Well before sunrise and without the aid of alarm he climbed from bed and dressed head to foot in wool. His trousers were well worn European army surplus and fit well. They were slipped over his red long-johns and finished with braces branded with a popular chainsaw logo. His bedroom was cold and when he parted the curtains found six inches of new snow dusted his truck. He smiled.
Downstairs he centered his packed gear on the kitchen floor. He expected to be gone three days, if weather and luck permitted. A north wind blew as he took down his long abused Thermos and filled it with coffee, and then packed his travel lunch.
At last he laced his boots and tiptoed back upstairs and bent and placed a warm kiss to her cheek. She whispered, "Careful."
Outside he lit a cigarette and then used the flame of the Zippo to warm his truck key. He pulled from the driveway and the truck tires flopped until the road returned them from their frozen state back to round. Two hours later he began the risky move over Blewett Pass. Many thought him nuts for the attempt; a lone traveler that dared the risk of an often snow closed pass into the Cascade mountains, to hunt alone in such a vast wilderness - yet he cared less. He liked solitude, now.
The late elk season appealed to him. He'd waited, on purpose, until the bugle season was finished which thinned the crowd of the amateur, truck riding orange vest house ape types. He preferred the silence.
He drove in this silence.
He'd only arrived home a few weeks prior. They had reunited, and he'd worked hard to regain a normal life. They shared a business, a tiny street front building which gave onto a brick paved street embedded with railroad tracks which lead to the waterfront lumber mill.
As an aside to their business he'd taken to quietly investing in the private purchase of local firearms; the odd hunter's rifle, and once in a while, a handgun or two. Just a hobby. Along with the antique furniture he purchased refinished and sold, he'd clean and repair the guns and turn them over at a very small profit. He didn't like attention and kept the hobby as much under the table, so to speak, as possible. License holders, government boot lickers, were fools as far as he was concerned. He'd have none of it.
Even then he'd taken another job with the local lumber company. He liked the work, though hard, it kept him in the mountains. He worked among the tall timber and wildlife and the cold clear mountain streams and daily placed his boots upon virgin ground. In the off season as the weather ran the crews from their jobs he'd bid on cedar stumpage which gave him license to fall dead cedar trees for the shack mills. Work, allowed his mind peace.
He remembered she'd said, "I wish you'd take a friend."
He smiled and asked, "Why?"
"Because, you might have an accident. Then what? How will you get help? Why do you want to always be alone? Aren't you afraid?"
He'd never understand how people in this country could be afraid.
He walked back to the truck and removed his gear and stacked it on a flat area of ground then strapped on his handgun, a time worn Ruger, and moved into the timber for firewood.
Soon the wind intensified and traces of snow danced over the campfire. He made a simple meal and after walked a few yards to the stream and filled a bucket with water and returned and placed it just outside the glow of the fire and sat and smoked. The temperature dropped. Other the the whisper of the wind the mountains held their silence. He reached for his rifle case and removed the Remington 760.
Its wood was smoothly polished with age. It was an older model of 1952 and wore a nondescript fixed four power scope, a piece of junk he was sure would probably have fogged lenses before the weekend came to a close, and if so he'd decided he'd just remove the offending thing and throw it into the bushes. Even though the mountains required scoped rifles he still preferred iron sights. But, scopes had their place when one needed to glass far ridges for bedded animals.
He's stolen the rifle in the sense the man from whom he'd purchased it was in a bad way and his asking price laughable. He'd taken the rifle home and after a good cleaning had taken it out and placed three shots of 180 grain soft points on target in the shape of a clover leaf. The placement of each had touched the other. The 760 had earned its reputation of accuracy for a reason.
He wiped the old rifle and placed it back in its case. He rose and with Coleman lantern and heater in hand retired to his tent. The wind pushed hard on the canvas, and with its porous skin, the interior was cold and he welcomed the warmth of the goose down bag and was soon asleep and the snow fell hard and he dreamed.
Cold woke him. He eased to his elbows, the sleeping bag held tight, to find the foot of his bag covered in wind drifted snow. The night before he'd positioned his feet at the entrance of his tent and sometime during the night the wind had work the ties loose and he now found his feet covered in what felt like a block of ice.
"Why not. You used to take him hunting. You guys fished together, worked the woods."
He again said, "No. Enough."
She cried. He didn't understand her concern. She stood at the kitchen stove over a skillet of salmon patties. He was at the kitchen table and nursed a cup of coffee. He'd missed coffee.
Her family was concerned too but not about his solitary trips into the mountains. They consoled her, made remarks about his so called change of personality. They said he'd grown angry and perhaps they needed children. They said he could not be trusted and space was available at the local quacks office.
He'd continued to make detailed plans, a list. She'd had a change of heart. He felt better about himself and had broken out his gun cleaning kit and soon smelled of Hoppe's Number Nine.
After a quick snack and coffee and just before the sun kissed a far ridge he began his walk. His steps were silent in the fresh snow. He knew the path by heart. Over the stones of the stream and a short climb he descended into the next valley and crossed an old clearcut and found his stump. He sat, positioned his rucksack alongside and placed his rifle across his lap and assumed the position of frozen in place.
A light snow fell. He waited and watched. He never moved. Discipline is a gift. He remembered.
He'd arrived home with a slight limp. Some immediately noticed but others had pretended not, which was fine with him. If his boots were properly laced the limp was barely noticeable and at times he found himself making attempts to walk normal, and once or twice he'd made excuses like, 'oh, just a sprain,' until he'd said the hell with it and told a few it was none of their damn business.
He'd found the game trail a month earlier. He driven over for birds and he and his lab and worked the area very carefully. When he'd returned home with a bag of grouse and quail he also carried the knowledge of the elk sign and knew he'd return. He knew the elk would move to lower elevations with the first snows of the season and he knew they'd move along these trails and he'd chosen his hide with care and the stump provided the perfect elevation and gave him a great platform for his shot.
If necessary the stump gave enough area for him to use the prone position for long range kills. He liked stumps.
He occasionally glanced at its surface and made attempts to count its rings and thus its age. The snow slacked after about an hour and he'd almost decided to risk a quick pour and sip of coffee when the elk appeared like tan and brown ghosts at his three o'clock. He waited. All cows at first but he was sure a bull would break from the tree line when the herd moved far enough into the clearing. The bull never made an appearance and his patience almost cost him a cow. The rifle rose and he gathered the sight picture and made calculations and within seconds an afternoons work settled to ground.
He returned to camp and gathered his pack frame a cruising ax and saw. He returned and quartered the animal after he first carefully wrapped the heart and liver and was happy he'd have liver and onions for dinner. Six trips to camp and he had the young cow hung. Overnight the meat would freeze.
She asked, "If you get one the first day you'll come home early, won't you?"
The next morning he caught six nice but very small trout from one spot on the stream. He'd fried them in butter and along with a full plate of hashbrowns had the best breakfast he'd eaten in many years.
"How was it?" He smiled and remembered.
"You feel better?"
"Yes. I see we have fresh snow."
"It hasn't let up since you left. By the way, my mother has invited herself to dinner. Hope you don't mind. She was worried about you."
He reached and took down his old enamel ware coffee pot and turned towards the kitchen door.
"Where are going with that?"
"Thought I'd get some snow for coffee. I remembered an old trick for great tasting coffee. I'm sure you and your mother will love it. Besides, Dixie needs her afternoon walk."
He loved his lab...