vignette of kentucky life
Dew rested on the bluegrass and glimmered under the early morning sky. Moonlight stretched into the familiar dark woods that I’ve spent my days searching for food and reason. I take my first deep breath of the unpolluted Kentucky air and smile. As I stepped forward the wooden planks that made the front porch moaned, as autumn greeted me.
I think to myself as I stare at the clear four am sky:
‘It’s been too long.’
Philosophical thoughts flourish as I stare into the untouched abyss of the brilliant beyond. Overwhelming thoughts of solitude and togetherness, only in nature do I ever feel that I am just where I am suppose to be.
After a moment of reflection I return to the living room and grab Marianne, I sling her across my body. I grab my small lunch cooler containing two tuna salad sandwiches and a pint of homemade white lightening.
Before leaving I turn and survey the room for a moment, turn off the light and walk out the door.
It is still dark as I begin walking into the field by the time I reach the distant tree line the sky has become a dark blue, the stars that once lit my way my fade as distantly the sun is returning to the eastern populous. I hit into the beaten trail that stretches four acres to the isolated one room cabin. From there it forks, north leads to a boat dock with a ranger station off of big sandy river, south takes me five more acres into the woods where as it ends thick brush of wildlife and nature engulf.
The walk to the cabin takes about 20 minutes, I take in all of my surroundings weary of snakes and spiders and any other unsuspecting creatures. I get to the cabin as the first rays of light are shooting over my shoulders. I walk to the back of the cabin where the ATV is setting. I untie the tarp that covers it, then fold it and tie it snuggly and place it, along with my cooler and Marianne on the wide carrier basket on the back of the ATV. I stretch my arms and pop my back and before starting my trek I take a small swig from the pint bottle, which makes me cough then grimace. I shake all over and my entire body heats up nearly instantly.
It takes about 4 minutes of bumping along the dirt trail till I come to its abrupt end. I hop off and grab the cooler and Marianne and begin walking into the brush, it takes me another ten minutes to reach my old lookout which is atop a large cedar about fifteen feet from the ground. I climb the thick wooden steps nailed into its side until I reach the first large limb, which I step unto and then climb onto the next that has my small camouflaged plot where I will spend most of my day. I brush a thin layer of moss from the perch and press on the old mildewed wood that seems to have stayed as sturdy and sure as the last time I sat upon it three years ago.
It takes me about ten minutes to get adjusted, I set the cooler on the limb below and arrange myself Indian style comfortably with Marianne in my lap. I feel as though I’ve made myself a fixture in my environment and lean my back onto the trunk of my stoop. My view is to the south-east and I can see through the willows and the hollers beyond, rays of light shooting through the dying limbs with the orange and auburn leaves that are changing with the season.
Appalachia is beautiful through the cold months, unrelenting but beautiful. In only a couple of months the trees will be completely bare and snow will cover the hillside, the cold up here breaks some men, every year the stories come in about hikers finding the bodies of reclusive drunks frozen within their shacks. It happens every year, but autumn is the time where we rejoice. We set upon our porches, in our tree stands, on our roofs, we set and drink that mountain dew and watch the leave turn yellow, turn red, and eventually brown as they lie on the ground and crackle with our footsteps.
“Good ole Kentucky,” I whisper with a passing smile.
There were times I cursed this county, this state. In my youth, that is, when I wished for the insanity of something else, something bigger. But in all my rages, all my fits of insignificance, I found myself here, in this spot alone and encumbered looking out into the majestic divinity of untethered nature.
“Should of never left,” I again whisper with a nod of agreement with myself, “at least I’m here now.”
Knowing it was always wise to explore and adventure the world’s limits, on my travels I found comfort in knowing there is always someplace to call home. There is no bed, no fireplace with family photographs, there is no television or kitchen in my home. Merely a few wooden planks in a tree: this is where I belong, where I feel everything, where oneness and solitude no longer fray the adventurous whim and I am content within myself.
The first warm winds roll in with the rising eastern sun, the trees rustle. The warm familiarity of ‘simple things in life’ come washing over my wrinkling face and bustling through my greying hair. Sometimes I forget the euphoric medication the earth provides us, the anti depressants and anti-anxiety dosed by mother nature and found in any little thing meant to remind you that its all for nothing. She will outlive us all, no matter how intent we are in destroying her she perseveres long after the murmurs of technology fade and the last empire falls: she is there. Eons after the last of us fade into oblivion a tree will grow and vines will coil around the ancient structures of our modern era.
Its free therapy, out here in the woods, watching the leaves fall from the tree like burdens and resentments. Only as the tree parts with them do the leaves show their beauty. Only when we are ready to part with what protects us from the blinding reality of winter do we see the value of being shielded by what we are afraid to let go.
Sometimes it can get to be too much, up here, alone. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if its insanity or clarity I find up here. Perhaps both, perhaps it’s only when you see the insanity that we propel ourselves towards; that we see, with absolute clarity, that evolution does not bring change, only complicated grey areas that really aren’t all that grey. From these quiet hollers where I wait for my bounty to across the world where civil wars and uprisings bring bloodshed and carnage to people who are more alike than different. Solemn reflections while I gaze upon nature are as much a part of hunting as anything else.
A faint crackle of footsteps on dead leaves ripples from the distance. I lift Marianne to my face and scan my surroundings, it takes me a moment to find, in the distance, about 70 yards in front of me a small doe is grazing through a small clearing. It appears to be alone, but very rarely they are, and just as sure after a couple of minutes three more deer show up, one of them a buck who’s rack measures almost a yard and a half width with 11 points.
“There you are,” I whisper to myself.
I slowly and carefully adjust my left thigh to the front of me. The buck cocks its head up quickly and looks in my direction. After a moment of careful consideration he returns to chewing from a bush. I bury my left elbow deep into my left knee and raise Marianne even with my right eye, I fix her butt firmly into my right shoulder and slowly run my hand up the wooden stock to the trigger.
There is an unusual calm about me, I remember my first bounty when I was just a kid, 13 maybe, my heart pounded heavily and sweat poured from my forehead down the side of my face. I had never killed anything bigger than a bee before that day, and I had an overwhelming feeling that what I was doing was wrong, a concept that I never considered while eating bounty provided by my father.
“Its okay, just take a deep breath release it focus on the arrow in you sight and then squeeze the trigger,” I remember him saying comfortingly.
The buck continues to chew, unknowing, as I take a deep breath I focus my sights into my bounty’s shoulder. I slowly exhale as the sight sets firmly my hand squeezes tightly as Marianne’s butt propels into my right shoulder with familiar force that leaves a pleasing pain as I see blood shoot from the buck’s back side, he falls.
“Yes!” I cheer to myself softly trying not to disturb nature any more.
I place Marianne on my lap lean back and smile, I reach for the cooler and take out one of my sandwiches and the pint and eat it slowly washing it down with a few swigs of the bitter fire that calms me. As I finish my sandwich I pack everything back into the cooler and begin to step off the tree.
I walk back to the trail and get the tarp from the carrier and walk back through the woods. For a moment I become disoriented and unsure of where I shot the buck. Eventually, however I find the small clearing where the deer lie bleeding, breathing slowly, I begin to feel rather low for leaving him out here dying slowly while I ate.
“Poor guy, I did you wrong,” I apologize to him as I remove the bowie knife from the sheath on my belt and sink it deep into the back of his neck. I pet his fur as he gives a quick jolt then lies lifeless. Always the worst part of any hunt I try to be merciful with my bounty and prefer to kill them as soon as possible. My eyes swell for a moment in shame.
I regain composure and grab his hind legs and lay him on his back and begin shaving his groin and slowly shaving back the skin, in a circular motion I remove the organ.
There now is a hole where I stick my left index and middle finger inside of him and lift up making a V. I stick the bowie knife slightly between my fingers and begin cutting slowly upward, from behind my fingers carefully guide the knife up through the ribs to the brisket. Its intestines are revealed and I shove my hand into the carcass grab the heart and rip down and pull the deer upwards as the intestines and all fall to the ground. I wipe the knife on my woodland shirt and return it to the sheath I also wipe my hands on my shirt.
I stand up and give a deep sigh and a laugh.
‘It’ll be an early day,’ I think joyfully, knowing that within only a few hours I’ll be makings stew and getting drunk on my porch.
I pick up the tarp, untie and unfold it and lay it on the ground next to the deer
I roll my bounty onto the tarp and set it back next to it, I fold the tarp over the deer and tie it closed wrapping the rope its legs and throat.
Again I hear the crackling of footsteps on dead leafs, I look up slowly and see, in the brush 40 yards ahead, crouched down a large brown bear staring intently in my direction.
He knows there is food here, and he wants what is mine. For a moment I think of sacrificing my bounty and am fully content on walking away so he can take it.
I crouch down and begin to slowly walk away, until it stands on its hind legs and bellows loudly at me, what was going to be a sacrifice has become a fight for the bear. I suppose, like I, your bounty is only true if you must kill for it and as he lands on his front paws I unsling Marianne point her at him and squeeze. Not even a click comes from my love, the bear begins to charge forward as I pull and shove forward the cocking leaver and rise it just in time to catch the massive bear in its left shoulder.
I throw Marianne to my side and lift my arms in defense, he lunges forward and sinks his teeth deeply into my arms shattering the bones sending blood and meat and drool oozing over my face, it growls and shakes its head furiously ripping through my arm. The bear’s wild eyes glare at me I see my own reflection in his eyes and I see the terror, I see all the blood and I realize these moments may be my last. I contemplate embracing my fate of being mauled by a bear. I contemplate my bounty and myself being consumed by a pack of bears. I see this in my eyes reflecting out of the bear’s I see myself as a child, I see myself wondering these woods, I see myself as a teenager cursing ‘this god forsaken place’, see the young man; still really a kid running off into the unknown, I see my achievement, my failures, my first love, my first heart break. I think of the Marine Corps, and the years I spent there after on the beach smoking cannabis and chasing girls. I see the insanity and drive in the bear’s eyes and am unsure if I’ve ever wanted anything in my life more than he wants to kill me now. In my shortening breaths I reach with my right hand to my side and grab the bowie knife and with the last living energy I plunge it deep into the beast’s stomach. The bear shutters and for a moment releases my arm to roar madly into my horrified face. I lean into the bear’s chest and push the knife up with the little remaining strength I posses the thick fur folded out as a loud rip sent intestines and organs onto my chest. I dropped the knife to my side and reached with my right hand into the gash of the massive bears stomach. The bear roared once more sending shivers through me as I rose my left arm over my face once more where at the forearm it dangled onto my face. The bear latched its jaw once more onto my arm at the elbow crushing the bones. My right hand wrapped around a football sized pulsating heart as I looked once more deeply into the bears eyes I no longer saw my fate. His eyes widened and looked deeply into mine as it saw its fate reflecting out of my eyes. I imagine childhood memories of it mother, its father maybe even a companion, I saw its memories of creeks and trees and fish and deer, and now as my weak hand squeezed the life out of him I jerked hard and heard the arteries snap, his jaw dropped and I rolled to my right as he tumbled down.
I laid there in agony screaming for my mother, screaming for god, screaming for help, I screamed loudly in the cold silent woods. My vision blurred and my eyes burned as tears poured from me. I climbed to my knees and took off my shirt I stood up and quickly fell face down. My right shin was also bleeding from massive gashes in my woodland trousers. I hobbled slowly, relying solely on my left leg falling every ten yards.
“I might die,” I said blubbering tears of fear, not considering the miracle I had survived thus far.
The images return: high school football games, drinking hooch at high school parties, vomiting in the snow, kissing my ex’s neck after a long separation, holding my brother just after he watched another get torn to pieces by the evolving hatred of natural chaos.
I find my ATV just where I left it and relying on adrenaline you only find in a struggle for survival I mount it ignite the engine and push the throttle forward propelling quickly down the dirt path through the woods that are becoming dim. I pass the cabin a ride straight through to the north fork to the boat dock. Lean forward on the steering column and begin to swerve as the path widens a firm glow is exploding through the entrance glimmering blue and green water flickers rays of the reflecting sun as I see the log hooch of the ranger’s station. I begin screaming incoherently for help as I dive from the ATV onto my left side I roll onto the damp shore and continue to scream for help. I find a way to get my left foot under me and send a shrill scream for help. Moments pass and a man emerges from the cabin, after a quick scan of the situation he states authoritatively that I was conducting improper docking methods with my all terrain vehicle, to which I respond with a variety of vulgarities combined with erratic pleas for first aid. A stunned look crosses the ranger’s face as levity sinks in, he returns to the cabin for a second and returns with a first aid kit. I fall down against a muddy hillside half in the water and stare out upon the long stretching river. The sky is a clear light blue, the sun hangs directly over head. There is a cool breeze sweeping off the shore and all around me are orange and red and yellow leaves, not yet dead, hanging on like memories and resentments, they cling for one more day.