ATT’S heavy goose-down jacket absorbed
some of the upper body impact, enough so
that he remained conscious. The guide, not
able to reach Matt, scrambled frantically
down the mountain for help. He knew Matt had little chance
to survive the fall, much less night, when the temperature could
plunge 50 degrees.
As day passed from dusk to darkness, Matt felt his life slipping
away. Inching slowly toward deep shock and unconsciousness,
he knew all he had to do was close his eyes and it would be over.
It was bitterly cold, he was in extreme pain, and the thought of
giving up was welcome.
But each time he closed his eyes and began to yield, he would
see the tanned, lined face, the straight jaw, the unflinching
eyes. He could hear the steady, gravelly voice and the lesson.
Maddening though it was, he clung to the last shred of strength
in him. When the medevac team rappelled down the rock face,
Matt was close to death, lapsing in and out of consciousness.
Within minutes, the near-lifeless body was secured in a wire
rescue litter, hauled up into the helicopter, and whisked away.
He had fought through Vietnam and the night in the
Bitterroots and he lived, though he never quite healed from
either. There were other times, harrowing, almost reckless.
But the farm, the wing-shooting, the gentle roll of the land and
the bond with his father had been the call home, the return to
peace, the refuge, if only for a short time each year.
That morning, there in the dim light of the old farmhouse,
Matt fought once more. Slowly, as he began to remember, to feel
his father’s presence in the old house, to share again the times
together, there was a very slight though unmistakable trace of
reconciliation. It was an acceptance of sorts, an understanding.
The big clock on the mantle struck once, then six more times,
startling Matt from his thoughts. He looked again toward the
landing, then out across the meadow toward the sleeping fields
and the brown, honeysuckle-choked hedgerows. He had known
his father was not well and had not been for some time. He
had seen it plainly in his face. Since the trip to the hospital, he
had spent most of the last few months there at the landing just
watching, fascinated even as his life drew to a close by the deli-cate,
intertwined balance of man and nature.
In the beginning, Matt did not know everything the doctors
had told his father and had not pressed for an explanation,
though there were many opportunities to discuss it. One after-noon,
soon after his father had been to the hospital for the sec-ond
time, he and Matt were sitting in the den talking over old
hunts. It was then, in his calm and steady way, that he told Matt.
Outside the bay window, a creek split the meadow. It crept
down from a big cypress swamp and wandered through the
checkered pattern of soybean, corn and cotton. The swamp
stretched for miles, its border a dense jungle of catbrier, gallberry
The remaining frost cover had melted away with
the morning sun. It was a fine day for bird hunting
. . . the kind of day hi8s father had loved.