Your Name, Please?

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

Many years ago the southern section of the mighty Kaingaroa Forest was administered by a senior forest ranger named Mark,

Mark was very dapper, and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He dressed like a Scottish gentleman (‘which indeed he was) wearing jodhpurs, a tweed coat, cloth cap and polished boots He was icily polite, precise, and military.

At the time of his administration Kaingaroa Forest abounded with deer. There was any number of them and nowhere in the forest were there more than on Mark’s domain.

In his day Mark had shot more than his share of deer, but as time passed by he grew to respect them and developed an affinity towards them. He finally hung up his rifle, and took to stalking the deer with his camera – a silent, secretive pastime.

At that time Kaingaroa Forest was a sleeping giant, quietly growing toward maturity, production, industry. With few employees in residence, and fewer administrators to guard the forest, fire was a great fear. Fire could wipe out the whole forest before a tree in it matured.

Members of the public were prohibited from entering the forest for fear of carelessness with fire. But that great herd of deer was an irresistible draw card to poachers, and nowhere did they favor more than Mark’s part of the forest. It was a continuing battle of wits between Mark and the poachers, and because of the vastness of the area usually the poachers got away with it.

Jock was a poacher of great skill. He should have been – he’d had enough practice and he was crafty. He knew how to avoid easy capture. Jock preferred to hunt deer on Mark’s domain where small scrubby pine trees grew among the heavy undergrowth of monoao bushes. Beneath the monoao was a thick mat of tussock which drew the deer to the area. Sparsely interlacing this flat country was a system of pumice roads – danger zones for a poacher.

One weekend he was taking a group of three novice poachers for a hunt, and he was watching them fairly closely to ensure they didn’t give the game away. They’d arrived on Mark’s piece of country in the dark early hours of the morning, and now in the sunrise light were creeping along the flat monoao country in search of their quarry.

They reached a straight soft pumice road and one of the novices was about to cross over when Jock stopped him. He began to lecture the three, demonstrating with actions as he progressed. ‘When you come to a road like this, you never walk straight across it. You turn around, like this. and walk backwards over it.’ Jock began walking backwards over the road.

He continued his explanation in a loud voice as he proceeded backwards. ‘Then, when the ranger comes along he sees your footprints pointing that away and so goes looking for you in the place that you have been, and not where you are going.*

By this time, Jock had reached, the opposite side of the road, but by moving backwards he had failed to see Mark the ranger, camera round his neck, rise from behind a roadside monoao bush, Jock had backed right up to him, unaware of his presence.

Mark reached forward, tapped Jock on the shoulder and in a voice of polite ice said, ‘That is very interesting, and what is your name, please?’