"No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service! (Bras optional)."
"My heart ees yors, but my ass is zee government's."
"Of all the purebred strains, the Herefords and Black Angus have attained the greatest popularity in Montana."
"Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil...'Cause I'm the MEANEST SON OF A BITCH IN THE VALLEY!"
Harold cocks his white cowboy hat back on his brow and shrugs his sheepskin jacket higher on his shoulders—he'd duded up, clotheswise, here in town. He even smells pretty good, having gone home for a shower. His glasses catch the glint of light from the jukebox and he stares at us like the sunset of a rainy day, after the clouds have passed.
"All right, you 'tater-ass sissies," he says to us, "tomorrow we'll hit the Skalkaho Country. She's a mean 'un, so cold up there you could milk a cow in chunks. But that's where the noble wapiti is right now, and that's where we'll get 'em."
The morning, still hours before dawn, is not black but rather a dirty gray. The vaulting sky suffers from ring around the collar. It snowed during the night, and walking out into the cold we feel a sudden surge of hope. The new snow has to help us. Mel's ducks and guineas and peacocks seem to sense our good spirits: they cluster around, even though it's long before their usual wake-up hour, yammering for breakfast. So what—our own breakfasts are still warm and heavy in our bellies—scrambled eggs, beans, venison steaks cooked up by a sleepy Jan in her housecoat, in that rich, warm kitchen. "Good luck," she says, then scurries back to bed, to nod off under the glowering glass eyes of the big gone bison. We climb into the jeep and head for the Skalkaho Country.
The climb is not nearly so fearsome this morning, despite the fresh snow that slicks the tracks. Mel has the same faith in the surefootedness of his jeep as the oldtimers had in their ponies, and it is faith more than anything that makes for good driving. Roger even dozes off during some of the steeper stretches, with the jeep swooping down horse trails like a World War II Stuka with its dive-brakes extended. Harold chatters on and on about his eldest son, a 17-year-old who has broken his back three times in car crashes. In the most recent one he hit a tree at 90 miles an hour. "He's a hell-raiser like his old man," Harold self-congratulates. "Like they say, only the good die young." Another son, 15 years old, is a nationally ranked high school wrestler. Harold is proud of him, too.
We top out on the mountain with the dawn. Mel eases the jeep in four-wheel drive and low-low, and with the brakes virtually locked, down what he claims is a trail but which looks more like a cliff. We cross a creek, red in the light of the sunrise. Then we follow a logging trail beside it. Deer and elk tracks spot the fresh snow; we may be pushing them ahead of us. At the end of the logging trail Mel parks the jeep. To our left the mountain rises higher still, straight up it seems, its slope (if such it was) studded with ponderosas.
"At the top she levels off," says Mel. "It's fairly open along the ridge line, but there's thick lodgepole tangles on either side the shoulder. The elk are lyin' up in them jungles there. You and Roger climb on up there and then split up and work down along the ridge line toward the east. Me and Harold'll go back down to the end of the ridge and come up slow, in case you push anything ahead of you."