the singing falls waterfall scribe logo capella, the goat shepherd's constellation
The Quill
Of the
Is Art
For The Mind
And Heart




~~*  The Alaskan Wolf  *~~

Remembering Ralph

I chanced upon Ralph's widow this morning, white haired Marie. She was struttin' down the country road like a roadrunner, the doctor having ordered these daily jaunts. She has yet to fail the regime. I was on my own brisk walk, late for tutoring some children who live nearby. "I walk fast, Marie – you might not be able to keep up," I panted. She panted back, "Not fair - your legs are longer..." We managed to stay neck and neck, like a couple of old racehorses, for a bit of interim conversation.splash dot!


Ralph Staugh

Ralph Staugh and his cattle brand

I opened up a bit of my heart to her, surprising even me, and told her though I was tutoring I'd rather be home writing. Her tousled mane framed a lipsticked face flushed in the cheeks that, though 75 years and counting, looked younger.splash dot!


"Oh, I love to write, too!" she smiled. The lion stick, a tree branch, waved about in one clenched fist like a drum major's baton, a weapon to undo any unsuspecting mountain lion should it dare to venture near the seasoned cowgirl.splash dot!


I continued, for some strange reason, to press my honesty on her.splash dot!


"I like to write cowboy tales – you know, Marie, tales that describe lives like yours and Ralph's, for you met and all..."splash dot!


I did not expect the instant transformation. Sublime in intonation was her reply. Pregnant with feelings too little requested by the people around her, her proud head lifted. The cloudless skies received her confessions of love and I looked on in awe. The wiry woman in purple acrylic pedal pushers turned twenty years of age right before my eyes. Her softened eyes remembered it all so vividly, and all the lines disappeared from her face. Lauren Bacall, for a moment in time, was reminiscing about her 'Bogie'. I knew I had touched a chord in that heart of hers. Turning and looking at me full in the face, with fire in those gray eyes, she opened the gates to a secret garden.splash dot!


"Oh, that Ralph!" she giggled, like a school girl. "He was known as the 'Alaskan Wolf', you know. He'd had many a young gal beggin' at his feet to be called by his name – but he would love 'em and leave 'em. None could hold him!" Her triumph still held steady after 53+ years.splash dot!


"I'm the one who won his heart, though." Her Phyllis Diller laughter has always caught me off guard and is extremely contagious. I had to laugh with her.splash dot!


"How did you meet Ralph, Marie?"splash dot!


"My sister – she introduced us. She told me to BEWARE of Ralph! You see, honey, his reputation was a bad one. 'Don't trust a thing he says," she told me.splash dot!


Those gray eyes were sparking dangerously at this point, and since nearby forest service signs were all reading "EXTREME FIRE DANGER" I was afraid that she'd set the whole dang place on fire.splash dot!


"Did you fall in love with him, Marie?"splash dot!


She looked at me as though I were new in the barracks.splash dot!


"I fell in love with him immediately!". Another paroxysm of laughter overtook her right there on Tiller Trail Highway in front of the "dog lady's" house. "His twinkling eyes, his tenderness – oh, honey, he was so sweet and gentle and tender and affectionate..." she spoke the words in rapid cadence, "and those eyes were always so full of mischief. I could not help but fall in love with him." The last sentence was spoken like a prayer. "He was everything I wanted..." She laughed another Phyllis Diller laugh and turned on her heel, abruptly closing the pages to her private journal. It was time for her walk to head her on home. I smiled and waved and went up the driveway to greet my day in the little red schoolhouse...splash dot!



The first time Stan and I saw Ralph, we did not know he was Ralph. A big man in a wide brimmed black hat was limping along on crutches along the big highway that fronts our place. A crutch would reach out and a leg would follow slowly, the same motion echoed by the opposite crutch and leg. We were not yet living on the property, but were living at my parents' home two hours' drive away because we had just moved to the great state of Oregon from Montana.splash dot!


Since brother Paul and his wife happened to be visiting, and they wanted to see what we had purchased, we drove on out to view our homestead to be. It was Thanksgiving Day with blue skies overhead. We hoped the wild turkeys would be there to greet us. There was about one hundred gobblers who had taken up residence on our back forty and I wanted to show my city slicker brother all about country livin' in Oregon.splash dot!


We drove separate vehicles. Paul and Michelle followed us on the bustling freeways onto the cattle trail that ran by our new property. Both vehicles entered the final lap – a winding canyon with sheer drop offs that would take a man's breath away and cause him to repent of any and all sins before reaching the straight away where he'd let out his breath and become the man he was originally. We wound through the snake like corridor and finally came onto the easy stretch of road that would naturally cause a driver to relax a bit and place his foot to the throttle full bore.splash dot!


We headed toward our new place, all heads admiring the vistas. That's when we saw the wobbling man on crutches on the side of the road. He was big in the shoulders and his shirt was opened to his navel, exposing a gray haired chest. The black cowboy hat was on a white maned head, and he continued his brake dance with the crutches until he was nearly perpendicular to our driveway. We slowed down and red blinking lights showed brother that a left turn it would Not knowing the old man, we merely waved.splash dot!


The next few seconds were a blur. A pick up truck barreling down the highway at break neck speed approached like a bat out of hell. By the time the driver of the truck noticed us and the tottering man on crutches all at the same time, like a fearful deer who has sensed the wind of a misplaced arrow, the driver cranked his steering wheel leeward. The fast moving truck began to careen from one side of the highway to the other. With the help of the angels alone, the reeling truck missed our car by a couple of feet. I feared for my brother's family right behind us. They were directly in the line of fire and I knew it. My eyes wide, I watched the galloping truck run amuck miss my brother's vehicle by a centimeter or two.splash dot!


Then it was the old man's turn. By then he was standing statue still in the highway gesticulating against that big chest of his the sign of the cross, eyes full of fear. (He told us later that his whole life passed in front of him at that moment and he thought he'd be meeting his Maker then and there.)splash dot!


Somehow the careening truck missed us all and still moving from one side of the highway to the other out of control finally landed upside down in a ditch.splash dot!


The men ran over to see if all was all right, first with the frightened cowboy and then the truck's occupants. The truck's driver and passenger were already doing all they could to extricate themselves from the ditch, seemingly not too bereaved that they'd nearly killed us all. They headed into the horizon without even waving a fond adieu.splash dot!


We didn't know at the time that the old man was Ralph. Ralph, the cattle magnate, famed owner of the spread known as the Diamond Rock Ranch. Breeder of Limousin and Brangus, but most proud of his red hided Santa Gertrudes cattle, he was known to the locals as "Ben Cartwright." We'd find all that out later when he paid his first visit to our farm after we'd moved in.splash dot!



That first visit to our little house was unexpected, short and sweet. Polite, Ralph was. I suspect he visited us that first time to find out what kind of neighbors we be. All the others that lived in this wee house before us had been fond of the locoweed. His ranch adjoined ours. We were neighbors in the truest sense because we shared the rusty barb wire that ran along for acres.splash dot!


In time, old Ralph became a regular visitor. We must have put him at ease that first time we offered him a small goblet of our homemade blackberry wine the color of a deep purple ruby. The cowman tipped the crystal ever so delicately, large pinky finger extended. "Well, now, my goodness, this is good for the blood!" We smiled at the old bootlegger and watched his health visibly improve with each sip of the medicine.splash dot!


It was not Ralph's way to call before he stopped in and paid folks a visit. I learned that about Ralph as time passed. He said that in the old days before he and Marie got hitched, early mornings would find him on the high mountain ridges waiting for all the cooks to light their wood cookstoves. He'd be up there before the valley woke up. The first chimney that belched a tower of smoke became his target. The Alaskan Wolf never could turn down a panful of hot biscuits or a sizzling frypan of eggs and bacon. He had a way with chimney smoke. Like an Indian scout bending low over tracks and animal scat, Ralph read chimney smoke.splash dot!


I began to note that when the green and cream enameled cookstove in our cramped kitchen was a'crankin', my dogs would soon be barkin'. And up the drive, gullied by the seasonal creek that flowed down it every winter there would be that familiar pick up truck dented on every golden side of it. The big cowboy would carefully lower his boots to the ground because the legs never did work right after that hip operation. He'd swagger up the driveway with a smile on his face. It was my duty as woman of the household to greet him, and I'd open wide the double door.splash dot!


"C'mon in, Ralph – you're just in time for breakfast." His wide face would elongate sideways a further distance than its heighth and a smattering of yellowed teeth made their debut in his smile. I loved this man's smile and would have voted for him as President had he run for office.splash dot!


Ralph always wore western shirts and those shirts never hid his big barreled chest. Nah, that chest would be smiling at the world at all times, the first button on the shirt closing just above the navel. I'd fill the white enamelware coffee pot with well water, throw a few more pieces of oak into the maw of the stove, and set the pot on the hot cast iron grate. Ralph would sit astride the bench at our table, somehow folding his rather cumbersome form snug against a propane stove on the other side of the kitchen.splash dot!


"Good morning, Alexandra." He was so careful to pronounce my given name. Never did like to call me just plain "Sandy" after he'd heard from me what my real name was. "Was in the area. Just checkin' to see who calved last night. Looks like we got a fine Brangus bull born this mornin'. Could see the cow had given birth, but couldn't find the calf anywhere. Searched and searched! Ah, thank you, Alexandra –" (I had just placed a hot cup of coffee before him with some cream fresh dipped out of the milk jar). He'd continue the saga and Stan and I listened to the man who lived, breathed and would die for the cattle.splash dot!


"Well, there he was, the rascal -– hidden in a hole in the ground! Those mama's, they're always hidin' their calves! Looks like we have a couple more about to drop calves...I'll be around here more often these days..." That sparkle in his eyes, mischievous, never amounted to any badness. Always polite, always the gentleman, he'd take his leave after we'd all solved the world's problems and especially the problems of our little holdings in Drew, Oregon.splash dot!


Knowing my cooking left something to be desired because I cooked mostly for my husband who was a tofu and brown rice man (not a bacon and eggs man at all), I'd blush and beg his forgiveness if my eggs turned out a little on the "over" side rather than the "easy". If the potatoes had a black rim to them, I'd turn my head away in disgust, roll my eyes to the ceiling and then gain composure and try to separate out for the man the least burned of the bunch.splash dot!


"Never did consider m'self a good cook, Ralph," I'd bluster, pulling out napkins and trying to keep up with the two men at table in front of me whose cups always seemed to lack coffee or tea.splash dot!


But Ralph would only smile and act like food was the last thing on his mind. That tended to put me at ease some, and I'd serve the men their chow and sit down with a steamy cup of coffee across table, and we'd chat like farmers around the country store's only stove. Laughter was a good part of the conversation and very little gossip ensued because Ralph knew how to hold his tongue.splash dot!


He'd visit every so often, usually when my wood cookstove would be a'crankin' on autumnal mornings because I loved to take off the chill in the house and do my baking all at once. Then the dogs would bark and the big man would call. Ralph quickly became a friend and there I would be when he arrived, scouting around my refrigerator for something to cook up.splash dot!


Sometimes as he made his slow walk up the driveway I'd greet him with a twinkle in my own eyes. "Musta' seen the smoke from my chimney, huh Ralph?"splash dot!


"Yes, Alexandra, I saw it!" We shared our joke like fine wine. "Well, hello Stan – how are you this fine morning?" he'd ask my husband. I'd sit them all down, and take Ralph's black hat, or if it were summertime, his straw one, and we'd all get comfortable and talk. And I'd serve up something and inevitably make my apologies. But, he never complained about my cooking, no, he did not. He never said I was a "good cook", mind you, but he ate everything I gave him – and the caffeine steamed in his cup rich and dark.splash dot!


We would talk about old times in this small farm community, the time it bustled with turkey farmers. And we'd talk about ranching. We'd talk to Ralph about a time when he broke road for the Forest Service with a pack of mules and how he came upon the hidden beauty of Diamond Rock and bought it like a man falling in love and marrying his bride. We'd talk about how our own little calves were doing, the bottle fed ones I was nursing back to life with a special herbal potion, the ones that would be working oxen someday, if they lived through the scours.splash dot!



Bad news sometimes comes on the wind. It begins with a whisper and can turn into a hurricane overnight. We received a call. Marie, Ralph's beloved Marie, had been taken to hospital. Emergency heart surgery, we were told.splash dot!


Stan went over to see Ralph. Marie had been secured in a big city hospital and the man was home alone without her. The woman was a big part of that cowboy's life and heart, having stayed with him through thick and thin, mostly the thick of it all those years. Letting go of her was more than he could bear and he thought maybe he was being asked to let go.splash dot!


When Stan arrived at the homestead (as he tells the story), Ralph was undone. The big man sat folded up in a chair moaning and weeping. "I want to go first...I want to go first..." Those were his only words.splash dot!


The local pastor was there already, and Stan joined him and old Ben Cartwright. The Holy book was opened, scriptures were quoted, and then all three prayed. They prayed with loud voices, and kept on praying. The angels must have been looking on and that living room must have become a sanctuary. The salty tears of the cowboy kept coming until the heavens opened. Ralph looked up at the men in front of him suddenly. The weeping subsided. His face was glowing.splash dot!


"I'm not afraid anymore! I'm not afraid! Whatever happens, I'm OK, I'm not afraid." Another soul wrestled down and locked into the will of the Lord. I'm sure his angels wiped their brows and gave each other high fives...splash dot!


He shook the hands of the two men in his living room. "Anytime, Ralph, anytime..."splash dot!


Marie made it home fine. Took some fancy whittlin' tools from Portland doctors, and she was a bit dismembered, but all was well. He didn't lose his beloved Marie afterall and for a time we didn't see much of Ralph. The cowboy was home a lot helping to nurse his wife back to health.splash dot!


With time she healed well. The journeys to our house became inevitable because winter brings a wealth of woodstove cookery. And if luck will have it, I'll even succeed in baking a perfect loaf of bread or loading a cobbler pan with fresh berries topped with a butter crunch crust. Our chimney smoked its signals.splash dot!


Ralph was beginning to trust us, talking more openly about his life, his hopes and dreams. I felt so honored when I realized Ralph trusted us. Frankly, something inside me told me he didn't hand out that trust with a light hand.splash dot!


Well, when I began to think that Ralph thought the world of my homestead abilities, the way I could nurse a calf to health from the precipice of death, the way I could sink an axe into wood and split a half a cord of wood in a day, the way I could turn out a cobbler in no time, that's when I learned humility in one easy lesson. That was the day my ballooned ego deflated with a well aimed arrow pulled from the quiver of mischief that ever lay within the man. His eyes twinkled. I shoulda known there and then.splash dot!


"Y'know," he began, those wide eyes watching me , "I always liked the homely gals – sorta like you, Alexandra. Didn't go for the ones with all the pizzazz, liked 'em homely. They were the best kind, you know. Always knew how to cook and take care of a man..."splash dot!


I looked at his wide smiling countenance, those few yellowed teeth just a'gleamin', and smiled benignly, my pulse beating rapid fire as I considered thwacking him over the head with the black frying pan I was still holding in my hand as I dished out fried eggs. What's that old adage about "hell hath no fury..." But, I let it slide off my bruised ego like water off a duck's oiled back, and was soon talking about calves and the usual logistics of homesteading. Heck, I knew I was homely anyway, what's to fight about. But in my heyday, I thought, my hackles up like a banty hen protecting her brood...splash dot!


We finished out the day talking about Diamond Rock – his land, his homestead, the land he purchased so many years ago. He then folded his hands together and looked Stan in the eyes, man to man. While we picked between our teeth with wood after a morning meal he told Stan where he'd like his ashes to be disposed of should he just happen to keel over and die. Up there on that special overlook where the Ranger Station once stood like a proud sentry, up on Diamond Rock – where the shadows of the eagles move on the ground. Diamond Rock, where the big cat walks in silence and the wild dogs bay.splash dot!


Then old Ralph, as was his way, thanked me profusely for the meal, thanked Stan for sharing table with him, and he received back his wide brimmed hat. Shuffling out the dutch door, he would clamber into the well dented pick up truck ...splash dot!


Two weeks later it was Easter Sunday. Stan and I would not have gone to the Easter sunrise service that took place every year at Rex's big ranch except for the fact that Jerry would be there. Jerry, the long, tall cowboy, mutual friend of Ralph's and us, just lost his Barbara. He was still very much in mourning. Not a church man, somehow he'd been talked into going to the Easter sunrise service. Both Stan and I knew we wanted to be there for Jerry.splash dot!


I put on some high heel sneakers and a dress, along with a long white sweater that my mother had given to me. A black ribbon held back a swatch of hair. I held onto Stan's white shirted arm and we searched for Jerry amongst a small crowd of gatherers. Well, there was Ralph. So used to me scooting along my oak kitchen floor in mismatched socks and frayed skirts, I watched him look up at me that Easter morning as the sun was peaking through a pink and gold haze. "You look like a movie star, Alexandra!"splash dot!


Inside I was laughing. But, afterall, he was giving me my turn to twinkle. "Well, I thank ya kindly, Ralph. I'll be takin' that as a compliment."splash dot!


The next time I saw Ralph it was after Christmas. Stan just happened to be sick with fever that day and was in bed. Ralph's old truck was replaced by a brand new shiny black one. "Wowee," I thought to myself, "one fancy dude!" A new hat, brushed felt, a fog gray color, was on his head. He was wearing some mighty fancy duds, too, and his boots were spit shined. Guess he was thinkin', "if she kin look like a movie star, I'll show her why they call me Ben Cartwright." I walked out the front door this time. He met me on the overgrown January grass surrounding a flower bed.splash dot!


"Yor shor lookin' fine today, Ralph. Nice hat."splash dot!


"Thanks, Alexandra", he was smilin' his broad grinned prize winner. "The girls and mom gave it to me for Christmas. Tired of looking at that worn out black hat, I guess..."splash dot!


My turn. "Stan's not feeling well today, Ralph. We'd rather you didn't come in. We don't want you to catch whatever he has." That was the truth. We knew Ralph wasn't well. Stan had already passed the secret on to me earlier, something Ralph showed him one day about his body, and we knew things were not right. He hadn't told his family yet.splash dot!


He said he hoped Stan would recover soon, and said he was off to some kind of Sunday service that night with his family. We talked a bit. He smiled that wide Ben Cartwright grin at me, tipped his hat and got into his new truck and drove off.splash dot!


A few weeks passed and we didn't see Ralph. But, things on a farm are always hectic and the schedule a fast paced one. Then we got word that Ralph was in the hospital. Cancer, they said, but doctors were not sure. Blood in the urine, lots of pain. Stan and I stopped what we were doing when our neighbor, Joanne, called. She was going to the hospital to see Ralph – did we want to come. Yes, I told her. We would hitch a ride with her.splash dot!


All three of us walked into the sterile room. He winced with pain as he sat upright. But, the old cowboy, the gray hairs on his barreled chest surrounded by a skimpy hospital gown, grinned wide at all three of us. "Well, hello Joanne! And Alexandra! And Stan! Glad to see you all here." He winced again as he shifted.splash dot!


We could see that he was weak. Joanne and I tried to get him to eat some, and he ate his red jello, dug into a bite of the salisbury steak but pushed the plate away. "Once you've had steak on a ranch, you cain't eat this stuff real well..." he smiled wanely.splash dot!


We all talked and Stan asked if he could pray with Ralph. Ralph said he'd like that very much. We all prayed and a tear ran down the old cowboy's face. We hugged goodbye and left.splash dot!


Stan and I had the good fortune to visit Ralph once more. The Veteran's hospital was on the way to my parent's home and we were visiting my parents quite often in those days. He was in good spirits. "Howdy Stan – howdy, Alexandra! You caught me before I dress up real purty. 50th wedding anniversary today. Mom and the kids will be here – a regular shindig. Balloons, cake. Fifty years with that woman, near drove me nuts!" He laughed, we talked and asked when he'd get out of the hospital. He said he'd be out soon, thank the good Lord, but they weren't letting him go home just yet. I didn't know that day when I grasped that big, hard hand so full of rope burns and scars from branding irons – I didn't know that was the last time I'd be touching a warm hand still pulsating with life sustaining blood. I didn't know that he was holdin' tight to the saddle with everything in him so that he could celebrate his 50th with the family.splash dot!


That week I received the call. Ralph had passed away in the night, they said. Sudden heart attack, perhaps, but no details were given. I put down the receiver and bawled like a new born calf too weak to get up on all fours and find the nipple. I bawled and ran outside under the Oregon skies to find my husband and tell him Ralph had gone home.splash dot!


We had to go to town that day. On the way out of Tiller, Oregon on the marquee in front of the local bar where Ralph's daughter, Peso, bar tended, was a simple goodbye. "SO LONG, COWBOY!" I read it and choked up again.splash dot!


We received a phone call some time later. The family wanted Stan to "officiate", which basically meant that they wanted him to be there and pray after they scattered their daddy's ashes up there on the rim of Diamond Rock. "Dad admired you, Stan. We know he would have wanted it this way. We know he would have wanted you here."splash dot!


On the sunny morning his ashes were to be scattered, the old gold pick up truck pulled into our worn and gullied drive, its dented frame making creaking sounds. Peso, eyes red rimmed, honked the horn. Her two teenage daughters whose 4-H storage boxes I'd stenciled when they were so very young, that held all their tack when they showed their prize steer calves, sat inside the cab, eyes red rimmed like their mom's. They made room for my husband who had on his preacher's garb – the white shirt and black suspenders and a hat, clean tan pants, holding a well worn bible he'd held for years, its leather sheath embedded by his own sweat and tears.splash dot!


I stayed home with my own musings and thoughts of the old cowboy. When Stan got home he said that everyone had handsful of ashes and flung them far and wide until the air was chokingly full of Ralph. As the blue skies surveyed the scene and clouds drifted by, Diamond Rock received the remains of a cowboy that loved and tended it all those many years. A prayer of blessing and remembrance and hope was uttered in the presence of his children and the angels.splash dot!


Peso tends that big ranch today. She decided she wanted to continue in the family tradition. The old wire and tired yew wood posts were removed. New fence circles those fat limosine, brangus and Santa Gertrudes cows today. Peso works hard, she and her teenage girls, moving irrigation pipe, cutting and baling hay, feeding the cattle. With cattle prices plunging and the small farmer going under every day around here, she's managed to hang tight to the rope and not let go. Holdin' tight in the saddle, just like dad. Made of the same stuff.splash dot!


goats butting heads



image of author


scripted signature


Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484