A far distance from the predictability of home
By Mitch Mode.
It had been a good morning. The October weather felt like mid September. We hunted for two hours, Riika and Thor and I. At the end, two birds in hand. And now home. A good morning.
Home, as they say, where the heart is. At home Fenway would run out, two years old plus of Boston Terrier, and he’d sniff the game bag and look with fascination at the birds I’d lay out on the patio brick. The cat, Lady, would slide out the back door, see the birds and crouch, smell of them; interested. Sally would come out, ask how we’d done.
The day would unfold with a certain predictability, a familiarity common and comforting. People would ask of the day, “What’s new” and we’d say not much and in that there would be a measure of comfort. We don’t need change to find contentment no matter what all the advertisements seem to suggest.
I pulled in the drive; parked. Both dogs got out, Riika achy and limping a bit; Thor slow but steady. We walked to the back of the house; fumbled at the latch on the gate. Sally and a friend were standing there in the sunshine of late October. That was not normal. I stopped, looked at her.
Sally turned to me and there was a sadness to her eyes; said, “Mom died.”
I stood in the coolness, stock still, and had a fleeting thought at how fast things can change.
So it was that I stood on a Saturday morning in a city named Surprise in the state of Arizona on the morning of the funeral for Sally’s mother. I was wondering why a city would be named Surprise. I’d flown in the day prior, driven through miles of city that all looked the same and merged as one; no difference, nothing distinct; all the same.
I did not know what to make of the name: Surprise. Surprised that a city could take root in the desert? Surprise as in a surprise party? In which case should there be an exclamation point after? Surprise! Or…or what? I found it somewhat a puzzle, the naming of Surprise.
On one side of the road in front of me was the motel we were staying at; on the other the scrub and dust of desert; in the distance, at horizon line, low mountains. On one side of that road concrete and buildings and business; across, the unbroken desert that is what this land was really about.
It was all very different to me and I told Sally I felt as if we were in a different country and should have a passport to travel here, so alien is it to what we take for home.
Down the street from where we stayed was a baseball stadium where big league clubs, the Royals and the Texans, trained come spring. There was a familiarity in the emerald green grass of the baseball diamond. But other than that Surprise was a foreign land.
I stood on the sidewalk in the early morning sun with a cup of coffee in hand and I looked out across the desert toward the distant ridges. I thought to myself, in two weeks from this very moment in time I’ll be in a tree stand with my back against an old white pine tree. There will be the smell of pine and fern in the air and if I’m lucky there will be snow on the ground. I will sit there from predawn darkness and I will breathe deep the air and I will settle in and I will be relaxed yet at the same time alert. I will see crows and perhaps grouse; I will see chickadees and I will see deer. I may see buck or I may not and if I see one I may shoot it. Or I may not.
I come back to the realty of Surprise, Arizona and the desert on the one side of the road and, perhaps now that I think of it, a different desert on the other side. A city in a desert that might as well be in a different country altogether.
I finish my coffee and turn back to the motel and begin the business of the day.
Midweek and we are back home and home, as they say, is where the heart is. I have a day off and in the low light after dawning on a cloudy day I walk to my deer stand.
I climb the familiar tree; screw-in steps and sturdy branches of the pine. I pull out a foam seat cushion and set it on the bench and lower myself and settle in. I have a camera with me and I make it ready. Then I sit, just sit and take it in.
I think to myself of the goodness of being at home and in the company of friends. I think of how slow things can move and yet how fast things can change. I think of Surprise and the life that one must lead there and how the desert bumps tight against the concrete and how I like the desert for simply being there in silent counter to the other world. The Arizona desert and the Wisconsin woods are at opposite ends of the compass but find common ground in standing proud against the tide of development.
I see deer move; a small buck and then a larger one, antlers hard and tall and the color of ivory. The deer are brown and the woods are brown and I think that if we do not have snow on the ground how difficult it will be to see the deer when the season opens.
And I think that when I get back home the dogs will be there and Sally will be there and I’ll ask, “Anything new?” and she’ll tell me no, nothing new and that that will be very good news.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit starjournalnow.com.