Sunday, February 5, 2017

Road Ends in Water

The sun cut long shadows across the field as we hunkered down in a tree line. Our breath came in billows. Frost glazed the grass. Mike sat in a shock of thorny brush 30 yards to my right. He began working his coyote calls and I settled against a bare oak and awaited the appearance of a predator.  

This morning was our second run at coyotes in the 12,000 acres around Salamonie Lake in northern Indiana. The Miami Indians called the river O-sah’-mo-nee, or “yellow paint,” for the flowering bloodroot that grew on its banks. The Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Salamonie in 1965. At its low “winter pool” levels, the reservoir is drained, its capacity waiting to take the snow melt and spring rains that would otherwise flood the downstream river towns of Wabash, Peru, and Logansport.

The 13 square miles of woods, cropland, and open fields in Salamonie’s wildlife management areas give hunters access to turkey, waterfowl, whitetail deer -- and coyote. We were here a month ago, trekking in fresh snow to set up along ridgelines and the edges of fields. We saw canine tracks and scat in the snowfall, heard their distant yips and barks, but sighted no coyote. This day was our last chance. The season was ending at noon.

Mike had a rhythm with the half-dozen coyote calls that hung from his paracord lanyard. Each was made of wood or antler, each call with its distinctive sound: a whining howl to draw in a curious young coyote or a dominant male, the pitiful shriek of a wounded deer, or the chittering squeak of a snack-sized rodent. Each was tuned to play on a coyote’s territorial or predatory instincts, its hunger. Mike called another sequence and we waited.

I rested my rifle across my knees and watched the borders of the field that spread to the north of us, scanning left and right

and looking for a rangy canine to emerge from trees or tall grass. As Mike continued calling, I heard honking behind us and looked to see a skein of five Canadian geese pass overhead, well within range. Had this been waterfowl season and had I been holding a different gun, these geese would be dropping from the sky.

One day, their time would come, I thought, whether brought down during a hunt in season, or in the jaws of a predator like the ones we were hunting now. Today, however, 

was not that day. I offered a goofy benediction as they passed overhead: “Go in peace, my friends.”

We called for an hour with no luck. We packed up to try a new location, now with only two hours until the legal end of season. 

Mike grew up not far from here and has hunted Salamonie since he was a teenager. He carries a DNR map marked up with years of
scouting notes: which fields are best when winds are from the west and which fields are best when winds are southerly. Where he’s seen sign or scat, and where he’s taken coyote.

We parked the truck and walked south along a strip of weed-choked asphalt that had once been County Road 800W. We 
came to a trailhead and moved up the path toward our next stand, a clearing marked on Mike’s map as a quarter mile to our west. A diamond-shaped yellow sign caught my eye: “ROAD ENDS IN WATER.”  

I tipped my head toward the sign and whispered, “Mike, what’s down there?”

“Monument City,” he said in a low voice, in case any coyote were listening. 

“This road led into Monument City.”

“Take a look?” I said, already moving down the road. We talked in hushed tones as we walked.

Jacob Fisher and his family were the first white settlers here in 1836. A soldier’s monument honoring local Civil War dead was erected in 1869. When James Pilcher laid out plans for a new town in 1874, that Civil War memorial sat in the middle of the plat. So they named the town after the monument.

Monument City was as small as small towns come. In 1949, the high school graduated six seniors. In 1965 when the Army Corps of Engineers relocated the town and cemetery to make way for the reservoir, Monument City numbered all of 30 residents.

We walked down the crumbling asphalt road that, at summer pool, was under 12 feet of water. Now at winter pool, the lake bottom was exposed and we stepped over the dry driftwood

that choked the remnants of the road. We came within sight of the town’s bones: the cement foundation of a building, red bricks from the schoolhouse, a shard of clay drainage pipe.

The muddy lakebed had the feel of a ghost town. Generations raised families in this valley. Young love sparked in haylofts and behind barns. After chores, farmers chewed tobacco and told tall tales on the porch at Weeks and Slyter’s General Store. Monument City was born, had a life, and then died under water at the age of 91, sacrificed to save Wabash and Peru and other small towns.

All well and good, but we were here to hunt coyote and we had a slim hour left in this year’s season. We moved off the lake bottom to our next stand, camouflaged ourselves downwind in a tree line adjacent to the lake, and called. And called. And called.

Noon came and went. The season was over and we were without a kill. We made our way back to the truck, unloaded our guns, and settled in for the drive home. We navigated county roads toward the interstate when we came along an old graveyard.

“Pilcher-Snyder Cemetery,” the sign said. “Established 1842.”

Wasn’t Pilcher a town founder? We stopped and got out.

We wandered the grounds. We looked at names and wondered at the lives that were only hinted at, a couple of lines engraved on weathered stone:

• William Fisher: “Died 1871. 31Y 10M 12D.”

• JM and MC Bailey, Infant Son: “Born & Died Sept. 11, 1876.”

• A Pilcher who appeared to have had several marriages, his stone flanked by those of his three wives.

As we walked this smaller monument city, we found no graves planted any later than 1901. The Pilchers and the Fishers and the Baileys had put their mothers and fathers and children into this ground for 59 years. And then they

stopped, 115 years ago. 

Apparently even a cemetery lives and dies, in its own way. It’s born when the first body is planted in its ground, and ceases to live after it receives the last of its dead. It seemed a paradox. We got back in the truck and drove south.

Fat geese had glided over our heads against the backdrop of a blue Indiana sky, unmolested because now was not their season. A country town was born and lived for a century and then flowed into history, sacrificed in a flood that saved other towns from other floods. A cemetery lived and died.

Coyotes had eluded us this season. We’d seen their tracks, spied their droppings, and heard their howls from a distance. But at our hands, it was not their time. These coyote would live another year, and we’d be back next winter to hunt them. But by one means or another, a coyote’s time would pass.

And ourselves… our lives with their seasons as we go from our springs through to our winters. If we’re lucky, we leave behind a monument or two. 
These are the conversations that happen in the truck ride home when you’re an unsuccessful hunter. 

In the end, all things have their seasons, a time to live and die. The only thing we can say for certain, whether for geese or coyote, for old towns or for ourselves – all roads end in water.


Catholicity said...

Mississinewa claimed a town, too. Somerset was moved in the same timeframe as Monument City. I grew up fishing there, walking down from the sign that said, "road ends in water" to park nylon mesh folding chairs next to the water and watch the bobbers dance in the light of a Coleman lantern next to my dad and brother. The smell of the river, Deep Woods Off, and white gas combine with the pinpricks of skeeter bites and the sounds of the Indiana evening woods and the water lapping, lapping, create vivid memories that, as you said, will one day also end in water. Thanks for the mini-travelogue.

Joe said...

Thanks for the comment, Catholicity. Glad you liked the story, and that it brought back some good memories for you.