(Vernonia, OR / 40 mil to Washington)
Most of the rain has been traded for snow leaving me to wonder if it was indeed a good trade. Nights move back into the 20's with a promise to fall colder as I continue climbing into the Cascade Mountain Range once again, this time toward central Washington to before mentioned Roslyn. Strangers warn me with big honest eyes, and then tell me twice, "Roads shut down this time of year Airborne. The snow they get up there will close you down too. Got snowshoes?" I squirrel food away in every recess of my pack, stretching pockets hidden inside pockets knowing I'll forget it and in that temporary loss is the trick, the Snickers bar I didn't know I carried eaten at 2am; re-learning what the previous winters have taught my fingers and heart, again the curling breath before me becomes the only company I keep, the only voice I have to step into.
To save weight I have left my large Sabertooth knife in Corvalis, zip wood stove I have also retired as dry twigs are part of past roads and drier forests. Memories now. I miss these old travel companions in a depth that would sound silly typed out. Still, missing is missing and evening camps with trips out into the dark unknown toward the sound of a river I can only hear in this world of moss and weeping forest growth makes my hands feel clawless and blunt. I depend on fuel tanks now and the stove the employees at Primus gave me as a gift when I was walking through Lander WY, a titanium 2 1/2 ounce dream of cooking perfection. Flawless. A four inch auto-blade is my only sword. Still, I ache to smell cedar smoke cupping up and around my face, the conversation of evergreen twigs giving up their stored sunlight, the turning of batter into hot cakes and searing the gift of an occasional elk steak.
On a back road outside Otis, a road I didn't mean to take, I find yet another bull elk. He is a huge mighty animal that broke against a car then took his last crippled walk into the woods. At near midnight with lite rain falling I am straddling the bull with tools I have made from blow down hardwood. Osa's blade circle cuts the skin around twin quarter size ivory upper teeth. With a round river stone for a mallet striking against a wooden chisel one ivory eventually wobbles free. Using all of my strength I roll the bull to the other side to again saddle it's shoulders. Tap tap tap. Wet faced I look up into the rain of night peacefully sighing that this is what I have become, this living in two separate times, an older time and occasional steps into the present; always the ease of old ways lovingly pulling me back from an edge I was never comfortable at. In an hour a small tent will be set across the field where I will sleep indifferent to the smell of a fresh kill and the likelihood of bears. In the morning I will step outside to a golden eagle chirping his exuberant thanks for opening the hide to his beak, his hunger. He'll hop about our find as if his painted feathers fanned open wide can cover 1600 pounds of elk until he is done feeding. Over a morning cup I will smell the slight stain of black red on my fingers even though they were puddle washed before sleep until they lost the adhesive quality of blood. In a pouch I count out twelve ivories; ancient power and currency to the Crow people...the part of the elk that survives decay when all other form of bone and flesh have gone back to the Maker. I tie them together, small skulls among red and silver beads; count them through my callus fingers without a need for numbers.
It is darker now; the three inch blade under old brown ivory handles working silently. I curl my fingers back because I will not feel a cut until morning dries and opens my skin, skin too lazy to bleed its own blood. Two trees away a raven complains in his sleep, "Kruuup," then returns to silence. The sound of ocean or of far away wind, or both, travel fields of marrionberry thorn and fat swollen bunch grasses, willow and adolescent bearded pine to tell me what they know about not being able to settle, to sit down in a forest and just let the leaves of autumn rest. Sitting on the elk that grows colder and now pulls my heat in, I palm swipe my knife clean and wonder if I am just circling mountains with no desire to land by this walking once again away from the ocean.
Walking toward Roslyn I listen hard with mental hands behind the backs of my ears because I have asked a question just before sleep and know the answer will wake me when it comes.