Sunday, April 27, 2014

Out of the Fog

The pines and oaks were like giant legs, gray and rough, and seemed poised to move. The young hunter wove his way deep into the familiar wilderness west of Gillham, feeling the cool fog soak his face until it began to drip, wetting his hair so that it hung from beneath the camouflage cap like black icicles. He seemed to be walking on a cloud with invisible feet. He had been hunting this lease since age nine, and although he knew these woods like a trucker knows his highway, he became somewhat disoriented that foggy morning. He could have been in Russia or China from the unfamiliar look and feel of his surroundings. Once common sounds were strange and out of joint. He heard a distant whippoorwill that sounded like a bad imitation of the sound those birds normally make. As if by instinct, though, he came upon the crude stand he had constructed years ago.

As he climbed the twelve rungs to the narrow platform, a sense of normalcy returned. He made himself quiet and comfortable, bow and arrows on the ready. The whippoorwill was persistent until the day birds began to sing and the dawn light slowly turned the fog whiter and whiter. The light was diffused and bleak, no longer cottony, but milky and obliterating.  “Without form and void,” he whispered to himself. This white morning must be like the atmosphere at the very beginning of everything in the book of Genesis, he thought. He heard a twig snap behind him and turned his head slowly and carefully. Ten feet from the tree he was in, a big 12-point buck nonchalantly rooted for acorns. It was as if the animal materialized from the surface of the world, like bas-relief on ancient marble. To get in position, he turned his body slowly and quietly, arrow notched. As he pulled back, his sleeve slightly raked the tree and the buck heard and bolted. He took the shot anyway as the animal disappeared. Immediately upon release, he knew the shot was a mistake. A gut shot meant a mile or two of tracking and it would be next to impossible to track in this fog. He would have to go home and get the dogs.

He came down the rungs rapidly and ran into the woods after the animal. He squinted to find the blood trail. There was a lot of it. He stumbled upon the buck on the creek bank, less than a mile from the stand, lying on his side, still moving his legs, trying to lift his head. A gut shot usually means a much longer chase, but the arrow had angled and punctured a lung. He made sure the buck had expired and tagged him.

Out of the wet whiteness of the hardwood woods, it was as if he had captured a phantom. But this phantom was fat, heavy and all-too real as he pulled it through the thick forest. The silver sun was like a dinner plate, hiding above the pines when he emerged from the woods. He was, as he put it, wore slap out when he arrived at his old pickup and hefted the buck aboard. Breakfast was mighty good that morning as he watched the ancient and reliable sun burn the fog away so the colors of autumn could wave in celebration.

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