Opinion: Memories of Gene Scritchfield live on two years later

It’s been almost two years since Gene Scritchfield died.
His memory, however, lives on.
And it always will.
As someone wrote to Gene’s wife, Ann Marie, after his death, “Gene’s presence will be felt in those mountains forever.”
Gene died in a tractor accident Oct. 29, 2008. He was 38.
Together, Gene and Ann Marie operated Sable Mountain Outfitters, a business Gene started. After Gene’s death, Ann Marie, with the help of family members like Gene’s mom, Mona, and her husband Al Avey, and Gene’s best friend Rodney Dunham, is continuing the outfitting business.
“Like Gene used to say, everybody needs a Rodney,” Ann Marie. “They were like brothers.”
Rodney uses his vacation time from the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center to help out with the outfitting business during hunting season.
This was the time of year Gene lived for — hunting season.
“He was a blowin’ and a goin’ this time of year,” Gene’s mom, Mona, said.
Mona said the business, which meant so much to her son, is in good hands.
“Like Ann Marie says, without Gene there would have never been a Sable Mountain Outfitters. He started it, but she’s carrying it on. We’re very proud of her. We just love her. She’s part of our family,” Mona said.
“She does some things the way he used to do them. In other ways, she does things in a way that’s better for her, and we encourage her to do that. It is her business now. There will always be a memory of Gene there, but to carry it on, she has to find ways that work best for her,” Mona said.
This time of year, around the anniversary of Gene’s death, there are constant reminders of Gene and his passion for being an outfitter and his love for being in the mountains.
“It is hard at times, but at other times, we focus on how much he loved doing what he did and how much joy it brought him, and it continues to bring us joy to be a part of it,” Mona said. “We all feel his presence. His hunters feel that way. Every time they go up that trail, they talk about feeling his presence.”
Ann Marie said, “Everybody liked Gene. They felt safe with him on the mountain. He always said there wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle on the mountain.”
There’s a plaque at the trailhead in Gene’s memory that was a gift from a client, Bear Miller, and his son Kyle.
Part of the inscription reads: “May the Sable Mountain man be with us always.”
• • • •
Rodney Dunham celebrated his 41st birthday Monday at his favorite place — on the mountain.
“Last year he celebrated his birthday — it was his big 4-0 — and they decorated the hunting camp for him,” said Rodney’s mom, Diane Dunham. “He was born on the first morning of hunting season, and he would just as soon be celebrating his birthday up there as anything.”
After the death of Rodney’s best friend, his mom said it was tough for everybody, but especially for the family.
“It was a really tough year,” Diane said. “I know she (Gene’s wife, Ann Marie) is still suffering a lot, but she’s really pulled it together and done well. She’s determined to make that a go.”
And family members and friends, like Rodney, were right there to help her.
“I think everybody was determined,” Diane said. “Everybody was determined we had to move forward.”
Because that’s what Gene would have wanted them to do.
“Ann Marie said from the first she did not want to give up,” Diane said. “They all said we’re going to do what we can.
“Gene wouldn’t have wanted people sitting around feeling sorry for themselves,” Diane said. “He just wasn’t that type of person.”
• • • •
Gene and Ann Marie’s daughter, Eva, was 2 when Gene died.
“That Eva is something else,” Diane Dunham said. “She’s a character. I think she has a lot of Gene in her.”
• • • •
Last weekend was the first rifle season, and Bill de Vergie, area wildlife manager for the DOW office in Meeker, offered this report:
“Harvest seems to be a little slower than normal, primarily due to the warm dry weather. Most hunters are seeing elk but not as many in a group as normal. There are some areas on the forest where hunters had normal or above normal success, but these are just a few isolated spots.
“We have seen a couple of impressive large bulls taken. A change in the weather might bring a change in success for those hunters who are willing to continue to work the entire season.”
• • • •
Earlier this month, I accepted an invitation to join Ann Marie Scritchfield, her son Mason, Ann Marie’s brother Larry, Rodney Dunham and Mike Young, another hired hand, on a trail ride.
It was the third time in my life I can remember being on a horse.
When Ann Marie asked me if I wanted to go on a trail ride sometime, I told her, “You know I’m a city slicker, right? Think Billy Crystal and that movie.”
“It’ll be fun, and we’ll be nice to you,” she said.
Before going on the ride, I had several people warn me I would be sore afterward, which didn’t do a lot for my comfort level.
So I asked Ann Marie, “After going on the trail ride, will I walk like Bruce Clatterbaugh?”
No offense to Bruce, a longtime banker and cowboy, but he walks like, well, like he’s spent a lot of time on a horse.
Ann Marie assured me I wouldn’t walk like Bruce.
Still, I was worried how my skinny butt would feel after spending an entire day in a saddle.
And then Bobby Castaldo, manager of Marvine Ranch, showed up at the corral before we headed up the trail and told me a story that didn’t instill a lot of confidence. I don’t remember the story, but I know it had something to do with riding a horse and wearing Carhartt work pants and no underwear and being really chafed afterward. Sure enough, I was wearing Carhartts, but unlike Bobby’s story, I was wearing underwear.
I managed to climb on the horse without any help. However, at one point during the two-hour ride up the mountain to the hunting camp, Ann Marie, who was following behind me on the trail — to make sure I didn’t hurt myself, I think — told me I was sliding off my saddle. I didn’t realize it, but I was leaning to the right and the saddle was sliding the same direction. So Ann Marie instructed me to stand in the left stirrup and use my right hand to pull the saddle so it was centered on the horse. Somehow, I managed to adjust the saddle and hold on to my camera at the same time.
The day of the trail ride was a beautiful fall day and the scenery was spectacular. I had brought my camera along to take photos along the way, but found it next to impossible to hang on for dear life and take pictures at the same time.
On the way down the mountain, which, believe me, is a totally different experience from going up the mountain, I tried taking pictures with one hand and holding the rein with the other and ended up pushing a button on my camera that set the timer for the shutter to close. After that, I couldn’t take a picture if I wanted to.
Before we started out on the trail ride, Ann Marie used my camera to document the fact that I was actually on a horse. When I posted photos from the trail ride — I did manage to get a some shots before my camera malfunctioned — on my Facebook page, I received some interesting comments.
“Wow, look at you!” my sister said.
“Billy Crystal would be proud!” my boss Mitch Bettis said.
“Where’s your cowboy hat?” my middle daughter said.
“Nothing like a day with an outfitter!” Liz Turner said.
“Good job, Jeff!” Jewell Purkey Kindler said.
“Now you are officially the coolest editor that I know!” Roxie Leischer said. I’m pretty sure she was joking.
“Wow, look at you. Do you want to come and ride some colts for us?” Diana Watson said. I’m sure she was joking.
Even though my back side was sore for several days after the trail ride, I have to chalk it up as one of my all-time favorite Meeker experiences.
However, I do walk a little like Bruce Clatterbaugh now.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.