Mid-afternoon, as September’s sun tricks me into believing that it is later in the day than what it really is, I say “Ain’t many acorns down are there?” We walk up Three Gum Trail. Three Gum Trail should now be called Two Gum Trail because one of the gum trees fell down last winter. It will always be Three Gum Trail, though. Even when all the gum trees have fallen. Time may continue, trees may fall, but the names of these West Virginia mountain trails are eternal. Three Gum Trail–where we sit on frozen December mornings at ye ol’ bear crossing, listening to and giggling insanely at John Boy and Billy’s radio show on 99.3 The Fox when we should be watching for hounds to cross the Run.
“Yes, there are.” Uncle Ronnie says matter-of-factly, “Back on that steep side across the ridge from where I left you there’s plenty down beneath them white oaks.” He’d left me waiting, watching for hounds on the Bear’s Heil powerline’s west side. Told me to watch for Maggie, who’d been trailing the bear for certain, and catch her if I could. He’d walked up into the woods, down the four wheeler path all the way to Kevin’s Rock and down towards the Painted Line. But Maggie never crossed with the bear in front of her. Gracie, Uncle Ronnie’s new bear dog (a fine English Redtick) came instead. Charging down from the ridge. I caught her. Wrestled her around a bit and, with my well-used lead strap, hooked her to ol’ Red’s tailgate. I fed her apple slices. Together we happily munched chunks of salty beef jerky I’d bought from high school FFA students.
It’s going to be a hard winter for the animals. Might not be severe as far as snow and other inclement weather is concerned, but it will be cold. Frigid and arctic cold. Dwayne had found a small American chestnut earlier. He threw it at me, its tiny brownish-yellow spikes sticking into my skin. We used his redneck tool–a Remington knife-plier combo–to break it apart. The chestnuts inside–three of the them–were small. Maybe the size of a pinky thumbnail. I took the remnants from his calloused yet boyish hands.
September hunting is quite different from December hunting. By midday if the bear isn’t treed, he isn’t going to be at all. Unless you’re outlawing and have an illegal bait pile way back in the pines–the pines, the pines, where the sun never shines–and turn down dogs at about six in the evening.
So, we walk the dusty logging roads. Good ol’ Three Gum Trail. Observing rocks and leaves and wildlife. Squirrels flitting high in trees. I pray I don’t stumble upon a rattlesnake. Just my luck. It would be. Rattlesnakes are my worst fear during summer hunts. Stupid me! My Mossy Oak patterned Cordura snake chaps were forgotten in ol’ Red’s toolbox.
THUMP! On my back. Below my left shoulder. Not a big THUMP! The kind of THUMP! that makes you jump and go “What in the hell?!” No–a small thump. The kind that makes you glance over your shoulder curiously.
“You can’t see them because you’re stepping on them,” teases Uncle Joe. He bends over, thin and gray in the lightweight mechanic’s overalls–dark blue Dickies–he uses for summer hunting. Arming himself with another acorn bomb. I smile–sweated and tired–because these are the days that living feels good.