the last thing i said before bed last night was, “i’m not sure where i’m going to go in the morning.”
the first thing i said when i woke up this morning was, “i think i’m going to go to the back side of Church-hill.”
jeremy said “we only saw two elk up there.”
me: i can only hunt two elk.
i got a new pair of snow pants for the season. they fit the bill in so many ways – except they are several inches too long. thanks to the ‘ol potato farming ancestry, my shape does not fit into anything well. i attempted to hem them over the weekend. i got it all gobblety-gooped and had to pull out all the stitches. i took a break from it and tried again yesterday.
i made my first attempt in the morning. ultimately, i got one leg done, and quit after the machine broke the third time on the second leg. the material is too much for it to handle.
once i quit, i donned my regular-old-hunting-costume and headed out. i knew i’d be in plenty of snow – but “what matters?”, as Betty says. Carharts issued from Teton County Parks and Rec Department in winter of 2000, a base layer, the R2 hoodie and the micro-puff jacket from my bike ride, and my fashion boots. i didn’t mean to get fashion boots. i got bamboozled from Sierra Trading Post. online shopping is the pits. my 12-year old boots were kaput though, so i had to roll with it.
in the past three weeks, i put down close to 75 miles of trapsing around in those boots. leaving tracks in the snow and the mud everyday. up and down hills, through and around meadows, over downed timber, following game trails, making my own trails, and leaving behind a dainty narrow footprint, with tread meant for a slushy city street. the deer, the elk, the bear, the wolf, and my prints are the only i’ve seen for three weeks. i wondered what the road hunters might have thought seeing my tracks all willy nilly and hear and there.
the first week was 100% devoted to training, the second week was all about tracking and learning, and this third week i branched out.
Thursday, last week, was FREEZING cold. the snow was fresh though, so all the tracks were new tracks. i spent the entire day out hunting. the temperature never rose above 15 degrees. i told myself i’d stay out till 4:45. by 4:15 i felt too cold to honor that command. i had been pacing back and forth on a hillside covered in beds from the night before. more than forty of them. i was hoping to catch them making their move back up the hill for bedtime. i couldn’t last that long.
on my way driving out, a local fella pulled over to glass for bucks, i zoomed by and smiled and waved. the next morning i left the house in the dark, before the kids. i wanted to be in the meadow at sunrise. although it was a magnificent morning in the Horse Creek Valley, i saw no elk. i cruised home earlier than normal. on my way out, i passed the same fella coming in. he stopped so i stopped.
him: you looking for elk?
him: there are some over on Ranger Ridge.
yeah…i saw them…there is a herd out here i’ve been kind of intimate with…
him: they came out right behind you last night. i tried to flag you down, but it was too late.
me: *f-word! ….i was too darn cold.
Saturday morning i left in the dark while everyone slept. i decided on the route that i took six years ago, over and over again. it’s been logged since then, so the path has shifted a bit, but each step felt a smiley-kind of familiar. i arrived near the top just at first light. the wind was Wyoming fierce. i think they call it Type B kind of fun. since i made it up there, i thought i should have a look around. i saw one bull who slid behind a hill. i decided on an approach, just to practice, and came within 150 yards of three bulls. i considered that a success, and headed home.
Sunday, Jeremy’s tag opened, and i happily handed off the hunt. It was a snow day and i was delighted to stay home with the homies. weekends mean a totally different thing now that we are back at pubic school. Sunday night, Jeremy shot a cow from my herd. He was home in time for dinner.
after my failed tailoring attempt, i went for a sweat drenching hike-hunt yesterday. when i returned, i suddenly saw a different way, and hemmed the pants.
this morning, i transferred the pink strawberry starburst that Devlin gave me for good luck from his Halloween loot from my Carhart pocket to my newly hemmed snow pants.
i finished my last gulp of coffee as the Subaru reversed from its spot outside the front door. i strapped the binocs to my chest, laced up my fashion boots, and headed to the garage.
i drove to the back side of Church-hill. when i hopped out of the side by side, i noticed i had not bothered to trim the bright orange thread of my new hem job, and i winked at my fashion boots. what matters?
for the past 18-months, washing the dishes and folding the laundry was just part of the school day. i’d leave the task, help the homies, and return. last week, i reveled in the silence of those chores, and the house in general. this week, i began to listen to a couple podcast and documentaries. i took a bit more space for my personal yoga and meditation practices. in fact, i vowed to begin meditating like a m**ther ef**er! and i have.
last night, when the sky lit itself on fire with pink and orange and purple, we saw a cow and a calf silhouetted on the ridge of Church-hill. just two elk, as Jeremy said.
this morning, while i post-holed up the hill, i brought it all together. the fitness, the yoga, the meditations, and the hunt.
typically, i have a couple of inspirational tunes playing in my head to give a little pep to my step. It wasn’t like that this morning.
today, with each uphill step and with each inhale, i rehearsed “i am divine.” with each exhale, i thought of the mom and calf from the night before and breathed out “you are divine”. i breathed in “i am love.” i breathed out ” you are love.” when i could catch my breath, i rested in “our divinity is shared and unites us.”
i practiced dissolving my ego of all titles with each step and becoming love. i did not truly expect that i would see those elk. i was just practicing.
when i did see them, my nervous system was ready. i did not shake. i did not fumble like i did just a week ago when i sat in a swarm of 60 of them.
i moved as gingerly as possible to an appropriate shooting spot. i chambered the bullet as i crossed the hill. i ducked behind two rocks, and pulled the bipods down. with ease, i removed the covers from the spotting scope and peeked through.
inhale: i contain divinity
exhale: you contain divinity
inhale: i am love
exhale: you are love…boom
Three elk scattered up the hillside. mine took a few steps and fell behind a tree. what i can only guess to be her mother, stopped in a clearing and faced me. asked me to look her in the eyes – and i did. i bowed in great reverence. instead of emitting sorrow, i tried to shine gratitude. but i thought of that humpback whale that carried her fetus for forty days, and that brought me sorrow, nevertheless.
Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. Walt Whitman.
i hiked down to the elk. i set my rifle against a tree and knelt down next to her. what a moment. her divinity had dissolved. i could acknowledge what was left behind as a gift.
i just made a pass by though. i wasn’t 100% ready for what came next. i stopped attempting to regulate my nervous system by that point, so it was close to hay wiring! i walked up to a ridge where i could get cell phone service and i called Jeremy.
he said that he and Ian would come back out to help me pack the elk out to the side by side. i figured i had an hour alone before they showed up.
i sent a message to Frank and to the Cool Group, then i went back down into the gulley.
my second approach seemed to hold less reverence. there was work to be done, and i felt up to the task. the temperature was pleasant enough that i could work without gloves. i pulled the knives out of the backpack, called on every anatomy lesson i’ve ever had, and got down to business.
i started with a front leg, and made quick work of it. so i went for the second. easy peasy. i found nerdy pleasure in seeing actual synovial fluid drip from a joint once i severed the ligaments. i was all science…and no savage.
i say that cause i wondered about that. i wondered if i would connect to any savage element of the hunt. turns out, the answer is no.
sure, there is conflict. i reckon i’d feel stone cold if there weren’t. there is also reckoning, and connection, and reverence, and gratitude, and humility, and awe, and wonder, and nourishment.
once i had all four quarters off the elk, and the backstraps, i heard Ian and Jeremy coming. i pulled out the pink strawberry stardust that Devlin gave me, popped it in my mouth, and waited for Jeremy to show me how to get the tenderloins out, because that was the one thing i was not sure of. he took out one, i got the other. he helped me to load it all into game bags and then into the backpacks. It was a chill .6 miles back to the side by side.
we zoomed back home and hung the quarters in the hose-house. i had crystal clear flashbacks to Jenn Pearce’s garage when we were in elementary school. there was never anywhere else i saw deer hanging in a garage.
jeremy and ian took off and i was brewing my second cup of coffee by 10:30am. wondering what one does with oneself all alone after hunting her first elk.
i began by drying my fashion boots by the fire.