Spirit Deer 37

Using the light limbs of a young fir, he bent a pair of frameworks and laid other straight, small limbs across them, weaving them together and tying their ends with the deerskin strings.

He struggled back to the hollow where he had collapsed and spent a freezing half hour searching for his bow. When he had found it, he removed the bootlace bowstring and used it to make snowshoe bindings. The bow had been pretty useless anyway, and his arrows were lost.

* * *

The storm lasted through a long afternoon and night. By the morning after Tim’s kill, it had spent its fury. The clouds had lifted and blue sky was even showing through here and there. The mountains were covered with more than a foot of new snow.

Tim set out, walking easily on his new snowshoes, strengthened by the venison, and with a new confidence. He carried his spears and his atlatl in his hand and the crutch-club was strapped across his back as a weapon of last resort.

He had eaten all the deer meat, but now he felt confident that he could get more. He had run his prey down on clumsy bough snowshoes, so surely he could do the same with these better ones, especially since the snow had drifted even deeper. He moved with a shuffling step, sliding each snowshoe forward with a minimum of lifting, for they were heavy once they became caked with snow.

The deer were leaving the high country. Although he did not see them, he saw new trails all about him in the fresh snow. Too much of their food had been buried, so the muleys would stay no longer. Like Tim, they were heading for the valley.

* * *

Tim knelt in the snow to examine one set of tracks more closely. In the deep snow where the deers’ bellies dragged it had been hard to tell much. Here where the snow cover was thinner, the message was clear. Tim’s spirit deer was heading down the mountain, and having a hard time with his injured foreleg.

Tim started along after the deer. The snow had stopped about four in the morning, and now it was about ten. The tracks could be six hours old, although Tim doubted it. It was foolish to follow them. It would be far better to sight a deer first, then follow him.

It did not matter. Logic was not the issue. There was a bond between Tim and that particular deer. It was not hatred and it was not love. It was no emotion that Tim could have put a name to, but he needed that particular deer like he needed food and shelter. It was as if that deer had taken away a part of him when he shot it and Tim had to follow it – forever? – across this frozen waste.

It was a thing beyond food and shelter. It was a thing beyond manhood, as civilized man understands the term. It was a matter of selfhood. Like two stars locked in each other’s gravities, Tim and the deer were inseparably linked.

He was not the only one following the deer. Tim came upon bear tracks. There was nothing in them to tell Tim for certain that this was the same bear which had driven him from his other kill, but he somehow he knew that it was.

This bear stood like a demon between him and his prey, just as he had stood yesterday between him and his kill. Spirit deer and demon bear. 

To stalk old tracks was foolish; to stalk a stalking bear was suicide. Still, Tim went on. more tomorrow


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