Sporting Life / Story

Carolina Blue Skies: a Vignette from Providence

XIII Carolina Blue Skies Mac – 1994

. . . As Mac came over a hill he could see Speck reaching into his trunk and unloading several boxes of clay targets. He was quietly singing. Mac pulled over and sat down on a cedar bench by his car, unobtrusive and listening.

“So they’re going to bust some clays?” queried Mac as he rose to help move a box from Speck’s trunk to the cart.

“Yep, they are going to shoot for a couple hours then go down to the old buildings and listen to a grass band while they’re eating. I gotta hurry up and get some power down there for the lights and speakers.”

Mac and his hunt club had invested a tremendous amount of time and their own money designing and building a top notch sporting clays course. He was not particularly upset when Hank used it, only that he seemed to spend more time aiming and tuning the throwers than training on them.

“How much time do-ya have Speck, you wanta break a few? I’ve got my ole K-32 bored to twelve in the truck,” said Mac happily.

“Welp, I’ve got to shoe three of Adalene’s horses tonight–but that aint nothing that cant wait.”

Speck, of his three brothers, was the most laid back, had a more relaxed work ethic, and frankly was not the sharpest tool in the shed when it came to common sense. He was a mosaic person and hidden deep within him were talents. When it came to animal husbandry, he had far more sense than most, a magical animal sense. Speck was a talented farrier and had a knack for floating the horses teeth. That is, when he was reminded to get the work done.

Mac and Speck checked the temperature on the cooker, a perfect two hundred and twenty-five degrees. They each had two boxes of twelve gauge shells in their vehicles, exactly enough for the twelve station course, so they prepared to head off into the woods. Fortunately, Speck had the generator there, Mac fired it up and connected to the long circuit powering the machines along the loop of stations in the woods. The trail in was filling in with summer weeds. He had all intents and purpose to use the course

through the summer but obligations stood in the way of recreation. The two trampled the trail underfoot.

“Guess they arent gonna be to happy about the weeds– hope they wore socks.”

They maintained a healthy competitive conversation, Mac resting a bluff in his unpracticed trigger finger as they crested the hill in. They rested their guns and lungs in the first box but kept their mouths running like two children.

At every station, as a condition of their wager, Speck shot reports and Mac threw true doubles. Mac and his friend, Dick, had arranged the course to be challenging, perhaps to be the most challenging course anyone could claim shooting in the South. Each station presented two different clays from hidden throwers. They crossed from side to side, approached and cut way, rose and fell. There were rolling chandelles and bouncing rabbits. The autumn air in the hidden bay boasted a bellowing wind that played the devil’s hand on the flying discs. Mac played the course first at every new station without a visual of the pull. Speck played with the advantage of knowing what to expect. The gun was perfectly tuned for Mac, actually perfectly sized for Mac’s grandfather but apparently being the same size as him had advantages. Speck, on the other hand, struggled making each shot perform. The gun fit him like a sock on a rooster’s foot. His short skinny arms and hidden neck were a handicap with the walnut rake high above his cheek bone. Teeth were tightly together when firing, lifting eyes, pulling away, his bad shooting made an opportunity for instruction and a joke or two. Speck could shoot well, Mac great.

The water stations were Mac’s favorite part in his creation, the most stilted in the shooting loop. Tucked in, quietly nestled along

the broken eroded back edges of the pond that bordered the Morrison land on Four Mile Creek. Where his clays course met it, the banks rose and fell. He had positioned three stations along the water. As they approached the air for a moment fell still. Approaching the first station, rising teal over a cane break, Speck grinned at the possibility of some relief from the clays as they bowed and whipped in the wind. When the clays rose there was only a sound of the machine and him throwing his head to find the apex with the hope some gyroscopic malfunction would not cause the shooter to fall to his knees dizzy. The second position, in a marshy bank, simulated a classic waterfowl hunt. The box, the only solid ground there, hung out over the stew, over flat sulfur filled water: a wooden deck of sorts. The third was a trap setting on a twenty foot high vista at the waters edge. From the shooting box there, they would follow the clay fired off from below up the length of the narrow cove. Orange discs that faded into shadows. In the late afternoon, the sun was at their backs as they exploded and sprinkled black drops over the water.

“Pull,” Mac muttered in an enough vague, low voice to prompt Speck, but not to move the stock from its purchase in his thin beard.

His gun popped in rapid succession. When Speck fired his first round there Mac finally acknowledged the discrepancy in the volume of percussion between their shots.

“Dang Speck, you cant keep shooting those 1 1/4 ounce shells out here, you’re going to bust a window out of the boat house man!” Mac exclaimed laughing, “Remind me to load you some light ones.”

Standing at the high point he could see the complex Hank and his son, John, had developed on the island-like finger in the

middle of the basin of dew. The cedar-clad boat house fastened to its bank had a collection of fine and admirable wooden canoes and dories. They sat in perfect rows, heirlooms and artifacts and commissioned works of art. On the shack’s bankside edge a shutter could be lifted away to reveal well stocked oasis. One brand of bourbon, one scotch, and one gin displayed triplicate deep in a lacquered case. Foam cold cups with the retreat’s logo in stacks in the place of stems and glass. Across a pea gravel lawn, the fish shack down on the island was one of the reclaimed dwellings from Hank’s early experience building hunting with less authentic appointment than other the other spoils. A green standing seam roof upon a squat house with a full porch. The hall through its length catalogued hundreds of Appalachian quilts filed on dowels. A magnificent sight to behold and a common way for a trove of guests to stay cozy as the sun fell into cool Autumn nights. The fish shack contained two small bedrooms. When the island was used, it got used as well. If not for a tryst, at least to change wet clothes or for someone to take forty winks back to sobriety.

The hillside behind the boathouse held an intimate outdoor amphitheater. The Morrisons were patrons to the arts. In addition to filling the walls of their homes with paintings and garden and lawn with sculpture, they could coax good music out to the retreat. It was well known that William Henry’s only son, John, could put his extolling hands in the career of a young musician with one of his private concerts. Unplugged melodies in the trees. John was a lawyer on paper, but known as a socialite and philanthropist in the praxis of his days in the city. Much of Hank’s business was now legacy. John was the Morrison. The active one and the one asked for if they wanted something. Event promoter,

tastemaker, trendsetter. He had the iconic style afforded to a person with time and resource. He pursued the endeavors of a person with time and resource. The young who’s-who of Charlotte would often gather to ferry across the farmpond to be seen and take in tunes of a rising star in the Southern music scene. Most could not duly appraise the music, perhaps that is how music comes to be appreciated, men like John cajoling the ear with some Pavlovian association to a good time. Fortunately, the music was more than that, it stood on its own esthetic and at times Mac joined them to enjoy.

Joining for drinks and conversation that made him a welcome novelty in their discussion of corporate things. Men in blue jeans and Harris Tweed sportcoats spoke with him on the tasks of his enterprise in the woods (the vocation he carried through that they claimed expert knowledge in.) Attractive young mothers had sorority house conversations while their children were kept by sitters at home. Mac was impressed with the air of the celebrations. A gathering of kins people in the woods, in the glen, at the home-place. Music, revelry, and the safety of the homestead. Celebration of people and the seasons, nothing could be more opulent than an outdoor gathering in the fall. Sitting on hay bails tucked into a quilt with a hot mug to warm hands or cocktail to warm viscerals. The colors of autumn repeated into the clothing of the guests. Autumn: The season people would festively don the styles he wore in utility all year. Khakis and canvas with muted greens and mustard yellows. Not entirely camouflage, but subtle in chroma as to present one’s self within the land not over it, a leaf and dirt and trunk, but never proud enough everyday to tell God that they were flowers. Theirs were clean and pressed in seams and crease where his held badges of honor from the field. Blood

stains, briar picks, faded. Occasionally he would spot a tall, lithe girl in riding breeches and a Barbour jacket. Few other sites could arrest Mac’s heartbeat and turn on his imagination. Boots to the knees, woolen scarf and long fair mane blown together over shoulder. The fall campfire party. Only likely place you would find these gals in the absence of horse shit and other things to do.

A pig roasting off to the side with azure smoke hanging fog over the crowd. Clutches of apples picked that day around the whole of the scene, bright and you cold smell them in pies and ciders. A bluegrass band bucket thumping ambient music as friends mingled and turning to a full stomp as the players became the focus of the night. Mac once found himself sitting on the banks at the water station daydreaming of being across the pond on that small stage picking, maybe strumming a simple song, head down, like Neil Young when he was a young man singing about an old man. Mac could play the guitar. He played through so much of his life that he had no awareness of when he began. But he did remember his voice disappearing at age thirteen, he could not sing. His favorite was songwriter folk music. Good old Americana finger picking folk, at some point you better start singing over the guitar or everybody leaves the campfire. The adage that all the girls flock to the guitar, was not true. So being a rock star was an unclaimed possibility. He would stick to other dreams and could not complain about his future.

Mac and Speck rounded out the last station and emerged from the wooded trail to walk up the road a bit to their cars. The spaces between trees were filled with silence and still, no longer smoke. They ran frantically to the spit. Cautious a sudden burst of flames might explode toward them with the abundance of fresh air rushing in, they closed the lower carburetors on the cooker and

slowly raised the lid together. Speck reached out his finger tips mashed gently into the hog-shoulder, his finger penetrated deeply into the now cool flesh.

“B-Bob is going to whip our ass!” Speck said half smiling.

“I’m not so worried about B-Bob. Last thing I want to do is get in a rub with John,” said Mac back.

Speck and Mac pulled the cooker up to the pole barn and nestled it in tight to a good place to present a pick’n. They each wet their hands in the fire-water bucket, grabbed a leg and flipped the greasy creature skin side down. Typically, flamed burst up, it did not.

“Hey, at least that meat didn’t get all burned up this time.” “We’re damn lucky,” rejoiced Speck.
Trying to abate the mistake, they opened the firebox. Speck

poked the old spent coals with his stick trying to conjure up some hope of flame. He removed his T-shirt and rhythmically bellowed the grey coals.

“I dont reckon anybody will know the difference if we bring it around, huh Mac?” Speck spoke as he pulsed.

A puff from his little pipe, bellowing lung blows, and whip of the shirt. The grey coals, orange in corners where they still had the last bit of life. The pipe would turn orange as he inhaled and the little orange corners revealed themselves as he blew in cycles until the heat was resurrected. Flames spittled upward as Mac poked fat juices from the beast’s flesh.

“Yep they might just have to knock back a few more drinks before they eat. I guess what they dont know wont hurt ’em. After you meet up with B-Bob you think he’ll let you come down to Huston House? I’m going to meet up with Dickie.”

“There are two chances I’m going down to that place, slim and none–it’s got haints in it!” proclaimed Speck as he opened his white wide eyes and relit his pipe. “There are some roads in this place I just wont cross.”

“Awwh, come on, it’s just full of memories. At least they were good people,” Mac replied, waxing sentimental, “if I dont see you, take it easy.”

The dog displaced Mac and escorted Speck toward the woods. A stick in his hand articulating into the soil with the pace of an old man. Aimlessly walking into the trees with his heeling dog. . .

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