In old Kentucky, in late autumn,
I walked down the railroad tracks,
nigh a man but less a child,
hunting squirrel the first day of the season.
A late start, sunless, and the cold day
began to build its walls around.
As I walked, a gray sky foretold of snow,
and no birds sang.
Spits of flake lit on my gun stock,
my leather cap, my steel-toed work boots.
The day wore on and leaves
hushed their busy talk.
The wind lay down in frosty fields
and the small sounds magnified.
When I arrived at the clump
of sycamore, locust, and willow
that watched over the glassy pond,
all creatures were burrowed or
nested, calmed in body and mind,
the pond spreading a crisp
countenance across its face,
sleepy and sleeping at the same time.
And I the only moving thing,
slow and deliberate,
scanning the trunks and high limbs,
picking through the half-hearted leaves,
and keeping a corner eye for the
quick flicker a hunter always seeks.
But the scene was as if in a painting,
frozen and lovely and lifeless.
So I sat half-hidden downwind,
twisted a cigarette,
and watched while the flakes
fattened and powdered the earth.
To keep warm, I struck a small fire
behind a downed log.
I curled my collar up and
yanked my ear flaps down.
The afternoon prevailed.
The snow thickened.
And the cold seeped deep into my spine.
Until finally, I surrendered to
an empty trip and prepared to go.
Then over the bare ridge of a nearby hill,
suddenly came two red fox,
bounding, leaping, snapping playfully
at the snowflakes floating down.
First one, then the other, jumping
over their backs, nipping
at the flakes and then nuzzling
the other’s neck.
And I, sudden voyeur,
watched in lockstep,
dazzled and entertained
by their dance of joy.
They zigzagged and drifted
approaching the trees in which I hid.
So close they came then,
my heart flew, my breath held,
and I wrestled mightily with myself.
A quarry much more rare and
rewarding before me,
yet so magnificent and
gloried in my mind.
I pointed my rifle to peel my eyes upon them,
following their movements
and gauging my sights.
Then they, just in range, suddenly stopped,
catching a whiff of the sprigly fire,
and stared in my direction.
We looked at each other,
the three of us transfixed,
the sacred moment frozen,
the pond, the trees, the snow,
all of us in anticipation.
I raised my rifle and fired
one report into the treetops.
The lovers bolted in opposite directions.
One left, one right, shooting
red streaks, their coats
stark against the white hills,
until the tips of their bobbing tails
bled away into the deeply
I knelt a spell before leaving.
Letting the rippling chorus of
the shot die into the woods,
tasting the spent incense of
gunpowder close to my breast,
watching the pond finish freezing over in ice,
and measuring myself
in its reflection.
And so it happened.
I broke my rifle down
and began the long walk home,
the day dying into night.
By Hugh Findlay
Hugh Findlay writes a lot, sometimes publishes, and would rather be caught fishing.
He mows his lawn on Saturdays, naps daily, and reverses his underwear in a pinch.
He can fix anything but the crack of dawn and broken hearts, just ask his kids.
He once defrosted a Thanksgiving turkey with a blow dryer up its butt.
He cooks a pretty good gumbo but can’t sing or dance.
He doesn’t believe in god or time or the “Euro step.”
He’s colorblind but can smell like a bloodhound.
He quit dying his hair and pole vaulting.
He feels funny in suspenders.
He grows tomatoes, poorly.
He likes beer.