Seasonal cycle complete, autumn reigns supreme
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
We cooked venison steaks over hardwood charcoal then shucked the last of summer corn, boiled the cobs to near-doneness and then finished them over the coals. In this simple task a a connection: November venison and end-of-summer corn, a seasonal cycle in a meal.
Butter melted on the hot cobs; steaks rested.
“Would you like some wine?” Glasses raised; a toast to the season.
White-throated sparrows flitted in the lilacs, came to the feeders, feathered shoulders hunched against the evening chill. In springtime they sing their sweet song, a lilting call of rebirth. Now they perched in the shadows, subdued, as if tired and needing rest.
The sky was clear and the air pure and chilled. There was a feel to the evening air, a purity that is not there in summer, a clarity but also an edge to it like a finely stropped blade. September air is different from August air and on this evening we felt it. The air was as if crystal, clear and dry and charged with energy. This was autumn air and this will be winter air; breathe in the clear air of September and it is a gateway to the cold air of December. The feeling is the same.
A friend stopped, said, “Feels like frost by morning.” We stood in the driveway and looked up at the pale evening sky as if in so doing we could divine a meaning to it. There is no meaning other than this: This will be the first night of true autumn.
I spent the day on fall projects, doing simple work at my hunt shack; a duck blind to build, dirt to move, penciling in a To Do List of projects that now seem to be weighted with an urgency that was missing during summer. September time moves in a quickening as if a stream over shallows that runs faster in a blur of motion. In the summer heat of July and August time drags. Time in summer slows like a river over deep pools; daylight is longer, the heat and humidity make labor more of a burden. In summer it is easy to put off the small tasks and simple projects. September changes all that.
Now, September, there is haste to what we do. Now, September, we realize time will not linger, will not wait for us. Now, September, we move with edginess, an urgency that we do not feel in summer. In that we mimic the birds on the wire that gather for flight, the geese in the fields bulking up for migration, the big cranes that tilt their heads back and call their wild cries.
I built the duck blind, moved by the feeling of September, moved to address the tasks I’ve left undone though in this case the task, the duck blind, has been on a To Do List for decades. For those decades I sat in the marsh on old buckets, knelt on aching knees in the frozen grasses, leaned back against the trunk of a tamarack tree. I sat in water, sunk in deep fetid swamp muck over the tops of my knee-high boots, did everything except build a proper duck blind.
This year I resolved to correct this wrong. We have the new puppy, Bella, and if she is to hunt as a puppy I needed a better layout for her. She is young and has a fragility about her as all young dogs do. I could crouch in the mud and the swamp water as I’ve done for years; I would not ask my puppy to do the same. That may be an odd rationale for building a duck blind but one must act in the best interests of one’s dogs even if we do not give ourselves the same consideration. We need make a choice; the dogs rely on us and in that trust must come a consideration for their well being.
So I built the blind, freighting the lumber in my duck skiff, trying to level the base in 8 inches of swamp water, using concrete rubble to give support to the foundation. Building a duck blind draws on the lifetime of your experiences in blinds. At a point one builds a first blind and from that early time every other duck blind is an extension of that early effort. One sits in a blind, makes mental notes on how to make it better, uses that in the next one built and on one after that, the long string of experiences that never ends as long as we spend time in the field.
In the end the blind stood more level than not, a garish monstrosity in the somber marsh. I stand back, thought to myself, “I need a lot of brush to cover this”, and then put that task off for another day.
Later I take Bella to the woods, the two of us, and I unclip her leash and let her run. In that comes an anxiety and a gut-tightening. A young dog running free into the wild world of forest and field, a puppy that regards commands as mere suggestions, that does not know the risks or the cautions of the world. She runs; I watch her. Then I call for her to come and give three blasts of the whistle. She stops, hesitates, then comes back.
We repeat that in the woods and along the lake. She runs out, twenty yards, thirty, forty and then I call and whistle and she returns. I relax and breathe the cool September air with Bella and her bright eyes next to me.
We drive home where the venison steaks wait for the heat of the grill and where the evening has a chill that was not there a week ago. There will be a light frost overnight and there can be no denying now that summer has gone to ashes and dust and autumn now reigns supreme.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.