As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
It is so wonderful to check in every-so-often from my winter dance with a novel I’ve longed to write for years. And to see how all you beautiful people are creating community here at These Here Hills. Thank you. I’ll be back when the red-winged blackbirds tell me it’s time to come out of this creative hybernation. Enjoy this inspiring piece by Erika Putnam, last year’s contest winner!
Tracks In The Snow, by Erika Putnam
Snow was gently falling from the late afternoon sky. Desert sage surrounded me in almost every direction. It was a slow mile hike from the truck to the top of this ridge where I was now crouched down behind a rock. My fingers were starting to get cold. I was wearing three shirts and a down Patagonia pullover underneath my camouflage woolies to keep out the New Year’s Day chill. About three feet to my left my dad was peaking over another boulder scouring the brush for life. Suddenly, the wailing began. It was a shrill, frightening sound of death. It shrieked, it screeched, it unraveled my insides. Oh, how I wanted it to stop. There was a bullet in the chamber and I was ready to fire.
Since early morning we had been driving the back roads looking for cat tracks in the snow. We were lucky there was new snowfall. It made it easier to catch a fresh trail. My dad had arranged for a buddy to be on call with his dogs just in case we found a fresh track. I have done some tracking with my dad over the years, but not for cougar. This was new and I needed some coaching. “They have huge paws and you can’t mistake their tracks” my dad said. For the first few miles of driving I stopped at almost every paw print to ask “how about this one”? I quickly got the hang of recognizing the abundant coyote and jack rabbit tracks. He continued to reassure me “you will know it when you see it, they are huge”.
Turns out you have to cover a lot of territory to uncover a fresh cat track. At the point the rabbit tracks got thick across the road my dad decided we should temporarily abandon the lion hunt and call in coyotes. We would perch at the top of a hill, hiding behind some sagebrush or a rock and then dad would sneak over and set up a noisemaking contraption about twenty feet away. This technical hunting devise is the shape of a large flashlight with a bunch of knobs and digital readouts on the side with an attached wagging piece of cloth that looks like a Daniel Boone hat. I referred to it as “that damned Foxtracker noise making son of a bitch”. My dad is seventy two years old and frankly he doesn’t hear well. I had to wonder if he had any idea how obnoxious that thing sounded? He just played it loud and clear for the whole valley to hear. He says it works and the yotes come running if you let it scream long enough. Evidently, they come running so fast that sometimes they almost run right over the top of you. When he talks about shooting coyotes with a shotgun he gets to chuckling and giggling and is just so pleased with himself. He says the look of surprise on their faces when they realize they have been suckered is hilarious. It must be funny because he just laughs and laughs. Not a sick, mean laugh but more of school boy victory laugh.
Since this was my first tracking adventure in the snow and we were just driving around looking out the window and talking I started asking questions. I asked “how much do you get for a coyote pelt”? “Fifteen dollars” he replied. He goes on to tell me it takes him thirty minutes to skin one but the guy down at the trapping shop can do it in five. I find out a bobcat is worth eight hundred to twelve hundred dollars. “Ooooooh” I say, “where can we find one of those?” Then I find out there is another scream setting on the “son of a bitch call” that we can use to call bobcats. Dad tells me a wolf pelt is worth two hundred to five hundred dollars and that the Fish and Game report shows over sixty kills this year within two hours of here. I keep asking questions and he enjoys sharing his hunting knowledge with me.
Farm and ranch real estate has been my father’s occupation but he loves the outdoors and has been an avid outdoorsman, hunter and a hunting guide. He loves wild sheep the most. There is a small population of wild sheep within an hour’s drive of his ranch. There is a problem with the cougars killing the wild sheep and the population is in danger. For him, cougar hunting is sport but he also has a real concern for conserving the wild sheep populations.
I enjoy his knowledge of the hunt and I know that he has so many stories in him that I haven’t heard. I wish I knew more. I am afraid that I won’t remember them. I am afraid of not knowing this man completely in the time we have left together. For an old guy, my dad is fit, healthy and can do some yoga moves I haven’t mastered yet. I have no reason to worry about his health but I am keenly aware that our time together may not be as long as I would like it to be. I want to treasure the time we have together and if this is how I get him, one on one, then, a hunting we will go. That’s the title of a song he used to sing to my little sister and me when we were young. “A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, we’ll catch a fox and put-him-in-a-box …and then we’ll let him go”.
On this New Year’s Day I could be taking down Christmas decorations and putting memories in red and green totes. Instead, I am patiently sitting in the snow in the freezing cold with my father listening to the scream of a dying rabbit call hoping to get run over by a coyote. I am hoping to see delight in my father’s face. I am hoping to become and rank among one of the hunting stories he tells to his friends when they stand around their campfires.
This hunting might not be for everyone. Sometimes I am not sure that it’s for me. Together my dad and I have hunted bear, caribou, deer, moose, pheasant, ducks, and geese. When I was ten we were hunting ducks and stumbled upon a porcupine high in a tree. He wanted me to shoot it. So, I did. It was the first thing I killed. I just wanted to tell it I was sorry. And, in some way I was proud. Hunting can be a mixed bag of emotions for a girl. It took me a while to understand that hunting is not about killing. My father had to teach me that. It’s about making memories and being together in circumstances and places that are unpredictable, thrilling and sometimes discouraging. It’s how you weather the hunt together. It’s how you show regard and reverence when you do make a kill and when you don’t. Truth be known, I have come to love the thrill of the hunt just like him.
I sense sweet winter stillness between the bawling dying rabbit calls. There is no movement anywhere and I can see my breath. I have on a camouflage head net and I can barely see out because this is the garb you wear hiding from yotes. It is the official disguise. When we hunt I do whatever my dad tells me to do. I am an independent forty four year old woman but in the field I let my independence go.
I feel protected with my dad. He has guided me through a lot of unfamiliar territory. Every step I take with him on a hunting trip I feel like I am being guided. I entrust him with my safety and I succumb to following. Following, in many respects, is not my nature but in the great outdoors with him I enjoy this dynamic. It fills me with humility and pride at the same time. He has been my hunting guide and my life’s guide, whether we take a trophy or not.
Sitting with him in this quiet closeness I am present to life’s seasons, including ours. I notice that he tells some stories twice. I notice that he is more patient with life and I notice that he is gentle. In the stillness without the world chirping in my ear I can take in the quiet. I can take in the day and I have time to notice the beauty of small details like the rust colored lichen on the bottom
of the sagebrush. I notice the seriousness of this hunt for my dad. And, I notice when he lets out a disappointing “ugh” when the coyotes don’t run to our call. I think to myself how much he wants this hunt to be a success. He wants me to think he is a “good guide” and he wants us to take home a story about today. Perhaps, a story about tracking down a cat with his daughter. Sunset was on its way and signaled us to call it a day. It’s hard to give up when you’ve been skunked. But we were out of daylight and couldn’t stay for another “ten minutes”. We threw our guns over our shoulders and headed the mile back to the truck. There was just the sound of the top layer of snow crunching beneath my clunky snow boots as I walked ahead of my dad. I began to worry about getting my truck stuck on our way out. With each step I was taking back on the cares of the world. It was my turn to guide my dad safely home. And then, suddenly, I just turned around and said “I love you dad”. I walked back and gave him a big hug. Gun to gun, camo to camo. We might not have found cat tracks, but because of him, in more ways than one, I still believe I will know it when I see it. And when I find it I sure hope is with me to hunt it down.