|A Forest Memory|
It was right about here, he thought to himself. Yes, this was it... he could tell by the curve of the old firelane and the lay of the land.
He had learned long ago that using trees as landmarks in the Florida sand pine scrub forest was undependable at best. The sand pines here were some of the sorriest trees ever to bear the name pine, and were often twisted easily in two by tornadoes or rendered into sawdust by pine borer beetles, if not shattered by lightning during the frequent thunderstorms. Those that survived would not always stand as they had in previous years, often taking on lists in one direction or another that would make recognition difficult. But this was the place, all right.
It was that tree right over there... or was it? It was hard to tell. But it was certainly the right area, of that he had no doubt. His mind began to automatically sift through his stores of memories, finding the right one as he considered how best to savor it. He closed his eyes, a thin but pleasant smile playing across his lips, and mentally hit the play button on a VCR located entirely in his head
The day had started out with the same urgent anticipation as every opening day before or since. He and his father had decided to hunt the same area where he'd seen a buck the previous season, and had gotten into the woods before dawn. He hunted on the ground rather than taking the time to set up a tree stand, but he expected to have a good view of the new clearcut anyhow.
It was a foggy morning, cold and damp. The moisture gathered on the Ruger 44 carbine that he carried, and soaked itself into his clothing. It hadn't taken long for the tension to be broken, though not in the way he would have liked the sound of rifle fire from the woods across the cut announced that at least one hunter had found his buck. When the fog had finally lifted, his view showed only shattered trees and scrub vegetation flattened by heavy equipment; no signs of life were evident.
He had met Dad back at the truck, and they'd headed out. Passing a group of happy hunters at a Jeep by the side of the dirt road, they saw the reason for the earlier gunfire. A buck deer steamed in the morning chill as the hunters reveled in their success.
They had come back to their camp, and decided to hunt elsewhere that afternoon. When they'd headed into the woods, Dad spotted a likely spot for his ladder stand, and they unloaded it as quietly as possible. Then he drove on alone, proud of being trusted with his father's truck, and found a spot of his own. He'd hauled out his homemade climbing tree stand and strapped it to his back, grabbed his rifle, and hiked across a hundred yards or so of open clearcut to a large stand of mature sand pines.
He had plowed into the thick underbrush, moving as quietly as possible, finding a fairly straight pine tree among its twisted and bent brethren. He had put his stand on that tree, fighting the wing nuts that had rusted lightly to their bolts during the off-season. The metallic clanks and clunks had him cursing himself for the racket, but there was nothing he could do about it now.
Up the tree, he had moved his adjustable seat to the rear, so he could sit with his back against the trunk. As he settled into the seat, he thought resentfully that it would be some time before the effects of his noise would allow him to reasonably expect to see a deer. His mood was somewhat sour, though as always tempered by the pleasant fact that he was in the woods, hunting. It was at that time that he'd heard something moving in the brush behind him.
He'd carefully twisted around to look, his heartbeat increasing as he did so. He'd clutched the carbine tighter and got his hands properly arranged on its stock. He had misjudged the location of the noise, and had to turn farther than he'd expected. What he saw was a deer - a buck deer! - carelessly feeding in his direction, maybe sixty yards away.
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