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.