The Hunt

Posted by jdg | Friday, September 16, 2011

He considered when it would be the proper time to teach them the importance of eluding fences. You can always go over them, he might say, but it's better to find a way under or even through them. A fence is a peculiar thing, he thought. By its very nature of projecting strength it invites analysis of its many weaknesses. And don't let them fool you: every fence is weak. The lesson, of course, is that with enough will, there is nowhere you cannot go. And conversely, nowhere you can truly hide.

This one was always easy. Behind it the mowed grass and landscaping quickly gave way to the absence of both, eleven-gauge knuckled steel shored against the waste land. Under the bridge, where the graffiti taggers work, the smell was perpetually wet. The concrete above drained here and the earth was made of discarded clothes and styrofoam and dirty mattresses and other garbage. It was best to visit after a good rain when the mud told tales like a guestbook in a rented room, reminding him that he was no trailblazer. Just another pilgrim.

He admired the plants that flourished among all this, wishing he knew all their names but questioning the actual utility of knowing. Every week until October there would be more, and he remembered what all this looked like the coldest days of winter, when he brought blankets and food to the men who lived in the basement of the old slaughterhouse and emerged like miners dinghy from the darkness when he called to them. Ordinarily he would free the dog when they got past the busted-through sheet metal that led to their cryptic warrens under the building, and the dog would always hear the leash clasp click shut and dart into the greenery to flush half dozen pheasants at once, but this time he held the leash taut and waited for the alert birds to thwack themselves airborne one by one as they walked, until he had counted two dozen. Someone told him this is where the city's pheasant population first exploded, when some escaped from poultry pens and started to feed from the grain stored in warehouses along the abandoned railroad line. He didn't know if there was any truth to this. The man who built a house out of an old pickup truck had long ago moved away. The neatly-dressed man who would sit outside his shelter near a giant African idol was gone too. Someone had spread plastic tarp all along this stretch of railroad ties, and he remembered the green sludge that had been oozing out of the old tannery a few years ago, pooling underneath the graffiti portrait of some kid. Where had all that green sludge gone? Far up the path, the railroad gully reverted to grade within a shrubland he hoped would one day become a forest. A fox crossed the path, unmistakable in her winter coat, followed by one, two, three black-armed kits.

* * * * *

The Unspeakable in Full Pursuit of the Uneatable

Followers of the Hunt: Girl, age six, on foot, armed with a purple flip camcorder, bait (uncooked scraps of grass-fed, organic chicken in a ziplock bag), stuffed toy fox (highly realistic). Boy, age three, on foot, armed with binoculars and a blue light saber (needs batteries).

The Hound (1): Birddog mutt (mostly German-Shorthaired Pointer), striped tail, six-foot leather leash, gun shy.

The Master of the Hound: Man, age 34, on foot, unarmed, unable to grow a proper beard.

Attire: Nontraditional.

Queries: What color are baby foxes? Do foxes really eat chicken? What if we don't see them? What do you call a girl fox? Why do the foxes live here?

Answers: [red] [yes] [we'll try again tomorrow] [a vixen] [they have found the space to live here]

The sun was setting on the brick Koenig coal plant and its rotting silos, long abandoned. This evening there was no acrid scent of burning plastic from the scrappers smelting down their wires in the silos, and the three hunters and their hound quietly crossed the vast gravel parking lot within earshot of patrons entering and exiting the city's oldest Italian restaurant. No fences to elude, but through a thicket of cattails they emerged on the other side of the railroad line 100 feet from where he spotted the vixen and her kits. Sitting on an old concrete block, the father pointed to where their quarry crossed the path and the little girl slowly walked her bag of stringy flesh there and carefully scattered it across the ground. Then, calmly, she walked backwards, fearing she might miss them if she dared turn her head. She rested on her knees by her brother and father, and waited.

You cannot will a fox out of his hole, it's true, but you might have believed they could by the prayers that passed their lips. They waited half an hour, maybe more. The boy kept his binoculars to his head the whole time (sometimes backwards). Each child insisted they saw a baby fox, but clearly could not will themselves even to believe their own words. "It might have been a rat," the girl conceded in a whisper. The time passed mostly in silence, only the windsound in the ghetto palms and thunk of cars over a metal plate in the road many blocks away. Their father whispered stories to pass the time. Poking in the dirt, they found the white skull of a lamb, picked clean. Desperate, they put their silent decoy a few yards from the meat, but it didn't work. In one final effort, they released the hound, who circled through the rushes, flushing a few pheasants and likely driving any nearby foxes deeper into the earth. There never was much hope, he sighed, I'm afraid I'm not much of a hunter. Maybe next time we could use a fox call? In failure, they headed home planning future hunts that would never happen.

He would not have believed the kids would talk about that spring night in mythic tones for months, but sometimes that's how these things go.