The Tree House

Douglas Thayer has always been a wonderful writer of male initiation stories, beginning notably with “The Red Tail Hawk,” originally published in Dialogue and included as the first story in his 1989 collection Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone as “The Red-Tailed Hawk.” In this story, Thayer explores the grim and beautiful process by which his unnamed teenaged protagonist comes to apprehend his own mortality in connection with a disastrous solo goose hunt he undertakes one December just before Christmas. The first-person narrative accounts well for both the external and internal struggles of a young man intent on becoming one with nature—literally as well as philosophically—particularly as he tries to turn killing and taxidermy into effective modes of life preservation. He yearns to touch the living birds with which he identifies so strongly for their solitary freedom in the sky and for their aloofness from the earth-bound world of humans, a world he has come to despise. He immerses himself in their natural world and risks his life to approximate their existence: “I lived my real life in the [river] bottoms, fished, swam, climbed the high trees, embraced limbs, sometimes ran naked and alone through the green willows, lay spread-eagle under the sun, soared on the great rope swing, hunted the birds, killed them.” However, he remains blind to the hypocrisy of his own hunting ethic and, seriously misjudging his dominance over nature, takes himself to the very brink of death in a freezing snow storm.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 49:1
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