Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
Aspen, CO Colorado
“You stuffed a dead animal into the back of my car?” I asked, mouth agape. “Did you at least pull the carpeting out first?”
As soon as the words came spilling out, I knew I really didn’t want to hear the answer.
It was in that moment I learned a very important lesson about being married to a hunter: Just don’t ask. You don’t have to share everything, hello.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be the first one to admit I love having a freezer full of elk meat, especially since Whole Foods has all but emptied my bank account, selling me on the facts that the cows got regular mani-pedis and the chickens received cranial-sacral therapy and the fish had their gills massaged by the best therapists before they were mercilessly slaughtered, butchered, and packaged for consumption. So sorry, Mr. Enthusiastic Whole Foods Butcher Man who rings the bell and yells and tries to be funny and cool: My husband can do that in the woods with one hand tied behind his back.
I also so love being provided for by my manly man who is not afraid of blood and guts and guns and is strong enough to find animal, kill animal and drag animal out of woods. It’s kinda sexy as long as I don’t think too hard about the blood-gun-guts part, which is kind of the point.
Regardless of what I think, come fall, it’s all about hunting. It’s hunting this and hunting that and when I go hunting and should I take this hunting?
Great preparations are made. Two weeks out from departure, and he’s transformed our living room into his little staging area, so it looks like a military barracks where soldiers are getting ready to be shipped out to war.
There’s a giant rifle just sitting there in my living room waiting for me to trip over and accidentally shoot a random cyclist innocently pedaling by on Frying Pan Road. There are bullets, binoculars, a knife sharpener, headlamp, gloves and a giant knife (with someone else’s initials embroidered into the holster) laid out on the coffee table, so if someone feels like breaking into my house to kidnap and/or murder me, my husband has left out all the necessary tools. Various items of blaze orange litter the floor, just because only hunters understand what a true danger hunters are.
That’s all fine and good until my friend comes over with her two 4-year-olds and my living room looks like some kind of al-Qaida frat house. In the half hour I have to prepare for her arrival, I’m hastily making trips to our storage shed outside, breaking a sweat as I lug all this stuff out of the house and into a good hiding place. It feels like I’m committing some kind of crime – or at least trying to cover one up.
“Hey! Where did you put all my stuff?” Ryan barked when he got home that night. As hunting season approaches, he becomes more animalistic, growling, grunting and walking hunched over with the backs of his hands dragging along the floor.
There’s also the beard. Ryan can grow a mean one – it’s all thick and dark and grows halfway down his neck and so far up his cheeks it practically grazes his eyeballs, so he looks like a cross between Chewbacca and a terrorist.
“Keeps my face warm,” he says, slowly stroking the hair on his face like a pornographer. Then he grunts or spits or does something equally caveman-like. I know his face is under there, I tell myself, and I will get to see it again soon. It’s not like it’s gone forever.
Then it’s time to prepare all the meals for camp, so our kitchen is transformed into a mess tent where man food such as butter and bacon and pasta meet in one dish. Smoke from all the grease fills the house, sticking to my clothes and hair just in case I’d forgotten about all those foods I’ve been trying to avoid for the better part of two decades. After he’s done throwing together carbs and fat, he puts them into plastic bags with his Seal-a-Meal machine.
Then he’s off for a week to live in a quasi-army barracks with eight other guys to drink whiskey and poop in a plastic container and tiptoe around the woods for hours and hours, trying to shoot stuff.
“It’s not fair. The animals don’t have guns,” I always say.
“Are you even having fun?” I’ll ask when he tells me about the bitter cold, the exhausting treks and the frustration that comes with searching for something that’s not easy to find.
Oh, but he loves it, he says, it’s the best, it’s awesome, I love being out there in the woods, I love it, it’s so beautiful and so amazing and so great.
That’s where the questions should probably stop. But no, I have to know.
“So, tell me about the day you guys got the animal. What was it like?”
I might as well have said, “Let’s go play with live snakes” or “Let’s go into the crawl space and clean out the mousetraps.” I was so grossed out that I was convinced I could smell dead animal everywhere: on his hands, on his clothes and in our house. I was like a little kid who saw a scary movie, riddled with nightmares.
Soon enough, the beard will be shaved off and guns and knives put away, and the meat will be neatly packaged and labeled and put in the freezer, where it looks nothing like an animal and more like a delicious organic meal, one that is locally produced, grass-fed and free-range, and grew up on Red Mountain. Really, that’s all I needed to know.
See, there are times when ignorance really is bliss. Now I just need some air freshener.
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Tuesday morning at Bone’s Barber Shop in Basalt, the seating appropriately spaced, the congenial ambiance welcoming as always, and the conversations all over the place. It was cold outside and some overflow people were waiting…