HUNTING IN THE OLD DAYS

True hunters in this country live on what they track, Kokopelli explains.

Articulating this precinct means drawing on three language stocks: Sahaptian, spoken by Klickitat, Yakama, Kittitas, Wanapam, Palus, Nez Pierce, Cayuse, and Umatilla; Salishan, by Wenatchi and Columbia; and Chinook, by Clackamas and Wishram.

Nine thousand years ago the climate resembled today’s. Around seven thousand years ago, Mount Mazama lost its head and Crater Lake emerged. Did the ash fall reduce the game? Kokopelli assumes so. About that time, Olivella shell beads show up in archeological sites, revealing coastal trade, in addition to a new kind of projectile point. About 6,500 years ago the roost became drier and warmer. Rivers ran significantly lower. Adz blades of nephrite and serpentine, about 4,500 years ago, permitted heavy woodworking and expose trade relations with what is now British Columbia. “That’s when I got this pipe,” Kokopelli says, allowing me to stroke the instrument. As winter temperatures became warmer, sizable winter villages gathered in river valleys for fuel, fresh drinking water, and greater protection from bitter winds. Such clustering required food storage capabilities and also permitted greater social and ceremonial activity, perhaps a result of more efficient food gathering. Most likely this involved salmon fishing, properly dried and preserved, caught in great numbers; fish traps and weirs were much more efficient than spears, lines, dip nets, or bows and arrows.

From this came pit houses, some of them earth-covered for insulation, others covered with mats and grass or brush. The mats swelled and froze in winter to keep wind and rain out; as spring temperatures rose, thawing provided ventilation. Such housing required well-drained soil, such as that of desert.

The tipi was introduced much later, from the Great Plains.

A-frame mat houses developed from the pit design. Their emergence especially reflected the introduction of horse culture, which added to trade possibilities and also brought saddles, bridles, quirts, dress, and ornamentation such as feathered headdresses, but above all else, ideas about tribal organization. Appaloosa were on the way. Whalebone clubs, as well as fishing nets and harpoons, were acquired through expanded trade networks.

Horses allowed more food to be brought back from summer sojourns in the mountains. Soon bowl-shaped mortars and elongated pestles were used to prepare food. “Let me tell you about real progress,” Kokopelli insists.

Each local group assumed stewardship over the economic resources of its locale. Leadership arose out of respect, not law. Ritual purification occurred in sweat houses. Three-day workouts weren’t uncommon. I wonder whether voters and candidates alike should do the same before Election Day. There is, after all, a kinship to hunting and fishing.

Kokopelli agrees.

The major run of king salmon and oil-rich sock-eye salmon comes in late May or early June, when most of the year’s food supply is caught. The best spot for dip netting is where rivers bear down through narrow channels or over low falls. Wooden platforms tied precariously to basaltic cliffs hang over whirlpools and eddies. Such stations are inherited and highly prized. Permission must be sought before fishing there.

Fish head pulverized in a mortar, then carefully packed in baskets and stored for winter, provides a highly concentrated protein food. Even a few ounces serves as a full meal.

Bears caught in a dead-fall were hunted mostly for claws and teeth — ceremonial ornaments.

Wapatoo was a type of wild potato, perhaps like camas.

Cooperative hunting and salmon harvests were common. Women’s berry picking parties, too, even though some tribes were basically river folk. Excepting the Wishram band, the Yakamas believed in individual rights. They differed from coastal tribes, which possessed slaves who might fall to a cannibal ceremony.

Much the way rabbit skins are cut in a spiral to produce long strips, I keep learning. Once you acknowledge the importance of certain foods in a given turf, you discern zone-specific energies. In ecologically aware feasting, hamburger and hot dogs are thoroughly inappropriate for many reasons. They have no authentic geographic home.

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GAME TIME

Late each autumn, hunters sip Wild Turkey. Stovepipes stick out through canvas walls. Cardboard surrounds their campfires. Nearly sullen, they hunker down in numbing wind. So much has been protected for their harvest. It’s crazy, this unreleased male desire to sing deep and loud. Call for your honey. Bellow again. With a measure of self-despair, the men admire the bulls they stalk.

In these parts, elk management thrives. Bureaucratic neckwear is a moth collection worn in a smoky room. With books resembling bear traps, Fish and Game as well as Forest Service authorities gather in what appears to be a poker party; it could as easily be city council or a gathering of the Committee of Economic Development, maybe even the Federal Reserve Board. Nobody speaks directly of the field or on behalf of its inhabitants. Each player represents a particular constituency, even though nobody represents the elk themselves. Everybody, it seems, wants a piece of action, connoting elk harvest.

Kokopelli’s prescription: Around the office, snort loudly. If there are windows, pop ’em, even when snow falls.

Better yet, leave the room. Go to the site, meet the subjects on their own ground. If they trek off too soon, it’s the regulations need adjustment.

Take note. In open country a snow-driven bull breaks trail to lead clusters of cows and calves single-file through winter range. Elsewhere a train of two hundred passes before I lose count. From these huffing creatures come vapor trails — some float parallel to a freeway that avalanche will soon block. Truck hoods and beds await them in hunting season. Through deep winter, though, elk come down to the canyon station. Feeding time’s 1 p.m.

I wonder which grandparents or great-great-grandparents witnessed the disappearance of elk across the continent, save for a few spots. I meet old-timers who recall the elks’ return in two boxcars sent from Montana, the ones that repopulated Washington State. That’s how close they skirted extinction.

Bulls, cows, and calves graze between conifer species. In any journey a name may encompass far more than anyone suspects.

Winning the state’s autumn lottery comes down to two hunters for every elk. Victors’ identities are repeated on the airwaves. Encampments arise between snowy boulders. Not every elk license winner succeeds in bagging his prey, though an elk tag will exempt him from jury duty. Any judge understands how a man on a ledge feels unexpectedly face-to-face with a stag. What thunder breaks heart and horns! Hallowed be tumbling water, on the homeward trek.

“You never forget the bull’s song,” Kokopelli says. “It curdles your blood.”

Men relate time-honored tricks of the trade. It’s the Fall of Cards. Cut the Deck. Deal Me In.

Imagine joining the Elks lodge. When buzzed in through the door, follow a red carpet hallway to the bar where barley-skinned salesmen compared their ex-wives. If a herd of real elk prances past, scouts the room, and bellies up to red vinyl barstools, take a dive. Wait for the blowhards to readjust themselves in front of the mirrored collection of liquor bottles resembling a carnival shooting gallery. Here and at Eagles and Moose dances, as well, there’s too much drunken groping for Beaver, as Kokopelli and I have observed. The game takes revenge. A shot’s a shot. Glasses and reflections shatter. Under glazed eyes, unfit individuals collapse. Their blood reaches out across the carpet. Red on red. Real animals unmask and sniff a fallen Jack of Diamonds. They paw an expiring Queen of Clubs.

When individuals participate in governing themselves, the whole business returns to the right track. All elk ask is a fair shake. Kokopelli knows many by name.

First, he says, ban all guns, motor transport, and steel traps. To be wild’s hardly enough. Before going afield, hunters must fast and enter a sacred sweat lodge. They must flake their own sharp tips and cross range on hoof.

Back at the bar, the ex-wives and widows gather. Who knows where their children are. When they understand the new rules, there’s NO BULL. The whole tribe and herd are in this together.

Simultaneously in Iowa, a man sheepishly hugs his rifle and emerges from woods with a gray pelt the size of a rat hanging at his waist. He could have been shooting beer bottles. A macho urge is not the same as hunting, my boss repeats after taking his adopted seven-year-old hunting the first time.

“Daddy, that man just said fuck.”

“That’s all right, son, that’s all right,” comes the reply. Their dove-hunting companion sips McNaughton’s; the son, a soda. The boy sticks close, raising the same questions they, too, asked as lads. The cycle repeats.

Later, the game soaks in onion before roasting in garlic or being sauteed in wine. This terrain demands many rituals.

Where desert and timberland interlace, foothills run braided above your hat brim. Tufts of grass punch through light snow. Like red mites on paper, elk advance through fog-wisps overhead. Standing beside half-iced rapids, I raise my binoculars and lose count again.

On the eve of the season’s premiere, cities of tents, camping trailers, and vans crowd into wild wood. In a state of sixty thousand elk and one hundred and twenty thousand licensed elk hunters, expect free-fire.

Opening day, an office pool bets on the quarter hour the first hunter will be hit. 9:15 it’s BINGO.

Look out. Glazed heads festoon truck prows. Multi-sail frigates careen through mountains with skinned carcasses stretched across their decks. Give the victors their trophy, even as a hood ornament.

“Many of these guys get so plastered, if anything moves, it’s open-fire,” Kokopelli says. “In the shootout, each heatedly claims the kill. Then the fun begins.”

That is, there are more intriguing animals than elk to hunt. Other armed hunters move in.

By evening, poker-faced herds pressed my rear-view mirror. They steer vans, pickups, and sedans. Slow down, and you discover their horns.

I vow never to dwell where I can’t see premonitions of seasons advancing clearly in dawn. “Watch the Milky Way turn through silence, you assume a point within millions of years of light,” as Kokopelli says. Even hunting can be timeless. Eventually, I see the Dedicated Laborious Quest as a specialized form of hunting.

In a slow drizzle across back roads in the valley, shacks and sheds occasionally relocate themselves to Wisconsin or Maryland. The green growth, scudded sky, lush shrubs, and running fields send memories tearfully home. Was I really, completely Out West?

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BUT TO KNOW OTHERWISE

In this environment I encounter many birds I can’t yet identify: stellar and Clark jays in addition to magpies, much less the common raven I’d thought a crow. Meanwhile, the cardinals, warblers, and finches I knew back east are memories. Even this landscape contradicts my usual referents.

The mailman delivers a long letter from a friend who confesses that sometimes an hour passes before he puts his first word down on paper — something I’d never guess, for his lines flow so naturally. I assumed they originated effortlessly. But to know otherwise?

Don’t force it, as Kokopelli cautions. Wait for the energy to gather.

Keep the pathway clear.

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UPDRAFT

This is desert. And logging country, too, where the best place to find loggers is in a bar, any bar. Just listen.

“When I’m real loose, I like t’dance t’country-westron music. Out seven nights a week, then a month without any. Can’t work anyplace but woods. Done everything but hemlock. Started skidding horses in Colorado. Now driving a diesel Ford. Not much time for thinking. Slick roads, sharp corners, dumb ladies in the way.”

Here’s how it works, as Kokopelli and I play along.

“Aim a load down logging roads and then highway t’ the mills. A thirty-, fifty-mile stretch each way, four to six times a day while the CB chatters.

“Every spring when the ground’s too wet, the Forest Circus shuts ya down, the heavy equipment breaks the roads.

“That’s our vacation, three months off, taking unemployment.

“Head for Hawaii, Reno, or Vegas. There’s no money in mud. So ya take care of yard work, fix the house, prune the orchards.

“Successful loggers have expensive hobbies like race cars or airplanes. Mechanics, anyway.

“The drought will cut our pay in half. They’ll keep us out. Fire hazard.”

As they say.

Kokopelli tells me doors define a room, more than walls and roofs. Tells me to see their potential. An opportunity to spy or exit at will. Or interrupt. Doors with keys invoke power. Ownership. Think of all the doors in Versailles.

For me, the greatest freedom comes outdoors or while playing a dance with Kokopelli. Now the cat wants out.

Decisions are doors, too. Take style and size. Standardization leads toward smallness. Once, they were French-doubled or twelve-feet tall. Bronze portals to cathedrals. Red doors and oak doors. Lacy castings for an office. Frosted glass at the bank. Now they’re internationally uniform. The small millwright goes under, as well as local characteristics.

When the cat went out, my wife came in. Everybody seems to like her. But I see her other side, when she’s really destructive. I want to scream.

Instead, I blurt out, “To hell with the dark stupidity of their Christian indoctrination! Bring on wild goats! Pan pipes! My roaring conch will shake the walls of this slumber!” I have no idea what prompts that thought. Why Christian, other than the fact it’s the predominant religion in this country? Just where would a person start without any teaching? Most likely, I meant dogma, which I see repeated with only a superficial understanding. But that could apply to any faith tradition, couldn’t it? So just what am I fleeing? And what do I really hope to find?

Maybe it’s a door. Or a corridor. A cavern. A current of water. A trail. A strait gate with a narrow way.

Choose one. And then enter.

I want full awareness. Experience, rather than theory. Ecstasy, especially. For whatever reasons, I veer away from the Judeo-Christian prophetic stream and toward the shamanic traditions, wondering whether the Siberian word shaman arises from the Pali samana, for holy man. I accept the argument that meditation grew out of primitive hunting, the waiting for the game, the belief that game is supernatural, requiring supernatural aid. I must remember to thank the trapped bear, if the time comes. “Boy, do the local elk hunters have a lot to learn,” I whistle — me, who’s never gone hunting.

Kokopelli raises one arm as if he’s holding a rifle. Then, with his other hand, he pulls a trigger. I think he felled what he wanted.

“Yes, hunting antedates farming,” I whisper to no one but him. “See that, Cain and Abel!”

Maybe that’s why I’ve come so far west, just to see the sunrise.

But just as there’s light, there’s also darkness. Trust and distrust.

List the names of deities. As for a supernatural trickster, Mara or Maya seems to relate to Satan, who in turn relates to Coyote. Now for Pan!

Arcane teachings. I consider delving into palmistry, followed by astrology, Tibetan texts, more deeply into Tantra, and back through meditation. If only my paying job didn’t requiring more and more of my time, I might pick up the thread from hunting, tracking holiness through food traditions. The balance of feasting and fasting. The importance of prohibitions as strengthening the ability to say NO as well as reinforcing a group identity. “So what kind of vegetarian are you?”

Kokopelli reminds them this is desert. If it weren’t for irrigation or berry-picking trips to the high mountains, you’d starve.

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LOOKING FOR WIDER CONNECTIONS

My wife, meanwhile, has her own perspective. “Many people think this valley can prosper in isolation, but let me tell you, the local museum indicates otherwise. It’s filled with Pennsylvania long rifles, Ohio flint, a New Hampshire stagecoach, antique cars from Michigan, pianos made in Indiana, Connecticut pistols, even Illinois farm implements. Everybody came from somewhere.” In her case, South Carolina.

Taking her up on the invitation to tour the exhibits, my wife paid special attention to local Indian basketry and beadwork. “Over time, their artistry was pathetically stripped down to resemble coloring books,” she told me afterward. “The gift shop sells greeting cards from Iowa and crafts from what the sales clerk said was ‘Berea, Virginia.’

“Virginia? I replied.”

“The college there.”

“Oh, you mean Kentucky!”

“‘Kentucky, then,’ she said, as if it’s all the same.”

I understand the scowl. “I notice, around here ‘Easterners’ seem to come from such ‘seaboard’ states as landlocked Nebraska, Kansas, and Illinois.”

“That’ll be news to them,” she grins. “Bet they never thought of themselves as Easterners, either!”

Infinite misunderstandings continue, tit for tat.

“Even so,” I say, “this is big sky and cowboy spreads. Even these treeless foothills ignite something in my airy nature. I hope this elation never ends.”

An elation, at least, when I’m out of the office.

I look forward to tonight’s gig with Kokopelli.

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TOWN AND COUNTRY

Our landlord explains his own decision to relocate in the valley: “Cities embody man’s attempt to be supreme over all. You tire of the power games, the competition rather than harmony. The back country I love emphasizes what’s greater than man. There I’ll endure avalanches, sliding roadways in mountain passes, storms, grizzlies, even cougars. The city relies on institutional religion, second-hand versions of Great Spirit codified to support the System. No, that’s not for me. My back country upholds individual revelation. Wilderness raises fresh opposition against everything that binds artificially. The back country leads me closer to basic understanding. You need to accept whatever Absolute there is, whatever portion of the Mystery you can chew off at the moment. It makes me recognize how much more there always is. The city’s linear, controlled. But back country is circular, like wave motions. It’s feminine, robust and soft all at once. Its give-and-take reminds me of Emma.”

And, as I also knew, the land can be as hard and unforgiving as rock.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

WORKING THE LATE SHIFT

Approaching thirty years of Aquarius, I consider what happens when the office finally hushes. Despite the line bells and the whine of an engraving machine in adjoining rooms, I’m the only one at a keyboard while the police dispatcher mumbles about deranged prowlers, unwanted guests, a prostitute overdosing with the hypo still in her arm (though she later claims she never uses the stuff, as they all say). Sometimes, pretending I no longer care, I sit and read as blue smoke swirls toward fluorescent tubes.

I wish Kokopelli were here, even with one of his stinky cigars. Or the pipe, the one he plays for music or the one he fills with leaf, either one.

Instead, I ponder ways this place differs from Long Pond and its Mafia hit men out of New York and Philadelphia visit to drop a corpse in icy brambles. A nearby restaurant serves poached venison year-around. Another hit happens near a stone mason’s hunting cabin above Devil’s Hole, on mountainside still fire-scarred where his father had built it like a dock. I’ve been both places. Two hits in one place out of many.

When I step outside for my dinner break, I observe a doll holding a cigarette at nose level, as if waiting for some night bird to perch. While she stares through smoke as if she desires me, I wondered how many have fallen for her tricks. I scan her hand and fingers and spot the glittering emblem. I buy a cheap cigar — for later, whether Kokopelli shows up or skips.

At heart, though, I sing for a restoration of America. A healing of fields, of fish, of human integrity, of Eden’s ideal. I want to live free in the Holy Spirit. “May we turn it,” I pray silently. Be it so!  Genuine repentance. Turning. Always turning toward what’s holy.

At breakfast, I begin: “Praise the hunger that brings us together.”

Kokopelli takes a second helping.

I meditate as befits a stone sitting in water.

I gain bearings in addition to the mountain. Some are also barriers. Nuclear reactors, to the southeast. To the north, Army maneuvers. To our west, the Indian reservation. All posted: DO NOT ENTER.

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ALL POSTED

On the late-night swing at the office — the one my coworkers call the “presidential death watch,” standing by just in case something major develops — I wait for the product to churn. When it does, I hear once more the locomotives rolling into Union Station overhead, their rumbling through concrete walls as my grandmother returns from Detroit or Fort Wayne. It’s the same rolling thunder I hear later in Manhattan, in the pavement of Lexington Avenue, under the taxis and human footsteps. Tonight these trains roll along spider webbing.

Although I now live in desert, my office resembles offices everywhere. In the morning, chubby wheeler-dealers strut into the room and bark orders. In this case, they’re Texans clad in polyester and strings ties. More gyrating rolls spit out headlines under the ceaseless deadline.

At times I long for an appointment as serene as a winter pond. Make an offer. The owners want more. They grin and demand, boy. Watch the shit.

I ask Kokopelli, “Why do people avoid bare truth? What virtue is found in complication? Why can’t I simply stick to the steps of the Way? How much opportunity slips away when entanglements dim my view of my Guide? What will be my first big break? Or three?”

“How the hell should I know,” he grins.

He knows, all right. No doubt about it.

~*~

When I arrive home, she greets me with a mischievous grin: “I’ve only lied once or twice in my life and this is the third time. Welcome to the split-pea patch of my existence.”

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

THE MOODIEST FEATURE

Initially, I regard the mountain as another slumber-induced fantasy. Its climax appears pristine, boundless, haughty, mesmerizing, even eerie. Over time I behold its hideousness and terror as well. Such beauty may suddenly turn fatal. Timberlands netted with trails and campsites, plus unfettered wildlife, extend from its ivory helix. These opportunities are my primary rationale for migrating to this corner of the nation. But these woodlands border desert, and none of my maps alert me to the consequences. Not even Georgia O’Keeffe’s brilliant renderings of New Mexico, artwork I long admired, hint at its harsh thirst. Rather, the paintings emerge as another kind of dream to be savored, confined to a gallery or oversized pages. Besides, my definition of desert would have required camels, or at least organ barrel cactus, neither of them found in the cheat grass and sagebrush foothills surrounding my new home and workplace.

A glacier-glad mountain resembles a foaming waterfall. It is, after all, an endlessly frozen cataract. Below it, in late spring or early summer, breastworks are laced with plummeting streams racing toward September irrigation in desert to the east. On the clearest days, Rainier’s ice sparkles; its beacon flashes sixty miles to the orchard where we dwelled. At sunset the inactive volcano’s shadow is a finger reaching toward the rising full moon. It points as well to places we’ve abandoned.

The predominant mountain is also the moodiest feature of the vista. Everything’s arrayed in reference to this pillar. To observe it over time is akin to regarding one’s beloved. Neither the zenith nor one’s honey is as immovable as one presumes. They are not the divinity. They’re more accurately repeated dreams, where some episodes fade out over the years while others intensify. Sleep visions of the soul, having one foot in the dreamer’s past and the other in the present, dance on water. Sometimes they drown. Even a mountain.

You should see the way Kokopelli makes it dance before sunrise.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

SUMMONS AND SORROW

On scattered reservations, a few elders rise before dawn each day and summon the sun to return. Don’t scoff. When I, too, get up in the dark and meditate, I feel my own self-confidence rising. Watch the world awaken. Light a wood fire, something I sit beside and watch for hours, its flames more imaginative than television. Bask in the radiant warmth.

Kokopelli, night owl that he is, still slumbers.

My wife, in another room, rolls toward the wall and finally rises to join me.

There’s a science, and then there’s an art. In the pyre, paper first chars, then shrinks, and finally explodes. Only then do flames engulf it. “Consider the bomb a ream would create,” I grin at her.

“Now who would you want to bomb, Buzzard?”

But I also know how difficult igniting that ream would be, and how difficult to keep it burning. Watch carefully and misconceptions turn to ash.

In the continuing drought of that fall and winter, I explore national forest well into February. Areas that should be buried in a half-dozen feet of snow are instead bare. Atop one mountain, I look over a cliff. “I think it’s dolomite.” Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the identification isn’t earth-shaking important, but learning the names of places and their minerals, fauna, and flora adds dimensions to a place. Improves your chances of survival, too, if put to the test. For now, I scramble on the scree and realize that white painted stones at the cliff’s edge marked out a heliport. Far below my feet, a table of forest spreads into basins that are invisible from my vantage, and other places I’ve already been. I trace Forest Service roads, such as they are — 1707 from Raganunda to the top or 601 down to Willy Dick’s. “Keep elk gate closed,” the sign reads when I came out, passing a few back country ranches to the highway’s rush and debris. Far above all that, I sing out: “God bless a bloody rib cage above gray fuzz. Perhaps we’ll have rain in the morning! We shouldn’t be kicking this dust.”

In a zero-degree fog, the sun rises as white as the moon.

“Let our liquid flow again despite this desiccation!” I cry in my dreams. “Why is it so difficult to recall the thoughts rainstorms instilled?”

“You put too much value on sorrow,” Kokopelli tells me. Even in my sleep, that old guide’s still at work.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.