It was meat. More than meat, this was life itself. For the first time, Tim fully understood the mystery in taking life so that his own life could go on. He understood now why his father had only hunted once a year to put deer meat in the freezer for winter. And he understood why his Miwuk ancestors had had reverence for the animals they killed.
“Porcupine,” he said, “I don’t know the right words. I don’t know what my ancestors would have said. But thank you. Thank you for being here, now, so I can eat and live.”
Tim had not gone far on his morning hunt, so he returned to his shelter to cook the porcupine. The meat was greasy and strong. He roasted small pieces over a new fire and took his time eating. He drowsed by the fire, then woke to eat again.
Tim’s grandfather had told him tales that he had heard from his own grandfather. Tim’s grandfather’s grandfather had heard the same tales from his grandfather – stories and legends from the old days before the Miwuks had taken up the white man’s ways.
Tim’s grandfather’s grandfather was the son of a white man and a Miwuk woman. From his mother he had inherited a squat, stocky Miwuk body, but he was hairy like his white father. To the Miwuks, who had little body hair, he had looked like a black bear, so they called him Usue’mate.
When Usue’mate was a young man, he saw how his people were losing their old ways. He went into the mountains and fasted for three days, looking for a spirit animal to tell him in what he should do for them. At the end of the third day, when he had all but given up, a great deer had come to him and had spoken one word to him in the Miwuk language. Then the spirit deer had run away into the forest, and Usue’mate had run after him. Usue’mate chased the spirit deer, never stopping to rest or eat. At the end of the fifth day of his quest, he overtook the deer and forced him to speak. What the spirit deer had said was sacred to Usue’mate, and he had never repeated it, but he had changed his name to Uwu’ya in honor of his spirit animal.
Now Tim had gone to the mountains. He had fasted there, although not by choice. And he seemed to have his own spirit deer, which could not die at his hands. He wished he could talk to his grandfather about it. Or better, his grandfather’s grandfather.
The meat strengthened him quickly. He did not dare eat too much of it at once. When he had had all his stomach would tolerate, he bundled the rest and kicked out his fire.
Crisscrossing the area, Tim picked up his deer’s tracks about noon. Long before that he had seen bruised, antler rubbed trees. Twice he had crossed the tracks of another deer, but he had not followed them up. He thought his best chance was still with the cripple.
He was less willing to admit the other feelings that bound him to it.
Rut was upon the muleys, and Tim had to consider that. He could no longer be sure how they might act. Now they might run, or they might attack.
Tim was thinking clearly again. Hunger had temporarily left him, but he was as cold as he had ever been and the storm showed no sign of breaking. Snow had begun to build up in the hollows. The next snowfall could easily bring another foot of snow. more next week