Kevin Tate | November 1, 2012
We picked our way down a treeline that borders some cropland one of my Old Men once farmed, my little boy and I in our shambling gait, listening to the woods and the wind and each other. It was a good afternoon for a walk, and I hadn’t been this way in years.
My little boy crunched along the bare dirt rows, now harvested and tilled and laid fallow for winter. A few volunteer soybeans sprouted here and there, but mostly the land stood wide open. It was good for running across or walking down.
From one dirt clod he collected the unmistakable purple hull of a 16 gauge shotgun shell, one that evaded a post-dove shoot cleanup many seasons ago. The brass had long since corroded away, but the hull reminded me of the shooter who’d fired it and made me smile.
“Put this in your pocket so I can keep it,” he said, and I did.
A little farther along we saw deer tracks, a common sight everywhere now but not so when I was a boy. I kept watch on the treeline and the thickets beyond, good bedding area, thinking we might jump a deer somewhere along the way. He saw me looking and started watching too.
When I was his age my family cut a few of these trees each fall for firewood. During one hot afternoon’s work, a quarter mile or more from his house, the Old Man whose land this was perked up his ears and got a far-away look.
The family chainsaw, a model that, once cranked, run, then shut off, would vapor lock like it invented the term, had just at that moment been cajoled into starting again when the Old Man waved its operator into shutting it down.
“What is it?” my uncle asked, assuming it must be something very serious.
“Listen!” the Old Man said.
“What is it?”
“Can’t you hear that?”
“It’s the couch,” the Old Man said, only then cracking a smile. “The couch is calling me.”
In the wind the other afternoon, I could still hear the Old Man laughing.
The boy and I walked beneath a tall swamp chestnut oak, where hundreds of acorn caps and a few acorns lay amid a convention of deer tracks.
“We need a call,” the boy said. “How do you call deer?”
I gave him my best imitation of a doe bleat, and he followed it with a few dozen of his own as we walked along. He’d call, then pause and listen in case anything answered or came running.
“I heard one, I think,” he said, after a pause. “I always hear one in my mind.”
Walking this way again after so long, I was glad I could still hear them in my mind, too.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.