Where the Wilderness Meets the Wild
Kurt Hoberg L-SAW 2009
The story was called Blue Wolf Ridge.
It was a favorite of my father's, as he was a story-teller (and that's about all
he was). Unlike his other stories, he never told me it until I was older, of
that I can be sure. I remember the afternoon we sat underneath a high ledge in
the Wichita Mountains, chased there by a sky-burner lightning storm, and as he
watched me stand at the edge of the overhang, without so much as saying my
name, he began the story in that casual growl of his.
"It was raining twice as hard as this
when a little boy was heard crying over the pounding rain. There wasn't
thunder like now, but the rain, well, Indians claimed that the spirit of the sky
was angry during that year and was determined to punish the lands with rain
until they overflowed and cried with water like the clouds themselves. Of
course you can see how remarkable it was that something actually heard that
boy. A lone wolf, a female whose mate had been killed by a bear and knew the
sound of loneliness herself, heard the child's cries. She found the boy shivering
under a lone mulberry tree. As broad as those leaves are, they weren't enough
to keep the boy dry. All of a sudden, he fell quiet as the wolf approached.
Softly, she nuzzled him and the two warmed each other through the storm.
"The boy rarely left his new mother's
side after that day. He grew up smart and quick, learning the ways of the
wilderness. Years passed and by and by he hunted on his own though always sure
to find his way back to his mother. Until one day, while trotting easy over
the amber plains, he found that wolf dead among the high grasses twisting in the
cold breeze of an early fall."
My father took out his pipe looking at
it, then stood up from his seat against the rock wall to look out from our
"Think we should get a move on?" he
asked. The storm had finally quit.
"I would've pushed through the storm if the
horses could've beared it. Or if you could've beared it for that matter."
"Yeah. Alright then," he said as he
untied his horse. I mounted mine, anxious to get moving. Although I never had
much mind for his storytelling, curiosity got at me as we started back for
"That story, Blue Wolf Ridge, is that
how it ends?"
He looked at me, his chest and head
bobbing with the horse.
Well now, I reckon I stopped it a bit early didn't I?" He looked out west
before starting again, as though he was searching for the rest of the story
inside his head.
"Like I told, he found the wolf dead.
What from- I never did hear a version that mentioned. But when he saw that
mother wolf who raised him lying there, and this is where the story differs,
the drifters and the storytellers like to say that the man's spirit stopped his
heart from beating at that moment, and his body dropped lifeless overtop the
wolf's that he dearly loved. So now the two spirits protect the woodlands and
prairies they had always roamed through. Side along side," my father pulled
out his pipe again at this point and cleaned it with the frayed bottom of his
"The other version, as I heard from an
old Indian who was not right since fighting in the Civil War, went like this:
Well the man, he loved the wolf so much, he picked it up and took it to a rocky
overlook. Above him the evening sky turned a deep ocean blue, just waiting to
turn black. And everything beneath it shone with its color. I suppose that's
where the story gets its name. But there on the cliff he petted it once,
running his hand the length of its body. Then he ate and tore at the fur and
raw flesh of the wolf; I guess something inside him wouldn't let another animal
peck at the wolf's body.
"When he was done, night had swept over
the cliffs joined by storm clouds the color of death which stopped the moon
from shining. Naked, he sat down next to the picked bones and waited until a
powerful rain burst from the skies with fearful noise that turned streams into
rivers. And over it all every beast below the cliffs could hear a terrible cry
of something in pain, so they quaked in fear and cold, wishing for the storm to
pass. The next day, after the mist and rains vanished from the land, the
vultures were the first in the new sky, as scavengers normally are. But on the
overlook their keen eyes saw nothing. No man. No bones. Just a small puddle
of water left there by the storm."
I grabbed the reigns of my horse,
tugging at her a bit to stop. My father turned his horse to mine and said
looking up to the sky, "I never liked that version, though I can't say why.
The Indian who told it to me lost both eyes in the war I recollect. One
fighting for the Confederates and the other fighting for the Union side.
Mysterious and more than a bit crazy he was."
I kept staring at the ground with
something like a fire burning inside me. A little fearful that the story made
sense to me, or more like I had known it since the day I was a gleam in my
daddy's eye and a few drinks of whiskey in my mother's stomach.
"Let's keep moving. I'd like to be home
so I can rest under my own roof."
was sundown by the time I was done caring for the horses; they were fed and locked
in the stall for the night. The trip into Lawton hadn't been quick or simple,
and more than the animals were tired. I had spent the day trying for some
loans for land. I didn't want a home, just a sprawl of fields to live off.
I'd sleep unprotected and cold if need be. About that I was earnest. But the
weather had been bad, investments hadn't produced like they should I was told, so
the banks weren't loaning money to a kid all by his lonesome. My father
meanwhile sold his handiwork in the town square. It was enough money to survive
on, not that I much cared. He stayed in the graying wood walls of his cabin,
whereas I stuck to the fields. He lived with the one picture of my mother who
died in childbirth and left me to raise myself these seventeen years.
back to my father's two room home a rain started again, a good feeling on my
neck and face. Inside, my father was sitting in his usual spot by the lone
window where still a bit of dusk was crawling through. He was just starting a
new shape to whittle; the wooden block he was using was no bigger than hatchet
handle. That was his work. He didn't do a lick of anything else no more, just
talked and chipped out bears or geese until daylight failed. The man wouldn't
even help me with the horses or the small field I fed us with in the summer.
He couldn't explain it, but said the horses only ever liked me, and that I knew
how to work the fields as a boy better than he ever learned. I'd stopped
asking for help before I knew how to ask for it.
horses alright?" he asked.
feel like summer out there tonight, does it?"
by a bit. That's all."
you see the moon out?"
the clouds. She was a full one."
be careful peeking at the full moon. I've heard my share of strange happenings
under its light," he put down his knife and block. "Sit down if you like."
with his stories.
I'd just as rather turn in soon. You were wanting to hunt with me in the
morning. Is that right?
he looked outside to the night sky. There was still the softest of rains
coming down. It had been one dry summer after another, though now at the end
of August, the skies had let a bit of rain go.
a shy rain tonight," he said as I took off my boots.
I chewed on his language for a second. "What are you getting at?"
keep thinking it will, but it's not wanting to open up and gush," he
turned to look at me standing by the doorway.
cold a night for it to."
"Isn't that always the way," he said sighing
and turned back to the window.
"Yeah. I'll see you in the morning."
It was still night to the animals when I
awoke. An owl in the high parts of the trees hooted to nobody. But I got
ready mine and my father's rifle, then walked outside to check the sky for
rain. By this time my father was awake and sitting where he was accustomed
to. I could see him through the window. Too dark to whittle and without food
for breakfast, he sat watching me as I came back inside. We'd run out of meat
earlier in the week but my father forgot to buy any when we were in town. I
planned on getting my own, but my father wouldn't do nothing about it otherwise,
so I had to light a fire under him to hunt.
"I'm hungry for some bacon. I wish I remembered
to get some," my father said sounding awfully sorry for himself.
"I stopped in the butcher's yesterday.
It was costly."
"I wish you would've reminded me."
"The prices were too high."
"Still…you do anything else in town?"
"Aw, just, just this and that."
"This and that? Well I could've used
some helped selling."
"I don't think I'm made to be a
salesman. I don't know how to lie."
"Maybe that's true. At least you know
how to hunt."
I nodded my head. Dogs knew better how
to act with compliments than me. "I just want a buck in my sights today," I
said more to myself than him. "That's all I want."
"I wouldn't mind a buck neither," he
said. No, he wouldn't mind; he had never shot an animal. He was better at
making them than killing them. I'd seen him miss every chance he had.
Sometimes I swore he tried to miss on purpose.
"Damnit a buck would be nice," he
repeated. "I'm starving for meat."
Doing no good standing there listening
to my father, I grabbed my rifle, pouch, and bullets and made for the spot in
the woods. It was a walk of about a half mile. The very southern piece of our
land was a grassy clear that deer loved to rest and eat by with a wire fence
running along the property line. I was sure more deer than men had looked on
that land, so it was as good a spot as I'd ever found.
When I got out to the clear, the sun was
still hiding below the horizon. Sitting among the brush, I was buzzing with
excitement in that calm, still manner hunters have to have. Like pressing down
a spring and waiting for it to jump. It had been a month since I was last
hunting, though I told my father I'd gone out every morning. Actually, I had
just been walking and watching the woods, thinking about leaving home after I
harvested the last of our summer crop. I hadn't gotten the loan for land
around Lawton, but I'd find a place that did have land cheap to buy. It was a
devil-may-care plan, but I had to get moving. It wasn't that I lived in that
house too long, it was that I lived there at all.
I sat cross-legged with my rifle in my
lap, sure to keep my head low but always moving. Ever since I got my first
doe, I'd known to keep aware. I didn't need any stories about spirits or birds
to teach me to keep alert.
The sun was rising above the saplings
when I caught first sight of a deer. Springing about the bushes it caught my
eye quick. With my rifle at the ready, I raised and watched the doe wander
through the forest. It had started sweeping from my left side towards the
patch I guarded. She was young, too young to be alone. Wandering about like
this, she was sure to be killed by something, but not me. I enjoyed working
for my kills. Not really a matter of honor or nothing, just about fun. This
one was too easy to touch; let the men like my father shoot at it. Anyway, my
gun followed her so as to practice my aim.
My second sighting of the morning was
something pretty to shoot at. It was a buck with no rack, maybe on its own for
one of its first seasons. He was only out about a hundred yards but walking
among trees. If I moved I would've scared him, and I had no good shot until he
came out in the clear. Very carefully I raised my gun and right leg, so the
rifle lay level upon it. His steps were cautious coming to the clearing, like
he knew it was a graveyard where I'd killed many others before him. On the
edge of the grass he stopped, put his head down to sniff, and raised it again,
holding still. I didn't want to miss, so I waited for him to come further
out. Just before he put his head down to walk on closer to me, the explosion
of shooting spooked me. The deer's front legs gave way, and he tumbled onto
his side. From where I was I thought I saw the deer breathing a bit, maybe
playing possum. Sometimes if you only wound a deer, it'll lie down on you until
you come close and let your guard down. Then it'll bolt with a surge of life.
I had a few outsmart me like that before.
On my right I could make out my father
jumping over fallen branches and through the prickers. He was riled up like I'd
never seen. But on my other side came a larger man with a red and black
hunting vest. He moved something like a bear, walking slowly with stiff arms.
I waited for him to pass by my spot until I sat up and followed at a distance.
"How do you like that shot?" he called
out to my father who was standing over the dead deer. "Can't wait to show that
one to my brother. I was sitting all the way on the other side of the field
here," he gestured, coming closer to the deer.
My father said something quietly to the
hunter as they both stood at the buck. I couldn't see the man's face because I
was coming from behind. My father didn't look at me either as he started
talking louder about shooting on our property without permission. As far as I
could tell, the hunter didn't pay much mind, turning every minute and spitting
tobacco on the ground.
"Its horseshit! I shot it. You ain't
got no right to use our land anyway."
"You don't own the deer."
"What's on our land is ours."
"What I shot is mine," he spit again.
"I shot it. And on my land," my father
"I'm taking my buck, one way or the
other," the hunter threatened. I was standing right behind him now, but he
didn't hear it.
"You got nerve talking like that on my
land. I should shoot you for trespassing," my father raised his gun.
"You think I never stared a barrel
think it'll be the last barrel you ever see," he pulled the bolt back, but
moved too slow. The stranger whipped his rifle up, fired, and sent a bullet
into my father's chest. It was a small spray of red, and I knew he was gone.
In a flash of awareness, the hunter felt me behind him and turned around with
big eyes in shock. He couldn't figure which to do: say something or aim his gun,
not that it mattered.
I didn't even
need to eye up the rifle. In a way I'd been eyeing that kill all my life. I
just wrenched the gun up to my hip and pulled a shot that went clear through
the man's neck and into the trees towards the sky. He stumbled, his hands
pressed to the split in his throat where I could see from the river of blood
that the bullet's tip would take his life. Never had I shot anything at such
close a range, or seen the blitz of a bullet that showed itself above his
red-soaked collar. Clear above the scattering of leaves came the man's gurgling
attempts from drowning in his own blood. But it wasn't his blood he
drowned in, knowing my father laid close by, face in the dirt. I stood still- not
realizing I'd thrown my rifle behind me- watching the hunter with his arms and
legs swimming-like in the leaves, moving as much as he could with the last of
his blood. When he was done dying, I thought I saw the steam rising from where
the wound in his neck was.
around the clearing where three animals lay dead, I first went to my father.
There was an opening in his chest and his face was white. All I could think
was he must have died happy, killing his first buck. I waited to feel
something else- like sad or upset- but couldn't figure out how to. Instead, I
took his whittling knife from his belt and put it in my own pocket. He
wouldn't have no use for it. Next, seeing the rifle underneath my father and
remembering the first kill I had with that gun, I felt the desire to take one
more shot. Not at something in particular, just to fire a stray bullet with
nowhere to go but up and out until it ran out of life. I nudged my father at
the waist with my right boot to move the rifle from underneath him. I pulled
the butt towards me; the muzzle dragged through a sticky slop of blood. It
felt light and powerful in my hands. Holding it firm against my right
shoulder, I looked across the woods for nothing, just looking. Thick stumps
and branches passed across the end of the rifle. I sighted over the forest,
lost behind the gun. Crows hovered above the bony fingertips of the treetops,
calling about me to their murder, knowing I held the gun not to harm. So I
watched them weave in the trees, stop to rest and call out and fly again.
Then, a deep rumble of rifle fire boomed deeper in the woods behind me- where
more deer probably were- chasing the crows away. Ready, I aimed straight into
the copper sun-rising sky and pulled on the trigger. The hollow clink of it
sounded and the bolt popped, but nothing fired. Checking my father's gun, I
found it empty. He never had a shot. I lowered the rifle, and placed the
useless thing at his bloody side.
stepped to the freshest kill and hung over the stranger, rocking up and down on
the toes of my boots. Wide, staring white eyes that man had. He'd seen the
world and he'd seen death and his eyes showed every bit of both. I peered
closer at the specks of red showing on his scaly face; it wasn't much different
than a buck.
awhile, I stood back up with my hands on my hips, still leering at him. I
couldn't look at them bodies or the gun anymore. I walked some paces away from
the scene and sat at the base of a stump that was nicer than any chair I'd sat
in. Before my eyes things were settling back to usual: the high clouds still
cast rolling shadows on the mountains in the distance, the leaves rustled and
waved together, the squirrels stopped hiding and daringly jumped from branch to
away I sensed a red dot ambling on towards me from my left. He called out
someone's name, coming closer all the time. My breathing slowed. My eyes
became still and rested only on the man. He leaned heavy to each side with every
step, his stomach sticking out. He held a rifle like the man I had shot. And
as he came into the clearing he caught sight of the three dead bodies.
hell?" he stared over the hunter that shot my father, looking at the mess of
death. There was a look of fear I could see as his mouth hung open. He
stepped around the deer and my father real careful until he made a complete
circle of them. His stomach was bubbling with short breaths. Finally he
looked up and saw me hunching against the stump like I had been, and his eyes
didn't have nothing to say.
are you doing out here boy?"
hear me? What are you doing out here?" he started coming close -just yards
away- gripping his gun with both hands. "You out here hunting? You ain't got
a gun I see."
I was going to let him come real close.
"You see what happened? You better tell
me. Was that you who killed my brother?" His voice got angry, and I was sure
he knew. But hunters like the thrill of hunting; he wasn't going to shoot
without me giving him reasons, honest-to-god proof, and a fight. He stopped
just a rifle length away from me. There was a nervous sweat coming down from
under his hat that he wiped away with his shoulder. Just before he raised his
rifle, I struck. Jumping full into the man from a squat, he fell backward and
his gun flew from his hands. Never once did I look back, but followed the line
of beaten wire fence separating the grassy field I was in from the forest. A
few long strides later, I found a clearing like a trail in the dense woods the
fence was guarding. Behind me I heard a gunshot, but nothing could shoot what
couldn't be seen so I skipped the fence and hurried down a waterlogged trail
into the thicker patches of the forest.
Rabbits scurried away from me in fear. More
crows flapped overhead, roused by the shooting. Then suddenly, more black
wings came speeding with me. I hadn't heard it, but reckoned he fired again. Soon
as I found a deer path jutting off the trail I sideways jumped onto it such
that my heels stayed dry and clean, never close to pounding the ground. The
shoot of trail then disappeared into regular wilderness as the beasts and I
preferred it, leading me to guess I was safe thanks to the dark woods between
me and my chaser. I knelt and wiped the sweat away from my glaring eyes. My
matted hair dripped drops down my front and onto the stems of stripped
branches, where they rolled across the plant and down to the dirt- the place
where it all goes anyway. The sun had risen nearly to the treetops, and it was
then I realized I had picked up where that old, blue ridge story ended. I was
the man and I had the wolf inside me.