Down in the valley I hear the end of day unfold from a distance.
The rooster is crowing. He needn’t, as he has crowed the sun up and now nearly down to the horizon, but then anyone who has ever owned or lived in proximity to one knows a rooster crowing at dawn is but warming up for a series of daylong self-congratulatory hoots and we aren’t even addressing clear nights with a full moon.
Rooster does as roosters do, but a more rhythmic sound is also echoing from the hills above me: the chunk-clunk of firewood hitting the bottom of a cart. That means my younger daughter is doing at least one of her chores.
Soon the percussion is joined by melody. I can’t make out words but it is her voice, pealing out in song. This does not mean she is happy doing the chore, but that she has learned to pass the time while doing the chore.
Three days now I have been up before first light to sit in the woods, not that you’d know it to check my freezer.
I have spent an hour watching a great gray owl with its head on a swivel scanning the swamp grass for rodents. I have watched a weasel flowing bright white over deadfalls and brown leaves. I have listened to crows rattle and caw.
I have not taken a deer.
The week leading up to deer season was windy; the past three days have been largely dead calm.
I am closing out this day in a stand of Norway pines. The ground is blanketed in rust-orange needles; they dampen and deepen the stillness. From 40 feet away I can hear a chickadee’s pencil point talon scratching the bark.
The sun is laying its last light on the land with a low-angle intensity. The shadows are long and growing longer, but the southwest facing tree trunks are white-bright, and common patches of brush are transformed into a gilded latticework. As with any star, the sun hits you with its most artistic licks just before the curtain drops.
It happens this patch of land is in the government’s Managed Forest Law program. Many of the trees around me are marked for harvest, the blaze orange spray paint the only unnatural element in sight.
I wonder what this woodlot will look like in a year. It occurs to me that already some logger somewhere has prepared the bid that will win the job, and I am looking at his family’s grocery money.
It also occurs to me that somewhere some pulpwood futures trader is living off these trees even as they stand awaiting the blade. It is possible the trader doesn’t know a raker from a cutter, but he will wind up with more grocery money than the logger.
I am off on this tangent when I noticed movement off to my left. A deer butt, disappearing. So it goes.
Yesterday I sat in a blind for five hours and when I opened the flap to go for lunch, a whitetail bolted snorting from just behind me. It popped over the ridge but then stopped just out of sight and blew at me derisively.
A day later it’s different deer, same result. Dusk has arrived, and I hike up the hill, eager to see the lit windows of my home, warm inside, with stacked firewood and song to keep it so.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.