About 80 miles south of my home is a country buyer. He owns a convenience store that sells all the usual stuff. The c-store holds sway over an intersection in downtown Wisconsin. Ah, but next door, just a football field length away is a building. The fur shed. Big mural painted on the double garage door of a beaver chewing on an aspen tree about to fall over. I think one of his kids did the drawing and painting. To get in the building you open the man door. Its heavy and it always slams behind you. Once inside the shed it’s got white walls and dim overhead lights.

When you come in to sell fur from a bright winter day it takes your eyes a couple seconds to adjust. But you know you’re in instantly with the pungent aroma. It’s like skunk, tallow, fat essence. Luckily it’s always cool in the fur shed. Eye’s focusing and my nose on overdrive your next sense is sound. The great ear filling “hello”. The proprietor has a huge grin and very sincere greeting. He always stops whatever he’s scraping or skinning and wipes his hands on his apron and then comes over to shake my hand.

It’s a little thing but he always takes my pelts and lays them across the grading table, like there as important to him as they are to me. After shaking his hand I want to borrow his apron. The fur can wait. We lean against the two stools and catch up on family gossip and weather and maybe a bit of politics because we are on opposite sides of the fence but somehow he get’s around to grabbing some piece of fur that I have brought in and catches his eye. Nine times outta ten he picks my worst first. Some paw I nicked up or a tail I have pinned back on, so at least I did not lose it. The one time, less the nine, is if I have a completely black beaver pelt. Or a full ring of winter white weasel. Then he goes direct to the winter prime.

Now I know full well, and he does too I’m never going to be even close to top of the lot. My skinning abilities are why” how to manuals” are so successful. I can get the carpet off and protect the all important pelt area. It’s good to be careful skinning around the eyes and legs and paws. But according to the buyer, the garment makers drop a lot of fur on the cutting room floor. Buying, must be some sort of science I will never understand. But the guy is so darn friendly I never really care too much about the price. It could be his technique. If it is, it’s a good one.

I can lay what I think are three triplet beaver pelts and they get three separate grades. They get tilted to the light and little comment about guard hairs or I must have tried a sharp knife with this one. How fifteen weasels that are cookie cutter identical get rubbed into and back out of 25 cents is amazing. I am no buyer, I am a seller. After we agree on his prices he cuts me a check and throws in a coupon for a free pan sized pizza at the c-store where he knows I’m going in less than two minutes to cash my fur check.

I scan the building’s interior, because it’s going to be awhile before I get back here again. Walls have fur. Ceilings have fur. Unbelievable quantities of raccoon. Beaver pelts are standing flat on the boards. A drum of fat is in definite need of being emptied. Elderly gray otter and tender new of the year fresh black otter pelts hang from the strongest color to the softest. It’s hard to believe there is a whitetail deer still alive with the pile after pile of deer hides in plywood crates. Inside out hanging muskrat pelts look like bats on steroids.

Large rings with the “sent outs” wait for trappers. Sent outs are pieces of fur that go for a metal tag and then tanned out east and returned to the trapper. The red foxes are gorgeous. New traps and used, axes and hatchets and bottles of potions you do not want to spill. It’s time. I shake his hand, and the door slams. It does not smell outside.

The trout whisperer

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Woven wire