the deer’s foot II

At the southern end of Paradise Valley, Montana. In a snowstorm, driving along the Yellowstone River, I pull over and there on the tarmac lies another severed deer’s foot. Just there, right in front of me.

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the horse memorial

15 miles down the road from Hardin is the battlefield of The Little Bighorn. A vast and haunting place, now part of the Crow Indian Reservation. Memorials abound. The first for Custer and the 7th Cavalry built in 1881, the second for the horses of the 7th Cavalry, and in 2003, 122 years later, a third memorial is dedicated to the Native Americans who died in battle.

The Indians memorialise the horse, not with stone, but with honor songs. The story has it that the horse of one Arickara scout returned alone to the camp hundreds of miles away with arrows still in his body. And that was the first they knew of this epic battle that would change the lives of Native Americans forever.

The view from the former trenches of the 7th Cavalry, looking south over the memorial stone of Hehaka Wankata Najin (Elk Stands On Top), a Sans Arc Lakota Warrier. Soundtrack: My Enemy I Come After Your Good White Horse (Arikara Tribe) from War Dances and Honor Songs, Everest Records.

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the deer’s foot

Meanwhile, 500 miles to the north in Hardin, Montana, a severed deer’s foot lies discarded near the junction of Railroad Street and 2nd Street West.

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Further south, in Utah, the Anasazi people were hunting game as early as 1200 B.C. Over three thousand years later I am standing here looking up at images of their hunters encircling bear, elk, longhorn sheep and deer chipped into the blackened sandstone cliffs.

Today’s hunters adorn their walls with trophies of a different sort and are regulated by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

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bull riding

I met a cowboy who invited me to watch him bull ride. These men compete not against each other, but against the bulls who are champions in their own right. Angry bulls who sometimes take their revenge. These proud and cumbersome-looking creatures became surprisingly agile and balletic when they had an unwelcome cowboy on their backs. Years of genetic selection have created this elite breed – The American Bucking Bull – designed for their athletic prowess and desire to buck.

Their names are as familiar to fans as the names of the cowboys who ride them: Chicken on a Chain, Voodoo Child, Unabomber, Far West, Bad Medicine, Braveheart, Perfect Poison, Train Wreck, Bufallo Hump, Tomahawk, Bible Bender, Iron Horse, Pistolero, I’m a Gangster, Bushwacker, Bones, Code Blue, Spit Fire, Black Pearl, Big Iron, Wild and Out, Hot Stuff, Pit Boss, Minor Incident, Big Iron, Ground Zero, Super Duty, Smack Down, Touch of Class, Out of Control….

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Ever since I stood outside the grizzly’s cage I have been thinking about Joseph Beuys and his coyote. In my pocket are Walt Earl’s signature coyote calls – handmade in their custom box. To Walt the coyote is a pest, a predator to be exterminated. To Beuys the coyote was a symbol of the Shaman, a beast that crosses between the physical and spiritual worlds, who has the power to see into the past and the future. A magical and transformative animal. I am looking at Walt’s calls in my hand and know I have to make a coyote film.

But first I need to learn how to call them. Perhaps with a lesson from Walt…

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the grizzly experience

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