Chapter 2: The Dance of Muskoxen
A bitter gust of wind blew past Jake’s face as he watched the hairy animal stomp along in the frigid snow. Either the creature didn’t know he was watching it, or it just didn’t care. Jake was satisfied both ways because to him he saw another winning photo opportunity worth adding to his portfolio. His home state of Arizona could not have offered such a prized shot of this magnitude, combining beastly muskoxen with the bright white snow. He affixed his camera’s aim onto the muskox as it slowly turned its head to face him.
“Say hello to history, you walking sleeping bag,” he said.
Jake adjusted the focus on his single-lens reflex camera, watching the blurred, furry image fade in and out. The target box in the center of his viewfinder helped his aim, but he’d been doing the photography game for so long that he could’ve probably put this calendar together without even looking through it. Just to test this theory, he held the camera out from his chest, closed his eyes, and snapped a picture. After reopening his eyes, he remembered that he wasn’t carrying around an instant film camera, so he took another shot using the aim features. The shot looked centered from what he could see, but one more shot couldn’t hurt. Five snaps later he decided it was time to change angles, lenses, and to add a colored filter for a darker image.
Another cold gust of wind zipped past his nose, bringing with it the rank odor of unwashed beast hair. The scent momentarily caught him off guard, offsetting his aim for just a moment as he buried his nose in his scarf. But, having endured several years of photographing sweat-drenched locker rooms for behind-the-scenes halftime specials, Jake toughened up his olfactory senses and redirected his center. Fortunately, the target subject was remarkably immobile, so readjusting his aim was a quick and simple endeavor.
The muskox, which was an incredibly woolly beast with large handlebar looking horns curving over its brow, casually scuffled through the snow toward its herd. Jake dropped to his knees and crawled through the numbing ground conditions for a few feet to maintain his angle on the creature. He snapped another picture of the brute as bits of powder flaked up from its hooves.
“This will make a great February shot,” he said, snapping another.
Jake held his position while he waited for the muskox to reach its herd. From his count, there looked to be over thirty banding together in the lazy crowd. As the animal made first contact with the others, it stopped walking and casually wagged its tail. Jake moved forward again.
“You’re gonna make the calendar worth twenty bucks, my shaggy friend.”
He tilted the camera vertically and placed it up to his eye. The muskox appeared in the glass, with the fuzzy butt of a neighboring muskox jutting in from the edge. Jake snapped a couple more pictures. After sensing his takes were spot on, he checked the shot counter. There were still a few exposures left to be filled. Perhaps he had gotten enough of this animal. Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe there was still some gold to go for.
“I’m your pimp daddy now, lucrative beast,” he said, dropping his camera to his side. “Metaphorically speaking of course.”
Jake slowly got to his feet and crept closer to the herd. He reached in his pocket and removed a shiny quarter. It wasn’t going to do him any good here, so he figured he could sacrifice it for the greater good of the calendar. He flipped it in the air, called heads, caught it on the back of his hand, saw it was tails, and threw it at the muskox. The coin hit the animal in its thick, hairy body and fell into the snow. Apparently the beast didn’t notice since it continued to wag its tail as if nothing had happened, watching the other muskoxen stand as lazily as it had been doing.
The quarter was still worth something in America even if it wasn’t worth crap on this desolate glacier, and Jake refused to let it go to waste out here where half-ton beasts would just stomp it deeper into the ice. So, he continued to approach the herd, slowly for the first few steps, then realized that slow wasn’t getting him there faster, so he walked stridently with his free hand clenched into a tight fist, his other hand tightly grasping his camera, and his gaze fixed on the muskox. He was determined to let the bells of capitalism ring in all of its glory today.
“You’re not getting away with a boring pose, you tease,” he said.
The muskox’s ears twitched before it turned its head toward Jake. He maintained his gaze on the animal for a moment as he realized it was staring back at him. The creature seemed mesmerized at first, but then it lowered its head slightly. As Jake continued to move toward it, he could hear it snorting.
“You ready to rock?” he scoffed.
He held his camera out, with his finger affixed to the shutter button.
“I’ll give you the most exciting day of your life.”
The muskox continued to snort, deeper and heavier. As Jake got closer, the animal lifted its front hoof up to its head and brushed the hair around its eyes. Jake snapped the picture.
“That’s right, baby,” he said, “show me those angry eyes. They haven’t seen anything yet.”
Now the prize shots were due. He thought the standard poses designed to appease the weak-hearted had fulfilled their purpose, and the time had come to spice things up. It was his staple in the game of pictures to up the ante, and these scruffy muskoxen weren’t about to rob him of his trademark.
Jake sprinted into action and charged at the animal, keeping his photographic weapon before him at all times. The muskox standing next to the first turned its attention toward Jake. It too lifted its leg to brush the hair around its eyes. The first muskox placed its hoof back into the snow, and lowered its horns into the attack position. Within a flash, the animal rampaged toward him.
“Anyone tell you which game is more dangerous?” he yelled.
Jake snapped a picture as the animal came within mere feet of him. Almost instantly, he sprang to the right as it charged past him. It looked like the beast tried to catch him with its horns, but he couldn’t tell, and he had no desire to turn around and see if he was right. He made a beeline for the herd.
A majority of the muskoxen turned their attention toward him as he ran closer to them. He could hear the rogue muskox stomping in the snow fiercely behind him. Assuming that the pursuing animal was considerably faster than he was, Jake quickly lunged for the closest member of the pack he could find and dove underneath it.
He rolled out the other side of the beast just in time for it to start panicking, sending it running into the bulk of the herd. He held his position long enough to see the first muskox coming right at him. The snow flying up around its legs looked perfect. He snapped another picture, and quickly rolled sideways as the beast tried to gore him.
“Last shot, big ugly,” he yelled. “Better make this one count.”
The freezing temperature was bitter and Jake was getting tired, but he knew he had enough stamina to make it to the center of the herd one more time. He ran as fast as he could toward the other muskoxen, hoping that none of them changed their position at the last minute. Many were now standing in a circle, keeping others shielded within. There were still a few panicked stragglers running about, but the circle was what he wanted. He figured that no matter how close he got, none of them would move. This was the shot he strove for.
As Jake came within a few feet of the circle, hearing the heavy snorts of the pursuing beast behind him, he cut to the right and dove to the ground. Immediately, he flipped to his back to watch the angry muskox plow into the curving line, causing the receivers of the hit to drop back. The tremors of the impact sent the other muskoxen into a snorting fury. Jake snapped the last picture on his roll of film.
“Beautiful, my friends,” he said. “Now what will we do for March?”
The angry muskox recovered from its missed attack, looked back at Jake, and lowered its head. Jake could almost feel the fire burning from its eyes.
“I like your ambition, but it’s just not going to work for me anymore. Gotta go.”
Jake quickly jumped to his feet and ran for the big empty as fast as he could. Maybe his adrenaline would get him back to his rented jeep. If not, hopefully his camera would at least survive. After something like a full minute of solid running, Jake turned around. The muskox hadn’t bothered to chase him. Instead, it stood around with the others and wagged its tail. He thought that was great because two full minutes of breathing this icy air would’ve killed him.