Standing in the muck at midnight

In a layout blind with a flock of Canada geese. Courtesy photo

September means goodbye to our warm seasonal friend who brought us hours of bliss in the kayak, floating on the deep waters of Lake Champlain, catching colorful brookies in mountain streams and late night dips at the beach, floating under the stars.

For many it means going back to school or stacking that last cord of wood. For those of us who worship the fall, it means a time of great anticipation and a heightened sense of what’s to come.

The first day is reserved for a fresh cut hayfield, lying concealed in a layout blind inches above the stubble and calling to distant flocks of Canada geese. I can hear them a mile away over the lake and strain my eyes to see them before they see me. That first day also has my heart longing to be under an old oak tree craning my neck to see the flicker of a bushytail gray squirrel or the sudden explosion of fur from a cottontail under a tamarack cedar in the swamp.

I can hear the acorns drop-drop-dropping almost rhythmically, onto the forest floor. The lake begins to turn over as cooler nights set in to invert the aquiline labyrinth, exposing weed beds to the late summer sunlight. The smell of decaying seaweed ripens to a musky fragrance that drifts inland and up to the foothills of our Green Mountains. The garden reaches its verdant peak of vegetables and wildflowers that seem to know that it’s the last chance to bear the fruit of our labors.

September has me waking up earlier than normal, knowing that on the first Saturday, duck hunters will be building their blinds in the swamps. I’ve been known to be one of the lunatics that will be standing in the muck at midnight to get the first post pounded into the quagmire. There will be a bench, a gun and shell rack (which most of the time has more donut boxes on it than shells). A crude ladder will rise from the detritus of decaying vegetation and will attach to the 4’x8’ platform surrounded by cattails to hide our portly figures from the prying eyes of greenhead mallards circling above us.

September also means it’s time to get the deer camp in order. There are pipes that need soldering, deck boards replaced, a new toilet hookup, and that darn kitchen sink needs a new drain. So September is about preparation too.

On one side of the coin, I am preparing and engaging in joyful enterprises and on the other I will be setting my father’s ashes to rest on top of the mountain behind camp. We will start our first fire of the season in the old Vermont Castings Defiant woodstove and toast his spirit on the porch under the late summer starlight.

September, to me, represents the death of some of life’s cherished moments and the birth of a deeper meaning, a more penetrating connection to what I have always loved – time in the duck blind, the deer camp, in the hayfield or in a treestand. The aroma of woodsmoke, acorns and the decaying leaves take on a deeper meaning than ever before, for in every breath of wind, every splash of waves, every quiet sunset we find that in the end, we are all one.

Bradley Carleton is Executive Director of Sacred Hunter, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for Traditions Outdoor Mentoring, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits