It is cold and still, the moon well below the ridge. The Milky Way fogs a streak of infinity overhead and the Big Dipper rides impossibly high over the north horizon. Everything else is deep black. Not a light to be seen, or hint of light over the horizon.
WT’s flashlight paints stark shadow forms: prickly pear, creosote bush and deadly lechuguilla darts, the shadows glide against and under one another. The rocks he crunches under cowboy boots, and heavy breathing are the only sounds — the coyotes have not found the deer yet.
Now he swings the flashlight half-circle, lighting the brush and thorn higher up, looking for the handkerchief he tied to the buggy-whip ocotillo to mark the mule deer he left gutted before dark. I wait and hope too.
WT has been having chest pains lately and when he told me of the mulie he’d shot that had wandered away. I volunteered to help drag it out. Nephew Scotty, who was supposed to help him was late, and WT was afraid the coyotes had found it. Just as we were about to leave, Scotty arrived and the three of us took Big Red to a spot close to the fence. We coursed the rough hillside repeatedly without luck. Having only sandals and wool socks, I was terrified of all the nasty spikes hiding in the dark, particularly the lechuguilla which has barbs, and stiff enough to pierce a foot. I hadn’t told WT of my minimal footwear for fear he would try and drag the deer out by himself. Talk about living in the moment. I was as alert as I can ever remember being.
After about an hour, WT’s light found the handkerchief and the deer. Scotty and I started dragging. He’s in his 40’s and smokes heavily and he gave out about every 30 yards, so it took us a good while to drag it the third of a mile to the truck.
At each stop I stood, neck back, gawking at the crisp heavens, seeing as many stars as I have ever seen anywhere.
Today we skinned and quartered the deer. His legs were full of lechuguilla spikes, broken off deep in muscle.