Sawyer Campbell practically lived in the forest near the base of Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, when he was growing up. He roamed the mountains around Beldor Hollow in Rockingham County like there were no boundaries, though the markers nailed to trees indicated otherwise. He knew the stories of what that land once held and represented. His folks passed down lore from the previous generation that was more truth than legend. Yet still, he reveled in all its beauty of hard and soft woods teeming with wildlife and the upper streams filled with native brook trout. It wasn’t uncommon for a fellow to pull one out that measured nearly a foot every so often.
Fall was his favorite time of year. The deep blue sky highlighted the fiery orange and red of the maples and oaks along with bright yellows of the hickory’s and poplars. Sawyer would quietly walk in no particular direction for half an hour, then sit down and listen. It never took long. The crashing sounded like the bamboo his friends pretended were swords as they fought off pirates. Now it was louder, like two 2x4s being pounded against each other. He saw them now. Two large bucks attempting to domineer over the other. It was the rut. Deer season was soon approaching. Sawyer’s father, Abel, had told him how the white-tailed deer were hunted almost to nonexistence in Virginia in the 1930’s.
After the deer continued their jousting over the ridge, it was quiet again, save for the rustling of leaves. Chipmunks and squirrels were busy foraging and building their winter supply. Sometimes Sawyer took his father’s shotgun with him. His grandfather, Bowen, was the descendant of a family of farmers from the tiny village of Ballycassidy in Northern Ireland. Supposedly, the squirrel stew recipe came from Bowen’s grandmother. Squirrels were a lot of work, however, the effort was worth it every once in a while.
On the banks of nearby Hawksbill Creek stood a towering oak with limbs and branches stretching wildly, almost grotesquely, toward Heaven. That’s where Sawyer would sit to ponder life’s most difficult questions. The tree was so old he was sure it had seen Stonewall Jackson’s foot soldiers on their many marches up and down the Shenandoah Valley. Some of Sawyer’s family had served, but Bowen and Abel never talked about it much. Maybe the family felt ashamed because they had deserted in the spring of 1864 to come home and plant the fields. That was most likely one of life’s difficult decisions, he thought.
One cool spring day Sawyer was quietly sitting under the oak tree with a strong breeze in his face. As he was watching the fast ripples on top of the water caused by the wind, just downstream from him a sow and her two tiny cubs cautiously emerged from the bushes and made their way to the edge of the water. Sawyer’s scent was protected by the wind. The cubs took a step into the cold water and quickly ran back out. The sow gently coaxed them in again and they splashed around some before taking a quick drink and moving on, never aware of Sawyer’s presence.
Time never stands still, and as such, Sawyer grew older, went to college, married an attractive girl named Mattie, and fell into a job in Arlington, Virginia. At least one Friday a month, he’d get in line on the road with everyone else trying to get out of the hustle and bustle of Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. for the weekend. His heart was still back in Beldor Hollow, which would always be his real home. Sawyer had always been good with numbers and by a chance encounter with a friend of a friend one weekend on a hunting trip back home, he’d landed a job as an accountant for an engineering firm. Looking out of his office window over the Potomac River, he knew that the water flowing in front of him could be traced back just a few miles from Beldor Hollow. He often daydreamed and reminisced about all of his fishing and hunting adventures from decades ago to the most recent. These are his stories.