As a kid, I had a clear picture of what existed inside of me. Mainly I was composed of a few green hills and half a rainbow expanding across the cavity of my chest, a lot of blue sky. There was another area, farther down, consisting of uniform metal-walled sections bearing striking semblance to the toilet stalls in the girls’ lavatory at Del Pueblo Elementary School, where I attended the first grade. Each stall compartmentalized what was taken in. I fixated on a subdivision flooded with Cheerios, my breakfast of choice. Another stall was designated to milk, though considering the airy construction of a lavatory stall, the details were evidently never thought out completely. I knew about blood. I maintained a constant inventory of cuts and scrapes up and down my legs; this business of being outside taken seriously. But I did not fathom blood’s origin, the source of its pulse and how that was kept deep inside the chest.
In hunter education we were given these charts. They are flat but show two layers, like x-ray vision, into the bodies of various game species. There is the outside, what we see, the shape of a brown bear for example: the familiar long nose and curve of belly, thick legs, the hump on the back between the shoulders. But then you see, drawn in, all the vital organs and bone mass too: lungs, diaphragm, heart, how they are nestled in relation to the ribs, to the shoulder blades, to the legs and rest of the body so opaque from the outside.
There is this place you’re supposed to aim, right behind the front leg, a third of the way up, at a particular angle dependent upon your position, and this is the vital zone
: where a bullet can penetrate the heart and lungs for both instant death and sufficient minimization of meat loss. Your chances are good here, the target is relatively large, and when I see animals now, whether I am hunting or not, I imagine this window with paned glass, looking inside at all the inner workings, like one of those xeroxed charts.
But I wonder still if some transformation occurs when something is cut into. Whether naturally it exists with a totally different composition. Rivers is what I imagine to reside inside the bears I’ve seen, with dorsal fins of spawning salmon breaking through the surface. I think the deer we shot on the island of the inlet had the sea inside, the daily swells, the grey type of storm and the green type; bull kelp washed upon shore and bladderwrack deep at low tide. There was lichen in his long narrow legs and hundreds of blueberry bushes, a lot of blue sky.
Veins and arteries are not unlike rivers. They flow in a specific direction and branch immeasurably across the landscape in which they dwell. Blood feeds every living cell as every living form depends on water. The areas around water are ripe with thickness and bounty, white blood cells sent to heal a wound.
There are also butchering diagrams, maps of lines navigating natural divisions, the way legs can pull away from the torso with simple cuts and a loose wrist; the cartography of a meat eater. The animal piled at our feet on the island was heavy with health, his deer hide thick, no bugs or rubs, no unexplainable growths to negotiate, no injuries. The layers of fat we exposed were dense with bunchberry dogwood and trailing bramble, his antlers three by three. My first sight of him was not on the ground but mid-air, suspended after jumping. He was in his prime, lascivious, strong, and it had only taken a slight contraction of muscle in a right-hand pointer finger to bring all that down.
The moose Dell shot was so large intact that even its butchered parts singled out and strapped to my back anchored my feet to the ground in unfamiliar ways. The strength of my arms was not enough to lift the dense bundles of flesh so Dell heaved the pack to my shoulders for each trip out. I could not afford to fall with such weight upon me, it would keep me to the ground with my own limbs disabled under the animal’s; I moved my feet through the night and chaos of undergrowth with necessary command. Through the game bags and through the packframe along my spine, I felt the heat of these body parts that weren’t mine, so warm that I did not know whether the moisture I felt was sweat from my own body, or blood from the moose. And as the huge body was disassembled in the meadow, a thick hot steam rose as well, the flesh warming us before it ever metabolized in our bellies as heat. The night would have been cold otherwise and as the muscle transformed to steam amongst the wild roses, I watched my own breath mix with it somewhere midair.
Later I dreamt about the meadow’s edge where we shot that moose, the autumn grass spent and twisted under its own weight and the promise of winter, my boots breaking the first bonds of frost. At the head of the meadow, the two-track trail of a truck pressed into the vegetation but then the tread mutated into the tracks of animals: moose and coyote, the crescent moons of hooves and pawprints too confident for a dog’s. The dream stops there. Because I have come back to this place every season since, I know what is left of the moose we killed: a piece of the pelvic bone and a shoulder blade, both gnawed by coyotes and squirrels. The pelvic bone is near the roses. The shoulder blade lay at the base of a cottonwood nearby. The coyotes ravished the carcass when we were done, and all the way from the house, for three nights straight, I could hear them screaming over it. But in the dream all is silent, the way midday is in wild places: the twistings of predator and prey, the calls, the wild fights and even seemingly the soft munching of sedges by bugs all waiting for the shoulders of daylight and darkness.
Deer prefer transition zones as well, where the forest begins to thin but is not totally exposed, as it is mid-clearing. There is good graze in the openings, and water, a corridor for easy travel. But predators can see in the meadow too: the red-tailed hawks circling for field mice, the fox crouched for mergansers, the bear, the hunter.