by niece, Phyllis Jean Parker
My most vivid recollection of a great man — a gentleman and a lover of the Great Outdoors — my Uncle Jack Jeffords — is of a wild Jeep ride over the Sandhills, rounding up the Angus cattle for shipping. With my hand on the ceiling of the Jeep, we rode at a breath-taking pace — seemingly clinging to the side hills like flies on a ceiling. I’m not ashamed to admit that my heart was beating like a trip-hammer as we precariously descended one hill, only to climb another even more treacherous!
With one hand hanging on to my cowboy hat, and the other braced hard on the Jeep’s roof — I gasped at Uncle Jack — “Can’t you slow down a bit — after all, we don’t want two human bodies and a “totaled” Jeep shipped out in the same semis as the cattle!”
“Oh, relax, P.J.,” this Jeep with its four wheeled drive is fool-proof. Just enjoy the ride. Get your stick there on the floor. That maverick yearling over there may need a bit of a prodding.”
And SO we rounded up the cattle. A day in my book that I’ll never forget.
And such assurance; such a positive outlook; such ease of accomplishment — he had all the finesse of a past master of the old and experienced ranch foreman.
Then another summer, he took me East from the Camp to the Dismal River Valley — we were carrying guns, — he a 12 gauge shotgun, and I a lightweight 20 gauge. As we trudged easily along the trail, nothing missed his eagle eye. There were the tracks of a raccoon; a badger had dug in that south sand blowout; a beaver dam erected at the bend in the river; the wild chokecherry crop had been good that year; as had the wild plums — and when the trees were in bloom, such a gorgeous sight with their soft pink fluff — and the fragrance; a time to be glad you were alive and in good health!
And there, indented in the powdery gypsum dust, were the tracks of a loping jackrabbit. Such birds — gay meadowlarks with their throaty call and bright yellow plumage; red and yellow-winged blackbirds; the tiny snowbird darting in and out of the low brush like hummingbirds; the stately sandhill crane, and the fantastic blue heron standing one-legged like his cousin, the stork, biding his time until a school of minnows caught his eagle eye; the predatory chicken hawk, soaring like a glider — just how does he know which down or up draft to take?? The chattering sparrow, the diving coot (or mudhen), black and white in his tuxedo feathers; the “Shit-a-Quart” taking off in splattery glory; — a veritable aviary of birds allocated to a sandhill sanctuary.
And insects — the huge homesteader grasshopper. with his long saw-toothed legs; the gnats that can be so irritating and so many; a blue-bottle fly; sand fleas; a sweat bee that can dive onto target with deathly and painful accuracy; the buzzing honey bees gathering their nectar from a flowering alfalfa field and ad infinitim. Will the insects some day, take over our world?
A large coyote trace — made, Uncle Jack said — late last night, probably stalking a newborn Angus calf; and the scraggly tracks of the sharp-tailed grouse — following his beaten grass-laid maze — the game we were after!
We walked quietly, no conversation — when Uncle Jack stopped, put his finger to his lips, and said in a whisper:
“Watch now. They’ll fly any moment” — just how did he know? A built-in radar that man had, attuned to nature’s sounds on a micro-wave
Sure enough — the birds flew — like bolts from a chain lightning flash — and we opened fire. Two birds down — one in heavy cover. Oh, to have old Mike, or dependable Boots at our sides. But both dogs are long gone to their Happy Hunting Ground. So, we waded into the muck and mire, and of course, Uncle Jack spotted the dead bird.
So we propped our guns up against the old willow tree by the U-turn of the Dismal Creek, and wandered on (after hanging the two birds on a high branch — gutted and bled — while we meandered on down the river bed looking for arrowheads.
“A partial”, I screamed, as I picked up a fragment of a chipped arrowhead — and a small blue trading bead: Uncle Jack said quietly, “Well, what do you know — here’s a steelhead”, — proof that the WHITE traders had been in the territory.
So we whiled away an afternoon that ended all too quickly. How I hated to see the day end. Good things, arrive in such packages.
Picked up our birds and our guns, walked back to the jeep and headed for “the camp”. Such a perfect day with a grand old man! The patience of Job he had, and so thoughtful of our ignorance of outdoor lore — always explaining, never impatient, satisfying and answering one’s hardest or easiest questions.
Such a privilege to have been one of the recipients of his careful and watchful teachings. How can I ever thank him? No way– except to honor his memory and somehow pass on to a novice a few of his great teachings and knowledgeable lore. No way to even come close to doing the teaching job he has accomplished — all we can do is try and do what we can.
Other memorable occasions:
(1) Trout fishing on the North Loup for German Brown; (2) Camping overnight on the Loup; (3) Taking his old Llewellyn Setter, Mike, for a long walk; (4) Playing cribbage or a hot game of 3-handed Solo with him and my mother and Aunt Lucy; (5) Eating some gourmet “first” from his wild-growing knowledge of the Sandhill flora — like cactus buds, Indian potatoes, buffalo (or buck) berries, yucca sprouts, etc.
So it is with deep regret and a noticeable heartache, that I bid you farewell. Uncle Jack, you have been an idol and a teacher I’ll never forget. May your Happy Hunting Ground be all that you hoped for; may you meet again with your wife, Aunt Grace, and have your own “Shang-grl-Ia”. May the cold ‘Nor-Easterner’ never blow where you are; may the sun shine brightly for all the time, and may your old friends be on deck to greet and welcome you!
McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction