"Im going to track a big buck deer this morning," I told Cousin as we both stared in awe at the falling snow.
"Youre gonna eat breakfast first," Granny said from beside the stove. "And go get some clothes on, youre gonna freeze."
We ran back through the living room in our Fruit-of-the-Looms to dress. When youre ten and twelve years old, snow is more important than modesty. Once covered, we hurried back in to the kitchen table.
I opened the newest Field & Stream. "Look here. It says that tracking deer is easier in the snow."
"Makes sense," Cousin said through a mouthful of eggs and biscuits. "But what makes you think a deer is in the pasture this morning. Weve never seen a deer out here in our lives."
"Thats because we cant track them," I said, obviously speaking to a moron. "Deer dont leave tracks in the grass."
"You boys dress warm," Granny said. "And dont go around the pool today. Its icy and you could slip and fall in. Youd freeze to death before you got back to the house, if you came up at all."
"Yes maam," I said. "Well stay away."
An hour later I stared at my wet shoe. "She told you to stay away from the water," Cousin reminded me.
"I did stay away," I answered. "She didnt say it was possible to slip for five whole yards."
"Yeah, that gravity is something else. Is your foot cold?"
"Naw. Its already numb. Hey! Look! Theres a deer track!" I shouted. "See, I told you wed find one today."
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"Arent we supposed to be quiet?"
"Obviously, if we were waiting for the deer to walk up on us. But were tracking, so hell be facing away from us with his nose into the wind. Hell never hear us."
Cousin pondered my amazing knowledge of deer behavior. "Are you sure thats a deer track?"
I pulled a magazine from my coat and opened it to the examples of buck and doe tracks. "See, how the points of his hooves splay out and those little dots are behind them? Those are called spurs. This is a huge deer. I bet it weighs four or five hundred pounds."
"How can you tell?"
"When theyre this heavy, the weight forces their hooves apart. Look, the tracks lead through the plum thicket. Lets go."
Like professionals, we followed the meandering tracks along the snow-covered cattle trail around the sassafras tree and stopped just at the thickets edge.
I pointed at one of the plum trees. "This must be a rub."
"Thats when they rub their antlers against a tree," Cousin stated with authority.
"I knew that," I said. "I called it a rub first."
"Doesnt matter," he said. "I already knew."
I glared at him. "Come on, its going to the oak tree."
We followed the tracks to the enormous oak tree sitting on the highest point in the pasture. Above, our tree house was three inches deep in snow. Of course we had to climb up for a while, and from the vantage point, tried to find our deer.
Undaunted, we climbed back down and followed the trail through the open pasture, and then back along the fence line until they led to the barn.
"Ive got it," I said. "Because the weather was so bad, I bet this deer bedded down somewhere behind the barn to get out of the wind."
"Maybe it got inside to sleep in the hay. Thats where Id go if I was a deer."
Careful now, lest the bedded deer be looking in our direction, we crouched and went into our version of the Phantom Sneak. We approached the barn.
"Whats wrong with you boys?" Grandpa asked from inside. "Yall hurt yourselves or something?"
"Were sneaking up on a deer," I said, annoyed that he was talking so loudly. "Weve been following this big bucks tracks for half an hour. Look, they go right past you and into the hay."
Grandpa looked at the tracks at his feet. "Where? All I see are the tracks made by the new calf I bought yesterday."
Cousin snorted. "Calf. And you said they were deer tracks."
"You went along with it," I said, frustrated that my deer was gone.
"Youre the one that got all this started, and Im freezing," Cousin said. "And by the way, Grandpa, he fell in the pool."
We all stared at my icy foot for a long time before Grandpa sighed. "I have a long way to go with you boys," he said, and led us back for a quick thaw and a lesson in calf tracks.