DULUTH, Minn. -- Somewhere, a chickadee sits on the weathered frame of a deer stand. The stand is empty now. The chickadee cocks its head and pivots to keep the north wind from ruffling its feathers.
Nobody sits in the stand today. But in the darkness early Saturday , the hunter will come. He will pause below the stand, put his empty rifle on the haul cord and climb into the stand.
For three days, or four, maybe more, the hunter will sit, rifle ready, scanning the forest. He will be looking for a horizontal shape among all the verticals, or a glint of antler. He will listen for the telltale hoofsteps of a tentative doe or a heavy buck. Perhaps the deer will come by. Perhaps not. The hunter understands and accepts the odds.
BACK TO THE SHACK
Somewhere there's a shack, sitting at the end of a two-track lane, doing its best to blend in with the old spruces. It's empty now. The woodstove is cold. Late in the evening a mouse skitters along the wall, appreciating that he's dry but hoping to come upon a morsel of food.
Everything is in place at the shack, just as it was left. Dishes stacked in the cupboards. Playing cards left on the table. Bunks layered with the old blankets.
Any day now, the mouse will hear the churning of a pickup engine outside. The cabin door will open. A box of groceries will be set on the table. The old man will look around, take a deep breath of long-ago woodsmoke.
And he will know he's home.
Somewhere there's a 13-year-old girl all jittery inside. This is the year she will hunt deer. Dad will be beside her in the stand. She knows the stand well. She's been there with him the past few years, watching the deer come and go, watching her dad load and unload, learning to sit silently and move slowly.
But this year is different. She will carry her own gun now. She and dad have been to the gun range. They sighted in the rifle. It's loud. It kicks a bit. But it shoots straight. She knows that.
She has dreamed about the buck already. Most of the time, he hangs at the fringe of the little clearing, just out of sight. She never gets a shot at him. Not in the dream. She always awakens first, and lies in the dark wondering what it will be like when this is no longer a dream.
Somewhere there's a buck. Something has changed for him in these past few days. It is his time. He can feel it. His antlers are hard and gleaming now. He tosses them in the low-hanging balsam boughs, making sure his scent glands leave their molecules on the needles. That's his calling card. He's been there.
At intervals, he stops to paw the litter from the forest floor, clearing it down to the soil. He leaves his scent there, too. He's been there. He'll be back. That's what he's telling any buck or any doe that might happen by.
The buck is restless these days, but still cautious. He's in no hurry. He stops before he enters an opening. Looks. Lifts his nose to the breeze. Periscopes those big ears, listening.
Somewhere, a mother dusts the shelves in her grown son's old bedroom. He'll be back, you know. Back for deer season. His brother and sister, too, and their spouses. Home for deer season. She wants everything to be right.
She has laid in supplies. A roast. Plenty of potatoes. A big container of chili, made and frozen, waiting. Apple crisp, too. And a rhubarb pie. She clears the ironing board out of the extra bedroom. There. It looks like a bedroom again.
She is almost ready. She knows how it will be when they come. Chaos. Crazy. Loud. The house suddenly alive again, full of all those big bodies, all the banter and blaze orange, all the boots lined up in the back hall.
She has never hunted. She isn't crazy about venison. But she loves deer season.
Somewhere, there's a chickadee. Somewhere, there's a deer shack. Somewhere, there's an old man returning to camp. Somewhere, there's a young girl dreaming. Somewhere, there's a mother dusting.
Somewhere, there's a buck.