Yesterday I accompanied my son on the first day of youth duck hunting, a weekend reserved for hunters under 16, so long as they’re accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. He wakes me at 2:30, and it’s just the two of us in the house, so we turn on all the lights and heedlessly bang about as we gather ourselves. The cats prowl the room, sleepy eyed and confused, though possibly no more so than usual. The boy insists on the early start to secure our spot, and also to allow plentiful time for arranging his decoys and erecting a blind. I’ve deemed the rude awakening unnecessary, but I’ve also decided not to argue, to instead try to appreciate his excitement. I’ve also decided to take a nap later in the day.

It’s a few minutes past 4:00 when we slide the canoe into the water. It’s loaded to the gunwales and rides low. We paddle by headlamp. It’s cool but not cold. In the beams of our headlamps, we see a fish under the water, silvery and quick. We arrive at the appointed spot, a small island of reeds at the far end of the shallow pond. I watch my son set his decoys. He knows just how he wants them.

Six hours later, we paddle back to the truck, three lifeless wood ducks gathered in the bottom of the boat. Their features are almost indescribably delicate, and when I turn them over in my hands, their capacity for flight seems almost logical. Of course something this small, this intricate, this precise, can fly. Of course.

This morning, the house empty (the same son off hunting again, this time accompanied by his mother), I drink the last of the coffee, and, wanting another cup, make the short drive to procure more. On the way home, coming up the mountain road, lost in thought, like a thousand times before, I round a corner to find a heron standing in the middle of the road. It’s an improbable sight: A heron? On the mountain road? Really?

I hit the brakes, and the heron too must be distracted, because seconds tick by before he (she?) alerts to my presence. The sky has been low and thick all morning, but is just now breaking into pieces to let the sun shine through in wide swaths. It comes through the windshield, warm on my face. I watch the bird until he sees me, and then, in seconds, he is gone.


Cutting Wood

The trees are turning in earnest, and the shoulders of the gravel roads I frequent are thick with fallen leaves. In my spare hours, I cut firewood, amassing a pile for the winter that lies on the other side of the one that’s soon to come. I’ve always wanted to be a year ahead. This might be the year I actually make it.

A week or so ago, I took my younger son with me into the woods, and we found the perfect tree, a gently leaning ash, nice size and not in good health, practically begging to be cut. I showed him how take measure of the situation, to identify his path of escape, to make his notch, where to place the back cut. Then I stepped away and watched as he took the big tree down, his first felling job. It landed precisely where it needed to land, with an enormous whump I could feel through the soles of my boots. The boy looked pleased, and was right to be. I remembered cutting wood with my father, or rather him cutting wood, and me loading the rounds into the open hatch of the little Honda Civic he drove at the time. I was young, then, younger than my boy is now, too young to run a saw, I suspect, though I think my father wouldn’t have wanted to teach me, anyhow: I’m pretty sure he ran his on a wing and a prayer. It was a red Jonsereds, back before they took the “s” off the name, when they were made in Sweden. My dad still has that saw, though it hasn’t been started in probably two decades or more.

My son bucked the ash, while I pretended not to watch too closely. He did fine. We loaded the rounds into the bucket of the tractor, the air suffused with the smell of fresh cut wood and chainsaw exhaust. Once the bucket was full, we rode slowly down the hill, back toward home, the late afternoon sun slanting through the trees to land in bright patches on the forest floor.