You meet the most interesting people in the most unlikely places. Is there a correlation?
An and I spent last Thanksgiving at Saline Valley hot springs which is on the north-west edge of Death Valley. There's always a big pot-luck and music afterwards. Plus, it's a great time of year to hike the desert.
After 40 miles of bad road, we got there just in time for dinner. As we were chowing down, An whispered, "I know him", indicating a guy with a long pony-tail. She said she first saw him on the beach at Tahoe and thought he was cute, but never never introduced herself.
As it turned out, he sat down at our table and we started talking. Well, maybe talking is not the right term. His manner of speech was more like spinning a yarn or entertaining around a campfire. He's good at telling a story.
He said people called him Wood Cutter because he got well known at Gold Hill (near Virginia City) for helping people get their wood in for the winter. He said he could axe a seven foot round into firewood faster than two guys with an hydraulic splitter - and he'd proven it. This was quite a claim, but he definitely had the body for it. He had lived in Gold Hill working one of his several mining claims between his gigs as a wilderness guide and doing logging or prospecting.
He also said he had been taking his bus to Burning Man for years. He was very candid as to why. He said he liked all the titties, and went to the Burn to get girls to make titty prints on the side of his bus. He said he especially enjoyed applying the paint before the print. Yep, nothing subtle about Cutter.
As he talked (or spun), you got the idea this guy was as far away from the modern world as one could get. After one story, I suggested he was born a hundred years too late. He corrected me and said, 200 years. He didn't mess much with modern stuff, nor did he eat sugar or processed foods. He said he felt that way most of his life, but stopped eating sugar when he was 11. Book learning wasn't that important either. He preferred the DOING of things as opposed to it's study.
In his early twenties he got permission from the land owners and built a cabin at Fuller Lake in the mountains near Reno. There he lived off the land for over three years. He grew and raised all his own food except for seasoning and some grain which he bought in town.
He made all his own clothes from the hides of what he killed. He smoked the meat when he had more than he needed. He of course kept a garden for fresh greens and had fish from the lake. He took odd jobs now and then for the little money he needed - I think about $300 a year as I recall.
This was all back in the seventies and early eighties. Here was an original Hippie - well, at least in some respects. He used to ride his horse into town for supplies. He had a path all figured out along the railroad and would actually tie up his horse at Raley's on 7th street. If these stories weren't total bullshit, this was definitely an interesting guy.
Later that night we were all in the hot-tubs and this much older lady told Cutter she wanted a juicy story this time. So he told one about a girl who heard he was living up in the woods and wanted to board a horse with him. At least that's what she said. She got her truck stuck trying to get up his road, but hiked in anyway, and found him at the lake. She stayed for nearly two years.
Of course I've left out the best part of THAT story, but the details were not lost on this older lady. As it turns out, her son had brought her out from England to show her the wild west. Saline was a good example, and she was having a great time with characters like Cutter around. In the face, this lady looked for all the world like Charles Laughton, and sounded like him too.
The next morning at sunrise, this Laughton-looking-lady re-told Cutter's story word for word with each juicy detail included. OK, maybe their clothes became a "kit" and "knickers" were mentioned instead of panties, but the feel was definitely there. Here was another great story teller. Here was another unlikely person, in an unlikely place. I do so enjoy serendipity.
Cutter listened to his story re-told without objection. OK, maybe he was a bit shy, but he didn't seem to mind someone else stealing his story. The subject at the hot-tub then turned to hiking. Cutter said he was ready. An and I also knew another friend there named Kenn who wanted to hike. We agree to meet at Kenn's camp to start. When we got there, Cutter had arrived but was still as naked as he'd been at the tubs. He said he liked to hike in the nude - it kept his tan even. What the hell, we headed out.
The hike turned out to be quite a climb - over 5000 feet and I don't remember how many miles. Cutter was in good shape and lead the way. An kept up with him and they talked non-stop. Kenn and I were a bit slower that day and brought up the rear.
By the time we got back down to the desert, it was getting hot and Cutter talked An out of her clothes too. Kenn and I followed suit (or is that absence of suit?) and got naked as well for the last two miles. This was a first for the rest of us and quite exhilarating. Besides, now we were ready for the shower a the springs. Back in the hot-tub, it was time for another story from Cutter.
When he was nineteen, he decided he wanted to see if he could make it to the Pacific Ocean with nothing but his horse, his rifle and a bed roll. He headed north out of Reno but quickly discovered, the hunting was lean. All he found to eat the first few days were blue-belly lizards, but it kept him alive.
He talked of finally getting into the timber and finding better game. He tried to avoid people and towns. He also talked about trying to go around farms and ranches, but sometimes having to cut a fence to get his horse through. He of course always repaired them behind him. Leave No Trace, or at least not much of one.
After a few weeks he had crossed the Sierras and was headed down the other side when he heard a strange noise in the trees. It was a young girl reading a book and having a private moment. He had seen a ranch house about a mile away and figured she was from there. He made some noise to warn of his approach and stopped to talk, but stayed to listen. They got along well that afternoon, and she began to sneak out at night to visit him where he camped not far from her dad's ranch. His story at this point was of course more detailed than I've included here, but the result is the same. I imagine to this girl, Cutter was right out of a western romance novel. After a couple of days, he just pulled her up on the back of his horse, and they headed west.
Apparently, the departure had a bit more planning. She left a note for her dad, but he was still pissed. Cutter said the girl was over 18, so he didn't understand what the guy's problem was. Cutter's a very primal sort of guy. He doesn't always appreciate the subtle concern a parent might have in this situation. In any case Cutter didn't intend to stay around long enough to find out. They rode off. Cutter said this guy drove up and down the roads for several days trying to catch them, but was easy to avoid on horse-back. After a few days he finally gave up and went home. I guess her dad was at last convinced there was nothing he could do about his daughter's seduction.
Cutter and the girl continued west again. Near Chico they met someone who wanted to buy Cutter's horse, so they took the money and bought tickets for Hawaii, where Cutter found a job stacking dry-wall. After a few months, the novelty wore off. The romantic honeymoon was over. One day the girl flew back to California without him. Cutter moved back to Reno shortly after that, but never saw her again.
Yes, Cutter's version ended this fast too. Strange how a story of wilderness survival ended on Waikiki. It reminds me of how quickly Mark Twain went from "Roughing It" in Nevada to enjoying himself in Hawaii - all in one book.
So what do YOU think? Are Cutter's stories true? Or just tall tales?
In any case, the four of us did two more hikes that first weekend. An and I have done a couple of others with Cutter around Reno since. We all disagree on various topics, but have become good friends. Cutter still comes by to tell his stories now and then.
And I believe them.
Unlikely friends come from unlikely places.
Keep an open mind.
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