SHELLY'S WORLD: Fiction: The Hunter’s Blind

By Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben

Life creates circumstances during which people are plopped in our paths, and for good or for ill we exert something in the nature of an influence.

Both good and bad influences are, however, relative concepts.

Take me, for example.

Was I a good influence?  Or is there a “tsk tsk” lurking in the bushes, ready to judge my behavior and give me a unequivocal thumbs down?

As to who I am, well, that’s simple enough.

Nobody important.

I read books, paint watercolor landscapes, grow roses, and consider weekends to be a perfect time to take naps.  Even during…

Bang.

Guess what that was?  

Absolutely right.   Hunting season!  And that burst of birdshot was my neighbors, out with their weapons, scouring the area for prey.  

The Beckenbaurers to my west inevitably invite their friends up from the city on weekends to shoot deer.  The Molfettas to my north have such a big family that they can do all their own shooting -– thank you very much! -– without help.  I don’t know the names of the people to my east -– the ones with the flat heads and wide jaws -– but I hear their weapons pop, pop, popping day and night.  And the people to my south -– the Northrup Family -– well they are my best friends.

I adore the Northrups.  Each and every one of them.  Sally and I went to the same school, were in the same Girl Scout Troop, and raised a Guernsey calf together for our 4-H Club.  Sally even dated my brother before she dumped him to marry Joe.  And I’m crazy about their kids, Daniel, Peter, Lionell, Roland, Lorraine, Nelson, and James.

Don’t worry.  You don’t have to remember all those names.  

I enjoy their grandchildren, too, and when they were very young, I loved to watch them run around and play with each other on holidays.  Whenever I’m in one of their houses, I take great pleasure in the knowledge that family life as portrayed in old Norman Rockwell paintings may be rare, but it isn’t extinct.

Which brings us to (I know this is a bad transition, but give me a pass this time around), hunting.

The Northrups, with one exception, love to hunt.

This means that armed with bows, rifles, shotguns, or whatever happens to be at hand, they go after waterfowl, woodcocks, quail, deer, turkey, or anything else that happens to be in season.

Not only are the Northrups fans of hunting, just about everybody here hunts.  Men.  Women.  Boys.  Girls.  Children.  Paramedics.  Pharmacists.  Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.  

I, however, do not hunt. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have no objections to that particular outdoor sport.  If it weren’t for hunters, instead of a million-and-a-half vehicle-deer hits every year in the United States (resulting in approximately 200 human deaths), the accident toll would be much, much higher.

My problem -– if it is a problem -– is that deer are so beautiful, just seeing one bounding gracefully over the furrows in my field gives me great joy.  I feel as if I am watching the world being reborn as a Walt Disney movie, but that this time around, it will have a happy ending, and Bambi’s mother won’t die.   

Which is why, the ugliness of turkeys notwithstanding, I consider my land to be something of a “wildlife sanctuary,” and I permit nobody to hunt on it.  

I do, however, invite one person onto my property every hunting season, and he may even enter carrying his rifle, extra ammunition, a buck knife, and wearing his camouflage gear.  

I am talking about Max Northrup, the youngest of Sally and Joe Northrup’s grandchildren.

Let me put this in context.

Every one of the Northrup grandchildren is gorgeous.  They are all blond haired, blue-eyed, intelligent, and kind.   And, of course, they love to hunt.  

Except Max.  

Max has light brown hair, gray eyes, a narrow face, and an easy laugh.  He is eighteen-years-old, tall, slim, and incredibly good-looking.  Next year, he is going to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, to study landscape architecture.  His girlfriend Miriam is going there, too.  After they graduate, they plan to start their own business.  Max wants to landscape the gardens in public parks and zoos, and Miriam wants to design industrial parks and atriums.  

The thing about Max, other than that he’s adorable, is that he is also original.  

When all of the other boys in his class wore two-piece suits to their junior prom, Max showed up wearing a tuxedo.  Plus a top hat.  Plus a cane.  

He took ballroom dancing as an elective in high school, and as the only male in a class filled with twelve giggling females, he loved every minute of it.

And instead of signing up for football or basketball, Max joined the fencing team for his intramural sport.  He was so good at it that he won the state championship.

Max is also a whiz at crossword puzzles, and has developed quite a hand at watercolor paintings, which I’ve encouraged, as it will help him to visualize the landscapes and rock gardens that he will someday create.

Sally and Joe’s grandson and I became well acquainted during the three summers that he worked for me, mowing my lawn and helping me to plant and weed my gardens.  

Even though everybody in Max’s family is an outdoorsman (even the women); and even though they know how to plow a field, plant corn, barley, clover, wheat, and alfalfa, they are not overly familiar with flowers.  So, I’m the one who taught Max the difference between an annual and a perennial plant.  I taught him how to recognize delphiniums, foxglove, lupine, lavender, and lilies.  I also taught him how to prune a lilac, plan a garden, and vanquish violets when they threaten to strangle the roses.

Max’s brothers like flowers, too.  And none of them are insufferably macho.

It’s just that they like hunting more.  

They love to wake up in those delicious moments before dawn, stride into the cool crisp morning air, edge silently into the woods, and stalk their prey.  They love to skulk behind trees, strain their eyes, smell earth, moss, and lichen, listen to the sweet twitter of birds, and revel in the rising sun as it draws trees, stones, rocks, and shrubs out of the shadows and into the light.  

And, let’s face it, when they finally do see a deer, bear, turkey, or rabbit, they love to shoot it.  

Bang.

You’re dead.

In all honesty, not one of the Northrups – except Max – can understand why doing so wouldn’t bring joy to every human heart.

On more than one occasion, Max has tried to explain.  

“I don’t like to climb trees on cold mornings in November.  I don’t like to be cold, period.  I don’t like dew or frost to form on my nose.  I don’t like to lean against wet bark.  I don’t like the smells of the forest.  And I don’t like to get up before dawn.”

“Uh huh,” they responded.  “Here.  Let me help you clean your gun.”

“I don’t like shooting anything with a circulatory system.  I don’t like to fieldstrip a deer.  I don’t like to gut animals, skin animals, and hang them from trees so that their blood drips into the ground.  And I hate the taste of venison.”

“Uh huh, Max,” they would continue to respond.  “Look at this great new 20 gauge shotgun that grandpa is giving you for your graduation.”

Max’s family has never argued with him about hunting.  Nor do they try to force or intimidate him.  They just don’t hear a word that he says.

When he states, declares, avers, admits, confesses, or avows that he does not enjoy hunting, all they hear are birds twittering in the woodland, and those birds are singing, “Here I am, balancing on the branch of a tree.  I am waiting for you.  Please come and shoot me!”

It is not a matter of masculinity.

It is a matter of credulity.

The people in Max’s family do not believe his protestations, and they do not listen to his explanations.  That is a fact.  A fact that he has to deal with. 

So he does.

In his own way.

Here is how Max goes hunting every season.  He has been doing it this way since he first came to work for me.

He and his family, including all of the children and grandchildren, get up before four o’clock in the morning.

They meet at Sally and Joe’s place.

They have an enormous breakfast of pancakes, melted butter, syrup, Canadian bacon, and coffee.

They gather their equipment.

If they are hunting with someone else, they pair off.  If they prefer to hunt alone, they wander away by themselves.  Nothing is mandatory, and the sole objective of the day is to have fun.  

It is morning.  It is hunting season.  Their bellies are filled, and they are happy.  So, “Let’s go!”

And they do.

Sally and Joe Northrup own over forty acres of woods and farmland.  Amongst their seven children, they have another seventy-five acres on which to hunt.  Most of the land is contiguous, and none is more than a mile away.  

After their hearty breakfasts, family members often do not reappear until dinner.  

Max, wearing his camouflage jacket, pants, and boots and carrying his shotgun, also stalks into the forest.

It is about a mile and a half from his grandparents’ house to my back door.  It takes him about forty minutes to get here, proceeding through hedgerows, across creeks, and up and down hills.  He usually arrives at about 5:30 a.m., at least two hours before dawn.

I have the coffee hot, a pillow and quilt on my sofa, some chocolate chip cookies on an end table, and the fireplace going full blast.

We spend the day chatting, working, and eating.  I often drift into my studio to add dabs of paint to a watercolor that I should have finished long ago, and Max sleeps, reads, or indulges in Internet searches for architectural gardens on my computer.

At around 3:00 p.m., Max thanks me for lunch, snacks, and the pleasure of my company, and he trudges off.  On his way out, he rolls around a bit in the dirt, rubs his camouflage jacket against a few tree trunks, and discharges all of the rounds from his shotgun into the burn barrel in my backyard.  Then he makes his way through hedgerows across creeks, and up and down hills, eventually arriving at his grandparents’ home, presumably disheartened because he hadn’t been unable to bag a buck.

He does, indeed, come home empty handed.

For those unfamiliar with a “hunter’s blind,” it is a camouflaged shelter in which a woodsman can conceal himself so that the duck, deer, moose, turkey (or whatever he is tracking) do not perceive him.

On my property, Max and I have developed something in the nature of the same thing.  After he arrives at my backdoor, he conceals himself in my kitchen, and nobody in his family knows where he is.   

My house is Max’s hunter’s blind.

On some level, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t feel guilty, because I am such a bad influence.  After all, I encourage Max to deceive his family, and I am lying to my best friends.

But…

The last time I visited them, when the subject came up about hunting and Max’s bad luck, I saw Sally look at Joe, and Joe look at Sally, and…

No fools they.

I could swear that I saw Sally give Joe a wink.  

 * * *

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit  HYPERLINK "http://www.shellyreuben.com" \t "_blank" www.shellyreuben.com.

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2014

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