The clatter and clang of the old Big Ben alarm clock jolted him from his hard-won slumber. Reaching over to the bedside table he fumbled with the clock trying to find the small plunger that would silence the din. Out of habit he reached up to switch on the lamp, “Not today.” He reminded himself.
In the cold darkness of the empty camp he swung his legs out from the covers and sat up on the edge of the bed. The air around him was cold and he fought the urge to dive back under the heavy warmth of the musty old army blankets. “The good old days?” he mused as he rummaged in the darkness, found the box of wooden matches and stuck one on side of the box.
By the wavering yellow light a coal oil lamp he pulled on an ill-fitting union suit and a thick pair of wool socks. He would finish dressing once the fire was going again. A warm bed of coals made short work of the scraps of kindling and soon a small but vigorous fire was burning in the pot-bellied stove. Tossing on a few respectable size splits he closed the slotted iron door and warmed his hands by the stove as the pot and roar within promised heat enough to knock back the chill.
Two more oil lamps cast a warm glow about the small cabin as assembled the percolator pot and set it on top of the stove. As he finished dressing he could hear the water begin to boil and soon the camp was filled with the smell of coffee, strong and black. In the heady mix of aromas, coal oil, pecan wood and strong coffee he assembled his gear and withdrew the old pocket watch. “Two and a half hours til shooting light” he said aloud to the empty room. ” Best get going. And with that he swigged down the last of his coffee, eased the pot over to the edge of the stove, tossed a few more sticks of wood on the fire and dampered down the flu.
The late December air was sharp on the exposed skin of his hands and face as he stepped out into the darkness, worn leather gun case in one hand, railroad lantern in the other.
Though he knew the path from the camp to the boathouse by heart, the short walk was difficult in the pail lamplight. Roots and vines grabbed at his feet and the step up onto the dock seemed to have grown in the darkness of the passing night.
He walked past several boats, decked out with the latest motors, blinds and bulging sacks of decoys. At the end of the dock he hung the lamp on the last post and looked down at the craft that would take him into the timber. Solid wood from stem to stern, made by his own hands, and today, powered by the same. In the back of the boat a canvas sack lay covered with frost, a glass eye of one of the decoys peering out at him through a small opening where the bag was cinched together at the top. “Those are gonna be heavy.”
He slipped down into the boat, set the oars in place and carefully stood to untie the bowline from the dock and douse the lantern. Seated, he shoved off shifted his feet and laid his back into the oars. The camp vanished in an instant. Above a half-moon shone down on his wake. The reflection of stars swirled and mixed in small whirlpools left by each oar. He did he best to set a rhythm to his rowing, glancing over his shoulder now and again to keep from wandering off the trail and into the thicket of button willows that flanked his path.
When the brushy willows gave way to the open lake he felt a chill run down his neck. Turning up the threadbare collar of the stiff canvas coat he made a mental note of the wind speed and direction. “Due North, or near enough.” He thought. “Not strong, but steady, should be a good day for the Y Tree.”
As the waves lapped against the side of the boat he put a little extra push in the right oar and again glanced over his shoulder to mark his course. “Head straight for the high cypress and keep your eyes on the rail-yard light.” The words from his grandfather’s journal ran through his mind, his memory of the grand old man making the written words ring through time in the old mans voice.
Apart from the sound of his rowing and the lap of waves against the boat, the world was silent. No one would be at the camp today; he had blocked out this morning just for himself. No guests, no family, no friends, just him and the woods and waters his family had hunted for generations. Today he would hunt these woods the way his grandfather had, for better or worse. No outboard motors, no fancy guns or hi-tech insulated clothes, today it was all old school. This was the day he would retire his grandfather’s gun and he would do it Papaw’s way, right down to the last detail or at least as close as he could.