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The world’s longest elk-chilada recipe

28 Nov

Due to a meteoric bad cholesterol rise as sudden, unexpected, frustrating, asinine as that of Donald Trump’s bid for bad President, I’ve been cautioned to cut back on meat and all the other foods that I thought did my heart good because I love them so. Honoring the doctor’s dictate and the family wishes, I’m unable to blog about the latest carne creation eaten either in my cocineria or on the calles del Chicago until the arteries clearance. In place of some ponderous posturing about diets being akin to suicide notes, I present a 2007-typed tale to this here Internet of meat as murder, and quite possible the finest Az/Co/Chi-Mex recipe I’d ever cooked up.

 Time: Great Recession

Place: Eagle, Colorado

And, roll em….

 

The world’s longest elk-chilada recipe

The day began as any most work days do for this lumberjack: lose 5:30 AM tussle with snooze button, rise and doll up in Carhart suit, wolf hearty breakfast, pack cooler with heartier lunch, brew gallon of coffee – drink half at home, fill “NASCAR”-themed travel chalice with other half, lace up steel toed boots, shuffle off to catch a ride to the lumberyard.

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All was as regular as each morning’s dookie until the boss’s wife/CFO backing out of their driveway, nearly sideswiped me, then rolled down the passenger window of her Ford 350 turbo diesel pick-up to shout over the engine grumble, “I think the boss is going to talk you into going hunting with him today. Bye-bye.”

I’d have liked to have made a wisecrack, something on the order of “Who should I bill this to?’ Only, she’d already shifted out of reverse and about half way to work – in addition to my paycheck, she tends to Eagle elementary school’s routines – as secretary. Then there was the sharp metallic fear, a clanging flavor near the back of my throat where a gulp had once been, no doubt what the young, brave and timid tasted entering battle and or the dentist’s. I thought, “This is new.”

“What’s up El Jefe?” came out my mouth instead, rather too vocally, so as to drown out any potential voice crack terror. Then over his Ford 450 diesel idling I peeped: “Are we going killing, or what?”

Out of his garage, ankles to neck in cammo, he strode, some kind of moose cannon in one hand, a coffee in the other. Vigilant. He shot me a look, his answer, “Huck the chop saw, chainsaws, tool belts, drill and grinder bag, air compressor, nail gun and saw horses, ladder; shove it off to the side of the driveway and make room for a big fat dead elk – smart ass – and fast.” And so I did.

From autumn on through spring, the sun never seems to rise to full cast here in our valley. Other than heading onto I-70, Colorado’s wily main vein, whose traffic is always within earshot, all travel is on the incline, through shadow after shadow we rumbled on, three blocks beyond the school up to where the pavement ends Elk Country begins, pretty much within earshot of the playground.

Recalling the bustle leading up to the pursuit – loading truck, re-loading coffee, unloading gun, dropping kids off at school – I now realize my boss spoke not a word to me, not at all. Yet a clear channel had opened between us, some primal frequency or perhaps something more Ninja-y.

Finally my boss started talking. Nothing was said to me, though. He was having a conversation with his big brother on cellular phone set to speakerphone sitting on the stack of killing supplies bouncing between us. His brother is the P.E. coach at the school. Along with the local hairdressers he’s the closest thing a small Colorado town has to a celebrity. Though even without the whistle and quasi-sex symbol status, he’s the sort of person who’d somehow find a way to draw attention to himself. Here he was bragging about how he just shot a big bull up behind the hockey rink this morning. My boss hesitated as to how to react. And so coach yelled: “Today’s the day dude. After working out I looked out my kitchen window and saw herd of 300 went cruising by. They’re definitely headed up Belly Ache. Forget about work for once. This is why you live here. So go get triggy. Good luck man.” Click

Late monsoons sealed over by deep freezes turned the normally dirt and gravel access road we lunged up into a chocolate birthday cake left out in a hoarfrost.

Mighty-morphing murdering endorphins washed over my cranium. Transforming into plasmatic force fiercer than water or gravity or life even was I. Consumed from within by a shadowy cadaver countenance. My boss and I turned primal, primed to dispense death. Something had to die, and yes, the blood would be on our hands, under our fingernails, on our boots, pants, jackets, packs, pretty much everywhere but within the beast.

The scene through my smeary windshield alternated at each bendy turn on the sludgy path. Up we inched. Then it’s ‘hold on’ for a slippery hard right into thick, hardscrabble high country stubble. The juniper, the pinon and the scrub oak make the faces of this and the surrounding hillsides look like they’re in bad need of a shave. I lack the requisite DNA to describe natural surroundings in the pure purposeful purple prose as an East Coast Thoreau would or littered with sarcasm, protest and beer cans like my beloved desert eco-crank Edward Abbey, even blind John Muir got it down better than I ever would.

My boss’s still not talking. The radio’s busted. Head clogs with previous pastoral hogwash. Nature is a wonder sure. But we’re not here to paint it in pastel but blood.

Passing by my window, in bad need of a wash: nothing but blue sky and stubborn foliage and hard dirt and cragged rocks and dumb cactus and belligerent magpies and sullen crows and bleached out skulls and rib cages and tumbling tumbleweed and holy fuckin’ Mister Snufflicous batman there’s 300 elk stampeding towards my door that if we don’t brake now we’ll be crushed like a Coors can and we are stopped and my boss has left the keys on the seat next to a fanny pack stuffed with body bags and axes and knives while he bolts along with then after the herd across a meadow and on down towards a ravine one hand gripping his rifle the other trying to slip into the free sleeve of his blaze orange vest.

With the same alacrity but certainly less electricity I throw on my gear, grab some more shit out of the bed, slam shut both doors and head off in the direction of my boss and weirdly I-70 off in the distance – charged, I as was, with fear and awe and wonder.

What is an elk? Hell if I know. Tasty for sure. But these were the first I’d ever seen not on a plate. Elk, by name, sounds short for some word really long, complicated and old. Once you see a charging herd, the gray and sage coats, gnarly antlers rising to eight or ten feet at the tips, unkempt manes, knobby hooves, you can’t help but to think your up against something that’s survived on this earth a fuck of a lot longer than you have, which puts the over/under in strong favor of the hunted.

And then they were gone. 300 elk – in less than the time it took to get that spiel out – had vanished. I aimed my steel-toed Wolverines in the direction I last saw a blaze orange Filson cap, my boss’s to trot… jog…gallop…and run, ever so elk-like, as swiftly and stealthily as a pair of steel-toed construction working boots could move, sawdust clouds billowing from every pocket.

When I did finally catch up with him, I believe down two gulches and up three hills – about a half a mile – he was squatting behind a pinon; shoving a pair of high-powered Bosnian sniper binoculars in my face. And spoke his first words of the hunt: “Can you be any less stealthy?”

Apparently my snorting did not an elk sound make. A rise in elevation and subsequent sudden drop in temperature had my sinuses churning up about a cup of snot per nostril every sixty seconds. From here on out I’d just let the mucus dangle.

To the right of his death-glare, I suddenly spotted over elk after elk, our elk, tacking up the next hillside. Naturally I pointed in that direction with my nose as “stealthily as possible”.

My boss took a step back to avoid a snot lashing to glance back over his shoulder. In a single – and yes, incredibly stealthy – motion he whupped a tripod from who-knows-where, cocked and secured his rifle, bent to a knee and took aim and…out of range. Packed up again we stormed down the hillside.

Nothing like anything of what I began to feel – that primordial moment as the mastodons crossed our path when that peaceful uneasy feeling got knocked the fuck out by that previously comatose verity “courage” – smacked of familiar. A long ago point of reference I vainly tried to flash back to, rising high up into the concrete bleachers of Estadium De Mexico DF, gassed on Oaxacan mescal and Mexico City carbon monoxide cheering for toro after toro to gouge the matador’s day-glo spandex was at present unavailable. The numbing effects of alcohol carried me through a bloody day at the bullfights. Even without booze this day I was undergoing a similarly peculiar inebriation.

For an hour solid I became  motion – pure movement – trying to get my feet to fall within the tracks my boss left behind, sure to maintain a safe distance, too close for friendly fire and far enough to keep a bead on both the hunter and the hunted.

And then we lost them…one hill led to another gulch that was immediately followed by an even bigger hill, a deeper, steeper gulch, pinon, juniper, pinon, juniper, big rock, little rock, bigger rock, boulder, jawbone, prickly pear…and I too disappeared.

In my newfound invisibility I snuck up on my boss busy not being stealthy. He was preoccupied with blowing into a small wooden box out of which sang a: “SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH.” He was out of sight, crouched beneath a thatch of ghostly junipers, just the place an elk might look for a small wooden screeching box to rut.

Between mating calls, my boss asked, “Do you have any water?” I did not and shook my head so. “Do you have any food?” Again I shook my noggin no, as stealthy as a, well Stealth.

“You can talk now you know.”

“Sure can.”

I’m not sure why, but my boss now felt compelled to explain something resembling a strategy…..a foodless, waterless, foolish strategy.

The foodless, waterless, foolish strategy: Elk do not like warm weather. As the temperature rises with the sun so do the elk. Up to higher, cooler, dryer elevations do they climb – to that safe place where you are supposed to store stuff.  Then, just after lunch, they “bed down” in the shade, deep in the brush – not unlike where we had crouched.

Are you following me? No? Check this out: as the sun sets and dusk cools off the valley, the elk once again rise from behind the scrub oak to head back down to – I can’t help but think of children’s games here, specifically Hide and Seek, because the meadow where the elk bed down for the night – the safety of “home,” a vast unused livestock pasture of private land, boasting a huge bold red “No Hunting” sign, just to the right of the ice skating rink. (In the off-season, this, the perfect location to impress the hell out of and/or scare the crap out of a date by hopping the fence after dark for a game of star-lit elk tag. Elk are pretty skittish beasts, and tend to dart off in the opposite direction. Or maybe they thought we were armed. We weren’t.)

Still not getting it? Look: If at first you don’t shoot elk on the run try sneaking up on a somnolent family of four and KA-BLAMO.

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Admittedly, it was generous of my boss to give pause and share with me just what the fuck we were doing, other than, you know: dehydrating and starving and marching off to our own deaths.

And away we went. Here was the least compromising ridge yet. The elk left no visible trail. Unless, as I suspected, they strode plumb up the ravine, a straight shot down to our right. I lacked the option of kicking it into four-hoof drive through the thickening mud but eventually dropped to all fours anyways. At 6’4” upright there was hardly enough clearance to maneuver either “stealthily” or “swiftly”. I couldn’t possibly answer for myself WWED (What Would Elk Do?) And I couldn’t possibly imagine an 8-point bull fitting in here when a 16 pointer used my head as a hurdle.

It should follow that either the slosh of my boss’s tony Schnee logger boots or at least a bullet heading in my general direction was in order here. Right? When I caught up with him, at the brambles edge, there was only empty sunlight and silence. And a barbed wire fence.

Defeat registered through my boss’s beard. Or what I mistook for defeat. I haven’t said much about the character of the man because he doesn’t say much. Any physical description of my boss beyond the Gandhi spectacles he wears lacks in detail because he’s painted his face in cammo. But when you get right down to it, a hunter’s mindset ain’t that complex. Hunting season, if you want to return with blood on your pants – and who doesn’t? – is that special time of the year when one gets to forget everything. Forget about the job, the house, the family, the Struggle for Iraq, illegal aliens leaking through our porous borders, insurmountable credit card debt, the price of gasoline, QB Jake The Snake Plummer’s passer rating, when it was you last visited a dentist, hummus, late DVDs, avocado: fruit or vegetable?, Mr. Meaty, nipple freckles, “confessional creative non-fiction,” how failure to publish will raze your self-confidence and ignite multiple personality disorders, the IBM speedball, speedballs, smoking in public, masturbating in private, a clock – unplugged, gravity, remembering how to spell “satellite,” cell phone service…” Even without knowing how not to remember is what I had done. But nothing had been turned inside out into something with no small thanks to my screaming at the elk above my head “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!” I qow faced with facing having maybe fucked up the hunt with my caterwaul I was also back trying to remember who I was there and then and what had happed to the here and now. Had I done good or bad? Do such distinctions even exist out here?

“What’s up my niggah?” I inquired, sarcasm being the quickest defense I could come up with against an angry man with a gun.

“I think we might be on The Black Diamond ranch,” he said, revealing the source of concern.

“Is that why you didn’t bust a cap in that bucks ass?”

“No. I have a cow tag. What you saw was a bull”

The elk-hunting lexicon was Mandarin to me. Naturally I nodded along in agreement and continued to speak in my urban jungle dialect.

“Damn right. So are we trespassing and shit?”

“Yep.”

My boss scratched at his chin, cleared the chamber of the rifle, took to one knee and explained how this rule of engagement, if there are any more than the one, gets broken. Hunting on private land is costly. Poach on someone else’s property and pay thousands of dollars in fines. Lose gun. Lose license. Lose self-respect. OR pay thousands of dollars to owner for privilege to shoot the tag you’ve been drawn. Price includes accommodations, transportation, food, and a couple of ranch hands to drag your tag back to camp behind an ATV. Only he used a lot less words, explaining only, “Looks like we screwed the pooch.”
There was some hesitation before soliciting my next question. I scratched my glazed beard, dug into pockets for crumbs, sniffled. Fearing I might be violating some code or reversing a synch we’d spent last three hours keying into – you know, trespassing – I asked in my best hunterese: “Now what? Do we pull out?”

The Balkan sniper binoculars were shoved at me again in the form of an answer. Then I was instructed to spot the fence line back in the direction from whence we came.

I surveyed the knobby countryside, trying not to lose my balance, perched as I was on top of a boulder. As well as I could use these one-eyed infidel finders, as hard as they worked, there was no sign of no fence nowhere, no how. I noted the four ridges we’d traversed, I spotted two other hunters, then there was the poorly disguised cellular phone tower, dressed up in plastic Xmas tree branches, vultures circling lunch, I-70, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Shell, Best Western Hotel, here and there a 12,000 square foot trophy home, empty single track and hiking trails, the native flora, but no fence and definitely no elk. I whispered down my report to my boss: “Nothin’”

“Huck those to me and see if you can find the fence line: stealthily.”

I stared down at my boots like the dunce in the corner that I had become. Got down off the rock. Did as I was told, went back over our last hundred yards to a break in a stretch of neglected rusty burnt out barbed wire, though nothing resembling a fence, turned around and re-retraced my boot tracks to re-report my findings to my boss.

Only my boss was gone.

There comes a time in each man’s life – I cannot speak for you gals and so am not rattling off this cliché pejoratively – the moment he falls to his knees, naked and defenseless, prostrate before that meta-headed bitch: Fate. As fate would have it, while I hadn’t food, water, a compass, mirror or even a weapon, I did have my cell phone.

As fate would also have it, bitch, even with a cell phone tower within sight had no signal.

Survival trumped steal and cupped around my crusty mouth my hands and mooed. I mooed low and long. I mooed loud. I mooed as poorly as a human could possibly moo. Saying in moo: “Make no mistake hunters. I am neither bovine cow nor elk cow. I am Ned. Hear me moo.” Within seconds I got a signal:  “What in the hell are you doing?”

It was my boss. He was zipping his pants back up before leaning to pick the rifle up he’d leaned behind and his makeshift urinal, a rock. A slightly obvious detail I became blinded to in my panic.
Feeling every bit the dunce, again, I hopped down, breaking a juniper branch off with my forehead along the way. To make it seem like I’d been looking for just such a stick, I started cleaning out of my treads with it, saying, “I thought you caught a scent again and split to get lunch.”

“Nope. I went off in that direction to check for the fence. Did you find it?”

“Nope. Aren’t you starving?”

“Nope.”

“Did you see any more elk?”

“Nope. I say we take this last ravine outta here, then head back to the truck. I bet they’re all at Black Star Ranch by now.”

“Sounds bueno to me El Jefe.”
And yet again, off we forged. The terrain along the final stretch was roughly the same, the pitch a bit steeper, the brush somewhat denser, everything much muddier. I did more sliding than stepping, trying to keep pace but my boss continued to pull away.

Why the hurry? Either he was angry and anxious to get away from mooing me or he still believed we were trespassing. There weren’t tracks to follow any longer. Just my boss. So I trotted along taking into careful consideration the nutritional value of mud all the way up to my stopped boss steadying an aim atop a scrub oak, at a 8 point buck. What the fuck?

Once the gunshot echoed its way out of our pocket the bull and the bitches around him I had not noticed at first glance – blinded again by fear, thanks – bolted away.

His elephant gun lowered, I neared. I wasn’t sure what to make of this trying to blow away an illegal buck on illegal ground. And I certainly wasn’t about to ask why he Mister “I go killing” missed. Gave him the best stealthy dumbfounded look a dying man could conjure.

“Looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said, unstealthily.

“How so,” I wondered, a little too aloud.

“See that slope about 100 yards yonder? I got a bitch right in the breadbasket. Let’s go cut ‘er up and haul ‘er outta here.”

As we neared our target I wondered some more, but no longer aloud, quite anxiously. What if the elk wasn’t quite dead yet? Do we slit its throat? Doesn’t that taint the taste? The taste of blood? The blood of Dracula? Mooo-ha-ha-ha-ha-I’ll get you my pretty-say hello to my little friend-what makes you so chure jore a elk.Is a gangster-style execution in the offing? Gang wars? Colors? Cuh cuh cuh cuh colors…I’m a nightmare walkin’/psychopath stalking/cuh cuh cuh.

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“Cuh, cuh c’mon Ice-T, get a move on it,” bossed boss to me not keeping to myself any longer.

So just where was I going with all of this? I have no fucking clue. I was only trying to mentally reduce whatever lay ahead to the status of meat so that once my boss and I finally made it up the hill I didn’t puke or pass out.

She was not far off. We stood there and admired her in silence. She, a 600 pound dead cow, her big brown eyes wide open, her 5 pound tongue draping out of her mouth into the dirt, like some prehistoric dong.

There she was. There we were. Yet there was no blood. There were no signs of struggle. Of course all four legs were twitching. Over the clamor my boss made dumping the abattoir’s kit off his fanny pack I wondered when would be a good time to ask: “Are we going to wait until she stops moving before we cut her up.”

There was no time. My simply boss grabbed then shoved the front right hoof at me. “Hold this.”

Our job now was to quarter the cow and cut out her back straps, with a minimum of mess. Something in hunter patois known as “Indian style.” Not so different from cleaning a trout, just about a hundred thousand times greater the heft and blood. Start your incision at the base of the stomach; careful as not to puncture the next layer, then saw, saw, saw.

I took a couple of giant steps back – okay, I jumped – when 6” of stainless, glistening blade was driven in. My boss carved adeptly any with one hand and tugged her skin back with the other, just like when we’d once removed a dirty old carpet prior to installing a lovely new wood floor.

I’d anticipated a gooey, gutty eruption, followed by an Old Testament-sized blood flood. Instead all that lay exposed beneath her skin was a white lacey tissue. “Oh look, each elk comes with its own packing foam!” I yelped.

Which in turn turned my boss all the more serious: “Get over there and pull that leg straight up,” he yelled, jabbing a dripping knife at me like an exclamation point.

In order not to die or when among the dead I decided it wise to pretty much just do as I am told. First I removed my gloves. Then I wrapped my fingers around a stiff furry shin. Was she trying to kick free? Was she even dead yet? If not, how come she wasn’t braying out in pain? I sensed only a mild tremor shoot up through the haunch, as I raised it heavenward. This I may very well have mistaken for the three passes it took before dismemberment and the leg’s subsequent popping of, swinging back on top of me and knocking on my butt in the mud.

Staring up to the sky, there I laid, cradling like a newborn this giant warm, bloody, twitching leg.

I got right back up, careful not to let the limb – though I’d have to say it was more of a branch, even a stub – brush against anything other than my shirt and pants. Then hobbled over to my boss who held open a kind of laundry bag for me to shove what kept reminding myself was ‘bout 50 pounds of meat, meat, meat…not a purdy dead mom, no, no, no…meat, meat, meat.

Back at the cadaver my boss carved and carved as I stretched taut a swatch of fur here, pulled a leg over there. But even then the twitching didn’t stop. Of course, neither did the smart-assed remarks: “So the twitching?” I quipped, pointing to where a leg was once attached to a body, “is that her soul leaving her body?”

“Grab the head and let’s aim the body more uphill then her bloody milk won’t puddle all over.” One cannot stress the importance of a clean workspace.

And with half of the first hindquarter about off, me holding this even bigger and heavier ham aloft, my boss sliced open the udder. And the thing spewed a pink blend of milk and even more blood all over his posh hunting boots. And I laughed, hard.

“Looks like she was nursing,” My boss barked out, weirdly exited for at long last.

He handed me a severed teat and said, “You got to save a bit of the sex for the game warden,” wrapping a ribbon of udder around the ankle. Bowed it up like a gift.

“Uh huh uh.”

Each back strap runs from the neck to hind haunch. Within this cow the “tastiest cut” ran some three feet in length, measured 10” in diameter and weighed in at least 20 pounds. We removed the first slippery, shimmering red log without a hitch. But not without a twitch.

Shoving the meat into laundry bag containing the front quarter, I pointed back at our double amputee with my nose, “Um, My boss, she’s still moving.”

“They do that. Nerve impulses.”

Yes, I know all about nerves. I’d been trying to calcify mine all morning. But I’m not what you’d call a “tough hombre,” more cranium than cojones. Spotting a weak moment, my imagination combined with famishment took advantage of me.
You see, even though we’d completed half our grocery list “two more quarters and another backstrap to go, please” – I still hadn’t seen a cartridge hole. Unless My boss had aimed into her mouth and the shot traveled down her throat bounced around her lungs, ricocheted off a rib to land in the heart, so far as I could tell – desperate to maintain a forensic mind – this bitch was simply in a state of suspended shock brought on by the crack of rifles and having half her body hacked away. Look, you don’t have to be Ranger Rick to note how come nature’s scavengers hadn’t started licking their chops and beaks, heading our way. Where were the vultures circling overhead? How come I had neither seen nor heard a single fly? I bet even bacteria were holding back. Why? Because this was a fucking elk zombie! That’s why?

All of this butchery and starvation and dehydration and fatigue had sent me reeling into mildly hallucinatory state. I now anticipated the zombie cow to roll upright like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Monty Python And The Holy Grail, yelling in a thick English accent, “It’s only a flesh wound. Come over here and fight like men.”

Only she did not. I was instructed to grab the head while My boss choked up on the hind leg then together, we cranked her, and cranked and cranked and finally rolled her over and holy shit was she as heavy as a refrigerator and in some ways resembled a whale, what with the blood geysering out of the bullet hole near the base of her neck and shit did she ever take a big dead shit onto my boss’s boots and what the fuck are those gurgling and burbling sounds and Christ almighty where’s the source of the odor seeping into every molecule like some mustard gas must have been unleashed by the old scythe himself, for surely this hideous, booger clearing stench was none other than capital “D”- eath.

“When do we get to spill the guts like in Star Wars?”

“We don’t. Grab this here leg.”

And then the same butchering got done to the port side, only somewhat more hastily. My boss kept stopping to look back over his shoulder, back towards our tracks, back where we charged downhill then up again, again and again. Before paring the final slab off he insisted I check for the Black Diamond ranch fence line again which still wasn’t there.

Leaving behind a kind of Hieronymus Bosch pool toy – still twitching – with juicy slabs and twin haunches strapped to our backs we rocked and rocked and tried to heave ourselves up for a swift climb back to the truck. The truck. Where our food, water, and backpacks sat left behind. No use. It was too much to lift all that dead weight alone.

We took turns helping one another stand up. Where a backpack should have been, wrapped over my shoulders was only the frame. Bound to these bars was half the meat I was about piggyback out. My boss sported a fanny pack upon which he rested one leg/backstrap sack combo, while throwing the other leg over his shoulder.

“Like a cotton-pickin’ soldier.”

”I’d appreciate it if you didn’t sing. Remember, I still have three bullets left.”

Heading down to the very base of our killing crevice we foolishly accelerated, hoping the momentum would carry over to the other side and up the first twenty extremely steep feet. My boss scrambled only ten in a zigzag pattern. I felt my boot moving and legs pumping as I scooped handful after handful of mud. The magpie who flew over, then perched ahead on a rotted log looked at me like I was sinking.

“Get a move on it.”

I dropped to my knees and found my boss by following his trail.

Decent stride, full gait, then short steps, then dragging feet, then on all fours again did we teeter and totter on. At each rest stop our loads seemed to put on weight as we removed then repacked them, leaving behind puddles of bloody mud. And we were starting to stop a lot. Finally, I could no longer remove my half of the elk off my back. I knew if it came off I would never get it back on again.

How could it be that on the opening day, at the start of the most popular hunting of the year we hadn’t seen or heard any other hunters since “sending a bullet right through the lungs” of one member of a sizeable elk gang? Had we indeed trespassed? If so, where where where the hell were angry ranch hands?

The mind gave out before strength had. Unable to form my own thoughts any longer, some reflex kicked in where I started to count on some cinematic bullshit to play out. Rangers heroically riding up with water. Indians wordlessly leaping from the trees with knives. Vultures vengefully swooping down with talons – set to kill. Baywatch babes buoyantly performing mouth to mouth

And again my boss had gone on ahead again. Only now going on ahead meant taking three steps. His hands were on his knees, panting, arms bracing him and I heard sucking sounds ushering from his beard. Was he trying to bring up his breakfast for lunch? We both then dropped, again, to our hands and knees.

I crawled around a sage until I found a prickly pear cactus. Then, I broke off one of the pads, cleared a bite-sized space of tines, and sunk my teeth in. Made some serious sucking sounds of my own.

“What are you doing?”

“srwynlsbhgjkls.”

Suffer no more we. This blood sport was ours to win. And to win we needed to keep on going. And I wanted to win so much I could taste, well, my own blood now.

“srwynlsbhgjkls roll!”

Higher we rose, as the view opened at our backs, again, the familiar old freeway sang a song of soaring gas prices, and our I-70-side hamlet spread out there between the grazing cattle and the smokestacks at Gypsum’s gypsum plant – our skyline – churning out our clouds for the day. Civilization was in our sights, indeed, and growing smaller, smaller, smaller step=by-step-by-step. We were headed in the opposite direction, not the way we came in either. Due South back into the arroyo.

“The rock crunching sound you hear ladies and germs? That’s my ankles.”

“Rest. The road’s just up there.”

Along our new path atop the new sage ridge, no longer able to sit, kneel or even lean, I stopped shaking long enough to admire another new ridge, a mirror image of ours, one the elk god’s cloned during our ascent one after the other after the other to fuck with us. Nowhere within my vision could I locate a road, the one created by human hands. Then my elk started to quiver.

“Why didn’t you tell me we didn’t have any water?” my boss wanted to know now.

“I didn’t want to spook the elk. Remember? Though I think I’ve make woke mine up.”

“Give it a rest.”

Still resigned to my lower-caste role as sole employee and tracker, I dutifully began to remove my pack. Maybe for the last time. Once off, I was either going to head north to Burger King or easier still ask my boss to put me down clean.

“Do you have any idea what are you doing?”

Spinning like a whirling dervish I flapped an arm and rotated the shoulder it was attached to hoping to budge my frame off. Or sure, why not: Take off in flight.

“Does it look like I have any idea what I’m doing?”

“You’re going to want to keep your pack on. That’s the road right up there.”

The day’s guiding, killing, butchering  – and yes, very bloody -outstretched arm ending in hand and extended index finger pointed at the same deserted shit we’d trekked for hours. I saw no road nor break in the landscape suggesting even the suggestion of one. Ever.

“Where? The only thing I see on the horizon is my untimely death.”

And now my trust in my guide was tapped. All that was left was pain. A whole herd of pain. Some hurt I so badly needed to corral and ride, high upon steely resolve. And so. And even though I’ve abused this grammatical gimmick, oh, five or six times in the course of this dispatch already, I think best illustrates in the mind and on the page, what happened next:

I ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.   And ran.

And ran. And ran.

And ran.    And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.   And ran.

And ran.

And ran.    And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And ran.

And all the fuckin’ while, my boss somehow quietly circled around and beat me to our final resting spot.

My boss standing over me said, “See,” pointed, “there’s the road right there.”

I had to take my boss at his word now. For I had just finished a historical re-enactment of the death the US Army Christ-figure (as played by Wilhelm Defoe; a reprise from his previous roll as stoner Jesus in “Last Temptation of Christ”) in “Platoon,” the one silhouetted on the deluxe multi-DVD box set with Oliver Stone’s commentary, when my load pulled me back down on my back, where I was to lay for some time, mesmerized. Like an overturned tortoise in a puddle of warm blood, prone and trembling, looking up, rubbing my eyes, straight into the ripe blue blaze, the serene Rock Mountain sky, a sky which visitors slow to marvel and say: “How beautiful,” and we who live here reply, “Yup, you get those around here every now and then…if you’re lucky,” in our failed effort to deter yet another Trustafarian from relocating, jacking up rent, property, coffee and beer prices.

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When in truth, like the elk, these skies are limitless, and we will seek to possess their capacity to inspire delight, awe and wonder forever, only one of them is just mildly easier to track through the mud much harder to eat. And how delicious I will be for the vultures overhead, if you can wait vultures, I’ll share my elkchiladas with you. Here’s the secret recipe:

Rocky Mountain Bloody Death March NM Red Chile Elkchiladas (Not Pictured)

Ingredients:

Freshly Murdered & Butchered Elk (back straps preferred) chopped into cubes, rolled in corn flour, flash fried in bacon grease till brown, set aside to roll into corn tortillas.

Red Chile Enchilada Sauce made from dried NM chile pods soaked in boiling water for an hour, seeded and stemmed, then blended with beef broth and finally stirred into a roux of 2 tbsp of butter and flour and more beef broth. Add Mexican oregano, an entire bulb of minced garlic, salt to taste. Boil down till thick, about 3 hours, let set out overnight.

 Corn Tortillas

Diced yellow onion

Pre-shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Canned, sliced black olives

 Optional Toppings: Sour cream, fried eggs, tears of joy.

If you can’t alchemize all of this into elkchiladas because either you haven’t killed an elk lately or don’t know how to look up ‘How to make enchiladas” then you really need to get more than just your cholesterol checked.

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