Original drawing 14 x 15.
These prints are individually handpainted and no two will be alike.
The old trapper had mastered vital skills while living in the Rocky Mountains. His Master’s thesis was . . . life. Those who failed to learn did not live long, and merely surviving was an achievement.
He’d fought a few Indians (no more than he had to), freezing cold, thirst and hunger. He trapped until fur prices made trapping pointless, traded with Indians for a while, then became a guide. He’d married Native women, fathered mixed blood children and loved them all. When his body wore out, he bought a house by the Missouri River where he could be with family. There, in the modest house, he grew older with little more than a mind full of memories. Only a few hundred men ever lived the way he did. The world turned, and men changed that world until no one would ever again be able to live as he had. Beside the Missouri, he was a man out of place: an alien in the land of his childhood.
His memory was a wonder, and he didn’t forget anything. He couldn’t read or write but could quote verse after verse of Shakespeare’s plays. He remembered antelope moving faster than anything known to men of his time, picturing their bodies gliding without rise or fall on invisible legs, like earthbound birds.
He remembered geysers, hot water boiling out of the ground, roaring, and standing as tall as columns of Saint Louis mansions. He remembered a grizzly bear gently mothering clumsy cubs and suffering playful attacks on her ears and nose. And then he remembered the grizzly’s silver-tipped fury, ripping men to shreds with a defiance saved only for fools or kings.
He remembered thunderstorms surrounding him in mountain passes, obliterating the land and transforming the world into an unearthly prison of wind, water, lightning, and noise. His memory preserved impossible sunsets and cloud paintings.
A bird’s song outside his Missouri window revived memories of a day on the Great Divide when he was certain that winged musicians played only for him. Their voices were too big for their feathered bodies, and the songs seemed to come from around them rather than from their little bird throats. He had stood in freezing water until they left with their songs.
The smell of wood smoke triggered memories of hazy, yellow light inside a buffalo-skin lodge. He could see his friends who spent hours rocking children, talking, and laughing quietly. He saw the faces of men who traveled with him in the best of days and died beside him on the worst. More than anything, he remembered the endless miles of unfenced flowers, untamed buffalo and unfettered men. He remembered his playful, copper-skinned wives framed by snow-flecked mountains and kaleidoscope skies.
As his eyes failed, he needed to be led from place to place in his Missouri River home. Sometimes he missed the man he used to be, and he hated being a burden. He had spent his youth in the mountains while others became rich from his trapping, and a nation explored, expanded and developed using his knowledge. He had listened to the songs of birds while others learned to balance ledgers and sing fashionable tunes; he had learned Shoshone and Crow while others studied Latin and Greek. Those educated in books had the respect of respected men; a trapper’s pay only bought a few years in the mountains and hopes for a few more until his scarred body and ice-stiffened joints could endure no more. Still, he did not regret trading his youth for memories of a boundless world, unmapped and unlike any described by Latin and Greek poets.
A trapper’s pay had been in a different currency. His pay was mystical and ethereal, cached in memory, shared in story, and brought to life again in music of feathered creatures. His life was well spent; working for a song.