Neewa the wonder dog and.., p.20
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       Neewa the Wonder Dog and the Ghost Hunters, p.20

           John Cerutti
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  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, each of us takes a nut from Jackie’s hand. A thorough inspection concludes that every one of the nuts is about the size of a pencil eraser, about five centimeters. And each one has the shape of a very tiny acorn or even an apple. We stand inspecting the little nuts.

  “Jackie, your hands are disgusting,” we laugh, as I look down at my own dirty hands. “Yuck!” They are covered in pine tar with dirt rubbed in. It’s stuck to my skin like glue. I try to peel it off by scraping it with a stick, then a rock. But it’s no use, it is dried on to my skin like cement.

  Dad has sweat dripping from his head, and his shirt is wet around the collar and back. By now Jackie and I are both wishing we had worn shorts. But it was so cold this morning, and who would’ve thought it would be so hot this early in the day and it seems to be getting hotter by the minute.

  I check the back of my hand. One of the beige and brown nuts is stuck between my fingers. Scrutinizing it, I inspect the incredibly perfect round hole in the middle of the top. The opening is deep and goes almost all the way through to the bottom. I hold it up to my eye to see if I can peer inside. The curious hole in the nut makes it look like a tiny apple that’s been cored. But it’s not cored all the way through. Nope, instead the one-centimeter wide tunnel ends just before the bottom.

  Strangely centered, the hole seems to be in the exact same location on each and every nut. Perplexed, again I hold the juniper nut to my eye, looking into the dark hole searching for a revelation as to how and why it is there?

  “How did the hole get there, Dad?” I question.

  Dad shakes his head, “I don’t know, maybe that’s the way they are?”

  Jackie declares, “I’ll show Chester, he will know. I’ll collect a bunch of them. I’m sure they are juniper nuts but how the heck did that hole get there?”

  Dad and Jackie begin gathering nuts sitting under the juniper trees. It’s too hot to be moving around now. Minutes pass as I gaze into the blue sky and flora-covered marshes in the distance. We share several gulps of water from our canteen and chill on the hillside.

  “I’m going to look for Neewa,” I announce, walking away from them. “Where are you guys going to be?”

  Jackie answers, “We’ll be right here under these shady trees.”

  “Stay here,” I say, “so I can find you when I get back.”

  Jackie calls to me as I disappear from sight, “Ok we’ll be waiting.”

  Walking up the ridge, I feel the freedom of being on my own. I’m alone in the wilderness with no one else around for miles.

  I wonder what happened here long ago? Could I possibly be the first human to walk through this forest in thousands of years? Maybe I’m the only human who ever traveled here. Most likely Indians trekked through here in the last hundred years. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last.

  Neanderthal man camped here a hundred thousand years ago. He probably lived in a nearby cave and painted the walls. It would be so cool to find one of those caves and discover paintings never seen before.

  Approaching the top of the hill, I call out, “Neewa, Neewa come.”

  Slipping back into my imagination, I wonder if buffalo once roamed here. They came to drink water and eat the grass at the marsh. The buffalo could’ve been hunted right here where I’m standing. Maybe this was once a buffalo jump, where buffalo were herded together and then stampeded off a cliff.

  Ancient man and the Indians used to kill the buffalo that way. They chased the buffalo around and around in the canyon getting them all worked up. As the buffalo got more excited, they were stampeded towards a cliff and then over the edge. They died or were so badly injured it was easy for the hunters to finish them off.

  In a history book I read, it said as many as a hundred buffalo would go off a cliff at once. Indians waited near the bottom and killed the ones that lived with spears and knives. It was gruesome.

  Indians used all of the buffalo for one thing or another. It was their custom not to waste anything. Clothing was made from the skins. Some hides were made into blankets while others were used to cover tipis. The meat was dried into jerky so it would not spoil in the summer. And in the winter, the meat was kept frozen and away from animals underground.

  Rambling along I daydream about the Piute, Washoe, and Gosh Ute Indians that once roamed this region. I wonder how they survived gathering roots and berries, and hunting mule deer, and other animals. It must have been a hard life.

  These mule deer out West are similar to the whitetail deer back East. Except the mule deer is bigger, much bigger, and their antlers are twice the size. Other than that they have the same colored fur and just about everything else.

  Quiet as a mouse, I approach the highest rocky peak of this mountain. Leaping from rock to rock, I skip along forgetting about where I am and what I’m doing here.

  All of a sudden, I hear a thud and feel a vibration under my feet. It travels up through my knees and legs.

  Startled, I look up at the blue western sky dotted with white fluffy clouds. The sun glares back into my eyes.

  Chapter 38 - The Ghost of the Mule Deer

  Suddenly I focus on a pair of eyes looking right at me. Around those eyes is the face of a mule deer, motionless, just twenty feet in front of me. Surrounding the massive buck’s antlers is blinding sunlight obscuring his body. His eyes are the color of rusted steel and his ears white as snow. His black nostrils are flared wide open in his wet shiny nose, dripping stuff. He exhales, snorting snot to the ground at my feet.

  My heart pounds as he looks through me, neither of us can believe our eyes. I am frozen, unable to move for what seems like seconds, but is only tenths of an instant. Fixed on his eyes, I blink.

  But he’s gone. Disappeared as if by magic without a sound or a trace of his path. My mind floods with questions. Did I see what I think I saw? Where did he go?

  He must have jumped through the air, soaring out of sight. I remain still, waiting to feel the vibration as he lands, listening past the hilltop breeze for the sound of his hooves striking the ground, galloping in retreat. But I feel nothing, only the wind softly whistling in my ear and the sun warming my flushed skin.

  Was it an illusion? Maybe I imagined the massive stag with giant antlers and piercing eyes. Perhaps I did not see antlers at all; rather it was the branches of a tree hanging down. Possibly the deer head was a rock, shaped by the wind and rain to look like the head of a deer. Or maybe I just invented the whole thing.

  “I’ll find out!” I streak to where he stood in a split second.

  Atop the mountain’s highest point, I stare down from my new location at the previously unseen valley before me. No trees block my view. Nor is the scarce brush higher than my ankles. The wind-swept barren moonscape before me has little to obscure his escape route. There are no juniper or pinyon pine trees blocking my inspection.

  Nothing is moving on the lifeless terrain. No rustling bushes, or dried lifeless grasses swaying. Nor is there dust in the air, kicked up to reveal his path of retreat.

  “Where are you?” I shout, stomping my feet.

  Scanning from left to right, then right to left, covering every possible direction of his getaway. I see no buck, no solitary deer on its way home from the marsh. No herd of deer feeding on the hillside to which he might have belonged.

  “Nothing,” I repeat, “nothing?”

  Even the wind that gives flight to the hawks and vultures is still. I kneel down for a ground level view to look out over the vista, but nothing stirs.

  Maybe he’s hiding somewhere, like lions do in the tall grasses of Africa, blending in with the colors around them. Invisible I thought, just waiting for me to walk away. Then he will continue on his path.

  After a while, regrettably there is no living creature to be seen anywhere. Whatever it was or is, it’s gone now.

  That’s when I spot them, on the ground right in front of me, right where he stood.

  I whisper, “Antlers.”

; They seem unreal, out of place, as if they were put there, positioned upright, not shed or dropped naturally.

  Again I glance back down the barren hillside straining to see that buck, but he is not there.

  Quickly, I peek back at the antlers. Much to my surprise they are still there. I rub my eyes and focus, but the two perfectly symmetrical antlers do not disappear. They remain upright.

  They are large antlers, maybe three feet across, and would only fit upon a great stag like the one I thought I saw.

  I circle them, inspecting every detail, every sharp point. Unable to resist any longer I kneel down and touch one of the smoothest grooves on a shaft and run my finger up the edge jumping from tip to tip, counting eight points each.

  Overcome with the desire to hold one, I lift an antler into my arms. The sheer weight and girth almost bowl me over. I have to quickly regain my balance to keep from falling.

  Then it occurs to me, I couldn’t just leave them here and walk away. They shouldn’t just stay here where no one will see them. Someone should keep them for themselves.

  Hum, then again maybe they were meant to be here in the wilderness with the wind, sun, and earth. After all, this is where they have been. They belong to no one. No one owns them. There are no possessions out here. OMG, I don’t know what to do?

  Suddenly, I hear the sound of something rushing straight at me.

  Turning anxiously toward it, “Neewa! Crap, you scared the hell out of me!”

  My eyes shoot from Neewa back to antlers and back to Neewa again.

  “Neewa,” my voice loud, “where have you been?” I hold her face close to mine and look into her eyes. “Did you see that buck?” She pulls away and jumps up on me. I scratch her head behind the ears. She pushes her paws forward, shoves me back, and jumps down.

  Walking by me she brushes her ribs against my knees signaling me to scratch her on the top of her head. I promptly comply.

  In a few seconds she and I are side by side on our way down the mountain to find Jackie and Dad.

  “Neewa, I saw this immense buck!” I tell her.

  Our pace quickens down the hill. She runs out in front, leading the way.

  Antlers are awkward to carry. I’m having a hard time not sticking myself in one place or another. Carrying both of them, I almost fall for the third time. It would be like falling on a bunch of sharp daggers. In no time I would bleed to death. Great! What an ending to our camping trip.

  I can hear the reporter now, “Christina was mortally injured today when she fell on a deer antler while hiking at Ruby Lake.”

  Yeah, Ruby Lake where no man has walked for ten thousand years, Ha! Carefully, I meander to the grove of juniper trees where Dad and Jackie were last seen collecting nuts. They are still relaxing in the shade, waiting for me.

  “Look! Look at these!” Neewa runs over to Dad and Jackie for pets and hugs.

  “What are they?” Jackie doesn’t know what they are.

  “Antlers, they are deer antlers,” I reply.

  “Wow,” Dad cries out as he jumps to his feet. He takes one of the antlers off my hands before I impale myself.

  I begin to recount the whole story as we walk down to the van. Nothing, not one detail do I leave out. I begin with how I felt the pulsation of the deer’s hooves through the ground. And then I describe the mule deer buck looking right at me, eyes bugged out, snorting snot. Then I explain how he vanished into thin air and how I tried to find him, but could not. Lastly, how I ran to the ridge, exactly where the great buck had stood and looked everywhere. And then I discovered the antlers, right where he stood.

  After that, no one said a word or spoke of the antlers again.

  Jackie is all excited about the juniper nuts and can’t wait to ask Chester about them.

  I’m anxious about the antlers and whether I did the right thing by taking them? How will I explain it to Chester? And will Chester believe my story? What about how the buck vanished and the antlers remained where he stood.

  This is really silly; no one will ever believe this story. I’m not sure Jackie and Dad believes it. Chester will think I imagined it for sure.

  Dad, Jackie and I are next to the van when Chester and Marlene arrive.

  Chester shrugs his shoulders, “No pine nuts, we didn’t find any pine nuts. We found empty pine cones and plenty of bugs in pine cones, but no pine nuts. How about you guys?”

  “We didn’t find any pine nuts either,” I reply looking at them.

  Jackie runs up to Chester with a handful of juniper nuts. “Look at these, we found them under the trees on the ridge.”

  She holds out her hand for Chester and Marlene to inspect. They each take a couple of the nuts in their hands.

  Marlene says, “I have no idea what they are. We don’t have them in Chicago,” she giggles.

  Marlene giggles a lot.

  Chester rolls one between his thumb and pointer fingers. “Juniper nuts, these are so cool. Look at the light beige color around the top and the deep brown color of the rest of the nut. It looks like a tiny acorn.”

  Jackie impatient and overly excited, “The hole, what about the hole? How did it get there?”

  Chester grins, “The prairie dog uses his hollow tooth to eat the middle of the nut.”

  Dad exclaimed, “No way! That’s impossible, you are kidding, right?”

  Chester continues, “No, no kidding, the prairie dog places the juniper nut in just the right position in his mouth. And then with his hollow sharp front tooth, he bites down into the nut. The hollow tooth takes the meat out of the center of the nut and the prairie dog eats it. Then he throws away the rest. That’s how the nut gets the hole in it.

  Jackie looks perplexed, not knowing what to say. She just holds the nut up to her eye and looks at it.

  Dad is still a non-believer and mutters, “I don’t believe that. It’s impossible, each hole is exactly the same.”

  Chester laughs, “That’s how they do it.”

  Jackie asks, “Why doesn’t the hole go all the way through?”

  Chester laughs, he’s always laughing. “Their tooth is not long enough.”

  Dad continues to be skeptical. “I just can’t believe it, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

  Chester makes his point, “I swear on my Chief.”

  I have never heard Chester say that before. Though I can tell by the way he said it, he’s serious. The Chief is the most reverent figure, kind of like the Queen of England.

  One time I was on the Reserve and a bunch of kids were playing football. An argument broke out over an out-of-bounds call one of the players made. The squabble was about to come to blows between two kids when the kid who called the ball out said, “I swear on my Chief.” Everyone looked at each other, stopped arguing and walked back to their positions to continue the game. The argument was over, no one even mentioned it again.

  After hearing Chester say that, Dad stops his opposition and without hesitation says, “Wow! That is the most amazing natural freakiest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

  I begin talking a mile a minute interrupting everyone. “Chester listen to this. I saw this massive deer, a buck, his silhouette was surrounded by the sunlight. He was only a few feet away from me. His eyes were locked onto mine. I could hardly believe it. I watched him stare back at me. We both stood motionless, eyes transfixed on each other.

  “I blinked my eyes, still looking right at him, and he disappeared! Right in front of my eyes, gone, vanished.

  “I thought he jumped over the ridge so I ran up to where he stood and looked everywhere, but I saw no deer and nothing moving anywhere.”

  Chester’s eyes become as wide as light bulbs as I pull the antlers from the trunk of the van. “I found these antlers lying right where he stood.”

  He cries out, “You found those, you lucky duck, all by yourself, no one else?”

  “Yes, yes, no one else, all by myself,” I exclaim.

  Chester becomes serious. “This is a really important questi
on. Were the antlers standing straight up?”

  “Yes, yes, they were pointing straight up, as if placed,” I reply, my voice shaking.

  There is silence. Chester looks at each of us and then at the antlers again. He appears to be trying to make a decision as to whether or not to tell us what he’s thinking.

  Chester grumbles with his head down as if revealing a secret, “You saw the Spirit Deer.”

  “What is that?” I sigh knowing for sure that I had no business taking the antlers off the mountain.

  “It’s the Spirit Deer,” Chester declares smiling. “He left the antlers to kill the bear. But not just any bear. The bear will trip and fall onto the antlers and die when the sharp points pierce his heart.”

  Chester continues, “Listen to me, I will tell you the Indian legend, ‘A Buck And A Bear.’ The story goes something like this. A bear with two cubs and a buck with two fawns shared the forest. The bear trapped the buck and ate it for dinner. The two fawns were angry at the bear for eating their father. To get revenge, the fawns tricked the bear into killing and eating its own cubs. Now the bear wanted payback for this trick and chased the two fawns into the forest.

  “At this time the great buck’s spirit returned from the Spirit World as the Spirit Deer to revenge his own death and to protect his fawns. Spirit Deer appeared before his children, the fawns, and told them to lead the bear across a rickety bridge onto a nearby island.

  “The bear followed the scent the fawns purposely laid down. On the other side of the bridge the Spirit Deer placed its antlers pointing straight up.

  “Stork, an ally to Spirit Deer, stood in the water next to the wobbly bridge made from logs, sticks and mud. As the bear began to cross the bridge, Stork pulled a single twig from the bottom. The unsound bridge fell apart and the bear tripped, stumbled and fell onto the antlers. They pierced his heart and killed him instantly.

  “It is the Spirit Deer’s alliance with the wise Stork that enabled him to kill the bear. Indian legend has it that the same Spirit Deer still roams this forest setting traps for the bear.”

  “Chester, am I in trouble? Should I have left the antlers back in the forest?” I shudder.

  Chester looking somewhat puzzled answers, “No, Christina, you are not in trouble. You came face-to-face with Spirit Deer.”

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