Friday, February 19, 2010

A WINTER'S HUNT

It seems we have had more snow this winter then in all the years I've lived in Indiana, as if the state is purposely thumbing its nose at Al Gore. Perhaps it just seems that way as this year I'm having to shovel regularly, with the house for sale and the Realtor needing a place to park and walk. Myself, I'd just put the truck in 4 wheel drive and back over it all, ready for some driving on poorly plowed country roads to get to the city. Driving in snow and wind doesn't bother me one bit. Wrestle a swept wing jet down on an ice slicked runway in a stiff crosswind on some crappy, short foreign runway and driving a truck in a few inches of snow seems sort of mundane.

But this winter, it has been one storm after another, though we have been getting much less than our neighboring states to the East who are still digging out.

I've enjoyed looking at it, photographing it and walking the woods in it. Unlike the summer, where the light has a weary quality to it, like a backwater pool of light lying low, winter's light is crisp, clean, illuminating everything so clearly. Even with sunglasses on, the vivid noise of sunlight's dance plays on my eyes as I walk around my little town, causing me to blink, then smile at natures presence.
Cold or not, I have to admit, it IS beautiful. I've hunted in the snow many times, whitetail and some predators. I've played in the snow, with the children of friends, with my own friends. I can't honestly imagine living some place where it never snowed. I wouldn't enjoy living where, at Christmas, you can't tromp out into the snow and cut down your tree instead of buying one, limp and smelling of french fries from the McDonalds next to the tree lot.

As kids we'd get ours from the woods, going on a farmer's wagon out into the forest to select a tree. I'd be bundled up to my eyeballs, sitting on some hay in that wagon, there between my Dad and Mom, safe between them. It was a comforting place to be, safe in the outdoors, where nothing, not cold, or bears, or cannibalistic porcupines could get me. We'd get home only to find that the tree that looked so small in the woods wouldn't fit through the front door and Dad would have to take an axe to the bottom while we kids had our supper. Such times were the epitome of happiness.

The snow was just part of my winter, expected, and as an adult, anticipated, especially when hunting season approaches. I wait for the leaves to turn, for those first flakes. I'm up early, a cup of coffee in my hand, as the sky turns from black to pink to a blue of ice and snow that can't be recreated except in my memory. So what if it's minus 8 with the windchill. The sky is clear, and the deer may be moving to gather some food, as it's the first day in a while that the sky has been blue, the wind still, the snow resting after a late night assignation in a cornfield.


But, like anyone that heads out into this weather, I have some gear, I have someone that knows where I will hunt, and what time I will be back, so if I go silent there will be someone searching. The term "cold hearted" is not far from the truth, for nature, especially nature in the winter, is as uncaring a companion as one can find.
I leave the house around 5 am. All around me is blackness, above, only a few stars reflecting off of the fallen snow. Stars stare above, the color of utter and complete stillness. As I walk to my spot, with only memory and a small penlight to guide me, I want to hold my breath, because even inhaling and exhaling is like a cacophony in the deep hush of the white landscape. The woods are absolutely quiet, the animals of day still hunkering down for rest, and the night creatures starting to settle in for light. There is no breeze, no recognition of air even; it is the sound of nothing and everything.

There it is, my spot, my blind up in the trees, where I will wait in stillness for dawn. Waiting for the sun to traipse across the horizon as the animals of the forest follow that Pied Piper of warmth and sustenance, hoping for some food that day. They should be moving in this quieting air, their stomachs likely empty after hunkering down in the last storm.

The day is one of patchy clouds, and not a lot of sun. I came out of the blind around noon, to walk well downwind to take care of business, eat a peanut butter sandwich and some apple slices, before I head on back to the blind. I hope that there would be some movement towards evening when the sky was forecast to clear completely.
My weapon, an old Belgium Browning, is ready, as is my ammo, a few extra rounds in my pocket, stark, lethal and profound in their destiny, waiting to be summoned by the pull of a finger on a trigger. Waiting for that moment between the need and its sound. I wait as well. Waiting for that particular crunch, crunch sound that will tickle my eardrum if I don't move, as the deer move through the woods. You can't see them, you can't smell them. You can only hear that small, crisp sound as their feet break through the crust of the snow, a sound of hope and affirmation, like scent and sight itself.

Then, just as the sun began to dip low in the sky, a big buck came, moving along the tree line in the distance. I got in one shot, as he ran for the thick of the forest. As the shot cracked into the frigid air, the buck leaped into the woods, as I stare, still, amazed at how a living thing like that will keep going, and how far, when it is already dead from that single shot through the heart. But, there's no time for musings now. I need to get him field dressed and ready to transport before it is completely dark. Neighbors and friends up at the house knew to come with transport if they heard a shot. I just had to sit and wait as the sky turned sullen with darkness.
As I wait, I watch the sun leave the sky, the blood from the deer shining on the snow. He looked to be about 5 years old, approaching winter in the life of a deer in the wild. A battle lost that day for him, a moment of quiet contemplation for his life, for mine, as the sun as well, bids adieu. The sky deepens from blue to blue grey, like the whole of Lee's army taking over the battlefield between night and dawn, leaving remnants, blood red on the ground, quickly leeching into the earth, til soon, nothing is left but darkness again. And so I sit, my gun in my lap, the moon a small nightlight against a blanket of snow, a blanket that never warms, yet covers. So dark. So quiet.

We wait in the cold, isolated, only the moon's glint off of some icicles to provide any spark of light. I wait and think of those many winters past, those days of a child, a bowl of fresh venison stew in front of a fire as Mom and Dad gently murmured in the other room as they set up the tree. I think of days as an adult, of a gentle hand guiding me down into deep corridors of sleep with a soft kiss upon my lips, nights now lying safe in a bed of white and ice blue, under the long, soft moan of the winter wind.
But for now, the woods do not stir. Blood drips onto the snow, as above, water melts from an icicle, the moisture from it falling on my check, a drip that tastes strangely of salt.

From a distance comes the light of a small all terrain vehicle, the murmured voices of friends. I will have help with this bounty, I will have company in its preparation and in the meals it will provide. For that buck, one long, last winter, for which I am grateful. Sustenance for the home, and someday soon I hope, warmth to thaw a heart long held on ice.

9 comments:

drjim said...

Wow....just wow. I don't know how you do it, but you sure do!

Old NFO said...

Wow is right... but I don't do snow... :-)

reflectoscope said...

I suppose I could tease you about the implication of your being worried about cannibalistic porcupines.

But then I think I might do better to simply be glad to learn of that spark in your heart apparently finding kindling.

Jim

Hat Trick said...

I'm amazed by the quality of writing you can sit down and compose in a short time. Wow is right and I do enjoy the snow.

Larry said...

brrrr...this is why I don't miss Iowa (much to my mother's disappointment).

DaddyBear said...

That was beautiful.

Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories.

Did it MY way said...

I don't do snow either, but reading this story makes it tempting.

See Ya

danontherock said...

How I feel about winter depends upon what I am doing. If I have time off which is scarce in winter, I love it. Working outside on firefighting exercises, I hate it. Everyday now you see the increase in the amount of daylight which is good for the soul. Like your writing
regards
Dan

M25 said...

Beautiful prose and pictures, with an excellent ending. Pics of the buck would be nice, but not necessary.

I don't like the cold, but love to hunt in the snow.

Jealous in Texas.