At 4:30 in the morning, the sun still slumbered beyond the dark, cold horizon. Roosters slept, waiting to arise and themselves become nature’s wakeup call. Never had Simon been up so early before, never had the moon still been napping in the sky. But when his father’s alarm clock went off, it was precisely 4:30 a.m., and he had no cartoons to watch this Saturday morning in October.
Daniel rolled off of the bed on his side of their pop-up camper. Simon remained on his, watching his dad with sideways vision, like dozing off on the couch, watching a movie. Once fully-dressed, Daniel wore his heavy wool socks, long john underwear, faded blue jeans, ratty, long sleeved t-shirt with a Cleveland Browns emblem on the front, camouflaged overalls, and matching bright orange beanie and plastic vest. Simon thought he looked like a model in one of those ‘Field and Stream’ magazines sitting beside his parents’ toilet in the master bedroom. It was 4:43 when Simon crawled, begrudgingly, out of his sleeping bag and into his brand new set of hunting gear.
Simon had never been hunting before, never joined his father on the 3-day trip to great-uncle Akin’s farm in Pinesville he took every year. But Daniel asked his son to join him back in August, and Simon accepted, cheerfully, having waited for this moment ever since he watched his dad pull off in the truck back when he was five. He had always wanted to go, mostly out of curiosity. Now, seven years later, Simon joined his father for the opening weekend of bow season, hoping to get one of those huge racks his dad had on the den wall, next to the family picture.
The woods were lifeless to Simon. Never had he seen or felt such stillness, such eerie silence. Daniel felt it too, breathed it in like a stout, hot cup of coffee in the morning. He lived here, wished he did at least, his soul shared a home with nature. Daniel saw the morning as beautiful. Simon, simply as black.
The solid, single-colored earth split in two, gray and black, nearing sunrise. An unfamiliar noise to Simon echoed from the farm through Marsden county: a rooster. Simon wished he could reach over to its beak and hit the snooze button. Silhouettes appeared. Trees were now visible. Simon noticed movement in his periphery, startling him, but realized it was only a squirrel. He dozed off most of the morning, his father smiling all the while, drinking in nature’s fresh brew.
Simon flinched. His eyes bolted open and he saw his dad reach for the binoculars. Looking up, expecting deer, or maybe turkey, Simon instead saw nothing, except two squirrels about five trees over, chasing each other like cartoon characters.
“What do you see, Dad?”
“Squirrels,” his father clarified.
“Squirrels?” Simon had seen them too, just didn’t see anything in them.
“Yeah, they’re chasing each other all over the woods. I saw them first pop out from under a log near the creek. I see them every year. Well maybe not them, but I see ‘em, a couple squirrels running around, enjoying life. It’s the simple things, Son. The colors, the smells, sharing memories with friends, with loved ones.”
“So who’s it?”
“The little guy just got tagged, and now he’s chasing the other back up that tree, towards the creek again.”
Simon watched as they continued this game, or life as it were, for some time. He took a deep breath. The scent of oak, mixed with muddy cows from the Akins farm, filled his lungs. He took another. Daniel set the binoculars down, reached across his firstborn’s shoulders, and clutched his arm.
“Hey, thanks for comin’ Simon, it means a lot to me.”
Sunset came, far before any deer, and signaled the end of their first day. The men gathered their gear, and trekked out of the woods towards camp. Simon glanced back at the silhouetted forest, like saying a silent goodnight to his friend. He turned, ran past his father, and tagged him on the left elbow.
“You’re it!” Simon continued a few yards further, but slowed, waiting for his dad to catch up, hopefully to tag him back. He looked out over the Akins farmhouse towards the horizon. They hadn’t seen any deer yet, but Simon couldn’t wait for the second day of their hunting trip to begin, at precisely 4:30 the next morning.
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