Subj: Hunting
Date: 95-10-23 12:02:46 EDT
To: El Polvo



We're out in the mountains the kids sledding in the new snow, me'n Marilyn up a little ways at Cataract Falls where it's quiet and no light and cold and we're eating the snow, there's the smell of pine burning from the stoves of two cabins around the bend the way we came in, it's primeval. Water falling from ledge to ledge, blue sky way up there beyond where the stream first takes its fall, scudding clouds. Marilyn clears a place of snow to sit, gets lost in making snowmen of the cleared snow, ends up taking a photo of me instead, we never do sit. Zachary comes up the trail in his t-shirt, he's taken a dive face first into the mud at the bottom of a run on his sled, Cristina sitting behind him so the jacket's got shed and he's decided to follow us up to see how cold he can get. We amble back towards the truck and where they were sledding, see a pickup backing out of the area, guy leans out and asks us all excited and breathless if we have a phone, we tell him we don't, he says he and his brother-in-law just shot two elk and he has to call his cousin in Fairfield to come bring the horses to pack the animals out. Off he roars. We go to the truck and have a picnic of the tuna salad sammitches, drink apple juice. Pretty soon we see a guy in a fluorescent orange vest dragging hisself down the trail over where the kids were sledding, following the muddy trail other hunters followed in, this being the first day of the season. He comes over to us and tells us how he and the guy who just left slayed two elk, bulls and how exhausted he is, tries to tell us where it is they were, over by those mazes of rocks you know, back from where the rock flats are, up in that meadow you know, and being Augustans we nod not wanting to let him down or expose ourselves as carpetbagging Californians posing as Montanans, and he goes on to tell us how they was on their way back figgering there was no game left and his bro-in-law says there they are and points and sure enough about two hunnerd fifty yards away the elk are standing stock still looking at something the other direction and they aim up and the bro in law gets his bull in two shots, this guy in four, damn gun is too small, I was looking for white tail, never bring this one again. He is a mixture of tired and exhalted, the exhalted sort of subdued right now. Marilyn offers him a glass of apple juice and he takes it gratefully. The kids notice the blood on his hands and he looks down at them and his hands and nods and doesn't answer their questions as to where it came from. He says his bro-in-law is going to get ahold of his cousin to bring up some pack animals. Marilyn offers him one of the folding chairs and he sits heavily. He is played out. He is never going to walk anywhere again. First day of the hunting season! he says and shakes his head, a little smile playing at his mouth. I been coming here fifteen years and never kilt anything the first day of hunting season. Two bull elk!. Shakes his head.

The pickup of his bro comes back and swings around the corner into the parking area as if he is part of a chase in a movie, careens in beside us a few spots down, he leaps from the car, taller and leaner than his buddy slumped here at the tailgate next to us, we hear how Festus can't make it up tonight, he's working cows, he'll be up in the morning, they're gonna have to hike back in and cut the hind quarters off the elk and drag them down to the trail, cut off the heads and take them down,somehow get them stored where they can drain fluid and not get eaten by the grizzlies. I look at the shorter one and his eyes show horror. He can't even get up out of the folding chair. They are gonna walk three miles in, carve those beasts up and drag them down to the trail. Yeh, says the taller one, and if there's still daylight we'll go back up and bring down the front quarters. The tall one is trying to cut yellow plastic rope with a gutting knife and it isn't making a dent and he is saying how he can't believe he's brought a dull gutting knife. The one in the chair asks how the cousin took it, He was excited and all says the one sawing on the rope. Meantime another hunter in a similar vest has shown up from up the trail and he says I see someone at least has blood on their hands, and he is sort of cowtowing to these two, not wanting to press them for all the details that will break his heart but hardly able to keep his cool. The one still on the rope which is a little bitty diameter thing, the sort you see on beaches from nets, or holding the back gate closed is talking in front of him to his bro and behind him in answer to this new guy. He knows he sort of looks silly using this knife standing there in the back of his pickup making ready to hike in and do this hunter thing, bantering about how they're going to skid the quarters down, There's snow he says hopefully, Yeh but it's melted says the one in the folding chair. I look at Marilyn and we know what's coming next so she offers instead of waiting to be asked, offers the sleds, the long dished out skinny one that cost $4.00 back on Mt. Laguna outside San Diego and the pink dish one that cost $6.00. You can feel their relief, it washes over us like a Chinook. Cristina takes over the dish, me the long thing, set them down courteously at the end of the pickup bed where the tall one is still sawing with his gutting knife. His partner comes over dragging his feet and working up some energy, there's a job to do here and he damned well is gonna do it, but it's hard, really hard, we all can feel his tired, we're all in his boots wondering how we can even get back up there much less do all this work of butchering with the equivalent of a tin can lid and fighting off a pack of grizzlies and hauling these hundreds of pounds of wild game meat down to the trail, good grief, why can't we wait till tomorrow, the bears won't eat the heads and antlers anyway, he doesn't say any of this aloud, I sort of interpret for him drawing from my own experience of wasted-in-the-woods-and -still-having-to-do-more.

They want to know where to bring the sleds and we tell them and then the arisen one suggests that the sleds will be pretty gruesome and tore up, they'll bring us new sleds, and we know they don't remember our address and that getting sleds to us is kinda low priority among all the things they have coming up, but we are glad to let them have the sleds and proud that they will help them in some way get that meat down, those trophies. I mean what a story to tell. We can get other sleds, better sleds, and there will always be something extra in them than just a ride down the slope and a head first dive into the mud.

The other night we stopped in at the Western Bar to have supper, it's a going place where the towns kids shoot pool, I mean kid kids like Zachary and Cristina who come down here now and then to rack them up and have some shooters, bullshit with the ranchers and cowboys, How many head you taking to market, Ed? Oh, 100 or so, the Iowa trucks'll be picking them up at the stockyards tomorrow, what'd you learn in school today, Zach? Oh, I can read Up and Down, spell them sometimes, Ed, how about a beer and I'll shoot you some low-ball. Marilyn and I had been in there a few weeks back for the pig roast and dance put on by the If We Don't Get It Right The First Time Construction Co. in Augusta, but this time we were hungry for serious and wanting to se how much of a menu they had on just regular occasions, and we sat at a small table in an alcove where the one man band had been last time and the waitress got over to us in about ten minutes and she was chirrupy and good natured and sharp and got our drinks and we ordered a steak between us and the kids a pizza. One old rancher was leaning over the table of two tourists eating steaks and bending their ear boozily, his eye on the woman, someone left the bar with a bottle of beer in hand and walked out the door talking back over his shoulder to some friends, paused there to talk some more, said his farewells and left, beer still in hand. The bartender came over to check on us, see if we needed anything, we didn't, waitress showed up with some salads for us, soda crackers for the kids along with more Dr. Peppers, a Michelob for Marilyn, pitcher of whiskey for me with a cherry cola chaser. You know what was going on in there? It was folks visiting, there were no solo drinkers hunched over their poison working their lips, no clutches of strangers, it was family, like in Ireland where you take the kids in with you, and the dogs. I mean Pebbles was under our table trying to keep a low profile from the other two dogs in there, one of whom kept coming over and putting the make on her, she'd be working our legs for protection. This was a bar where people come to laugh and swap stories, and the young kids shoot pool and chase one another in and out the doors with the sticks, feel part of the family of man, migod here I am in a real bar strutting around like a cowboy and I'm big here, I'm real, I count, bring me another shot Dwayne, damn yer hide! Steak wasn't much but the waitress was sweet and tender, sixty years old been around knew it all and still had the light of love and care in her eyes, had a mother's touch for the kids, made them feel right at home, tended to, looked after. Zachary complained there was too much cheese on the pizza and not enough pepperoni, where was the pepperoni anyway? and she told him under the too-much cheese, and he smiled and ate it, but only because of her. I'll never forget that meal at the Western Bar.

When we came back from the sledding today we went to Mel's to get some ice cream. We saw huge feet of an animal sticking up out of the bed of a truck parked outside the Buckhorn Bar and went over to see it, a big bull elk, six points on each antler, all gutted, the organs in a plastic bag next to its rump. I'd say it weighed 500-600 pounds, Wondered how they'd got it in there. Kids stared at it over the die of the bed, eyes round, asking questions, looking into its still shiney eyes. There was a gob of gelatinous blood on the floor of the bed close to the elk's nostrils and Zachary asked about it and we told him what we thought it was. Afterwards we went into Mel's and ordered three sherbet cones for the kids and Gail made Cristina's so huge she needed a wagon to pull it around in, we order a chocolate malt to share. The young couple in the booth next to us wore camouflage fatigues, a man and woman, they'd been hunting on Oscar's land they said. The rancher and his much-younger wife in the booth next to them, he'd bagged a white tail up near Roger's Pass by Lincoln that morning. Next to us on the wall was a sign that said Coffee .40, All Morning $1.00, All Day $1.50. It also warned that spoon thunkers, finger snappers and whistlers would not be waited on. We sat there in the late afternoon sunlight and took in the warmth of it all, happy in having the kids so contented, us spooning in our malts, listening in on bits of conversation between the cooks, waitress, the owner when she came in, rascally talking Scots woman who cooks over at the school. Cristina wanted to get out from inside the booth and go over to say hi to her. Cristina likes to eat and she and this cook have a warm relationship.

When we got home Cristina who never sleeps and wants to be in on everything all the time and do stuff wanted to carve the pumpkins but we said she could make soap instead, we'd do the pumpkins tomorrow. I got the chicken in the oven, Marilyn did some laundry, we checked in on the rabbits and chickens, the tv went on, all returned to normal at the Underhill household.

Yours, Joe Montana

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