Bare-branched trees lined the river like tall gray sentinels. Huddled among them were pine trees wearing dark green winter coats. As if to mock the somber landscape, a bright sun smiled down on it with a friendly, golden hue that made frost-bleached grasses seem to glow. The view from my kitchen window made me want to forget about housework. Promising myself that I’d go for a walk after doing the dishes, I quickly began loading my dishwasher.
As I put the last handful of silverware into the wash basket, Arnie come into the room and opened the refrigerator door. Smiling, I said, “Seems like I haven’t seen you all week!”
Setting a block of cheese on the counter, my husband took a bread knife out of the drawer, and began to slice the loaf of bread I had baked earlier in the day. He said, “We haven’t seen much of each other lately. You’ve been working days…and I’ve been working the evening shift!”
Pouring detergent into the dishwasher’s soap wells, I dramatically sighed, “We’re like ships passing in the night. We need to do something about that. I’ve been missing you.”
Arnie leaned against the cupboard to eat his cheese sandwich. Between bites he said, “I’ve been wanting to check out some deer hunting country this afternoon. Want to come with me?”
I shut the dishwasher and said eagerly, “I’m ready to go right now if you want.”
The air was crisp outdoors, but inside Arnie’s truck cab it was pleasantly warm. We spent the first forty-five minutes of our drive catching up with each other’s lives. A curiously beautiful countryside in every shade of brown, green, and gray flashed past our windows. Here and there a few yellow leaves still clung to their branches. I finally asked, “Aren’t we almost there yet?”
Arnie said, “It’ll be about another ten or fifteen minutes.” I glanced up into the treetops towering over the road. A squirrel was scampering from branch to branch. Where did it live? Then I spotted what looked like its nest; a giant ball of leaves on one of the bare treetops. Turning into a narrow, grassy lane Arnie said, “We’re almost there!”
Our truck slowly bumped and jolted over rocks and ruts. At the end of the lane was a small woodland parking lot. Arnie came to a stop and got out. I slid down out of the truck, pulled my jacket up around my neck and said, “This place is so far back…I think even the Indians forgot about it!”
My husband allowed me to Lean against him as we surveyed our surroundings. He said, “That’s what makes this place so good. I’m hoping there won’t be many hunters back here!” Beyond some underbrush, I spotted a small lake. Wordlessly, we headed toward it. Arnie took the lead. I followed.
The lake was manmade, with a long, narrow dike, which we walked across to reach the woodland beyond. My brothers did a good job of training me on how to properly follow someone through woods. I know how to avoid getting slapped by twigs as they snap back into place after the passage of the person ahead, by never following too close!
Another rule I learned early on was to stop the minute my hunter/guide stops, even if that leaves me with one foot in the air and holding my breath. Did the hunter I was following see an animal or hear one? My eyes darted around, not wanting to miss seeing it too. My ears strained against the soft rustling of dried leaves and the distant chatter of crows.
“Look!” Arnie exclaimed. “Deer sign all over!”
It took me a while to notice the scuffled ground and pointed hoof prints. The most obvious sign jumped out at me; a slender tree with ten inches of its soft, tender bark on one side hanging in tatters. Other young trees nearby showed ugly, deep scars from antlers scrapping across them years before.
A soft breeze sighed through the treetops as we stood silently looking around. Was Arnie planning his hunting strategy? In my mind I could hear him describe his last successful hunt, “Right after sunrise this buck came up over the ridge. He didn’t even know I was there. I waited until he got closer, and then took aim and fired! He dropped on the spot!”
A beautiful, unblemished oak leaf on the ground caught my eye. I picked it up and added it to my collection of other interesting things I’d found; a strip of white birch paper, and a small pinecone. Arnie nodded at me and asked, “Ready to head back to the truck?”
I tumbled through the woods at Arnie’s heels. He smilingly shook his head over each addition that I made to my collection of rocks, leaves, and twigs. MY hunt that afternoon had been successful. Despite the deep, dark woods of separate jobs and interests during the previous five days, I had searched for and once again found my Dear.