Andy Hatch delicately pours ground, rotten mouse meat onto the tip of a large limb. His hands protected by latex gloves, he stands in snowshoes on about 4 feet of packed powder on a sunny January day that would be perfect for skiing.
A nail pins an open can of Friskies Senior cat food to the limb, next to the rotten rodent sludge.
Hatch deftly closes the jar of mice meat and reaches into his black and green backpack for the coup d'grace.
Gingerly, Hatch lifts out the Gusto.
"This dude makes it, like, in his house," Hatch says, shaking his head in disbelief over Gusto's origins. "This is worse than meth."
Gusto's creator a trapping product supplier describes its scent in an on-line advertisement:
"When you crack the cap, you will certainly smell skunk but underneath you will detect a sweet odor consisting of a generous dose of castor and muskrat musk."
With solemn, calculated moves, Hatch pours the runny, beige potion over the Friskies and ground mice.
He perfumes neighboring trees similarly and then immediately peels off his Gusto-soiled gloves "inside out, like I'm dealing with blood."
He seals them in a plastic bag and quarantines the bag in his pack.
If even one drop lands on him, Hatch will have a long, smelly drive home.
Hatch, a biologist with the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, sets out bait for forest animals, in hopes that they will stop by for a free lunch and a mug shot. That way, CSERC can track animals and use the data to support its stands on U.S. Forest Service projects. An infrared laser beam and a cheap point-and-shoot camera sit near the reeking lure. When crossed, the laser will trigger the camera to snap a photo. A shot of a rare critter devouring Hatch's stew is the hope.
After retracing his quarter-mile snowshoe path to his red pickup, Hatch stows his pack with its stinking contents in the bed. Old Blue Note tracks, Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead keep him company as he rolls back to Twain Harte.