Over the years the hunter had watched the inexorable building of Interstate Rte. 66 west out of Haymarket, first the surveyors, then the earth-moving equipment, and he had hated it.
The Bluebelle knew the old road: where to stop for the coldest beer, the best chicken-fried steak with navy beans and collards cooked by the local women, the cheapest gasoline, and when the signs warning about a dangerous curve were really serious.
Rte. 66 was going through to let a lot of people get out to their half-acre campsites w/golf, swimming, horseback riding, fishing and much, much more, and out to Skyline Drive to see the leaves change.
But it also was going to run over the territory where the hunter's great-granddaddy was blown to smithereens during Jubal Early's ill-fated ego trip And worse, it was -- and is -- going to roar through the notch of Great North Mountain and down through the Capon Valley of Hardy County W. Va., where this fall at least two flocks of more than 30 turkeys each are roaming virtually unmolested.
But old roads get older, as do cars and hunters, and so Sunday evening the hunter shoved the Bluebelle's nose onto the accursed Rte. 66, and found out that while the new road turned Broad Run and the Shenandoah River into nondescript abutments and green signs, it also cut out the neon ugliness of Front Royal -- and lopped an hour off the trip. So it was still dusk when the hunter stopped at the house on the edge of the George Washington National Forest and was greeted by Jim Bob and the Brakeman, who'd come over from around Charleston..
They were all dressed up for the evening, because somebody was throwing a party over at Four Corners. After everybody told a couple of lies they left and the hunter loaded his pistol and settled in to watch it get dark under the Great South. And he dealt out a run of Chase the Chinaman, a solitaire game his daddy had taught him 35 years earlier.
The story accompanying Chase the Chinaman is that you are allowed to beat it three times, and after the third time you die. So the hunter sat down at the oilcloth-covered table and began playing. And around 10 p.m. EDT on the 19th of October, the year of our Lord 1980, the hunter beat the game for the first time in his life. He put the pistol under his pillow and went to bed, awakened only once during the night, when Jim Bob and the Brakeman came back with a slurred yarn about eating creme de menthe ice cream with chopsticks.
The morning was cold, but there were few clouds and it would be a clear, sunshiny day. In 15 minutes the three were out the door and gone, in different directions.
By full light the hunter was clipping along the side of the mountain. It had rained in the past three or four days and here and there water had collected in a cupped oak leaf. But only one of a half-dozen creek beds had even a trickle of running water, the fall had been so dry.
The hunter moved onto the edge of the 100-yard-wide swath cut for the Potomac Edison line that ran to the top of the Great North and vanished on the other side into Virginia. The turkeys would be using the power line cut as their east-west highway, and there were many acorns under the trees lining the cut, meaning the birds had a ready food supply.
In the flats he could hear shotguns from time to time, and once a big gobbler, likely scattered by the firing below, flapped furiously up the dead center of the cut, about 12 feet off the ground. He landed in the waist-high growth about 75 yards from the hunter, who worked his way closer and dismissed the notion of sending a load of No. 2 shot into the area where the bird had disappeared. Only opening day, Saturday, a boy had done that over around Charleston, only he was looking for deer and was using a compound bow, and he had bagged his daddy, who didn't live long enough to complain.
So the hunter waited and watched for five to 10 minutes, knowing that the gobbler had hunkered down and kept on running up the mountain after he'd landed in the weeds. He moved into the clear area and stomped around a little, and he was right, the turkey was gone.
It was pushing noon when the hunter decided to head down, off the Great North. He was feeling good and his wheels were holding out, but it was time to start back. And anyway, the mountain would be there in November. He figured that Jim Bob would have killed a turkey with his 10-gauge (he had) and that the Brakeman would show up with his shirt stuffed with squirrels (he did) and that they'd be sitting around with long faces and a half-bottle of Jack Daniels waiting for somebody to show up and turn the meat into supper.They were.
So he worked his way down the mountain shoulder, not heading home, but knowing he'd eventually cut Powder Mill Road at a point where it was a two-or three-mile walk to the house.
He swung across a ridge and into an area he'd never seen before. It was flat and split by a wide creek bed he'd not known about. It was pockmarked with turkey tracks and the hunter registered the spot as one where the birds would be returning several times a day to get the rocks they need to grind up the acorns in their crops.
It opened into a broad road, a superhighway in that forest where the logging roads won't allow even a Jeep to get very far. It was smooth and free of the rough limestone that crops out everywhere on the mountain. And after about a quarter of a mile the hunter walked by a picnic grounds with a bench and a pile of firewood and a sign that said, "No. 7," and he began to wonder if he were in Oz. Then he passed a Potomac Edison work truck with three men sitting in a cab waiting for quitting time, or something.
He rounded a hairpin curve and there was another sign, nailed to a tree. Sunset Drive. The hunter took off his hat and scratched his head, but kept walking, and eventually a gate appeared. It was open and on the other side of it was another sign: Hillcrest Estates, no hunting, no trespassing.
So as the hunter unloaded his gun he walked the few yards to Powder Mill Road, and looked at the two or three houses that hadn't even been on the drawing boards a year earlier. As he headed back, he looked forward to cooking up a mess of squirrels and turkey gizzards, knowing that the people who were shoving that No. 66 through there were right serious about it after all, and realizing that he didn't have to worry anymore about beating Chase the Chinaman the next two times.