I had the pistol on the seat with me as I left Water Valley.
At the time, I was going through a long and very sad divorce. I was deeply depressed and the only place I wanted to be was at the famous Christmas Place alone. I decided to go down and spend Christmas Eve at the camp and maybe drive back to my Mom and Dads house the next day.
I packed up and left early on the 24th as light snowflakes were falling in Water Valley. A heavy snowfall over everything never occurred to anyone and I eased south listening to Christmas songs on the radio and occasionally reaching down to put my hand on the big .45 caliber Colt that rode on the seat beside me.
You can not understand depression unless you have been through a traumatic event. Soon after my separation, I came across the old model 1911 Colt that I had received from my grandfather. I cleaned and oiled it until it was ready for use and stuck it in my nightstand drawer. It began to feel like an old and trusted friend.
Soon I started dreaming of the pistol. I dreamed of the cool barrel against my temple, the savage roar and peace it promised, the sudden stopping of the horrible ache inside me and the rest from what seemed endless pain wrapped around my heart. I started carrying the old gun around in the truck and at home would clean it repeatedly.
Deep inside I had a plan before I left Water Valley.
By the time I reached the gravel road below Howard, an hour and a half later, the snow was falling in flakes that looked like dinner plates. It was too late to turn back and I gunned it along the slippery delta gravel roads as my wipers fought a losing battle against the heavy snowfall. I slid into camp, unloaded, built a roaring fire and watched the mini blizzard of snow. I walked and played around the camp the rest of the afternoon. It was peaceful and uplifting, and the deer seemed as interested in the snow as I was. They seemed to scamper everywhere. As it got dark, five or six inches had accumulated and I reluctantly went back into the camp. I made a light meal, built up the fire and made a pallet on the floor in front of the blaze. I got my old sweat suit and tennis shoes on and made some popcorn and hot chocolate and laid the big pistol on the coffee table. I settled in and watched the old classic Christmas movies “IT”S A WONDERFUL LIFE” and “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”. The snow kept piling up outside until everything was covered in silent white and sometime around 1 in the morning I fell asleep. I don’t know how long I slept, but I awoke to a loud thumping on the door.
I jumped up, still asleep, holding the popcorn bowl and staggered over and opened the back door. I was completely astonished by what I saw. Standing not three feet from me was the largest whitetail buck I had ever seen.
His giant horns were dark and a perfect 10 points and he was a solid, snow white! The massive deer was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen and he stomped his hooves in the snow as I stared at him. I wiped my eyes as he stepped away from the door and walked out into the yard. He turned to stare at me and stomped his foot again as he started feeding on the frozen shrubs. Was I still asleep? I was staring at a magical creature beyond my comprehension. I was so frozen in shock that all I could do was stare back. The snow had stopped and a full moon shone down, lighting the yard to near daylight conditions and finally, it came to me to walk out into the yard also. I went out and stepped near the deer. He moved closer and my hand rubbed his beautiful hide. He nuzzled around and soon ate all the popcorn and the bowl fell to the snow. He turned and looked at me and it became clear in my mind that I was to get on his back. I hopped up, threw the leg of my sweatpants over his back and found myself comfortable. The giant deer gave a glance at me then started trotting and I reached out and lightly held on to his gigantic antlers. The deer picked up speed until we were flying across the land and I bent low on his back for warmth against the icy wind. Snow flew up in great plumes behind us as we crossed the frozen delta land until we finally stopped in the center of a large snowy field and I slid off of his back.
There were hundreds of deer in the field and they ran and played and chased each other in the bright moonlight. The giant white deer left my side and ran and played with them. On a small rise at the edge of the treeline, the lordly ancient deer sentinel of the bluffs, Thunderhoof stood silently watching.
To watch them all was exciting and intimate. The deer ran in herds, then turned as if playing tag and slashed through the snow like kids. I was not cold, even though I could see my breath and the smoke of hot breath from the frolicking animals. They finally came closer and a few circled me as I watched. Then, before I knew it they were all running in a wide circle around me. Big bucks, does, and smaller bucks, they all ran like lightning around me. It was exhilarating! They came closer and closer until I could almost touch them and then they stopped all at one time and faced me. I had fallen to my knees and tears covered my face as I watched the beauty of their movements and felt their raw power. I felt small and guilty in front of them, as if they knew my cowardly inner thoughts. It grew silent and all I could hear was the gasping from their exertions. The white buck came through them. They parted to make way for him and he came to my side. I reluctantly got on his back and we ran toward the beckoning bluffs above the lake.
That night we traveled all of the bluff lands and the giant white buck showed me many hidden things in the Earth and took me to a secret place that had a small pool of water in a rocky bowl that he drank from. He stomped his foot until I drank too. Knowledge and Images poured through me and I learned of the creation and sacrifice of the deer, why they are here, all that had happened from their beginning, to the time of the Indians, to my family arriving and our living and hunting on the land. I learned the secret names of the deer and learned why they danced in the moonlight and snow that Christmas Eve, the reason that Thunderhoof guarded the land, what he protected and the special reason why I was chosen to help him. We raced over the country as he showed me things that I could now understand, signs and meaning in the woods and hills. He showed me how the truth of the future and of a life and plan beyond what we know now was hidden there and guarded for all time.
Before I knew it, we stood at the backdoor of the camp and I dismounted exhausted and mesmerized by the great secrets that had been entrusted to me to keep. I hugged the giant white bucks great neck and fresh tears fell from my eyes as the joy of that night filled my soul that had seemed an empty shell only hours earlier. I stepped back and he trotted off into the deep snow. I watched till he disappeared into the whiteness, then went back in the camp house and built up the fire again.
I made more hot chocolate, thought of all that I had seen and learned and then dozed in front of the crackling fire. The thought of suicide was gone and I awoke the next morning completely refreshed, happy again and ready to get on with my life. Time makes the things he showed me fade or maybe they are supposed to. He could have just been a dream, but real or imagined my life was saved that night and new meaning given to it.
I found the popcorn bowl in the snow the next morning.