Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Growing Up

The Osceola National Forest is a thick tropical amalgamation of every plant that you can imagine. Tall pine trees reach to the sky while sprawling palmettos vie for space on the jungle floor competing with gall berries, vines, saw grass, poison ivy, and blackberry thorns just to name a few. The difficulty of pushing your way through this wall of vegetation while trying to stay on course is compounded by the fact that at any moment in the thickness you might step on or stir up any number of poisonous snakes, wild pigs, a million hornets or even a black bear.

My dad was sending me into the woods accompanied by eighteen of the finest hounds we had ever raised. They were all eager for the hunt and their instinct went into overdrive as their noses detected the scent of all things wild. They barked and yelped out of pleasure and with authority for they would choose the way we would go and I would follow. Our determined prey was the White-tail and these curs were trained for the hunt.

The plan was simple, whistling and calling, the dogs would follow me into the forest. If a deer has passed through that morning or the night before, the dogs would follow the tracks until they came upon the deer. The deer then run and the dogs pursue. The men who parked along the forest roads wait for the hound’s baying and know that the deer is some 50 to 100 yards ahead of the alarm. The hunters then, hopefully, shoot the deer and divide up the meat.
That is always the plan and it was always glorious, except today; today the Idiot was going with me.

Now I am not being cruel here when I say that the teenager that was chosen to accompany me was a fool. The scriptures tell us that when a young man refuses to listen to his father and holds no value for wisdom, then that person is indeed an idiot. I knew the flawed character of this guy and therefore avoided his company anytime that I could but that was not possible today…and today, the idiot was carrying a shotgun.

It was a long barreled off-brand 16 Gauge with an adjustable choke that no longer adjusted. Now I think of how ironic that was—the character of the Idiot and his gun seemed to be ‘set’ and unchangeable. It was a horrible gun. Sometimes the spring to the loading flap went loose and all his shells would fall out of the magazine while he walked through the woods. This was my only comfort, that the gun he carelessly toted, might actually have emptied its rounds. Good thing too, for it shot a horribly wide pattern.

About a half an hour into the block of woods, the dogs hit a hot trail and disappeared into the forest their voices hoarse with excitement. Another 10 minutes passed and we could barely hear them as we passed through the edge of a swamp.

I paused on the muddy edge of the wetland to get our bearings and that was the moment I noticed the coiled snake at my feet. It was a water moccasin otherwise known as the Cottonmouth; one of the meanest breed of snake on the entire planet.
All around the snake were the footprints of the hounds. In their haste they had unexpectedly burst upon the boreal quiet like a cyclone and left the moccasin surprised, perturbed and now poised to strike, it’s fangs bared; stark and sickly white.

I stood as still as a tree…like I had been growing there for years; I didn’t even breathe. The only part of my body that moved was my right thumb to release my gun’s safety.

It was then that I caught in my peripheral vision the swaying motion of the Idiot. He was on the opposite side of me, about 20 feet away, and had leveled that long cannon of a gun in my direction, trying to get a bead on the snake. And it was at that moment that I wondered which one of them was going to kill me first. Before I could think or say anything, ‘BOOM!’ went the 16 Gauge.

With ears ringing, I looked to see that the snake had been blasted away. Nothing remained but a patch of ground seeming to smoulder just in front of my boots.

Moral of the story: Consider wearing snake-proof boots and avoid fools at all costs.



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