The Ridge Expedition
Once a child, twice a duck hunter. The Ridge Expedition has been on hiatus, a heinous one at that for we are not supposed to skip our annual gathering. But as the saying goes, it is what it wasn’t. That includes our web site. It wasn’t what it is, for it wasn’t there. Now, Cleve Poole, the Wizard of Is, has retrieved our web site from the ether. And Calvin Poole is summoning us to return to the Ridge, to go back from whence we came to a flooded field of long ago. Life and circumstances may have sundered us temporarily, but the Ridge Expedition shall be rejoined once again, come January.
We few, we happy few, began as a few wee duck hunters when we were college friends and the Ridge Expedition was only a twinkle in Calvin’s eye. We had taken the hunt to the odd deer as we were oddly emerging into Ridge Expeditioners. But we made our bones on a flight of mallards, not eight-point bucks, thanks to the Luck of the Corn and a flooded field.
One cold, grey afternoon when we wee few were in our early twenties, Calvin enlisted Mel Gilmer and me to go down to the back of the Big Field, stand knee deep in cold water under pine trees, and await a flight of mallards expected to arrive from over a stand of trees in the distance. Calvin armed me with a .20 gauge side by side and more shells than a Mexican bandit ever carried at one time. We stood and waited. Calvin said, “They’ll come.” Finally, they did. And the gunplay that erupted sounded louder to me than what the feds must have mustered when they riddled Bonnie and Clyde. With only two shells left, two mallards came in left to right, like jet fighters strafing a target. I fired once, missed. Calvin yelled “Lead ‘em!” I swung my barrel out wide, fired again and dropped a duck. I waded to it, found it paddling around wounded. I picked it up, saw its wing was hurt. Mel yelled for me to wring its neck and get back under the trees. I said, “It’s hurt.” Mel waded out, took the duck cradled in my arms from me, made a rapid movement as if hand-cranking a Model T and handed the lifeless bird back to me. I then followed Mel, wading back to the pine trees with a warm, soft carcass in my hands and muttering under my breath, “Murderer.” That was the incubus of our Ridge Expedition, of sorts.
There were other formative exploits in the Big Bang evolution of the Ridge Expedition: Half-heartedly hunting deer on horseback with Cleve, he on temperamental Elmer, I astride the splendid steed Miss Dee. There was Tommy Siniard’s Life Lesson Number 28, 416 when he shot and killed a kildee and Calvin insisted he clean it, cook it, eat it. And Tommy did. There was Cameron Faircloth napping on Carter Hill, flat on his back and happy as a dead pig in the sunshine, while I traipsed right by him crackling leaves and sticks. An outsider might not think it to observe us in our natural Ridge habitat, but we have almost as many historical kin as we do hysterical kith. Cameron’s great-aunt was Jean Faircloth MacArthur, wife of General Douglas MacArthur, no less. Having a great general in one’s family must be a heavy burden requiring Cameron to sleep as much as he can when in the Ridge woods. So I left him snoozing on a bed of leaves. Lucky for Cameron I wasn’t a wampus cat. There must be wampus cats, panthers, jaguarundi and bears at the Ridge. In my mind there are, and that’s enough.
We will never forget the morning of the live pigs, dangerous feral swine to be sure, even if they did look and act like house pets baffled by the strange appearance of Bruce Moore, Danny Moore and Cleve stalking them in single file like three timid Indians tip-toe hopping around the bladed flora in that low country of the Ridge. Cleve in front was the only one wielding a gun, a pistol. One pig with red hair, not boarish looking at all, seemed willing enough to follow its stalkers back to the house if only that one human, Cleve, would kindly put away his gun.
Fun while it lasted, Kenny Mendelsohn would go for joy rides about the Ridge in his open jeep. And like a blind pig finding an acorn, Kenny would come across a hunter in a tree stand without fail, thus ruining the hunter’s chance of anything but a blind deer stumbling within his shooting range. Alas, Kenny impaled his jeep’s oil pan on a stump one fine Saturday afternoon. We all were stumped as to how to get the jeep off the stump. Finally, we did and the jeep was hauled away never to be seen again. Toys are wont to come and go at the Ridge.
Alan Jones entertained us with his traveling squirrel dog. All it needed was a tree and the scent of a squirrel, and it was ShowTime! We have been blessed to have Judge Sibley Reynolds in our midst to teach us that we can’t hunt like he can, can’t cook like he can, so why try? And we don’t. Red Turnipseed’s snoring brought the sounds from the wilds of Africa right into our toasty Ridge chalet. His elephant trumpeting, warthog snorting sounds were so realistic that all that was missing was to find a black mamba in the rafters above our beds. Yet when Red missed our Expedition, we sorely missed him.
We have Joel Weatherford, my own protégé, the only one who “took” out of the three I brought to the fold. Joel’s exponentially great-grandfather was William “Red Eagle” Weatheford, half-Scotsman, half-Indian and chief of the Creek nation. Some of the land at the Ridge was deeded to colonial pioneer Calvin Poole by the Continental Congress. Apparently Red Eagle Weatherford didn’t get that memo. And descendant Joel certainly doesn’t have a copy of it, because he purges his law files every seven years.
We had Leroy who inspired us all. He stirred my imagination with his sightings of the mythic “Ole Pap” and my pondering his ancestral roots on the Serengeti plains. Leroy translated means, “The King.” Leroy was indeed the king of his domain, his birthplace, the Ridge. And of course Elisha, our patriarch, whom we, certainly I, have tried to emulate in many ways over the years and still do, though no one could detect it. There is only one Elisha. We drank Juanita’s hot wassail by the bon fire on cold Friday nights, manly men drinking a manly drink, and then adapted a bit too comfortably when she started serving us mimosas instead.
It all adds up to comprise a life-long tradition called The Ridge Expedition. We have been blessed to have such a life together. We celebrate it with the resurrection of our web site and a revitalized Ridge Expedition, Lord and Calvin willing, this winter and many winters thereafter. Appropriately, Calvin wants to take us back to the water. He plans to flood that same back part of the Big Field, the way it was in 1975. Bring in the mallards. We’ll go back to where we began. As we did once when we were young men, we’ll again stand knee-deep under the pine trees before a flooded field of corn. Ridge Reducks. And we few, we happy few, will wait for the mallards to come once more. –Fred Hardwick - August 2012