Posts Tagged ‘elk’

028I am shooting forward a few decades tonight, to my first outing with the man who would become my husband. I was Miss Anti-Hunting/Trapping. I didn’t go as far as becoming a vegetarian (I did try it, but about six months into it, I was dying for a hamburger. Don’t hate me). My dad didn’t hunt big game, although he didn’t oppose it much, either. He did a little upland game hunting (chukar, and only as an opportunist) and both of my parents loved to go fishing.

None of that stuck with me. I don’t mind fishing, but I usually don’t catch anything. (I caught my finger once. It ended with a drive to a local hospital to have the hook removed and to get a tetanus shot.) I love to eat chukar and pheasant – both imported species for hunting purposes.

What stuck with me was an overwhelming hatred of hunting and trapping. We had neighbors who once left a buck hanging in their backyard, unskinned, in the warm September sun. Dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table with the back door open when they finally hauled the deer downstairs to skin and cut it up. The swear words and expressions of disgust floated across the yard. The deer was “wormy” – maggots.

Dad just shook his head and muttered, “Should’a skinned it and hung it in a meat cooler.” I was simply appalled at the waste of life.

I protested the hunting of coyotes despite the photographic evidence of my Basque and Greek neighbors when they lost flocks of sheep to a pack full of the blood lust.

I briefly – and I say very briefly – became a vegetarian.

I craved hamburger. I gave in. Don’t shoot me.

I was still in the anti-hunting mode in the summer of 1979. I had some money in my pocket and the urge to buy something meaningful; a pretty red Ovation guitar beckoned me from the street and I put money down on it. A few store fronts later, I found a pair of hiking boots on sale. For exactly how much I’d just put down on the guitar. And I knew.

I can’t explain the knowing. it’s the still, small, voice of God. The whisper that tells you whether or not to trust someone. The intuition that drives you toward one choice over another. I just knew.

So I got myself out of the deal with the guitar (God, how I wanted that beauty!) and I bought myself a nice pair of hiking boots. I even took myself hiking once. Then the boots languished into the winter months as I found other things to occupy my time.

I went cross-country skiing with a friend up at Anthony Lakes. The snow was deep, sticky, and soft. It created strange sculptures out of over-laden pine trees. I fell a lot. Jim was a good teacher and we had a good time. I knew that what I wanted out of life was a man who would be a good teacher, outdoorsy, and all that. Jim was probably all that, but he wasn’t “the” person – he was just a friend. He even brought me a Christmas tree that year – he cut several for all the single women in our church group, but I got the one that blew out of the truck as he came down the highway because he knew I would understand. I loved that beat up tree!

I’ll skip the how-we-met part. Albertson’s, Ladies’ night at the bar, first date at Grizzly Bear pizza. I was head-over-heels with this new guy, Donald Presley. Then he asked me to go check traps with him…

Yeah. Traps. The things that kill animals.

He explained that he was a wildlife biology student at Oregon State (recently dropped out due to the flu and need of money). He loved wildlife. He hunted, fished, trapped. He needed the money trapping provided.

So I set aside my emotions and we went trapping. He had a muskrat trap line that was empty, but we needed to check the bobcat trap line. Don checked his traps every two to three days, no longer. He didn’t want animals to suffer. There were laws – and unwritten rules – to trapping. Since those days, I’ve met trappers who didn’t give a shit (pardon the French) and the animals suffered, the wrong creatures died, and other creatures were put at risk. That wasn’t the man I’d just started dating.

We drove out to where his traps were set and parked my car. The snow was falling, we had to hike uphill. and the air was crisp. I wore my relatively new boots.  We were above the Powder River, just east of Sumpter, Oregon. Rim rock and pine, snow. This was a bobcat line, placed in the rim rock where the cats would most likely be. The traps were all empty.

We slogged through snow that came to our knees. My nostrils filled with a musky scent and Don held his hand to indicate we should stop. We held our breath and watched as a herd of elk approached us. Only the top strand of a barbed wire fence showed above the snow and my heart stopped: the elk would hit the barbed wire! I’d seen deer hit it.

The elk came up to the barbed wire and pushed through. Most jumped. A few pressed on the wire and then stepped over. Eight, maybe ten. Cows, a spike, a five point bull. They were within yards of us, the steam from their nostrils rising in the air. And then they were gone.

I was in love. In love with the man, the myth, and the wildlife. He made all my histrionics about saving animals appear absurd. He’d showed me how a true conservationist cares. We started on our journey of him teaching me about the woods, about edibles, about survival, about camping… He thinks I think I know it all, but the truth is – I think he knows more than I will ever know.

Don’t tell him.



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