In the old life of farms,
Fall was a lazy season.
Late in Fall the farmer
cut down to eighty hours a week,
maybe even to seventy two.
– Seasons at Eagle Pond, Donald Hall
Growing up there was always familiar window dressing that went along with hunting; a sleepy town, energetic dogs, bare wooden kitchen tables, coffee pots on the stove, rickety outdoor toilets, old farmhouses, old trucks, and older guns.
And as I became older I became more aware of the situations of the men with whom I hunted, their lives cast onto this backdrop. Men living crises of character, each to his own; horrid collusions in the past, infidelity in the present, fears of destitution and death for the future…misanthropy, despondency, avarice, addictions. Each of their hard-scrabble lives.
Even so, all of these particulars ostensibly evaporated in company with the small armies of males momentarily joined in the woods and on fields, their struggles to exert control over fragile worlds ignored…hunting dispelling and resolving these in the light of armed mutual exertion, mutual cooperation. And in all of this I realized that for them there was something simple and powerful that brought them back year after year to this particularized memory. But as deeply as I realized this, neither so did I find my fit there. For just as Christmas is about something else other than in sending Tiny Tim to market to buy the biggest turkey, so my guts knew that hunting connected me to a deeper, more eternal mystery…a necro-poetic acceptance that is simultaneously collective and personal. And since it is fully human, it is also by definition, sadder than hell.
My great uncle and his farmhouse are long gone, the place where I spent my childhood summers, listening to his stories, doing chores, eating my great aunt’s fried chicken, and gorging on cucumbers as I stood in their garden with a salt shaker. Never romantic. Not even in Fall. No eighty hours. Only casual observers made this mistake; common visitor’s rope were not long enough to allow them to spelunking any deeper.
So here now Summer is gone. Fall too for that matter. Nor is there ever anything romantic about Fall in the north. It is a fast-spinning, revolving door that never allows you access to an interior, but that only throws you back outside into Winter.
There is nothing benign about farming the old way. Neither is there anything casual about Fall. My great uncle lived to 102. Smoked a cigar every day of his life. Worked every day. All day. Asserting that the only reality in the end is death. And perhaps that is why it waited so long to take him.
On Monday I will walk my death-poem into this back-country. Elemental. Instinctual. Emotive. Analogical. And inductive.
Of everything else in life it is the only enduring certitude that wells up from my guts. Out of their belly shall flow living water, it says in the King James. The Irish used to call then thin places, this inner and outer geography. As real and as difficult as the hours sat by the bedside of a dying loved one.