By O’Ceallaigh –
Don was an avid outdoorsman.
At every opportunity he would leave his parents’ home in the city and come to our farm, or Grandma and Grandpa’s farm, and traipse (one of his favorite words) off through the woods with my dog, Mickey, looking for wildlife. When he was about 12 years old, he got his first shotgun. That changed everything.
He was always accompanied by that weapon and hunting squirrels or rabbits; or pheasants, grouse or woodcock with Grandpa Todd.
Don was my first cousin, the son of my Mother’s sister, Aunt Edith and Uncle Frank.
He was about five years older than I and I always looked forward to visiting Aunt Edith and sleeping on the sun-porch where Don had his room and all his wonderful paraphernalia! He had a miniature steam engine, he built airplanes (something he never outgrew) and Fishing lures. In later years, when I was about 9 years old, we would get together with my older brother, Jim, and go fishing. I wrote a little story about one of those excursions here.
But, I’ve never told anyone about the day we went deer hunting.
Don passed away the other day at the age of 80. Thinking of the old days somehow pushed the right buttons and the memory of that eventful day came flooding back from my subconscious mind. I can tell the story now and there’s no one to refute it if I get some of the details inaccurately transcribed after all these years.
On the south side of Maple Grove Road – across from our farmhouse – there was a large patch of woods which was, perhaps, two miles on each side, relatively square. It was bordered on the West by Westman Road and on the East by Belview Road. Our road was on the north side and East Lake Road, or, Route 17 bounded the south side.
On this day in late November Don and I left his parents’ house just below Westman Road, where they had moved a short time before, and began our foray into the woods headed North toward Grandma’s house just above our’s on Maple Grove Road. It had snowed the night before and accumulated about a two foot depth. We walked into the wood hoping to find a nice big Buck to bring down. But, alas! No Buck was found.
We came upon an area where the farmer had allowed some logging to be done and the tree-tops were still lying about in piles causing “thickets.” Don suggested that one of the biggest piles may have a deer hiding in it and that we may be able to flush it out! So I would go walking quietly around the right side while he went around the left side and we would subsequently meet on the opposite side.
We separated and I purposefully attempted to fulfill my agreed obligation by walking as quietly as I could around the huge pile of brush. When I got to the other side, Don wasn’t there. There were no tracks indicating that he had been there either. So, I did the logical thing.
Assuming that he had walked slower than I had and I had arrived first, I kept walking, slowly and deliberately, hoping to kick something out. I walked; then I walked; then I walked some more. Boy! This was the biggest pile of brush I had ever seen!
Now I don’t think fast, but I do think good.
It took me some time, but I finally noticed that there was no longer any brush on the inside of my circle! – I had no idea where I was!
With the sky overcast – (Hey! This was Western New York! There are two seasons! Winter and the 4th of July! The sky is always overcast) – I couldn’t see the sun so, assuming I had circumferenced the entire clump of brush I did, once again, the logical thing; I turned to the right and headed for Grandma’s house on Maple Grove Road, some mile and a half away, through the woods.
I walked through the two feet of snow for about an hour and finally broke out into an open field. “Finally,” I thought, “Grandma’s field!”
I stepped out of the woods to get a better view.
“Where,” I wondered “is her house; the barn; the old rusty body of a car that lay sinking into the field by the side of the road?”
Then, off in the distance I noted a slightly familiar red barn, mostly covered with snow and a cute little Cape Cod house accompanying it. – Roy Warner’s farm!
Good Grief! I had walked East rather than North. I had come out on Belview Road! I still had two miles to go!!
Totally dejected, I turned to retrace my steps and set myself on a course that would lead to the old farm! I was about to cry!
That’s when I heard Don call!
There he was, following my tracks, High-stepping through the two feet of snow in his ever-present hip boots. There was a broad grin on his face and that twinkle in his eye! There was never a disparaging word from him. We both laughed.
Don told me that when I didn’t show up on the other side of the thicket, he set himself on a course to intersect my trail and observed a very definite turn to the right before I ever got around to the north side of the tops. He explained to me that many people have a dominant stepping procedure and take longer steps with the dominant foot.
I never knew that my left foot was dominant. I’m right handed.
I learned a lot that day. Part was a lesson for life. When you’re walking in the wrong direction, it may be twice as far to your intended destination. Quite possibly, if you remain on that course, you will never even arrive at your goal.
I have Donald M. Johnson to thank for that. Born August 22, 1935 – Died May 5, 2016. He shall not slumber long!