It’s August and I’m again feeling the pull.
Invisible gossamer strings of mist and light lift my gaze toward the mist-veiled morning hills and I know my feet will soon feel old paths among their green shadows. The draw is still there but not as strong as it once was in my lengthening backward flow of memory. Time and the offense of change it imposes have cast a pall upon so many once beloved recollections that is has become uncomfortable to reflect on those better times.
As I walked down the Garden Drive this morning a gray squirrel barked from beyond the barn in the Walnut Grove and later in the day the usual bushytail visitor chattered from the thicket in the holler adjacent to our yard. I felt the pull strengthen.
I face another season in a world gone strange and of diminished opportunity. So many places are gone or lost to me only in memory. I will be a relict soul wandering in remnant woods in search of a semblance of what I once had.
Perhaps that is just as well. I am 71 now and nearing the time to quit rough solitary places, but I must cling to smatterings of the old life until I no longer can. So I will go seeking the sound of sudden dew-squalls when a leaping squirrel crashes into a dripping bough. I will ask muffled ears to detect the sound of cutting and dimmed eyes to probe the dark of leaf shadows for shape or motion of the quarry. Without the technology of optical sights I would be either out of the game or blasting squirrels with a scattergun!
August 18 will be the start of another squirrel season — opening event of the fall hunt for a few old traditionalists — and it is a call to reunion and as long as I remain a viable part of the world I must answer the call and report “Present” on foggy dawns when the green hickory-nuts draw the squirrels to cut. It is a three-party reunion of ancient great hickories, squirrels and hunters, a generational ritual that for us will, for Springdale hunters, end with me. These reunion events occur in such places as Shanty Holler, the Big Woods and the River Ridge — far fewer than in better days — and I have adjusted my habits to conform.
I make the most of my remaining opportunity during the waning days of August until the next important event on the fall hunter’s calendar. This is not the opening of archery deer season for my friends and me. It is the early chopped silage corn or sunflower plantings that lure us to darting gray birds that test the eye and pointing instincts. I will set aside my rifle for a time and take up the shotgun, and this year is special because I have a new gun that needs much more than a few ducks and geese last winter to blood it in! We will shoot every afternoon on which we have a place with birds and schedules that allow it.
Around mid-October when the woods begin to color and the air has a mellow bite, I will again take small early morning ventures to the squirrel woods. When the dove season closes I will go to the woods more often, and there will be a week of fall shotgun hunting for either sex wild turkey — another interlude for the new shotgun. When November brings down enough of the foliage to allow spotting treed squirrels, it will be time to hunt with the dogs again until the onset of the interruption of modern gun deer season forces a hiatus.
Rather than spending too many days at deer hunting — something for which I care little — I have been continuing to still-hunt squirrels over the last two seasons, but this year I intend to expand my fishing time. The state will stock trout in November at the Washington Park and Flemingsburg’s Old Reservoir, and I plan to explore new built waters for my favorite bass. I have made new friends and associates with whom I anticipate hunts for rabbits and quail as well as adventures to new waters.
This is a time now during which we all plan with the hope that fate does not laugh at our grand schemes. Nature is marvelous and beautiful of face, but is always impersonal and often cruel. We gaze out over landscapes that draw us to them on those mystic strings while often repressing the fact that they are desperate and dangerous worlds for creatures that live in them and we assume the same status as wild things when we encroach therein.