Life, Death, and Rumors in the Canyon

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[On a walk one day, I startled these calves and they ended up running nearly a mile down the road. Their fence is broken and they’d nosed their way out to freedom, only to discover there wasn’t anywhere they really wanted to go. Soon as they saw me though, they bolted—even that brown one “hiding” behind the hay bale. Half an hour later, I was still walking and a Ford Ranger wheeled around the bend in the road, herding the timid calves back to their mothers.]
The canyon is always filled with two things: the sound of rushing water and the scent of manure. Signs of life and death rub right up against each other here. I see coyote scat and sun-bleached leg bones. Everywhere I look I see tracks and scat from deer, elk, horses, cattle.
I find a dead calf between the road and the drop off to the river below. Its middle section is gorged out, but it’s legs and head are still in tact, white fur over closed eyelids almost convincing enough to make it look like it’s only asleep.
On a bike ride, I have to pull over for a tractor carrying a dead cow, her body so bloated that it explodes out her anus, dripping over the sides of the tractor scoop. The rancher smiles at me, waves. It is another just another day on the ranch.
I wonder what the locals think whey they see us. I know they call us “Fishtrappers,” because they understand about the Imnaha Writers’ Retreat and that every April and October, there’s a new bunch of writers on the river. But after a long winter, with the spring grasses finally highlighting the canyon pastures, surely our presence is also like some odd sign of spring. Perhaps the tiny promise of tourists or a good laugh. We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought we went unnoticed.
It’s 12 miles or about 30 minutes down the gravel road to the Imnaha Tavern & Store. One of these days I’ll stop in for a visit, maybe see if that rumor about chicken gizzards and dollars bills is really true. And if I do, maybe folks at the store will see if that rumor about Fishtrappers is really true, too—that we sit in that house all day, typing into screens, weaving tall tales as the sun dips behind the canyon walls night after night.
[Footbridge leading to Imnaha Writers’ Retreat as seen from partway up the bluff.]

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