right on through to the other side. Don't slow down for a second. Just keep those legs moving - okay? Got it?"
They nodded fearfully, and for a moment he choked up a little. For the first time he could see their faces clearly, beautiful and innocent. It was a strange feeling, as if they really belonged to him. The Mandy Carson syndrome all over again. Roughly, he hugged them to him. "We'll make it, kids, don't worry." Lord willing, he thought. Then He grabbed a wrist in each hand and plunged forward.
A minute later they entered the current, and just ahead limbs rushed by, splashing into a wide canal that ran along the opposite side
of the road. By now the water was surging I higher law higher
threatening to tear their legs from under them. Once he saw headlights flashing, thought maybe he heard shouts, but the girl stumbled, going down, and her wrist was so slippery he began to lose his grip. "Drop the flashlight!" he yelled, "Cling onto me!" But her younger brother was going down now, too, and suddenly she was floundering out of reach. Hank lunged for her, wrenching the boy after him, stepped on a rock that rolled like a golf ball and sprawled into the drink. Miraculously, he still retained his grip on the boy, struggled to rise and was swept over backward by an uprooted juniper, Branches and roots tore at him like the claws of a monster as both children wailed and screamed, He tried to shout but merely gargled instead, caught in the roar of a White cataract from the embankment above-hurled, scraped, and jolted into the canal.
Now he had lost his hold on both of them, There in all the swirling and blackness, Hank spluttered, tried to call again, and chok
ed. The lights ahead were much brighter now. almost blinding, but he saw both children, heads bobbing in the glare. They were clinging onto something that looked like a railroad tie. "That's it!" he yelled and heard the sound of motors growing louder. "Hang on-don't let go! Don't give up!" Incredibly, it now appeared that a vehicle of some sort was coming toward them down the center of the canal. Half boat, half car . . . an amphibious jeep! Nephi Alma's duckmobile! People were shouting instructions and encouragement. He could hear the good Bishop himself clearly. Even more astonishingly, he also seemed to be hearing a girl's voice, the voice of Kathryn Young. Impossible! Kate was far away.
Debris was washing into the canal all around him - branches, tumbleweeds, corral poles . . . sections of an outbuilding, maybe a chicken coop. "Hang on kids, we're coming!" Hank yelled. He was struggling to reach them, but the surrounding flotsam kept blocking his way. Something was, in fact, swimming beside him now . . . dog, sheep, hog? He couldn't tell, but it distracted him, and a familiar voice was shouting shrilly just ahead. "Hank! Hank! Watch out!" Something crashed into his shoulder, thrusting him beneath the surface. He battled frantically, trying to make sense of it, but his raincoat apparently was snagged on a nail, and it was increasingly difficult to keep his head above the surface. All light had been extinguished, all sound gone but the surging of water. He seemed to be encased in an immense, flood-filled coffin. Struggling frantically, he sought to wrench free of the thing that snared him, going under in the process, half strangling. Yet even then, in the midst of it all, a separate part of him was responding more objectively, filled with a sense of monstrous irony: what a weird, ridiculous, stupid way to die!
Then he thought of the children somewhere ahead. In a final burst of desperation, he wrenched again at whatever held him, twisted, nearly retching, taking in air and water. The raincoat was amazingly tough, but it was ripping a little. His head was above the surface momentarily, and someone was tugging at him, shouting , pleading. "Hank, dive down under!" Kate? he was dreaming . . . crazy. "Dive under . . . gotta' get out from under!" Kate! The hands tugged and wrenched at him with incredible strength.
The coat was tearing free, and almost in the same motion they were swimming side by side beneath the surface, arms and legs colliding, nearly tangling, but also assisting, giving, saving, both strong and surging with life . . . emerging together into the light.