column By: Terry Wieland | May, 19
Her first name was Dorothy. I never knew her last name. She had a rather strange husband, Wilton, and an equally strange son, whose name I think was Donny. We were never formally introduced, but I can still see him, sitting across the breakfast table with that derogatory little smile on his face while his father moved around, offering more coffee.
Wilton had been a miner, had an accident, had a plate put in his head, and he’d never been the same. This left Dorothy and her son to eke out a living for the family, which each pursued in his or her own way. They lived in one of those 1960s cement block and clapboard houses, the kind that has a garage for a ground floor and everyone lives upstairs. It was located in the lake country of southern Ontario, a land of granite outcrops and juniper bushes, where a 50-acre farm might support one or two lonely cows, if they could be protected from the wolves. Since the mine closed down, there was no other real work to be had.
One thing Dorothy had going for her was the fact that a few miles down the road, across the abandoned railway track that led to the old mine, lay the Crown Game Preserve. Every year as winter approached, whitetails from 1,000 square miles migrated into the preserve – “yarded up,” as the expression went. The deer yards provided good browse for the winter, and the preserve had been created by drawing a boundary around this natural sanctuary.
My little hunting group had a camp on a lake about 30 miles north of there, and deer from our area migrated in and out of the preserve. This movement in the fall was an almost legendary phenomenon. Guys would meet up at the boat landing and ask, “Think they’re yarding up yet?” Answer: “Dunno. Seen any?”
In an area of 1,000 square miles, routes of migration paths, real or imagined, were closely guarded secrets. There was, of course, another way, and that was to take up position down near the Crown Game Preserve itself, and hunters came from hundreds of miles away to line the boundary, hoping to ambush a deer on its way in, or catch one that carelessly wandered out.
It was this practice that afforded Dorothy her meager living in the fall. She had a couple of rooms to rent to deer hunters, and she cooked meals, and escorted them through the woods to spots along the railway line that formed the boundary of the preserve.
Dorothy was in her 40s, a scrawny woman who dressed in men’s work pants from the Farmers’ Co-op, always wore rubber boots and carried a Winchester 94 that had belonged to her father. Twenty years and a few personal tragedies ago, she had probably been rather attractive.
One year, discouraged by a complete dearth of deer in our area, we rose before dawn, crossed the lake to the landing, crowded into a car and drove down to the sideroad near Dorothy’s house, where she met us by lantern light. She held a whispered consultation with Brian, my friend who had masterminded this, and then we formed a line and followed her into the woods. After about half an hour we paused, and Dorothy motioned to one of us to get up onto a jutting rock while the rest of us continued on. One by one, we were placed in position.
I found myself on a piece of moss-covered granite beside a juniper bush redolent of gin, which is not bad as you sit and wait for who-knows-what to happen. In the darkness, I kept hearing a faint rustling. Raccoon? Deer? Bear? I’d been cautioned only to shoot in front of my stand, not behind or to the side, but I kept glancing nervously over my shoulder. Finally, the sky turned gray and I could make out the railroad line a few yards in front, running through a granite-walled ravine. Cautiously, I rose to my knees and peeked over the juniper, straight into the eyes of another hunter, on his knees, peeking back.
Somewhat shaken, we resumed our positions, scanning up and down the railroad tracks for an errant buck. A shot rang out down the line, then another, and a couple more. What followed was what historians like to call the “rattle of musketry,” which gradually died away. Whether that buck was hit, or whether it had even been a deer, I never found out. With the sun now high, my neighbor got to his feet, shrugged and trudged off. He’d been here before, obviously, and knew we’d seen all the action to be had that morning.
A while later, Dorothy appeared, waved, and we all made our way back to the road, back to our car, and headed for her house for breakfast.
When we arrived, her husband Wilton had the table set and was bustling around amid the welcome smells of coffee and frying bacon. Donny sat at the table with a cigarette, his back to the window and his feet up, watching as we divested ourselves of coats and rifles.
“See anything?” From his contemptuous smile, he already knew the answer. “Hey, Wilton!” he said, pointing at his coffee cup. His father shuffled over with the pot.
“I want the rifle this afternoon,” he told Dorothy. “Think I’ll go get me a deer.”
“No, you’re not,” she said. “Last time, I only got it back ’cause they knew it was my father’s.”
Donny shrugged and smiled. “Okay, I’ll take the .22.”
“For deer?” Brian asked.
“Sure,” he said, taking the cigarette out of his mouth and exhaling a long cloud of smoke over our heads.
“He shoots them in the preserve,” Dorothy answered. Obviously, this was something she’d lived with for a while.
“You go to jail for that,” Brian said.
“Not always.” Donny shrugged again and looked at his mother. “Maybe it’s not a good day. Get myself shot. All you . . . deer hunters.”
One of us broke the awkward silence. “Say, Wilson, any more coffee?”
“My name’s not Wilson,” he said. “It’s Wilton. W-I-L-T…”
“Wilton!” Dorothy snapped, and he jerked back like a dog on a leash. Donny looked at us and smiled his little smile. “You guys want a real deer, come and talk to me.” Dorothy glared at him. Donny smiled.
As Wilton shuffled around, clearing the table, and Donny lit another cigarette, we got our coats on and gathered up our rifles. Brian counted five twenty-dollar bills into Dorothy’s hand.
“Coming back tomorrow?” she asked.
“We’ll let you know,” he replied, and we filed down the stairs and out to the car. Donny followed us down.
“I mean it,” he said. “Hundred bucks apiece. Big racks. I know just where they’re at.”
“I’ll bet you do,” I said.
Brian shook his head. “I want something I can hang on my wall.”
“Nobody’d ever know.”
Dorothy appeared behind him.
“You know where to find me,” Donny said, and went back into the house. Dorothy leaned down to the car window. She seemed apologetic, though it was all no fault of hers.
“It’s Wilton,” she said. “If he could still work, it would be different.”
Brian took out his wallet, extracted another two twenties, and gave them to her.
“Tomorrow?” she asked.
“We’ll let you know.