Old Bill and a Howling | Trisha Winn

When I came to a little two-track, suddenly, among the oak and maple and native white pine, I knew I would follow it, but I was in no hurry to start. I wondered how far the dogs went, how long it would take Dad to find me. I could hear the blueticks in their frenetic chase—they were far enough away now that I couldn’t tell if they were coming or going. I listened for Bill, the old plot hound whose voice would eventually emerge above all the others. Bill always knew just when the bear had had enough and could sense when she would go for a tree. Bill would lift his voice in the woods, as if he were calling on some original force to rise up from the rotting maple leaves of the forest floor and get that bear, at which point the men would start shouting, right on cue; the blueticks would yelp and bark, the bear would grunt or even let loose a guttural, frightening growl on her way up the tree. Bill knew how this would play out. He was not afraid. Whether we ended this night with a bear in the back of the truck or not, Bill’s job was almost done. He howled a bit more to sustain the blues’ courage while the men made their decision. When I could no longer hear Bill, I knew it was time to go. I stepped onto the path through the woods and made my way back to the truck where big brindle brown Bill and my Dad would be waiting for me.

When we got back to the house that night, it took the men a while to calm and kennel the dogs. Bill went to his own little house, and right to sleep.

The dog kennel, which housed thirty blues and plot hounds, sat in the same place our trailer used to be, before Dad built the house. My uncles would come over on weekends to frame walls, hang drywall and siding, and eventually nail down floors and paint walls. I remember getting to help paint the siding red. But Dad actually paid someone to pour the basement. He wasn’t messing around with that.

It was a good foundation. After it was poured, and the walls above were just being framed, my maternal great-grandmother came to see the work in progress. I was three and a half years old, running around on the ripped up sandy lawn when my Dad shouted at me to get to the basement. My mother tried to corral my two-year-old brother while I stood on the cool, dove-gray cement staring at Great-Grandma holding my baby sister. She sat in a metal folding chair up against the smooth cement wall. My mother screamed from somewhere, but I couldn’t really hear her over the wind that was screaming over the basement, like it was a giant square pop bottle in the hands of giant, bored kid. I turned in time to see my brother fall a full story from the landing, which had no rail yet, to the cement floor, while my dad stood in the field to the east of the house daring that tornado to try to get by him.

Trisha Winn lives an anything but quiet life with her four children, growing vegetables and raising endangered breeds of livestock. For a time, she was the undisputed bareback champion of the county 4-H circuit. An advocate for people with disabilities and the earth, she mothers fiercely, teaches home school, farms organically, and writes loudly. Trisha is currently working on an MFA in writing at Goddard College in Washington.


Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

One comment

  1. Pingback: “Old Bill and a Howling” | Trisha Winn

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