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Christmas on Weed Pond; The Last Hunt
By Janet K Brennan
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Not rated by the Author.
A father and son head out for their annual Christmas Morning hunt only to find far more than they bargained for in the cold New England woods. Tragedy befalls them, teaching a life ong lesson
CHRISTMAS ON WEED POND; THE LAST HUNT
Janet K. Brennan
It was Christmas, Nineteen Hundred and Fifty Eight. We stood in the snowy field, Dad and I. The wind was coming down old White Mountain faster than a runaway locomotive and I was thankful I had taken my plaid flap hat with me when we left our cabin on that very early Christmas morning. It was given to me on the previous Christmas by my mother. I had just turned ten and what I really wanted was a BB gun; however Mum thought otherwise.
“Take your hat, son. You don’t want a cold to settle in those ears before the New Year rings in,” she warned. And, although I despised that silly looking flap hat, I was happy to have it that day. Crossing Weed Pond, Dad and I, with Barney McGee, our Irish Setter, set out for a short hunt just as we did every year on Christmas morning.
“Don’t shoot anything more than wild geese, guys. Christmas is a holy day,” admonished my mother. Dad had winked at me and off we went. We knew that Mum would be home stuffing the turkey and baking mince pie and buttered squash. These delicious thoughts, along with the wonderful Christmas aromas that would greet us when we returned home, kept our souls warm those crisp Christmas mornings when the entire world was still asleep and our snow shoes crunched the top of layered ice on the frozen pond. It just didn’t get any better than this . . . Dad, me and good old Barney McGee off for a few hours in the deep woods of New Hampshire! The cold wind would turn our noses brighter than Rudolph’s had been only the night before!
I couldn’t help but notice that Dad was a bit slower that Christmas. He seemed to favor his right leg and he didn’t hold his Winchester quite as firmly as he always did.
“Just getting old, son. Just getting old!”
We hadn’t gone too far out on the pond when we heard it. Dad stopped in his tracks. “What in Sam Hill was that?” he asked. There it was again. Not a howl, not a growl but a sound that caused the blood in our veins to curdle. Barney stiffened and pointed just as he always did when we were on the hunt. There was something in the woods at the clearing and it was watching us.
“Son, I don’t know what that is, but get ready because I think it’s going to charge us.”
Not that we were a formidable threesome, it was just a tradition for us to hunt on Christmas morning and the wild life that made their homes around our log cabin seemed to know that.
As we approached the other side of the pond, we could see something very large and dark burrowing deep into the snow and watching our every move.
“Dang!” said Dad. “Well, son, that is probably the largest black bear I have ever seen around these parts. Look at her eyes. She sure is ornery looking. We may be getting too close to a cub. Better for us to back off and head off across the pond in the other direction, toward Graham’s Mill. We need to let this one alone!”
No sooner had the words been uttered when the bear leapt to her feet and began a charge so fast that we didn’t have time to move. Dad was a bit slower than I was and bore the brunt of the attack. Barney flew into the air and attacked from behind but it was too little too late. Dad was caught within the grips of the bear who wrestled him to the ground, throwing her weight on top of him.
“Help! Help!” I called. “The bear caught my Dad … the bear caught my Dad!”
To my surprise, she didn’t move. She didn’t drag him off, nor did she maul him. Dad was bleeding from a small gash on the side of his face from his fall. I saw that he was having difficulty breathing from the intense weight of the animal who seemed content to keep him beneath her. Barney barked and growled but the Black Bear paid no attention. She seemed to hear him, yet only issued a soft growl in return. It was then that I noticed the trail of blood she had left behind her when she had dashed for us from the shore. “She’s injured, Barney. This bear is bleeding and hurt. Looks like she ran into a trap or a trap ran into her.” No sooner had I said those words then the black bear raised her huge head and growled so loud the sound echoed off the bare, frozen pond and into the woods on the other side of us.
“She’s going to keep him there, Barney. She won’t release him until we get help.”
Horrified by the thought of leaving my Dad there and not knowing what we would come back to find, I hesitated. This bear could suddenly change her mind and attack for food. But something had to be done.
Taking a few steps back, I noticed that my Dad was unconscious and his breathing was growing shallower by the minute. With a quick leap and bound across the ice, I quickly headed back to our cabin, calling after my setter. He was not following, nor was he ahead of me. When I stopped quickly to see where he was, Barney McGee was back with Dad and the bear. He wouldn’t leave Dad’s side.
“Mom, Mom!” I called as I headed north to our cabin. She was just putting the pies out on the railing of our front porch to cool in the crisp mountain air. Throwing down her apron, she knew immediately that something was wrong.
“It’s Dad! A black bear has him on the ice. She has him pinned under her. She’s bleeding and very hurt. We need to get the rangers out there. We can’t do this by ourselves.”
Mum wasted no time. Within minutes two large Fleetsides piled high with rifles and nets approached the cabin. Dan Thomson from Graham’s Mill leapt from one of the trucks and breathlessly hollered. “Let’s go, son. We can be there in minutes. We’ll have to shoot the bear, I’m sure. But, if she’s wounded already, it will probably be a good thing. We’ll get your Dad. Don’t worry.”
Off we sped toward the pond and my father, hoping and praying that Barney McGee had kept the situation from evolving into a tragedy. Leaving the trucks on the far side of the pond so that the sound of the engines wouldn’t frighten the bear, we made the remainder of the trek on foot. As we got closer, we couldn’t see Barney.
“Where’s my dog?” I cried. “I don’t see my dog!”
As I cried those words, I could hear the sound of his bark and knew that he had been there all along. Barney had thrown his body on top of the bear’s body. What a sight! My Dad was on the bottom, old black bear was in the middle and Barney McGee was on top. There was a silence that fell among us as we watched the surprising scene.
“Don’t shoot her!” I cried. “She could have killed my father but she didn’t. She wants us to help her. I think Barney is telling us that he wants to save everyone here. He’s trying to keep everyone warm. We need to save the bear if we can.”
“But you guys were hunting.”
“Yes, but we don’t take our kill this way.” I said, adamantly.
We quickly netted the motionless bear. It took ten of us to pull her off my dad and drag her to the other side of the pond. There she was tranquilized and finally moved to the flat bed of the Chevy. It sped off to the Ranger’s station at Graham’s Mill. Dad was just beginning to regain consciousness and he moaned.
“You’re OK, Dad. Barney here kept you warm and you kept the bear warm. That was what she wanted. That and to be cared for. When we loaded her into Sam’s pick-up, we noticed a cub peeking at us from behind a nearby pine tree. It appeared to be frightened and in shock. You are very lucky, Dad,” I said, trying to comfort my father as he shook from the cold. “That huge bear could have killed you if she had wanted to. Other than a scratch on your face and a torn up jacket and … and … my missing flap hat, I would say you are one lucky guy. Old black bear gave you a great Christmas present and it would seem that you did the same for her!” And she gave me one as well. At some point during the attack, the wind had taken my flap hat and carried it clear across the ice to the other side of the pond.
That night, after the fire had grown low and the embers popped about in the chimney, I set my mind to thinking. I loved Christmas and this year, although we had a fright and near tragedy, it had all turned out well and would prove to be a forever memory in our family. Mum’s dinner tasted especially grand that year and Dad’s moan of pure pleasure as he slipped beneath the warmth of his quilts for bed, with Barney McGee at his feet, was music to my ears. It was far better than any rendition of Deck the Halls, that was certain.
Not long into January, we learned that the Black Bear’s injuries had been cared for and, although it took some time, she was returned to the wild near her cub. We knew that she was never very far from our cabin. Sometimes in the late evening, we heard what sounded like a big old black bear tromping around our back property, snorting and chomping on dried pine cones from the autumn drop. It was not until my old flap hat, with one flap missing, mysteriously appeared on our back porch that we felt certain it had been our own black bear.
We never hunted again. Neither Dad nor I had the slightest yearning for the sport after that fateful Christmas. Oh, we still kept our tradition of walking out to old Weed Pond and trekking through the woods on our snow shoes and that was plenty fun for us. Once in a while we could swear that we felt the eyes of an old black bear watching us through the clearing on the far side of the pond. We always backed away with respect. This was her territory and, although we always felt that she was willing to share it, we had a healthy respect for her after that particular Christmas of Nineteen hundred and fifty eight.
Something sacred and beautiful happened to us on that Christmas morning. And every year, as we sit around the fire, we laugh … and remember. Oh, she still visits us now and then or perhaps her cub does, we’re not sure which. It’s usually around Christmas Day that we hear the sound of crushed snow beneath huge paws and the chomp of a nice dry left-over autumn pine cone.
And we know. . .
Site: J.B. Stillwater
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