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Scrubbed Mission

by Bill Bennett

You awaken at 5 am on Saturday morning to the sound of raindrops softly tapping on the bedroom windowsill. Your anxiety level rises as you slip out of bed and quietly make your way to the dinning room in the predawn darkness.

            You stare out the dinning room window as the sound of the boiling coffee pot gently breaks the morning silence. Slipping into your hunting clothes, which you placed near the living room door last night, you listen to the sound of rain drops grow louder. The sounds of thunder rolls somewhere in the distant southwest as you fight a feeling of anxiety and pending disappointment. A lump catches in your throat, but you force it down. You have looked forward to this hunting trip with a growing patience as the weekly workload steadily increased, leaving your nerves frazzled, your mind bogged with details, and your emotions drained. A rabbit hunt with your dogs and best hunting partner would be just the thicket to release all the emotional stress and restore your mental balance.

            The raindrops cease, as hope springs eternal. You hear water slipping from the eves of the roof onto the ground. As you eat a bowl of hot cereal and drink a cup of coffee, your confidence rises as you listen to the silence.

            Your thoughts turn to your Beagles, Bell and Sam, confined to the pen in the backyard. You vividly recall yesterday evening at feeding time, how you petted and assured them the morning would bring an opportunity for a hunt. They responded affectionately with tail wagging, wiggles, and soft whimpers. How could a person with a passion for Beagles allow himself to disappoint them? After all, it is important for them to be given the opportunity to be ‘out there’ as much for yourself. The special bond is the real stuff of a hunting Beagle owner.

            The minutes slip by in the quiet of the early morning. You can hear the ticking of the alarm clock as you argue with yourself on chancing a trip. You finally decide, no mater what, you will give it a try as the phone on the kitchen wall jangles, shattering the morning silence.

            Your hunting partner, Stan Fillmore, asks if the hunt is still on for today? With a sense of false confidence, you explain the weather will probably clear and you will pick him up in thirty minutes. You remind him to bring along his raingear just in case Mother Nature chooses to be uncooperative.

            You write a short note for your spouse, letting her know where you are going and when you plan to return. You pick up your shotgun, coffee thermos, waterproof bag of equipment, and slip quietly out the front door.

            The air is cold and damp, but no rain is falling as you hurriedly load the carrier box, canvas cover, and cut two by four pieces of lumber into the cargo bay of the truck. You hear Bell and Sam whine from the pen, while you store your cased shotgun behind the seat of the truck. In minutes, the dogs are loaded and secured in the carrier box. Only a few scattered raindrops hit the windshield of the truck as you pull out of the driveway.

            When you arrive at Stan’s house, he is waiting on the front porch, cased gun and equipment ready. Piling his equipment in the cargo bay and storing his shotgun behind the seat, he slides into the cab, and searches your face for reassurance that he is not totally crazy. Find the reassurance he needs, he settles into the seat and pours a cup of hot coffee from his thermos and smiles with relief.

            The Elkins place is a typical Delta rabbit patch, fifteen miles west of town. It is nestled at the bottom of Crowley’s Ridges’ west side. The ridge winds and curls its’ way from the southern Bootheal area of Missouri through the sprawling Arkansas Delta for more than one-hundred and fifty miles. It rises from the flat Delta terrain like a gigantic serpent.

            Traveling west over the Ridge, you can see the tree lined Corps of Engineers Ditch, running north and south. Along it’s west bank is a harvested two-hundred acre soybean field. The ground gently rises and falls forming a ‘mini-hill’, which has the appearance of an ancient primitive Indian burial mound, common throughout the Arkansas Delta. At the north end of the field is a sixty-acre woodlot harboring tangles and thickets of briar patches, cane breaks, and honeysuckle. It is a haven for swamp rabbits, cottontails, quail, squirrels, a host of songbirds, and a resting place for migrating waterfowl.

            At the southern edge of the woodlot are remnants of an old, abandoned sawmill with rotting slabs and a nearly invisible sawdust pile, which has surrendered to a thicket of wild plum trees and sage grass. One must look closely to see this evidence of a bye-gone era of Delta life.

            The skies are dark and threatening as you maneuver the truck across an old wooden bridge traversing the huge drainage ditch. You turn north off the graveled county road onto a farm road leading to the woodlot. The road is soaked from the recent rains, so you dare not travel more than a few feet in the slick, gumbo mud and shut off the motor.

            Briefly, all is quiet, broken only by the soft whining of the dogs confined in the carrier box in the cargo bay of the truck. Suddenly, the angry skies open up with torrents of rain. The drops splatter on the roof and hood of the truck as you and Stan stare out the windshield. The wind whistles through the bare branched oak trees lining the large ditch as you both pour another cup of coffee, mentally reassuring yourselves this wrath of mother nature is only temporary. At the same time, you stubbornly fight a sinking feeling of disappointment rising in your chest and throat.

            Talk turns to family, common acquaintances, shoptalk, Beagle dogs, and memories of past hunts. The wind howls and the temperature drops, leaving a distinct chill in the air. There is no sign of wildlife stirring. Even the songbirds, plentiful in this area under normal weather conditions have taken refuge from the cold, wet, windy downpour.

            An iron-laden hour drags bye; then you start the motor in a signal of resignation to Mother Nature’s temperamental mood. Stan cannot hide the disappointment in his face. He simply nods in silent agreement.

            Surrender is difficult as you tell Stan the mission is scrubbed. You mentally recount the dangers of carrying a gun in the open areas as a lightening bolt streaks across the northern skies. You wrench at the thought of being struck by its’ awesome power. The twenty-mile per hour plus wind, with its’ accompanying rain, would leave you both soaked to the bone in minutes, adding to the danger of hypothermia from the wet air and falling temperatures.

            There is also the safety of the dogs to consider. Blowing rain and wind decrease your ability to see and hear them working the thickets for a scentline. Besides, what self-respecting rabbit would venture from his deep warm hole into Mother Nature’s wrath unless forced?

            You hold your breath as the rear wheels of the truck spin in the dark gumbo mud. What seems like an eternity later, the wheels strike the relative firmness and safety of gravel, as you back out onto the county road. Ice pellets, freezing rain, and sleet begin to bounce noisily off the hood of the truck as you cross the wooden bridge. The freezing precipitation is slowly beginning to cover the sparse vegetation with a thin layer of ice as the truck approaches the upward winding ridge.

            The pickup slowly creeps along the hilly gravel road. The tires spin and the cargo bay slides dangerously close to the right road ditch. Stan glances anxiously at you. Fortunately, the extra weight of the two fifty pound concrete blocks placed in the cargo bay, provide sufficient stability to avoid a major catastrophe. The truck gradually makes its’ way to the top of the hill without further problems.

            You breathe a silent sigh of relief as you discover the black top highway has not yet become impassable from the freezing rain and ice. There will be dangerous spots but using caution, the remainder of the trip should not be difficult. You turn up the truck heater as cold air paints a mist on the inside of the windshield. Slouched against the door on the passenger side, Stan pours two half cups of coffee as you concentrate on the cautiously, slow-moving oncoming traffic. You accept the hot cup of coffee with your right hand as you think about your dogs. They are warm, dry, and comfortable, you assure yourself. No doubt they are snuggled together as a hedge against the cold. You wonder if they know that the hunt has been canceled and they are unaware of the change of events so they can be spared the disappointment you and Stan are enduring.

            You notice the leafless branches of the mixed hardwoods alongside the road are beginning to accumulate a heavy layer of ice. The wind sways the bare, ice-covered limbs like plastic covered skeletons. A one-acre stand of pine trees; their flimsy limbs and needles weighted down by heavy ice, resemble green glass covered teepees. A towering sycamore tree waves its’ white tentacle-like branches at the nearly deserted highway. Its’ white bark clashes with the dark brown and gray coats of its’ companion hardwoods.

            Talk turns to ice storms of the past and the inconveniences Mother Nature creates for modern living such as broken power lines, crashing limbs, and often impassable roadways. A swelling of nostalgia rises from within your mind as you relate your first ice storm experience to Stan, who listens with marked interest.

            It happened on Christmas Eve, when you were ten years old, while living on an isolated farm in the backwoods of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. The four-room house set on top of a ridge facing south. One half mile away was the awesome looming, Iron Mountain. The mountain was covered with a variety of mixed hardwoods except for a thirty-acre stand of white pine lining a stretch of the county road. Three quarters of a mile up the north side of the mountain, you could see the outline of bluffs traversing the mountainside from east to west. In some places, the bluffs rose forty-five feet high. Several old civil war era home sites, hid among the hardwood forests. They were invisible to the casual observer. They were well hidden by heavy growths of briars, thorns, honeysuckle, and scrub oak trees. For a ten-year-old boy, the mountain was a complete wilderness, giving life to daydreams of bye-gone days of mountain men and explorers. It was home for deer, raccoons, bobcats, opossum, mink, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, quail, a multitude of songbirds, and on at least one occasion, a black bear. Exploring he game trails, old logging roads, and bluffs on foot and horseback were the stuff of life for a ten year old.

            One hundred and fifty yards downhill from the house was a fresh water spring, which provided water year round. Next to the mesh wire fence in front of the house, a huge fifteen-foot high stack of firewood stood; a monument to hard work, sweat, and tears. At the southeast corner of the yard, stood a massive one-hundred year old mulberry tree; the trunk so thick a grown man could not reach completely around it with both arms.

            As darkness descended on Christmas Eve, it was accompanied by strong wind, dropping temperatures, rain, thunder, and lightening. The storm shook the seventy-five year old tin roofed house with a vengeance. Hopes and dreams of a ‘White Christmas’ were quickly drowned in the downpour and swept away by the howling wind, barely audible over the sound of ice pellets echoing off the tin roof.

            Sleep never comes easily to a ten year old on Christmas Eve, regardless of the weather. But the excitement of anticipation eventually wears down the mind, draining the emotions, and the body relents to the need for rest and sleep.

            Before the first glimmer of dawn, the family gathered in the living room to open gifts and celebrate a frigid Christmas morning. You were caught by surprise when Dad allowed morning chores to wait until after the celebration. Perhaps he was experiencing the ‘Christmas Spirit’ at the time, because delaying chores had never before been an option. Excitement was the order of the morning as presents were opened and squeals of laughter came from the younger brothers and sisters.

            An hour later when the excitement subsided, pajamas and house shoes were quickly traded for every day work clothes. There was stock to be fed, water to carried from the spring, and wood to be carried to fill the eternally empty wood box. You remember before leaving the house, Dad warned everyone to be careful due to the icy conditions. As ten year olds are prone to frequently ignore good advice, you paid little heed to his warning.

            Dawning a coat, cap with earmuffs, and gloves, you grab two empty, two and one half gallon buckets and step out into the cold air. Nearly falling from slipping on an ice-covered stair, you recover your balance as the sun breaks over the eastern ridge of Iron Mountain. The scene is absolutely breath taking, as you stare at a once familiar world that has been magically transformed into a wonderland of ice and glitter. You are dazzled and amazed as you watch the sunlight reflect off the ice covered trees and vegetation.

            You cautiously make your way across the yard, through the front gate and slip slowly down the rock-strewn path to the spring. Ice-weighted tree limbs dip to head top level as you stare in wonder at the glistening ice covered trees. A red cardinal perches on a low hanging hickory branch, adding a special splash of beauty to this wonderland of ice.

            After filling both buckets at the spring, you cautiously trudge up the steep path towards the house. The ice covered rocks slow your pace. Half way to the hilltop, you stop for a rest break and look south for a view of Iron Mountain.

            Suddenly, a loud, far away crash breaks the morning silence. You wonder who would be shooting a shotgun on Christmas morning, in this kind of weather? Another crash follows as you pick up the water filled buckets and struggle to the house.

            After properly storing the buckets in the kitchen, you slip out the front door and stand on the spacious front porch, which traverses the full twenty-five feet across the house front. There is more gunshot sounding crashes breaking the cold, crystal clear air. You suddenly realize you were mistaken. The sounds are not caused by gunshots at all. It is the breaking and crashing of tree limbs!

            You stare of to the southwest. You can see the long ice covered ridge of Iron Mountain shimmering in the distance. The ice partially blocks the view of the line of bluffs but where they are visible, you can see long fingers of ice, hanging where dripping and running water have been frozen in place. A flock of English sparrows feed on remnant-cracked corn on the ground near the chicken pen. You wonder how other wildlife is finding food to survive?

            You are totally mesmerized by this transformed world of ice as the sun steadily pushes itself upward. You are awed by nature’s mysterious moods that within a few hours of darkness can change your once familiar world into a magical, dazzling wonderland of crystal clear air and glittering ice. You ask yourself, “ Who needs snow on a Christmas morning when Mother Nature can provide such a marvelous sight?”

            Ice is beginning to cover the dead grass and shrubs as you let Stan out of the truck at his house. You agree to try to schedule another hunt Sunday afternoon, if Mother Nature cooperates. That’s the good thing about the sport of Beagling. There is always another day.

            As you drive home, ice pellets glance off the windshield. Pulling into the driveway, you can see the limbs of the pecan trees lining the north side, are covered with a coat of ice.

            The dogs whine softly as the truck motor stops. As you release them from the carrier box, they look up at you as if to ask, “Why are we back home, Boss?” You talk to them in a soothing tone of voice as you leash them and lead them to the pen behind the house.

            Inside the pen, you reach into your coat pocket and produce two slices of white bread. You tell them to sit and while both obey the command they fidget with excited tail wagging. Each dog woofs down the treat as you pat them affectionately. You reassure them that tomorrow afternoon the weather will break, allowing the opportunity for another adventure in the field. For you know, they enjoy the sport as much as you.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).