If I could have changed anything about the night it would have been to not have Eric along. Otherwise it was perfect. I was with my favorite male friends, Pete, Blackie and Easy and three best dogs Trouble, Duchess and Walter. It had rained last night. Tonight there was a heavy ground fog. The temperature hovered at forty degrees.
My wife had been summoned to her sisters for a Tupperware party. She had taken the baby and told me she would stay the night so I could hunt till sun-up without worry.
I had a fresh pack of Red Fox chewing tobacco and a thousand acres of Edisto River bottom at my disposal. Duchess was as fine a Bluetick coonhound as ever drew breath, Pete’s Black and Tan, Trouble, was every bit as good and Easy’s Redbone, Walter was showing as much promise as either of the older dogs.
Sometimes things are so good you just know it can’t last. Blackie had just told me Eric was supposed to be coming. I had half joked about leaving before he got here and then apologized immediately. Blackie took it in stride. Eric was his soon to be brother-in-law and he had instructions from his little sister, whom he doted on, to look out for him if he went through with his plans to join us.
Eric was a good boy but he was from Boston, had never been in the woods or on a hunt of any kind and found chewing disgusting. He was interested in coon hunting as a culture he wished to scrutinize, his words, not mine. We had hunted with greenhorns before but it had never been a good experience. There was the time we had taken Blackie’s uncle from Weymouth and that had been a disaster. You have heard some version of that hunt by now if you have been around camps at all. It’s legend. Lagrand died there at the tree. I was talking to him. He made this little gurgling sound and sat down and he was gone. Just like that. Well you know the rest depending on the version that got to you. We treed four more that night and it was tree, drag Lagrand, tree, drag Lagrand, tree, drag Lagrand. If that wasn’t bad enough we got hauled into an inquest because we had continued to hunt with the dead man and if it had not been for Blackie we would have all been in trouble. Blackie spoke right up and said, “I saw enough death in Viet Nam to know when a man is dead. Uncle Lagrand was dead. It didn’t matter to him how long we hunted. It shouldn’t matter now. He was no deader in the morning.” That story went the rounds except no one tells about us sweating out the inquest. At least Eric was a kid and a pretty good athlete not a seventy-four year old like Lagrand. Lagrand had a good life and he was real excited to be with us right up till the gurgle.
Eric had just arrived. We loaded into the three pickups. Pete was with me, in my Chevy. Easy and Blackie were in his old Ford and Eric followed us in his new Nissan. We could have just taken the two but Eric wanted a way out if coon hunting did not suit him.
We rode the threes miles to the farm in silence. It was a strange convoy with Blackie and Easy in the lead because Easy had a new bottom he was leading us to that he said was close to cornfields and untouched so far this year. We turned on a rut road by a rundown abandoned church and followed him almost two miles up to a pond and across the pond dam. He pulled up short, just after crossing the dam, flashed his light on a Posted notice to read the signature and announced, “This is the place. Turn ‘em loose.”
We scrambled out and dropped tailgates. The three dogs did their usual bit of sniffing and relieving themselves and uncramping muscles for a few seconds and then Duchess went toward the creek run that would eventually lead in the Edisto. Trouble and Walter were right on her heals and within minutes Duchess and Trouble struck almost in sync and Walter joined in. I looked at Pete and he had this big grin on and he was stuffing Red Man in his cheek.
“This is going to be some night,” Blackie said.
“You mighty right,” Easy said.
“Quiet fellers. Them dogs is up to something strange,” Blackie said.
The dogs had separated and seemed to be running several different trails. There was some confusion among the dogs at the moment but I was pretty sure what was happening and when I looked at Pete and Easy they were both grinning and looking toward Eric who was talking into a tape recorder. He had asked if he could bring it along to tape what he could of the hunt and our conversation. I knew what Pete and Easy were thinking because I was thinking the same thing but we all somehow came to the same silent conclusion that we would leave it up to Blackie.
“What do you make of it, Big Dave? You think we should catch the dogs? Could be a ruin,” Blackie said.
“We’ll give them a minute. Could be a small ruin. Might climb, but if they stand we had best be quick.”
“Ruin,” Eric said.
“You know,” Blackie said. “You have a herd of sheep, or a gaggle of geese. Well we call a bunch of coon a ruin. See if there’s too many they will stand and fight. Not so many years ago, Easy there got into a big ruin and they killed two of his dogs. He swears they ate them but I believe that was either bears or boars. I don’t believe even a big ruin could strip dogs so clean so quick. Mind I wasn’t there but I’ve known Rudy since I left Boston and if he says twenty-five or more coons was in the ruin that got old Norman and Joseph his word is good enough for me.”
“You mean coons will kill and eat men?” Eric asked worriedly.
“What men? Nobody said anything about men.”
“Norman and Joseph!”
“Them was the dogs, Eric,” Easy said.
“Easy always names his dog like people,” I said.
“Yeah,” Blackie said, “Other hunters have Track and Trouble, Queenie and Duchess, but Easy likes names like Walter and Norman. It comes from not having a real name. Easy was the seventeenth baby. His folks was tired of picking names and he come so easy, they just called him Easy. So he names his dogs with names he likes for folks.”
“Listen up Blackie. What you make of that?” I said.
“Big Dave, we are in luck. I believe it is a small ruin or a large ruin of small coons, because it sounds to me like them dogs are driving. Don’t it you, Easy?”
“I’ll get a box of shells if you want, Big Dave,” Pete said.
“Never mind that. If they can drive the ruin and are in no danger let’s just catch the dogs, and go hunt somewhere else. We shoot one we make them all mad and they might take it out on our dogs. If there’s even five or six and we get them riled it will be hell to pay,” said Blackie.
“I agree,” I said.
“Couldn’t we just call them in and go home. I never knew this was dangerous. I didn’t know you had bears and boars, either,” Eric said.
“It will be alright, Eric.” I said. We don’t have many of either, nor run into ruins that often.”
“It seems like one of either would be more than enough.” Eric said.
“Man’s got to have a challenge.” I said.
“Golf works for me.” Eric said.
“They’re herding for sure,” Easy said,
“The dogs are circling for strays.” Pete said. “They will be chopping in a minute.”
“Your dog’s can cut a tree?” Eric asked.
“No, a chop is a tree bark. The dogs sound different when they are trailing but once they tree they go to a hard, rapid bark. We call that a chop. There, that’s it. They’re treed. Let’s get to them.”
We went into the river bottom and we only had to go maybe a quarter mile. The tree was a huge live oak and there was not another big tree around it due to some recent logging so the coons were all in the one tree as we knew they would be. We knew we had run on an old she coon with a litter of yearling and after panicking she would eventually drive the whole brood up a tree. These were big yearlings and there was even a stray coon that must have climbed this big live oak in panic also, because there were two grown coons and four yearlings. We squalled a bit with our calls to get mama moving. I threw my light on her and several of the yearlings and as Blackie’s light came up I saw a look of astonishment on Eric’s face. He was wide-eyed. We snapped on the leads and led the dogs out and loaded up. Eric took his leave. He was sure he knew how to get back from the highway so we all said good-byes and he followed us back to the main road.
That was three years ago. Blackie said he was back home last month and Eric was still telling all the people in Boston that this was the man he was with when they treed the ruin of coon.
A Ruin of Coon~Coonhound Bloodlines~September 2006