Saturday, March 1, 2014

Friday Night Rain

The rain hangs like sheets, whipped by wind, the air as sodden as fabric. I can't see 100 yards, but I don't need to. I might be treading water today, but I probably won't be hunting.

Deer camp in a rain storm. The deer aren't moving now. and neither will I. It came up quickly, things in the high country don't meander in slowly. One minute the sky was a pale grey blue, a tuft of cotton building up against the peak. The next, all if that water just emptied out of that gentle hue, sluicing from the sky as I rushed for shelter, too far from the camp to get under real cover.

So I sat and waited. It's easier when you're not alone.

This last  deer hunt  had perfect weather, golden afternoons, clear and cold in the morning. We'd crawl out of our sleeping bags in the dark and didn't get in again until almost dark, putting together the evenings libations. There wasn't a TV in sight, no computer, no cell phones. We played board games and told stories, of a hunt in Africa, of loves and children and just how many bowls of venison chili we could eat without exploding.

Waiting out the wet and the dark is easier when you have friends. You can play cards or always do that shadow puppet thing on the tent wall ("Hey, that looks like a Grizzly head - Holy *&#* grab the rifle!). You can laugh and hoist those small thick glasses of heavy amber that sissies and womenfolk sniff at, but hunters sip with reverent communion.
But when you're alone, it is different. Time drapes across your senses, the water and the wind drowning out more than the hunt, but that heightened state of awareness that is the first kiss of perception. Then comes the rain, and you settle back, knowing nothing was going to happen soon, no matter how much you wished for it. Anticipation is the best part of anything and the rain only wets the desire to see that which waits for you.

Stay put or leave, the decision quivers there as I sit under a poncho trying to look more like a rock and less like a lightning rod. The water washes the landscape bright, trembling with heat, branches laying like gifts on the forest floor, a place both pagan and serene. With a splash of light, the late afternoon sun breaks free, warming me. Sun rays dance on that small piece of skin peeking beneath the camo, such a small space of flesh, evocative of all lost nights and transcended delights, flowing there like honey in sunlight.
Should I stay or should I go?

Despite the tales to the contrary, deer do move in the rain. Not the torrential downpour, but in that quiet trickle that is the end of a violent argument between cloud and sky, the deer will move, sometimes becoming less wary, figuring you are in someplace near the fire instead of creeping on sodden leaves to spring. Like men, deer seek comfort, seeking out cool havens in the hot weather and snug shelter when the cold is brutal. They don't like blustery winds, but in this gentle rain, there on the backside of the storm, they will be out, if only I am patient.

But it won't be an easy hunt, for their reluctance to come out and play in the rain is not about discomfort. The deers most effective defense mechanisms, the ears and the nose, are less than effective in the rain. Your movements are muffled when everything is wet, scent is washed out, not carrying well. They're going to be in the thickest cover they can find, that big buck relying on his eyesight to see you hunting him. But the playing field is more leveled, as you yourself aren't going to hear him unless he is equipped with a Brinks alarm that will go off as he bolts.
There's a reason many hunters just chose to wait it out in camp. You're not going to climb into a blind and wait for him to come out to see what the rain brought, you are going to seek what you want. You're going to stalk, in slow, methodical and deliberate movement, that which you seek. I think about these things as I wait.

I take a peek out, the rain is but a light spray, the branches barely bending. It's close to sunset. This will be the time is there is a time today.

Still I hesitate, waiting for some sign, waiting for a sound from the woods, like music moving, the sound of deer creeping past my camp, the cry of a jay startled by their presence, the sound a cloistered bell in the woods. The others had already gone home as I waited, pacing their fleeing shadows, waited because to not wait was to admit that I had made the wrong choice in being here in the first place.

Just a few more minutes, as the sky clears. I will wait, but not too long, knowing that to wait is often to lose. Time and tide wait for no man, or woman, and sometimes as you sit in quiet comfort of what you think is yours to keep, it slips away from you. One moment you're just sitting, listening to the voice of the woods, the Cicada sound of the earth spinning in space, thinking that although you have no wish to change things, all is right in the world. But someone else is watching you, contemplating that moment when you must act or remain forever silent, and you don't. You don't even notice they're gone, only the fading smell of sweet musk in the air writhing like cold smoke in their wake.

In that hesitation of inattention, you're left with nothing but the breathing of darkness and the cold that surrounds it. Nothing behind or ahead of you but the heavy heartbeat of silence you never conceived of there in the systole of a summer night. A moment in which as, the song by Hinder says, you "shoulda woulda coulda" but it's too late to act.

As a raindrop drips from a tree branch, I touch my tongue to my lips, tasting sweet salt. I've waited long enough and I gather my things, creeping from my sheltered spot, firearm in hand, out into the drawn green shades of approaching sunset. The air has gone cold, wind stroking with a touch that's neither caress or dismissal. Under my gear, a murmur of silk, breath a panting whisper. If I stay here I'll have nothing but cold and empty hands.

On the mantle back at home are framed photos. In my mind's eye,  I see the photo of my Mom, so many years gone, and one of a black lab I will forever miss. I  think back to all the things I was warned about. Don't swim for an hour after you eat. Don't stay in the water during a thunderstorm. Be wary of the river that looks so cool and inviting for that is the one in which you will drown. Once you give your heart, you never truly get it back.

Thunder rumbles as I stay silent, still hearing her voice in my head, and responding in kind. "I'll be careful Mom, I promise".   Drops fall from the sky, salty, dense, leaving wet trails down my cheeks. The water rushes down,  then dwindles, affirmation, promise, the healing power of cleansing rain, that soothes even as it leaves us.

I stand slowly, walking out gingerly, looking and stopping. Which way is the wind coming from, which way would they have gone? I move steadily out into the shadows; a slow release of silence like protracted desire. Look. Stop. Take a deep breath. Decide. There's a whole forest in front of me, and no one holding me back. The whitetail are out there, and soon in those woods, the sound of our need will move toward a blackpowder crescendo, or the soft subtle sound of mercy, released like held breath.

I see a fresh scrape. I light a match and blow it out to test the wind. It blazes like a dying star, drowning in the shadow of my passing as I disappear into the trees.
  - Brigid