Last month I told about the Goldblumes who lived down on mud lake. This got me to thinking that I should probably explain a little about Varmint County geography for those of you not blessed with the opportunity to visit our little paradise for yourselves.
First let me explain "down," "up" and "over." In most places I've been, "up" somewhere means "north" and "down" means south while "over" can mean just about anything but generally in an east or west direction. Because Varmint County is divided into the lowlands around Mud Lake and the highlands around Lower and Upper Primroy, these terms have taken a different meaning.You live "down" in the valley, which is actually east of "up" in the mountains. If you're traveling from one place to another of about the same elevation, you're heading "over" there.
The mountains of Varmint County rise up to the neighborhood of 3,000 to well over 4,000 feet, not very high by western standards but significant enough for the highest peaks to stay snow-covered much of the winter. Flatiron Peak, the highest point, can gather up quite a snow pack in January, as attested by the tragic avalanche which took out the ski lodge and Chef Mario Capizzi's restaurant in the winter of '08.A smaller precipice, but historically significant, was once known as McCracken's Nose due to its strong resemblance to the profile of Tobias "Big Horn" McCracken, one of the early settlers of Varmint County.
McCracken's Peak lost its nose during a Civil War reenactment a few years back when too much blasting powder caused the nose to break off and obliterate the Union army, represented by Sheriff Smoky's jail trusties. From that point on it has been known as McCracken's Neck. The notorious Hockmeyer clan settled in the hills and hollows around McCracken's Nose in the early 1800s. Few people wander into those woods even today, since the Hockmeyers are known for having given up moonshining for more agricultural pursuits of an illegal nature.
Travel east of McCracken's Neck and you will find yourself down in Haig Hollow, which is really not one hollow but a vast canyon formed by the North Branch of the East Fork of the Magpie River. The Haigs moved in there from Louisiana after the Civil War and laid claim to several thousand acres. They actually hold deeds to only a few hundred acres in Haig Hollow itself, but the rest of the area has been used by the clan for many years to make mountain dew, including their infamous "Spring Run" elixir.
Haig "Spring Run" shine can be safely consumed only by the Haigs, who have built up a resistance over the years. It has also been used to tan hides and most recently, the Haigs have become somewhat well off since they sold the formula to NASA for use as a rocket fuel additive.
Also up in the higher elevations in the western end ofVarmint County are the towns of Upper and Lower Primroy. Lower Primroy, founded as a coal mining camp in the 1870s, is the county seat. Upper Primroy is a thousand feet higher on the mountain and is an old coal camp that is slowly falling into decay, with barely 300 souls still scratching out a living there.
To the west of the Primroys you find the highlands around Flatiron Peak, cut by the valleys of Stinking Creek and Whistle Creek. On the far western corner of the county, Interstate 101 runs through the mountains, having attracted a small cluster of businesses off the Stinking Creek exit.To the east of the Primroys, McCracken's Neck and Haig Hollow and the grand canyon of the North Branch of the East Fork of the Magpie open out into the lowlands.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came into the lowlands in the late '40s and built a flood control dam on the East Fork of the Magpie River. It was originally going to be called Magpie Dam & Lake but after the Corps drew down the water level that first winter to prepare for storing back spring runoff, half the county was found to be covered by mud flats. From then on it was called Mud Lake.
On the southern end of Mud Lake, looking out over the Lowell Creek embayment, is the town of Pleasant View, the only other incorporated berg in Varmint County besides the county seat. The town was founded and named during the first summer that Mud Lake was impounded, the view in winter being later discovered to be anything but pleasant.
Two creeks also feed into Mud Lake from different parts of the county's lowlands. They were both originally named Lowe Creek after the county's founding father but after that little unpleasantness when his two families discovered he was keeping two wives and pronouncing his name two ways to confuse the neighbors, folks began spelling the creeks' names differently to avoid confusion. Pleasant View rests on the banks of Lowell Creek while Mud Lake Marina is located farther north, in Low Creek.
Ike Pinetar, who returned last year from being presumed dead when he was found suffering from amnesia out in Hollywood, has operated Mud Lake Marina for the past twenty years or so. Ike turned up missing a couple of summers back and evidence seemed to point to his having been eaten by Elijah Haig's pet alligator that had escaped to the lake.
After Ike's widow Gertie buried his glass eye and part of a foot and collected the life insurance, Ike called from Hollywood, claiming he had been found naked as a jaybird with no memory of who he was, laying on the side of the interstate by a California-bound truck driver.
Ike hitched a ride all the way to Los Angeles and found a job as a Hollywood stunt man. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Ike received a blow to the head that brought back his memories and he called Gertie, who had always suspected he actually ran off with the Widow Olson.
"I swear I didn't run off with no widow! I was out baiting trotlines with chicken gizzards on the lake when something pulled me into the water. It was a dern big alligator and it got hold of my leg by the boot and was tryin' to drag me under. I bent down and butted heads with it and that's the last I remember," Ike swore to Gertie, his sister Fluvia and Granny Pinetar. " I woke up on the highway and nearly got runned over by this eighteen wheeler, but he stopped, gave me some trousers to wear and a ride."
"That trucker asked me what happened and I didn't know. Then he asked me where I lived and who I was and I didn't know that either. Then he asked me what happened to my face and that's when I realized I'd lost my eye."
"'Looks to me like you had a glass eye and it's popped out, 'that trucker said. I asked him where he was headed and he said Callyfornia and I said that sounded like a place I'd like to see, so off we went," Ike explained. Everyone in Varmint County knows that Ike Pinetar has one of the hardest heads in existence. "I played football with Ike back in the '60s," Coach B. O. Snodgrass recalls. "One time we was playing over in Burrville and this big old linebacker smacked Ike on the head and knocked his helmet off. Ike then butted heads with that linebacker, who was still wearing his helmet. Knocked the poor guy clean out and they had to carry him off the field on a stretcher, while Ike just kept on playin'."
So Ike's tale about butting heads with an alligator, which jarred Ike's glass eye loose but addled the gator, was believable, especially once Granny Pinetar discovered that the Widow Olson had up and got herself married to somebody else before Ike disappeared.
That left only one mystery, which may never be solved. Besides the glass eye that the old gator later passed, also found on the shores of Mud Lake was a boot with a foot in it. When Ike returned home, both feet were nicely intact.
"Ike, I feel right bad about my old pet gator, Little Gnash, trying to eat you. I'll repay the insurance company for the life insurance your wife collected, to make up for it," Elijah "Big Poison" Haig told Ike down by the boat slips. "I feel kind'a bad about that there foot too, but since nobody around here has come up missin'a foot, I guess we'll never know whose it was. Probably some dang fool tourist got himself et."