The spring thaw usually uncovers green grass, wild flowers and boulders scrubbed clean by rough weather.
This year when the snow melted in the high country, it uncovered something else. Pepper found a skeleton. It wasn't a horse or a cow or a coyote. It was a human.
I haven't written about it until now, because I've been trying to figure out what I think about it.
Last year three heifers froze to death. They got a taste for the bark of a certain tree and kept walking around, stripping it off and eating it. Snow built up around them. They'd pounded out kind of a yard, stayed there until it was too slippery and high to climb over.
So this year, Dad sent Pepper to live in a line shack. It's a one-room cabin with a cot, a stove, and a lean-to barn.
Pepper was excited. His only job was to keep watch for cattle that wandered up that high, so he rode Tank. Tank's such a big, broad-chested gelding, he could act like a snow plow. Pepper carried books, canned goods, dehydrated food, and emergency feed for cattle, but no razor. He told us when he came back, he'd have a long red beard.
Pepper brought every cow through the winter alive, so it was kind of ironic he found the skeleton on the day he was riding back to the ranch.
It was even more surprising that he ran into a family with a picnic who said they were celebrating Great-Great-Grandad Day.
Pepper was really shaken up by finding the skeleton and he couldn't understand that the first people he told, started clapping.
It seems that a hundred years ago, their great-great-grandfather, a Darton County rancher, learned he had a fatal illness. He didn't want any pampering, so he told his family he was just going to walk over the range until he found a place with a good view, then sit there enjoying the land he loved, and wait.
The family put together a search party and went after him, but they never found him. Year after year they searched. After a while, it turned into kind of a spring picnic day. Strange, they admitted, but true.
They invited Pepper to share their sandwiches and chocolate cake, and gave Tank an apple. After a while, they asked Pepper if they could go up and give their grandfather -- they were sure it was him -- a burial on River Bend land. Pepper said he wasn't the boss, but he figured Dad wouldn't mind. Using a twig, Pepper drew a map in the dirt, showing them where to find the skeleton.
Then they asked if Grandad had a nice view. Pepper said he did.
By the time Pepper got back to the ranch, he had a real good feeling about helping the family, and he said he didn't believe old Grandad would want us feeling sorry for him..
I'm still mulling all this over, but I think Pepper might be right.