Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bigfoot Sighting - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of  12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

During the cold winter months of December and January, deer hunting season is in full swing in Alabama. The season for hunting with rifles opens around the first weekend of Thanksgiving and ends promptly on January 31st every year. Hunters head to the deep woods of rural Alabama and don the most complicated green and brown camouflage they can to fool the whitetail deer into thinking that they are just a part of the harmless landscape.
During the summer months, hunters plant food plots, or small patches of cultivation for forage crops to grow. The whitetail deer eat the beans, rye grass, and other legumes often planted in these fields. The hunters usually occupy a deer stand or “shooting house” around the perimeter of a field so they can see the  animals as they eat. These shooting houses are very basic and spartan structures, usually nothing more than a few sawmill slats nailed together in the form of a box with a roof and a floor, mounted between a few trees for support. A trap door in the bottom allows access and small rectangular slits are cut into all of the sides for viewing and shooting.

During early December, one of my hunting buddies went to Central Alabama to spend the weekend hunting. Luther had been down to the hunting lands earlier in the year preparing food plots and had not been to this particular green field since the early Fall. After lunch, he left the hunting camp, which was an old homeplace from a previous generation, and drove his ATV to the property. He went through the dilapidated entrance gate, that was only good for deterring honest poachers, and rode the mile-long trail to get to the food plot and shooting house. The sun was passing its zenith as the shadows of the longleaf southern Alabama pine trees cast parallel lines across the planted field. The entire area would be pitch black dark at 4:30, so he did not have a lot of time to get ready for the maximum hunting time at twilight.
As Luther climbed the makeshift ladder and entered the shooting house, he noticed some fur and debris in the bottom of the box. Obviously a raccoon had made a temporary home here during the summer, so he kicked the detritus out of the bottom of the box, and closed the trap door. He then got out his binoculars and studied the surrounding timberline for movement. Tree limbs and deadfall look suspiciously like deer antlers in the darkness of dusk, so he wanted to make sure he was familiar with the surroundings.

The usual sounds of the woods continued during the rest of the afternoon, as one’s hearing becomes acute during the silence of the absence of civilization. The sounds of the wind whistling through the longleaf pine needles on the trees and the oak laves dancing across the planted field become the only noises one hears, so a hunter can detect the sounds of animals walking or running more clearly.

Luther watched and listened intently as the afternoon waned and the temperature dropped. He was at least a mile from anyone else and had the large acreage to himself that afternoon. As the afternoon slowly crept into eventide,  Luther heard the sound of something  moving underneath his shooting house. He could not see it ,because the shooting portals were all on the sides, not the bottom. It was possible that a deer had walked up behind him and he had not heard it’s hoof prints in the plowed earth of the food plot. If he opened the trap door, the noise would startle his prey and would run off.
Eventually the sounds below him became creaks on the ladder that he used to get into the shooting box. Deer don’t make those sounds, so Luther thought someone was messing with him in the box. The noise on the ladder was scaring off any hope that a deer might find the food plot inviting, so he angrily packed his things and was ready to go down and curse whomever had just ruined his hunt. About that time, the trap door started moving, as if someone was opening it to get inside. Furious, Luther kicked his foot on the door and yelled “Get the hell out of here, you just screwed up my hunt!”  Ready to confront the intruder, he thew open the trap door and to his shock no one was there.

It was now dark so Luther got his flashlight out to check the view down from the trap door and sure enough there wasn’t a soul under the box or on the ladder. Puzzled, and trying to come to grips with what he experienced, he suddenly saw a long hairy arm with a human-like hand came through the shooting house slit and grabbed his arm.  Needless to say, Luther freaked out and without regard to the fear of this turn of events, he hit the creature’s arm with the flashlight and reached for his rifle. The box was not very large and the animal’s long hairy arm could reach inside almost anywhere. It was flailing about wildly and grabbed the barrel of Luther’s gun in the box, so he had to fight and pull it back to keep it in the shooting house.

During the melee, Luther got the rifle back, chambered a round of ammunition, and fired through the slit to scare off the animal. The ploy worked, and Luther heard the creature run off into the dark woods. He climbed down the ladder with great speed, hastily got on the ATV, and sped out of the woods like he was on fire.
Back at the hunting camp, Luther came in and looked white as a ghost. He told all of us about being attacked by Bigfoot and that he was lucky to be alive. The description he gave of the long hairy arm and human-like hand was clearly not a raccoon or any  of the other animals that we knew in the woods. Luther was a very serious guy, and was not the kind of guy to make a tall tale up, so he definitely had our undivided attention. Luther was so shaken by his experience, he packed up and went back home that night, making his claim more believable. Everyone else was accounted for, so no one from our hunting camp was playing tricks, and no one was stupid enough  to scare someone they knew for a fact was holding a high-powered rifle and 20 rounds of ammunition.

The next day, we were heading back to the food plot to see if there was anything we could find to give a clue to what on earth we were dealing with in the Central Alabama forest. As we drove to the property, we stopped for gas at the local rural filling station. The locals were all inside around a pot-bellied stove keeping warm. We bought our gas and as we were leaving the man behind the counter said “Hey guys, if you are hunting down here, keep a watch out for an escaped orangutan from the local veterinarian’s office.” He then pointed to an old poster  on the wall of an picture of an adult orangutan and a phone number..
I called the number on the poster and let them know where the simian was recently, so they could track it.

Eventually, we told Luther about the orangutan, but let considerable time elapse before we did.