When we woke up at 4:30 AM the snow was just settling in. I glanced out the window several times while the Marine made breakfast. I flicked on the porch light to see snow coming down like there was no tomorrow. It would be a hard hunt that day. The wind was blowing straight out of the northwest and the snow was coming down in a direction that was nearly horizontal to the ground. Daylight would be delayed by at least a half an hour due to the thick clouds, if not longer, and so I suggested to the Marine that he put some sausage in the frying pan as there was no real hurry.
The Marine and I have known each other since we were kids. We both came from rough homes where things were far less than idyllic. We specialized in skipping school to go to the beach, drinking, and getting into trouble during our senior year in high school. But it wasn’t all that bad. It was during that year that we formed a bond that has held up for another forty years. When we graduated from high school I went off to college and Smitty, as we called him in those days, went into the Marine Corps. I became a hippie and he became a soldier. One would have thought that would be the end of our story.
We kept constant track of each other after high school. He followed my shenanigans as a counter culture college rebel and I laughed at his stories about life in the military. The truth is that we never thought too much about how different our paths were in those days. We just enjoyed each others stories and got together during the holidays during my breaks from school and during his military furloughs. And when we did find the time to be with each other (and our other great friend Jeff) we partied hard. We lived for the moment. You never knew what was going to happen during those days when the Viet Nam war hung like an anvil over the nations head.
Despite all of the distractions those four years passed quickly and we ended up living together after Smitty got out of the Marines. During the next few years we lived an alternative life style of hunting, raising pigs and goats, gardening, and chasing women, well it was mostly Smitty (and Jeff) who chased the women. Eventually Smitty fell in love, moved to the Finger Lakes Region of New York and I settled in the Berkshire Mountains carrying on the homestead tradition. We have stayed in touch through all these years and get together a couple times a year to hunt and fish. Our bond is permanent and we are much more like brothers than friends. And the same can be said for other mate Jeff. The three musketeers, all for one and one for all.
On this morning the smell of sausage and eggs filled his log home kitchen. I glanced outside again to check the snow. It was still coming down and the thermometer was stuck at 31 degrees. At about 6 AM we put on our hunting clothes and stepped out the door. The deer would be laying low and our odds of success were slim.
Smitty decided to hang out in his climber stand in the woods. I decided to do the same. We were both in our stands 20 feet off the ground by about 7 AM. The wind still blew and the snow was still coming down in a sideways direction. As the dim morning light brightened slightly I realized you could only see about 30 yards. The white snow blistering across the air really crimped my view. By 8 AM I radioed the Marine and told him I was getting down and walking up to a field on a property east of us to push a huge field. The Marine grunted back into the radio in typical Marine fashion. He’s a man of few words on these electronic devices.
I walked east so that I could turn around and have the wind and snow in my face. When I turned around I realized that I couldn’t see a thing. The blowing wet snow stuck to my face as quickly as I could brush it off. I decided to tough it out and proceed west towards Smitty’s land anyway. I trudged through the freshly fallen snow that was now about a foot deep. Mostly I walked with my head down to protect my eyes. Knowing this was an incredibly poor hunting technique I glanced up occasionally to see if I could spy something in the distance. The only thing I saw was wet snow flying directly into my eyes.
After about 20 minutes of pushing the field I decided to catch my breath along the edge of the field near an old pine stand. The pine plantation broke the wind slightly and that provided me with just a bit of respite from the inclement weather. While I brushed the snow off of my camouflage hunting suit I thought I saw something bounding across the field in the distance. It was almost entirely obscured by the blowing snow and I strained my eyes trying to see what had made the movement. All I could see was a blur so I walked across the field to where I thought the object might have been. Searching in the white cover on the ground I came upon some tracks. There were two imprints about eighteen inches long and three inches wide, and then in another 20 feet an identical set of imprints that continued on to the northwest. Unless it was a two legged deer that had an amazing leaping ability I couldn’t fathom what it might be.
I stared at the tracks in the snow. The prints were quickly filling with the fresh white stuff as the storm raged on. I had no idea what I was looking at. None at all. I started to follow the trail but the tracks were filling in quickly and traveled to the east, a direction that would bring my back to where I started. Reasoning that this would be a useless pursuit and having no idea what I was following I continued west towards Smitty’s land and perhaps a rendezvous with the crusty veteran.
As I approached his boundary I called Smitty on the hand held radio. He answered.
“Yeah?” said the Marine.
“See anything?” I said.
“Snow,” replied the Marine.
“Any Deer?” I went on.
“No, you?” said the Marine in his longest sentence of the morning.
“Nope, nothing, well I….” and then I decided not to tell him about the tracks. The Marine is a no nonsense guy, a good sense of humor, but a no nonsense guy. Telling him about a ghost of an animal with strange, obscured tracks, decided like a bad idea.
“Well, what?” said the Marine again actually putting two words together as he froze on his tree stand.
“Nothing. Say it’s almost lunch time. How about meeting back at the house for some soup and a sandwich?” I asked.
“Sounds good,” said the Marine with no inflection in his voice.
The snow was finally slowing down. You could see about 75 yards. The wind still blew hard out of the northwest. I arrived at Smitty’s porch and saw his hunting boots inside the doorway and knew he had beaten me back to his house. It was a little surprising given he was about twice the distance I was from the house when I called him. Then I noticed a puddle of water around his boots indicating that he’d been back home for a while. I walked in the door and the soup was already hot, and there were grilled cheese sandwiches cooking in the cast iron frying pan. Smitty was standing over the stove managing our lunch.
“Man you are fast!” I observed as I walked into the kitchen.
“Yep!” said the Marine.
“I noticed the snow had already melted on your boots. Were you already up here when I called?” I inquired.
The Marine smiled.
“Now that you mention it, I just might have been,” said the Marine. I could tell he was holding back a laugh.
Smitty put the grilled cheese on a plate and poured some soup into a bowl. He put both down on the table right in front of me.
“Bon appetite!” the Marine said butchering the French language like it had never been butchered before.
“Thanks,” I said, “you going to serve yourself and join me?”
“Yep,” said the Marine and he put his plate and bowl on the table and sat down, still smiling from his little early arrival joke.
“So how long have you been here?” I asked.
“Long enough,” replied the Marine, still grinning.
About that time there was a knock on the door. It was a little surprising given Smitty didn’t get many visitors in those days in the early afternoon. Smitty walked over to the door and opened it.
“Excuse me,” said a stranger who wore a red plaid coat and plaid hat, “this is going to sound awful strange, but do you own a kangaroo?”
The Marine was dumbfounded, but managed to say, “Bill come over hear will you!”
I pushed the chair back from the table, stood up and walked over to the door standing just behind the Marine and listened intently.
“Would you mind repeating that?” said the Marine.
“I know this sounds strange,” said the stranger, taking off his plaid hunting cap that looked like it was in style in 1938, “do you own a kangaroo?”
The Marine looked at the man, and then turned and looked at me. He raised his eye brows and rolled his eyes while his face was in my direction.
“As a matter of fact I don’t ,” said the Marine, “why do you ask?”
“I know this sounds really crazy,” said the man fiddling with his plaid hunting hat, “but I could swear I saw a red kangaroo coming out of your driveway and crossing the road.”
Smitty glanced at me, making a twisted funny face indicating the stranger was nuts.
“Nope, never really owned a kangaroo, especially a red one,” said the Marine turning back to the stranger.
“Well, it wasn’t really red, it was sort of auburn, you know brownish red maybe with a hint of maroon.” said the stranger.
“Maroon?” asked the Marine now giving me hand gestures behind his back to move out of the way.
“Yes, perhaps a hint of maroon. He bounded out of your driveway and crossed the road in only one hop,” said the stranger waving the plaid hunting hat in the air making a hopping motion in front of the Marine’s face.
“Nope, no red, or maroon kangaroos here.” stated the Marine.
“Well isn’t that strange!” said the stranger.
“Pretty gall darned strange” said the Marine.
The stranger was a little red in the face at this point.
“I know this sounds weird, but I saw a red kangaroo!” he said.
“That may be true”, said Smitty, “but he’s not one of my red kangaroos!” said the Marine as he shut the door.
I was aghast. Was that what I saw through the heavy snow in the field? Were those kangaroo tracks? I decided not to say anything. It was too odd.
The Marine marched back to the kitchen table and took a bite of his sandwich without sitting down. He stared out the window.
“Looking for a red kangaroo?” I wondered out loud.
“Nope, just wondering if that kangaroo was wearing my maroon bathrobe,” said the Marine.
We both laughed out loud uncontrollably.
Post Script: The Marine and I learned later that evening via a radio report that a red kangaroo had escaped from a local exotic animal farm. Two days later while taking a walk on Thanksgiving day my wife and I witnessed the kangaroo, complete in a coat of maroonish red, bounding across a field and highway. The red kangaroo was not caught until the following spring.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in November of 2010.