It takes a Village
Jeremy pulled an elk quarter from a cooler in the garage and set it on the kitchen table. I sipped a beer as he butchered the meat and told me the story of the calf he’d killed two days earlier. He’d wanted to check out a new area. It seemed unlikely, but he’d gotten into elk on his foray.
Tim poured me a cup of coffee. Wearily he pulled out a chair for himself. He’d spent the previous two nights packing elk off the mountain. A shot late in the day, followed by a long tracking job, had forced him to leave the meat for a night, and half of it for a second. He hadn’t been too worried with the area largely devoid of bears. Cool temps protected his quarry.
Scott was at the kitchen table when I arrived. He set his knife and the backstrap aside. We walked out back. The rack of a modest six point with long fronts and heavy beams, characteristic of his home range, lay in the yard. Several tines were broken, along with the bridge of his nose. Sitting atop a cliff-band, the elk had run straight at him. He practically had to shoot out of self defense. Once hit, the bull fell over the cliff ledge. A grizzly fed on the gut pile overnight but with the help of friends the meat was all packed out the following day.
Jeff sent me a text: “Just getting out of the woods”. I’d heard he had gotten an elk. Along with another friend they had packed out half of the animal the night before. It was three miles from the truck and he had to guide on the river that day. He was planning to hike in late that night to get the rest. Scott and a couple other friends, returning the favor, hiked in and packed out the elk instead, saving Jeff from a late night.
I was visiting Lander, Wyoming for a weekend. A town I had lived in for nearly a decade and where many of my closest friends still live. October is my favorite month of the year and my brief visit highlighted the best parts. The leaves had turned. A chill was in the morning air, followed by the warmth of the afternoon sun. My friends were harvesting elk. But beyond the elk all my friends were enthusiastically helping each other, sharing in the experience, telling their stories, and continuing a ritual that has become what I love most about Fall.