We woke to the sound of a rifle shot at 6:29 this morning. Deer-hunting season opens today and hunting is permitted from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. The sun rises here at 7am.
I watched the sun slip above the trees on the far side of the meadow. It washed the sky in red for a brief moment before disappearing behind the low grey cloud ceiling. It’s minus six here this morning and there is a blanket of thick, wet snow on the ground. The juncos are cold and hungry, fluttering erratically as they search for seeds on the ground below the bird feeder. Ah, the bluejays have just arrived, they will scatter lots of seed for the juncos as they dig for sunflower seeds. Oh, and a cardinal now. And a little flock of chickadees. A woodpecker flies in and clears everyone out. All the regulars have made it through the long, cold night.
We will be wearing our bright orange fleecies whenever we go outside this week and Chris will be wearing his orange toque for good measure. I hope our next-door neighbour has his deer already and will not be hunting around the edges of our property today. Last year he shot a big stag in the field opposite the guest cabin—his field.
“Before I even opened my thermos of coffee,” he complained with a big grin on his face.
I can’t imagine what butchering a deer must be like. Surely some field dressing must be done. All that blood on the fresh snow.
Lentils. Have these hunters never heard of lentils?
I think of Ed at this time of year, as the winter weather closes in. He’s the man who built the log cabin by the lake here, from trees cut down on this property, with his own two hands. He didn’t have a car, so no worries about getting snowed in for him. In fact, the trek to the neighbour’s to borrow a car to go to town was probably easier over the frozen ground around the lake. Maybe he even went across the lake. We found both skies and snowshoes in the cabin.
We didn’t expect to be here during deer-hunting season again, but everything is different this year. Our sailboat is on the hard in a boatyard in Florida and we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we won’t be sailing somewhere warm this winter. Instead, we’re going to stay here on Meadowlark until the end of December then move to a schoolhouse we’ve rented in Grey Highlands for the cruelest months of winter. We’ll be about 20 minutes from Blue Mountain. Chris already has his ski pass.
If you had enough firewood, lots of food, and access to a well, it wouldn’t be bad staying here on the property for the winter, though it’s a long trek out to the road—a couple of kilometres—if anything goes wrong. Ed stayed here year round. Did he hunt? Probably. We know he allowed hunting on the property. The neighbours weren’t very happy when we arrived and spread the word that we didn’t want hunting on our land. Somehow, the deer seem to know they’re safe here. This morning there was a parade of tracks in the freshly fallen snow heading into our woods.
How did Ed keep cabin fever at bay, that’s what I want to know. Reading, for sure. We found a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf along one wall of the cabin, filled with well-worn volumes of military history and shelves and shelves of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I’m sure he would have had a battery-operated radio. Maybe he ran his generator in the evenings so he could watch a little TV.
We know for sure that he kept himself busy cutting firewood. He kept a journal, noting among other things which trees he cut down each year. I can picture him out in the bush, wielding an axe. He’s wearing a green canvas coat, a fur hat pulled low over his forehead, raccoon maybe, or coyote. Did he make it himself? I imagine him with a bushy grey beard, only his eyes are exposed to the cold. He’s wearing worn leather mittens, and a pair of beat-up work boots. I do hope they’re insulated.
I guess I’m not made of as stern stuff as Ed was. I’ll admit that I have been struggling with the isolation as winter sets in and visitors to the property dwindle. I keep myself busy—we go for walks each morning, I work on my book, I read, I write in my journal. And there’s always more firewood to split. But there’s a layer of anxiety and uncertainty underlying everything that makes me feel sad and hopeless sometimes, makes me second-guess our choices, worry about our future.
I’m sure I’m not very easy to live with these days. And it’s not that easy living with a man who experiences little doubt and almost no fear, who copes with uncertainty by mastering the physical environment around him. We have cords and cords of firewood now, stacked in neat rows. And he’s built a really nice new shower house.
Another rifle report, this one sounds close. How far can a bullet travel, I wonder? How long can a pandemic last?
I’m thinking of carrying bags of lentils in my coat pockets, approaching hunters and suggesting that there are other great food sources for the winter. Chris thinks this is a really bad idea.
He may be right.