The morning sun wrestles with the ribbons of fog clothing the hills south of Strawberry Resevoir. The silence is profound. No wind. A single drop of dew making its way down through the flame colored aspen leaves sounds like an anvil coming down a flight of stairs.
I am a stone among the trees. I belong here. I am invisible. I have always been here.
I glance left,with just my eyes, peeking at the shapeless lump in the mist that is my daughter. Our ponchoes are covered with hundreds of tiny burlap ribbons. They do not glisten with the dew. They do not sound like man. Tension radiates from her stillness, but she's game. We have been here since before first light. No talking for the last two hours. We scouted this spot on a fine sunny afternoon last weekend. We had crisscrossed miles of this mountain before deciding that this patch would be ours. The faint trace below us is the trail followed by the elk from their beds in the saddle above down to the pond where they water in the morning. Her Hawken rifle lies across across her lap. The lock is at half cock, and covered with a loose sock of buckskin to protect the cap from the damp.
A puff of breeze felt only as a cooling on my cheeks and suddenly the world expands. The mist recedes a hundred feet and the white and black of the aspens' bark comes into focus for the first time. My daughter stiffens against my elbow - her heartbeat sounds like thunder. I see nothing. Then I taste the merest whiff of wet blankets and have to smile. I have smoked for too long for a week without cigarettes to bring back my sense of smell, but my girl has no such handicap.
They are coming.
Impatience is a youthful trait. My hand covers the lock before my daughter can pull back the buckskin. A yearling elk appears; anxious for water, she has left the herd behind. She skips past us, from right to left, focused on her first drink. Youth. Musk fills the air. Drops form on our faces as the warming breeze rises up the mountain and sweeps the fog and our scent away from the trail. Chuffs and thuds and the trail is suddenly full of cow elk. My girl tugs at my hand and but I do not move. The cows are passing... passing... past. I move my hand and whisper "shoulder". She trembles as she draws the sleeve back over the wrist of the stock. The buckskin hangs up on the curved hammer. She writhes. The lock is free after a second that surely lasted forever.
"Shoulder", I whisper again. Now my heart is pounding, too. The animal smell has deepened; darkened. It is a tangible thing. It is a chain across time. For thousands of years men have breathed deeply of this scent before taking a tighter grip on their spears or drawing their bowstrings. A branch clatters on the trail above us.
Not a branch. Not a branch at all. The bull elk fills our world, stepping gingerly down the trail while trying to keep his antlers out of the trees. The rifle is up beside my head. I watch the muzzle bob in time with my girl's heartbeat.
"Breathe, honey. Breathe. In and out. Wait for him. Wait for him. Just behind the shoulder". I do not speak. She feels my hand on her knee and the muzzle steadies.
Remember what I told you, babe. Remember. He will stop. Just that one instant, but he will stop. Wait. Wait... behind the shoulder.
The matte brown barrel shifts ever so slightly left as she remembers to aim, not just focus on the huge brown mass before her. The soft metallic click of the sear locking on full cock stops the bull. He freezes with the tip of one hoof hanging above the trail. The barrel is still for the first time.
The forest brightens, then fades. I hear... music? No. A tone, over and over. The forest is gone. The cool is gone. I am warm. Why? Where is my girl?
The phone in the kitchen stops ringing. The clock radio on my nightstand clicks into life with the traffic report and I roll out of bed. I bounce between the walls and down the hall to the kitchen and try to focus on the machines cluttering the breakfast bar. No blinking light for messages. I cannot read the caller I.D. at first, but "Utah Vly Reg Hosp" finally makes it through my sleepy eyes.
I dial the number and the receptionist puts me through to the nurse's station, then my One True Love picks up her phone.
"Good morning, my love. Are you feeling better this morning? Did you call?"
"Yes...yes." Her voice sounds like it's coming through carpet. "Did the kids make their bus?"
"Another hour, honey. They'll surely make it. Don't worry."
"Oh. Grrrumphhh. Sorry, sweetie..."
My day begins. She should be home tonight. My world will be complete once more.
Even if we didn't get that elk.