A QUICK TRIP TO MOAB 10. Nighthawk hunting; There’s killing, and then there’s murder

Part 10 of the novel A QUICK TRIP TO MOAB

19. Nighthawk hunting

I put the pan and stove away and got the binoculars. Evening had descended and most of the color had gone from the western sky. I scanned the terrain as far as I could see in all directions, but saw nothing of concern. Suddenly a bright shooting star streaked across the sky to the west.

“Wow,” Lily said. “Man, the stars sure are bright out here. Brightest I’ve ever seen.”

“Mmm hmmm,” I muttered.

“It always makes me feel tiny to look at the sky like this,” Lily said.

“Mmm hmmm,” I said.

“Are you religious?” Lily asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“I’m not. Craig and I, we’re kind of the black sheep in both our families because we don’t really go for that kind of stuff. Well, the church and preacher kind of stuff. We both think there’s something that ties us all together though. Some kind of energy or something, not so much a god, not with rules and sins and heaven and hell kind of stuff.”

“That’s kind of where I am too,” I said. We don’t go to church. We consider coming out to places like this as our church. We — Chris and I — we talk about what to do when we have kids, whether we should take them to church and all that. I don’t know. If we have kids I’ll probably take them camping a lot and just forget about church.”

“Chris is your wife?” Lily asked.

“Yep, married five years,” I said.

“Me and Craig too. Well, six almost. Got married on the Fourth of July. We always said everyone had parades and lit fireworks to celebrate our anniversary.”

“Well, I always do,” I said. I looked at Lily and saw that she was blinking her eyes and shaking her head. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Really sorry.”

I leaned on the boulder with my elbows and steadied the binoculars, sweeping back and forth in the general direction we would be heading in the morning — to the north. Nothing to draw my attention. I listened, and heard only the sounds of a few night creatures — frogs from down near the creek, crickets nearby, and the sudden pulse of fluttering wings that signaled a nighthawk hunting above us. Out of the silence came a high-pitched yip followed by a chorus of shrieks and quavering yelps.

“Is that coyotes?” Lily asked. They sound close.”

“They’re down below. Probably near the creek,” I said.

“Sounds like they’re having a big party,” Lily said. “They’re really yakking it up.”

“Probably got something to eat. Killed or found something, and they’re celebrating,” I said. “Sometimes it’s kind of beautiful when they howl, mournful and harmonic, but when they’re yapping like that it’s, I don’t know, it sounds like kind of scary. Like cackling ghouls or witches or something.”

I felt Lily step close to me. Her warmth felt good, and I moved slightly toward her, until we touched. I felt her put her arm around my waist and pull in close. I turned to face her, and we embraced.

“It feels so good just to be close to someone,” she said. “It really does.”

I nodded my head. “It really does.”

20. There’s killing, and then there’s murder

We went to sleep early and slept well. The coyotes sang, quarreled, and partied off and on throughout the night, and their cries were comforting, as I knew they would not be that talkative if there were intruders down closer to them, along the creek. We left our camp before dawn, and found a way through the rubble and tumbled rocks that obstructed the ledge we had been traveling on. We wanted to stay above the ledge below, in case the ATV riders returned. I worried that if they did return they would see the tracks Lily had made yesterday, but there was nothing we could do about that now.

We made our way north, and after a few miles, the ledged uplift we had been hiking along veered to the west, and constricted the valley we were following, narrowing into a tight canyon through which Milky Creek flowed. We were able to hike down to near the creek and follow it up through the canyon. There was no actual path or trail, but we were able to pick our way along. The light of the rising day warmed us and helped us as we searched out passage through the rugged and steep-sided canyon. We traveled without too much concern, as we knew no one had passed this way recently, and in fact I doubt that many people had ever hiked this portion of the Milky Creek drainage. No ATVs or other vehicles could even enter the canyon, let alone negotiate its challenging jumble of stone.

The canyon widened a bit a mile or so upstream, and the going became easier. Cliffs rose on both sides of the narrow valley, and the stream flowed quietly, meandering somewhat through willow-thicketed glades strewn with towering cottonwood trees. Vegetation choked the canyon, and game trails were narrow, and winding. This place hasn’t seen cattle in some time, I thought. There’s little evidence of grazing, and I haven’t seen any cow dung at all. The stream ran clear and cold. I wonder if there might be fish hiding in some of these holes.

A ridge coming down from the eastern side of the valley ended in a raised promontory that would give us a view of the terrain.

“Let’s go up on that rise and take a look around,” I said, pointing. Speck could see where we were heading and charged up the slope.

At the top was a low ring of stones that encircled the end of the ridge.

“Whoa, check this out,” I said, indicating the stones. “It’s an old house or fort or something.”

“Um,.. I see these rocks, but what?” Lily pondered, tapping her lower lip with an index finger.

“It’s a foundation, to a kind of a house, from way back. Like a thousand years or so. Before any europeans got here,” I said. “The Fremont Culture, probably. They were all over this country a thousand years ago or so. It’s kind of a big deal in this area. People are fascinated by these old ruins.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like much now,” Lily said, sliding her pack off and taking a seat on one of the stones. “Makes a good chair though.”

We took a drink and rested for a few minutes while we looked around. The secluded valley seemed peaceful and quiet.

“I think this little valley goes for about three or four miles more before the creek dies out. Then if we keep heading mostly north we’ll hop over a little divide, cross some sage flats, and drop down into a steep canyon that will take us to the cave I was telling you about,” I said. “Dark Lord Cave.”

“Weird name,” Lily said. That’s the hideout your friends know about?”

“Yep. We should be able to reach there in a few more days, if we keep hiking,” I said. “Not too far, really. Though it gets rough dropping down into the canyon.”

“Rougher that what we came through today,” Lily asked, pulling her pant leg up and rubbing a nasty-looking scrape.

“Not really rougher,” I said. “That was pretty sketchy going today. Just more dangerous. Bigger drop-offs. Farther to fall.”

“At least Mad Max and his boys won’t be riding their machines on these trails after us,” Lily said. “I doubt those turds ever walk more than a hundred feet from their little scooters.”

But, they might be able to get to the tops of the cliffs on either side of our canyon, I thought. No reason to worry Lily, though.

“Maybe we should just camp here,” I said. “The Indians did. Might not be a bad place. And we can go down to the creek and bathe.”

“Yeah, and maybe get something for dinner,” Lily said.

“There are a lot more Sego Lilies on this ridge,” I said, “and Indian Rice Grass too.”

“Not that,” Lily said. “There are lots of deer in this canyon. I saw tracks and sign all over. Bet we could get a deer pretty easily.”

“I guess so,” I said. “Did you say you and um, Craig, you hunt? I don’t. I’ve never hunted.”

“Really?” Lily asked. “Heck yeah, I’ve hunted all my life. I can teach you.” She looked at me. “You do eat meat, don’t you? You’re not a vegetarian?”

“No, I’m not. Well, I don’t really eat lots of meat, but no. And I don’t have anything against it, I’ve just, just never killed anything. Well shit, that’s not true. I shot two people. Shit. What kind of freak does that make me — afraid to kill an animal but killed two men this week. Hell, one of them was only a kid. The idea of killing an animal just to eat it, well, kind of upsets me.”

“You could probably kill an animal that was attacking you or your family,” Lily said. “That’s different. That’s what you did. Those people were attacking you. You had no choice. But if you eat meat, you kill things. Well, even worse, you pay people to kill for you. That’s not very kind or humane. Not to put you down or anything, but I’ve always thought that if you’re gonna eat meat, you’ve gotta face the fact that something had to die for your meal. And someone had to kill it.”

“I know, I know,” I said. “I’m a hypocrite I know. I guess I’m just too weak to stop eating meat, and too weak to actually kill something. Or even to face up to the issue of death as a necessary part of meat eating.”

“Well, there’s killing, and then there’s murder.” Lily said. I think keeping an animal in a factory farm and killing it in an assembly line is murder. It is hideous. Hideous. That’s why I hunt. That’s why my family has always raised our animals. We know what they ate. We know how they lived. We know they lived good lives. The ones we raised, we even know their names.”

“I couldn’t do that, I know I couldn’t,” I said. “Kill an animal I knew. Couldn’t do it.”

“Well, it isn’t easy,” Lily said, “But life isn’t easy. I learned a lot about life and death from my Grandmother. She’s an old farm girl. Raised a big garden to feed her family, and chickens and hogs and lambs and calves too. And she named each one. She loved all her animals. When it was time to kill one, say, a chicken, she would feed it, and call it to her. And she would pet it and call it by its name and tell it she loved it and kill it before it knew anything was wrong. She said that we eat meat, and are born to eat meat, just like cats and foxes and hawks, and there’s no getting around that. And she always said she wanted to treat her animals well, to make them feel loved, and when the time came, to have it come fast, so their last thought was a happy one. She always said that was how she would want to go, being held by someone she loved.” Lily looked at me. “That’s the way I was brought up, and that’s the way I live. And as far as hunting goes, I only hunt for food, and I only kill an animal that looks happy, or at least is content and quiet. Kill it while it’s eating. No chasing, scaring it, running it down, none of that.” Lily looked at me and shrugged.

I was speechless. I slowly sat down on a rock facing Lily. I had never heard anything like what she had just said. Finally, I managed to speak, in a croaky voice.

“I, uh, I, well I’ve heard about tribal hunters thanking the soul of an animal for its sacrifice after killing it. And I’ve heard about the rituals around Kosher killing, but not like that. Not about taking it to a personal level. That’s really incredible. And beautiful.”

“Well, it’s kind of wrapped up in her religion somewhat. She’s really a believer. A Christian. She goes to church and all that, but I think her philosophy is all her own,” Lily said, looking off into the distance.

“You see, she really believes in God. She says God is all around us. She says God created everything, so He is everything. Basically, she thinks that God is everything. She asked me once, ‘what if that chicken is God? What if he took the form of that chicken? How would you treat it? What if He was a dog in the street, or a deer, or a worm?’ Grammy used to say that God is all of those things. He is the worm, or the moth. He feels what they feel. He is the chicken. He is you, and He knows you have to eat to live. That you have to kill to live, just like the fox has to kill to live, or the owl, or the snake. He made them all, and he knew what he was doing. Those animals don’t hate the ones they eat. And they don’t torture them, the way some people do. The way they do in feedlots and factory farms. Animals don’t kill for fun the way some people do. Grammy said we should behave as though God was that animal we were going to eat, because He is. We should treat all animals with respect and kindness, and only hurt and kill them when we must. She says that when people like to kill, when they like to hurt animals and people, that’s the devil in them, that’s evil. She’s killed a lot of animals in her lifetime, and I think she loved every one. And I think it’s a pretty good way to live your life. I love her and miss her. I don’t believe in God, really, but I do believe that my Grammy is on to something. Something that makes sense. Kindness. That’s what it is all about. Kindness. Not a bad way to live, I don’t think.”

“I’d really like to meet your Grammy some day,” I said. “She sounds like an extraordinary woman.”

“Shit, you know it,” Lily said. “And you should hear her play the fiddle. Plays the crap out of it, and she’s the toughest and kindest person I have ever known. I’d love to introduce you. We’ll plan on it. Soon as we get out of this fine mess. Right after that.”

The sun had passed below the horizon and the cloudless western sky was lit orange fading to blue overhead. I arranged some stones in a small circle and started gathering sticks for a fire. “Guess we’ll have some ramen tonight,” I said. “How about that?”

“Our last,” Lily asked.

“There are two packages. I figured we’d eat one more, then try to get by until we really need the last one.”

“Oh, we’ll be livin’ high on meat and roots by tomorrow,” Lily said. “You’ll see.”


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