I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock. -e.a.
It is cold outside. Barring this morning, it’s barely been above zero for four days. The sun rises at 8 and sets at 430, but twilight lingers until 10 and starts at 3. Saturday morning I woke up and the webcam over in St. Mary read -78F. Probably a technical error, but nonetheless impressive.
I try to embrace the lassitude which flows out of these conditions, and use December as an off month to recover from a long year, sleep a lot, and finish projects.
Like this one, as well as the monstrous, complex, 6000 word pack review that is finally almost done. Soon enough it will time to get out the fur in all seriousness and head back into the woods, but for the moment I’m trying to lay down ambition, make sure I remember as much as I can from the last twelve months, and enjoy it.
This one is pretty simple. The Piranta is a light (1.4 oz with blade installed, .15 ounces for each additional blade in the wrapper) folding knife which takes removable, replaceable blades. The blades are thin, and very sharp.
I’m far from a knife expert, but I like to think I know what I’m doing. I don’t own another knife that I can get as sharp as the Piranta blades when new. For making the initial cuts when skinning a game animal (or gutting a fish), nothing works as well as the Piranta. This is especially true with small, more delicate critters like hares, squirrels, and grouse. It’s now an essential part of my kit for small game hunting.
The downside is the delicate, disposable blades. You can delimb a deer with the Piranta, but you’ll need to be slow and precise to avoid breaking the blade. The blades do dull fairly fast; you’ll probably want to go through a couple while skinning and boning out a deer. They can be replaced with bare hands, but snapping the used ones out requires a bit of force. I’m a lot more comfortable using pliers, which is a problem given that I don’t carry a heavy, full-sized multitool in the field. Disposing of the blades is easy at home, aside from the questionable moral content. In the backcountry where to store still-sharp surgical razors is not exactly obvious. Cleaning the Piranta is also quite the nuisance. The blade design provides a lot of stubborn crevices, far beyond those found on a normal folder. After butchering anything larger than a squirrel a lot of boiling water and a toothbrush is required for full sanitation.
I anticipate keeping the Piranta on hand for day trips fishing and hunting small game, when extra blades need not be carried, as well as home butchering of any larger game. It likely won’t make the cut for backcountry use, or if so I’ll bring it with only an extra blade or two, and use it just for the initial skinning cuts. A larger, sturdier, and more comfortable knife is more expedient for a lot of the less delicate skinning and butchering large game requires.
Big game season is over for 2013. The final tally: 1 deer, 1 turkey, a bunch of smaller stuff, and many good days in the field.
For Thanksgiving, and a last attempt on elk, M and I headed east for the plains along the foot of the Bob Marshall. Well into the first day out amongst the limber pines we were following a thread of a game trail up a steep hill when I saw a white dot ahead of us. A snowshoe hare. It took three attempts to get M’s attention. It just seemed like common courtesy to ask her if she minded me shooting it, before I took a seat, set the Kimber on the top of the Paradox Evolution (which works very well as a rest), and blew the hares head off at 20 yards.
Hunting is killing, and attempts to camouflage that with words like “harvest” distract from the gory horror. A .308 is not an ideal small game tool, as evidenced by the spray of brains shown above, and by the spectacular autonomic nervous response which followed the shot. The hare jerked and spasmed violently, catapulting itself down the steep hill. I racked another round and took off after it, worried that I had only nicked it, but loath to shoot it again given it’s insistence on flopping around. I caught up it 50 yards downhill, noting with grim fascination that the lack of a head was not stopping the creature from making quite a bit of progress. The ears where only attached to the body with a thin rope of fur and flesh, but even so the hare kept kicking for a good thirty seconds post supersonic decapitation.
The snowshoe hare is a fascinating creature, and not one we see very often on the Pacific side of the divide. The huge feet stay white even in summer, and as we saw hours later while stalking a second one, on snow the white fur is almost invisible. We got lucky with the second one, after spooking him out of two bushes I got wise and circled around, and was able to take my time with a rest on the pack and shoot it in the head at 30 yards while it was sitting under a tree watching its back trail.
Butchering the two hares revealed an impressive physique, with proportionally huge back legs strung through with big tendons, and supported by enormous tenderloins. The two hares made a big pot of stew, which we’re serving friends tonight.
And that is why hunting took me so strongly this fall: it forces you into a whole new way of knowing the landscape. Uncomfortable details included.
My first goal with hunting was to learn a lot. This was easily accomplished just by getting out a bunch, and struggling through all the ups and downs. My second goal, the fervor of which I did not realize until recently, was to shoot a big game animal out in the backcountry of the Bob and haul it home under my own power. I had my chance with that bear back in the beginning of October, and failed to take advantage of it. Enthusiasm for anything else has damped the ardor with which I’ve pursued more accessible locales in recent weeks. That goal goes unmet, and plans are already flying through my mind for next year.
My third goal was to put meat in the freezer, and eating the whitetail I shot earlier this month was been immensely satisfying. I’m a bit sad I don’t have more meat on hand, but hunting should provide a life’s worth of learning and the first year shouldn’t come too easily. I leave this season with lots of doubts and questions about things I could have done differently. I also leave it with a few certainties: I’ll be hunting every fall for many years to come, and next year you’ll find me somewhere deep in the Bob mid-September, ready to shoot an elk with a rifle an appalling distance from the trailhead, with 100% fitness ready to do what needs to be done.
I had a lot of fun shooting rifles this year, and after a few equipment upgrades a lot of fun carrying them, too. I started with the Remington, which at 7.5 pounds empty is too heavy. Worse, the long barrel and general forward heavy nature make it pack heavier than it is. Current plans are to put an even heavier, solid synthetic or laminate stock on it and keep it as a target rifle. The H&R is a great option, and as pictured much cheaper than the other two. I like the aesthetic of a singleshot, but the practicality of having a few extra round in the magazine of a bolt-action is hard to argue with. The H&R is nice and short, and over a pound lighter than the Remington. The Kimber is purpose built for backcountry hunting, and it shows. It is almost a pound lighter than the H&R as shown, and has a solid feel and great balance. I like shooting it the most of the three, by far. The stock design mitigates recoil such that the difference between the Kimber and Remington seems negligible in this regard. My only issue thus far has been a few feeding issues stemming from not seating every round all the way to the back on the blind magazine. I might get the barrel cut down a bit more, and might paint the stock; otherwise it is quite perfect.
Of course, both the deer and turkey were shot with my Citori, the gun I used the most this year by a wide margin.
Other gear notes for backcountry hunting focus around the need for more warmth when glassing or stalking around slowly. My normal trail shoes worked fine in the early season, and helped keep me stealthy. I do think that had I needed to pack something out my feet would have gotten tired. Ounce the snow flew I wanted the warmth of a waterproof boot and tall gaiters. My BD Frontpoint gaiters have proven an excellent alternative to baggy OR gaiters, and they get full marks. My LaSportiva Boulder X mids got the nod because they were the only well fitting, non-ski boots I had. They hike well in rough terrrain, but the toebox is a bit narrow to be as warm as I wanted. On the shopping list; lightish waterproof mid-height boots with enough room for VBL socks.
Clothing was on a rotating schedule with most items doing just fine. The Wild Things Tactical pants were a particular favorite, layered over fleece tights of various weights the combo provided a quick-drying setup with enough weather resistance and good temperature regulation. For glassing and waiting around in the cold nothing beats the wilderness serape, a mandatory item even if the weight and bulk don’t look good on paper. Lastly capilene 4 continued to prove itself in cool to cold conditions, both the hoody and (shown above) the beanie.
In conclusion: only four and half months until spring bear opens!
Islands comes in many different forms. What they have in common is also their primary virtues: isolation from everyday life, and time alone with something new.
When it comes to backpacking, Isle Royale is my favorite island.
Getting out into the center of Lake Superior is a costly nuisance, which is how traveling to an island should be. Not too many folks make it out to Isle Royale, and those who do are in my experience quite a bit more contemplative and well behaved than the average daily ruffian.
I’d like to go again, in either the very early or very late season. Due to ferry schedules, early means early May, and late means late September going into the first week of October. Spring would mean more daylight and enhanced animal activity, fall would mean changing foliage. Either would do.
A big part of what I find appealing about Isle Royale is how big the fairly small island feels. The terrain is impressively convoluted, with many ridges which are hard to see for all the trees. The bogs and swamps make off-trail travel intimidating, or at least so I think, as I’ve never tried it. My ideal backpacking trip would sample some of the easy trails on the island, some of the hard ones, some bushwacking, and have plenty of packrafting. It would need to be doable in right around a week, as the early and late season ferrys do not run everyday. Here’s a rough sketch of what I have in mind.
Our flight in years ago (first video, above) revealed that a bunch of the coast south of Rainbow Cove is walkable beach. I’d like to see if there are game trails around the rock headlands, or if you’d need to float around them. It seems like Red Oak Ridge has to have game trail along it, and the western Minog is worth hiking twice. Lake hopping in the eastern part of the island should be really fun.
There are other islands out there, both literal and figurative, which are worth visiting. Go find one.
The weekend started out in an ignominious fashion, when I got our car stuck Friday afternoon out at my favorite backwoods target range. Front wheel drive doesn’t do you much good on ice if you back into a downhill pullout. I spent an hour in the dark chipping at the ice with a entrenching tool and stuffing pine branches under the front wheels to not avail, and hitched a ride home with Gary, who works for the forest service and had been out hunting. The next morning we avoided a 200 dollar tow when Lauren brought Nate and his chains, which when stuffed under the wheels and combined with three of us pushing got the job done.
My elk plans were cut short, and then even shorter when the trailhead I had hoped to access was too snowbound for my now chastened driving habits. I miss having a 4×4.
I saw plenty of tracks hiking into an uncharted area, and pitched camp under the lodgepoles by a frozen bog. It was forecast was for negative 5 that night.
The Big Sibling made mincemeat of the temps. Being too hot in your tent when it’s single digits outside is pretty awesome. Once I had a good bed of coals I was able to stuff in a few 3″ pieces ever twenty minutes and enjoy a very pleasant, moderated temperature well into the long night.
I had camped near a little spring on purpose; I hadn’t brought fuel for snow melting. Every time I went to fetch water, I spooked the trout hanging out in the swallow, warm inlet.
Cold feet warmed once I got moving up the ridge. Slow, steady work up the snow-cloaked deadfall kept sweat to a minimum, and I tried to look up and around a lot, as the abundant fresh tracks suggested plenty of elk and deer lived somewhere along the steep sides. Once on top I crept along, peering down the sides, trying not to skyline myself. At the intersection of three eroded logging roads I backtracked to check over the edge, and when I turned back around there he was. An elk! No, just the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in person. 200 yards away, quartering towards me, staring at me. I brought up my binoculars, slowly, and stared at something which looked very much like this. I thought about shooting him and counting it as an elk. The deer was close enough to it, but I just couldn’t live with that. I had a couple solid minutes to study and contemplate until the deer walked off the side and disappeared into the timber.
I’m not a trophy hunter, but it’s hard to not dwell on the fact that I might not see a deer like that for another couple decades, if ever. Deer themselves, to say nothing of elk, are rare enough when you’re looking for them. The big one is a quasi-mythical creature, and not an opportunity to be taken lightly.
Five days left in the season.
Give someone you love a walk along a big, rugged ridge this year. Seeing things is important.
If backpacking is too your liking, the recently proposed Wind River High Route looks like a good option.
With Alan Dixon and Don Wilson’s extensive beta, including waypoints, the hike seems like a felicitous introduction to off-trail backpacking for the fit hiker.
If you also packraft, and have a bit of experience with more complex off-trail navigation, you might consider this loop in the Bob, which is probably the best trip I did in 2013. The view above is looking south towards the summit of Haystack. You will be a might confused in a few places, but there are good human or game trails almost the whole way, with only occasional interruptions for cliffs and stretches of bushwacking. The views aren’t as in-your-face craggy as a place like the Winds, but the intricacy and extensiveness of what you can see at any given time is too much for the mind to grasp.
The ridge walking along the Chinese Wall was so good that I’ve been contemplating a full N-S stroll along the Continental Divide, from near the Canadian border to Rogers Pass. It’d be ~80% off trail, with a lot of that on surprisingly good footing, and going as the elk go and staying off harder 4th class stuff would still keep you within a linear mile of the divide itself 90% of the time.
If that sort of trip is a bit long in either time or commitment, but you still want the experience of off-trail in Glacier summer, the Norris Traverse cannot be beaten. Though our off-trail, elk trail day back in August is one of many options which comes close.
Out east there’s a ridge hike of a different nature, one I’ve tried three times and never fully completed; one I’d like to return to. This path is approximate, but the full ridge traverse from Rooster Comb to Mt. Marcy in the ‘Dacks, with a return down Johns’ Brook, will be a delightful hike when I finally complete it. All my previous attempts have been day hikes, with weather and impending darkness shutting us down. The obvious answer is to bring overnight gear and enjoy a tiny bivy spot somewhere along the ridge.
If you are inclined to set a big car shuttle, ending at the Adirondack Loj by hiking over March and down and around Avalanche Lake (pictured above) would be quite nice, though the forest and polished cobbles of Johns’ Brook are nice enough that they’d be a shame to miss.
West coast hikers beware, miles do not begin to tell the story here. Most of the section above 2500′ or so are absurdly steep and rugged, with plenty of 3rd class moves on slick granite and the occasional ladder thrown in. And this is why the hike is so awesome, the magnificence of the setting is only matched by the kinaesthetic interest of the moves themselves.
Ridges on your list to get and give in 2014?
Don’t buy your loved ones any physical objects in the next six weeks. If you have regular access to the technology and leisure which reading this requires, you almost certainly have enough stuff to do a great many fun things in the year to come. So give those you care about the means and inspiration to do them, and do them better.
Gear helps you do your activities of choice, but most of the crap we purchase is not of the new sort, it is of the better-than sort. Better than the quite similar thing we already have, and even the best gear upgrades don’t make us all that much better. I’m not talking about buying shoes which finally fit; I’m talking about a lighter down jacket or pack, fancier skis or bike, more precise rifle. In almost every case the amount of betterness is well down in the single percentiles. The primary purposes of most gear purchases is rather to nurse along our engagement until we’re once again in the field.
This is all well and good, and I’m not proposing any oath about not buying stuff in 2014. Theoretical engagement, planning, and learning processes which go with them are valuable. And you should take moderation in moderation, too. What I am saying is that the American national disease has become chasing happiness without ever being happy. It is remarkably effective to realize that happiness is a dynamic state not at all free of intrapersonal conflict, and that one of the best ways of being happy is to decide that you are. Now. I enjoy my frequent, mid-afternoon walks from office to coffeeshop and back as much for the walking as for the coffee. I can pause before going back down the hill and, on a clear day like today, see three different mountain ranges coming together in the valley where the Flathead River is birthed. The drive thru of said coffeeshop will, for the first time ever, be open 24 hours next Friday. I assume that part of the allure of this ritual has do with breaking the routine, in the company of friends and family and in a slightly uncomfortable manner. What freedom to be able to do this without the crutch of impulse purchases, trampling others, and the secondary and tertiary global impacts of these activities. Which ought to trouble us all.
So over the next week I’ll put forth several ideas, big and small, as my interest and spite dictate, for gifts which are too good to be put in a box. Because you and yours deserve only as much. No new coats. No new wheels. No fucking cuben fiber. Not even new socks, the most pragmatic of presents. Just inspiration. Regardless of where you live the possibilities will exceed your lifespan. Yes, even in California. All you need more of are eyes to see them.
Friday night we ate some fresh deer. The loin had been sitting in the fridge for 48 hours, covered in a dry rub of black pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Sear all sides in a smoking hot cast iron skillet, then finish under the broiler with a dash of dark lager and white vinegar in the bottom of the pan.
You can, and should, eat prime cuts from deer and their relations at least a bit rare. It was absolutely fantastic; served with a winter stew of new potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, ham, and bell peppers.
Most of the weekend I rested, from hunting. It snowed for almost 36 hours straight from Friday night through this morning. I mounted bindings on some new-to-me skis, worked on a few articles, and went for a snow bike ride. But this afternoon, with blue skis and inches of fresh snow, I couldn’t resist taking the rifle out for a walk.
With my deer tag punched, and elk a scarce commodity anywhere within an easy drive, I had no particular goals in mind other than seeing somewhere new and getting in a good walk. I found a place to park where our little car wouldn’t get stuck, and headed back into the thick woods. Deer tracks were everywhere, and within 30 minutes I cut fresh griz tracks. You can’t shoot griz, but following them in 8 inches of new snow is good fun. After an hour of wandering through spruce swamps and across frozen marshes, the tracks headed towards a thick grove of trees with a bunch of loud ravens roosted up high. I circled right, and found fresh wolf tracks, and two sets of bear prints going the same direction. Did I just run two bears off a wolf kill? I flicked the safety off, made a bit of noise, and edged closer. There wasn’t much left of whatever critter everyone had been eating, but there was a lot of blood and tracks all over. Maybe aggressively tracking a griz isn’t such a good idea, even if you are carrying a .308.
That didn’t stop me from following the two bears who had run off, one following the other. Soon enough they split, which let me see that the smaller one was actually a black bear. Presumably the griz I had been following had run the blackie off, and followed it when I ran him off. Game on.
I followed that black bear for another two hours. Up hill, down hill, across creeks, and through some of the most horrid pine thickets I’ve ever seen. Based on a sample of two, I am convinced that when bears know they’re being followed, they intentionally dive straight through the thickest stuff they can find to scrape off pursuit. It worked. After three hours of tracking two different bears I was tired, sick of shaking snow and larch needles out of everything, soaked, loosing daylight, had only a dim idea of where I was in relation to the road and my car, and was no nearer to seeing a bear than I had been two hours before. I ate the rest of my chocolate bar, toasted the bear with some slushy water, and followed a compass bearing west back towards the road. After some serious bushwacking and a number of deer sightings, I intersected the pipeline cut which took me back to the two track, which took me back to the car. I barely made those landmarks before headlamp time, and ran the heater full bore all the way home, my drying clothes steaming the windows.
Most of the time hunting is just fine without shooting.
The grass is always greener, right?
In northwest Montana, it’s now dark by 5pm, mid-elevations are starting to fill in with snow, and roads are closing. For me, the antithesis is four months ago, when temps were kind, there was more daylight for hiking than my feet could take, the country was as open as it gets, and miles came fast and easy. The South Fork of the Flathead is Montana summer, distilled.
These guys would agree.
Looks like they packed in Lodgepole Creek, manhandled down Youngs, and floated out to Meadow Creek. I’ve got mixed feelings about horses making wilderness smaller, and negative feelings about how outfitters run amok in the Bob, but as I begin a mental list of priority 1 trips for next year giving the South Fork the time it deserves comes quickly to mind.
In many respects the dark, quite days at the end of the year are a blessing. Time to rest, reassess, and plan. What do you want to do in 2014?
For me, the possibility of moving to Utah colors everything. (Nothing is certain people, so quit freaking out. (Ali.)) It’s a great antidote against local contempt. If you might be around forever, you can keep putting stuff off until the year after next forever.
First thing that comes to mind in this regard is the Maah Daah Hey trail. I’ve wanted to ride the whole thing since I first rode part of it 8+ years ago. The logical way to do this is to start in Medora, packraft north, then ride back south. This requires higher spring flows to be fun, but also dry soils to avoid the heinous mud. Ergo, a flexible 5 day window in late March or April. A trip like that creates a whole cascade of training goals back into January. And suddenly the year starts to take shape. Planning ahead is how seriously shit gets done. I recommend it.
I’ve developed a case of hunter’s elbow. The lateral tendons in my left arm are swollen and bitchy from carrying a 6 pound shotgun in cradle for many hours over the last few weeks.
When we returned from Utah two weeks ago general season was open, putting an effectively endless selection of areas at my disposal, and a sense of urgency in my hunting. The only way to put luck on your side for certain is to overwhelm the equation in your favor, and the only way to do that is to be out in the field a bunch. Fortunately there’s a little wildlife management area 10 minutes away. A few patches of woodlands sandwiched between fields, roads, and a river, hunting it feels like being back in the midwest. You can’t use a rifle there, but you can use a shotgun or muzzleloader, and you can shoot does as well as bucks. I’ve seen deer everytime I’ve been out there in the last two weeks, but they’re whitetails who get lots of pressure and are as you’d expect very alert. All I’ve seen of 90% of these deer has been their tails already running from me. The other 10% always run off before I can comfortably close the distance. I didn’t bother to work up a load for my muzzleloader this summer, so I’ve been carrying my Citori and some 7/8 oz rifled slugs. Not a tool I’m comfortable using beyond 50 yards.
Last night I decided that I might as well get up early today and hunt the management area again. With the time switch daylight post-work is non-existent, and any time I don’t have an appointment before 10 is prime for hunting. With mere weeks of the season left, I feel obligated to use every chance.
The dark morning was foggy, drizzly, and 35 degrees. Good conditions for tamping down noise. Most of the snow which fell last week has been eviscerated by rain, which makes tracking and reading sign harder. I had it in my head to hunt a certain route for the third time in two weeks. Each time before I’d spooked dear out of the brush patches, and still hunting through the ponderosa groves and thickets from fenceline to road would take exactly the amount of time I had to give. As usual, there was plenty of fresh sign: scat and tracks from several different deer which were obviously hours old at most. I tried to be silent, and tried to be patient. Still hunting is the antithesis of the walking I’ve trained my legs to do over the past six years, and I have to concentrate quite a bit to do it well. Fast walking is surely why I’ve seen so many deer tails this autumn.
I was nearing a particularly thick band of brush, which lies a few acres of open forest and then the road, when I looked up and saw a deer walking towards me, perhaps 70 yards away. I froze. I’d seen deer in the same patch of brush every time before, but I was still surprised. Add in that the deer obviously hadn’t seen me, was walking quickly towards me on the same trail I had been following, and was a fat, sleek, forky buck, and heart rate was instantly through the roof. It’s a cliche of hunting literature to talk about this effect, but that doesn’t make it any less true or potent. As the buck closed to 40 yards without looking up I felt like I was on my singlespeed, having barely cleared the sixth successive steep climb. Heart in my throat at well over 180 bpm, trying to gasp silently for air, black edging in to the outside of my vision. Passing out while standing in wet grass holding a shotgun at your side would be ridiculous, but seemed like a real possibility. The deer stopped at perhaps 25 yards, and stared at me. He stared some more. He took a sideways step, stomped his front feet, and grunted. One part of his brain was obviously at war with another, and I had no choice but to be very still, try to not pass out, and hope the part which saw me as just a really weird tree won. After a few minutes it did, and he turned broadside and put his head down behind a small bush to eat some grass. I shouldered the shotgun, snicked the safety off, lined up the white beads, and squeezed the trigger. I saw a puff of white fur and pink phelgm blossom above his side as the deer took off at a full run. I walked the thirty yards and saw the patches of white hair and pink flesh speckling the snow.
For a reason I cannot recall or begin to express, I was immediately convinced I had shot high, creased his back, and wounded the deer. A wound bad enough to make him suffer and perhaps die, or maybe only be vulnerable to coyotes. The cycles of self-loathing, for fucking up such a gimme shot and for wounding an animal, were immediate and vigorous. Should have practiced with slugs more. Should have been more patient. Should have got that damn muzzleloader, with its aperture sights, in working order. Given that I was obviously a failure as a hunter, giving up for the season or forever seemed reasonable. I didn’t see a blood trail, and was only able to follow the bounding, 12-foot apart tracks for so long. I circled back towards the car and eventually crept back towards were I had shot, but on a game trail closer to the dense thicket. I couldn’t move through the thicket without spooking anything in it, but maybe the deer was wounded badly enough that I’d be able to get another shot while he was bedded. This seemed highly improbable, but I was morally obligated to run through all my options. It was still very early in the morning.
After 20 minutes I was back at the clearing where I had shot, staring at the blood and tissue in the snow. Those sure do look like lung fragments. Here are his footprints, and hey, here’s a spatter of bright blood you inexplicably missed before. Good thing you didn’t step on it, only right next to it. Eight feet further is another, and six more another, all the right side of the path. Creasing his back wouldn’t cause such an entry wound. More spatters, well spaced but obvious, and always on the right side of the path, led a further hundred yards. I was searching for the next sign when I looked a bit further left, and saw a deer laying by a log. The little buck I had shot. I walk over, and see a big 12 gauge hole a hair behind the front leg and perfectly centered. Not only had I made an ideal shot and convinced myself otherwise, and walked for 60 yards along the correct path without seeing the blood trail, I had passed within 50 yards of the deer when he was undoubtedly already dead.
The most important thing I got from this deer, beyond relief from self-inflicted pressure, a beautiful memory, and a big pile of fat venison, is confidence in myself.
The strength of my conflicting emotions made the moment a bit muted. Ecstatic whoops don’t quite seem appropriate over the warm body of a fellow creature, while at the same time our staid musings on the ontological implications of death are surely not shared by deer. I had fulfilled my obligations by not having him suffer long, and the deer had fulfilled his obligations by doing what he could to not be shot. I laughed a little, cried a little, shouted a little, jumped a little, and knelt a little, then got to work dragging the remarkably heavy deer towards the road. He may have been mostly spike and only a little bit forky, but this deer was exceedingly well fed. Laced with fat and with a stomach absolutely full to bursting with masticated grains, even gutted I could barely get him up on the road, and absolutely could not get him on the roof of our tiny car. He got folded into the back, barely, with the chest cavity propped upright to minimize blood spillage.
I hunted deer growing up, but that consisted of practicing with my bow and sitting in the stand I was told to. This fall, my mind has been reaching out amongst the trees, constantly searching and obsessed. Sitting in the garage a few hours ago, completing the skinning with a cup of coffee steaming on the workbench and favorite songs in the background, I could feel much of that energy returning back to me. The best learning is measured in months, and is in the end written in blood. Happiness is far too small a word.