Damp elk moccasins scuffed away duff. Dew drops clung to the bushy cedar’s bough tips. Sweep by sweep, the nest took shape. Msko-waagosh, the returned white captive who spent his youth among the Ojibwe, sat cross-legged in the depression. A soft fog drifted about, pushed by a warm, humid breath, then an occasional chilly gust. The aroma of moldy cedar needles and disturbed earth surrounded the makeshift fortification. All was well that pleasant August morning in 1796, deep in the Old Northwest Territory.
A vigorous scout preceded the welcomed respite. The worn-out moccasins held to the doe trails, but before reaching the meadow, they became damped through. The hand-dyed silk ribbons that bound the flaps of the woodsman’s blue wool leggins displayed a water line. Such discomfort was of little concern.
Forty paces to the north, clumped prairie grass hid a hen turkey. Now and again a gray head popped up, looked about, then disappeared. This bird inched east, circled back, then east again. Overhead, two pairs of Canada geese, separated by a few seconds, ke-honked toward the River Raisin. A fox squirrel navigated a distant maple. Two crimson cardinals bantered. “Tu-Tu-Tu-Tu,” one said. “Whit, whit, tsu, tsu, tsu, tsu, tsu,” the other answered.
About the time a dozen black, darting crows got into a fracas, the hen stepped from the prairie grass. She looked about, took maybe a dozen strides, then stopped as if reconsidering her choice. She uttered two faint clucks: “Ark, ark.” Her head stretched high; her beak turned to the east and in less than a minute her demeanor relaxed. Herky-jerking here and there, the plump wild turkey pecked the ground.
“Clikk, clikk.” A gray-skin head with a hint of red ducked and dodged in the deep prairie grass. The hen stood on the crest of the tiny knoll in the center of the meadow. She stopped pecking and gazed to the west, intent on the area that once sheltered her approach. The new arrival took two paces, then looked…two paces and a looksee…
Two trade gun lengths from the meadow’s short grass, big wings flapped twice. With a hop and long stride, a wild tom turkey sporting a stubbed-off beard appeared. The hen knelt down. The tom fluffed his feathers, then stood tall and stared at the knoll crest. The backcountry hunter’s inquisitive, 18th-century heartbeats marked time as the woodland drama unfolded.
The jake broke into a fast walk. The hen scrunched flatter. The distance between the two melted away. When the sprinting bronze bird got close, the hen stood and started walking east. Before long, the jake was running after the hen as they zig-zagged around the meadow. Their chase angled near the cedar fortress. The hen slowed, then stopped twenty paces distant. The jake stopped, fluffed up his feathers and fanned his tail.
The one-sided dancing, erratic spinning and false posturing lasted but a few minutes. The hen turned to walk away. The young tom folded his feathers and followed. She stopped, glared over her back and clucked once, stern and commanding. “Aarrkkkk!”
They leered at each other, then the tom glanced to the west. The hen took a couple of jerky steps, then went back to pecking the ground. The young gobbler watched and watched. Rejected, he walked to the northeast, up and over the knoll and out of sight…
A Trip to the “Outdoor Trading Post”
Pressing farm work filled a recent Monday afternoon. A sticky note from last November made its way to the top of the “to-do” pile. Emails flew through cyberspace. A rendezvous to pick up a large tractor part took shape. The Dodge Ram was on the road by 1 p.m. Much to my delight, Tami felt up to riding along.
Light snow fell, enough to make the landscape beautiful, but not enough to make the driving miserable or unpleasant. We chatted along the way, then she got quiet. She said she felt up to it, and asked if we could stop on the way back at the big-box outdoor store. We usually make that store a day-trip on our anniversary, but she was too ill to travel then.
The paperwork took longer than it did to load the steel frame. Thirty minutes later we pulled into a handicapped parking spot right in front of the main doors. She found a fully-charged scooter and I tagged along for a few minutes as she motored to the clothing section. I then headed to the gun side of the store. Rack after rack of modern guns filled the wall behind the glass showcases. Eight mass-produced, reproduction muzzleloaders hid upright in a deserted corner. The “black powder accoutrements center” occupied eight feet of display space. I had to really hunt to find that section. I never did find the 18th-century clothing racks. Hmmm…
After all of two minutes, I started wandering about. The display of knock-down steel targets was interesting. A $99.00 spinner target with six three-inch paddles would last for six hits from “Old Turkey Feathers.” To be fair, I’ve been asked not to shoot the smoothbore at a couple of silhouette matches and woodswalks, because their steel clangors were not heavy enough for the trade gun’s death spheres. I can accept that.
The boxes and boxes of modern ammunition were mind boggling, at least for me. All I could think was, “What do you do if you buy the wrong ammunition? How do you know what’s safe to shoot?” Then I shifted to my own circumstance. “You have two packed-full muzzleloading cabinets that need cleaning,” I chided. “Where would you find room to store boxes of steel or plastic suppositories?”
With a deep sigh, I wondered how I managed to hunt an entire season with seven round balls and a half pound of black powder, stored in a buffalo horn and a flimsy deerskin pouch. Mind boggling, as well…
Now, I’m a people watcher, so I started observing the local wildlife. A clean-cut gentleman in a tailored suit and black wool overcoat (he had “middle executive” written all over him) stood at a showcase admiring a revolver on a black velvet pad. He and the sales clerk spoke a language foreign to me. Oh, I recognized the English words, but not the context or jargon. What happened to “flintlock,” “smooth-bored” and “grains of FFg black powder”?
That glass case alone displayed 45 pistols, multiplied by six or so cases. I’d have to figure that one long hand; my abacus is at the bead-makers for reconditioning. And scopes? There were six glass cases of those, with about 36 scopes per case (yup, I counted ‘em. Hey, I had time on my hands). The lenses on some of the scopes were bigger than the lens on my good Nikon camera. And $1,000.00 plus for a scope?
This last fall I made a rear sight for the “Silver Cross,” Tami’s chiefs-grade trade gun, so my grandson could use the smoothbore for hunting deer and turkeys. I didn’t want to dovetail the barrel, so I cut a strip of steel from an old joist hanger, bent it, then filed and shaped it to make the sight. I used artificial sinew to hold it in place. It took all of an hour, and I questioned spending that much time on a rear sight. With a chuckle, I remembered those misgivings as I gazed in amazement at the scopes. I could not help but think, “Five cents for the material and twenty-five dollars in labor (I always pay myself more than I can really earn)?”
Then a fellow strolled through the aisles with a blue plastic shopping basket slung on his right forearm. As he passed by, I counted eight point-of-purchase display cards, most with double-digit prices, before he started heaping items in the basket. Now let’s see, I need to finish making the strap for Mi-ki-naak’s powder horn, create a shot pouch, finish the sheath for the scalping knife… Am I missing something?
A young couple stopped a sales clerk and asked for something I had never heard of. I tried to write down what he said, but it made no sense: “Grandma Tofu mat?” I had to give up that quest. That’s when the thought struck me, “You don’t belong here.”
Not long after, I met up with Tami where the full-bodied elk browse on plastic flowers. I started laughing when she said, “This is disappointing. I feel like we don’t belong here.” Soul mates and kindred spirits…
I don’t know what to make of that visit. Maybe I dialed the wrong year into my time machine? In one respect it bothers me, then on the other hand, it reinforces why I do what I do. I realize this is all in fun, but I will need time to cogitate on the hidden meaning. My head hurts. In the meantime, I’m taking Msko-waagosh to the woods. I told him, “That’s where you belong…”
Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.