January 26th, 2009

April Come She Will
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

The late winter sun hung low in the western sky as he shrugged on his old denim jacket and whistle to his dog. Eager for the game his big black Labrador bounded to the door, his tail slapping out a staccato beat against the wall as he waited for the door to open. As the door swung wide he bounded across the yard and through the gate where he stopped awaiting his master's signal, but he knew the routine. Soon he was bounding through the fallow plowed fields that stretched away toward the distant woodlot.

On this late March day the ground was still mostly frozen, but here and there puddles left by the melting snows of winter served as a subtle reminder that the seasons were changing. As they neared the fence row that separated the cultivated field from the woodlot a small covey of gray partridge, their numbers reduced over the winter by the depredations of fox and hawk, attracted the attentive noise of the big black dog. Hurrying toward their hiding place along the overgrown fence line he flushed them, and they sailed away over the field before dropping into a thicket of briars. Though eager for the chase his master whistled him back.

"Let them be Hunter," he said. The big Lab gave a furtive glance down the field and then turned to follow his master's command.

Their walk led them across the field and through the gate that opened onto a faint path winding through the darkening woods. The rustling of leaves and the bark of a squirrel sent the dog off on a chase to find the source of the sound. In the woods, sheltered from the increasing warmth of the late winter sun, rotting drifts of winter snow still clung to the base of the trees. The earth itself had a musty smell of worms and decayed leaves; the smell of spring yet realized. By morning all would be frozen again, but each day the snow under the trees retreated yet farther into the diminishing shade as spring marched inexorably forward.

The path through the woodlot led down to a stream that percolated slowly along the property line, separating the woodlot from the open fields beyond. Carefully protected from the hooves of livestock by stout fences it meandered through a lush riparian landscape of tag alder, poplar, and willow. In the summer it chattered over the riffles and spread out over broad pools and long flats dimpled by the noses of rising trout, but on this late winter evening its flats and pools were still edged with ice. A pair of mallard ducks, disturbed by the sudden appearance of the man with his dog, sprang to the air and loudly proclaimed their displeasure at being disturbed from their sheltered nook.

For several moments the man stood looking over the stream where in a few short weeks delicate mayflies and fluttering caddis would fill the evening air, and where he hoped that once more he could unfurl a cast and tempt the waiting trout to rise. His dog, impatient to continue their walk, snuffled around at his feet and then bounded off up the path toward home.

The sun, a red hot coal just plucked from the fire, hung just above the tree line as they crossed the fields. Overhead a skein of geese etched their path through the sky resolutely flying north. The man stuffed his hands deep into his pockets as the evening chill crept across the land, and he hurried his steps toward home.

He hung his jacket on the horns of a big white-tail buck that served as a coat rack just inside the back door, a trophy taken many years before in the very woodlot where he had just walked. His progeny still prowled the fields and woodlots hereabouts, and last fall he had seen another buck the equal of this one crossing the field behind the house. Barring some accident he would likely die of old age since the man no longer hunted deer.

Later that evening he dozed in his chair next to the old wood stove; an old gray cat, purring softly, was curled up behind the stove. His big black dog lay dreaming at his feet, his legs and nose twitching as he chased imaginary squirrels and rabbits through a dreamy woodlot. His master also dreamed of warm summer days, of trout rising in the twilight, the smiling face of his wife, and the hug and kiss that she gave him when he returned home.

The book that he had been reading fell to the floor, and he sat upright with a start. The big black dog opened one sleepy eye, and beat his big black tail slowly on the floor. The wood in the stove crackled and popped, and the old gray cat continued to purr, but otherwise the house was quiet.

"Dreaming again," he said.

Filling the wood stove and closing down the damper he prepared to go to bed. Walking to the back door he let the dog out, and he stood waiting on the back porch while the lab attended to his business. Overhead Orion stood upright in the western sky with his trusty dog close at his heels. A meteor streaked across the heavens, and he thought he should make a wish. In the distant woodlot an owl hooted, and suddenly he felt cold. He whistled for his dog and as he bounded though the door the man turned to glance across the fields to the woods beyond. A paraphrase of the words of a poem by Robert Frost crossed his mind as he turned back into the house.

'The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I've no more promises to keep, or miles to go before I sleep.'

Tomorrow it would be April. ~ The Chronicler

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