Heart and Shed
Heart pulsing anticipation carried me over a rock-interrupted ridge where wind tortured bull
pine desperately clung to scattered crumblings of granite. The first rays of sunlight had won
their battle over defeated clouds and brought a prehistoric cast to the canyon rims below
where the echoing hooves of white rumpled ghosts franticly attempted to vanish. “No
antlers,” I said to myself, “perfect”. Descending, I scanned my surroundings in search of
white tips protruding through snarls of dead grass, or brown beams camouflaged among
tangled branches and needle-blanketed shadows. I felt a rush of adrenalin, as if I were a ten
year old again, when I noticed a two-point shed peeking through the trampling of winter.
After spending the day climbing ridges with the relentless plodding of a mule, rooting the
brush with the determination of a boar, and searching my surroundings with the cunning of a
mountain lion, long shadows awakened me from my antler induced stupor to the realities of a
worried wife. Years of my hiking alone had calloused her concerns but had never kept the
nagging, “what if’s”, at bay. It was my first antler hunting adventure of the year. I knew my
conditioning wasn’t the best, but I felt tired beyond my years and had to rest more than I was
accustomed. In the next couple of weeks, I returned to the wintering grounds of elk, deer,
and Indian spirits but long days ended with exhaustion. On one occasion I got so frustrated
with my effort that I slammed my fist into my chest and yelled into the evening solitude. “If I’m
going to have a heart attack, then bring it on.”
Doing my own diagnosis, I felt I had some form of pneumonia. I seemed to have a slight
cough with my tiredness and some hyperventilation, which would wake me from restless
dreams. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to have a physical, thinking I would be
prescribed some antibiotics to get the nagging inconvenience cleared up.
When the Doctor and I reviewed the results of my chest ex-ray, she couldn’t hold back her
surprise. “That’s the biggest heart I have ever seen.” I laughingly remarked. “I have always
been known as a big-hearted guy.” An agitated, “NO”, is how she dismissed my disregard for
the seriousness of the situation. “This is no joking matter.” A little dumbfounded, I asked, “it’s
not just a little pneumonia that’s causing my problem?” Then quickly followed with the plans I
had for an antler-hunting trip the following week?
The Doctor looked at me as if I was a less than gifted child and then called in another
physician to confirm her findings. The two of them grilled me with a barrage of questions.
“Have you had any pain in your chest? Have you had any pain or numbness in your arms?”
My answers were “no”. Then came the “yes” questions. Have you had shortness of breath,
fatigue, heart palpitations, or a frequent cough? Three days later I was having an echo
gram. The cardiologist pulled no punches. “I have been told that I can be too blunt.” I said,
“Be blunt.” He continued. “Your aortic valve needs replaced. It should have an opening about
the size of a quarter and yours is about the size of a pencil eraser. That’s not all.
The aorta itself is aneurysed when it leaves the heart. The aorta shouldn’t be more than
three and half centimeters wide. Anything over five centimeters is critical and yours is five
point eight. It could bust at any moment.”
Seventeen days after my physical to clear up my self-diagnosed pneumonia problem, I was
lying on the surgeon’s table ready to have my chest carved open. My recovery has been
nothing less than miraculous. Five days after surgery I was home and walking five miles a
day within two weeks. I was back to work in a month and my wife had given up in
frustration on telling me to take it easy. The only reminder of my interrupted antler collecting
is a ten inch scar, which my grandsons think is “sweet”.
Searching for antler treasure has been a constant with me since I was a child, and
strengthened me through my teens. It has been intertwined through thirty-seven years of
marriage, parenting and now grand parenting. I have always felt there is a spirit sealed in the
antlers hardness. I truly believe that I have that spirit to thank for my tomorrows.