He was certainly
not an old man to appeal to sentimentalists, no subject for a Norman Rockwell
Saturday Evening Post cover or a candidate for the role of Grandpa Walton. He
was white-haired, dark-skinned, short, lean and foul-mouthed. I hunted with him
only once, on a southern Oregon fall afternoon.
It was hot, and I
was walking an old and deeply rutted logging road into some steep, rough
country. Otto, my year-old retriever, was somewhere up ahead in the trees,
probably chasing squirrels.
"You ought to
keep your mutt close," the harsh voice said from behind me.
I jumped and
turned. He must have been 75, could have been 80, and he stood there glowering
at me, dressed in tattered, baggy denim pants and a much too large green T
shirt. Protruding from the sleeves were two arms so lean they looked to be made
of brown leather stretched over networks of cables and wires. The
double-barreled 12-gauge that he carried across his shoulder looked huge,
creating the impression of a child packing a small cannon. His own dog was
closely at heel. "There's grouse along this road," he said, "if
that's what you're looking for."
"I've been in
here four or five times and never seen a bird along here yet."
He swore. Then he
said, "I've been in here four or five hundred times."
"Then I guess
you should know."
"I do. They're
here. But I don't hunt roads myself."
I whistled Otto
back and scolded him to heel. He was interested in the other dog, a female, but
dog," the old man said. "At least he's trained some."