Eulogy And The Hunt

I’m writing this on Monday, but I know exactly where I’ll be when this posts at 6AM on Saturday.

I am in a deer stand on the far side of what we call the “front hill” at the Jordahl farm in Richland County. It is dark and cold, but it was a long, hilly walk and so I’m plenty warm as I climb into the box blind, about four feet off the ground. I have used my headlamp to find my way in here and just now I’ve used it to illuminate my 30.06 rifle as I load it with four copper bullets.

I pull out my coffee thermos and set it at my feet just before I switch off the headlamp and plunge myself into total darkness. I zip up my heavy blaze orange coat, burrow my chin into my muffler and pull on my mittens to ward off the cold that I know will come at me now that my job is to be absolutely still.

I’m waiting for sunrise, listening for rustling in the leaf litter and, as the faint light starts to grow, searching for shadows of deer. At 6:30, give or take a couple of minutes, I’ll start to hear the first shots in the distance.

Around 7 o’clock, if there’s no activity around me, I’ll unscrew my thermos and take my first sips of coffee in the chilly woods. I’ve had some back at the farmhouse, but there’s really nothing like sipping hot coffee in a deer blind on opening morning of deer season.

Most years I will have brought out my lunch — tomato soup in another thermos and some sandwiches — with the intention of staying out here all day. But this year is different. My close friend, former City Attorney Mike May, died on October 3rd at only 68. It’s something I still struggle to come to grips with, but I’ve been asked to give a short eulogy at a memorial service for him this morning back in Madison. I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation in part to help honor and remember Mike, but also in part for selfish reasons. I hope it will help me to process and accept his loss.

A view from deer stand at sunrise.

So, at 7:40 according to plan, I’ll climb back out of my stand and head back to the farmhouse, take a hot shower, put on a tie and jacket and drive to Madison. When all is said and done, I’ll get back in the car and return to the farm, probably returning to this spot at about 3PM, to catch the deer movement that often comes as dusk.

Of course, I don’t know if I’ll shoot a deer on either side of the eulogy. I haven’t shot a deer since 2018. But the juxtaposition is not lost on me. This morning is about death, either my bringing it or my lamenting it. The hard reality is that life ends, something I could not really conceive of when I was 23 and something I have become fully aware of by 63, Mike’s death only underscoring the point.

At 4:30 PM I’ll climb out of my stand and walk slowly back to the farmhouse. My pals will filter back from their stands with stories of the hunt. We’ll open some beers and build a fire and later we’ll have venison steaks for dinner amid a lot of overlapping conversations. Mike was not a hunter, but he would have loved this part of the day. My hunting buddies didn’t know him, but at some point, silently to myself, I’ll lift a glass to my friend. And I’ll try to appreciate just a little bit more than I might have before, how lucky I am to still be here.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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