Julio and I were invited by Albert and Dan McCabe to their annual javelina hunt. The huntsmen have known each other for many years, Dan and Sergio the longest at over a quarter century. Read about last year.
Andreas is fifteen years old and wears his grandfather's dog tags around his neck. The sky is ink black with thousands of pinhole stars, and after a long first day in the high desert, the huntsmen are circled around the campfire. They are saturated in bourbon. Smoke abounds, both wood and cigar. Andreas declares that when he turns eighteen, when he is legally able to make such choices for himself, he will have those dog tags tattooed around his neck. His father, Claudio, and uncle, Eddie, do not approve.
That morning — maybe 6am — during coffee, I had found fresh purple blood on my palms and sleeves. I’ve learned that when an elder lends you a knife to use, expect it to be so scalpel sharp that you will cut yourself without knowing it. I keep learning this lesson. I discreetly located the blood source and applied pressure, slowly wiping my hands with a towel, as if nothing of note had transpired.
This year, the javalina hunt of 2013, there is more shooting of cameras than of weapons. Julio and I are traversing the high desert with a Yashica medium format camera shooting Ektachrome transparency and black and white film, with negatives measuring two and a quarter inches. In the past year a massive fire consumed the landscape, transforming desert brush into shiny charcoal statues that grab your jacket, shattering and exploding as you pass. The air is fresh, but the light feels spooky, metallic, amber, and unearthly, like the light from a solar eclipse or an alien planet.
The culture of these huntsmen is a balance of provocation and encouragement. Discussions are animated and respectful. Treks are punishing and fun. Experts are challenging and inclusive. I ask myself, How did this balance come about?
There are three generations on this trip. They are from varying life experiences and beliefs. This is important. Hunting with others of the same age group creates fraternity. A multi-generational hunt is also fraternal, but much more valuably it is in equal turns avuncular and paternal. This current, multi-generational environment results in a rich sense of caring, teaching, and learning. Youth learn from elders, but it also works the other way around.
A group of men of the same age can be considered a pack, or a gang. I believe a group of men of differing age naturally form a tribe. These huntsmen — the youth, the elders, and the in-between — we are a tribe. I feel lucky to be part of this. There are endless lessons to learn. Today’s lesson: elders see everything. As Andreas describes his intended tattoo plans, I glance at the spot on my hand where the blood had flowed that morning. I rub it and look up at the fire. Across the embers, the knife-loaning elder looks at me. He smiles and winks.