Notes from Windward: #71


Tanning a Bison Hide

Nicole takes on a challenge


April 5:

     Upon coming to Windward I was expecting to undertake maintenance of the barrelponics system, help with community chores, dig in the garden, feed the fowl, milk the goats, and assist with other farm work. I never dreamed I would get the opportunity to tan hides! I am thrilled to learn and improve my new craft and feel very fortunate to be in a place that allows me to do that.

     It all started on a trip into town. Walt asked me if I'd like to skin a skunk. I thought this was an unusual question and kind of out of the blue, but of course I could skin a skunk. I replied, "Sure, I'd love to!" Little did I know it would lead to a nice pelt (soon to be bag) but also lunch (another article coming soon). Not only that, but it lead to other tanning opportunities. I am currently working on a couple skunk hides, several squirrels, a goat, and even two bison hides.

skinning a skunk

     Lindsey, a fellow community member, happened to strike up relations with a nearby neighbor (Mary Jean) who owns and operates Klickitat Bison Company, a small bison ranch. She was gracious enough to offer two hides from recently butched cows.

     So, we were off again. Walt and I back in the truck headed across the wild river to the booming metropolis of Goldendale, WA. It's hard for me to converse in the truck when we're traveling along the single laned country road through the brilliantly alive forest. I try to concentrate on flying birds, but my mind won't leave the bison hides. I wonder, "How large will they be? How heavy? Bloody? Poopie? Will I get to see the other bison? I hope I get to meet Mary Jean, she seems nice. How long does it take to skin a bison? I would like to try. Mmmmm, bison burgers. The winter bison coats will make excellent blankets! Lunch was delicious today, but I shouldn't have had so much tea."

taking pics of the Klickitat canyon

     We cross the ice blue Klickitat and head up the steep assent toward Goldendale and the ranch. The view is amazing. I caught a great glimpse of the river and its valley. Nature has run rampant in these parts. We stop for a photo opportunity and a much needed potty break then it's back up the hill and onto the plateau. I crack my window a bit. The wide open spaces are nice and so is the crisp clean air.

     Walt and I pulled into the ranch and I am in awe. The sight of the bison enclosures, shoots and stalls was impressive. They are constructed of large metal pipes and sturdy metal railing from road guard rails. The kind that keep you from driving off cliffs. Hmmm. Well, apparently they can stop buffalo too. Then I saw the group of majestic beasts. I can't help but to think what powerful creatures these guys are, how their large numbered herds supported generations of Native Americans. I am honored to have the chance to preserve some of their hides.

checking out the bison hides

     Mary Jean was not around but she left the hides in the back of her rusty, old blue Chevy ranch truck. At first glance I think, "Sheesh, they're not so big." I climb over the tailgate and into the rubber lined bed. I am shocked to find, upon further inspection that the hides were doubled over and are twice what I could see. They are massive! We might need larger bags! I awkwardly fumbled, flopped, and rolled the hides into a bundle reminiscent of a fruit role up. Managed to stuff them into their individual large black trash bags for the truck ride home.

two hides bagged and ready to go

     It was quite an adventure, but now the real challenge begins. I look forward for spring to progress, the weather to warm, rains to dissipate and the tanning to begin!

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71