The sun was slowly climbing down from its perch. It was nearly two-thirty and I had been all the way up Hawk Creek Canyon as I started making my descent down the mountain. Pa was a few hundred yards behind me and Billy, about five minutes ahead. We hadn’t spotted a single muley all day, but a few signs showed we were on the right track.

The air around us smelt of vanilla and sugar. An uncommonly warm November sun kept the forest in bloom and our thirst high. That sweet vanilla scent had me yearning for an ice cold Coke. I loved the smell of those ponderosa pines.

Dreaming of that fizzy libation, I noticed a slight movement across the canyon. I was now on Billy’s tale and he stood staring at the same spot on the steep, rocky hillside.

Shh. He motioned with his pointer finger as he raised his scope to his eye. There were two of them. Bucks. Young ones.

Still, they were a bit too far off. And as Pa approached us, they quickly darted east, toward the creek bed.

Carrying on, the three of us quietly and swiftly continued down the mountain. As we reached a clearing, we stopped to rest and drink some water. A red-tailed hawk flew overhead and landed on the thick branch of a golden cottonwood, rooted not too far in front of our view. We had reached the valley. I could hear the creek alongside us. I watchfully turned clockwise, making sure to keep quiet. They had to be close by.

And then, under a small cluster of cottonwoods, almost out of eyesight, I spotted them. But they weren’t alone. It was a herd of six. They, like us, were trying to escape the afternoon heat under the shade of the welcoming cottonwood trees. Billy saw them too. Then Pa. Cautiously, yet calmy, they waded in the creek, lapping up the cool mountain water.

Relieved by the shelter of the big old cottonwoods, my father, brother and I passed smiles of content back and forth, simultaneously agreeing upon the challenge presented by another day in the canyon. We took one more glance then began our hike home.

It was time to rest up for the early morning. Maybe grab a chilled vanilla Coke and take a late afternoon nap under my favorite cottonwood in our backyard, dreaming about tomorrow’s adventure.

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