Guardian Ghosts of the Woodlands.
March 26, 2014
A VG Serial: Hills of Eden
Sometimes I stand in the hush of these woods early of a morn and wonder if I am their temporary caretaker. Is that why I came here?
The woods are changing every day. I do not like most of the changes. The string of hot days has murdered the leaves on many of the oaks. There are brown splotches, the dried bloodstains of dead leaves, in these August hills. Last week a storm blew through here at sixty miles an hour and did some pruning. The winds blew down a couple of big dead trees, hollowed out oaks, and trimmed a few dead limbs from some others. They will not go to waste. Wood for the fireplace this winter.
If I do not dismember these downed giants, they will rot and become homes for ants and other insects. They are just as useful now as when they were alive. There is one tree that I hope does not come down soon, though. It is a bent tree and serves as a deer stand. In another time, I imagine, the Osage men took the sapling and bent it, tied it down with leather thongs so that it would grow that way. It points toward Bull Shoals Lake.
In the days when the Indians roamed here, the growing tree pointed toward the mighty river that the white man later called the White. There was probably a game trail running alongside. The Osage put up road signs like that all through these hills. Trees that pointed toward water.
I have been walking up through the woods on these cool mornings before the sun is up, getting some exercise, waiting for the light to come up so that I can see to shoot my bow. I have a foam target set in front of three bales of straw. I have been shooting 30 arrows at the target from distances of 20, 30, and 40 yards.
The sights are set perfectly at those ranges. A few weeks ago, Gary Wakefield, one of our premiere bow hunters, took my Browning Deluxe Nomad II and tuned it up. He replaced my bent bow sights, put on a new string, installed a new burgher button, locked in the pull at 57 pounds. When I first shot it, I thought my arms would break.
So, I built up my strength slowly, and my confidence rose in direct proportion. The bow has never shot better, truer. There was a time when I hated its wheels and pulleys and wished I had never switched from a recurve to a compound. But now, even though my trigger finger is worn bloody from the bowstring and the muscles in my arms ache every time I move them, I think it will do fine on New Mexican elk, Ozarks whitetail.
This is the season when the Indians would hunt the deer, and I think I know why. There are plenty of them, and they do not spook so easily. I could have had a dozen easy bow shots these past few weeks. The deer are feeding in the hardwoods and curious about my presence. They gather to look at men with chainsaws and trot up to places where other men are hammering nails into lumber as they build new houses.
They seem to be like guardians of these woods. They sniff around the fallen trees, they look up at the dead leaves rattling overhead like brittle skeletons. They own the hills now and they roam through them like sentries in a game park, their coats sleek and reddish, shiny as sable.
The hunting season is a long way off, but the fever is there as I shoot the bow and watch the mist rise through the trees. The bowstring has taken away the feeling from one of my fingers. I hope a good hard callous grows where the skin is worn off my index finger. Next month, it’s the Gila Wilderness in southwest New Mexico, packing in on horseback after bull elk. The bow in my hands has to be second nature to me by then. The walks have to get longer, tougher. My eyes have to get sharper, my ears keener.
No, I am not the caretaker of these woods. I am not the guardian. I am a passerby, an observer, only. The woods were here before I came along, they will be here after I am gone. The trees and the deer, the creatures that make the woods their home, they are the true guardians of the land. Once, perhaps, there were others who watched over things.
I am just someone standing under a bent tree that points to water, that points back to a misty past when there were other passersby here, other bowmen practicing with slender arrows made of Osage orange, fletched with turkey feathers, tipped with flint.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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