by Malcolm Macdonald, February 17, 2016
Walking upriver a piece, beyond the forks where the sun bakes the gravel bar and pepperwoods shadow the Indian trail, eventually Ed Sniece's place comes into view. If the valley fog has lifted its cloak.
The casual observer might spot Ed on his redwood roofed porch and think he was whittling. But he's not whittling, he's splitting kindling so fine it resembles foot long toothpicks. Ed speaks without glancing up from his short hatchet chops. “The woman's 'round back planting garden.”
The front yard blooms daffodil yellow and higher up, plum pink and white. Something akin to a grunt emanates from the apple orchard to the west.
Hatchet still, Ed looks up, twists on his three-legged stool, seemingly examining the wire fence that separates the Sniece yard from the orchard that runs eight Gravensteins and Rhode Island Greenings deep by four rows wide to a point where the ground rises steeply into the wooded hillside.
“Damn pigs rooting 'round. Haven't seen 'em in these parts in a coons age. I'll be damned if...”
Ed rises, strides to the front door, and on inside. A matter of seconds short of a minute he's outside again, Winchester cradled on one arm while he slides a couple of rounds from a box into the rifle.
Jamming the box of shells in a back pocket of his jeans, Ed's already at the deer fence, sidestepping for a line of sight. It's not deer season and it's not venison he's after.
A wild hog snorts into view, snuffing at the trunk of a Greening. The report of a shot and the feint hint of gun smoke precedes the squeals echoing downriver. However, the hog Ed aimed at lies dead in the orchard, without even a twitch of last life.
“You can't hit me from there,” a woman's voice calls from behind the house.
“Wild pigs,” Ed responds.
The distant squealing turns southward. “Reckon you broke the other one's heart,” the woman says.
“Ah, she's just outta breath, running uphill.”
Ed empties the bullets from the .30-.30 while he walks to the porch, where he rests the weapon against a side of the wood box. Back at the stool he picks up a chunk of redwood in his left hand and the hatchet with his right. “Anyone who thinks animals don't have emotions... ain't noticed much.”
He nods toward the border collie curled in next to the east end of the wood box. The gray muzzled dog had barely cocked an eye, let alone raised his head at the sound of the gun shot.
“Old Butch's mother had a litter of pups – might have been his time 'cause she only had two litters. Well, she had so many she didn't take note she'd sat on one while the others were suckling. When she finally got up that one pup was suffocated... That's about when I come along. She snuffed at it awhile then the woman and I wrapped it in an old newspaper and buried it.
“That bitch followed us out to the little grave and, you know, it must have been an hour later, but I was down on one knee tamping the dirt and rocking the place down to keep it from varmints. I glanced over and that dog...”
Ed nearly lifted off his stool to holler, “What was the name of Butch's mother?”
“For crying out loud,” the woman replied, “you know, well as I, Bee. Called her Aunt Bee...”
Ed finished the thought, “Cause a bee stung her when she was a pup.”
The voice from the back dropped silent. Ed went on, “Well, like I said, I was down on my knees placing rocks when I looked over and saw Bee with tears rolling out the corners of both her eyes.”
Ed brought the hatchet down, a 3 x 2 inch slab of redwood split clean away. In another few seconds he cleaved that into several kindling sticks then gazed out to the orchard once more. “Damn wild hog, usually tough as bark. Probably won't even smoke up to nothing more than tolerably edible.”
He tossed the kindling into an apple crate, then bent to stroke the old border collie, from the back of his head down to his back. “Hey, Butch, wanna see a dead hog?”
Butch lifted his head, rheumy eyes opening, but he didn't stand.