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October 9, 2006

Sweet Sixteen

I'm sitting here at home in Colorado, watching a light rain strip the last leaves from the trees. The aspens spill gold doubloons onto rock outcroppings, evergreens, and dried grasses. Turkey Creek runs a vermillion yellow, with cellophane waterfalls connecting leaf painted pools.

Fall is fading fast. Everything’s dying all around me. Closing in on me. I turn up the heat and put on a pot of coffee and Slinky chases the deer from beneath the deck.

And then the rain slows down. It doesn't let up, it just begins to fall slower than it should. And that can only be mean snow and I throw everything into a suitcase. I didn't sign up for this. Like "I'm sorry waiter, but this is not the weather I ordered", and there's a flight leaving in an hour and a half and if I hurry there's an outside chance I might make it.

I send out some text messages to TN in a panic.

“What's it like there??


“What's nice??


“I'm on the way.?

And I throw all my dirty clothes in a suitcase and some toiletries that I hope the TSA will let slide through their terrorism filter. I try to remember what they stole from me last time...shaving cream...deodorant...hair gel. If I were organized, I'd label everything as “Check? or “Carry on?. But there's no time.

Think brain, think. What will I need? Keys for my TN car. Check. Boarding pass. Check. Laptop. Camera. Headphones. Palm Pilot. 47 different chargers and I'm racing down through the canyon. This is where it counts. The airport is 50 miles from here, and I have to be on top of my game to make it. Have to drive like Mario Andretti through the canyons in the snow, slow down for the speed traps on the highway. I can make it, but I'm going to have to focus.

I'm speeding down through the canyon, past the vermillion creek but there's no time to gawk and I'm racing down and other cars are coming up the canyon past me and I just try to make it by them and then focus on the next hairpin.

And there's other flights to Nashville today, but I've got everything stitched up just so. There's a rental car that I'm going to snag at Nashville and it's a one-way deal that I had to call and beg the manager to arrange for me.

And I'm praying that my car is still at the rental car place in Lick Skillet. I told them I'd be back for it, but Christ it's been 5 weeks and the car has no plates and there's no chance it'll still be where I parked it, is there?

And I'm trying to get a better room in Lick Skillet. I'm tired of staying with the family that sits around getting stoned together. It's too depressing to watch...mom, dad, 18 year old daughter...other assorted relatives, sitting around the garage, getting high, and working on the brakes of one of their cars. Christ... I'd be afraid to work on my brakes sober, much less when I was baked out of my mind. But I digress.

At the long-term parking lot, I scramble into the shuttle and check my watch. I've got forty minutes until the plane flies and it's gonna be close but it's all out of my hands now, and I sit back in the shuttle and look at the only other person on the bus and it's a just a woman and she's hot but she's got a wedding ring on and I can't help her.

Another woman gets on and she's done the wedding-ring shuffle where you move your wedding ring to an adjacent finger. She still wears it, a band with a diamond the size of a brussel sprout, but it's on her middle finger now. An invitation, but a warning as well. "I'm available", it says, "but I'm not looking to move into a single-wide in the desert between Midland and Odessa." A little lap-man boards behind her and they sit together and I wonder if he knows that he'll never be able to take her home to his single-wide, no matter where it sits. Even if it's on Pismo Beach, it makes no difference. She's looking for a mansion perched out on Land's End, with stunning bay views of sunsets painted across the Golden Gate Bridge and waves breaking on Baker Beach, like Halsey Minor's palace.

And now the shuttle-monkey is throwing large soft suitcases into the bus and one of them is camo and three more people climb on board...two men and a little girl that might turn ten this year. And I figure they're hunters and I think....yeah...that's it...they've come out here to hunt. Elk...deer...mountain goats...who knows what else? And I wanted to say something. Wanted to ask them how the hunt went…did they get what they came for, but then I begin to wonder what makes me think they're hunters anyway.

Just cause they have a camo bag doesn't mean anything, really. I took one to Hawaii with all my snorkel gear, and I didn’t' kill anything, cept a few urchins and starfish. I wore full camo in Yellowstone, but I never fired a shot. What makes me so sure these three are hunters?

They certainly could be hunters...the two men anyway. Rough, white men of large build. Guys you were more likely to spot at Pismo than Potrero Hill. The girl is a tough one though. What of her? She seems a little too girly to be out in the field. She isn't wearing pink though, so there's a chance.

I try to imagine her in the field with a 12 gauge...no...too large...a twenty gauge...he'd have given her an old twenty gauge that he used to hunt with as a kid...a second-hand gun that his father picked up one Christmas Eve at a pawn shop and put under the tree on the Christmas he turned 10 and there she is in the field and now the dogs are getting closer and she puts her thumb on the safety and the dogs start getting birdy and she holds her breath and suddenly two pheasants explode from beneath the soles of her hunting boots, a size too large, rising from the wheat stubble fields and her heart stops and she stumbles back a half step and when her heart starts again, she takes the safety off, and the birds pull left and she swings left and her dad ducks as she pulls the trigger and time slows to a crawl and she never hears the explosion...doesn't feel the recoil of the gun...nothing communicates with the brain now but the eyes now and the eyes watch the rooster fold his wings, turn to stone, and collapse into the Colorado autumn and her lips draw into a self-conscious grin.

And suddenly, I was a child again and my dad was showing me how to use a shotgun for the first time. A new but plain .410 shotgun ripped from pages of the Sears catalog.

“Never point a gun at anything that you don't intend to kill.?

He speaks the words with a deliberate, earnest candor. The pipe is out. The eyebrows furrowed. This is this. That is that. Serious as a heart attack. No joking now. This is not the time.
“If you accidentally shoot someone with a .22 rifle, they'll go to the hospital and have the bullet removed. They wouldn't die though. They'll probably live."

He pauses for effect. Our eyes lock and I stand pat. Waiting for the next instruction in the set.

"If you shoot someone with a shotgun, though, it will open a hole in them you could stick your arm through. They will die for sure. They won't even bother taking them to the hospital. They go straight to the morgue. A shotgun is a different weapon, son. Be very careful with this.?

And he hands it to me and I'm standing there on the bank as the brown, muddy river dangles targets of opportunity before me. And the cold blue steel feels good against my cheek as I sight across the bead like it's a rifle cause I don't know any better and the swollen river delivers sticks, bottles, cups...a plethora of targets and I squeeeezzzeee the trigger and the water erupts all around a Styrofoam cup and I break the gun like I know what I'm doing and the shell goes flying out behind me and dad catches it in one hand and juggles it softly.

“Always be careful when you eject the shell, son. You could put someone's eye out? and he winks and hands me the shell and it's still hot and that delicious smell of spent powder climbs into my nose and I say "Oh...ok.?

And this girl is here and she's maybe a hunter and if she can hunt then maybe my daughter can hunt and maybe I'm just waiting too long to teach her. But then again, maybe they're not even hunters. Maybe they're just tree-huggers out here stretching the fall and hiking through that improbable grove of aspens on the back side of the Never Summer Mountains that always turns red in the fall and photographers come from all over to shoot in September.

But it's October and there's just no way they're stretching the fall and finally I can't stand it and when I see he has a hunter orange cap in his jacket pocket I can no longer contain myself and I blurt out “How'd the hunt go?? and he studies me very carefully. I'm wearing khakis and a striped 'nana 'public shirt and my elvis costello glasses and he says “The hunt went well.?

“Were ya'll huntin pheasant?? I ask. It's just a guess. Who knows what they were hunting. They look like money though and, on the private ranches, you can hunt pretty much anything from gazelles to spotted owls.

“We shot pheasant, chukkars, quail...?

“Nice. She hunts?? I ask, clarifying whether the little girl was in on the hunt as well.

“Oh yeah.? He replies proudly. “She got her first antelope. Got it all on video, too.?


There were no guns on the shuttle. That would have been a dead give away.

“Where's your guns?? I asked.

“We keep them there at the ranch.?

“Sure. Why not.?

And that was it. They aren't dripping blood in the shuttle. There are no quail feathers on their cuffs. But I finally notice they have a game cooler on the shuttle. The big magic marker says they're from Butternuts, New York. So, that explains it I guess. I think if you're back East, coming out to Colorado is a big deal. Lots of people come out to hunt mule deer, elk, mountain goats, antelopes...Lord only knows what. I personally don't care that much about bagging them, but if they feel the need to blast a few, it's no skin off my teeth.

Nothing more is said and the shuttle-bus is quiet save the rattling metal luggage rack and you wonder if the others on the bus are some PETA freaks about two seconds away from dumping a bucket of red paint on the lot of us you for killing one of God's creatures when the lap-man, clinging tenaciously, like a cocklebur, to the woman with the brussel sprout diamond, allows as how he's also shot an antelope also. And I'm glad to hear it.

I board the flight to Nashville and the man next to me has one eye and we land and I drive to Lick Skillet and Tennessee seems unconcerned about the fall. It harbors no ambitions toward autumn. Betrays no inclinations that fall has arrived, with winter hidden in its folds. All of this is lost on Tennessee. The nuance. The inflection. Even the insinuation of fall seems somehow missing, and for this I am irretrievably ecstatic.

My old beater car rests patiently, just as I left it, and it starts in a puff of smoke that climbs into my nose and I swear it smells like gunpowder and, out of the blue, Jennifer sends me a text message from New Mexico saying she's taking off for Colorado so she's shutting off her phone and I think how odd it is that we live on the same planet but see so little of each other. She's flying in when I'm flying out and we only missed each other by a few thin hours and I ask her via text message if she wants a shotgun for her birthday and she says “meh?.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on October 9, 2006 at 8:40 PM


Fall is fading fast. Everything’s dying all around me. Closing in on me.

And you turned 40 earlier this year...

Posted by: Grim Reaper on October 10, 2006 at 6:36 AM

ah to be young again...

Posted by: ah so on October 10, 2006 at 5:03 PM

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