The Second World

Ellen Meloy
Fall 2005

Her nose lay in my palm. The warmth of her breath spread to every nerve in my hand. The short gray-brown hairs were silky along the muzzle, velvet and white near the apertures and cleft of her black nostrils. Her nose ran a clear mucus, and sand clung to the moisture. Her nostrils were ringed with a rime of red sand from the canyon.

Finally, her trembling ceased. Despite her fear, her exhalations grew steady and unlabored. The fright lay in her eyes, the great golden orbs hidden behind a cloth blindfold. Darkness stilled her limbs. Strangely, it curbed all instinct to kick or twist herself upright. Stillness was not as much surrender as it was an instinct of passivity, as if eye contact with her captors would kill her.

How has this come about? I wondered. How have I come to a piece of October desert with the nose of a rare bighorn resting in my hand?

All year long, I had never crossed the agreed boundary between the Blue Door Band and me. I sat on a rock, my mind on Hopi Heheyas, while a ram studied the top of my head. I deserted the herd for phantom borregos in Mexico and rain doctors in California. Sometimes the ewe bands appeared on the talus and came close for inspection. They milled about and cocked their heads, as if I looked much better to them sideways. When the lambs grew to the strength of a nursery pack, the ewes brought them to my sandy alluvial fan by the river.

Now I feel as if I have crossed a threshold. The privilege humbles me. This would be the intimacy of the hunter, although against the hunter’s hand there would be no heartbeat, no breath. I have touched her, this impossible survivor of a near extinction. I have placed my fingers on her flesh in a sacrament of trespass.

The blindfold stays her terror, stills her limbs. If I could see those eyes, I would see the wild, the second world. Her fear would cripple me. The palm of the hand is a most sensitive human organ. On it, the warmth of a breathing animal is pure solace.

Über den Verfasser

Writer Ellen Meloy spent a year following a band of rare, remote desert bighorn sheep in Utah’s Canyonlands. Her book Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild is the story of these remarkable, mysterious animals and her intimate relationship with them. This excerpt takes place near the end of that year, when 24 of the 80 sheep were captured and transported by truck and helicopter farther into the backcountry, far from domestic livestock and development, to give them a greater chance at survival.

Ellen died suddenly last year in November. She was the author of four books: Raven’s Exile, The Anthropology of Turquoise, The Last Cheater’s Waltz and Eating Stone.

Patagonia hired Ellen in the early eighties because we recognized a brilliant, untamed spirit; we helped support Ellen’s love affair with the high deserts through catalog writing assignments, which she accomplished on a Utah river terrace. Ellen breathed the desert air and wrote. Her voice was strong and sure because she lived what she wrote. The Ellen Meloy Memorial Fund has been established to help other writers who write about and work in deserts and wildlands. Each year a cash stipend will be awarded to writers who honor Ellen’s legacy and passion for preserving wild places.

Donors who contribute $100 or more to the fund will receive a hardbound first edition of Ellen’s The Anthropology of Turquoise, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, inscribed by her husband Mark.

Please send tax-deductible contributions payable to:

Ellen Meloy Memorial Fund D.A. Davidson and Co.
P.O. Box 1677
Helena, MT 59624