A friend texted me recently, apologizing for not getting in touch sooner because she had been so busy.
I responded, “’Busy’ is how we roll in Wallowa County.”
I’m learning how to hunt and had a whitetail doe tag. As we drove around, a friend who has lived and breathed this Wallowa Land for decades spent a lot of time teaching me about the habits of deer and their movement during the fall. Of how they are driven by their need for water and feed, and how weather conditions are a big factor.
We mostly stayed on the backcountry roads. I didn’t always know where I was. That is, I couldn’t show you on a map, but when we would top out on a ridge, I could make a mental note, “Okay, Finley Buttes are over there.” Or “There’s the Divide.” Chief Joseph Mountain was my main bearing point.
Interspersed in these stories were comments about my driving. “Slow down, Katherine.” By day 5 I wasn’t hearing that so often.
I never realized how much hunting can keep a person busy. Hours and hours are devoted to scouting. Nor did I realize how much work comes with success. The field dressing, loading, hanging, then cutting and packaging of meat — lots of work.
Much was taught to me, some was learned — mostly that I don’t have any idea what I’m doing most of the time. At least that keeps me teachable. And a great deal could be said on the value of a patient friend.
My most favorite time of this hunting season was one afternoon, somewhere, we were scouting on foot. He showed me tracks of deer and elk who had just walked that trail. I heard the pounding hoof beats of departing elk, just before he told me to sniff and smell the musky odor of those elk.
We hiked for about a mile, gaining on elevation. After the sun dropped over the mountains, we turned back. I was watching for tracks again, then looked up and stopped.
It was a “freeze-frame” moment.
I heard the creek murmuring below us, hidden within a velvet carpet of ponderosa pine sprinkled with bright yellow tamarack spires. Beneath a near-full moon, the Seven Devils were gold-tinted against a clear blue sky. My friend was still walking ahead of me. Just then a hawk rose to become airborne, banking in flight to where its white underside was fully exposed just above my friend’s white cap.
The beauty of this wildness, of the freedom to be here, and this time with a treasured friend all hit me at once and caught my breath away.
At the end of my hunting season, I was pretty tired. I soon forgot that fatigue. In a few months, the meat will be gone, and I’ll forget about that while next summer I eat mostly garden gleanings.
Yet never, ever will I forget the image of that captured moment in Wallowa County. I like where “busy” takes me.
Katherine Stickroth is a freelance writer and blogs at awallowagal.com.