Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Near Death-Part II

I was sheep hunting in the mountains of Alaska about 16-17 years ago. Sheep hunting in Alaska is a thrill, if you like killing animals, but you also need to like mountain climbing. I had about enough killing of animals growing up in rural Michigan, but I wasn't yet tired of mountain climbing, so I found myself on a guided hunting trip, on some jagged 4,000 footers, looking to get some blood on my hands.

Across a valley, I shot "full-curl" dall sheep from about 200 yards, once through the heart. I was in the process of climbing down one mountain to climb the mountain on which the sheep was laying dead, no more than twenty feet from where I shot him. As I was traversing down the mountain, my feet slipped out from under me and I fell straight down the mountain, feet first, for about 3-4 seconds, on a sled of gravel. As I was about to lose control fully, my feet caught a ridge and my entire body stopped at the edge of the ridge. I held on to my rifle but my wide-brimmed Stetson flew off my head, twirling and bouncing down the mountain on the same trajectory as my momentum, a hat without a head or a body.

My legs were jelly, and I nearly pissed my pants, but I managed to climb back to a safe area, where I sat and tried to get my heart to calm down. I looked at the path my hat took down the mountain, relieved that, for some reason, my body had stopped short of that same path.

No distinct voices or feelings on this day, and no warnings or premonitions. Just an odd little brush with the laws of physics and, unfortunately, a damaged, abandoned Stetson.