The Mountain

Chapter Two

He was cold and his leg hurt. He was sure it was
broken, and he could only hope that there was nothing
else wrong. It was getting late and he knew that he
should have long been home, but there was nothing he
could do about that now. He worried that his family
would be worried, but he tried to put all such worries
from his mind. He would need all of his strength -
mental and physical - to get home at all, and the
worrying, while totally natural, would not help.

He had been out hunting and running his traps as
usual when he saw a squirrel - a big black fox
squirrel. He took aim, pulled the trigger, and hit
his mark. The meat would be good, but the hide was
the real reason he shot. Black squirrels were a
rarity in those parts and the buyer would surely pay
well for it. He was careful to shoot the head, so as
not to damage the hide any more than was necessary.
He hit his mark, but as the animal fell it lodged in a
fork of the tree and, try as he did, it simply
wouldn't fall. Shaking the tree was no good - it was
much too large; throwing things up into the tree
wouldn't do either, as the animal was just too high;
there was nothing left but to climb the tree, retrieve
the prize, and then head home.

As he stood looking up at the tall oak, snow began to
fall. It was light at first, but he knew from the
look of the clouds that a big snow would fall before
it was all over. He planned to climb the tree, get
the game, and then head home. No one wanted to be on
the mountain after dark, and no one wanted to be on
the mountain when it was snowing, but if he didn't
hurry he would be there with both. Visibility was low
at night, and the snow made the bluffs and steeps all
but impassible.

He placed his gun by the tree, hugged the tree
tightly with both arms, and started the ascent. If he
could just hug his way up the first eleven feet or so
he would be able to grab the first big limb and from
there on the climbing would be easy. He hugged with
his arms and raised his feet, dug them into the tree,
and lifted himself up. A tight hug with his arms,
lift the feet, push. He did this several times until
he could reach the limb. He had done this hundreds of
times before and he moved with all the confidence of
an experienced climber. He noticed as he grabbed the
limbs that his hands were terribly cold - so cold that
they hurt. He pulled himself up despite the pain,
reached for the next branch, then did it again and

The squirrel was about sixty-five feet up. He saw
it, out on a limb, there in the fork. The snow was
falling harder now, and the flakes were much larger.
He could barely see the ground. There was snow piled
on the branch between him and the squirrel, but he was
sure that he could reach it. The branch was about a
foot and a half around, plenty big enough to support
his one hundred eighty pounds. It would better
without the snow, he thought, at least he would be
dry; that notwithstanding, the snow was there and he
had to deal with it.

He decided that the best way to go was to wrap his
arms and legs around the limb and inch his way along
until he reached his prize. The trip out went well,
and he reached his game and retrieved it. He put the
squirrel in the pouch in the back of the hunting coat
he was wearing and sat up on the limb. He sat there
for a few minutes, catching his breath and watching
the snow fall and appreciating the beauty of the
mountain and hoping that his family was not worried
and hoping all would go well on the climb down.

He turned his upper body and lowered it to the
branch, so as to allow him to hug it with his arms and
then slowly move his hips and reverse directions to
begin his descent. Just as he reached for the limbs
with his arms he felt his hips rotate on the limb. He
lost his balance and before he could right himself he
fell. He remembered others saying that their whole
lives flashed before their eyes on such occasions, but
all he saw was snow and the tree. He hit - hard.

When he came to, it was dark and he was bitterly cold
and wet. He had broken his leg. Getting home in the
dark would be hard enough, but with a broken leg -
well, it didn't look good. If he moved it might make
his leg worse. He could fall if he tried to stand and
hit his head and do more damage. He could slip down
in a drift of snow and freeze to death. Of course, if
he stayed where he was he could freeze to death also.
There wouldn't be anyone by there for months - if even
then. If he stayed the wild beasts might take him,
too. He hoped that the bears were already asleep and
that the cats were too warm and dry in some cave to be
out hunting. He knew he was in trouble. He spend
about thirty minutes trying to decide whether freezing
to death or being eaten by wild animals would be the
better way to go... he decided that he would rather not
go at all. If only that squirrel had fallen...

H. L. Gradowith

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