Hunter’s satchel full of Yerba Mate
I stepped out of my truck and shut the door behind me. The night was cold and clear. I looked up where I could clearly view the eternally endless depths of the cosmos that sparkled overhead in the black blanket of boundless space. I took a deep breath through my nose and felt the icy air fill my lungs. The air was still, but cold enough to freeze the moisture which caused a stale, yet clean, frozen feeling in my nostrils. The snow crunched under my feet as I moved to the rear of my truck where my brother and myself hoisted our bags carrying hunting gear and cold weather clothing on our backs. I also shouldered my old, tan and faded military issue shoulder satchel. This carrier accompanies me nearly everywhere I go. It shows with the light hew of green stains and dirt and dust that blended together to create the presence of a loved and utilized mountain man satchel. There is a reason this beautifully stained and dusty satchel is always with me. Whether I was in Alaska, training, hunting or the beach, it always carried the same contents: my Yerba Mate.
I shouldered the satchel and my heavy hunting pack, and my brother and I headed to the front door of the cabin. The glow from inside cut into the dark mountain night and the warm and welcoming light flooded over the pure white snow that glowed between the dark trees of the forest. Lance had arrived earlier in the day to begin scouting for the herd of elk that we knew had come down from the high Uinta mountain peaks into our hunting grounds. I felt excited for the hunt the following morning and the opportunity I had to provide meat for my little family for the next year.
A primordial ritual
We stepped through the front door and felt the warm comfort of the small cabin and smelled the welcoming scent of hot soup on the stove. Lance called to us with a warm greeting from the other room. We settled in and served ourselves soup to join Lance at the table. My first move was to heat water. There is something rudimentarily tranquil about sitting by the glowing fire in a mountain cabin with the other predators the night before embarking on a hunt to feed our families for the months ahead. With that primordial ritual, what smooths the night to perfection is having a steaming Mate in my hand.
We sat by the fire and discussed the hunt for the next morning. The conversation shifted to philosophy, history and religion. I listened and watched the flames of the fire flicker and snap as it licked and jumped from the glowing coals. I pressed the Alpaca bombilla to my lips and slowly sipped. The hot mate sank deep into my chest and stomach. The steam curled up from the gourd in front of my face. I did not break my gaze from the flames, for fear of losing the beautiful intoxication of the moment and environment in which I was blessed to be a fragment.
I stepped outside into the crusty snow. The sun was just starting to show light over Pinecone Mountain to our east. The morning was cold and still. Our hunting vehicle was already packed and ready for the snowy logging and ranch roads that snaked through the steep pine draped mountains. We scanned the distant hillsides from where we stood at the cabin with our binoculars and spotted elk a few miles in the distance. The morning was perfect. We rolled up the ranch road toward the encroaching sunrise. The hunt ensued.
From the yerba to the mountains
I felt a mix of relief and peace as we pulled back up to park at the mountain cabin around mid-morning. The success of the hunt was marked with the beautiful cow elk in the back of the vehicle. I opened the door to the warm cabin and stepped in from the cold. Within a few minutes, water was beginning to whistle on the pot as I packed my gourd with thick gaucho yerba. I filled the thermos and moved to the fire in the cabin to join my brother and Lance. The hunt had been more successful than we had anticipated. The mystery of the hunt is what garnishes the experience with excitement. One can never predict if they will have to stalk their prey on their belly for a hundred yards to take a long shot for the kill or if the path will cross at close range and require a quick accurate shot on a hurried elk. This icy morning had heated up with the need to out maneuver a spooked herd and end with a shot taken with only a split second of opportunity before the elk was gone into the wooded hills. I sat back and took a deep gulp from my steaming gourd. After such a fast-paced hunt, I was finally able to be still and reflect on the natural beauty of the morning. I took another sip. The hot mate cascaded down into my chest and absorbed with warm comfort in my stomach. There is something savagely beautiful about the hunt. I thought about the sacred act of the kill.
I held the gourd just under my chin and my gaze was momentarily hindered by the warm steam that brushed up my face. I am a predator. Though despite the taking of life, I hold an unbreakable love and respect for the life that I take. I press my lips to the warm bombilla and sip lightly. The sparks of the fire snap and my gaze sets on pulsing coals. The elk would now be in every day of my year and the survival of my family. The life I took was sacred to me. I took a sip again as my thoughts reflected. I had stood over her majestic body in the knee-deep snow. I put my pistol back in the holster on my hip. The need to ease her passing at close range made the experience more intimate and I was overwhelmed with love and awe for the majesty and sacrifice of my honorable prey. I knelt and offered a prayer in thanks for the meat that would forever link me to the special soul that had, moments earlier, risen to the green mountains of Gods’ celestial worlds.
I sipped once more and was dragged back to the present moment with the sound of the empty gourd. I tipped the thermos and the steaming water bubbled up the gourd to rest as a great lake at the base of the green mountain of yerba. I could not help but notice the relation of the mountain of yerba that was a part of my meditative ritual and the towering mountains that served as the nourishing source of my beautiful prey as well as the realm of my life providing hunt. From the kill to love. From the predator to the prey. From the yerba to the mountains. We are all balanced. We are all necessary for the beauty of life and peace. We are all one.