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.

out in the moonlight with nasturtiums on his breath

When Angie was visiting in mid-July, she was awakened by the sound of something outside her bedroom window. Looking out, she saw a young buck nibbling on the figs and grape-vines that grow on the side of the house. (I thought we’d had more figs ripening and wondered if the birds had found them… Somehow the notion of that buck eating them is more, well, palatable but that’s fancy on my part, isn’t it?) He’s been in the orchard, close enough that we were able to see his antlers with their soft covering of velvet. He’s a Columbian black-tail and I think he’s about 2.  (His antlers had a couple of tines.)

Coming home from a concert on Friday night (it was the weekend of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival), we saw him standing by the garden. The headlights of the car startled him and he stood for a moment before disappearing into the darkness. He’s very beautiful.

On Saturday night I was returning home from the wonderful “Intimate Connections”, a concert exploring the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and their friend Johannes Brahms, the highway bright with moonlight, when I saw the buck by the side of the road, browsing on fireweed (I think). I stopped and rolled down the window. He gazed mildly in my direction and didn’t budge as I asked him to leave our garden alone.

The next morning I noticed that all the nasturtiums in the pots on the patio had been eaten back to the quick. And he’d feasted on some perennial geraniums growing in a barrel around the roots of a “Maiden’s Blush” rose. The buck is obviously fortifying himself for the rutting season ahead and I love the thought of him roaming in moonlight with those velvety antlers, nasturiums on his breath.


An update: His competition (a year younger?) just wandered by my study window.