Mail Drop

But Where Did It Land?

Story and Photos by Carolyn White

The snow was knee-high and each step was a struggle. Pausing to catch my breath, I muttered, “Okay, I give up. Where’d you drop it, Ray?”

Half-blinded by late morning sunshine, I slowly rotated. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but snow-covered meadow, bright blue sky with puffy white clouds, snow-capped mountains, and thousands of slender, towering lodgepole pine trees. About a hundred yards away, smoke curled up from both chimneys of the remote ranch where I’d been working since July. Up the hill by the barn, thirty-three horses and mules nibbled at their morning hay. But there was absolutely no sign of the orange nylon USPS mail bag. Tossed out of the plane’s window maybe an hour earlier, it had sunk out of sight into the drifts. Rubbing a hand across my forehead, I sighed.

Mail day is more priceless than gold when you live in the Idaho backcountry. The isolated ranches scattered along the Salmon River, as well as the few that had been built high in the mountains (including the one where I worked), received deliveries just once a week during summer and twice a month in winter. Besides mail, Ray Arnold flew in groceries, hunters, fishermen, liquor, canvas tents, jet boat parts, chickens, dogs, and whatever else the residents needed. As long as it would fit in his single-engine plane and didn’t go over the weight limit, he was game.

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