Quiet Time

late season hunt, Bozeman

Quiet Time

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Mike England

Ski-hunting the winter woods.

Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hoarfrost crackles underfoot as one ski, then another, slides across the surface. The thick slab of ice cantilevers out from shoreline, suspended above the stream like a low-hanging cloud. With a steep bank on one side and the rushing current on the other, you glide free and easy, the only sound a pulsing crunch, sharp then fading as one glide gives way to the next.

The rhythm settles your mind; your gaze is alert but absent, a long and vacant stare: what the Japanese call boketto. The two-mile approach passes quickly; you coast to a stop and crouch behind a fallen cottonwood. You feel yourself shrinking, collapsing, melting into the gnarled trunk before you.

First comes stillness: your body goes inert and your mind re-engages. Then, clarity: the thin, crisp air sharpens and defines. Finally, silence: your lungs relax, your lips part, your breath dissolves. You are inaudible, inodorous, imperceptible. Close the eyes and existence itself becomes uncertain.

Time passes. How much, you do not know. And then: motion. A twitch through the trees. A weasel appears, long and sleek and white as snow. He darts across a log and goes still. A minute, maybe two, and he does it again. When he is still he is invisible and like everything in this cold, quiet world, this stillness is his strength. While motionless he looks for motion: the cottontail that does its own dichotomous dance, still as stone between short, sporadic hops through the forest.

And so it goes, with the weasels and the rabbits, the ducks and the geese, the porcupines in the trees and the muskrats drifting in the current. The cold both calms and enlivens; their energy is enhanced but disciplined, controlled, deliberate. You mimic their movements, sliding into the woods, passing over and through the deep snow with the same ease and fluidity. With your enhanced appendages, you have become a forest creature and like your wild brethren, the tension of the cold animates both body and mind. The senses heighten and broaden; a vast gossamer veil is lifted; once-overlooked minutia appear bright and bold in every direction.

The sun crawls up the sky. Behind a clump of willows, you wait. And finally, it happens: a muffled thump in a nearby thicket. Your neck rotates and the gun moves to your shoulder. A head appears at the edge of the thicket, then a neck and shoulder. It stops. Stares. Minutes pass. A flick of the tail and it moves again, bringing the full body into view. Your thumb flicks off the safety and your finger moves to the trigger.

Another minute passes. The gun lowers. The doe moves on, timid fawn in tow. A whisper of wind brings to your nose their thick, earthy scent. And the silence remains.

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