Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hunting Close to Home

The lady across the street saw me standing in my driveway with a shotgun in my hand, camo from head to toe, and a full face mask. Now, anybody else would know it is turkey season, hence my choice in clothing and accessories, but not this lady, no, she doesn't know about things like that. I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned as to what was going on.

Now this is the same woman that thought I had been using her water one month when her bill was more than normal, and then asks me to crawl under her house to check for a leak after I assure her that I hadn't been. After taking one look under her spider-infested crawlspace, I wish I'd told her yea, that I'd been running a hose across the road at night and watering my marijuana patch that she probably thinks I have growing on the creek. 

I should've waved and lifted the net off my face just to let her know it was me and not some ISIS combatant about to put the drop on her, but I don't think. I just slipped into the woods as casually as I could, or like the ninja she thought I was. As I eased on, I could hear her talking on the phone, probably to her son, who would've been more afraid than she was.

I sat down under the big hemlock, close to where I saw turkeys feeding up the hillside the day before. The same hemlock that my wife sent me to to trim a few branches from for the Christmas wreath she was making. I remember that I was in my slippers and pajamas that cold December morning.

Easing my shotgun into position, I noticed a yellow rubber ball in the grapevines and running cedar below where I sat. My son punted it down in the woods years ago, and there it sits. It was about this time that I heard the girls squealing and laughing back up the hill at the house, on their swing set. I'm starting to feel like an idiot, hunting just yards away from where my dog takes a dump in the back yard. Some woodsman I am.

Speaking of taking a dump, my stomach started cramping, and I knew it wouldn't be long. I found myself thinking, Now should I just go in the house and use the bathroom, or be a real man and grab hold of two saplings and rare back, and clean myself up with leaves? If I do go in, do I take my mask off, or leave it on? And, what about my shotgun? If I leave it in the woods, will some rouge come by and steal it while I'm gone, or perhaps hold me at gunpoint with it and rob me?

I'm so close to the house that my wife doesn't have to open the door and yell, Supper's Ready! She can say it in a normal voice from the table and I can hear her from where I am sitting. Not exactly the back-of-beyond experience one would be looking for, but I was hunting.

As suburban as this setting seems, and as idiotic as I might be trying not to squawk the box call so loud as to stir the dogs up, I felt proud just to be sitting in the woods. Proud to be outside, just trying to interact with nature again. You know how it is.

You know how it is when you're depressed, and it robs you of everything you once enjoyed; how it makes you feel like there's no hope, no reason to get out of bed some days. Fear takes over and you're not the same person you were before. What was once very important to you seems like such a daunting task that you don't even bother. It's hard to immerse yourself in the woods when you are so deep inside of your own head. It's hard to escape that, but I did.

And gathering up my hunting gear and getting all camoed up was a big step for me. When I walked into the woods for the first time this year, I felt much like that prodigal son you heard about in Sunday school-- I had finally come home. So spending time hunting, no matter where, or by what ever means, is a big deal to me. Real big. For two years I didn't think I'd ever return to it.

As for my neighbor, she may as well get used to seeing a big, scary, gun toting booger walking the edge of the woods across the road from her house. It will just give her something else to be suspicious about. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Point Through Time

Occasionally, the Earth will give up some of her secrets. If one should be so lucky as to stumble across one of those secrets, it can have a lasting impact on how that individual sees himself, and the world around him. History is not just the past, but our past.

On my way to a hunting stand one morning, my headlamp caught a glint of white, protruding from the red clay on the bank that I was crossing. I laid my recurve bow on the ground and took great care digging the point out of the mud, then wiped it off on my shirt tail. The serrated edge was as sharp as the day it was made, long before Europeans set foot in North America.

Over the years, I have found several points, each unique, bearing the mark of the one who made it. The smaller ones being bird-points, or true arrowheads, the larger were no doubt spear points, used with an atlatl, a device used to hurl the spear at game, or enemy in time of war.

They turn up in field edges after heavy rains, or on old logging roads. Sometimes the plow would bring them to the surface of the ground where we grew our garden. Though I have found a few made of chert or perhaps flint, most of the ones around here were made of quartz like this one. In a clearing just over the hill from here, I found three lying amongst a field of chipped quartz. They looked unfinished, possibly culls, seeing as how they never made it from the place they were knapped.

I tucked the arrowhead deep in my pocket, and continued to my stand.

Once I got situated, I pulled an arrow from my quiver, an Easton aluminum tipped with a Zwicky broadhead, and laid it across the string and rest. Feeling with my fingertips, I nocked the arrow and hung it on a nail I drove into the tree. I reached into my pocket and pulled the point out and studied it. My mind started to drift back to a time long ago, trying to conjure an image of the one who might have crafted the point, and I wondered if he was the one who would use it to hunt with. I pictured the arrowhead attached to a river cane arrow, hafted with sinew from a deer's hind leg and pine pitch, fletched with the feathers of a wild turkey.I also wondered if this man was a Cherokee, or one of the lesser-known tribes that inhabited the area before Columbus.

I felt a connection sitting there in the middle of the same woods, though I am sure it was dramatically different than the woods he roamed so long ago. I wondered if he was a successful hunter, or if he was like me, sort-of a screw up. No doubt that this hunter had a family or clan to feed, and just like my family, they counted on him returning home with a great story, even if he came home empty-handed.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

An Unwelcome Guest

After a hard day on the job, I was ready to crash in front of the TV and watch a ballgame until it was time to go to bed. The Braves were playing the Padres that evening, and they had the lead, so I reclined my chair and laid the remote beside me on the floor. My very pregnant wife was over on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position to sit in, because her back was hurting. Tom Glavine was on the mound, and he was on fire! The Padres' bats were too slow for his fastball, and way too fast for his change-up.

I noticed my wife kept looking up at this ficus tree we had at the end of the couch, but I didn't think anything of it. Meanwhile, Glavine sat another one down and the Braves had Chipper up to bat. First pitch was low and outside. The next thing I knew, my wife had jumped up and was standing on the couch.

"I'm leaving you!" she cried.

God Almighty, I thought, What now?

"I'm leaving you if you don't get this snake out of our house!" She pointed at the tree, gagging, like she was about to throw up.

I turned to the TV, and sighed. I got up to look in the tree, pulling the fake branches apart. "There's no snake in here," I said, just before it poked his head out at me. The big black snake's tongue about touched my nose when it flicked it out.

I reached up and grabbed hold of the snake's tail and tried to pull it out of the tree, but it was no use. All six feet of it was wrapped around the fake tree trunk and most of the branches. I did manage to pull the tree out of the pot, as well as scatter moss from the base all over our living room floor.

My wife was losing her mind over in the kitchen, near the back door. When I finally got the snake unwrapped, it gave me the slip and slithered behind the couch.

After turning the couch over in the living room floor, the snake ran toward the kitchen, much to my wife's surprise. Luckily, I got a hand on it as it was side-winding across the linoleum.

"How did that thing get in the tree?" she asked.

"Probably in the moss," I said, "He's probably been in there the whole time.

Our entire house smelled like a skunk where the black snake had musked me as I struggled with it. Using my elbow, I opened the storm door and took the intruder outside. I turned it loose in the edge of the field, and as I walked back toward the house, my wife was on the porch, throwing the ficus tree over the rail into the front yard.

I have to hand it to the company that makes those trees; they are realistic. It fooled the snake, anyways.

As for my Braves, they won 11-1.