Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Sunday, January 25, 2015

First-Rate Writing: Thomas McGuane

Thomas McGuane has written novels (Ninety-two in the Shade being one of his best known), screenplays, and essays on fishing and on hunting.  The quality of his prose often makes me sin in envy.  The following passage about field dressing an antelope comes from "The Heart of the Game," An Outside Chance:  Classic & New Essays on Sport (Houghton Mifflin/ Seymour Lawrence, 1990).  Its apparent simplicity is deceptive: 

The sun was up and the big buteo hawks were lifting on the thermals.  There was enough breeze that the grass began to have directional grain like the prairie, and the rim of the coulee wound up away from me toward the Absaroka.  I felt peculiarly solitary, sitting on my heels next to the carcass in the sagebrush and greasewood, my rifle racked open on the ground.  I made an incision around the metatarsal glands inside the back legs and carefully removed them and set them well aside; then I cleaned the blade of my hunting knife with handfuls of grass to keep from tainting the meat with those powerful glands.  Next I detached the anus and testes from the outer walls and made a shallow puncture below the sternum, spread it with the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, and ran the knife upside down to the bone bridge between the hind legs.  Inside, the diaphragm was like the taut lid of a drum and cut away cleanly, so that I could reach clear up to the back of the mouth and detach the windpipe.  Once that was done I could draw the whole visceral package out onto the grass and separate out the heart, liver, and tongue before propping the carcass open with two whittled-up sage scantlings.

You could tell how cold the morning was, despite the exertion, just by watching the steam roar from the abdominal cavity.  I stuck the knife in the ground and sat back against the slope, looking clear across to Convict Grade and the Crazy Mountains.  I was blood from the elbows down and the antelope's eyes had skinned over.  I thought, this is goddamned serious and you had better always remember that.

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