A morning’s wisp of ranch air
a sullen reprieve to night’s whisk and gin
steel sleeping in with skin and bone
but where am I going then?
Perhaps to death
in that barren hole in the head
My eyeslids remind me once, then
unknowable times again
lock the bolt
safe or not
like sanbiki no saru…
Wake up, they whispered
as a shock to the back of the neck
uprooting my tongue
from the dust clay dawn
I saw them through crust and haze
and wondered where my mind is?
Pick up the rifle they said
you’ll see us both
for maybe a second more
and that’s it
a slide click
too tired to breathe, witless
enough to squeeze
the fortune goes off
to find another
and for us
we are dumb shot
by each other
There’s a saying about luck, “The good or bad of it is nothing but the same”. Newton knew it, maybe he was a Taoist too. Me? I’m a first timer. I don’t know those laws and that was good enough to cheer about, which made a fine welcome beer to Encinal Texas. It smelled of spent steer horns and rusty pump jacks but there was something else in this place. Buddy, his son-in-law Brandon, his grandson Brandon G, and the long line of ranchers going back 200 years to the Spanish land grants, were kind enough to extend their welcome to me and my friends. His ranch hand vaqueros, criadas, and especially the ninera who took care of his daughter’s son while she was away on a mommy spa weekend in Laredo, reminded me of my own mother-in-law. They are the real grit of what was once Mexico. I could see them in Buddy’s eyes and face. He was humble like his stature and an uncountable multiple of his 5,500 acres of a man. Of course, that’s the history of it but I was bunking in the brand new Lecho Del Rio house with granite, AC, a 30 point buck and a mountain lion staring down at me. This isn’t the hard way for sure. It did make sense though, those pump jacks have been replaced by massive mud/oil/water separators and 10,000HP fracking pumps. The steer horns now bow and stand with Blackbuck horns, Giraffes and even the rare elusive south Texan Moose (that’s one of those top drive, Jack Daniels swigging, funnin New Yorkers kind of joke). It turn’s out, this place wasn’t for blood thirsty, gun toting Neanderthals. As far as conservation goes, I learned it is more like the Ark.
The first night out in Brandon’s pickup felt like riding on the roof of a college bus through the bush. The top frame swivel seats, long shaft controls, beer cooler, TX/NY sarcastic banter, and the open whiskey bottle shuffle, must have made the hogs and Javelinas laugh themselves to sleep. My cousin John, the south Texan spider eye spotting expert that he is, directed Brandon right into a sunken grass soft spot of bentonite. His top drive pickup is half a functioning 4WD so we got to make use of my clean boots and drunk ass shoveling skills. Where I’m from, dirt is sand, but this stuff gets wet like honey and corn meal, tastes like asbestos, and sticks on till hell dries it out. Pablo and Hector arrived after a few more swigs and failed attempts to “get your knees in it”. Brandon G’s 4x4 Sierra had no problem with us. Judging by the way the chains flew on, these guys could have pulled a Pleurocoelus, alive, right out of the Eagle’s Ford Shale. They were laughing, I am thinking with us, but I don’t speak Spanish so I’ll assume not. They went back smiling and let us be on our way drinking and riding to a 3:10 am mule kick end. We didn’t even see animals in our sleep.
The next morning was 5:30 am. I decided to have a try in a blind, which Brandon had suggested. He must have wrongly thought I was a practiced at this because he left me there by myself sitting with a headache and his .308 bolt action Remington 700 rifle to watch the deer go by. They all seemed small. I found out later, the doe were the ones I was supposed to shoot. Towards the end of the morning I saw six Javelina walk out onto the path. This would be the first time I ever killed an animal with a gun. Most people can’t reconcile killing, even vegans forget the billions of creatures they compete with to sow their innocuous soy and rice. I’ll say this, if you’ve done it up close for food or mercy or necessity, you know what it means. I fired at the one that was closest to me and it went down right away. The rest of them scattered except one that was limping and circling towards the brush. I assumed it was hit pretty bad by a fragment but I couldn’t tell. By the time I figured to chamber another round, it was out of sight, squealing. I’ve heard that cry before, only twice in my life. Once, when I was 8 and trying to uproot a nest of mice with a pitchfork, I nicked one, like a freak accident, and it cried the both of us to silence. The second time was a year later when my dad and I were killing / butchering our rabbits. “Humane harvesting” at the time was to knock them out with a club or break their necks. I wasn’t strong or coordinated enough to do it. My dad missed one and the poor rabbit made us feel like George Milton if he had botched it. As far as that Javelina was concerned, it went silent before I could climb down and walk into the brush and I never found its body. Maybe the birds would point it out in a couple of days. It was time to head back to the ranch.
We shot trap for the rest of the day. Apparently, I can only hit targets on the ground. Looking back, the ranchers are probably saying I was sand bagging it. The night hunt saw a bit more action than the night before. John was using the AR-15. We must have seen 20 hogs and Javelina. Robert our business associate who grew up in the area said, “I think the safest place for those animals is right in John’s scope”. We were laughing at him so hard it was shaking the truck and making it even harder. He did get one of those skunk pigs but I say it died of fright or maybe choked on the dust his bullets were kicking up. We got back late and in no better state than the night before. The thing I remember most about it was the cold, dry air. I packed one sweatshirt that gave out during both the 85° days and the 35° nights.
The next morning I was the only one of us outsiders that got up early. Brandon G and his friend Steve drove me out to the same blind I was at the day before. It was cold but I was so tired the frost seemed like a blanket. After a couple of minutes, two 6 and 8 point buck came out of the bushes about 500 yards away, they walked a straight line right in front of me and down about the same distance away. They were walking as if they knew I couldn’t shoot them. It was 20 minutes in time and a moment, I knew, few people will have. Then I dosed off but not till after everything was ready, ear plugs, a chambered round, and the slide window open.
When my mind woke up to me, I was looking down the scope and pulling the trigger. One deer was facing me and the other was walking behind it. I didn’t hear or feel the gun. I remember seeing the one in the back stumble around in front and the other deer on the ground slightly kicking its legs. Then the one in front fell down right in line, motionless. I looked again and the smaller deer in back was still kicking. I climbed down with my rifle and walked out to them. By then, neither one was breathing. I stood over them scratching my head. I shot one through the neck and the bullet hit the other deer across its body through its heart and out the other side of its chest. A minute later, Brandon G and Steve pulled up with the pickup. They were coming to pick me up to head back to the ranch for breakfast. We were leaving to catch a flight out of Corpus Cristi at 4:00pm. “You got two huh”… “did you move one here?” no. “The second one came here with the other one on the ground?” no. “You shot one and the other one didn’t run away?” no. I shot them with the same bullet. “What? Have you ever hunted before?” no. “Well dang, now we’re scratching our heads too”.
Yeah, odd, but never the way I expect it to be.
And that’s where I’m left
with lucky and its fucked inversion
No, not remorse or guilt
nor lack of both
I am blessed and I am fallen
a fortune far worse