How to create a community of men, with or without roadkill.
“Can you pass the roadkill, please?”
Nothing about Chris’ question made for pause. I handed over the bowl of chili as steam rose from its capillary-red surface, thickened by tomatoes, green peppers, and kidney beans. It smelled like hooves.
Trevien sat next to me. His Fidel Castro cap met wire spectacles and a trimmed beard. Like me, this was Trevien’s first roadkill experience. Our facial expressions matched—both signaled concern.
Chris didn’t flinch. His chiseled jawbone flecked in stubble spoke to a fitness from earlier hockey stardom in Pennsylvania, his home. Chris’ long brown hair crescendoed into a topknot held together by chopsticks, which he pulled out to pinch a chunk of deer meat.
It was his idea, after all.
It was Chris who called me the day he saw a young buck get pummeled on the freeway by a black Escalade.
“What are you doing right now?” He had asked, mischief dribbling from his tone. “Could you meet me on Taylor Street? Maybe bring a tarp?”
It was his idea for us to gut, skin and quarter the poor ungulate, a casualty of high-speed humans. Little did I know, this put into motion one of the most beautiful rituals of my adult life—council dinners.
I’ll back up.
In 2013, Chris, Trevien and I all converged upon Missoula, Montana, to begin graduate school. We didn’t know each other; collectively, we knew no one in the state. As teaching assistants, the three of us became immediate friends.
Same ages. Similar worldviews. Same eccentric wit.
One evening, Chris proposed that we cook a meal together, so we did. During the first week of school we prepared a dinner, washing it down with strong ale and conversation. Each of us began sharing our excitements, our fears, and our expectations of being in a new place, a new chapter in our lives. We were honest. Unguarded. It felt good, so we set another meal the following week.
And this brings us to roadkill chili.
I didn’t grow up hunting. I’ve gutted plenty of fish but never a full-bodied mammal fresh enough that steam rises from its open chest cavity like oven-hot sourdough. After butchering the animal, our “council dinner” as we began calling them, included, yes, roadkill. And it was through sharing this unusual experience that a tradition was born.
Each week, an email would surface: “Fellas, when are we doing dinner?”
These meals went on for a full year. Then another year. Without missing a week, the three of us joined for council dinner through our entire graduate program. They weren’t rigidly designed or exclusive; friends and girlfriends occasionally shared space with us.
Some dinners were more glamorous than others. One week we drove several hours to Banff, Canada, and broke bread shivering in a tent along the shores of Lake Louise, flanked by glacier and wolf-howl. Another, we fired pizza around an outdoor oven and sat by its flames until dawn. Another, fries and cheap beer and bowling.
Every time, we made a point to make it “council,” to check in about real stuff, not just what was trending, sports stats or social hotspots. It remained intentional. We spoke of our families. We discussed the health of a planet distressed and us being both complicit in that trouble but interested in solutions. We checked in about relationships, about Trevien’s new marriage, and about what masculinity means in today’s confusing world.
This much seems clear: too many men today live without meaningful pathways to community and authentic dialogue. It exists, sure, but men remain largely malnourished in this way. The same psychosocial demands are present now as they were during ancestral times. We all need camaraderie. We all need to be heard, loved, and have ways to dish love often.
Too often I wake up to another guy in the news — they’re nearly all men — gunning down his classmates and coworkers. Every day I see more men troubled, isolated, feeling separate, unheard and unloved. Everyday I watch men watching women predatorily, suffering from some adolescent distortion of how to properly honor the feminine.
My home, Missoula, is a college town healing from a tarnished reputation of how men treat women. After starting these council dinners, I’m now a convert in the power of informal but regular gatherings of men as a tactic to build the muscles necessary to respect others, to listen and share unrehearsed from the heart.
We’re in our third year and the tradition remains unbroken.
And in the freezer, somewhere behind the salted caramel ice cream and frozen peas, there remains a bundle of butcher paper protecting the last venison scraps from that time I called out to these guys and received a strong reverberation of support. I called out, “Hey, I need this. Let’s do this again.” It’s now become a life thing, a most valuable life thing.
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Photo: Getty Images