We drove north out of Madison on a day of November gloom, skies heavy under the weight of fog and low cloud, snowflakes falling like ash, then pelting rain, then wind, then more snow. It was a day of confusion; one could not predict where it would go, what path the day would take. Rain? Snow? Wind? Calm? A mix?
It was Tuesday, Election Day. We drove past a polling location, saw cars pulling into the parking lot, headlights on; people with collars turned up against the weather walking to the door where the light glowed welcoming in the gloom of the gray morning.
The night before we’d seen Bob Dylan in concert and now we were making the drive home, our destination the only thing clear on this murky day. Hearing Dylan sing in concert reminds me at times of listening to someone speak in a foreign language: You can make out a few words but lose the rest and can only assume at their meaning. One wishes for an interpreter to aid in true understanding. Dylan sang old songs of times changing and things blowing in the wind and he was confusing and exhilarating both, if only because he is who he is and what he is, and I wondered on this morning if in so doing, he set an appropriate stage for both election and weather.
We left the city behind us and drove on wet roadways as snow turned to rain then back to snow. Early snow, it would never last but it was snow nonetheless and on such a day in November you know there is no turning back the clock. You will go forward into the next season, like it or not. That was what we had that morning.
If you are of a certain mind, you will find imperfection and dismay on such a day. You will be swept up in the net of gloom and despair and see only the grayness and in that find no refuge. On a day when there is no light of sun to pierce the clouds and no inkling of heat to bring warmth, it is easy to lose hope; optimism fades to the corrosion of such thoughts. You wish for a warm wood fire to ease the chill.
But you can find beauty on all days and the landscape of brown grass and russet oak leaf all muted in the haze held wonder on this day. The land in November is unadorned and simple, and in that simplicity comes elegance. The land rises in gentle sweep of hill, rolls down steep banks to pewter rivers; fields lie restful and trees curtain the edges. It is a land at rest. You can see it all more clearly in the bare days of November.
Wind-driven snow stuck to trees and gave them shape, ghost-like trunk and branch, white against gray like a black-and-white photo negative of bygone days.
If the land was at rest, the weather was not. At times, the snow blew near horizontal; at other times, the rain sheeted down in chill showers on a monochrome landscape. It was unsettled; it was uncertain. Always the sky was gray as the color of lead. Once we saw sandhill cranes; once turkeys, a dozen birds, black against a field of late, and unexpected, green. We saw a doe stand alert in a field of cut corn; at the edge, partly hidden in shadow and rain, a buck stood, antlers burnished, waiting. The birds, the deer, all gave the heat of life to the day of rain and snow and gloom.
Skim ice lay in the quiet bays of larger lakes; reached far out in small potholes; held a skiff of snow over water dark and ominous. The open water was the color of the sky; dark and gray and flat.
There was snow on the ground by the time we got home, sheet-white, thin, but with meaning that was greater than its depth. Snow of any amount signals change when it comes in early November. We drove to the polling place, voted and then settled in, TV on, results trickling in as the dreary weather sorted itself out.
The next morning, the stormy weather had passed. It was dead calm; trees stood still as statues. I drove from town to see what the season of change had delivered up to me. I walked over hill and ridge to the place that I hunt deer and climbed to the tree stand. I settled in, camera at the ready. It was a different world than only a few days earlier. There was an order to it now. A light dust of snow covered the confused clutter of downed leaf; trees stood in stark contrast to the snow; there was clarity and I could see farther into the woods than before. Oak and pine and popple stood fixed in place; sumac berry and leaf of blackberry cane gave splashes of color. It was all very calm and settled.
I hoped for deer to move, to bring life to the still land. I leaned back against the white pine that holds my platform stand and I waited to see what the new day would deliver. It was all very quiet. The turmoil of yesterday’s weather was no more; the morning was still as a painting. The landscape was familiar as it had been a week earlier, familiar, yes, but changed still. For now in the snow-covered ridge and woods, details showed clear against the snow and I knew it had changed overnight with the new snow and the new season at hand. You know that the snow will come, but even when it does, it surprises. Things are the same yet different.
The deer that came out was small and tentative as if walking on unsteady ground. It walked into the open, in tall grass that was laced with snow, the color of deer against the snow. The deer paused, looked over the field, considered things, then moved forward again.
I watched the deer walk steadily away from me on the November morning, up the hillside, through a patch of blackberry bramble, into thin, reedy trees and then disappear into the shadow of spruce. Then it was gone from my sight.
I sat there for another hour, on a hard bench under the spreading pine, on the morning after the weather had blown itself out. I never saw another deer move but I was fine with that. For now, I was content to sit on a November morning and breathe deep the air and think on a season changed.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNOW.com.