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  Field Notes From
Mongolian Crossing

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From Author

Glenn Hodges

Mongolian Crossing On Assignment

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From Photographer

Gordon Wiltsie

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and Miki Meek


Mongolian Crossing

Field Notes From Author
Glenn Hodges

Best Worst Quirkiest

    I grew up in the days of television's Gunsmoke and Wild Wild West, and I certainly never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a cowboy. I had the hat and the six-guns, the boots and the star. The only thing I needed was a good horse. And I finally got one in Mongolia.
    It's hard to say which moment was best. It might have been the first afternoon I galloped across the knee-high grass. It might have been the first time I chased down an errant ox. It might have been when I got the herd of horses going full barrel down the side of a mountain. But it was probably that day when I was riding back to town after our first migration, racing my fat old horse for all he was worth. He wasn't the fastest horse I had while in Mongolia, and he wasn't the strongest. But he had heart. I'm embarrassed to say it because neither a cowboy nor a Mongolian would ever do such a thing, but I hugged my horse before we parted.

    On our last night in the valley our host, Mishig, gave us a full-on vodka sendoff, and the next morning we had to get up at six for our drive to Moron—a 12-hour van ride on jeep track over permafrost hummocks. We weren't out of sight of town before we made our first vomit stop, and we quickly established a routine: Every 15 minutes one of us would tap the driver, and we'd all stagger out onto the steppe to heave for a few minutes until we could stand the thought of moving again. It got so bad that this poor woman who was just along for the ride started getting out with us. None of this, of course, deterred the driver and his buddy from drinking a shot every time we stopped.

    I walked out of my tent one morning just in time to see the blunt end of an axe landing square on a cow's forehead, not ten feet (three meters) away. I wasn't ready for it, and I turned away wincing. I peeked at a few more whacks and then went into the ger (felt tent), where the woman of the household promptly started teasing me.
    "I thought men liked watching animals get slaughtered," she said. "Why are you afraid?"
    I tried to explain that I wasn't afraid; I was just caught off guard. But she didn't buy it.
    After the slaughter she boiled up the "house meat" (the internal organs) and the family sat down to feast. I did my best with a hunk of stomach and some blood sausage (intestine filled with coagulated blood), but my appetite didn't last long, and the woman started smiling at me with the evil eye. "Girlie man," her eye said. "Look! Even the kids eat more than you."
    The tables turned the next morning when we scrambled up some eggs we'd brought. I offered her some, and she shook her head with a look of disgust. "That's how I feel about house meat," I said. She nodded. Truce.

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