Sunday, July 23, 2017

BEAR SEASON by Peter Nolan Smith

Hunting season along the Hudson River opened in mid-October.

Bow and arrows only.

Guns weren't allowed until November, so I felt relatively safe walking in the woods wearing a neon-orange hooded sweatshirt. No animal in that color existed north or south of Troy, New York and during the shooting season non-hunters drape their bodies in brilliant orange to prevent any hunter from mistaking them for a deer.

“No one has ever been refused a hunting license because they’re color blind,” Floyd told me at the Green Acres Tavern. The drinking establishment on Rte. 29 was brightly lit all hours of the day, since the owner thought people looked more honest under 100-watt light.

“So someone might shoot me even if I’m wearing this.” The orange was hurtful to the eye.

“If drink was involved, everyone is fair game.” Belvin shrugged his shoulders.

The fifty-six year-old farmer was a crack marksman. The previous weekend he had scored 99 out of 100 with a bolt-action .308 Winchester. “People shoot at whatever they see come hunting season. One time I’m sitting here and this down-stater enters the tavern, telling everyone about the spike-horn deer he killed. None of us had ever heard about this species of deer and asked to see his kill. It was a billy goat.”

“That’s nothing. Them folks will shoot anything that moves.” A scrawny UPS driver diverted his attention from the NFL replays. People up here like talking about hunting season. “My uncle’s game warden down in Duchess County. One time he stops a truck on Route 44 and asks the driver what he has on the roof. The driver tells him a spotted deer. It was a St. Bernhard.”

“I lost a cow to a hunter three years ago.” A lady mournfully remembered with a Bud in her hand. “She was a good milker.”

“I’ve never hunted in my life.” My father was vehemently anti-gun, so the majority of my experience with weapons came from shooting with my Dutch uncle Howie Hermann at the 20th Street Shooting Range in Manhattan. Every Monday night we would meet at the 2nd Avenue Deli and then drive over to shoot pistols; Lugers, Colts, S&W ad infinitum. Howie was sweet as pie, but he liked his guns.

“Nothing wrong with not hunting," another drinker commented from the end of the bar. His voice betrayed his real feeling on the subject. Guns were sacred this far north of New York City.

“I know that.” My youth had been spent in Maine. Deer and bear had been strapped to cars during hunting season. Blood dripping over the windows was a badge of manhood in the North. “I never really wanted to kill anything, but I’m not saying it’s not a good thing as long as it’s for eating.”

“Deer meat’s good.” Belvin had a side of deer in his freezer. “Bear not so good.”

“If you get them in the fall, you can grill them up as steaks.” A bearded beer-drinker added from his stool. Everyone here knew everyone. “But they cook up dry real quick.”

“But if you undercook it, you get trichinellosis.” I was the outsider, but was familiar with this problem thanks to reading about the disastrous Franklin polar expedition. The crew ate bear and died of trichinellosis.

“That’s deadly, ain’t it?” The beer-drinker was scratching his head, as if his fingers might jog lose the brain cells holding that information.

“Same as if you ate uncooked pig.” Belvin was a subsistence farmer. He could eat everything on his land, excepting the tree bark and his wife knew how to make teas from them. “You get nausea, heartburn, dyspepsia, and diarrhea. That’s why the Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork.”

“I’m not so sure that’s the reason. I have a lot of Jewish friends who are bacon Jews. They love pork. I think the real reason that their religions prohibit pork is that it tastes so good.” At least to my palate. “I was in Sumatra once. A big island in Indonesia. Full of Muslims. Anyway I go up to the highlands and the people are Christians. Everyone of them. They even sing Christian prayer songs like BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON. We were out in the forests and I asked them as we were cooking wild pig, why they didn’t become Muslims like everyone else. The elder explained that they loved the taste of pork too much to give it up for any god.”

“Not much tastes better than bacon.” The UPS driver smacked his lips.

“What about apple pie?” The woman eyed the dessert tray by the kitchen window. The food at the tavern was home-made.

“Apple pie is pretty damn good, but it ain’t meat.” The bearded farmer’s statement was rewarded with nodding heads.

“The pig that night on Sumatra was good. The hill people ate everything, but the oink. Afterwards the headman asked, “You know why we like pig so much?” I shook my head and he answered by saying, “Because it tastes like man.”

“Cannibals.” Belvin’s hand reached for a gun at his waist, but te .357 was in the truck.

“Supposedly not anymore, but I didn’t like the way they were looking at me. Sort of like a fat person after eating a salad.”

“What you do?” The UPS driver was on the edge of his seat.

“I thanked them for the dinner and headed home. I thought they were going to bushwhack me on the trail. I locked the door of the hotel and left the next day. Believe I was happy to be back with the Muslims, although they were a little grim about my beer-drinking, but I’ve never heard of any Muslim cannibals.”

“Me neither.” The bartender put a shot of whiskey in front of me.

“What’s that for?”

“You won the biggest bullshit story of the night award.” Belvin scanned the rest of the clientele. They were locals. “No one here can come up with better.”

“But it wasn’t bullshit.” My bone marrow trembled with the remembrance of the ex-cannibals’ faces.

“You should make it a double.” The UPS driver had returned his gaze to the Jets’ highlights. “He even believes his own bullshit.”

“Here’s to bullshit.” I drained the shot and ordered a round for the bar. It wasn’t painful. Buds in the Green Acres are only $2.50 and that’s everyone’s favorite beer. Mine was Labatt’s Blue. It cost $3. Belvin drove me home before midnight. We had long tomorrows ahead of us. He left me off at the end of my friend’s drive.

“That was sure some good story.” Belvin was smiling with the belief that I was the best bullshitter he had heard in some time.

“Thanks.” Sometimes it’s best not to disappoint the masses. I waved goodnight and Belvin disappeared over the crest of the hill. In the light of the moon my sweatshirt glowed orange. I made it home without a single shot coming in my direction.

Next month would be another story.

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