On opening day of rifle season, my son’s alarm rings at 4:00. I hear him rise, descend the stairs, crumple newspaper for the fire. A moment later, the crackle of flames. I lie a few more minutes, then follow him downstairs. He is cooking eggs and sausage on the wood stove. The cat is dozing in his preferred spot on the couch. The stove throws heat, and I stand near it, watching my son cook his breakfast. Not talking, just standing. The smell of butter and egg and sausage and still a little wood smoke from when the fire was young and the stovepipe cold and the chimney draught not fully established. I make coffee. We’re at the table, him eating, me just sitting. Sipping coffee. Still quiet. My son finishes his food, and we murmur about the day, and what it might bring, about the snow that fell in the night. He’s so different than me. It startles me sometimes.
At a little after 5:00 he heads out the door, wanting to be in his stand well before first light. After a bit, I tie on my shoes and head out into the dark, running through the snow down to the town road, which has been plowed but remains slushy. Soon my feet are wet and cold, but the rest of my body feels warm and alive, that delicious thrum of blood, the dark just now beginning to give way. I pass Danny in his truck, already heading to work in the woods on a Saturday morning, and then the road is empty and I run its center, the least-slushy part of it.
By now, my son is up in his stand, and I picture him there, sitting in a maple tree in the cold and quiet woods, thinking thoughts I’ll never know. And I am thinking about how even the people we love the most can sometimes seem so mysterious to us, and yet how we can somehow love them all the more across that mystery, across silence and time and distance, and how this must be the truest love of all, the one unbound by these constraints.
It’s nearly light now and I’m close to home, so I run a little faster.