“Cold” just wasn’t a strong enough word.
I had been in the stand since well before first light; first, stumbling through thick briers and underbrush before walking in circles looking for the blaze orange strip of plastic that led to my stand.
Ten degrees was the readout on the thermometer when Dad and I left camp, but another front was crawling through, dropping the temp toward zero along with a heavy, wet snow.
My stand was high in a dead oak tree, still strong, despite years of decay and rot. The wind rocked the stand a little, but that was not so bad. I couldn’t help, though, but wonder about the weight of the snow now piling up on my stand, the limb on which my stand sat, my gear, and on me.
By eight-fifteen, there was about two inches of snow on the limb where my rifle rested; the overcast skies above heavy with snow yet to fall. The ends of my soda can were bulging with the expanding pressure of frozen Diet Coke trapped inside. I had tried to take a drink earlier, but I couldn’t pull the tab because I could not feel my finger tips. So it was sitting on the stand, the lone item that was not hidden in camouflage or blaze orange.
By nine o’clock, I mostly held my head down so the snow would not fall behind my glasses and get into my eyes. My runny nose would run down the tip, but would not drop; it froze in the hairs on my upper lip. From time to time, I had to wipe it off. I never understood why it would freeze, when I was breathing out warm air through my nose. I guess some things aren’t meant to be understood.
I was careful to look around, always watching for the deer that we had come to find. While some hunt for sport, some for trophies or recognition, we hunted for food. Not that any other reason is bad, the reasons are just different. When you hunt for food for the table, you go out earlier, stay out longer, and come back later than most.
But on days like today, the deer tend to find a dry spot in coverage and bed down, wait it out. The hairs on the outer coats are hollow, and hold warm air as insulation from harsh winter weather. They can be found covered in snow, bedded down, quite comfortable.
I voted to bed down myself. I had lost the feeling in my feet hours ago, and I could feel my sinuses about to drain down the back of my throat, causing a coughing fit that would render my wait in the stand worthless.
With great effort, I stood as quietly as possible. Dad was still in the woods somewhere, and I didn’t want to ruin his hunt with my noise. Just as I stood, I heard a crash at the base of the oak. I looked over carefully, hoping to see the buck I have worked so hard to harvest, but instead saw the Diet Coke can on its side, spewing its contents all over the underbrush. I knocked it off when I stood.
I carefully lowered my rifle and my backpack by rope; then climbed painfully down the seventeen ladder steps to the snow-covered ground.
When it is cold like that, and still, and overcast, the sound of the snow falling is fascinating. Nowhere else in nature is found that muffled sound of a heavy snowfall in the hardwoods. Occasionally, you hear the limbs shift under the weight, and some old dried leaves will rattle, but mostly you hear…. you hear…. the sound of nothing.
I walked out of the woods to the ancient logging road that wound through the hardwoods, up to the pine thicket, then to the edge of the bean field where we were camped. The remains of the morning fire were still smoldering; probably the only thing that could survive the cold snow was fire.
As I approached, I saw my Dad’s Remington 742 leaning against the camper, and I was glad to see it. It was never a good thing to be the first one back to camp on a tough day, so at least I wouldn’t have to live with that. Not today, anyway.
As I opened the door, I saw my Dad standing there, making sandwiches.
“You a quitter?”, joked my Dad, knowing that he had quit first.
“Yep, I’m a quitter… just like you”, I replied, knowing we would be back in the woods in just a little while.
“You know,” my Dad said “there are only two kinds of people who would hunt in weather like this.”
“Really?”, I said, knowing I was about to gain some of my Dad’s quirky wisdom.
“Yup. You and me.”
I was a sophomore in high school that winter we camped along the edge of the state park in West Tennessee. It had been a difficult time; my older sister in college, Dad’s work not going well; me growing too big for my britches as sophomore boys will do. But how I cherished those words “You and me”. How I cherish them even more now that Dad is gone.
I wanted something hot for lunch, to warm me on the inside. I looked through the groceries we had brought, but didn’t see anything that we could whip up in a hurry. So, Dad walked out into the snow with a cast-iron skillet, set it on the fire, and dropped a hunk of butter in to grease the pan. When the butter was sizzling, he dropped two peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the skillet. The bread soaked up the butter and quickly began to sear the bread. He flipped them over, repeating the process for the second side.
I cannot tell you how tantalizingly wonderful that sandwich smelled! The warmth of the fire, the toasty bread and melting peanut butter… oh, I cannot tell you the wonderful flavors we enjoyed! They were so good, Dad made us two more, and cooked them on the fire, just to make sure the first was not a mistake.
And as good as the sandwiches were, they could not compare to the warmth of the camaraderie we shared around the fire. Even at night, sleeping inside the frosty camper, we talked well past talking time. We talked about work; about school; about life. Something special was happening to us at camp, and it started with the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And it never really ended until my Dad went to his eternal home last Easter.
You and me. These are powerful words.
And I have tried to fry those peanut butter and banana sandwiches a few times since then.
They are awful.
Some things aren’t meant to be understood.