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Archive for November, 2015

November Larches

For a month before we found it—someone else’s kill—we watched crows ascend from those trees and wondered. Any day now, what’s left of it will be covered in snow, then snow-drifts. By spring its bones will be strewn or buried, but for now they lie sheltered in thick brush, still touching, except for the head, which we took.

We walk a dry gulch bordered by thick pine and tamarack woods and criss-crossed with smooth, hard trails where snow won’t stick. Few people take the road all the way to Sawmill Gulch this time of year, preferring the lower access and its broad, well-traveled trails, but animals sleep and eat in Sawmill; from here they can reach town (and easy food) by crossing the hills to the west, or steal along overgrown logging roads to the east to reach the next system of gulches, where they can find water and sheltered routes to the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

Elk and deer scrape their antlers on saplings in the fall, and we follow these far into the brush. Ryan is bowhunting, and we’re quiet. We don’t come across any animals—though their trails plow through the trees on either side of us, broad as cattle paths and pocked with turds—but we do find a hoof, mounds of bear shit, and finally the skeleton of a medium-sized bull elk, complete with antlers and the smooth, buttery canines—its “ivory”—remnants of its ancestors’ tusks. The skull is huge but light, and we walk it down with us and stash it.

Weather moves in as we head east. We climb a ridge into the sun, while snow flurries slant over hills below us and disappear the valley. No animal sign up here, the sun is sinking, and we pull our coats and hats out of our packs and climb down, chilled, through a forest of young pine trees while wind roars in the next gulch. The movie goes silent and music seeps through the wall from the next theater—the wind is like this. Each gulch plays a different movie, and as you walk you pick up bits of dialogue or strains of song from a neighboring gulch. Someone’s always talking in the other room.

By the time we reach the meadow it’s dark and still, and a crescent moon hangs, orange, just over the treeline. Our feet hammer the ground, and the path is the ice-blue of a gravestone. Sometimes the dirt shatters to reveal long, thin crystals of ice just below the surface. Deer watch us from hillsides; they know it’s too dark for hunting.

November larches drop fire-orange needles on my head; they make their way down the back of my shirt, where I pull them out hours later, at home. Miles away larches shake needles over on an ice-blue path, and the ground is hard and cold and unhungry as a graveyard.

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