The hill has an odd name. It is named after the same man as the town it is in, but that is all I’m going to tell you. Years ago it was out in the middle of nowhere and I hunted deer there and birds too. A memory sticks of walking out of the woods, moments after legal shooting time had passed, and seeing a monster buck ghost cross the woods road ahead of me. But that is another story.
What made the hill special were the old farms. Up on the top there were two, both long abandoned, but marked with sagging homes settling into old stone foundations. In the overgrown fields game had trampled paths between the scraggly apple trees and the cedar swamp down below. Old tote roads crisscrossed the upper wooded slopes, and every single one of them seemed to lead exactly where you wanted to go. It was that kind of magical place. In a field, halfway down the eastern side of the hill, stood a box-like camp where an old woman lived by herself during the summers. I wish I could remember her name, she was in her seventies when we met.
Somehow, two decades slipped by without visiting that hill, but finally I went back with my German wirehaired pointer pup named Chara and my Parker shotgun that had turned a hundred years old that year.
|Busted up country|
Unbeknownst to me a horrific ice storm had flattened the trees a few years earlier, obliterating most of the landmarks. Up on the top of the hill two homes had been built near the ancient fallen ones and the old fields there were posted. Travel through what had once been woods was impossible, with ice-shattered trees broken and lying in a tangled mess. Chest high raspberries flourished in the new sunlight, with waiting claws that seemed incredibly sharp.
After an hour or so of searching, we found that little camp in the field halfway down the hill. Someone had been there recently and it looked much like I remembered it. Above the house a basin had been re-dug next to a spring and firewood was stacked on the far side of the porch.
Where an old footpath came down the hill into the field, I tried to pick my way between the raspberries’ thorns. A fallen maple trunk blocked the way, then another, then six more and the path disappeared among tangles of new raspberry vines. And then Chara flushed a grouse.
She went into overdrive, pushing under or jumping over obstacles and oblivious to the vicious briars. Several more grouse exploded into the sky. I sat on a log and watched, knowing she would be back eventually and was learning a lesson along the way---dogs can’t catch grouse.
Her tongue looked a foot long when she came back panting. Even that had been pricked by the thorns and wore flecks of blood. We found that spring fed puddle near the house and she stretched right out in the icy water to drink her fill. I wondered what had become of the woman that used to live there, she should have been over a hundred at that point. And who kept the place up, mowing the grass and piling the firewood? Obviously someone used the place in the summers.
Sauntering out the old tote road toward the truck, Chara continued to hunt, but at a slower pace. It was obvious she would grow into one heck of a bird dog. I carried my old Parker shotgun broken open and draped over my shoulder. It had been quite a day. And of course a lone grouse dropped out of a busted-off old spruce and flew straight away down the road, offering one of the easiest shots a man could ever hope to see.
|Chara in her younger days.|