Last Fall, during hunting season, we visited my sister Anne who lives close to Iron Mountain. This
is serious deer country. If you drive along the roads at dusk, you'll see deer coming down out of the hills and feeding in the fields like Biblical cattle. You will also see coyotes and black bears whether you want to or not. The wild world is very close up north, and humans live beside all those teeth and claws and bloodlusts without fear.
We went for a walk through the late Fall woods. Anne, who is a mighty huntress with her own deer stand, kindly pretended not to hear my squeaks of terror as a black bear crossed our path."You never have to be afraid of a bear," Anne told me, "unless it's a sow who has cubs. Then, back up fast!"
We walked through a light, pearly fog which turned the snowy woods into an ethereal dreamscape. Anne's beagle Babe added some horror movie elements as she bounded up behind us and proudly showed us the deer foreleg complete with stringy ligaments dangling out of her mouth. Finally she dropped the leg, and I thought to myself, "Thank God we won't have to look at THAT anymore."
But a minute later the fog parted to reveal Babe now running TOWARD us, grinning hugely, the deer leg snugly reinserted in her mouth. She repeated this manuever 70 or 80 times, dropping the leg, snatching it up, worrying loose a delicious morsel of the knee, or crunching up a bit of hoof, weaving and reweaving figure eights to show off her prize. Dogs never quit. This is one of the things I like about them, but not always.
Now, Anne knows perfectly well that I'm a yellow-bellied weinie who can't so much as think of words like Vein or Incision without growing faint and queasy. But she never loses hope that she can toughen me up. Her kind intention is that I'll grow to share her fascination with the natural world, no matter how raw and real. So she showed me where she'd field-dressed her buck, leaving a big pile of guts. Barely a grease spot remained. The coyotes, the black bears, the crows, hawks, raccoons, eagles, and Babe had all had their banquet at the Guts Buffet. But there was a tiny, mysterious, furry little animal chunk of some part or other. Anne pondered over it for several minutes, intrigued, tried to identity it, and finally tucked it snugly in her pocket to take home. She thought it was part of the liver or maybe the spleen, and was going to check it out on the internet when she got home. (My sister has won Best Science Teacher in Wisconsin awards, and I'm never surprised.)
Then we went back to her log home, and in front of a crackling wood fire we had savory, tender venison stew, chunks of delicious meat breathing garlic and caramelized onions and mushrooms. With this we had a swashbuckling red wine from Anne's own grapes, "a bossy wine with shoulders," she said. After this came berry pie with thick cream.
Then Anne went to the computer, intent on checking deer anatomy charts so she could identify the furry animal chunk she'd collected in the woods; while I grabbed my notebook, sat in front of the fire, and recorded impressions. And we were both very happy.