Friday, February 18, 2011


                                    Be Advised
   I had accumulated five hunting stories that I wanted to tell, but had not, because they each contain a peculiar, and personal violence apart from ordinary hunting.  But they finally got the best of me, and I invented a third gazette, after The Boulderceek Angler and its twin The Bouldercreek Actor. The third was to be, as you might have guessed, The Bouldercreek Hunter. I sent out four stories in four paper editions of  this new gazette.

    Now, I am unable to hold back on the fifth story. All of them had been as near truth as I could get them, but this last one, the one here posted on this obscure blog, is not a tale of  killing
deer, antelope, ducks,  pheasants, or  grouse. It is the tale of killing a Man.
                                    Be advised.
In any case, this is the end of my hunting stories. I have no more. It’s enough.

The Bouldercreek Hunter
Hunting Story Number Five
The Death of Ken John

Ingmar Bergman’s
The Seventh Seal
A Film
Antonius Block, Crusader, tormented with doubts of God,
Returns to Sweden locked in Plague.
Block meets Death. They play chess.
In agony of doubt, Block wants knowledge from Death.
Death replies that he knows nothing.
That he is “Unknowing”.
Death is the unknowing of us all.

And I saw when the lamb opened one of the seven seals
and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder,

     We decided to hunt this miserable looking gulch, locked up as it was in January snow and ice. It might hold grouse. I was to cut a swath down the steep gulch-side to the bottom  with Bill and Ken doing the same upstream and down from me at the center.  I got to the bottom without seeing a sign of a bird.
   Just as I was crossing the ugly little stream, I saw Ken, down below, pushing hard to get to a level, snow-covered open space at stream-side, no bigger than a man lying asleep. I could see him clearly now-- maybe two hundred yards-- and behaving strangely. Then he went down flat in the snow, and I knew there was trouble, real trouble.

And when he opened the seventh seal, 
there followed a silence in heaven
 about the space of half an hour

    I shall try to write down how Bill, Ken, and I had for some time planned a grouse hunting trip into the Pennsylvania Poconos. Ruffed grouse, maybe the finest of all up-land game birds, are a challenge to hunt under the best of circumstances. But I thought I knew where to find them and could put some up, for Ken and Bill to put down.  Never really a good shot, I would as likely miss these wonderful birds as they explode from cover.
    Ken and Bill and I laughed and joked about how I could bird-dog for them and make any difficult retrieve-- after they shot with such style and accuracy. We would have a swell time in the way good hunters who are good friends have of enjoying themselves. Three true-blue academics, three professors of good reputation: Ken a biologist of gracious wit, warmth, and prodigious learning-- and, important to me because of his Wyoming extraction-- Bill, tall, lanky, Lincolnesque, a classic Texan and noted economist; and I, whatever I was or am or shall be… I was, in fact, flattered to be in the company of  these brilliant, swell guys. I’d happily bird-dog for them any day.
    Ken had not been feeing too well lately and had gone to see his physician who advised against the hunting trip. But single-minded Ken was determined to go and told Betsy, his wife, that he was going and that was the end of discussion.
    Bill and I were brought up short and worried when Ken, on the drive from Lancaster up into the mountains, told us of his doctor’s advice. At our lodging that night, in a moment alone, Bill and I talked about the risk and agreed that we’d keep a close eye on Ken and not let him push himself too hard. When we hinted around with Ken about this, he blithely as anything told us that if he had trouble in the woods, we were to tie his arms and legs together, string him on a pole, and tote him out. It was hard to laugh.

And I saw, and behold, a pale horse:
and he who sat upon him, his name was Death; 
And Hades followed with him ,And there was given unto them authority
 to kill with the sword and with famine and with death,
 and by the wild beasts of the earth.
    The first morning we worked a difficult mountain side and missed shots at two grouse that we knew to be moving ahead of us, and when we finally got them to hold at an old manger-shed in a remote clearing, missed them again.
     Next we were in a swamp, hiking from hummock to hummock, more intent on keeping our feet than on finding birds -- which we did not. I didn’t like the place at all, no sun, no landmarks. I thought of Bunyan’s “Slough of Despond”. There seemed to be no way back or out. I felt lost. Deeper and farther, when suddenly, there was solid dry ground once again and not too far from our car.  We had cut a great circle in there, each of us in his own way more than glad to be out. Strange for me, because I like swamps. But not this one. Everything about it was ominous and a threat.

And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face
of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.

    Then it was down into that gulch. Ken had fallen and I was scared to death. I dropped my gun in the snow and took off on a loping, leaping high run down stream over ice and stone to get to where he had gone down in the snow . When I got there, thankful not to have fallen and wrecked myself, I thought Ken was  already unconscious, all blue, rasping horribly, and convulsing.
   I pulled him up to me and yelled that he was not to die, that he would be all right. But he would not hear. I tried the c p r that I could and pounded on his chest, but I knew somehow that he was dead, that his heart had blown itself all to pieces. He may never have heard or felt my being there. He may, for a brief, terrible moment, have known he was dying alone-- and cold,  and  in a hellish place.
    I yelled for Bill who soon whistled back, coming on a high dangerous run himself. I was beginning to feel terribly alone with Ken dead in my arms. When Bill got there, like me, fearing the worst, he thought he should be the one to go for help, up the hill, out of this damnable gulch, to the house above where we had parked,  to call for help.
    The wait for me was a dead time, neither long nor short, just a stunned wait.  When Bill got back with medics, they wasted no time checking Ken and rolling him onto the stretcher they had brought down with them, and with a speed I could hardly believe, took off up and out of there, four of them on the stretcher, not a pole, for God’s sake! And me stumbling as best I could along behind. And in the wild, crazy sort of attention to detail at times like these, Bill ran back up the creek to where he had seen I had dropped my gun and rescued it. I couldn’t imagine how he could keep going that way.
    All six of us knew Ken was gone, but no one would say it, not a word. Somehow we got to a local hospital, waiting for a doctor to come out and tell us that Ken had probably died almost at once.
   Arrangements were made, a death certificate issued, the body to be sent back to Lancaster-- and Bill and me to drive Ken’s car home.
   We talked a manic blue streak all the way on the painful drive-- in something, I suppose, like hysteria--wanting so much to get there, but hating to have to arrive and face the music of this sacrificial hunt.
   I would never talk “Wyoming” with Ken again, never hear about his beloved wild pigeons that he studied at the mouth of the Wind River Canyon. We had killed no birds, were making no triumphant return to town, and had managed only to kill Ken. We should never have let him go down into that gulch. We knew…. But he seemed to be having a great time, and insisted that he was raring to go.
   Still, he need not have died from that simple heart attack down there in the loneliness of the ice and snow and deepening shadows of the afternoon,
    We would meet the family, attend the funeral, tell our tale to everyone. We would smile and nod agreement that it was a good way to die, that Ken would have wanted it that way, and that everything was just swell, and weren’t we three really swell guys after all. All that rot, that cant, that effort to outplay death-- the great unknowing,
   Not a bird had gone down, not one decent thing had come of it. What we accomplished was the loss of a fine biologist in the finest middle of his life, a loved teacher, and a private man with an extraordinary family-- and a dear friend. Convention required that we put the best possible face on it all.  And so I  did, when I spoke at Ken’s funeral.
   Bill and I never, after that funeral day, talked about it. Isn’t it strange that grouse are still up there in the mountains, bursting from cover with that heart-stopping “boom”? We could at least have got a couple. I’ve not hunted them since.
   And what have I learned from this hunting trip? Nothing. Nothing of the death of this hunter who shall not ever return from his hill, nothing of the death of the hunted, nothing of our own deaths, all too soon to bring us down.

                                      l’ envoi 
  Antonius  Block, Crusader, played chess with Death and lost. The Seventh Seal was broken to reveal that Death is the great unknowing, the emptiness of all knowledge.
   However, an itinerant young father and mother with their bouncing baby boy, had stumbled into this catastrophe And, with all the necessary dying done, they survive to take their wagon out onto the high road into the full sunshine of something like happiness.
  The father is a wandering player who has beatific visions and composes songs. The mother manages, and the baby’s diaper is soaked.      

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