The DOORWAY Buck
Author: CM Sackett

Chapter 6
From Lost Lodge To Learning Things...

We cleared the last small rise, at the end of the up-sweeping curve that marks the eyes’ first framing of Lost Lodge. The cabins, the hotel and restaurant, and the lodge itself were bundled in thick, fresh blankets of white. With the sun beginning to sparkle off their clean, crystalline covers, they looked almost alive… like the warm, welcoming havens of human enterprise, laughter and sport they were built to be ~~ and not the abandoned, haunting reminders of broken dreams and the unrealized plans of “outsiders” they were.

     The place had sat empty, tucked into the flat crown of this mountain for years, like a brand new subdivision that folk had labored to build, walked away from to have lunch…, and then forgotten how to get back to. On the second floor of the Lodge, there are still boxes of flyers announcing this “INCREDIBLE NEW LUXURY RESORT!” urging potential buyers to “HURRY!” before this “ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY” passes them by.

     Seems no one got the message.

     I asked Tuck about it, who started it… why here… and what happened? He smiled as he looked back at the sun, “That one’s best told around the fire, son. Right now, there’s a little clearing just over there a ways,” he pointed to the east, past the last cabin nestled into the edge, where the timber met the meadow “and we got just enough time to settle in there before the world starts to come alive.”

     We left the logging road just a couple hundred yards past the cabin and carefully made our way across the last bench. The seemingly impenetrable wall of old growth timber and blow downs suddenly gave way to a high-ridge meadow, right at the leading edge of our mountain.

     The last area we had negotiated was a maze of broken bluffs… wild, dark thickets of false grape, mountain azalea, low-bushed huckleberries, and persimmons. At the far end of this oasis (the whole of the thing wouldn’t have rightly covered 200 yards in any direction) were tangles of trumpet honeysuckle, blackberry and elderberry, coral berry, Chickasaw plum and rusty black haw. I swear to my time! That old man had brought me right into the storehouse kitchen of this entire mountain!

     The tail of my fox-hat was wagging like a 3-month old pup over fresh milk as I looked back… and forth… and up… and down! OH MY GOODNESS! This was going to be GOOD!

     And the sun was indeed beginning to light the stage… I remember thinking to myself, “Let the show begin.”

 

I was looking around for the ‘hot’ trail we were to set up on, an old ground blind… or something. Tuck, he just started walking right out into the meadow, straight to a large chimney rock at the Northeast end!

     “Well, come on boy.” He said in a low, muffled chuckle “Ain’t you never heard of huntin’ out of a ‘tree-stand’ before?”

     As a matter of fact, I hadn’t. Besides, that old monolith sure as hell wasn’t no tree!

     That chimney rock was every bit of twenty foot high and 10-12 foot around, standing right out there on its own, in that little dished field. Mr. Tuck later explained how the mountain was pocked with these up thrusts of limestone, “These things are like the core of old ground, son. Over time, the dirt and other less hardy stuff washed or blew away. Not all of them are sturdy enough to climb on… remember that. But those that are can make a fine place to scan the country or cache supplies and sundries for future times.” He stopped and reached into a pocket, and pulled out an ivory-handled Farrier's pocketknife.

     “You see that Travis? I found it and a Cavalry officer’s entire truck wrapped in heavy canvas and oilcloth when I was just a lad, not over 13. It was tucked under a ledge, atop of one of them. The Stars-n-Stripes was a tattered mess, but the weapons and sundries were fine.”

     My jaw was hanging open, my imagination working fierce and free!

     “Yessir” He says “I was just out scramblin’ around like young coons do. Came across this here likely chimley (that’s how we said it in them days…), and crawled up to get a better look at my kingdom. There was a Spencer carbine, complete with two Blakeslee cartridge boxes… FULL. In another oilcloth, he had a Le Mat revolving carbine (clean as a whistle), bullet molds and low-rowel spurs made by the “MEMPHIS NOVELTY WORKS, TENNESSEE” Why, I even found his curry comb!”

     “The end of his lance and pennant had been uncovered by some scroungin’ critter. The shaft had been gnawed to half its length. But the point and fore shaft were still good. In a separate diddy I found his sidearm. Boy was she a beaut! A Remington New Army revolver, complete with holster and caps! I still got it all up to the house, even the shreds of battle flag.”

     I asked him how he figured it came to be up there.

     “The how’s easy, son. A man put it there. The mystery and the wonder of it to the rest of us is, WHY?” Then he cuffed me lightly on the shoulder and winked, “But, tweren’t no mystery to him, now was it?!”

 

Tuck led the way as we made our ascent up the side of that snow-coned finger of rock. I could tell right off, he’d been here (and done this…) many a time, ‘cause it took him no time a‘tall to find and clear each climbing notch of slick white, and scramble to the top… I took a bit longer, but Man-O-Man… what a view!

     Perched up there, I could see much of the trail we’d covered through the thicket to get here. I noticed another swale I hadn’t been able to see from the ground, running along the mountain’s edge ahead of us like a long, narrow finger swipe out of grandma’s Christmas cake icing. It formed a perfect funnel, leading from the lower benches, where our mountain dove into the dark, deep fold-line between its own North-northeastward footprint and the broad, steep face of the next, running perpendicular to the West. And I could see the scores of trails and bottlenecks crisscrossing both ramparts through the leaf-bare gowns of oak and bitternut, mocker nut and Ozark chinquapin… laced with just a hint of color from a myriad of maples, sweet gums, and Tree of Heaven. Oh my! Oh my, MY… there HAD to be somethin’ in these woods!

     We weren’t up there three minutes before I heard the distinct “kee-ee~putt-purrrr” of a contented hen turkey. Tuck smiled a warm, knowing smile, but didn’t move. I couldn’t help my young self… I turned and looked.

 

From under the canopy of a small stand of cedars they materialized, spilling onto the billowed snow of our meadow like dark, malted milk balls, slowly rolling across a flannel tablecloth. In fairly ordered fashion they came… 10… 20…30… 40… 47 birds! Hens, jakes, and three nice toms (one was a whopper!) spread out to soak up the sun and scratch for the field’s hidden fare, all the while filling the air with their peculiar brand of dinner conversation. I watched, as the light played off their feathers, creating that flashing kaleidoscope of reds and greens and blues that momentarily adorns their otherwise ‘dull’ brown coverings.

     It probably didn’t take them five minutes to cover that little field, but boy-o-boy, what a show! We actually had them directly under us for a spell, totally unaware of our presence. I noticed Mr. Tuck break his stony stance and begin to line up his bow, like a slow-moving Copperhead, his eyes burning a hole in that big tom. I thought for an instant that he was going to finish the draw on him… but then he slowly relaxed and brought his bow back to rest on his knees. The old man turned, winked and whispered “Countin’ coup, son. Just because we don’t aim to take ‘em… don’t mean I don’t aim to think about it.” Then he added with a sly grin, “Besides, I know where he’ll be TOMORROW.”

     Made sense to me; my bow hand had been itchin’ ever since the first sight of them! The thought of ol’ LogHorn was the only thing that had kept me still.


     The birds finally drifted over to that finger swale at the end of the mountain, and then, just as suddenly as they had appeared… vanished over the edge. We could hear them for another minute or two, contentedly working their way to the next bench and the next morsel, on their way to the roosting trees down along Cave Creek.

     Those turkeys had just barely gotten out of earshot when Tuck nudged me. I followed the direction of his gaze. Standing just inside the veil-thin cover of timber, where that finger swale emptied into the meadow… was a doe. There hadn’t been anything there just a few seconds ago… And to me, she looked mighty nervous, kept glancing over her shoulder and twitching her tail like somethin' was after her.

     Now what in the world was that all about?!

     Tuck was visibly excited. I could hear his breathing speed up, each breath short and sharp… and he was leaning forward, ever so slightly.



     She stepped lightly into the clearing, still keeping tabs on the funnel she had come out of. She paused for a second, giving the ground ahead a quick once-over. Then, after another long, keen look back, her head came up like a woman who was fed up and sure of herself and she broke into a high-stepping trot to the opposite side of the meadow. She wound up just this side of the cedars, turned, and faced her back trail… that head still up and her ears locked forward.

     What was she waiting on?

     After this afternoon, I would never have to ask that question again.

 

I heard his muffled footfalls and his short; staccato’d grunts a good bit before I laid eyes on him. And when I did, he was doing the very same thing my little buck had been doing yesterday… fast-walkin’ with his nose to the ground, like a beagle working a rabbit.

     OOOHHH! So THAT’S what they’re up to!!!  I was almost embarrassed.  If Tuck had turned and looked at me I think I would have been!  But that old man was utterly tuned in and zeroed on that buck’s every move, his body, and bow slowly keeping shot-flush with the big boy’s chest as he worked his way out of the funnel… and straight to us. 

     When the buck got to the meadow’s edge he finally stopped and lifted his magnificent head high into the air.  He didn’t even seem to see the doe standing stock still against the cedars. He just curled that upper lip of his like a kid at a family reunion, facing the dreaded possibility of aunt Margaret’s “broccoli surprise” and rocked his head back and forth.

     Only, I don’t think he was dreading ANYTHING at this particular moment. 

     Tuck was right; this old monarch was phenomenal! His rack, swaying at the end of that stump-thick neck looked more like the branches of an oak tree than deer horns!  And as he brought his head back level I could clearly see the span and mass of the ol’ boy’s glory. 

     His antlers, except for the tips, were the color of clover honey.  The last inch and a half of each columnar spear was ivory white. The massive beams that served as a solid foundation for 14 spikes (several reaching over a foot into the sky) and anchored the whole arsenal to his head were as big around as a blacksmith’s wrist.  They swept out and forward like the handrail of one of them fancy hotel’s spiral stairs, ending far forward of his nose in a pearly dagger point. 

     He was just beginning to cross the drifts to his prize, totally unaware of us… when all Hell broke loose!

 

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