There are few things that capture the American imagination quite like the open road does, I think. Some of our most iconic books, and some of the best I'v ever read, have been about being on the road, and I'm not just talking Kerouac here. William Least Heat-Moon does the same thing in Blue Highways that Kerouac does, albeit with slightly more forethought and slightly (considerably) less drugs. And fewer thinly-veiled famous people. But both encourage a way of wandering that's unique to our country, as many, many other stories do, and I often find myself experiencing a thrill when getting on the road as a participant of that grand tradition. A few weekends ago I hopped into my old standby, Grocery Getter, and me and the silver bullet bombed over to the ranch to go see my cousin Spencer and go pheasant hunting with my Dad and them. I drove over by myself, which I don't mind at all--frankly, there's no pressure to perform behind the wheel, which is a source of considerable stress for me when there are other people in the car. People are such sticklers for abiding the law these days, I just don't get it. So when it's just me, the road and GG I can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. The Gorge was looking as imposing as ever, defined by those intimidating vistas and overwhelming in the staidness with which it has weathered both time and humanity. The foliage is starting to change, which I love. Russet color templates really do something for me. I got some good old-fashioned thinking done, which is always a win. There wasn't anything not good, or even slightly less than good, about that trip. I love the windy road through the canyon at the ranch, I like that I know exactly how to get there, and that everything is familiar to me. It used to be that I would see something new every time, and now it's one of those trips and one of those places that I know like the back of my hand. I can close my eyes and be driving down the highway to the ranch. It's a beautiful thing.
When we finally made it to the ranch, after a quick football detour at the Hotel Condon (a fine establishment if there ever was one) and a 20 minute trip from Condon to Fossil with my Dad that felt very reminiscent of the road times we immediately began doing taste test comparisons of whiskey and playing hearts. This should be expected. Later we trucked on over up the old service road past the orchard and started an enormous fire, and the very most primal parts of our minds surfaced so we were mesmerized for hours watching the flames flicker and leap into the air, and it was so hot on my skin I felt sure I was sunburned. Which makes me think now about how powerfully hot the real sun is, to be able to inflict a similar kind of damage from light years away, and if that doesn't put you in a respectful state of mind, I don't know what would. We walked back down the road to the cabin in an eerie blue light from the moon, looking back over our shoulders at a dying fire that still lit up the whole forest, and all saying quiet silent prayers for the warm beds we had waiting for us. But those are the walks I like best I think, when you're happy for where you've been but still excited to be going where you're going, and that's usually how I feel there so that's another good thing.
In the morning, we got up and got ready for THE HUNT, another great American tradition--I went two for two for patriotism that weekend, which could fills my quota until I see my next eagle. I'd like to think there's no one keeping track but myself, but I like to keep a little tally going of how culturally engaged I am and every now and then I really buck some deep-rooted beliefs of Americana, so I try and make up for it where I can. I wrote a paper my senior year on what it means to be American, in which I argued that in our non-identity we find identity, and I got an A, but I still feel like I somehow cheated my way out of it. But that's a story for a different day.
I'd been really wanting to go bird hunting with my Dad, because it's an activity that I think I could be quite suited for, given the opportunity. Now that we have Dexter, too, my interest has become increasingly piqued. To watch man and animal work together to prove mastery over another animal--what's not to love? So we get out there to a place called Olex (fun fact: it has a facebook page despite the fact that) and this ranch is in a wide, flat-bottomed canyon with steep hills on either side and fields across. We started slow, terribly slow--we charged through waist high (read: chest high on me) brush, corn and vines, and I couldn't figure out how to hold the gun without it getting caught somehow in the tangle of plant life, and I was watching to make sure we were all still in a line and also thinking how will I ever get this thing tucked into the pocket with all this goddamn brush and all sounds were muffled from the earplug, so it combined to be a bit of a trying experience at the start. But it was all under a peerless blue sky, so how can I complain? Well, I was hot. But enough of that--when we did get really underway, it was a heart-racing experience. I can't accurately portray how it is when a bird flies and six shots ring out, because it happens in a way that is non-linear. It happens all at once, so it seems like when ROOSTER is being yelled you're also clicking off the safety shoving the butt of the gun into your shoulder pulling the trigger taking aim starting from the noise watching the bird fall and then taking a deep breath. And all the while you feel like the image of a rooster pheasant is still hung in the sky, maybe it's just your eyes smarting from the sun, but you think you could still maybe see him outlined and glinting in colors that are too beautiful for the human mind to come up with. How did that happen, you start to think, when the neck is being wrung. How could I, of dulled instinct and weak limbs, make that happen?
Hunting, in my limited experience, is a powerful reminder of where we came from and what a treasure our minds are. It is only through the strength of our innovation, our little brains, that we could ever truly compete with nature and her other creatures. Only with the product of another man's mind and with the help of a dog that has been bred for the purpose could we kill a bird. So if anything, hunting is a lesson in gratitude and appreciation, and ultimately of respect. For the animal that gave its life and in recognition that we are, all of us, only one part of a much larger picture. And that's a good thing too.