"Like some lunch?" Buckskin suddenly asked, apparently deciding that I had had as much edification as any man could stand between meals. "Better take it. Here among the savages you never know when you might get fed." He produced a waxy cheesecloth bag containing what he identified as "a putty of beef tallow." "Put it into hot water and it's ready to eat," he prescribed. "Add some rum, sugar, treacle, anything. Got to have concentrated food."
This was not to be our lunch, it developed. In lieu of rum-laced beef tallow, a prodigiously potent mince pie served as our concentrated nourishment. Principal ingredients were whiskey, plum preserves, raisins, dried apples, treacle and an egregiously gamy meat.
"Like the crust?" beamed Sylvan. "I make it with special pastry flour and bear grease. Bear grease doesn't have the objectionable qualities of any other grease."
After exhibiting the champagne bottle he uses as a rolling pin, Sylvan trotted into the kitchen house to show off his bottled bear grease and bear cracklings, as well as apple butter, eggs-and-beets and canned elk. "I generally get 25 quarts of grease per bear," he said.
Hart usually settles for shooting one bear every two years. Alternate years he takes one elk. "Meat from that one animal lasts me pr' near to June," he says. "Course, I smoke most of it."
In the case of a bear, Sylvan will gut and skin the carcass, laying the hide aside to be tanned. Next he cuts off the fat, renders it in a huge Dutch oven outside and seals it up in jars. Then he rubs smoke salt over the meat—perhaps 200 pounds of it—and after a couple of days hooks it into the smoke hole back of his fireplace.
Hart fishes, too. Using salmon flies, handline and bullets for sinkers, he catches whitefish, steelhead, bull trout, cutthroat and rainbows, which he has fresh or smokes, bakes and eats with goat cheese and tea. If he doesn't catch his first fish within a minute or two, he quits for the day.
"And I buy one or two salt cod a year for iodine," he adds. "The trouble with this water is that it's too clean. No minerals. All the old mountaineers had goiter: the beard concealed that. Same way in Switzerland. One group of Swiss live so far up in the mountains they still speak Latin. There, if you don't speak Latin or have a goiter, you're a barbarian."
To supplement his larder, Hart also has grouse, fool hens and snowshoe rabbits (besides some imported beef). Even a couple of mountain lions have got themselves eaten. "The meat tastes like turkey," Bill claims, "and of course it's light. Animals that eat other animals always have light meat. Animals that eat grass have dark meat." And occasional wildcats or lynxes—"We get them big as deer around here"—bent on raiding the chicken coop find their way, indirectly, into Bill's diet. He shoots them, grinds them up and feeds them to his banties, which have developed a terrible bloodlust for fresh meat.
The area also abounds in rattlesnakes, which Hart shoots but does not eat. The snakes thrive on the warm air seeping up through fissures from deep in the canyon. In compensation, mosquitoes, gnats, flies and vermin of any description are rare or nonexistent. "Only had houseflies the last five years," growls Sylvan. "Someone finally brought us in a few." Even bacteria and viruses languish and die. They certainly find no lodgement in Hart's innards: Sylvan, who drinks little or not at all, gargles daily with 151-proof Hudson's Bay Company rum, the rocket fuel that won the north.