Entry Twenty: Sitting in the Stand

[A story in many parts: Part Seven]

I finally got settled and waited. The weather was clear and warm and if it weren't for my throbbing back, I would have been comfortable and relaxed. The scuttlebutt at the lodge was that the weather was too warm to see any deer but I was hoping that wasn’t true. I hated thinking this was a lost cause before we ever started. I wanted to at least come out every day believing that something would show up. Initially it was quiet, except for the occasional plane or train that blew by in the distance. I say quiet in the sense that any noise outside of the normal forest noises were absent. There were a lot of critter sounds surrounding me and it made for a fairly disconcerting start to the morning. It was pitch black and, for a while at least, I couldn't see my hands. I was in an unknown stretch of unknown forest and all around me was rustling, grubbing and scratching noises. It didn’t get any more comforting as my eyes adjusted to the dark. I couldn’t help but start putting "faces" with the noises; I was seeing stuff moving all around me. In the trees. Coming down the road. If I stared long enough I could see anything. I regretted not buying any night vision equipment.

I heard the first shot ring out through the woods around 7:30. It was over to my right. I thought either someone shot a deer or they got really bored and did a "maintenance check" on their equipment. Or maybe they chose not to use their rope amenity and had an accident. I heard another shot 15 minutes later, so I started believing that gunfire meant there had been deer sightings. Meanwhile, I sat and scanned and imagined some Native American hunting spirit had materialized and was walking toward me through the trees. Would a rifle stop a spirit? Would a cushion?

The Plantation Suburban ferry picked me up shortly after10:00 a.m. and we started the slow crawl back to the lodge. The truck was hampered by the rutted roads of the woods plus we had to stop every four minutes to pick-up another hunter. It was more like riding a Greyhound bus only without the vending machines. It was very somber in the Suburban because every hunter we picked up had the same sad story to tell: saw nothing, shot nothing. When we stopped to pick up Mike, he told us he had been the one who had squeezed off the shots earlier in the morning. That little bit of information spread through the truck like the flu. Minutes earlier the truck had been filled with quiet, introspective adults heading back to the base camp. Before I knew it, everyone rushed out of the truck and started quizzing Mike intently about what had happened. When he revealed that he had shot at the deer but it had run off ("but I'm sure that I hit him"—that was not the last time I heard that phrase that weekend), you'd have thought that someone had just placed in our hands clues to the treasure of the Sierra Madre. Everyone immediately spread out looking for signs—blood, tracks, a note—that would lead us to the dead or wounded deer. In retrospect, it probably looked pretty funny with all of us in broad daylight, dressed in cammies, carrying guns and walking around very slowly, staring at the ground. Kind of like a bunch of golfers looking for an out-of-bounds ball—but with no time limit. Yet, I felt a real sense of obligation to help. I was part of the team. I was a hunter. If one of the team happened to find the tracks or the deer itself, there was attached some sense that they helped drop the animal and therefore could get some emotional credit. Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search, we had to surmise that Mike had missed. I looked around to see everyone's reaction at someone missing a deer and it wasn't too critical. Maybe they wouldn't be too hard on me if I suffered the same fate. Of course, no one else had even shot yet, so who could talk?

All words and images ©2005/J. Colle

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