Elk are amazing animals. I marvel in their strength, size and ability to elude the mighty hunter. Their beauty is majestic. A part of me gets a little sad each time one of these animals goes down with a hunter’s bullet but it’s a fleeting moment that is soon replaced with excitement. I know in the next several days, the opportunity will come to take the animal apart, piece by piece, and the anatomy lesson is better than any classroom lab or lecture that I’ve ever been a part of. I answer most of my own questions by tangibly searching them out. Is that a vessel or nerve bundle? Let me get a closer look. Let me pull it, bend it, trace it with my finger to the origin and let me learn. It’s hard to get enough of it.
Anatomy lessons lead right into butchering lessons. Muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments soon shape into steaks, roasts, burger and jerky as the body becomes a carcass. No pieces are wasted. It’s as close to a religious experience as I’ve been a part of. Knives are sharpened, jokes are told, meat is cut, wrapped, labeled, shared and frozen. This is how it’s been done for decades. It brings a continuity to life that our disposable world easily eludes. It’s like coming home after a long trip. It’s an odd form of security. It’s a recentering ritual that brings us back to our hunting and gathering roots born hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s innate and instinctive.
I was invited back to my roots this year. It reminded me where I came from and who I am. In the struggle between life and death, I will always fight for life, it’s the nurse in me, but I also appreciate a good steak. Hunter versus gatherer. Sometimes it’s important to have a foot planted in both worlds to understand the best parts of each. I know it’s something I can’t imagine a life without and that make this time of year a little special.
Besides, what else is there to do while we wait for enough snow for the mountains to open? Life is good, friends.