Woods Work

Among the Playful Hunters

By Carolyn White

Photos courtesy of Carolyn White

Hunting season was finally over at the isolated ranch where I worked in the Nez Perce National Forest. I’d been up by four o’clock nearly every morning since mid-August, often not collapsing back into bed until after ten at night, and was totally exhausted. Just a few days earlier, I’d fixed an entire Thanksgiving dinner from scratch on a wood cook stove, everything from stuffing to rolls to pecan pies. Fourteen people devoured the meal in less than twenty minutes. Most left the next morning, traveling three miles through the forest on horseback to the trailhead, where their trucks were parked. I breathed a sigh of relief as the last mule in the pack string disappeared into the trees.

Now the final guest, a man named Flynn, moved about his room upstairs in the lodge, whistling softly as he packed. I hardly heard him. Clutching a third cup of coffee, I watched the snow falling out the dining room window. Some time that afternoon, Ray Arnold, the pilot from Cascade, was due to in to fetch Flynn, his gear, and the elk he’d shot. I couldn’t wait. I just wanted everyone gone.

At times the hunters had nearly driven me crazy. Far from the watchful eyes of their wives, men guzzled alcohol, smoked cigars, drank directly out of the milk pitcher, and used clean bathroom towels to wipe their unwashed hands. They gobbled food like teenagers, too, regardless of doctor’s warnings. “Good thing my surgeon isn’t here,” one of them observed while pouring extra gravy on his mashed potatoes. “He’d write a new prescription.”

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