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Windows To The Past

by Bill Bennett

          The rising water sun paints a reddish-yellow streak through a then veil of clouds across the eastern horizon, as you and Stan Filmore, your best friend and hunting partner travel east in the direction of the St. Francis river bottoms. The temperature hover around thirty degrees. A silhouette of a large flock of geese sail off to the south; their true identity hidden by distance and the weak dawn light.

            Five miles west of the river, you turn south on a rough gravel road leading to the Pender Place. The pick-up truck tire strikes a shallow water filled hole unexpectedly. The hot cup of coffee Stan is holding spills down his hand, causing him to wince, more out of embarrassment than pain. He wipes the warm liquid on the sleeve of his hunting coat and looks at you with a “Why did you have to do that?” look in his eyes. You apologize but note he is wearing a wide grin.

          The truck bounces along the ungraded road for another three miles. As you turn east again, you search for the covered fencerow, which marks the farm road entry into the property. You spot the thin stand of mixed hardwoods five hundred yards away, which hides the field road from an unsuspecting passerby.

         Turning north onto the field road, you travel only a few feet before shutting off the truck motor. You scan the invisible fencerow, long ago covered with saw briars, honeysuckle patches, blackberry vines, panic grass, wild oats, winter killed stalks of Johnson grass, and wild raspberry vines. Scattered along the quarter mile tangles are straggly, bare-branched black oak, redbud, swamp privet, and catalpa trees. Stand of ironwood, sumac, and persimmon sprouts dot the openings between the larger hardwoods, adding to the canopy of thick cover. The twenty-yard spread of tangles is perfect cover for rabbits, quail, and a host of songbirds.

         Hidden beneath the massive tangle of vegetation is a small drainage ditch. Rabbits frequently move along its shallow, mostly dry bottom in an attempt to escape their predators – hawks, coyotes, dogs and man, before darting into the safety of the twin two hundred acre cotton fields located thirty five feet on the east and west sides of the thick cover.

          The mass of tangles intersects with another drainage ditch and covered fencerow, one quarter of a mile to the north. This east-west one-mile stretch of habitat differs only in the amount of hardwoods lining its banks. Cherry oak, water hickory, sycamore, willow, honey locust, and sugar maple stand guard with their bare, dead-like branches stretching toward the sky. A handful of giant cypress trees, a testament to this once swampy terrain, seem out of place until one discovers the water filled ditch hidden among the swamp grass and stunted cane thickets.

          You momentarily scan the cotton patch on your right. Near the center of the field, two hundred yards to the east stand two lonely wild, pecan trees; fifty yards apart. These two giant sentinels mark an ancient Indian burial ground, almost invisible now from modern mechanized farming practices. One must look closely to detect the slight swell of ground which once was a proud mound, now covered with broken, three foot high, frost deadened cotton stalks.

        You and Stan quickly pull on your boots, hunting garb, and blaze orange vests as a bank of clouds slide across the northern sky on an increasing cold, wind. Bell and Sam whine softly from the canvas covered carrier box, letting you know they are ready for a good run after being confined to the pen for nearly two weeks.

         You quietly test the cold wind and tell Stan the hunt might be cut short if Mother Nature insists on venting her anger with a howling wind. If the wind interferes with your ability to hear the dogs, you will not risk loosing them as they attempt to follow a blowing scentline out of hearing range. He nods his head in agreement as you both agree the safety of both hunters and dogs is the most important consideration.

          You open the carrier box door and both dogs quickly scramble into the cargo bay of the truck. Holding their heads high, they sniff the cold wind and wag their tails in anticipation of the tailgate being lowered. Holding your empty shotgun in one hand, you lower the tailgate with the other and both dogs hit the ground running, anxious to burn off their spent up energy.

          Immediately Bell dives into the thick tangles. Sam follows close behind her, sensing the rabbits are holding in the tight cover against the wind. The cold fifteen-mile per hour wind stings your face and neck as you reach inside your hunting coat for a blaze orange ski mask. The warmth of the wool head garment provides some immediate relief from the biting wind. Stan fumbles with his ski mask as Bell opens on a hot scentline with her high chopped bark. The sound is slightly muffled from beneath the cover and over the cold wind, as Sam honors his bracemate with a thunderous bawl. They race north beneath the massive tangles, tonguing at the top of their lungs.

          Stan takes a post twenty yards ahead and next to the harvested cotton field as you trail behind listening to the muffled howls of the dogs running beneath the thick cover. The cottontail suddenly explodes from beneath a sprawling honeysuckle patch and streaks for the safety of the cotton stalks. The blast from Stan’s twenty guage is slightly muffled from the increasing winds, as the rabbit dives into the safety of the cotton field. The look of disgust on Stan’s face immediately tells you he missed the speeding brown blur as he ejects the empty shotgun hull and places it in his pocket.

           Moments later the dogs break from the cover desperately trying to stay with the scentline. You make a mental note they are nearly five yards to the south of the rabbits line of travel as the north wind plays havoc with the scentline. Seconds later the Beagles disappear among the cotton stalks and find the scent. As they howl and bawl at the new found scent, you feel that familiar thrill stabbing at your heart strings as the race quickly heads east in the direction of the two lone standing pecan trees.

           As you walk toward the spot where the dogs entered the cotton field, the cold wind bites at your face through the small openings of your ski mask. You can barely hear the dogs above the blowing wind. You quickly lift the warm head garment from around your ears in an effort to hear a little better. The cold wind bites and stings your skin as you question your sanity for being out on such a cold blustery day.

Silence; broken only by the wind, spreads across the cotton field as the dogs begin their check for the lost line. You glance over at Stan, who is warmly dressed but obviously shivering from the sharp wind. You tell him to wait at his post or take your keys and head for the truck, while you go in search of the now silent hounds. He insists on going with you, stressing he would prefer to move and increase his body heat.

         Both of you move slowly through the dead cotton stalks. Walking is difficult and complicated by having to step across each row into the furrows. The dead three-foot high stalks reach at your overalls and snag against your warm wool gloves in an effort to delay your progress.

         High overhead, the raucous calling of a dozen crows floats through the cold overcast skies. Moving south on the wind, they are like a scattering of black leaves being blown by the cold north wind across the gray cloudy skies. Somewhere to the southeast, you can barely hear the honking of a flock of snow geese. Your eyes watering from the harassment of the cold raw wind makes it impossible to locate them.

       As you call and whistle to the dogs, you feel a sense of futility doubting they will respond while searching for the scentline. Nevertheless, you continue to call for no other reason than it makes you feel better.

        Stan struggles along silently behind you knowing the stubborn hounds would totally ignore any calling efforts on his part. But you are glad he is with you. Knowing he is providing moral support to your efforts.

        The ground rises slightly as you approach the southern-most standing pecan tree. It’s bare limbs wing furiously in the wind. You can hear a slight whistling sound as the wind slices through its bare out-stretched branches. You stop and stand quietly beside the seventy-five foot tree, straining to hear Bell’s chopped mouth bark or Sam’s baritone bawl. Nothing …just the sound of the wind in the tree and the death rattle of the cotton stalks slapping against one another.

        Again you call to the dogs. Suddenly, Sam appears through the maze of dead brown stalks, heading toward you through a patch of winter killed crabgrass. Bell follows six paces behind him as a sigh of relief catches in your throat. Sam is holding his head high, the rabbit proudly clutched in his mouth. His tail is pointed straight in the air and there is a smirk in his eyes. He trots over and drops his prize as Stan’s feet and looks over at you as if to ask, “Did I do good, Boss?”

      You slip leashes around the necks of both dogs while Stan places the rabbit in his game bag. As you head toward the south end of the furrowed field, Stan tells you he is surprised that he hit the fleeting target. In a teasing tone of voice, you reply that the rabbit probably died of fright from the howling of the hounds, rather than his highly self-touted marksmanship.

        In an unspoken agreement, you both know the hunt is over. The high raw wind and dropping temperatures is taking a physical toll on the dogs and yourselves. Protection from the elements is only a ten-minute walk to the awaiting truck.

         At the end of the furrowed cotton field, you turn west and follow a thirty-foot wide clearing between the field and county road ditch. The opening affords easier walking and is covered with areas of winterkilled crabgrass. A few scattered stalks of two-foot high beggar lice weeds bend with the cold wind.

        Unloading your twelve-guage pump shotgun, a shell slips through your cold, glove covered fingers and falls to the dark gumbo-sandy loam soil. Stan holds the dogs by their leashes while you stoop to retrieve the shell lying in a bare spot between two clumps of brown crabgrass. You notice two small objects that somehow look out of place. Slipping the glove off your right hand, you quickly retrieve the two objects along with the fumbled shotgun shell. After wiping bits of dirt and mud from the grayish “stones” you discover one is an almost perfectly shaped arrowhead and the other; deep brown in color, appears to be a pottery fragment.

        You quickly show your find to Stan and slip the objects into the pocket of your hunting pants before trudging the remaining one hundred yards to the truck.

        At the truck, the dogs are quickly loaded into the carrier box, which you cover with the canvas tarp. Donning rubber gloves, you and Stan quickly skin and clean the game. You hang the waste on a nearby bare post-oak limb knowing scavengers will welcome the easy meal.

        The dark overcast skies spit a few drops of rain as the cold north wind blows relentlessly. In a few short minutes the truck heater warms the air and a hot cup of coffee lifts your body temperature along with your sagging spirits. Stan opens his hunting coat and hands you a candy bar as you watch the windshield of the truck searching for the tell tale signs of frozen precipitation. Finding none, you carefully back out of the field entrance, onto the county road, and head toward home.

       Thirty minutes later you drop Stan off at his house and drive the short five blocks home. You make quick work of kenneling Bell and Sam, who dive into the straw filled dog house to escape the splattering raindrops and cold, howling wind. After storing the carrier, canvas tarp and cut two by fours in the garage, you hurry to the warmth and protection of the house.

       In less than twenty minutes, you have stored your hunting gear, oiled and cased your shotgun, cared for the game by butchering and wrapping it in white freezer paper and placing it in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. Face and hands scrubbed, you stroll into the dining room and pour yourself a cup of steaming hot coffee.

       Savoring the taste and warmth of the coffee you write a few short lines in your outdoor journal and remember the arrowhead and pottery fragment left in your hunting pants pocket. Anxious to make a closer inspection of the items, you quickly retrieve and display them for your spouse who has joined you at the dining table.

       Placing the quarter sized arrowhead and the slightly larger pottery fragment on a white sheet of paper; you stare at the ancient relics while your spouse examines them with wonder filled eyes. You relate the events surrounding the minor discovery as you sense her unspoken question, “Will he ever grow up?”

       She busies herself preparing lunch as you gently hold the precious objects in your hand. There is an inescapable feeling of being linked to the ancient past through these two small treasures.

       You make no claim to being an authority on archeological discoveries of the Delta, but your interest in the subject reveals numerous Indian tribes occupied the harsh Delta lands twenty thousand to eight thousand years before the birth of Christ. Evidence of this Paleo Indian Period has been found along the rivers and streams, which meander through the Delta, flowing to the Mississippi River. The grayish-white colored flint rock arrowhead appears to bear distinct markings of the period – rough honed, flat surface with fluked outer edges.

      The pottery fragment however, reflects tiny grass and string like indentations, suggesting a higher degree of skill and craftsmanship to create. It most likely comes from the more recent Burial Mound Period, one thousand BC to seven hundred AD. Nevertheless, that deep haunting feeling that transcends the centuries is harbored in your mind and deep within your psyche, as you wonder how a “primitive culture” was able to design and create a wondrous tool that would endure through so many centuries.

      There is also a feeling of amazement as you begin to realize one of these long forgotten persons actually held this same object in his hands, used if for taking game, and preparing a meal. Was the arrowhead used in the slaying of the monstrous mastodon that was known to have roamed across the Delta at that time? Or was it used to slay a smaller game animal to satisfy an immediate hunger? It matters little you tell yourself, but the unmistakable fact is primitive man hunted to meet his needs. While his purpose was different from yours, you sense a kinship with this forgotten stranger. He walked the same game trails, crossed the small creeks, experienced the changing seasons, battled the weather elements and the wrath of Mother Nature, watched the flight of birds and waterfowl, felt the awe of the setting sun, the mystery of the rising moon, and wondered at the stars.

       But what about the dogs? Do they have a connection with this man of the ancient past? An excavation dated from the Archaic Period, eight thousand to one thousand BC, led to the discovery of a primitive man buried with a dog. There is much conjecture but the dog-man relationship certainly had its beginnings in the ancient past. Could it be the companionship you enjoy with your Beagles is linked to that era? While you can only speculate about the past, your Beagles today have opened a window to the past that is unique and interesting. They have provided you an opportunity to explore, to search, and to see. You are fortunate to find a connection to a bye-gone era, through your experiences with them.

      As you place the precious relics in a place of safekeeping, you wonder what adventures lie ahead of you and your Beagles.

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).