On the morning of my 51st birthday, I emerge from the woods on my skis at the top of the mountain road just as a man in a black Subaru glides over the crest and slows to a stop. His window descends. “See any tracks up there,” he asks, and I know he means deer because he’s dressed all in orange and it’s the height of rifle season, and when I say “no” (because it’s true, I didn’t see any, or at least not any to speak of), he smiles and says “I got one this morning,” and that’s how I end up shoulder to shoulder with a stranger in the middle of the road on the morning of my 51st birthday, me in my ski boots, he in his Lacrosses, peering into the hatchback of his Forester at a pretty little four-pointer with just that one spot of blood where the bullet entered. You’d think there’d be more to it, but no. Just that one spot. Just that small bloom of red.

A week later, and the snow is all but gone. A storm is approaching, the thermometer rising into the 40s. Before the rain, I walk a portion of the same route I’d skied the week before. Rifle season is over and muzzleloader season has yet to begin; there are no other cars at the trailhead. I have the woods to myself. The trail is a mix of hard-packed snow and open water; the sky a monochromatic grey, so dim and unchanging that my sense of time feels off. Have I been walking for 10 minutes, or 30? I know that it’s morning, but it somehow feels as if it could be nearing nightfall, as if I’ve been awake for 10 hours, rather than two, and the wind blows in sporadic gusts that sway the treetops but on the ground can barely be felt at all.

12 thoughts on “Barely”

  1. Muzzle loader? Now that’s a throw back and cool that Vermont supports this. I had the same weird timelessness growing up in Iowa in winter with the interminable gray skies and dusky light all day.

  2. Yes, Happy Birthday! And thank you for another post that puts me in the ‘northeast kingdom state of mind.” It’s a beautiful state of being.

  3. Hi Ben….I’ve often marveled at how in some strong winds the treetops move on some trees but hardly at all on adjacent trees. The proximity is close but what’s up with wind currents when it blows 30 plus? Like it is at this very moment. I’d look but it’s 5:43 and it’s been dark for an hour. Expecting gale force gusts on Cape Cod tonight.

    Happy Belated birthday! I’m ahead of you by 21 years. I’m a bit jealous. What I wouldn’t do to have over two decades back. Knowing what I know now, of course!

    First day of winter is three weeks away. Like, who needs this reminder?

  4. Happy Belated Ben! Your writing is so well crafted, I wish you would put out another book. Maybe you are in process? If so, keep me posted so I can add to the collection. Hope the holidays were and will be good to you and the fam. Enjoy this side of the hill now that you passed the mid-point – it’s so much less crazy than the climb up! 😉😂

      1. Well bummer. Just know when you do, I will be getting one! Giving one of the boys your latest one (The Young Adventurer’s Guide) as an ongoing reference book, along with a Life Skills book for the other one. The boys are a bit old (15 and 18) for some of the info now, but there are still things they can learn from them. Farm kids are pretty well rounded, but some of the bushcraft stuff they never got to do. Excellent reading for any kid!

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