a late dinner inside the canvas army tentrnwith a fire going in the woodstove.rnSomeone gave me something hot to eatrnand Jerry took the mare from mc, sayingrnthat he had plenty of feed to keep herrnwith his horses until the road set up, orrndried out. I drew the saddle off andrnstowed the tack behind the tent, and Jerry’srnson Todd drove me back to the truckrnin his Jeep, across the ford.rnThe truck lost traction on the firstrngrade going south and I got out to chainrnup. Lying on my back in mud I chainedrnall four tires, and got up in the cab againrnlooking like a survivor from Burnside’srnMud March. Mud slathered the Indianrnblanket upholstery and balled on thernfloor mat beneath the pedals. At the toprnof the hill I got out again to check thernfastenings, when another truck comingrnnorth turned out alongside in the sagebrush.rnIt was a party of Search and Rescue,rnlooking for a woman who had beenrnmissing from her camp for nearly 24rnhours. The rescuers were in high spirits,rnamused to recognize mc in my chrysalisrnof mud. It had taken four hours to drivernthe 45 miles from Kemmerer, and mudrnwas caked so thick in the wheel wells thatrnthe tires had barely room enough to turn.rnI worked in town for two days beforernreturning up country, taking one of thernLand Cruisers with me this time. Thernroad was set up pretty well except for therndeepest holes, where the trailer wouldrnnot have made it through. I fixed camprnat an edge of forest above the creek, andrnthat evening it rained again. Rain soakedrnthe kindling that lay about in the woodsrnand leaked through the peeled waterproofingrnon the old nylon tent. I ate coldrnantelope sandwiches with whiskey forrnsupper, and spread a woolen blanket onrnthe tent floor beneath the sleeping bag.rnBy morning the rain had stopped, a muffledrnsilence in the cold darkness. I leftrncamp 90 minutes before first light, carryingrnthe rifle on my shoulder and a flashlightrnin one hand, across Bear Trap andrnup the steepening trail through the drippingrnwoods. The snow was mostly gone,rnwashed away and evaporated except for arnfew pale patches off in the dark beyondrnthe focused beam of the electric light.rnAlready my woolen pants were cakedrnwith mud, and my feet felt encased inrnanvils. Nothing that was solid was left inrnthis dark world, nothing real, nothingrnsupportive, nothing to hold to, nor bracernwith, nor against. Movement was selfdefeating,rnstruggle impossible, as in arnnightmare in which flight is running inrnplace and breathing smotheration. Attemptingrnto will myself out of the dream,rnI could not awake. So I kept climbing,rnout of the lifting darkness into the palernhopeless drear of the gathering light thatrnsuffused the soaked woods where the elkrnhad withdrawn to the nearly impenetrablerndepths of the black timber, mythicalrncreatures as mysterious and elusive as thernhippogriff. Arrived finally at the steeps Irnpocketed the flashlight, took hold of thernslender aspen trunks on either side of therntrail, and pulled mvself upward, handrnover hand through the mud.rnI hunted all day in intermittent rainrnunder a lowering sky, through canyonsrnand along the clouded scarps of ridgesrnwhere water vapor crawled among thernwind-stunted trees, stopping often tornrest my legs and sometimes kindle a briefrnfire from the dead branches I smearedrnwith petroleum vaseline, and towardrnevening began the sliding unbalancedrndescent to camp down the jellied mountainrnside. A horse trailer had jack-knifedrnon the switchbacks above Fontenelle,rnand three men in yellow rain slickersrnwere attempting to lead the resistingrnhorses out through the narrow space atrnthe end of the trailer where the door wasrnjammed hard against the cutbank. Inrncamp the tent sagged against the polesrnand the fire pit enclosed a pool of ashes.rnInside the tent was damp, but the wetrnhad failed to penetrate the bedroll. I satrnon it with my feet outside to remove thernshapeless boots, and brought them reluctantlyrninto the tent. A couple of antelopernsandwiches were left in the daypack. Irndrank most of what remained of thernwhiskey while I ate them and foundrnstrength enough to remove the woolrnpants and sweater and get mside thernmummy bag, which seemed like morernthan I could ever need or wish forrnthroughout eternity.rnWhen I returned to the mountains arnweek later the road was stiff as a frozenrncorpse and the iron fir trees pointedrnagainst the snowfields. I left the LandrnCruiser at the crossing and started alongrnthe trail, hardened in the contortions ofrnits last agony. A powdery snow filled thernhollows and scrapes and I had to climbrnhard to stay warm through the fine blowingrnsnow. The mare was safe at homernbut I carried in my wallet an unfilled elkrntag, valid for eight hours more of daylight.rnThe last hunting camp had beenrnpulled out of Pomeroy Basin several daysrnbefore and I was alone in the snowyrnmountains, with only my rifle and thernstaring unseen elk for company.rnThe knotted trail turned my ankles asrnI climbed, halting often to rest the painrnof my lungs, seared by the Arctic cold,rnand eat some jerky. The snow deepenedrnon the ground as the elevation increasedrnand the falling snow flew thicker, drivenrnby winds coming across Indian Ridge.rnTurning back to look down canyon I sawrnmy tracks behind me, filling in with snowrnand drifting over. At the hogback swalerneast of the ridge the fresh powderrnreached my knees, breaking imperceptiblyrnagainst the woolen leggings as Irnpushed on into the woods lying betweenrnthe swale and the whitened cliff. Irnwalked a long way through the woodsrnwhere the snow in places barely penetratedrnthe black canopy of the forestrnwithout finding elk, or sign of elk.rnA brace of pine grouse exploded fromrnthe snow and flew into a tree at my approach.rnI built a fire under their roostrnand sat beside it on a log, watching thernragged flames evaporate the snowflakes,rnand the birds with their cocked headsrnand round eyes, staring down at me. Itrnwas white and still and perfect in the forest,rnmiles above the binding red morassrnof the two-week season. After a while,rnwhen I felt warm again, I scuffed snowrnover the remains of the fire with the sidernof my boot, reached the rifle from a treernbranch, and told the birds goodbye beforernstarting out through the woods tornthe open park, where a snowy twilightrnwas already coming.rnAs I traversed the brushy sidehill belowrnthe hogback the snow clouds torernapart and the disc of the sun burnedrnthrough, wan and wobbly as if by somernmiracle it had become unfixed in thernpale sky. Light broke suddenly againstrnthe hill, and a form appeared like a spiritrnupon the top of the ridge, directly belowrnthe sun. The bull raised his head as Irnbrought the rifle up until the back pointsrnof the rack scraped the croup, and thernshag of his throat was exposed. I foundrnthe heart in the crosshairs and moved uprna foot above the backbone, but then 1rndid not shoot. This was neither the timernnor the place for blood, even less therndriving wedge of gunshot into the absoluternbeauty and peace of the wilderness.rnInstead I lowered the gun and strippedrnthe magazine of shells, and when I finishedrnthe light had vanished from thernhill, and the bull with it. Pocketing thernshells I shouldered the rifle once more,rnand stepped off downhill into the gatheringrndusk. – crn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn