The Last Windrow: Column written 30 years ago rings even truer today
I've got deer season on my mind these days. The season has been a tradition in both my families over many years, but somehow that tradition seems to be slipping away in some ways.
So, I dug out a column I wrote in 1989 with that thought in mind. I feel closer to that column 30 years later. Here it is.
A very good day
Ben peered over the rims of his bifocals, through the steam rising from his morning coffee cup and out across the yard light-lit, snow-covered driveway. This cold weather caused a dull ache in his lower back and the warm coffee cup felt good on the joints in his 73-year-old fingers.
It was another deer hunting season and Ben silently counted the years that he had taken part in this annual ritual. His father had started taking Ben and his brothers deer hunting in 1930, and Ben had instructed his sons and daughter in the sport as soon as they could be held responsible for their actions.
There had been many good years, Ben told himself, with many a deer harvested.
This year was different. The kids had all dispersed and would not be able to hunt with Dad this year. Weddings, business engagements, school activities all took precedent, and Ben's older brothers were to an age when sitting in a cold deer stand didn't appeal to them any longer.
There was almost a decision made to skip this year, but Ben just couldn't let go of a tradition he loved.
He pulled on his blaze orange clothing and quietly stepped into the bedroom, leaned over and kissed his sleeping beauty.
"Good luck, Ben," she spoke sleepily. "Be careful and bring home the venison."
"I will," Ben whispered as he turned to leave.
"You sure you don't want me to go with you?" she called down the hall.
"No, I'll be OK," Ben replied.
Ben's deer stand was in the same place as always. Light snow was sifting down as he labored up the steps of the stand. A light northwest wind bit at him as he nestled himself into the stand's seat and made ready with his rifle.
An hour passed and the sun was just peeking over the trees to the east when he heard a loud crack of a tree branch in front of him somewhere down on the deer trail. He knew what that crack meant; a deer was coming toward him. He knew the wind was right and the deer would not sense his presence until it was within range.
The aged, white-snouted buck came into view without hesitation, never raising its head. Ben watched the deer's approach having put his rifle to his shoulder and taking deep breaths to steady his nerves. The large-racked buck came closer and soon was in range. The deer was now in the crosshairs of Ben's rifle. It would be a perfect shot.
Then for some unknown reason, Ben released the pressure on the trigger. He smiled as he watched the old buck pass by with its white rump disappearing into the thick brush to his left and through a curtain of white snowflakes.
Ben returned to his house earlier than usual that day and his wife met him at the kitchen door.
"Back already? See anything today, Ben?" she asked.
"Guess we'll have to wait for our venison this year," Ben replied. "The deer just didn't seem to be moving much today."
She poured him a steaming cup of coffee and he clutched the warm cup in the palms of his weathered hands as he looked out the window across the now snow-covered landscape.
"You look like you still had a good day, Ben," his wife spoke quietly, almost sympathetically.
"I did dear. A very good day. A very good day."
See you next time. Okay?