Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hunt

It was the annual harvest ritual, replete with rites of initiation and blood sacrifice. They flew out from Florida every November except the year his mother died and stayed with Uncle Roy and Aunt Mathilda and their two sons in Longmont, Colorado. Usually there was snow, deep and feathery and difficult to walk in. Adrian and his cousins learned to lift their legs high out of the powder and chase one another, their knees pumping like pistons, and then fall back in the soft snow to flap their arms producing angels’ wings.

They learned to track, silently and respectfully, trying to think like the animal they hunted. After hours of shivering behind a blind of bark, they were cold and stiff but they also ached with excitement, waiting for the chosen one to appear. Adrian mostly remembered the hush, holy and mystical. It was as though the meadow were a sacred place, filled with green-tinted snow to commemorate a tradition of lush foliage. It shimmered like a fairy land and even the tiniest twig of the smallest bush twinkled its own special message from individual shrouds of ice: hush, hush, you raucous boys. You trespassers from an alien world.  The snow itself muffled their human sounds and softened their other-world intentions.

He had loved the stillness but he had not loved the kill; the gutting of the still warm, quivering animal as the life force escaped in steam into the frigid air; the roping of the carcass across camper top and the driving home to grateful and admiring women undermined by the fury of his sister: it's murder she had said.  It's tradition, he answered. But he couldn't say more because he was unsure himself.

He hadn't liked the killing and his father had not insisted on his liking it, but he had made him go along to learn about it.  It wasn't just a sport, he father said. It was a necessary skill on the approach towards manhood. One must know how to survive the wilderness if one is to be a complete human being -- a man. But he was adamantly opposed to reckless killing and killing of the young. Hunting was a noble endeavor—a contest between man and beast in the animals’ own domain; it is man against nature—a ritual contest whose roots lay within man’s deepest racial memory.  Man should not be against Nature, his sister had countered, he should be a part of it. His father continued that when the odds become unbalanced, the integrity is diffused and it becomes an ego trip amounting to slaughter.

Adrian still remembered the late night camaraderie  around a wood fire and how he shivered close to his father absorbing the inevitable ghost stories, fishing tales and glorifications of the hunt until late hours. And finally, with the smoke from the campfire captured in his hair, he would stumble off to bed, snuggling inside his mummy bag, shivering naked within, until he and the bag became one huge mound of well-fed flesh, and he slept.  He had awakened to the sizzle and sound of bacon frying, the flames of the campfire whipping in the raw winds whistling down the mountains, and to the ubiquitous aroma of coffee boiling up into a thick, black liquid into which his father had ultimately dropped all of the egg shells, in order to clear it up and make it potable.

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