The Deer Who Could Vanish
By George Clever ------17 November 1980
It had been decided that I would leave my tenured Associate Professor of Elementary Education position at Edinboro University and begin the new career as an Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Stanford University. It was not a move that was without great misgivings. During my visit to the campus for the marathon interview, and subsequent return visit to the fall freshman orientation program for Native American Indian students, I was intimidated by the private school mentality, the vast amounts of money available to students, staff and faculty and the elitism of the principle players. I was, after all, the product of state education, all its limited expectations, and results. There would be the need to end the ski businesses, move my family in chaos with the pain of divorce and no longer enjoy the nearness of the woods and hunting.
I was still in negotiations with Edinboro University administration over the method and manner of my leaving. I was holding out for a year leave of absence as I was fairly certain that the early warnings of my instincts would send me running from the hills of Stanford University, back to the mountains of Pennsylvania. The newly anointed, hatchet man President of Edinboro University was under a legislative mandate to reduce the size of the faculty and the growing power of the institution in the Northwestern part of the state. He had already “retrenched” (fired) one hundred fifty of my tenured colleges. I was not holding my breath that he would permit the Chairman of the successful union election committee to leave and return. This would be the last Pennsylvania deer hunt for a while.
In the usual plan for deer seasonweek, I would hunt the weekends with sons and family, and find a few precious late afternoons during the week to walk the ski trails after my class teaching was finished. The cutting of our Cross Country ski trails in the plantation pines had been enjoyed by skiers and woods animals. The trails made animal movement easier from food to water to night bedding. My favorite watch place for deer was with my back snuggled into the massive trunk of the Century tree. This tree was an old growth oak that stood with a base circle of twelve arm-linked men. It was a quiet woods day with the recent fall rain wetting the leaves and pine needles to a soft spongy carpet. The entrance to the trails was crossed with wet blackberry and golden rod that tore and soaked my canvas pants. I moved with the slowness of single frame animated cartoons until I reached the Century tree. Settling back into a kneeling shooting position, my eyes searched the convergent trails for some motion of the deer. Tracks and droppings were everywhere. This was the place where the deer crossed on their way up the Mt. Pleasant Ski Area Mountain.
There is a time in waiting at a deer stand when you know nothing will happen because you have made too much noise in your approach to the watching place or the wind is wrong. There is a time when you doze from the weariness of slow hunt hiking and the inactivity. There is a time when you no longer can sit still any longer and must move to a new and hopefully, better watch place. Somewhere between the dozing time and the “I must move!” time, the animals begin to cross the Vail of the woods into your sight. As the “dozing time” approaches and the “I must move” time nears, a good still hunter will press away the thoughts of moving for just a bit longer as experience has taught that this is the window of the hunt. I was nearing that critical moment with the fatigue of staring intently folding my eyes near a close.
There he was! A Field and Steam illustrated buck deer. A nice eight point horn rack was clearly visible as he stood in the crossroads of the trails on a trail of his own choosing. It is at this moment that your arm turns to lead. Fingers wet and cold no longer grip. You are trained to watch the deer’s head and when he looks at you, he cannot see your movements. It is when his head turns that his keen sight will find the slightest unusual movement that triggers his flight. It that micro moment, I slowly brought the “meat hunter” 30-06 caliber rifle, a gift from my father, to my shoulder. Stiff cold fingers searched for the safety and trigger. My eye focused on the cross hairs through the 4X scope on the port of trail entry for the long awaited buck. He was not there. He was gone with no motion and no sound. My last buck before traveling to Stanford University had vanished.
How could this happen to me I thought. What had given me away? How did the deer see me? I was covered with apple and deer urine smell. I blended into the tree at my back. What was it? My deer hunting experience had taught me that when you see one deer at a stand, you will see more if you just stay still. This time that buck would not see me move my rifle to my shoulder. I would be ready on the bucks return. Cradling the 06 with my finger near the safety, I waited for the next buck or the return of Mr. Magician.
There is nothing there and then he is standing in the breaks again. I can see the steam raising off the black spine hair the ridges his back. He is on my right and the rifle points left. It is the same old game of slow moving when Mr. Magician is looking at me or away. I am at last on line. He has not moved and is cautiously testing the wind with little sniff snorts. I brought my weapon to my shoulder looking down the rifle barrel and through the scope, hoping the cross hairs will appear a bit behind the deer's shoulder. He is not there. He has vanished. Perhaps Mr. Magician heard my laughter as I gathered up deer calls, scents and rifle to start down the ski trails to the truck. It was clear that I had been given a message. I would have no use for the gifts of the deer venison for my travels to Stanford. I took one more look around the Century tree at the trails we had cut and the tribal marker signs for directions we had posted. Gathering up a few flint stone pieces at the base of the Century tree, I thought,” I will give these to our Lenape Grandma who lives near the Stanford campus. Perhaps she will be able to shed some light on the lessons of the deer that could vanish.”
Jennifer Clever 26.01.2015 12:08
It is nice to read something you wrote it has been a while. The description pulls me right into the woods with you. Great story.
DC 26.01.2015 08:12
A good recollection for sure. Captures the exact essence and feeling of the hunt as well as it's peculiar struggles. Very good imagery as well! Keep Writing
14.04 | 15:16
George, Idealism killed by shot of fact. Clark
14.04 | 14:51
George, This is a fascinating article. Clark
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