I'm not a superstitious man. I’m not afraid of ghosts. It’s just a skull I tell myself, but contemplate my pale, frail host.
by Duncan Grant | Oct 28, 2020 | BIG GAME, HUNTING
Magic Hour by David Frederick Riley / Frederick Fine Art. Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches
I’m not a superstitious man. I’m not afraid of ghosts. It’s just a skull I tell myself, but contemplate my pale, frail host.
In the chill of a West Texas dawn, I watch as a doe and her fawn,
Cross over a mound and its barrow
Then step noiselessly down a narrow
Path to the canyon below.
The two vanish from sight, ice-laden clouds dimming the light
Of a sun barely warming the sky.
This tormented terrain near the Pecos River
Seems a land under siege by the Holy Giver.
Twisted and folded, drowned and eroded,
Buried under water and ash,
Then reborn in a cosmic crash.
Eons flow, and never balk. The only sound I hear is a hungry hawk
Flying low in the frigid air.
Beautiful here. Not many deer.
And not many hunters who care.
Through the lens of my scope, I search the steep slopes,
For motion, or antlers, or ears.
From sandstone walls, shards of pottery fall,
And slide to the creek and its bottom,
Remnants of the lives, of stone-age people who survived,
Cold, hunger, pain…then forgotten.
So I’m wondering if the souls, buried with their bowls,
Are watching from somewhere above?
What do they think, of my sitting on the brink,
On a platform in one of their trees?
Do they laugh? Do they cry?
Do they pray to their Gods asking, “why?”
Pleading silently, stoically, from their knees?
From the crown of my tree, I peer out through dark leaves,
And watch for a buck I know well.
I’ve chased him six seasons, and there may be more reasons,
But I think he escapes my intent with a spell.
He’s a ghost, a vision, a wisp of smoke and derision.
He’s there, then he’s not, then he’s gone.
Like me, he may be wiser, but what a price to pay!
Now and then he shows himself, but only small, small parts:
A leg here, an antler there, or his tail just before he darts.
He hides behind a piñion pine, I watch him watching me,
My Leicas say he’s 500 yards away. It’s uncanny how well he sees.
At seventy-one, I’ve had much hunting fun, as much as a man should admit.
But this old buck is smart, so I’ve taken this challenge to heart:
I’m too young to stop now, too old to go on, yet far too stubborn to quit.
It’s never quite the same with us, An ever-changing game with us,
And the buck, he knows no fear.
Near his rub I placed a decoy stand, halfway up a pine,
Backed myself into a cedar tree, cock-sure he’d be the fool this time.
From my hide I was camo’d blind and dared him to come near.
Instead, the bastard snuck ’round behind, and snorted loudly in my ear.
Years ago, in a pre-dawn snow, I spread out a folded quilt.
Down on my knees, ’neath gnarled oak trees, I covered it with brush to the hilt.
I crawled in the fold and never moved; not a yawn, nor a stretch, ’til noon.
I was hungry and cold, feeling paralyzed and old,
Nothing had stirred but stars and the moon.
But on the way back to the truck, I discovered his tracks.
They were lying on top of my own!
So I found the place, where he bedded down to face,
Me building my blanket blind.
Touching the ground, it felt quite warm, and I began to question my mind.
I trudged to the truck, cursing my luck, at the passing of another season.
Other deer had fallen to my old ought-six,
But this was the one, the reason.
Would this ghost of a beast, ever be part of a feast,
Of jerky, and sausage, or roast?
Had I become obsessed, was I becoming depressed,
Was it time to finally give up?
No, I’m not giving up, I’ll show this buck,
I’ll stalk him halfway to hell, then ring his bell,
Or track him right to his bed.
I’ll kill him in his sleep, and never weep,
For his offspring or the does he’s bred.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit violent. But now you know,
To some extent, exactly what I’m dealing with.
It’s been going on for years,
And I’m not crying in my beer,
But it’s down to him or me,
I’ll be back next year, you’ll see.
But seventy was a time unkind, a year of little wealth,
A kidney stone kept me home, to worry on my health,
From my bed, a hundred times I thought about the buck and his ravine,
I may have aged, but he aged faster, as I watched from fitful dreams.
So hours pass in this ancient oak,
My eyes just above its crown. To fight the cold, I pull up my cloak,
And chamber a new brass round.
I glass the paths of hillsides, keeping watch on his rub below.
It’s so quiet, I hear my eyelids blink. My mind wanders to and fro.
The sky begins to darken. Shadows disappear.
Harsh terrain turns deathly gray. Trees lose their far and near.
But something white pulls my sight up near the canyon rim.
I can’t tell what it is, but it surely isn’t him.
I aim my Leicas up the wall to have a closer view,
But before I turn the focus knob, my heartbeats go askew.
Three feet down, below the edge, a human face is what I see!
Buried in the canyon wall, an ancient skull is watching over me.
Who is this person judging me
From high above my stand?
Was he a warrior? A priest? Or, was he just a man?
If this is sacred ground, I think, I’ve got no business here.
Is this his land? Is this his place? Is this his big buck deer?
But I’m not a superstitious man. I’m not afraid of ghosts,
It’s just a skull I tell myself, but contemplate my pale, frail host.
Mule Deer in the Badlands by Carl Rungius, oil on canvas, 59 x 75 inches.
Dark clouds rend, and a hidden sun sends
Down a brilliant beam of light.
It flows along the canyon wall
To inspire a chilling sight:
On the crest, the light wave stalls
And paints the skull a ghastly white.
I try to calm myself and measure what I see,
An end like everyone gone before, an end like my own will be.
I imagine a life more difficult, much harder than my own.
And yet, he roamed this earth as free, as any man its ever known.
His bones and teeth would tell the tale, should science study his remains.
Odd how they see, back in time, in microscopic frames.
They can analyze his diet, determine where he thrived,
Learn of his diseases, and sometimes how he died.
Did he venture far away, to places known no more?
Did he leave his DNA with children that he bore?
Did he die a natural death, or an arrow sent in rage?
Would he wind up in a database, statistics on a page?
Hmmm. Well, it won’t be me that tells, and puts his grave in lights.
Just something spiritual about this place, deserves more than bits and bytes.
Below the skull, more bones erode, and launch a journey through the ages.
As they travel down the cliff, the years go by in stages.
Among the bones, his treasures: arrow points and knives,
Black obsidian artifacts, that helped his people live their lives.
Beneath his bones, beneath the creek, older things are buried:
Animals come and gone, while time has never varied.
These include the bones of beasts so large; they almost can’t be carried.
And then the coal, and then the oil, It’s a tale of life and death.
This place is truly magical,
I see it now quite clearly, part of it is tragical.
Part of it is dear to me. For now, we’re on the surface,
Myself and this deer I seek most.
For now, we play the game of life. But our end is like the ghost’s.
Sixteen yards away stands a stunted cedar,
Its tortured branches reach down and out, the boney arms of a pleader.
From behind this thick and twisted mass, my buck appears in part.
Majestic antlers rise and turn. Can he hear my beating heart?
He looks in my direction, but his eyes are dim with age.
I wonder if his other senses have also left the stage?
Not yet. I bet.
The icy breeze shifts around, now coming from my back.
I try my best not to sneeze, and hunch lower on my pack.
At last he turns away, to face the cold, weak sun.
I ease my rifle into play, and through the scope it’s done.
He steps into the crosshairs, his life resting in my hands.
It’s entirely up to me now, if his blood spills on these lands.
My finger nears the trigger, I pull the gun in tight.
Through the scope he moves in closer. Is this the last we’ll fight?
Could we have another year, to battle wits again?
If I kill him on this day, does my real hunt end?
BAAAAM! I scream. And waving my hat by its brim,
I shake the tree, so the buck can see, just how close I got to him.
Suddenly frantic, the old deer panics, and vaults straight up in the air.
He races toward the canyon wall, but my echoes give him another scare.
Turning back in my direction, bounding past once more,
As he leaps down the chasm I yell, ’Bout time, I evened the score!
I pack my gear, and in good cheer, climb down from my leafy blind.
But something’s missing, still out of place, in the corridors of my mind. Suddenly it comes to me, what passed through his ten-tined head.
Last year he never saw me: The deer thought I was dead!
My knees are stiff, my back aches, too, yet I chuckle at what’s transpired.
I glance once more at the cliff face, though now I’m really tired.
It’s freezing cold, and darkening. The truck is down two miles.
Through the dimming light I see the skull again. It seems to blink and smile!
Far off in the distance, down the canyon’s halls,
I’m certain I hear laughter, bouncing off the cold stone walls.