on days like today

this morning.jpg

On days like today, I think of my dad getting ready to go hunting. Every fall he readied his rifles — and I wish I knew what they were. There were names I heard. Winchester. Remington. His rifles and shotguns were kept in a special rack above his workbench and then later, in a locked cupboard under the stairs. He hated the idea of a gun registry so I don’t know if all of them were registered. When I cleared out his papers, I found one card, for one gun. And I also found cards for his father’s gun. As a former citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, my grandfather had to have special permission to own a gun and I believe it was to be used only for subsistence hunting. My father was an amateur gunsmith and frequently rebuilt parts for friends. He had all sorts of little instruments and bigger ones, too, for loading shells and refitting barrels. (These are terms I remember but I don’t really know what they mean.) I remember sitting on the basement stairs and smelling the wood oil he used to polish the stocks. He sanded and shaped and polished and made pieces that were in demand by several outfitter stores. Would the stocks have been walnut? I remember a dark wood with reddish grain. So much I don’t know. So much I never paid attention to. I didn’t really like that he hunted but we didn’t have a lot of money and when he was lucky and brought home a deer, I did like the venison roasts my mother prepared for our Sunday dinners. When he prepared for hunting, he made stews of barley and lots of onions to put in the fridge in his camper. He aired his down sleeping bag. He did his own sewing repairs, long stitches in his camp chair, the cuffs of his old jeans.

I thought of him this morning when the young doe ambled by my study window. She comes most days. Is it hunting season yet? I don’t even know. I do know that when we walk up the mountain in the fall, we sometimes hear gunshot farther up. There are herds of Roosevelt elk in our area and in the past we’ve seen bow-hunters up the mountain, using a trail of beets and apples to try to lure animals out of the woods. My father hated any kind of cheating.

There’s a smell in the air — damp leaves and a thread of something like frost, though it’s warm in the sun. John’s splitting a pile of cedar — good for starting the fire on cold mornings — and I’ve been working on an essay about Mendel’s pruning tools. Another subtle art, like my father’s gunsmithing, I suspect. I love the turn of the seasons, the long scribble of geese in late September skies, and how an animal walking by a window can summon the forgotten years when I listened to my father working at his bench with the kind of care and attention I always wished he’d lavish on me.

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