101. Empty Chamber


Second season of hunting. I knew the way, the drive, the protocol, where the driveway and not the ditch into the cabin was. I rolled in on Sunday evening, just in time for the Steelers/Ravens game. Clark is a lifetime Steeler fan. The game was a titanic struggle seasoned with anti-Ray Lewis comments and Pittsburgh sports teams’ lore. We had spaghetti and venison meatballs at halftime. Mr. Sunshine gave his own team a 5% chance of victory without Big Ben and the decline of Polamalu. I was surprised at the bleak assessment and disagreed. Clark reassured me that if it got really bad, he would not break up his new flat screen. Instead we could take his old t.v. set outside and shoot it. It was a comforting thought. Most of his “solutions” wind up with firearms or another form of violence, as you may have read in earlier posts.  When Mike Wallace dropped his first pass of the evening, Clark picked up his cell phone and called the Rooney family, the owners of the Steelers. “Cut Wallace tomorrow”, he bellowed into the phone; then he dramatically folded it without punching the Send button. I tried not to laugh at his histrionics, which is harder than it sounds. He jumped up to scream joyously or nearly enraged over the three hour game, all the while regaling me with wild stories from his days at GM, or hunting, or growing up in the armpit town of Patton.

Many hunting outlaw stories were shared. My favorite was of the West Virginia redneck, if that is not redundant, who was in trouble with the game warden already for some violations. Just before dawn he and Ivan were on their way to hunting camp near Romney, West by God Virginia, when a doe crashed into his right front fender. The driver outlaw, Dale, got out and inspected the damage. Then he looked at the deer. “Well, we might as well do something with the deer.”  “Dale, I don’t think that’s a good I-deal”, said Ivan. “You got the law after you already and all.” “Ah, screw them. The deer ain’t paying my deductible.” He threw the carcass into the bed of his truck and drove on into Romney. As they approached a traffic light at dawn, Ivan blurted out, “Hey, hey, Da,Da- Dale, the da-da deer is alive and standing up.” “Shut the ________ up, Ivan, That ain’t possible.” “Well, lookee in yer rear view ma-ma mirror then.”  Sure enough, the deer was up on all fours as they headed into the center of town where 50 meets 28. “Expletive, Expletive!!! It won’t be for long,” shouted Dale as he turned into a side street. He slammed to a stop and hopped out of the truck. From behind the seat he pulled a wooden baseball bat.

Dale took the bat and began wailing on the helpless and still stunned doe. He beat it on its head and neck, knocking it down into the bed of the truck. Then he ran to the other side and beat it some more. As he jumped into the bed to finish pounding the deer, an old woman who was walking two French poodles passed by and screamed at Dale to leave that deer alone or she would call the cops. He responded, “Shut the Hell up. Mind yer own business, you damn poodle bitch.” He got back in the truck and drove to hunting camp with a fully tenderized dead deer, or as Ivan noted later when they skinned it, “Man, that thing was nothing but a bruise. Like a Dry Forker hit her.”  Dale was not from Dry Fork, WV, but Ivan held those boys in high esteem for their legendary brawling strength.

Now, as Clark tells a funny story, he gets so mesmerized by it that he takes on the voices and actions of the main characters. So as he told the above story he got out of his recliner as if it were Dale’s truck and proceeded to act out all of the parts like a great blue heron bird having a series of seizures…strutting, flapping, swinging an invisible bat, and walking two invisible French poodles. In the end he enjoyed the crazy as much as I did and laughed harder… a mad Irish raconteur. He could have made a living in the middle ages entertaining villagers with his wit and acting bravado.

After the game he had to admit that I was right about the Steelers having more than a 5% chance. And I had been right about the call of where to place the football in an unusual case of losing possession of the ball before crossing the goal line, even though the ref ruled ‘touchdown’.  These rare rights for me caused him to go into high command gear where he could boss me around about hunting. He reviewed the loading of the rifle and the bolt action and the safety. I failed the spot quiz and humbly accepted the master’s authority, although he will tell anyone who will listen that I ‘bucked him’. Now why would any sane man ‘buck’ a wild blue heron with a loaded deer rifle? C’mon man.

Morning came too soon at 5:00 a.m. Last year we had to get up by 3:00, which I still don’t understand since the woods are 200 yards across from the cabin, and you can’t shoot anything till daylight, which comes after 6:30 or so. Clark was a kinder, gentler version of last year’s Sargeant Major Camp Commander. He did not do a 20 point inspection before we left the cabin and actually trusted me to find my own place down the tractor path that runs east. I loaded my gun in the 5/8’s moonlight available as I walked down the trail. Bolt back, forward, lock, safety on. I walked methodically down the trail in my Elmer Fudd coat, ready to unload on a prize buck.

I spent the entire morning alone in silence. The deer were unwilling to disturb me and my gun. I watched as the inky black woods slowly turned gray and then were colorized as the sun rose. It’s an amazing transformation to watch darkness slink away like a guilty dog and witness the fresh light clarifying what had been suspicious in the gloom. (I imagine the process is like watching an old fashioned photograph develop in a darkroom bath of chemicals, but I realize that reference dates me to the pre-digital era. How weird that the photo lab and film are part of antiquity now. Too slow. Bulldozed by the advance of technology.) Crows noisily cawed at one another overhead. Squirrels began their flitting about in the leaves. Woodpeckers swooped from tree to tree before deciding on a drill site and then pecking in fast bursts. I thought, “God has a vibrant sense of humor.”

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