Shell Bluff reverie
Earliest extant remnant of the author’s teen-age writing
The wild hogs had been rooting in the pine needles around the site that the map called Shell Bluff, for the piles of whitened oyster shells left behind by the wild tribes driven out hundreds of years ago by the Spaniards.
The hunter came in upwind, soft-footing, excited by the fresh spoor. He had a rifled slug in the chamber of his Winchester pump gun for the first shot, backed up by two rounds of buckshot. He kept his trigger finger firmly against the safety behind the trigger guard, knowing he’d have to shoot fast if he broke into a clearing with hogs. But the hogs were gone, back into the wet hammocks. They couldn’t have winded him, or heard any misstep, with the wind in his face.
It was just bad timing; he was too late to catch them rooting.
He kept walking carefully until he reached the edge of the water, where the wide IntraCoastal Waterway had inundated and submerged the native Tolomato River. Then he relaxed and dropped the gun with easy familiarity into the crook of his arm. The light wind was off the water, in his face; if there had been a straggler, it would be gone now, skulking away as soon as the wind carried his scent back into the underbrush.
The Waterway was peaceful and quiet, uninhabited by the putt-putting outboards of summer or cabin cruisers passing out in the channel. The huge oaks swayed the slightest bit in the wind, and creaked gently, ancient joints stretched by the weight of their heavy tops. The smooth sand beach beneath the oaks looked swept, probably by the last high tide to reach the grass line.
But the squirrels, eternal optimists, had been digging and storing acorns in the sand against the winter. They were absent on this windy day, their diggings left unguarded and half-finished. Fiddler crabs, their claws outrageously outsized for the size of them, scuttled in and out of their tiny slots in the sand.
Oak leaves had begun to fall — a few — and pine needles — many — to carpet the smooth sand. Here and there the needles were punched into the sand by the sharp hooves of his quarry.
But he wasn’t hunting any more, he was simply wandering, drinking in the surpassing peace and beauty of the place. The trees on the far bank of the Waterway formed a wall of blue-green in the muted, cloud-dappled light of the day.
Time, that little-understood but universal force, seemed to have ceased its inexorable march and encamped here for a bit of sweet repose before resuming the trek into eternity. The arbitrary numbers placed on centuries by those of mathematical bent suddenly seemed devoid of logic.
The enchanted hunter would not have been surprised — indeed half expected it in some well of sensitivity buried in the gentler reaches of his soul — should some half-imagined feminine phantom come drifting through the soft gray Spanish pennants draping the oaks. Moving soundlessly against the whispering roar of the wind in the pines, nothing of the flesh but softly out of focus, as a double exposure is out of focus, drifting toward him out of the magic of this moment, and…
He didn’t know. But the magic was not one whit diminished.
Spanish senorita or antebellum belle — or slim-hipped bark-clad daughter of Nature from the time before Ponce De Leon — it would have to be feminine, this phantasm, because…well, just because.
He wandered past the bluff of whitened shells that hinted at earlier, simpler living before the Europeans brought the hogs along with the cattle they raised on Diego’s Plain. The wind breathed, and the trees nodded solemnly, and he was alone, waiting.
Whatever came, or did not, he had his reward, not in terms of game outwitted and taken, but something infinitely, awe-inspiringly, more than that. A deep, deep peace descended upon his soul, and he meandered through the wild and free and wrenchingly beautiful landscape enraptured. In the silence, only the winds spoke, and that in silken whispers to the pines above his head.
He was waiting. Waiting for he knew not what, exactly.
In temporal times, a fragment of a day, and in other terms an eternity, passed. He was not impatient. A son of the South, he knew that ghosts didn’t walk only at night, and appeared only to the deserving…
The spell was shattered by a loud, impatient shout from up on the road. His determinedly non-superstitious brother wanted the car keys to get to their lunch.
He suppressed his irritation with a sigh, and moved toward the road. The enchantment was lost to sight almost at once around a bend in the trail, the curtain drawn by a waving, flowing curtain of dense Spanish moss.