I’m not a religious guy. I’m not even a spiritual guy. I distrust passion. I like calm, rational people. To all ultimate questions my answer is, how the hell should I know? Is there a god? Is there life after death? I don’t think so, but on the other hand, how the hell should I know? Deeply religious or spiritual people are convinced of something they cannot convince me of. That’s okay with me as long as they just leave me alone. God love, ’em. It’s a free country.
But I do believe in certain things. I believe that Sheepshead is the finest card game ever invented. I believe that God (if He exists) sent Vince Lombardi to save the Green Bay Packers. I believe the brandy old fashioned sweet and the fish fry are sacraments. I believe the designated hitter is a mortal sin that cannot be forgiven, even by the Pope. I like the current Pope. I did not like the previous ones, except for Pope John XXIII.
But then there’s Wisconsin gun deer season… and I sort of reconsider my disdain for all things spiritual.
I’ve long thought of this — the week before the opening of deer season on Saturday a half hour before sunrise — as the Sacred Week. In southern Wisconsin it’s almost always a week of brown. Frosts have cleared the landscape. Plants are mostly dead. Trees are mostly bare. It’s a landscape tucked in and ready for the first snow… but it is all anticipation. It hasn’t happened just yet.
It’s the interim of quiet. The riotous summer is over. The raucousness of snow storms and holidays isn’t quite here yet. Up North businesses call it the “shoulder season” — between summer campers and winter snowmobilers. I don’t know exactly where everybody has gone, but they’re not around me. This time of year I feel like I’m in a cozy, spare cell in some monastery buried deep in the woods, even if I’m just at home.
And then, on Friday afternoon I drive to deer camp in the Driftless. The dark gathers around me as I drive to the old farm amid the hills. And, one-by-one, my old pals gather up around the wood burning stove. We eat Peter’s chili. We drink beers. We tell the old stories. We catch up.
And, at 4:30 the next morning the camp boss calls out, “Daylight in the swamp, boys!” And we stumble around and then stumble out to our blinds in the dark to spend the cold day in the woods and on the edge of restored prairies.
That day spent in the cold feels like time spent sitting in a pew. Alone. With just my thoughts. And the possibility of deer and venison. And the sureness of a lit fire and the boys back at the farmhouse when I find my way back around 5PM.
Should I praise the Lord for this? How the hell should I know. But I feel like I should thank somebody.
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