Fragment No. 1. The Butte
I slid down the snowy Montana butte, slowly at first. I was still clumsy with the snowshoes.
Did you fall down up there?
Not yet! I’m on my way.
I didn’t rush. I looked out across the frozen lake with our cabin on the other side and the edge of little West Yellowstone. The clarity of the air could cut through your many layers.
The landscape was tricolor. The snow white had little blood pricks of red sagebrush along the 191 and the evergreen was dark green like the beginning of time.
My cheeks were always red like Christmas or childhood and I kept having these dreams of what my ancestors did when their mountains got misty and cold.
I bent my knees and down I went. The trees tightened the trail and I whooshed past the frozen branches of pine. Evergreens encased in ice glittered like insect wings.
I saw tiny paw prints I couldn’t identify nearly as quick as I could poetic devices like metonymy, the whole for the part.
It was that fox you like.
Or synecdoche — the part for the whole — the paws for the fox.
Frag. No. 2 Woodstove
My soft academic hands wound around an axe and I felt an uncivilized happiness.
This was my job some days. The wood kept us warm at night.
We don’t have internet, but we do have bookshelves and bunk beds. The woodstove was central. After the sun sets over the frozen lake and the temperature drops to the negative unimaginables, the cabin fills with sound.
We laugh. We read. We sing.
What a disappointment laptops and common rooms seemed after.
Sometimes I even got my feeling hurt in that cabin. Most times were cheerful.
Frag. No. 3. The Lake
I found something terrifying about walking on a frozen lake.
It’s three feet of ice. There’s no danger, city child.
Frag. No. 4. Jan, The Mom Who Didn’t Get Sandwiches with Me.
Three buffalo laid down on a slope in late January.
This one close by looked right at me with this long face, a face as big as your chest was looking right at me. The wide-set eyes were black like an abyss and I felt fear and wonder.
But I then looked into the weathered face of an anxious woman.
Listen I don’t want my son to be harassed. We are honorable hunters and we thank Jesus Christ for every buffalo we kill.
I don’t want to harass your son. I’ve had some amazing hunting experiences in my life and I hope he does too.
I lied sometimes.
Maybe we can look into getting him a deer tag. Let me get y’all some sandwiches in town. We can talk it over.
Jan took a little pamphlet I’d been supplied with. Two measly pages about buffalo.
The Yellowstone bison herd is unique, and is descended from 23 individuals who survived the 19th century near-extinction.
Or some shit like:
Yellowstone does not provide sufficient winter range for the resident herds of wildlife due to the deep snows of its high elevation plateaus.
Jan, the mom, took it back to her car, where she had her son, her husband, and another fellow who had a large walrus-like mustache.
I had there myself, a very queer boy who was speaking in his low-voice, a volunteer who was holding a video camera aimed unflinchingly at the buffalo, and a silent veteran who crossed his arms and had already learned how useless this was.
Frag. No. 5. Walrusman
We three were rolling along a truck, all in the front shoulder-to-shoulder, when we saw Jan and Jan’s son, who couldn’t be older than thirteen resting a rifle on the hood of a car with his father’s hand resting on his shoulder.
This was a violation. We intervened.
HEY. You can’t shoot from the road.
We pulled over like nobody’s business.
The buffalo saw our cars, a good twenty feet apart, and heard our forceful arguments. They got up from their slope and wandered back to the park, out of range and safe again.
The walrusman started walking toward me.
I didn’t respond.
Hey you, motherfucker.
You stopped us from hunting. You fucked up our hunt.
You were breaking the law. You can’t shoot near the roads or houses.
Why the fuck are you filming us?
We’re not filming you. We’re filming the buffalo.
Do you know what I could do to you?
I didn’t respond.
The walrusman was in my face now.
You know what I could do?!
He started pushing me really trying to start a fight.
Hey! The silent guy spoke finally, and walrusman saw the camera was pointed at him. He retreated.
That little boy must’ve had such a bad day that day. I didn’t hear him say a word, but I watched our film again to see walrusman walk up to me and to listen to our brief interaction, but I saw that little boy’s eyes follow me the whole time.
Frag. No. 6. Soup
We made soup.
We fermented our own vinegar.
We served the soup
Then cleaned the counters with the vinegar.
Frag. No. 7. That Fox You Like
I pointed at the lump. There was a tiny fox.
Pronouns are hard for animals we don’t speak the language of.
The fox sniffed the air, got up, made a circle in the snow, showed a bristly tail, and sat back down to watch what we did.
I sniffed the air, made a circle in the snow, showed off my ass, and sat down, looking right back.
I saw that fox the day after and the day after that and we did the same thing each day.
I smiled, ridiculous.
Frag. No. 8. Carne-Vegan
I didn’t eat meat that month. It was the only month I haven’t.
In the cabin, you met everyone.
Do you have any dietary restrictions?
I’m not eating animals. Do you?
I’m a carne-vegan. I don’t eat animals I don’t hunt myself.
There were a lot of hunters there. I got to shoot a can with this one guy’s pistol.
Frag. No. 9. Radio
I was trained in emergency radio etiquette.
I’m not kidding. It’s illegal.
I’m not shitting you: I won’t swear.
When I went into the field I always had a radio
Radio-check, Field. Are you all doing okay? Over.
Hi, Home! I could chip a tooth on this frozen clif bar, but other than that we’re good. Over
Ok. Over and out.
And then I took that job once.
And that day an emergency happened.
Hey, Home, Radio Check? Can you hear me? Over.
Go ahead, Field. I can hear. Over.
I’m watching a rancher with a full arm condom reaching inside a dead buffalo. Over.
I put down the radio.
I don’t take the radio jobs anymore.
Frag. No. 10. Leaving
I got hugs, two tee shirts, a calendar, an invitation back, and a few hundred little pamphlets. I keep in touch with two of the people I met. I have those three buffalo on the background of the computer I type this on.