Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Hill

     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, after shooting time had passed, and seeing a monster buck ghost across the woods road ahead of me.
     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 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 stood a box-like camp where an old woman lived by herself during the summers. I wish I could remember her name.
     Somehow, two decades slipped by without visiting that hill, but finally I went back with my young German wirehaired pointer named Chara and my Parker shotgun that had turned a hundred years old that year.
     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 trees broken and lying in a tangled mess. The claws of chest high raspberries flourished in the new sunlight.
     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 pool 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, and then another. 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. We found that spring fed pool and she stretched right out in the icy water to drink her fill. Sauntering out the old tote road toward the truck, 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.


  1. Well said, seems to me that ghost birds are always with me when I visit old haunts.

  2. Nice piece. The departing bird is a fitting end to the day.