Dad still insists – and will likely insist until his dyin’ day – that his old huntin’ dogs Andy and CC, were perfectly sane, model examples of squirrel dogs – or would have been if not for being “hot-nosed,” “high-strung,” or some other colloquialism. Never mind Dad once had to literally dig Andy out of a hole where he had wedged himself in and was slowly suffocating trying to reach a possum that was somewhere at the other end. CC was equally as unhelpfully tenacious; she once bit my brother Adam’s (ex) girlfriend’s dog on the rear end and refused to let go, forcin’ Adam to pry her jaws open. Both dogs had an adversarial relationship with Adam, Andy especially. In addition to jumpin’ out of the truck on Adam’s watch and gettin’ lost for more than a week, Andy also had the annoying habit of swimming laps across the fishin’ pond and disturbin’ the water every time Adam was out there tryin’ to catch something.
But they were Dad’s dogs and he was fond of them, and, I must admit, he could usually persuade them to find a squirrel. A single squirrel, that was usually found not by any craft or cunnin’, but by accidentally trippin’ over it.
And then there was this one time that it was Adam’s last Christmas break of his college career. This would have been a wistful event under any circumstance, but was made even more so because he was about to take a job more than a thousand miles away. So, for his sake, I decided to forgo a nice relaxin’ day surrounded by my holiday loot, and instead volunteered to go squirrel huntin’ with my him and my dad. Dad arose at some unspecified 0-dark-thirty hour, I flung myself out of bed at seven, Adam lurched down the hallway at seven-thirty, and we set off for the Bottom at eight, dogs in tow.
“The Bottom” is what everybody back home calls the acres and acres and acres of woods just south of here, through which San Miguel creek runs, which the locals, includin’ myself, pronounce “Sammy Gil.” These hills and the bottom-lands in between are divided between various folks’ barbed-wire fences and “Posted” signs. As we got to the border of our own tract, Adam jumped out and opened a gate, and we drove into our land. We dismounted at the Old House Place, named so because my great-grandparents lived there back before their house burnt down. Their yellow daffodils still bloom under the big magnolia tree.
We let Andy and C.C. jump down from the back of the truck and take off runnin’, while Adam and Dad adjusted their guns. I never carried a gun myself, havin’ no fondness for loud explosions and a demonstration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion right next to my ear. Instead, my job was to be the “vine-shaker.” I would find a vine hangin’ from the tree, shake it, and hope that a squirrel up in there would move, be seen, and thus be shot. Yes, a dead squirrel did once fall in my hair.
But on this particular trip, we had no such luck. Andy and CC didn’t cooperate with our commands to branch out into the woods and sniff out squirrels like they were supposed to. Instead, they ran straight down the road, frolickin’ about, enjoying the fine January weather. Eventually, we managed to lose ‘em, and so Dad, Adam and myself found a nice log and sat down.
I was drawin’ flowers in the dirt, Dad was gazin’ at the ground, and Adam was starin’ off into the distance when we heard it: a nondescript, respectable bark from Andy, coupled with CC’s high-pitched, frantic “EEEYEP! AYEEEE AYEEEEP!”
We took off. Dad barreled his way through whatever underbrush, branches and almost-trees that stood in his way, while Adam and I had to circle ‘round saplin’s and trip over roots. Eventually, we found the dogs starin’ up a big pine tree.
“Oh, I love big ol’ pine trees,” Dad said with sarcastic enthusiasm – these trees have furry-looking leaf silhouettes and dark bark that squirrels can easily hide in. However, Andy and CC hadn’t made up their minds. They barked at the pine, then barked at the oak, and finally sniffed up an entirely different tree, and none of us humans could locate any creature of any sort up any tree. We departed the vicinity, with Dad askin’ the dogs what was wrong with them.
He continued to ask them that through a series of other failed tree-ings. Discouraged, and about to go home, Dad noted to his human children: “Well, it’s a purty day.”
“I had fun!” I offered.
Adam, on the other hand, had a different philosophy. “I came to the woods to kill somethin’,” he growled.
My brother you, see, is a lover of nature. He loves making friends with lizards and fillin’ feeders for birds and adoptin’ stray cats, and also meanderin’ through our ancestral woods, shootin’ authorized fauna and dinin’ on his quarry. So, he was a tad disappointed by the barrenness of the day.
Until the dogs started barking. Really barking. In retrospect, we should have know that such frantic bays could lead to little good, but we took off through the woods till we stumbled on the dogs havin’ conniptions at the base of a huge, barren oak.
“I see it,” Adam said.
“Well, I can only see the tail.”
I found a vine, and on Adam’s signal, started shakin’ it. And that’s when all hell broke loose.
You see, Dad’s nickname for Adam is “Lead-Slinger.” He shoots early, he shots often, and he shoots accurately. If you eat any of the squirrels he brings back, be prepared to spit out a lot of lead.
“There it is!” Adam cried
“There’s another one!”
“There’s two of them!”
Like Wile E. Coyote transfixed by a fallin’ anvil, I saw two large shapes fallin’ down at me from the tree. But, being smarter than that particular coyote, I took off runnin’. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that wasn’t no squirrel fallin’.
“Adam, boy, those’re ‘coons!” Dad exclaimed, holding up what was indeed a pair of coon cadavers.
“For goodness sake, Adam!” I admonished.
“Poor ‘coons, Adam shootin’ at ‘em,” Dad said.
“I didn’t know it was a ‘coon!” Adam protested, “All I could see was the tail!”
“Poor ‘coon,” Dad repeated.
The dogs likewise decided that it was Adam’s fault they had decided to corner a pair of coons, and wagged their tails judgmentally.
Well, waste not, want not. Adam had set off in the mornin’ on a quest to find lunch, and was determined to find said lunch no matter what unusual form it took. So, he brought the ‘coons home, skinned ‘em, seasoned ‘em, and barbecued e’m.
It was not the best meat I’ve ever tasted, but it is one of the best stories I’ll ever tell.