Three doe beds, melted down to bare earth, resided six paces distant. Late in the night, the trio took rest under a large red cedar tree, east of the ridge crest. From their vantage point the hillside dropped off to a steep slope that flattened out among the big oaks at the edge of the swamp. Snow covered the ground. A steady southeast wind dislodged white clumps from the oak limbs and cedar boughs. Christmas was but a few days away, in the Year of our Lord, 1795.
Two powder-keg-sized box elder trees shared a common root next to an older cedar tree, offering sufficient mass to block a humble woodsman’s deathly shape. The box elder lair overlooked the rolling hill that grew up from the swamp’s narrows, and at the same time, provided the same view the three whitetails shared.
Snow-covered sedge grass betrayed the approach of a doe and her summer fawn. The older deer followed the trail that passed next to an ice-split cedar tree. The younger lingered in the swamp. The chosen trail angled north. The matriarch paused, evaporating within the brownish-gray tangle of dead lower cedar branches and leafless autumn olive bushes. A half-dozen steps defined her location, only to be lost when she stopped again.
The skittish fawn walked from the swamp and disappeared in a like manner. A few hoof-falls here, then a few there told of their progress along the trail. The later whitetail kept looking back to the swamp crossing. Perhaps a fine buck trailed?
In due time, the white tip of a flicking tail was all that remained visible. The imagined stag never materialized. Sunlight crept down the trees on the ridge crest. When the warmth hung head-high over the doe beds, cold fingers pulled a brass lead-holder and a folded paper from the split pouch’s back side…
“…the ground is still white,” the lead scribbled on the page. “The crimson blanket’s outer layer is pulled up over my shoulders. The edge is up around my ears. The inner layer is wrapped about my bare thighs and wool leggins. The late-December air is cold. I am breathing down to avoid fogging my spectacles. Two does just passed. It is ‘snow writing time.’
“When I discovered three doe beds, I paused at the double box elder and cedar. An inkling suggested I sit a while, rather than still-hunt down to the narrows. That choice proved prudent, for not long after two does wandered the trail downwind of where I intended to sit. They passed without knowing death lurked so close, which would not have been the case had I continued on.
“I have killed two wild turkeys and a nice buck off this tree. It is the last morning of buck season. Chances are slim. The bucks only venture out after dark, and have been like that since late October. Frustrating, but now it is time to reflect on the fall and prepare for the Christmas celebration…”
The True Meaning of Christmas
The last few days of deer season are a time of reflection for me. The effects of the epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak in 2012 are still manifesting themselves—some in ways never imagined. The disease wiped out the older does, the mentors of the herd, and changed the behavioral patterns of the survivors. As a result, the bucks are nocturnal, hiding in the cattail swamps by day and coming out well after dark.
Taking a doe is still not a consideration, so Msko waagosh’s deer season ended without fresh venison. Journal entries in the waning days reflect a time of thanksgiving for blessings received and lessons learned. That said, the fall scribblings are filled with an abundance of 18th-century adventures and exploits just waiting to flow upon the printed page.
And there is always a touch of frustration for the living history projects and dreams that are still uncompleted or unfulfilled. The one that weighs the heaviest is failing to complete the wigwam before the heavy snowfall of late November. I wore out another pair of moccasins, too, but on the other hand I did so spending more hours in the field than past years.
For me, the reflections and introspections always end with an up swelling of hope for the weeks and months ahead. I suppose this is due to the muzzleloading deer season falling in Advent and the impending celebration of the birth of Christ. And on that morning, in the midst of what I call “snow writing time,” I laid the lead holder aside and reflected on the true story of Christmas…
“And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…” (New Testament, Luke 2: 8 – 11)
May the peace of the Christmas season be always with you, be safe and may God bless you.