Severe thunderstorms had been culling the area. After listening to the old fashioned stereo for a while, I went to bed, leaving it on, noticing the light on the console near the bed but deciding just to roll over and sleep. About 2 in the morning, the power went out, then came back on immediately. Then there was a small click sound, the drawer with the CD in it opening and closing, played on the cold air. The sound, unusual in my sleep, brought me up from deep slumber, but just barely.
As the ground shook and the sky boomed, the bedroom windows lit up with lightning. My eyes still closed, I was not yet aware of where I was, the sleep still lingering. Then a deep voice filled the room.
And I heard as it were
the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see
and I saw
And behold a white horse
From my somnolent state all I could think was "It's GOD. . and He sounds just like Johnny Cash".
Some voices just stay with you, for you to recall in an instant, a memory.
I grew up on Loony Tunes. I was surprised so many years later when I heard that Mel Blanc did almost all of the voices and there's few of us, no matter what generation we grew up in, that doesn't recall them.
I was coming out of base with a load of cargo, when on the local departure frequency, we heard this airplane with the call sign ending in Bravo Romeo who was transversing the area. Except the pilot had some sort of speech pattern or accent that made it come out as "Bwavo Womeo". After hearing that a couple of times, I could not resist, and when Bwavo Womeo confirmed a frequency change and signed off, I quickly keyed the mic and said "That Wascallay Wabbit!" It took the controller a minute to quit laughing.
But the voices we really remember come with memories of more than the TV set, but times and places in our lives. Such as a favorite science teacher in high school, his voice competing with the clatter and clink of glass, the hoarse cough of the Bunsen burners and the animated chatter of apiring geeks, his voice a calm direction among chaos, as we attempt to blow the whole experiment up.
Being teens we tended to ignore him. Yet it was his voice I heard, years later, exhausted from two jobs and graduate school, pouring over books that I read not so much in that I wanted to read them, but knew that I must. Must somehow absorb them in these brief night hours, measuring the turned pages against the fleeing minutes of irreversible time, like the pendulum of the library clock.
Voices that direct, words that explain, words that should offer more meaning than what is actually stated. Such are voices I've listened to, cut off in mid sentence, replayed over and over again, trying to catch something, anything that was not indicated in mere words. Small reminders that we don't always get to finish what we say, any more then we get to finish what we plan, death not requiring us to keep a day free on our calender.
There are words we wish we never would have said, words we wished we'd had the courage to say. There are words saved only by their recording, simple calls telling you someone was safely in their travels, retained as they are the last words you ever heard them speak. You play that recording over and over, trying to glean something out of it, then realizing it is only words, it was always only words, the voice itself is gone, as you hit the delete button.
Years later, I wake again, not to voices, but a sound one coming from the darkness, a foghorn, groaning without ceasing. Foghorn? Where was I? I looked around. I was on the ground, my bed was a sleeping bag. Lake Michigan is miles away, the ocean even further. I'm in deer camp and that is no fog horn off in the distance, that's Og.
Having lived on the road most of my life, I'm used to waking up in strange places with that sense of dark disorientation as consciousness alights, on a cot in a lab, in a truck cab, in the back of a C130. If tired enough, I can sleep anywhere with voices all around me.
I remember Christmas Eve as a small child. I'd sleep on the trundle bed that was normally underneath my big brothers bed. Mom would tuck us both in while Dad went to "do some last minute chores" (probably cursing up a storm during the assembly of the Barbie Dream House). We'd lay there in the dark, my brother, from his grown up bed, speaking to his baby sister in that soft whisper of childhood, under the glow of big 1960's Christmas lights outside the window. We'd left cookies and milk out for Santa, though Dad suggested he'd prefer pretzels and a Budweiser. Then we tried to stay awake as long as we could, hoping to hear his arrival.
The clock ticked later and later, the house quiet. "Do you hear it!" my brother would quietly exclaim, but the clattering sound we heard was not reindeer on the roof, but the dog's toenails on the hardwood floor as she patrolled the hall, checking on her two legged pups.
Mornings in hunting camp, for me are much like Christmas morning,, where even if my bed is hard and there is a demented air compressor sleeping a couple of sleeping bags away, life is good. When we arrived, there would be food and conversation, voices that to me are like family. Then, with the lift of a glass, a toast. A toast, not to the blood which will flow, but to the humble wish that in our years, we've acquired the strength and the skill to do some justice to the game. Then to bed early, sleeping bags arranged like some odd, lumpy crop circle there on the land.
But now it is morning. Morning being a relative term only in that it was past midnight. I wake, not to an alarm clock but to voices, a familiar voice. I get up and wake those that remain asleep with the covertness of a nocturnal predator, a hand on their their shoulder, a flash of white teeth, an expulsion of breath. Time to get up, we're at the top of the food chain and the forest awaits. I am no different then the men that I hunt with, the eagerness of the chase in me, a taste like brass in my mouth, the pounding of vein and blood with the draw of my firearm. Yet, like them, though they would be loathe to admit it, I still have that sense of tenuity against the infinite wilderness, even if the beast we were after was not some creature of lore, to be dispatched by silver bullet, but a mortal animal of silent cunning and soundless hoof.
Breakfast is assembled quickly, washed down with strong coffee that has the faint taste of woodsmoke. Time for just one last gulp that washes away the last drowsiness in me, leaving only the aroma of clean air and the succulent bite of cold that rushes in the door as we head on out.
We drive my truck down a few miles of road, parking it for the long walk in, the darkness all encompassing. There's a path in the corn that's barely visible, leading off into broad fields dotted with the sentient soldiers of battle weary corn stalks. The landscape in the dark is without perspective; the few trees a diorama against the flat earth, the chilled expanse of a southbound Canadian Clipper filling our morning with frost and the sounds of falling ice, ringing like bells in the distance.
It was cold, it was ungodly early, but there was an intentness in us, a kind of implacable transport as we moved deeper into the fields, mindful neither of cold, or burrs that drew blood, or the stalks that slapped our legs. We moved surely, a flashlight in one hand, a Marlin in the other, gaining rapidly on that which we did not intend to leave without.
As we walked deeper in, my hands were feeling the cold, snow clinging to eyelashes that rimmed green eyes that still remembered sleep. I thought back to a warm sleeping bag, the luxury of more coffee. My feet were already growing cold, my breath speaking in the finality of a lover's abandonment, cold, impersonal, disappearing, even as I long to hold it back in, to keep me warm
Do you hear it"? comes a voice from ahead, in the same tone as my brother that long ago Christmas Eve. And we did, the huff of a buck from the trees. From the darkness it came again. That glorious, sonorous grunt, the sound hanging motionless among the wavering shadows, the light beginning to prick the fabric of the landscape, illuminating much.
We split off into separate fields, having mapped out who will hunt where, so not to shoot across areas in which one of us might be moving. I settle into the corner of a field, the tracks and trodden ground showing where deer were moving from one field to another.
As light increases, so does the sound, slowly sustained, not as a rush of of noise, but as water gently rising, lapping at consciousness, even as it settles into background noise you don't really hear. There was no movement at all, but for the flexing of my toes, trying to keep them warm in my boots. I can see little of the dark pools of distance in which my friends sat and as my body grew colder I thought of toasty blankets and a mattress that doesn't have rocks that bite into my tender backside like army ants.
But my body begins to get used to the temperature, my fingers still comfortable and I sit and wait to see what the morning brings. Way off in the distance, a muffled shot. The deer are on the move, the world is awake.
Somewhere out here is the form of which we hunt, not as big as in a dream, but as big as can be grown in the corn dappled fields of the Midwest. In these fields, where cold and sun collide like weather systems, it moves, as aware of my presence as I am his, stopping to lift his massive head and take a deep breath, trying to get a fix on my location there in a white and windless morning.
So I sit as still as I can, the thoughts from a cold night gone from my head, alert and watching from a bed of cold leaves until I will hear again that retort of rifle that lingers intact in the cold streaming air. In that instant, there is no cold, there is no fatigue. A bullet cleaves the air, one blinding glimpse of the absolute revealed as it passes, only an echo remaining in its wake. In that instant, the form of a whitetail leaps and falls, pulled into that absolute which, as well, is darkness.
I well understand the physiology of it but I'm always amazed how far a whitetail can go, even after that killing blow to the heart. Death arrives first perhaps, and then the dying is begun, or perhaps the dying and death both happen in that movement of dying that both foreshadows and follows it.
There's been more than one shot heard, then silence. From the distance a voice, a loud booming voice that is both calm and direction. We'll have more than one deer to get back and process. Plenty of meat for the long cold winter, a thankful blessing. It may be a day or two before I'm back home in my own bed. But I don't mind. There are moments in the world, places that take us outside of ourselves that are worth the lack of sleep, the taking of risk. Days when you wake thinking of only a cold bed, things unfamiliar. Days when you found you had been slumbering through even your waking moments until, with a priests voice of gentle guidance, someone said "Rise" and you did, your eyes lifting out of the deep quiet of your silent sleep into glory.
And there you will find riches on your pillow you never expected, a taste, a touch. So many things hings that warm your very soul; things you would have missed had you drifted too long without hearing, that shot into the stillness, heard as it were with the noise of thunder