THE OLD GUY walked slowly along an even older logging grade, remembering the days when the trace served as an entry point for some of the best partridge, duck and goose hunts he’d ever had.

Everything was different this sunny September day as he poked along, watching a pair of retrievers, one golden, one yellow, cavort through the heavy underbrush on either side of the pathway.

He wondered if anyone ever walked this way any more. There were no signs anyone had of recent days. As he walked along, looking for familiar landmarks, familiar old trees, few of which remained or looked as they had nearly 60 years ago, he remarked to himself, talking out loud as he often did “Looks to me like this is just an old trail meant for old men to walk.”

Nowadays, it seemed to him, if people who called themselves hunters and woodsmen were to head for the woods, it would be necessary for them to have a marked trail and an ATV to get them there.

Too bad, he lamented, that modern day outdoors people, at least a great many of them, either wouldn’t or couldn’t see the woods like he had since he was a sprout. Then again, he thought to himself, most of those people never had anyone like the old, old-timers he’d had to show him the way of the woods.

They never had parents who would let their 8-year-old boys and girls wander the woods, wade the streams and swim the backwoods lakes for hours on end without worrying about whether they would encounter a pedophile, bear or maybe even a man-eating tiger.

His parents, like most of his era, were happy that their sons and daughters learned at a very early age how to build forts and shelters, that they could be trusted to use a hatchet without cutting off one limb or another. His mother would sigh and roll her eyes when her son came home smelling to high heaven because of an encounter with a skunk or with a new shirt and pair of blue jeans stained beyond cleaning from a mud or toadstool war with his brothers and cousins.

Today’s children and their parents wouldn’t think of working their way slowly and almost silently through a piece of the forest as he was now. They wouldn’t see the old rampart, a huge white pine that fell victim to a lightning strike years ago, a rampart that still served him as a marker for the turnoff into the untracked woods through which he would pass to reach a swamp, within which was a 3-acre pond that had provided him more than once with a brace of mallards or wood ducks.

They wouldn’t see the swale where he had, for decades, been kicking up and shooting at, sometimes even hitting, partridges that would be turned into delicious partridge pies.

He was glad he had this piece of woods all to himself on this glorious late summer day, even as earlier in the afternoon he had had the logging road leading to a seldom-visited spring pond where native brook trout had often been converted to pan-fried delicacies all to himself.

Just off that logging road was the place where he had fallen out of a tree, the only time he’d done that, when he was 11. The old popple tree was long gone now, but he could still remember the time he fell from about 10 feet up when a dead branch stub snapped off as he grabbed it for a stepping stone to the next branch up.

He’d fallen into a thick patch of hazel brush which had softened his landing, but also had scratched his face. A little bloodied, but not bowed, afraid that his mother would ban tree climbing, he told her that he’d been wrestling with the family’s Chesapeake retriever, adding that the dog accidently scratched him as they grappled. He thought she had bought his story, but only in later years did she tell him he’d failed miserably with his fib.

The memories continued to flow as he made his way through tangled underbrush that choked the old railroad logging grade off of which he had shot his first buck when he was 15. The spruce swamp out of which the buck had appeared on a magical Thanksgiving morning still looked the same, but the valley where the buck died 54 years ago had been clear cut. The root ball of a fallen tree on which he’d been sitting when he shot the buck had disappeared, but so locked into his memory was that Thanksgiving morning that he could still walk to the exact spot, stand there again and vividly live again the moment when the old .303 Savage had spoken.

Logging in this place he cared for so much had drastically altered the landscape, but not the memories. 

Walking down a grade he recalled the day he’d made a long shot on a partridge that had nearly made it to safety. A little farther still stood the ancient balsam around which another partridge had almost made it out of sight before it fell to one of the better shots of his career. That was the day when he went five of six on birds, all but one on quick snapshots that resulted in the only five-bird limit he’d ever killed in one day.

The dogs panted up to his side from time to time as he stopped to remember either another triumphant moment of hunting or many more where his shot had not been true and another partridge had flown away safely.

As he stopped along a sharply sloped bank bordering what in wet years was a pond, in dry years a field of tall grass and weeds, his young whelp of a yellow lab thrashed through a thicket of balsam while his 10-year-old golden sidled up to him, nuzzled his knee and accepted a few heartfelt pats on the head.

Looking down at her, feeling the freely-admitted love he had for his old gal, he said, out loud again “Girl, this is a place for you and I, a place for old memories, old dogs and old men.”