With the end of fall near, it’s time to embrace the shift
By Mitch mode
Sunday; noon: Everything held in perfect balance. Chill at daybreak, warm at noon. And noon on this day near halfway between sunrise, sunset; balanced.
In Green Bay, football on tee; all quiet, all still. Then Crosby moved forward, kicked off—high kick, ball arching across the fall sky as if weightless, then falling to turf. Game on.
At home; sun high, leaf color bright. I wheeled the bicycle out, stood, took a deep breath; swung leg over to pedal, lifted to saddle; balanced. Ride on.
I rode that day not because I wanted to ride but because I needed to ride. Needed to ride one more time under a hot sun. Needed to ride in a land of blaze color; autumn brilliance of yellow, orange and red. Needed to feel the fresh, warm air, needed to see the blur of color; needed to do this as I need to drink, and eat, and breathe.
I needed it all because it could not last. Could not last any more than any thing or any time can last. Needed to ride that day because there would be no chance to ride again this year on a day of heat and color and breathlessness. I knew that it might be the most perfect day of the year.
And I knew on that day that the balance would shift. I knew on that day that the world was as Lady Justice, balance scale in hand. Not, in this, the scale of blind justice, but more the scale of time and season change. On this day the scale was level. On the next, cold air would come down and the scale would shift ever so slightly to cold, gray days. On Sunday noon the scale was alive with color; on the next, slightly less.
In the North Country, the woods and the hills were alight and alive as they would not be again this year. And so I rode.
I rode with the certainty that the balance was shifting, that the color was at its absolute peak, that the heat of the day was to pass. All things pass and on that day I felt it as much as I knew it, and feeling it has more power sometimes than simply knowing.
Three days later, Wednesday, I took the dogs out on a day of frost and chill. Leaves fell, angling to ground like falling stars. It was 45 degrees colder than on Sunday when I rode. The balance again; the shift.
We hunted thick stuff along river bottoms. The dogs rushed to thickets, air clouded with their breath, eyes as bright as leaf lighted by sunrise. We hunted, and I thought of change and of balance shifting and of all things in their season. Thought how this season had changed irrevocably from that perfect Sunday noon when all was in balance. Thought how that change would change us, the dogs and me, as we hunted.
Frost had come overnight; leaf and fern and grass bore white crystal now, the achingly beautiful and fragile edging of frost.
We flushed grouse in the thick of it all, six or eight; I’m not a numbers guy, I can’t say for sure how many. It lacks importance. We pushed up enough of them to keep it interesting. I never raised the shotgun; never got a look at a single bird.
I killed the first woodcock we saw; later another. I got to the birds before the dogs did, picked them up and held them in my palm. They were very light in hand; soft and warm. I felt the flicker of a heartbeat, then none. The heart stilled forever.
There are TV shows that I rarely watch, in which the death of bird or stag is celebrated in whooping and hollering and much carrying on. I have no use for that. When one kills game it should be a private matter, and if one does not feel a measure of remorse in that killing then I have no use for them. I pocketed the birds; moved on.
The dogs worked along mash grass that borders a small creek. Riika came to me. I stood, waited for Thor. Thor did not come.
I blew the whistle, lowered it, strained to hear his bell; blew again. Nothing. There was only the sky and the sun and the leaf and the day, the day on the downside of the balance scale, on the side of change.
I pushed along the edges of the brush; he’d been gone too long now even though it was only minutes. It is not like him. Five minutes; ten. Then I saw him in the leaf and the branch and I saw him stop, head up, looking for something. Looking for me. And I blew the whistle.
He did not turn to me. He held a moment. Then he moved away.
Riika went deaf a year ago and I’d wondered about Thor. At times he’d not come to the whistle. I’d wondered if he was losing hearing. Now I stood with a hole my gut and watched the woods close behind him.
He found me a minute later. Looked at me with his big, warm eyes. I told him he was a good boy. Then I led him and Riika back to the truck.
And I thought, as I sat there, how the balance of things can change. How the season can shift in a day. Thought of how the bike season can flee on the warmth of an October afternoon. Thought of how the change can come unexpected and unwelcome. Thought of how hot days go to frost; leaf bright and high goes to duff and mold. Thought of how things that seem as if they’d never change, one day do.
I wondered of balance and of shift, of scales rising and falling, of change. The two dogs looked at me, gray at their muzzles but bright-eyed, looked at me unburdened by questions, alive only for the next hunt, the next bird, the next time in the field.
An assortment of outdoor roducts is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit starjournalnow.com.